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Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town review – limited earthly delights | Simulation games

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In this latest in a long line of farming-life games, you are once again thrust into the role of a young person who leaves the big city for an idyllic life of agricultural self-sufficiency, growing crops, chopping wood and integrating yourself into small-town life. Olive Town tries hard to integrate the lessons of its newer, scrappier competitors, most notably the mega-hit Stardew Valley; there’s more exploration and crafting, with a seemingly sprawling wilderness for you to reclaim and redevelop. But it’s hampered by technical issues that impact the game’s gentle vibe.

Both technically and artistically, Olive Town’s visuals have taken a leap forward from last year’s Friends of Mineral Town remake, and it looks just as good from both overhead and first-person views. This is best exemplified by the game’s loading screens, which showcase photos taken by other players – a great idea that deserves to be adopted by games with fancier photo modes. You’ll be seeing quite a lot of other player’s shots, because loading screens are both lengthy and annoyingly frequent, introducing unwelcome friction into the game’s otherwise laid-back flow.

Food for thought ... Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town.
Food for thought … Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town. Photograph: Marvelous

As the days pass by, your farm will sprawl out over the landscape like some twee industrial blight. Being able to lay down paths, buildings and fencing on your farm is a welcome change from the limited template customisation of past games, but there are strange restrictions that would drive any serious homesteader to distraction. Weird space restrictions guarantee a strangely geometric estate that can’t incorporate your farm’s natural features, and to upgrade your hammers and hoes you must plop down dozens of aesthetically-jarring maker contraptions to help process your raw materials into something usable. It doesn’t help, either, that the game’s framerate nosedives as you add more decorative flair.

Much of these games’ appeal rests on their characters, and Olive Town has a pleasingly large and diverse cast. It’s rare to see explicit nods to real-life cultures in these games, so florists Linh and Grandpa Nguyen and the surf-shack family headed by Emilio and Manuela really stand out. But it takes a long time to make friends, so you’ll be stuck at the bland nodding-acquaintance stage until you figure out precisely which gifts to bribe them with as part of your everyday routine. The writing is pleasingly quirky, but a bit light, lacking emotional weight or drama – not that we necessarily need that from a cute farming game.

Aesthetically-jarring contraptions ... Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town.
Aesthetically-jarring contraptions … Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town. Photograph: Marvelous

It’s disappointing that for a game about pioneering, there isn’t that much exploration or development. Once you’re done unlocking the areas of wilderness in your backyard, it’s hard to find longer-term goals that you want to work towards. There is the option to contribute materials towards town development, but this is superficial – it’s difficult to even see the difference in the new town hall’s facade, or to care about whether the road is brick or cobblestone.

Without the drive of something new and promising on the horizon, the daily grind just doesn’t have that one-more-go appeal that is key to the farming-sim experience. There have been big improvements to the game’s presentation and accessibility, and it remains warm, cheerful and inviting, but between the technical issues and the aimless design it’s difficult to recommend highly – even if it’s better than the newer Harvest Moon games.

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What is COP26 and what can we expect from climate talks?

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Shelley Inglis from the University of Dayton explains how global climate negotiations work and what’s expected from the upcoming Glasgow summit.

Click here to visit The Conversation.

A version of this article was originally published by The Conversation (CC BY-ND 4.0)

Over two weeks in November, world leaders and national negotiators will meet in Scotland to discuss what to do about the climate crisis. It’s a complex process that can be hard to make sense of from the outside, but it’s how international law and institutions help solve problems that no single country can fix on its own.

I worked for the United Nations for several years as a law and policy adviser and have been involved in international negotiations. Here’s what’s happening behind closed doors and why people are concerned that COP26 might not meet its goals.

What is COP26?

In 1992, countries agreed to an international treaty called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which set ground rules and expectations for global cooperation on combating climate change. It was the first time the majority of nations formally recognised the need to control greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming that drives climate change.

That treaty has since been updated, including in 2015 when nations signed the Paris climate agreement. That agreement set the goal of limiting global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, to avoid catastrophic climate change.

COP26 stands for the 26th Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC. The “parties” are the 196 countries that ratified the treaty, plus the European Union. The UK, partnering with Italy, is hosting COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, from 31 October to 12 November 2021, after a one-year postponement due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Why are world leaders so focused on the climate crisis?

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report, released in August 2021, warns in its strongest terms yet that human activities have unequivocally warmed the planet, and that climate change is now widespread, rapid and intensifying.

