Posts with «site|engadget» label

‘Lysfanga’ is what happens when hack-and-slash meets tactical time travel

Lysfanga’s isometric views may conjure up memories of Hades, but this is a different kind of game. While you’ll still be slicing and dicing monsters and enemies, protagonist Imë combines her spells and weapon combos with the ability to revert time and do it all over again, differently. The second time around, her shadow from the previous timeline will continue to rush into the enemies. If you remember the faded-out ghosts in racing games like Mario Kart and Gran Turismo, it’s a little like those, but in a collaborative, not competitive, way.

The aim is to complete separated combat levels within a single ‘run’, with only a finite number of ghost-Imës to get the job done. Naturally, things are further complicated by enemies that can’t be defeated from the front, or paired monsters that have to be killed almost simultaneously or they’ll respawn each other. Another Engadget editor said it reminded them of Transistor – the game rewards careful planning of your moves. While I was able to rush some of the early encounters without too much thinking, later levels demanded careful route planning, with doors that would lock and unlock when my character (or her ghosts) rushed through them, exploding enemies that could be punted into other enemies and a constant countdown that meant, sometimes, there wasn’t enough time to think.

Fortunately, Lysfanga's short levels – most can be completed in under two minutes – can be restarted. (Sometimes I knew I messed up, seconds into a level.) Imë also has an array of spells and special attacks with cooldown timers, to add further fight options. Controls are relatively simple, with two melee attack buttons that can be comboed together, a button to launch spells, a dash button that works for avoiding attacks and jumping across gaps, a rewind trigger for your time-twisting powers and a button for your ultimate attack.

According to the trailer, there will be a variety of weapon loadouts to suit different approaches, like long-reaching spears and speedy chakram blades. You’ll also be able to unleash a super attack that not only does heavy damage to enemies nearby but is also echoed in your doppelgangers.

While some action-game prowess helps, you’ll only beat most levels by thinking them through before you act. The controls and play style aren’t remotely similar, but Lysfanga reminded me of old Fire Emblem games, where careful planning decided a fight before it even begins. Even in this early demo, the game offers some incredibly satisfying moments when all your attacking clones come together to wipe out all the enemies in mere seconds. Each level can be replayed at markers across the game, and includes a more challenging time limit to beat, if you thought it was too easy first time around.

Along with Under The Waves, the game is one of the first titles from Quantic Dreams' new Spotlight publishing arm. Lysfanga will launch later this year on PC, through both Steam and Epic Games.

Catch up on all of the news from Summer Game Fest right here!

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Microsoft adds AI voice chat to Bing on desktop

You can now talk to Bing on desktop, and it can even read its replies to you out loud. Microsoft has rolled out voice support for the search engine's chatbot on Edge for PCs, which is powered by OpenAI's GPT-4 technology. "We know many of you love using voice input for chat on mobile," the tech giant wrote in its latest Bing preview release notes. The feature first became available on Bing's AI chatbot for its mobile apps. Now it's also available on desktop — you just need to tap on the mic icon in the Bing Chat box to talk to the AI-powered bot.

The feature supports English, Japanese, French, German and Mandarin at the moment, but Microsoft says support for more languages is on the way. In addition to being able to ask Bing questions simply by speaking, the chatbot now also supports text-to-speech answers and can respond to your questions with its own voice. "Using voice input, ask Bing Chat, 'What’s the toughest tongue twister you know?,'" Microsoft suggested. And yes, it will be able to respond. 

As The Verge notes, Microsoft has introduced voice support for Bing Chat on desktop shortly after it announced that it's killing the standalone Cortana app for Windows, which serves as a voice assistant, later this year. In its announcement back then, Microsoft pointed out that users will still have access to "powerful productivity features in Windows and Edge, which have increased AI capabilities." In particular, it mentioned Bing Chat and Microsoft 365 Copilot, which uses artificial intelligence to generate content within the company's apps. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman defends API changes in AMA

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman has finally spoken publicly about the company’s deeply unpopular API changes that have resulted in some of the most-used third-party reddit apps saying they will be forced to shut down. In an AMA (Ask Me Anything) discussion, Huffman promised improvements to Reddit’s own app, but seemed unwilling to make concessions on pricing and other issues that have rankled the community.

“Reddit needs to be a self-sustaining business, and to do that, we can no longer subsidize commercial entities that require large-scale data use,” he wrote in his AMA post. “Some apps such as Apollo, Reddit is Fun, and Sync have decided this pricing doesn’t work for their businesses and will close before pricing goes into effect.”

In a series of mostly 1-2 sentence responses to detailed, multi-part questions, Huffman acknowledged some missteps in the company’s API rollout, but largely declined to tackle thornier questions about the company’s handling of its relationship with third-party developers. In one response, he conceded that the 30-day window given to developers for the new API was a “tight timeline” and said the company was “continuing to chat with many of the developers who still want to work with us.”

