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USC Games Expo will highlight 70 student games on May 15

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Danny Bilson is head of USC Gam,es.

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The USC Games Expo will debut more than 70 student-made games at noon Pacific on May 15 in a livestreamed online-only event.

The event for the University of Southern California’s video game program will feature returning host Geoff Keighley, creator of The Game Awards. Long-term partner Jam City returns as well. The USC Games program is rated as the top undergraduate game school in the country by The Princeton Review.

The event will be the second time it has been held in an online-only format because of the pandemic. The 70 games are up from 50 a year ago. They’re from students teams who worked remotely and were distributed across the globe.

Continuing the “global” theme, an additional live encore of the expo will stream that evening Pacific time to coincide with daytime in Asia. All interested attendees can register on uscgamesexpo.com for event updates, with North America attendees who RSVP eligible to win prizes, including game codes, during the stream itself.

Above: Danny Bilson is head of USC Games.

Image Credit: USC

This is the fifth year USC Games has held an expo, which covers the video game development programs offered by USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering and the USC School of Cinematic Arts. The Expo will also feature the first hands-on for the 10 projects being developed in its capstone course, the Advanced Games Program (AGP).

The 10 games from the AGP class are:

  • Beat the Beat Up (Oculus VR) — A VR action/rhythm game where you fight to the beat as the star of your own Bollywood blockbuster. The neighborhood Don has sent out his goons to terrorize the locals, and you are the only one that can stop them. You have to impress the critics, including one voiced by Bollywood star Abhay Deol (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Dev.D, Happy Bhag Jayegi). If you rack up your score and clear the streets, you can save the village.
  • Corporate Clash (Mobile IOS/Android) — You can become the richest CEO of 2250. Corporate Clash is a casual mobile strategy game where players are the CEO of a futuristic company that makes widgets for robot consumers. You have to deal with the twists and turns thrown at you by your factory, employees, investors and other demanding groups. Pollute to cut costs but irk environmentalists, or raise prices and upset your customers?
  • Crescendo (PC) — Crescendo is a 2D combat action game where you conduct a musical world through your actions. Travel through an eerie fairy tale setting with music and battle the monstrous personifications of an orchestra.
  • Detour Bus (SteamVR, Oculus Rift/Link) — Detour Bus is a VR construction-comedy game where players build winding highways around themselves to take the Flowers family on a psychedelic road trip across post-infrastructure America. Snap together random road pieces to traverse groovy landscapes, avoid hazardous obstacles, and prevent corrupt Senator Joseph McCarthief from turning all freeways into pay-to-drive tunnels.
  • Larger Than Light (PC) — Traverse shadows by manipulating light in the 2.5D puzzle platform game, Larger Than Light. Escape a haunted school as the sibling duo: Skia the shadow, who can move across other shadows on the wall, and Lux the lightbulb, who can manipulate the size and placement of shadows for his younger sister to platform across. A single player will control both characters, getting them to work together to break away from the otherworldly force trapping them in their school while overcoming their bitter sibling rivalry.
  • Leechbug (PC) — Leechbug is a real-time strategy combat game where players take on the role of the Leechbug, a robotic symbiotic parasite who exists in an alien seascape. Your home is under threat from a polluting force that’s also sapping the will of your fellow undersea denizens. You have to use your powers of possession to free your friends, control their unique abilities synergistically to engage in combat, and reach the surface of the ocean to rescue your underwater world.
  • Pelota (PC) — Pelota is an action-packed online sports game for 2-to-4 players that brings an ancient sport into the interactive medium. Players will be immersed in a Mesoamerican setting as they master the game’s novel physics-based mechanics to get the game ball through a vertical hoop, using everything they have — except their hands — in order to win the favor of the gods.
  • Snowshoe Thompson (PC) — Explore the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains in The Trials of Snowshoe Thompson, a skiing expedition game set in the 19th century about an immigrant traversing the elements and laying the groundwork for what would become the U.S. Postal Service. During 1856, Snowshoe Thompson sets out to aid his new community as a mailman cross-country skiing across the Sierra Nevada mountain range, connecting the wild west with the wider world.
  • Sweeping the Ruins (PC) — Sweeping the Ruins is a two-player co-op strategy and combat game that let’s players engage in asymmetrical combat with an overpowered behemoth inside a dark and deep dungeon. Armed with no weaponry, two players will rely on their wits and use environmental traps to work in tandem to take down the beast. Players will need strategic coordination, situational awareness and teamwork to defeat the massive enemy and prevent the destruction of their nearby homeland.
  • Wheelin’ & Mealin’ (PC) — Wheelin’ and Mealin’ is a two-player co-op driving-and-cooking game that blends tooling around a bright, colorful cityscape and cooking fantastical dishes. Players can maneuver a souped-up race car and immerse themselves around a fantastical city to create crazy dishes that satisfy their customers in order to rise to the top of the restaurant world.

