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The final Fifa: after 30 years, the football sim plans to go out with a bang | Games

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Earlier this year, at the famed La Romareda stadium in Zaragoza, Spain, EA Sports organised two football matches, one each for male and female pro players. During these competitive 90-minute fixtures, all participants, including subs and officials, wore advanced Xsens motion capture suits that recorded their every movement, shot, tackle and celebration. Involving more than 70 people it was, according to gameplay producer Sam Rivera, the largest number of players ever motion-captured in a single session.

Every year, the developers of Fifa tell us that their key aim is authenticity. This year, Fifa 23 – the final product of EA Sports and Fifa’s 30-year partnership – is about making key moments more intelligible, detailed and dramatic, zooming in ever closer to the action at pitch level. That grand Zaragoza mo-cap session provided 10m frames of animation – twice as much match capture as Fifa 22 – allowing for more than 6,000 authentic player animations, a wealth of which are female-specific.

Fifa 23 - Vini Jr v Lores.
Fifa 23 – Vini Jr v Lores. Photograph: Electronic Arts

That data has also been fed through Hypermotion 2, EA Sports’ machine learning engine, which uses the mo-cap data to create new, highly authentic animations on the fly, seamlessly filling in the gaps between mo-cap moments. This should mean smoother, more controllable movement on the ball. “Dribbling is getting more responsive,” says Rivera. “The personality of the players really shines through. We got the feedback in Fifa 22 that dribbling felt slidey; players were skating sometimes when turning. With the new system, they’re a lot more grounded, turning feels good, and the steps in between every single dribble touch are created by the algorithm. This means every step matches the path, creating better visuals.”

The designers are also enhancing dribbling’s defensive counter-action: jockeying. The machine learning system has been trained to detect which player is between the advancing player and the goal, and then governs their movements. They’ll usually approach the attacker from an angle rather than face-to-face, letting them tackle effectively. “They even put their hands behind their backs when they’re inside the box,” enthuses Rivera.

Players will accelerate differently, too: controlled, lengthy or explosive. This means a player such as Erling Haaland or Vinícius Júnior will burst away at speed, but will then slow more quickly, while someone with lengthy acceleration such as Virgil van Dijk won’t be quite as quick off the mark, but will gain speed. The idea is to break up the predictability of one-on-ones: it’ll no longer be quite as clear who’ll get to a loose ball first, or who will outrun an opponent down the wing.

Another new feature is the power shot: when players hit both bumpers while pressing the shoot button, the game brings up power and positioning options for a controlled, pinpoint strike. “It’s a risk v reward system,” says gameplay design director, Kantcho Doskov. “You can try it at any time, but if there’s a defender nearby, they’re going to tackle you. You really have to carve out that space, and even when you do, you have to aim precisely. Aiming at the top corner of the goal takes a bit of skill! When I try power shots, most of the time I don’t score, but it’s fun to test the keeper. And sometimes, just because the shot is so powerful, he’s forced to parry the goal back to my striker, who taps it in.”

Elsewhere, EA is telling us to expect redesigned set-pieces, with aiming on the right analogue stick, aided by a preview projection line – and defenders can now lie behind the wall to block low shots. And impact physics have been improved, so a player’s foot might be knocked sideways by a ball travelling at velocity, affecting their touch. The virtual grass now has individual blades, and the surface degrades as the match goes on: sliding tackles and knee-slide celebrations will tear up the turf, leaving scars that remain for the whole game. “At the moment, it’s purely visual,” says senior art director, Fab Muoio.” But we’ve had discussions about whether or not it will impact play and that’s something we’ll think about in the future.”

Fifa 23 - Signal Iduna Park.
Fifa 23 – Signal Iduna Park. Photograph: Electronic Arts

Muoio talks a lot about drawing inspiration from modern TV broadcast aesthetics. “Just look at the real-world use of drone cameras,” he says. ”I saw some footage from the Etihad of a drone shot going all the way through the concourse and the stadium. It looks amazing, like CG.

“We also reworked our out-of-play cameras to make them look a lot nicer when you have a corner kick, throw-in or goal kick: we’ve adjusted the depth of field and the composition, just to have the player pop a little bit more from the background. It looks more in line with what you see in modern broadcast football, with that heavy depth of field.”