But other developers soon weighed in, noting that they had never heard back from the company, despite reaching out through the channels promoted by Reddit. “I have been trying to contact Reddit over the last 3 months and have been completely ignored,” one developer wrote. “I feel completely powerless to do anything right now and I want to try and save the app I've been working on for the last 10 years.” Huffman apologized and said the company would respond.

When asked about why the company accused Christian Selig, the developer of Apollo, of threatening the company — a claim Selig denied and promptly debunked with an audio clip of a phone call with a Reddit rep — Huffman doubled down on the criticism. “His ‘joke’ is the least of our issues,” he said. “His behavior and communications with us has been all over the place—saying one thing to us while saying something completely different. I don’t know how we could do business with him.” (Huffman didn’t respond to a followup question from Selig asking for examples of such behavior.)

Huffman, who goes by spez on the platform, also promised that Reddit was working on improvements to its own app, including its moderation tools and accessibility features. Both areas are often cited by Redditors who prefer third-party apps to the company’s native app. He also said that the reason why third-party apps would no longer be able to show sexually explicit content was due to a changing “regulatory environment” and legal concerns. “It’s a constant fight to keep this content at all,” he said. “We have to be strict / conservative about where it shows up.”

One of his most telling answers came in response to a question about the perception that “Reddit has become increasingly profit-driven and less focused on community engagement” than it has in the past. “We’ll continue to be profit-driven until profits arrive,” Huffman responded. “Unlike some of the 3P [third-party] apps, we are not profitable.”

Notably, there were a number of topics Huffman didn't address, including why the company priced its API at a rate that developers say is prohibitively expensive. Huffman also didn’t address the upcoming blackout from thousands of subreddits protesting the API changes. More than 3,000 subreddits have pledged to “go dark” for two days beginning June 12th to protest the changes.

By the end of the AMA, Huffman had responded to 14 questions, while a few other executives answered a handful of their own. In perhaps the most telling sign that their answers were not well-received, every answer from the reddit team was downvoted so heavily they were almost impossible to view within the AMA thread itself. A moderator later linked all of their answers at the top of the thread. “We know answers are tough to find,” they said.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

DOJ charges Russian nationals with laundering bitcoin in 2011 Mt. Gox hack

The US Department of Justice announced today that it charged two Russian nationals for crimes related to the 2011 hacking of Mt. Gox, the now-defunct crypto exchange that was one of the world’s largest at the time. Alexey Bilyuchenko and Aleksandr Verner are accused in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) of laundering about 647,000 bitcoins connected to the heist. In addition, Bilyuchenko faces separate charges in the Northern District of California (NDCA) related to running the infamous Russian crypto exchange BTC-e.

The pair are being charged in SDNY for conspiracy to commit money laundering. Meanwhile, the NDCA charges are for conspiracy to commit money laundering and operating an unlicensed money services business. The SDNY charges carry a maximum sentencing of 20 years for each defendant, while Bilyuchenko faces a maximum of 25 years in prison in the NDCA indictment.

The DOJ says Bilyuchenko, Verner and co-conspirators gained access to the server storing Mt. Gox’s crypto wallets in or about September 2011. Once they infiltrated the servers, the pair and their partners allegedly initiated the transfer of customers’ bitcoins to accounts they controlled. In addition, they’re accused of laundering the stolen bitcoins to accounts on other crypto exchanges also controlled by the group.

The conspirators allegedly negotiated and entered into a fraudulent “advertising contract” with a New York bitcoin brokerage service, a relationship they used to request regular transfers to “various offshore bank accounts, including in the names of shell corporations, controlled by Bilyuchenko, Verner, and their co-conspirators.” The DOJ says the group transferred over $6.6 million from March 2012 to April 2013.

“This announcement marks an important milestone in two major cryptocurrency investigations,” said US Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. “As alleged in the indictments, starting in 2011, Bilyuchenko and Verner stole a massive amount of cryptocurrency from Mt. Gox, contributing to the exchange’s ultimate insolvency. Armed with the ill-gotten gains from Mt. Gox, Bilyuchenko allegedly went on to help set up the notorious BTC-e virtual currency exchange, which laundered funds for cyber criminals worldwide. These indictments highlight the department’s unwavering commitment to bring to justice bad actors in the cryptocurrency ecosystem and prevent the abuse of the financial system.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Toyota unveils a hydrogen race car concept built for Le Mans 24 Hours

Modern electric vehicles aren't very practical for endurance races due to the long charging times, but Toyota may have an alternative. Its Gazoo Racing unit has unveiled a GR H2 Racing Concept that's designed to compete in the Le Mans 24 Hours race's new hydrogen car category. The automaker isn't divulging specs, but the appeal is clear: this is an emissions-free car that can spend more time racing and less time topping up.

Toyota doesn't say if or when a race-ready GR H2 will hit the track. The machine is built for "future competition," the brand says. Don't be surprised if Toyota refines the concept before bringing it to a Le Mans race.