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Speech recognition system trains on radio archive to learn Niger Congo languages

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For many of the 700 million illiterate people around the world, speech recognition technology could provide a bridge to valuable information. Yet in many countries, these people tend to speak only languages for which the datasets necessary to train a speech recognition model are scarce. This data deficit persists for several reasons, chief among them the fact that creating products for languages spoken by smaller populations can be less profitable.

Nonprofit efforts are underway to close the gap, including 1000 Words in 1000 Languages, Mozilla’s Common Voice, and the Masakhane project, which seeks to translate African languages using neural machine translation. But this week, researchers at Guinea-based tech accelerator GNCode and Stanford detailed a new initiative that uniquely advocates using radio archives in developing speech systems for “low-resource” languages, particularly Maninka, Pular, and Susu in the Niger Congo family.

“People who speak Niger Congo languages have among the lowest literacy rates in the world, and illiteracy rates are especially pronounced for women,” the coauthors note. “Maninka, Pular, and Susu are spoken by a combined 10 million people, primarily in seven African countries, including six where the majority of the adult population is illiterate.”

The idea behind the new initiative is to make use of unsupervised speech representation learning, demonstrating that representations learned from radio programs can be leveraged for speech recognition. Where labeled datasets don’t exist, unsupervised learning can help to fill in domain knowledge by determining the correlations between data points and then training based on the newly applied data labels.

New datasets

The researchers created two datasets, West African Speech Recognition Corpus and the West African Radio Corpus, intended for applications targeting West African languages. The West African Speech Recognition Corpus contains over 10,000 hours of recorded speech in French, Maninka, Susu, and Pular from roughly 49 speakers, including Guinean first names and voice commands like “update that,” “delete that,” “yes,” and “no.” As for the West African Radio Corpus, it consists of 17,000 audio clips sampled from archives collected from six Guinean radio stations. The broadcasts in the West African Radio Corpus span news and shows in languages including French, Guerze, Koniaka, Kissi, Kono, Maninka, Mano, Pular, Susu, and Toma.

To create a speech recognition system, the researchers tapped Facebook’s wav2vec, an open source framework for unsupervised speech processing. Wav2vec uses an encoder module that takes raw audio and outputs speech representations, which are fed into a Transformer that ensures the representations capture whole-audio-sequence information. Created by Google researchers in 2017, the Transformer network architecture was initially intended as a way to improve machine translation. To this end, it uses attention functions instead of a recurrent neural network to predict what comes next in a sequence.

Above: The accuracies of WAwav2vec.

Despite the fact that the radio dataset includes phone calls as well as background and foreground music, static, and interference, the researchers managed to train a wav2vec model with the West African Radio Corpus, which they call WAwav2vec. In one experiment with speech across French, Maninka, Pular, and Susu, the coauthors say that they achieved multilingual speech recognition accuracy (88.01%) on par with Facebook’s baseline wav2vec model (88.79%) — despite the fact that the baseline model was trained on 960 hours of speech versus WAwav2vec’s 142 hours.

Virtual assistant

As a proof of concept, the researchers used WAwav2vec to create a prototype of a speech assistant. The assistant — which is available in open source along with the datasets — can recognize basic contact management commands (e.g., “search,” “add,” “update,” and “delete”) in addition to names and digits. As the coauthors note, smartphone access has exploded in the Global South, with an estimated 24.5 million smartphone owners in South Africa alone, according to Statista, making this sort of assistant likely to be useful.

“To the best of our knowledge, the multilingual speech recognition models we trained are the first-ever to recognize speech in Maninka, Pular, and Susu. We also showed how this model can power a voice interface for contact management,” the coauthors wrote. “Future work could expand its vocabulary to application domains such as microfinance, agriculture, or education. We also hope to expand its capabilities to more languages from the Niger-Congo family and beyond, so that literacy or ability to speak a foreign language are not prerequisites for accessing the benefits of technology. The abundance of radio data should make it straightforward to extend the encoder to other languages.”

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Gamescom announces online-only festival in August, reversing hybrid event plan

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The crowd at Gamescom 2019 on opening day on Tuesday, August 20.

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Reversing a plan announced in March, Gamescom will no longer try to do a hybrid gaming expo this summer. Instead, it will focus on an online-only event at the end of August.