An early beta demo shows all of these new details in action. Playing as Manchester City, you see the fast, insightful runs of Jack Grealish and Kevin De Bruyne and the amazing shot-stopping capabilities of Ederson. Attempting a power shot with Real Madrid’s Marco Asensio gives you a real sense of his strength and accuracy. There’s also a beautiful moment of animation fluidity when Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus turns and volleys in a crowded box, arching the ball into the top left corner. A couple of hours of play show up more diversity of movement and interaction between players, and although the pace is similar to Fifa 22, it feels like there are a few more milliseconds available to line up ambitious passes.

EA Sports has some big changes coming to Career mode, including interactive match highlights, which let you play the key moments from important matches instead of the whole game, making for a snappier, more dramatic narrative. There are announcements to come about the ever-popular but also hugely controversial Ultimate Team mode. EA has stated that it will not be abandoning the “loot box”-style random player packs that underpin the mode, even though several countries have either banned or are considering bans on them. Whatever EA does to improve this part of the game, including making it easier to progress without purchasing packs, the ethical quandary of the loot box will cast a long shadow over the entire game.

Work is progressing, too, on EA Sports’ post-Fifa future, which will arrive in 2024 as the awkwardly-titled EA Sports FC. It’s clear that Fifa itself is going to struggle to commission a new football sim that will get anywhere close to EA’s game in quality and detail. The development team views Fifa 23 as a good indication of where things are heading. “You can see by the amount of content this year: we want more, we want to continue going big,” says Rivera. “We’re excited about 2024 and what’s coming. There are a lot of opportunities. Responsiveness, visuals, authenticity – are what will take us there.”

He’ll only give up one specific detail: the use of machine learning animation, currently confined to very specific areas of the game, is likely to expand as EA moves into the next era of its simulation. There is a dedicated AI coding team at EA’s Vancouver studio that have been working on this tech for several years, and if this year’s implementations go down well, we might soon see the end of scripted animations. “I can’t talk about the details of where it’s going because these are huge future features, but the potential that we’re seeing is crazy,” says Rivera. “We can see how machine learning can take over animation in the future.”

It still feels kind of surreal that this is the end for Fifa as we know it. A game that began on the Mega Drive with its blocky, stylised sprites and electronically simulated crowd noises, now features lifelike motion captures taken from genuine matches, and an intelligent animation system that mimics the behaviours of real-life players. Fifa has been loved and loathed; it has seen off one great rival – the Pro Evolution Soccer series – and will soon compete against whatever licensed products Fifa can pitch against it. In embracing the women’s game, it’s doing the right thing at the right moment, while at the same time, its insistence on retaining the loot box lottery of Ultimate Team will ensure that controversy as well as fandom will follow it into the future. But that, after all, is football.

Keith Stuart attended a press trip to Electronic Arts in Vancouver with other journalists. His travel and accommodation expenses were met by Electronic Arts.

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Google UK staff earned average of more than £385,000 each in 18 months | Google

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Google UK’s staff earned an average of more than £385,000 each in the 18 months to the end of December, as the tech company gave almost £1bn in share-based payments.

Google, which like other tech firms is looking at budget and potential job cuts as global economic conditions become tougher, reported £3.4bn in turnover and £1.1bn in pre-tax profits in the 18 months to the end of December 2021.

The company, which reported a year and a half of financial results after moving its accounting period from the end of June to December last year, paid £200m in UK corporation tax.

Google UK hired 577 staff between June 2020 and December last year, taking its total headcount to 5,701. The company employs 2,275 staff in sales and marketing roles, 2,412 in research and design and 1,014 in management and administration roles.

Google’s total staff costs hit £2.2bn in the 18-month reporting period, according to accounts filed at Companies House. The staff wage and salary bill came to £1.06bn.

The accounts show UK staff received an £829m bonanza in share-based payments, and there was £258m on social security costs and £52m in expenses relating to its defined contribution plan.

The accounts also show that Google paid £200m in UK corporation tax on its £1.1bn profits.

Like its tech peers Meta – the owner of Facebook and Instagram – and Amazon, Google is frequently the target of criticism that it does not pay enough in tax in the UK.

While the company reported £3.4bn in turnover over its 18-month reporting period, the research firm Insider Intelligence estimates that Google made almost £8.7bn in ad revenue in the UK in 2021 alone.