The company is no stranger to low- and zero-emissions motorsports. The brand has been racing a hydrogen engine Corolla in Japan's Super Taikyu Series since 2021, and its GR010 hybrid hypercar took the top two overall podium spots at last year's Le Mans. A purpose-built hydrogen car like the GR H2 is really an extension of the company's strategy.

The announcement comes at a delicate moment for Toyota. The make is shifting its focus to EVs after years of resisting the segment in favor of hybrids and hydrogen cars. At the same time, new CEO Koji Sato wants to be sure hydrogen remains a "viable option." The GR H2 may be a hint as to how Toyota tackles this dilemma: it can keep using hydrogen in categories where fast stops are important, such as racing and trucking, while courting a passenger car market that insists on EVs like the bZ4X and Lexus RZ.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Watch Summer Game Fest's Tribeca Games Spotlight here at 3PM ET

The Summer Game Fest party keeps rolling today with the Tribeca Games Spotlight. Unlike many of the other Summer Game Fest showcases, Tribeca has already announced which games it will feature. As in previous years, the festival is highlighting games with a focus on artistic storytelling. You can watch the stream below at 3PM ET.

Arguably the most prominent game of the bunch is The Expanse: A Telltale Series. This is a prequel to the Amazon Prime show of the same name. You'll play as Camina Drummer (Cara Gee). Players will have to make tough choices that impact the future of a crew of space scavengers. There should be more exploration than in previous Telltale titles as well. Telltale will release the game in chapters every two weeks starting on July 27th.

There will be fresh looks at Stray Gods, a "roleplaying musical" that features much of the cast of The Last of Us, and Goodbye Volcano High, a narrative adventure game that first emerged during a PlayStation presentation three years ago. A Highland Song has been on my radar for a while, and we'll find out more details about the so-called rhythm survival platformer during Tribeca's event.

The stream will highlight a few other games, including Despelote, a story-driven soccer game with an eye-catching art style from publisher Panic. Nightscape is a 2.5D "atmospheric adventure game" from a studio in Qatar, while the Focus-published Chants of Sennaar is an adventure title based on the myth of Babel.

If you're in New York City, you can be among the first to try playable demos of these games at the festival's Spring Studios hub. Tribeca runs until June 18th. On the film side, the festival is hosting the world premiere of Hideo Kojima: Connecting Worlds, a documentary about the creative mind behind Death Stranding and the Metal Gear series. Kojima will be in attendance for a Q&A.

Meanwhile, Engadget is on the ground in Los Angeles for all things Summer Game Fest. We've got previews and hands-on impressions of many of the games being featured coming your way.

Catch up on all of the news from Summer Game Fest right here!

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Generative AI can help bring tomorrow's gaming NPCs to life

Elves and Argonians clipping through walls and stepping through tables, blacksmiths who won’t acknowledge your existence until you take single step to the left, Draugers that drop into rag-doll seizures the moment you put an arrow through their eye — Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls long-running RPG series is beloved for many reasons, the realism of their non-playable characters (NPCs) is not among them. But the days of hearing the same rote quotes and watching the same half-hearted search patterns perpetually repeated from NPCs are quickly coming to an end. It’s all thanks to the emergence of generative chatbots that are helping game developers craft more lifelike, realistic characters and in-game action.

“Game AI is seldom about any deep intelligence but rather about the illusion of intelligence,” Steve Rabin, Principal Software Engineer at Electronic Arts , wrote in the 2017 essay, The Illusion of Intelligence. “Often we are trying to create believable human behavior, but the actual intelligence that we are able to program is fairly constrained and painfully brittle.”

Just as with other forms of media, video games require the player to suspend their disbelief for the illusions to work. That’s not a particularly big ask given the fundamentally interactive nature of gaming, “Players are incredibly forgiving as long as the virtual humans do not make any glaring mistakes,” Rabin continued. “Players simply need the right clues and suggestions for them to share and fully participate in the deception.”

Early days

Take Space Invaders and Pac-Mac, for example. In Space Invaders, the falling enemies remained steadfast on their zig-zag path towards Earth’s annihilation, regardless of the player’s actions, with the only change coming as a speed increase when they got close enough to the ground. There was no enemy intelligence to speak of, only the player’s skill in leading targets would carry the day. Pac-Man, on the other hand, used enemy interactions as a tentpost of gameplay.

Under normal circumstances, the Ghost Gang will coordinate to track and trap The Pac — unless the player gobbled up a Power Pellet before vengefully hunting down Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde. That simple, two-state behavior, essentially a fancy if-then statement in C, proved revolutionary for the nascent gaming industry and became a de facto method of programming NPC reactions for years to come using finite-state machines (FSMs).