The IPCC’s scientists explain how climate change has been fuelling extreme weather events and flooding, severe heat waves and droughts, loss and extinction of species, and the melting of ice sheets and rising of sea levels. UN secretary-general António Guterres called the report a “code red for humanity.”

Enough greenhouse gas emissions are already in the atmosphere, and they stay there long enough, that even under the most ambitious scenario of countries quickly reducing their emissions, the world will experience rising temperatures through at least mid-century.

However, there remains a narrow window of opportunity. If countries can cut global emissions to “net zero” by 2050, that could bring warming back to under 1.5 degrees Celsius in the second half of the 21st century. How to get closer to that course is what leaders and negotiators are discussing.

What happens at COP26?

During the first days of the conference, around 120 heads of state, like US president Joe Biden, and their representatives will gather to demonstrate their political commitment to slowing climate change.

Once the heads of state depart, country delegations, often led by ministers of environment, engage in days of negotiations, events and exchanges to adopt their positions, make new pledges and join new initiatives. These interactions are based on months of prior discussions, policy papers and proposals prepared by groups of states, UN staff and other experts.

Non-governmental organisations and business leaders also attend the conference, and COP26 has a public side with sessions focused on topics such as the impact of climate change on small island states, forests or agriculture, as well as exhibitions and other events.

The meeting ends with an outcome text that all countries agree to. Guterres publicly expressed disappointment with the COP25 outcome, and there are signs of trouble heading into COP26.

What is COP26 expected to accomplish?

Countries are required under the Paris Agreement to update their national climate action plans every five years, including at COP26. This year, they’re expected to have ambitious targets through 2030. These are known as nationally determined contributions, or NDCs.

The Paris Agreement requires countries to report their NDCs, but it allows them leeway in determining how they reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The initial set of emission reduction targets in 2015 was far too weak to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

One key goal of COP26 is to ratchet up these targets to reach net-zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century.

Another aim of COP26 is to increase climate finance to help poorer countries transition to clean energy and adapt to climate change. This is an important issue of justice for many developing countries whose people bear the largest burden from climate change but have contributed least to it.

Wealthy countries promised in 2009 to contribute $100bn a year by 2020 to help developing nations, a goal that has not been reached. The US, UK and EU, among the largest historic greenhouse emitters, are increasing their financial commitments, and banks, businesses, insurers and private investors are being asked to do more.

Other objectives include phasing out coal use and generating solutions that preserve, restore or regenerate natural carbon sinks, such as forests.

Another challenge that has derailed past COPs is agreeing on implementing a carbon trading system outlined in the Paris Agreement.

Are countries on track to meet international climate goals?

The UN warned in September 2021 that countries’ revised targets were too weak and would leave the world on pace to warm 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. However, governments are also facing another challenge that could affect how they respond: energy supply shortages have left Europe and China with price spikes for natural gas, coal and oil.

China – the world’s largest emitter – has not yet submitted its NDC. Major fossil fuel producers such as Saudi Arabia, Russia and Australia seem unwilling to strengthen their commitments. India – a critical player as the second-largest consumer, producer and importer of coal globally – has also not yet committed.

Other developing nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa and Mexico are important. So is Brazil, which, under Jair Bolsonaro’s watch, has increased deforestation of the Amazon – the world’s largest rainforest and crucial for biodiversity and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

What happens if COP26 doesn’t meet its goals?

Many insiders believe that COP26 won’t reach its goal of having strong enough commitments from countries to cut global greenhouse gas emissions 45pc by 2030. That means the world won’t be on a smooth course for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 and the goal of keeping warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But organisers maintain that keeping warming under 1.5 degrees is still possible. Former US secretary of state John Kerry, who has been leading the US negotiations, remains hopeful that enough countries will create momentum for others to strengthen their reduction targets by 2025.

The cost of failure is astronomical. Studies have shown that the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius can mean the submersion of small island states, the death of coral reefs, extreme heat waves, flooding and wildfires, and pervasive crop failure.

That translates into many premature deaths, more mass migration, major economic losses, large swathes of unliveable land and violent conflict over resources and food – what the UN secretary-general has called “a hellish future.”

The Conversation

By Shelley Inglis

Shelley Inglis is executive director of the Human Rights Center at the University of Dayton in Ohio. She is a research professor of human rights and law, and previously held various management positions with the United Nations Development Programme.

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Ransomware attacks in UK have doubled in a year, says GCHQ boss | GCHQ

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The head of the UK spy agency GCHQ has disclosed that the number of ransomware attacks on British institutions has doubled in the past year.

