I’m lying on the roof of a bombed-out shopping arcade, watching tracer fire igniting the cool evening air about 500m from my position. Whoever wins that shootout will come my way when the fight is over. I don’t have the armour or weaponry to defend myself properly so all I can do is wait and hope they get in an abandoned car and drive right past.
Deep down, I know they won’t.
Call of Duty: Warzone, which is celebrating its first birthday this week, is only one of a number of battle royale titles competing for the attention of locked-down gamers in this weird new reality we’re inhabiting. Just like Fortnite, Apex Legends and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, it involves dozens of players landing on a limited expanse of land with the sole purpose of killing each other until only one remains. But there is something different about this spin-off from the famed military shooter series. It has so much dread and atmosphere it feels like a horror game. At least the way I play it.
Consider the setting: the fictitious eastern European region of Verdansk, a bludgeoned smörgåsbord of horror movie locales. There are the deserted towns, blasted airports and ruined TV studios of George A Romero’s zombie apocalypses, but there are also elements of rural horror cinema: the foreboding lumber yards, the rocky, windswept uplands, the squalid farms where carcasses of cows lie festering in the sun. These are the stark, threatening domains of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Dual and Deliverance, and like the unwary city-dwellers who find themselves stranded in the outbacks imagined by Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven, we’re always under threat from some shadowy, unknowable figure, lurking behind a jagged, broken window.
The attention to grim detail is what makes it. You’ll blunder into a house and find an unmade bed, a calendar with dates marked, a mobile spinning above a baby’s cot. These scenes of abandoned domesticity are another staple of zombie cinema; they are disturbing in themselves because they suggest a very recent catastrophe: something that made these people drop everything and run, and could still be there. The game also uses the sound of swarming flies in various locales, which hint at pestilence and death.
Indeed, the sound design is incredible throughout. When you’re hiding out in one of the many old abandoned buildings, you hear dust crumbling from the bricks above you or metal beams groaning. According to evolutionary psychologists, one of the reasons haunted house movies are so scary is that the noises they make – the creaking floorboards, the rustling of branches against windows – are similar to the sounds that alerted our prehistoric ancestors to the presence of potential predators out in the darkness. These instinctive “agency detection” mechanisms still keep us on edge when we hear them, and in Warzone they have added potency because we actually are surrounded by predators who want to kill us.
The gunfire and military vehicle sounds also add to this intimidating audio environment. From the screeching feedback of a ricochetting bullet to the monstrous roar of the A10 tankbuster’s front-mounted gatling gun, the development team has created multilayered, highly positional effects to immerse you in each deadly skirmish. Although these are doubtless based on authentic samples, they’re also weirdly animalistic, recalling the hyper organic sound design of the Alien movies and Walter Murch’s incredible work on Apocalypse Now, where whirling helicopter blades and swooping napalm drops become loaded with almost supernatural terror.
On the subject of Aliens, Warzone even has its own heartbeat sensor gadget that closely resembles that film’s iconic motion tracker. It allows players to locate enemies who appear as a bleeping points of light on a handheld display and the tension this generates, as the bleep gets closer, closely recalls a classic scene from the film.
The various military effects throughout the game also utilise two specific types of sound: infrasound, which creates unsettling vibrations, and non-linear sounds – sounds of a high amplitude, which feature rapid changes in frequency and harmony. These are sounds we instinctively fear: infrasound resembles the noises of natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods, while non-linear sounds resemble animal cries and human screams. Once again, these are commonly used in horror films, both in sound effects and in scores – the screeching violins in the Psycho shower scenes and the sonorous, vibratory strings of the Jaws theme, for example.
There have, of course, been other games that more obviously seek to replicate horror movie experiences in online multiplayer spaces: DayZ, H1Z1, Phasmophobia. But while these are all interesting and involving, the exquisite graphical fidelity, convincing animation and expensive production value of Warzone set it apart. It is cinematic in a way its rivals are not.
The recent Outbreak mode, an open-world version of the familiar Zombies Mode, and the introduction of zombie-infested areas into the Warzone map, have seen CoD teams doubling down on the game’s subtle horror underpinnings. Titles such as Prey, FEAR, Dead Space and Doom have explored the fecund and interesting relationship between first-person shooters and horror fiction. There is something uncanny about inhabiting the avatar in this way, and being under constant peril. Warzone isn’t meant to be a horror game, but playing in Solos as opposed to a team-based mode, and creeping from house to house, hyperaware there could be a player around any corner, it produces exactly the same unconscious responses in our brains. And ultimately, like Resident Evil, like Silent Hill, it’s a game about survival.