Finite-state machines

A finite-state machine is a mathematical model that abstracts a theoretical “machine” capable of existing in any number of states — ally/enemy, alive/dead, red/green/blue/yellow/black — but occupying exclusively one state at a time. It consists, “of a set of states and a set of transitions making it possible to go from one state to another one,” Viktor Lundstrom wrote in 2016’s Human-like decision making for bots in mobile gaming. “A transition connects two states but only one way so that if the FSM is in a state that can transit to another state, it will do so if the transition requirements are met. Those requirements can be internal like how much health a character has, or it can be external like how big of a threat it is facing.”

Like light switches in Half-Life and Fallout, or the electric generators in Dead Island: FSM’s are either on or they’re off or they’re in a rigidly defined alternative state (real world examples would include a traffic light or your kitchen microwave). These machines can transition back and forth between states given the player’s actions but half measures like dimmer switches and low power modes do not exist in these universes. There are few limits on the number of states that an FSM can exist in beyond the logistical challenges of programming and maintaining them all, as you can see with the Ghost Gang’s behavioral flowcharts on Jared Mitchell’s blog post, AI Programming Examples. Lundstrom points out that FSM, “offers lots of flexibility but has the downside of producing a lot of method calls” which tie up additional system resources.

Decision and behavior trees

Alternately, game AIs can be modeled using decision trees. “There are usually no logical checks such as AND or OR because they are implicitly defined by the tree itself,” Lundstrom wrote, noting that the trees “can be built in a non-binary fashion making each decision have more than two possible outcomes.”

Behavior trees are a logical step above that and offer players contextual actions to take by chaining multiple smaller decision actions together. For example, if the character is faced with the task of passing through a closed door, they can either perform the action to turn the handle to open it or, upon finding the door locked, take the “composite action” of pulling a crowbar from inventory and breaking the locking mechanism.

“Behavior trees use what is called a reactive design where the AI tends to try things and makes its decisions from things it has gotten signals from,” Lundstrom explained. “This is good for fast phasing games where situations change quite often. On the other hand, this is bad in more strategic games where many moves should be planned into the future without real feedback.”

GOAPs and RadiantAI

From behavior trees grew GOAPs (Goal-Oriented Action Planners), which we first saw in 2005’s F.E.A.R. An AI agent empowered with GOAP will use the actions available to choose from any number of goals to work towards, which have been prioritized based on environmental factors. “This prioritization can in real-time be changed if as an example the goal of being healthy increases in priority when the health goes down,” Lundstrom wrote. He asserts that they are “a step in the right direction” but suffers the drawback that “it is harder to understand conceptually and implement, especially when bot behaviors come from emergent properties.”

Radiant AI, which Bethesda developed first for Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and then adapted to Skyrim, Fallout 3, Fallout 4 and Fallout: New Vegas, operates on a similar principle to GOAP. Whereas NPCs in Oblivion were only programmed with five or six set actions, resulting in highly predictable behaviors, by Skyrim, those behaviors had expanded to location-specific sets, so that NPCs working in mines and lumber yards wouldn’t mirror the movements of folks in town. What’s more, the character’s moral and social standing with the NPC’s faction in Skyrim began to influence the AI’s reactions to the player’s actions. “Your friend would let you eat the apple in his house,” Bethesda Studios creative director Todd Howard told Game Informer in 2011, rather than reporting you to the town guard like they would if the relationship were strained.

Modern AIs

Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us series offers some of today’s most advanced NPC behaviors for enemies and allies alike. “Characters give the illusion of intelligence when they are placed in well thought-out setups, are responsive to the player, play convincing animations and sounds, and behave in interesting ways,” Mark Botta, Senior Software Engineer at Ripple Effect Studios, wrote in Infected AI in The Last of Us. “Yet all of this is easily undermined when they mindlessly run into walls or do any of the endless variety of things that plague AI characters.”

“Not only does eliminating these glitches provide a more polished experience,” he continued, “but it is amazing how much intelligence is attributed to characters that simply don’t do stupid things.”

You can see this in both the actions of enemies, whether they’re human Hunters or infected Clickers, or allies like Joel’s ward, Ellie. The game’s two primary flavors of enemy combatant are built on the same base AI system but “feel fundamentally different” from one another thanks to a “modular AI architecture that allows us to easily add, remove, or change decision-making logic,” Botta wrote.

The key to this architecture was never referring to the enemy character types in the code but rather, “[specifying] sets of characteristics that define each type of character,” Botta said. “For example, the code refers to the vision type of the character instead of testing if the character is a Runner or a Clicker … Rather than spreading the character definitions as conditional checks throughout the code, it centralizes them in tunable data.” Doing so empowers the designers to adjust character variations directly instead of having to ask for help from the AI team.

The AI system is divided into high-level logic (aka “skills”) that dictate the character’s strategy and the low-level “behaviors” that they use to achieve the goal. Botta points to a character’s “move-to behavior” as one such example. So when Joel and Ellie come across a crowd of enemy characters, their approach either by stealth or by force is determined by that character’s skills.