Google, which has its European headquarters in Ireland, where taxes are lower, reports some revenues in other jurisdictions.

“Our global effective income tax rate over the past decade has been close to 20% of our profits, in line with average statutory tax rates,” a spokesperson for Google said. “We have long supported efforts via the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] to update international tax rules to arrive at a system where more taxing rights are allocated to countries where products and services are consumed.”

In November, Google’s Irish subsidiary agreed to pay €218m (£183m) in back taxes to the Irish government. In 2020, Alphabet, Google’s parent company, said it would stop using a notorious tax loophole known as “the double Irish with a Dutch sandwich”.

In 2020, the UK introduced a digital services tax, which levies 2% of gross revenues, and aimed to target large digital companies that make huge revenues but report relatively small profits.

Next year, it will be replaced by a new global tax system after the OECD brokered a deal between 136 countries that will result in large multinational companies paying tax in the countries where they do business, and committing themselves to a minimum 15% corporation tax rate.

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Tesla has a bit of work to do on Optimus robot • The Register

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Tesla headlined its AI Day 2022 event on Friday with the reveal of its “Optimus” robot prototype, showing just how much work was left to do on the project.

While the demo was certainly more robotic than last year’s dancer in a onesie, the lumbering mess of cables was far from the sleek and sexy design faithful Muskites might expect from the EV maker.

CEO and founder Elon Musk said before the curtains opened: “I do want to set some expectations with respect to our Optimus robot. As you know, last year it was just a person in a robot suit, but we’ve come a long way and, you know, compared to that, it’s going to be impressive.”

But in a world accustomed to the back-flipping bots of Boston Dynamics, Optimus was less than impressive. A mechanical engineer stepped in to inform the audience that this was the first time the robot was run “without any backup support – cranes, mechanical mechanisms, no cables, nothing.”

Tesla Optimus protoype

Tesla’s ‘rough development robot’

The prototype managed to rotate its arms, then tottered to the forefront to give the audience a wave, before walking back as a screen failed to close. “This is essentially the same self-driving computer that runs in Tesla cars by the way,” an Autopilot engineer proclaimed.

The event then showed videos of the robot picking up and putting down objects, and watering plants. “What you saw … was our rough development robot using semi-off-the-shelf actuators. But … we actually have an Optimus bot with fully Tesla-designed and built actuators, battery pack, control system, everything.”

This version, which was then pushed onto the stage, was a little more “Tesla” – slimmer, neater, shinier. Only one problem: it can’t walk. “I think it will walk in a few weeks,” Musk said, “but we wanted to show you something that’s fairly close to what will go into production.”

Clumsily wheeled out by staff, it also managed a couple more waves and did the splits from the rod on which it was mounted.

“Our goal is to make a useful humanoid robot as quickly as possible,” Musk said. “We’ve also designed it using the same discipline we use in designing the car, which is to say to design a form of manufacturing such that it is possible to make the robot in high volume at low cost with higher liability.

“You’ve all seen very impressive humanoid robots demonstrations, and that’s great, but what are they missing? They’re missing a brain. They don’t have the intelligence to navigate the world by themselves. They’re also very expensive and made in low volume. Optimus is designed to be an extremely capable robot but made in very high volume – ultimately millions of units – and it’s expected to cost much less than a car, so probably less than $20,000.”

That’s one expensive Roomba.

Accepting that there was “a lot of work to be done to refine Optimus and improve it,” Musk said the aim of the event was convince more AI and mechanical engineers to join the company to bring the project “to fruition at scale” and “help millions of people.”

He then waxed lyrical about an economy where there was “not a limitation on capita,” which could then become “quasi-infinite,” implying that he hopes Tesla’s robots might one day replace humans on production lines.

“This means a future of abundance,” he said. “A future where there is no poverty, where you can have whatever you want in terms of products and services. It really is a fundamental transformation of civilization as we know it.”

As if to reference his belief that AI is humanity’s “biggest existential threat,” he added: “Obviously, we want to make sure that transformation is a positive one and safe,” claiming that Tesla’s public ownership model was the right way to achieve this.

While not quite the disasterpiece of the Cybertruck reveal, going by what was shown at the AI Day, such a utopia is still far away. ®

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Dublin proptech constructing an operating system for buildings

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The SpaceOS platform sets out to create smart workplaces as the world wises up to the future of hybrid, flexible and sustainable work.