What Warzone hints at, and where online survival games such as Rust, Sea of Thieves and Ark are pointing, is toward a new style of tense, narrative adventure, set in open worlds with many players, and with stories that emerge dynamically from the fear and chaos. Horror is after all something best experienced with other people.
These are certainly fun things to think about, as I’m hiding out on a rooftop, low on ammo and armour, waiting for the inevitable sound of approaching footsteps.
Google has backtracked on plans to welcome most workers back to its sprawling campus in September, becoming the latest Silicon Valley company to delay reopening amid a surge in Covid cases.
The company announced Wednesday it is postponing a return to the office until mid-October and rolling out a policy that will eventually require everyone who returns in person to be vaccinated.
The decision sees Google join Apple and Netflix in postponing calling employees back to the office due to concerns about the highly transmissible Delta variant, which now accounts for more than 80% of new cases in the US. Twitter also halted reopening plans and closed offices last week due to the Delta variant.
In an email to Google’s more than 130,000 employees worldwide, chief executive officer Sundar Pichai said the company is now aiming to have most of its workforce back to its offices beginning 18 October instead of its previous target date of 1 September.
Google’s delay also affects tens of thousands of contractors who Google intends to continue to pay while access to its campuses remains limited.
“This extension will allow us time to ramp back into work while providing flexibility for those who need it,” Pichai wrote. This marks the third time Google has pushed back the date for fully reopening its offices.
Pichai said that once offices are fully reopened, everyone working there will have to be vaccinated. The requirement will be first imposed at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, and other US offices, before being extended to the more than 40 other countries where Google operates.
Facebook announced a similar policy on Wednesday, saying it will make vaccines mandatory for US employees who work in offices. Apple is reportedly also considering requiring vaccines.
“This is the stuff that needs to be done, because otherwise we are endangering workers and their families,” said Dr Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University and a former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore. “It is not fair to parents to be expected to come back to work and sit shoulder-to-shoulder with unvaccinated people who could be carrying a potentially deadly virus.”
Because children under the age of 12 aren’t currently eligible to be vaccinated, parents can bring the virus home to them from the office if they are around unvaccinated colleagues, Wen said.
The delays from these companies could influence other major employers to take similar precautions, given that the technology industry has been at the forefront of the shift to remote work triggered by the spread of Covid-19.
Even before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in March 2020, Google, Apple and many other prominent tech firms had been telling their employees to work from home.Manyothers in the tech industry have decided to let employees do their jobs from remote locations permanently.
Google’s decision to require employees working in the office to be vaccinated comes on the heels of similar moves affecting hundreds of thousands government workers in California and New York as part of stepped-up measures to fight the delta variant. Joe Biden is expected to announce a mandate that all federal government workers be vaccinated.
The rapid rise in cases during the past month has prompted more public health officials to urge stricter measures to help overcome vaccine skepticism and misinformation.
While other major technology companies may follow suit now that Google and Facebook have taken stands on vaccines, employers in other industries still may be reluctant, predicted Brian Kropp, chief of research for the research firm Gartner. Less than 10% of employers have said they intend to require all employees to be vaccinated, based on periodic surveys by Gartner.
“Google is seen as being such a different kind of company that I think it’s going to take one or two more big employers to do something similar in terms of becoming a game changer,” Kropp said.
Google’s effort to build a “Privacy Sandbox” – a set of technologies for delivering personalized ads online without the tracking problems presented by cookie-based advertising – continues to struggle with its promise of privacy.
The Privacy Sandbox consists of a set of web technology proposals with bird-themed names intended to aim interest-based ads at groups rather than individuals.
Much of this ad-related data processing is intended to occur within the browsers of internet users, to keep personal information from being spirited away to remote servers where it might be misused.
So, simply put, the aim is to ensure decisions made on which ads you’ll see, based on your interests, take place in your browser rather than in some backend systems processing your data.
Google launched the initiative in 2019 after competing browser makers began blocking third-party cookies – the traditional way to deliver targeted ads and track internet users – and government regulators around the globe began tightening privacy rules.
The ad biz initially hoped that it would be able to develop a replacement for cookie-based ad targeting by the end of 2021.