“Skills decide what to do based on the motivations and capabilities of the character, as well as the current state of the environment,” he wrote. “They answer questions like ‘Do I want to attack, hide, or flee?’ and ‘What is the best place for me to be?’” And then once the character/player makes that decision, the lower level behaviors trigger to perform the action. This could be Joel automatically ducking into cover and drawing a weapon or Ellie scampering off to a separate nearby hiding spot, avoiding obstacles and enemy sight lines along the way (at least for the Hunters — Clickers can hear you breathing).

Tomorrow’s AIs

Generative AI systems have made headlines recently due in large part to the runaway success of next-generation chatbots from Google, Meta, OpenAI and others, but they’ve been a mainstay in game design for years. Dwarf Fortress and Black Rock Galactic just wouldn’t be the same without their procedurally generated levels and environments — but what if we could apply those generative principles to dialog creation too? That’s what Ubisoft is attempting with its new Ghostwriter AI.

“Crowd chatter and barks are central features of player immersion in games – NPCs speaking to each other, enemy dialogue during combat, or an exchange triggered when entering an area all provide a more realistic world experience and make the player feel like the game around them exists outside of their actions,” Ubisoft’s Roxane Barth wrote in a March blog post. “However, both require time and creative effort from scriptwriters that could be spent on other core plot items. Ghostwriter frees up that time, but still allows the scriptwriters a degree of creative control.”

The use process isn’t all that different from messing around with public chatbots like BingChat and Bard, albeit with a few important distinctions. The scriptwriter will first come up with a character and the general idea of what that person would say. That gets fed into Ghostwriter which then returns a rough list of potential barks. The scriptwriter can then choose a bark and edit it to meet their specific needs. The system will generate these barks in pairs and selecting one over the other serves as a quick training and refinement method, learning from the preferred choice and, with a few thousand repetitions, begins generating more accurate and desirable barks from the outset.

“Ghostwriter was specifically created with games writers, for the purpose of accelerating their creative iteration workflow when writing barks [short phrases]” Yves Jacquier, Executive Director at Ubisoft La Forge, told Engadget via email. “Unlike other existing chatbots, prompts are meant to generate short dialogue lines, not to create general answers.”

“From here, there are two important differences,” Jacquier continued. “One is on the technical aspect: for using Ghostwriter writers have the ability to control and give input on dialogue generation. Second, and it’s a key advantage of having developed our in-house technology: we control on the costs, copyrights and confidentiality of our data, which we can re-use to further train our own model.”

Ghostwriter’s assistance doesn’t just make scriptwriters’ jobs easier, it in turn helps improve the overall quality of the game. “Creating believable large open worlds is daunting,” Jacquier said. “As a player, you want to explore this world and feel that each character and each situation is unique, and involve a vast variety of characters in different moods and with different backgrounds. As such there is a need to create many variations to any mundane situation, such as one character buying fish from another in a market.”

Writing 20 different iterations of ways to shout “fish for sale” is not the most effective use of a writer’s time. “They might come up with a handful of examples before the task might become tedious,” Jacquier said. “This is exactly where Ghostwriter kicks in: proposing such dialogs and their variations to a writer, which gives the writer more variations to work with and more time to polish the most important narrative elements.”

Ghostwriter is one of a growing number of generative AI systems Ubisoft has begun to use, including voice synthesis and text-to-speech. “Generative AI has quickly found its use among artists and creators for ideation or concept art,“ Jacquier said, but clarified that humans will remain in charge of the development process for the foreseeable future, regardless of coming AI advancements . “Games are a balance of technological innovation and creativity and what makes great games is our talent – the rest are tools. While the future may involve more technology, it doesn’t take away the human in the loop.”

7.4887 billion reasons to get excited

Per a recent report, the value of generative AI in the gaming market could as much as septuple by 2032. Growing from around $1.1 billion in 2023 to nearly $7.5 billion in the next decade, these gains will be driven by improvements to NPC behaviors, productivity gains by automating digital asset generation and procedurally generated content creation.

And it won’t just be major studios cranking out AAA titles that will benefit from the generative AI revolution. Just as we are already seeing dozens and hundreds of mobile apps built atop ChatGPT mushrooming up on Google Play and the App Store for myriad purposes, these foundational models (not necessarily Ghostwriter itself but its invariable open-source derivative) are poised to spawn countless tools which will in turn empower indie game devs, modders and individual players alike. And given how quickly the need to know how to program in proper code rather than natural language is falling off, our holodeck immersive gaming days could be closer than we ever dared hope.

Catch up on all of the news from Summer Game Fest right here!