The fan-and-business trade show is the world’s biggest game-industry event — with 370,000 people attending the physical event in 2019 — but it had to switch to online-only in 2020 due to the pandemic. The event organizers floated the idea of a hybrid physical event where fans could come see games in person along with digital announcements. The hope was that the coronavirus would subside thanks to vaccinations and that people would want to recapture the excitement of an in-person event.

But today, the Association of the German Games Industry and Koelnmesse decided against that plan, based on responses from potential exhibitors and fans. They plan to hold the main part of the show from August 25 to August 29.

Gamescom Congress will once again take place Thursday, August 26, and Devcom will start off the events August 23. The main days of Gamescom will take place on August 26 and August 27. IGN will produce a show dubbed Awesome Indies. Opening Night Live, which Geoff Keighley produces, will still take place, but it will now be online-only as well. Gamescom was planning to start selling tickets in May.

Above: The crowd at Gamescom 2019 on opening day. The show was online-only in 2020. It will be online-only again in 2021.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

“This decision was made after extensive discussions with partners and exhibitors,” the organizers said in a press release. “Thus, the organizers take into account the current situation, in which too many companies are unable to participate in physical events this year due to the still difficult development. In this way, they also meet the partners’ strong need for planning security. This means that Gamescom 2021 will be held exclusively digitally and free of charge for all Gamescom fans.”

Last year, Gamescom had more than 100 million video views over all formats and channels, more than 50 million unique viewers from 180 countries, and 370 partners from 44 countries. Oliver Frese, chief operating officer of Koelnmesse, said in a statement that Gamescom was coming too early for many companies in the industry, as it required so much advanced planning amid an uncertain environment. Companies need that planning reliability, he said.

Felix Falk, managing director of the German Games Industry Association, said in a statement that next year the groups will be able to implement more of the concepts they had in mind for a hybrid version of Gamescom. There will be business-to-business matchmaking events such as “indies meet investors and publishers” pitch events.

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Riot Games will launch Wild Rift esports tournament in late 2021

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Riot Games will launch Wild Rift esports tournament in late 2021

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Riot Games will launch the League of Legends: Wild Rift esports tournament in late 2021.

The company hopes to apply the lessons of a decade of League of Legends esports to the mobile game. Riot Games wants to build a similar community for Wild Rift. It made the announcement this morning on the eve of the League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational tournament.

League of Legends: Wild Rift is a 5-on-5 multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) experience of League of Legends, developed for console and mobile by Riot Games. Wild Rift brings League to new platforms, featuring competitive gameplay, a twin-stick control system, and a roster of over 60 champions to take to the Rift, with two more coming every month this year.

John Needham, the global head of esports at Riot Games, said in a statement that Riot believes mobile gaming will transform the future of esports. The company didn’t specify whether the Wild Rift esports tournament would be an in-person or digital event.

Needham also noted that regional teams will qualify for this tournament in the fourth quarter of the year.

A worldwide competition

Above: The stage for the Riot Games esports event.

Image Credit: Riot Games

Regional Wild Rift Esports competitions have already started around the world. Southeast Asia recently concluded the first official esports competition, the SEA Icon Series: Preseason. The five week-long event took place in multiple locations: Vietnam, Taiwan, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore and featured 54 professional teams.

Leo Faria is global head of Wild Rift esports. He said in a statement that a number of esports organizations have announced their Wild Rift teams. In Southeast Asia, organizations like The Alliance, RRQ, and LoL Esports veterans Flash Wolves all announced Wild Rift rosters. More big names are coming, he said.

Faria said that a regional competition schedule, third-party tournament guidelines, and more information about the global event will be revealed later this year.

Other big events

wild 3

Above: The Masters Trophy

Image Credit: Riot Games

Other events include the Valorant Stage 3 Masters event, which will increase in size with 16 teams in attendance. It will take place from September 9 to September 19. The winner of Masters: Berlin will automatically qualify into Valorant Champions where a single team will be crowned the best Valorant team of 2021. HyperX will sponsor that event as a keyboard and mouse partner. Other Riot partners include Spotify and Verizon. More than 2,000 teams have participated in qualifying events.

Cisco will be providing the network supporting MSI in Iceland and Riot Games’ production centers in Berlin and Los Angeles. For the first time, pro teams at MSI will be able to practice from the comfort of their hotel rooms on the same high-performance servers at ultra low ping.

Riot is also launching a new podcast that will be available exclusively on Spotify that will cover trending LoL Esports news from around the world. The episodes will be hosted by Riot Games personalities and will drop weekly throughout the year.

GamesBeat

GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it.

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