But after last month concluding the trial of its flawed FLoC – Federated Learning of Cohorts – to send the spec back for further refinement and pushing back its timeline for replacing third-party cookies with Privacy Sandbox specs, Google now acknowledges that its purportedly privacy-protective remarketing proposal FLEDGE – First Locally-Executed Decision over Groups Experiment – also needs a tweak to prevent the technology from being used to track people online.
On Wednesday, John Mooring, senior software engineer at Microsoft, opened an issue in the GitHub repository for Turtledove (now known as FLEDGE) to describe a conceptual attack that would allow someone to craft code on webpages to use FLEDGE to track people across different websites.
That runs contrary to its very purpose. FLEDGE is supposed to enable remarketing – for example, a web store using a visitor’s interest in a book to present an ad for that book on a third-party website – without tracking the visitor through a personal identifier.
Michael Kleber, the Google mathematician overseeing the construction of Privacy Sandbox specs, acknowledged that the sample code could be abused to create an identifier in situations where there’s no ad competition.
“This is indeed the natural fingerprinting concern associated with the one-bit leak, which FLEDGE will need to protect against in some way,” he said, suggesting technical interventions and abuse detection as possible paths to resolve the privacy leak. “We certainly need some approach to this problem before the removal of third-party cookies in Chrome.”
In an email to The Register, Dr Lukasz Olejnik, independent privacy researcher and consultant, emphasized the need to ensure that the Privacy Sandbox does not leak from the outset.
It will all be futile if the candidates for replacements are not having an adequate privacy level on their own
“Among the goals of Privacy Sandbox is to make advertising more civilized, specifically privacy-proofed,” said Olejnik. “To achieve this overarching goal, plenty of changes must be introduced. But it will all be futile if the candidates for replacements are not having an adequate privacy level on their own. This is why the APIs would need to be really well designed, and specifications crystal-clear, considering broad privacy threat models.”
The problem as Olejnik sees it is that the privacy characteristics of the technology being proposed are not yet well understood. And given the timeline for this technology and revenue that depends on it – the global digital ad spend this year is expected to reach $455bn – he argues data privacy leaks need to be identified in advance so they can be adequately dealt with.
“This particular risk – the so-called one-bit leak issue – has been known since 2020,” Olejnik said. “I expect that a solution to this problem will be found in the fusion of API design (i.e. Turtledove and Fenced Frames), implementation level, and the auditing manner – active search for potential misuses.
“But this particular issue indeed looks serious – a new and claimed privacy-friendly solution should not be introduced while being aware of such a design issue. In this sense, it’s a show-stopper, but one that is hopefully possible to duly address in time.” ®
The Government and Enterprise Ireland are providing two funds to regional Irish businesses in a bid to help them transition to a greener, digital economy.
The Government has today (29 July ) announced it will provide €10m in funding through Enterprise Ireland to projects supporting digitalisation and the transition to a green economy.
The Regional Enterprise Transition Scheme, worth €9.5m, will provide grant funding to regional and community-based projects focused on helping enterprises to adapt to the changing economic landscape due to Covid-19 and Brexit.
Leo Clancy, CEO, Enterprise Ireland said: “The Regional Enterprise Transition Scheme is aimed at supporting regional development and the regional business eco-system, helping to create and sustain jobs in the regions impacted by Covid-19.”
Grants of up to €1.8m or 80pc of project cost are available to businesses. The projects should aim to address the impact of Covid-19 and improve the capability and competitiveness of regional enterprises.
The call for the Regional Enterprise Transition Scheme will close on 8 September 2021. The successful projects will be announced in October and all funding will be provided to the successful applicants before the end of the year.
A separate funding scheme, the €500,000 Feasibility Study fund, will provide financial support to early-stage regional enterprise development projects.
Launching the funding schemes, Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Digital and Company Regulation, Robert Troy TD said the funds would “help stimulate transformational regional projects to support enterprises embrace the opportunities of digitalisation, the green economy as well as navigate the changed landscape arising from Covid-19.”
Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, Damien English TD commented at the launch that the funds would help “build Covid-19 and Brexit resilience and enable applicants to support enterprises and SMEs to respond to recent economic and market challenges which also includes the transition to a low carbon economy, digital transformation and smart specialisation.”
The Feasibility Fund is open to new projects, with grants available of up to €50,000 or 50pc of project cost and will allow promoters to test their project concept and deliver virtual or site-based solutions to their target audience.
Applications for the Feasibility Fund close on 1st October 2021.
For more information and details on how to apply for the funds, see here and here.