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

A PS5 bundle hits a new low, plus the rest of the week's best tech deals

It's Friday, which means it's time for another roundup of good deals on recommended gadgets and gear. The highlights this week include a new low on Sony's God of War Ragnarök PlayStation 5 bundle; at $500, it essentially pairs the console with one of our favorite PS5 games for no extra cost. Several other PS5 and PS4 games are also on sale, while annual PlayStation Plus subscriptions are 25 percent off. Outside of video games, Sonos is still running a Father's Day sale on various speakers and soundbars, while Samsung's fast 980 Pro SSD is down to new low of $66. And while the big Apple news of the week was the unveiling of the Vision Pro headset, several of the company's existing devices are discounted, including the second-gen Pencil, third-gen AirPods, AirTag and M2 MacBook Air. Here are the best deals from this week that you can still get today.

PlayStation 5 + God of War Ragnarök bundle

After its first couple of years on the market were plagued by stock shortages, the PlayStation 5 has become much easier to buy in recent months. If you're still looking to grab one, though, a bundle that pairs the console with a digital version of the acclaimed action game God of War Ragnarök is down to $500 at several retailers, including Amazon, Walmart, GameStop, Best Buy and PlayStation Direct.

Besides a couple of in-store only deals, that marks a new all-time low. This bundle originally cost $559, though we saw it temporarily drop to $509 earlier this year. The standard PS5 goes for $500 on its own, so this deal essentially nets you one of our favorite games of 2022 for no extra cost. Sony's listing says the offer will run until August 1. If you can live without a disc drive, meanwhile, a bundle that pairs the game with the PS5 Digital Edition has been available for $459 for much of the year.

PlayStation Days of Play sale

If you already own a PS5 or PS4, Sony has also discounted a range of PlayStation games, services and accessories as part of its latest "Days of Play" sale. Annual PlayStation Plus subscriptions are 25 percent off across the board, for one, bringing the standard Essential tier down to $45, the Extra tier down to $75 and the Premium tier down to $90. As a refresher, a Plus membership is required to play many PlayStation games online and access cloud saves. It also doles out a few "free" games each month. PlayStation Plus Extra adds an Xbox Game Pass-style game catalog, while PlayStation Plus Premium throws in a collection of classic games and cloud streaming support. The Essential tier should be enough for most, but if you're really hurting for things to play, the higher tiers may be worth it. 

Several high-profile games are also on sale at both third-party retailers and the PlayStation Store, including a handful of entries from our list of the best PlayStation 5 games. The aforementioned God of War Ragnarök, for instance, is $20 off at $49 (or $39 for a PS4 copy), while Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales is back at an all-time low of $20. The haunting roguelike Returnal is at a new low of $27, the racing sim Gran Turismo 7 is available for $40 and the gorgeous remake of the PS3 classic Demon's Souls is within $5 of all-time low at $30. The open-world adventure Horizon Forbidden West is down to $30 as well; that price applies to the PS4 copy, but you can upgrade to the PS5 version for no extra cost.

Beyond that, Sony is taking $10 off a handful of alternate cover plates for the PS5, bringing the pink, purple and light blue versions down to $45. The sale as a whole will run through June 12. 

If you're more of an Xbox person, we'll also note that Microsoft is holding its own game sale this week. Some standout deals there include the rhythm-action game Hi-Fi Rush for $24, the narrative-rich RPG Pentiment for $13 and Halo: The Master Chief Collection for $10. All of those represent all-time lows. For PC players, the Halo deal is also available on Steam.

Sonos speaker sale 

Sonos is running a Father's Day sale with discounts on several of the company's well-regarded speakers and soundbars. Here's a rundown of the most notable offers:

  • The top-end Sonos Arc soundbar is down to $719, which is a $180 discount and matches its lowest price to date.

  • The midrange Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is down to $399, which is $40 more than the best price we've seen but still $100 off its typical selling price.

  • The entry-level Sonos Ray soundbar is down to a new low of $223, which is $56 off its MSRP.

  • The Sonos Roam portable speaker is available for $134, while the Sonos Roam SL is down to $119. Those are discounts of $45 and $40, respectively. The former is about $7 more than its all-time low, while the latter marks the best price we've tracked. Between the two, the Roam SL lacks integrated mics and the "Automatic Trueplay" feature, which lets Sonos speakers automatically adapt their sound to the acoustics of their current environment.

  • The Sonos Move, a heftier yet still portable speaker, is $100 off at $299. That's an all-time low.

  • The Sonos One SL, a variant of the One home speaker without built-in microphones, is on sale for $159. That's $30 more than its all-time low but still a $40 discount.

  • The Sonos Sub (Gen 3) subwoofer is available for $639, which is about $50 more than the lowest price we've seen but $160 off Sonos' list price all the same.

While none of these devices are cheap, they all deliver impressive sound for their categories and are relatively easy to operate with the Sonos app. We gave the Arc, Beam and Ray review scores of 85, 88 and 82, respectively, and all three are picks in our soundbar buying guide. The Move, Roam and One, meanwhile, earned respective scores of 80, 87 and 90. The Roam is the top portable pick in our guide to the best smart speakers. The One SL is still a decent buy at $159, but note that Sonos has replaced the standard One with a new speaker called the Era 100. Our review found that $249 device to be an improvement across the board, but it's not included in the sale outside of a few pricey bundles. Either way, we usually only see a handful of Sonos sales per year, so this is a good chance to save.