“We believe that buildings have been failing to answer people’s needs for decades,” said Marley Fabisiewicz. “We’re making them more convenient and human-centric with technology, while feeding the property managers and real estate developers with data.”

That, in a nutshell, is what proptech start-up SpaceOS is all about. “The real estate industry is a dinosaur,” said co-CEO Fabisiewicz, whose vision is to realise its digital transformation through developing tech-enabled workspaces. “Our mission is to help companies attract, retain, inspire and empower their people by creating dynamic and digitised workplace communities.”

Headquartered in Dublin, SpaceOS offers a workplace experience platform that Fabisiewicz said “turns smartphones into remote controls for the workplace”. The name derives from the concept of creating “an operating system for buildings”.

What this involves, Fabisiewicz explained, is digitising physical assets and providing APIs to integrate existing business technologies, such as access control. “[SpaceOS] covers everything from opening doors and booking desks and rooms, to ordering food, registering guests and sending out invoices, all blended seamlessly into daily workflows,” he said.

“Because of its modular structure, SpaceOS is ready to integrate with a variety of platforms to meet the specific requirements of any workspace infrastructure. It connects all stakeholders, reduces inputs and costs, provides insights, and offers smart management tools. It provides building managers and users with transparency, cost efficiency and real-time information, while focusing on the user experience.”

‘Dynamic workspaces are shaping the future of work’
– MARLEY FABISIEWICZ

Fabisiewicz sees the platform as essential to the transformed modern workplace. “We are targeting building owners, tenants, and managers. With a high demand for spaces to fit varying needs in a modern work environment, dynamic workspaces are shaping the future of work,” he said.

“However, current building management tools were typically designed before hybrid working became mainstream. As a result, they are inflexible and lack the adaptability and technology necessary to make today’s workspaces more efficient, while reducing operating costs.”

Demand for SpaceOS could also be employee-driven, Fabisiewicz explained, as modern workers demand systems that enable flexibility, engagement and sustainable practices. Clients can use the platform to deliver push notifications for news, events or community updates, and the service also offers detail data on carbon emissions, to support net-zero initiatives.

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals have been a focal point of the start-up in the past year, leading to a partnership with Germany company Aedifion, which provides a cloud-based platform to collate data on buildings’ energy consumption.

“This collaboration allows property owners and managers to offer tenants a real-time visualisation of metrics regarding their energy usage and carbon emissions. This is the basis for transparency, and a step to make everyone in the workplace become a sustainability activist, supporting the decarbonisation of buildings,” said Fabisiewicz.

“We are currently working on managing heating, ventilation and energy based on occupancy and capacity data, to decarbonise buildings even more effectively. Future integrations will also allow tenants to remote-control HVAC, blinds, lights and more, through the SpaceOS app.”

‘The landscape has changed significantly since the markets tanked’
– MARLEY FABISIEWICZ

Serial entrepreneur Fabisiewicz also founded Upnext Technologies, a software and digital product development agency focused on the fintech industry.

SpaceOS was founded in 2017 by Fabisiewicz and his co-CEO Maciej Markowski, who has a background in real estate consultancy and proptech. “He has international experience in corporate workplace and change issues, advising major corporations on their workplace research, strategy and change management,” said Fabisiewicz.

So far, the founding duo have increased revenue three times over in the past 12 months and built up a strong client portfolio. “However, we are still in the early innings of the proptech game,” said Fabisiewicz. “Market saturation for tenant experience technology is at around 5pc globally, so there’s still a massive upside potential and room to grow.”

Of course, the present-day market disruptions present a challenging environment for growth and investment. “The landscape has changed significantly since the markets tanked,” said Fabisiewicz. “12 months ago, it was all about hypergrowth. Today, it’s all about how quickly you can become profitable.”

In Dublin, however, Fabisiewicz describes the start-up ecosystem as “a continuous boom” with “more money to be deployed by investors, more founders with great ideas, and a maturing ecosystem for start-ups in general”.

In his company’s case, SpaceOS is looking for “smart money” that offers more than a cash injection. Fabisiewicz is seeking investors who “not only write a cheque, but also support in building the business”.

“I believe especially in proptech this is essential for a successful start-up,” he said.

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