Jeremy Fleming, the director of GCHQ, said locking files and data on a user’s computer and demanding payment for their release had become increasingly popular among criminals because it was “largely uncontested” and highly profitable.

His comments, made on Monday to the Cipher Brief annual threat conference, follow warnings that Russia and China are harbouring criminal gangs that are successfully targeting western governments or firms.

“I think that the reason [ransomware] is proliferating – we’ve seen twice as many attacks this year as last year in the UK – is because it works. It just pays. Criminals are making very good money from it and are often feeling that that’s largely uncontested,” he told delegates.

GCHQ has declined to give the exact numbers of ransomware attacks recorded in the UK this year or last. However, a US Treasury report released this month disclosed that suspicious ransomware-related transactions in the US over the first six months of this year were worth around $590m. The top 10 hacking groups believed to be behind criminal activity had moved about $5.2bn worth of bitcoin over the past three years, the report claimed.

Amid growing concerns over China and Russia’s ties to ransomware gangs, Fleming also called for more clarity over the links between criminals and hostile states.

“In the shorter term we’ve got to sort out ransomware, and that is no mean feat in itself. We have to be clear on the red lines and behaviours that we want to see, we’ve got to go after those links between criminal actors and state actors,” he said.

Ransomware is malware that employs encryption to hold a victim’s information at ransom. A user or organisation’s critical data is encrypted so that they cannot access files, databases, or applications. A ransom is then demanded to provide access. It has been used as part of a number of high-profile cyber-attacks in recent years, including the 2017 attack on the NHS.

Specialists believe Russian ransomware will continue to expand given the proliferation of cyber hacking tools and cryptocurrency payment channels.

Lindy Cameron, chief executive of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), said this month that ransomware “presents the most immediate danger” of all cyber threats faced by the UK, in a speech to the Chatham House thinktank.

In May this year, the then foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said states such as Russia could not “wave their hands” and say ransomware gangs operating from their territory had nothing to do with them.

Since then the west has sought to ramp up the pressure on the Kremlin. Joe Biden twice raised the issue with Vladimir Putin over the summer and he hinted that the US would be prepared to attack computer servers belonging to the gangs if nothing was done.

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Windows XP is 20 years old • The Register

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Feature It was on this very day, 20 years ago, that Microsoft released Windows XP to General Availability.

Regarded by some as the cockroach of the computing world, in part due to its refusal to die despite the best efforts of Microsoft, XP found its way into the hands of customers on 25 October 2001 and sought to undo the mess wrought upon the public by 2000’s Windows Millennium Edition (ME). While ME used the Windows 9x kernel, XP was built on the Windows NT kernel, formerly aimed at the business market and a good deal more stable.

It also upped the hardware requirements on its preceding consumer OS. Where ME recommended 64MB of memory, XP wanted at least 128MB. And although masochists could run ME on a VGA screen, XP insisted on a minimum of SVGA. It all seems rather quaint now, but could be a painful jump back in the day.

The user interface was given an overhaul, giving the OS a markedly different appearance to what had gone before, and the Start Menu introduced with Windows 95 was tweaked as well to feature two columns.

Internet Explorer 6 also came in the box, but it wasn’t until 2004’s Service Pack 2 that a Security Center was added as Microsoft sought to bolster the defences of what had turned out to be a highly hackable operating system. Enough to make one, er, Wannacry.

Still, that particular bit of miscreant nastiness was in the future as Windows XP launched. Two editions appeared in 2001: Home, which lacked enterprise features like domain joining, and Professional, which was aimed at corporates and also had the breath-taking ability to support a pair of physical processors.

While mainstream support ended in 2009 (and extended support breathed its last in 2014), Windows XP remained hugely popular until finally being overtaken in popularity by Windows 7 in 2012 (another operating system, Windows Vista, was launched between the pair but proved unpopular). Microsoft has, however, continued to emit the occasional patch for the OS. The last was in 2019, just as mainstream support for the POSReady 2009 version of XP ended.

Although the consumerisation of Windows NT caused a twinge or two – some might regard Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 2000 as the high-water mark for Microsoft’s operating systems – XP signalled a new era for the company. Sure, the default theme might have felt like a child’s toy, but what lurked behind the scenes represented a huge leap forward from Windows 9x.

The same, we fear, cannot be said of Windows 11.

Happy GA day, Windows XP. ®

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