Samsung 980 Pro SSD

The 1TB model of Samsung's 980 Pro SSD is down to $66, which is a new all-time low. We've typically seen it retail between $80 and $90 over the last few months. If you need more space, the 2TB model is down to $130, which is also a new low. While this isn't the newest PCIe 4.0 SSD Samsung sells, it still meets Sony's requirements for expanding the storage of a PlayStation 5. You just need to add a heatsink to go with it. For PC users, not everyone needs the improved performance of a PCIe 4.0 drive like this, but it can still provide a bit of a speed boost for heavier loads.

If you're buying for a PS5, though, Samsung sells a version of the 980 Pro that comes with an integrated heatsink. The 1TB version of that drive is on sale for an all-time low of $80 if you don't mind paying a couple dollars extra for an all-in-one solution. In other Samsung storage deals, the 128GB version of the Fit Plus flash drive, a pick from our best SSDs guide, is available for a low of $15.

Apple MacBook Air

The entry-level version of Apple's 13.6-inch, M2-powered MacBook Air is back down to $999 at B&H, matching the lowest price we've tracked. This is about $60 below the notebook's average street price in recent months and $100 below Apple's MSRP. B&H says the deal will end on June 10.

The Air itself is the top pick in our guide to the best laptops and earned a review score of 96 from us last year. It continues to check all the necessary boxes for an everyday laptop, with a slick and light design, accurate display, comfortable keyboard, MagSafe charging port and long-lasting battery. This 8GB RAM/256GB SSD configuration has slower storage performance than the higher-capacity SKUs, but the drop-off shouldn't be a major hindrance for the non-intense work and web browsing at which the Air is aimed. For those kind of tasks, Apple's M2 chip is still an excellent performer.

Apple announced a new 15.3-inch variant of the M2 MacBook Air earlier this week, which'll arrive on June 13. It looks to be extremely similar to the 13-inch model, albeit with a slightly stronger GPU and a couple extra speakers by default. Apple says that one will start at $1,299, but Amazon has the entry-level model for $50 less. If you already planned on pre-ordering, it's a way to save a few bucks.

Fitbit Inspire 3

The Fitbit Inspire 3 is down to $80 at various retailers. While that's $10 more than the all-time low we saw last Black Friday, it's still $20 below the activity tracker's typical going rate. The Inspire 3 is the top budget pick in our guide to the best fitness trackers, as it gets you a slim and comfortable design with a color touchscreen, up to 10 days of battery life and useful health monitoring. There's no integrated GPS like the Fitbit Charge 5, our top pick, but it still offers automatic workout detection, sleep and heart rate tracking, blood oxygen monitoring, smartphone alerts and most other essentials.

Apple Pencil (2nd gen)

The second-gen Apple Pencil is back on sale for $89 at Amazon, Walmart and Best Buy. That's $4 more than the lowest price we've seen but about $12 below the stylus' average street price in recent months and $40 below Apple's MSRP. Unsurprisingly, we think the Pencil is the best stylus for iPad owners thanks to its consistent accuracy, system-wide pressure sensitivity, magnetic charging and easy pairing with iPadOS. Just make sure your iPad is compatible with this model before buying.  

Peacock Premium

If you don't already subscribe to NBCUniversal's Peacock Premium service, you can get a 12-month subscription for $20 with the code SUMMEROFPEACOCK at checkout. That's a $30 discount. Note that you'll still see ads every now and then with this tier; Peacock Premium Plus, which costs $100 a year, is the ad-free plan, but that isn't available as part of the offer. Still, if you're looking to stream Premier League soccer, most NBC and Bravo shows, WWE live events or Yellowstone, this discount should make dealing with the occasional ad break easier to stomach. The promotion has technically been available since late May, but Peacock says it'll end on June 12, so consider this a PSA.

Apple AirPods (3rd gen)

The third-gen Apple AirPods are once again down to $149. We've seen the wireless earbuds hit this price a few times before; it's $10 more than their all-time low but still $20 less than what you'd pay if you bought from Apple directly. We gave the AirPods a review score of 88 back in late 2021. Their one-size-fits-all design, loose seal and lack of active noise cancellation will be dealbreakers for some, but if you hate the feeling of headphones that insert into your ear canal, the third-gen AirPods are still one of the better-sounding open-back earbuds you can buy. They remain a snap to use with other Apple devices, too, and their IPX4-rated water resistance and seven-hour battery life are solid.

If you need active noise cancellation and don't mind the feel of an in-ear headphones, the AirPods Pro are fuller-sounding, more feature-rich and just as Apple-friendly. They're currently on sale for $200, which is another deal we've seen fairly regularly in recent months but is $50 off Apple's list price all the same. The AirPods Pro are the "best for iOS" pick in our guide to the best wireless earbuds.

Roku, Google and Amazon 4K streaming sticks

It's a decent time to be in the market for a new 4K streaming stick. Both the Roku Streaming Stick 4K and Google Chromecast with Google TV are now available for $40, while Amazon's Fire TV Stick 4K Max is on sale for $35. The Streaming Stick 4K is about $5 off its average street price in recent months, while both the Chromecast and Fire TV Stick are about $10 below their usual going rates. 

The Streaming Stick 4K has gone for as little as $25 in the past, but we highlight it here because it's the top pick in our guide to the best streaming devices. Roku offers the most straightforward interface of the three major players, along with useful bonuses like AirPlay 2 support and a private-listening mode. The Chromecast is our runner-up pick; it's more proactive about recommending shows you might like and personalizing the UI to your viewing habits, though it lacks AirPlay. The Fire TV Stick 4K Max isn't as simple or intuitive to navigate as those devices, as it still tends to prioritize Amazon content and services above all else, but its app support and overall performance are similar. It's also more open to sideloading, and its current deal price matches the lowest we've seen.

Meater Plus wireless meat thermometer

The Meater Plus is a wireless meat thermometer that reports food and ambient temperature details to your phone over Bluetooth. We've found it accurate and efficiently designed enough to include in our guide to the best grilling gear, as well as our recent roundup of outdoor gift ideas for Father's Day. If this sounds like something you'd use during cookouts this summer, the thermometer is currently on sale for $80, which is a $20 discount. Meater says the offer will run through June 21.

Apple AirTag

Apple's AirTag tracker is on sale for $25, which is a modest $4 discount but nevertheless matches the best price we've seen since November. The AirTag is the "best for iPhones" pick in our guide to the best Bluetooth trackers, as it leverages Apple's massive Find My network and ultra-wideband wireless tech to locate your lost items accurately. The downside — outside of the general privacy issues that have arisen with these kind of devices — is that it doesn't have a ring hole or built-in adhesive, so you'd need to buy an extra accessory if you wanted to affix it to a keychain or the like. If you want more than one tracker, you can get a four-pack of AirTags for $90.

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Netflix's password sharing crackdown seems to be working

While some users canceled their Netflix accounts after a crackdown on password sharing commenced, it seems like the move is paying off for the company. According to data from analytics firm Antenna, Netflix saw a sharp rise in account sign-ups after the rule came into force in the US and many other regions in late May.

Antenna says Netflix had the four single biggest days of US sign-ups in the four and a half years it has tracked this data. On May 26th and 27th, there were almost 100,000 sign-ups each day. During each of the four days, the company saw an average of 73,000 new memberships, according to Antenna, which noted that figure was 102 percent more than the average for the previous 60 days.

While account cancellations also rose in that period, Antenna said sign-ups far outpaced those figures. This was the biggest increase in new Netflix account sign-ups in the US since COVID-19 lockdowns began in March and April of 2020, Antenna noted.

It's worth bearing in mind that this is not official data from Netflix. We'll have a clearer idea of how account sharing changes are starting to impact Netflix's bottom line when the company reports its next quarterly earnings, likely in mid-July. However, as Yahoo Finance notes, Netflix's share price rose after Antenna released the data. Engadget has contacted Netflix for comment.

Netflix started cracking down on account sharing on a trial basis in Latin America before implementing the new rules in Canada, New Zealand, Portugal and Spain in February. In the US, subscribers now need to pay an extra $8 per month for viewers who access the account from outside the primary household, though you can still watch when you're away from home. Users have the option to transfer an existing profile to a new account to keep all their preferences and data intact.

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Spotify is testing an 'offline mix' that downloads recently played songs

Spotify already lets you download songs, albums and playlists for offline listening, but you need to select each one manually so it's easy to forget your favorite music. Now, the company is testing a feature called "Your Offline Mix" that will "save a mix of your recently played songs for when the vibe is high, but your connection is low," Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said on Twitter.

The feature looks similar to YouTube's Offline Mixtape feature that came out back in 2019. As we wrote at the time, "Smart Downloads will pick some of your favorite songs and make sure they are available to you anywhere." Spotify's feature looks very similar, with the system downloading frequently listened-to songs and other content.

We’ve been testing out a new feature called "Your Offline Mix" - a playlist designed for those times when you might not be online ✈️

What do you think?

— Daniel Ek (@eldsjal) June 8, 2023

The feature is in testing and it's not clear yet when it will be available, but users in Ek's Twitter mentions said they've already seen it in their apps — with one noting that they hadn't downloaded 90 percent of the songs in their mix. Plus, the screenshot shows an offline mix over three-and-a-half hours long, so it can handle plenty of songs. That will make it quite useful for times when you're traveling or are in a remote location and need a little (or a lot) of entertainment.

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