‘The Witcher: Monster Slayer’ is shutting down

CD Projekt Red is shutting down The Witcher: Monster Slayer, its Pokémon Go-style mobile title released last year. The game will start winding down at the end of January before going offline for good at the end of June.

Unfortunately, that will also mean layoffs. As detailed in a FAQ (spotted by IGN), some developers at Spokko (the publisher’s mobile-gaming studio launched in 2018) who worked on the game won’t be staying. The publisher says it’s rolling Spokko into CD Projekt Red with only some staff making that transition.

The publisher will remove The Witcher: Monster Slayer from the App Store and Google Play on January 31st, 2023. It will also turn off in-game purchases and stop adding new content that day. Servers will remain up for existing players until June 30th.

Announced several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the mobile monster-slaying game seemed like a fair bet. With gamers antsy from a seemingly endless quarantine, a geocaching-inspired adventure requiring Witcher fans to go out into the real world (while still praciticing social distancing) could have captured the mood of the moment. But that never fully transpired as the title didn’t launch until the following summer when vaccination rates were rising, and life began regaining a semblance of normality. Whether you can trace the game’s shutdown to pandemic-related timing or not, CD Projekt Red admits it “did not reach our business expectations.”

CD Project Red recently announced a long-term roadmap, including a Cyberpunk 2077 sequel and several new Witcher games — none requiring you to leave your couch.

Apple Music now offers a karaoke mode

You don't need Spotify or a dedicated app to try karaoke at home. Apple Music has introduced a Sing feature that lets you take over the vocals. You can not only adjust the voice levels, but use multiple lyric views depending on what you want to belt out — you can perform a duet or even handle background duties. Apple also notes that the lyric views are now cued to the beat and light up slowly, so it's easier to know when you should draw out a verse.

The feature will be available worldwide for "tens of millions" of tracks later in December on the new Apple TV 4K as well as recent iPhones (iPhone 11 and later) and iPads (such as last year's 9th-generation model). Android supports real-time lyrics, but won't let you adjust vocal levels. Accordingly, Apple Music plans to share more than 50 playlists devoted to songs "optimized" for the Sing feature. Don't be surprised if karaoke staples from Queen and other artists make the cut.

Spotify rolled out a karaoke feature in June, but with a very different focus. While Apple Music Sing is clearly aimed at parties, its Spotify counterpart is more of a gaming experience that records your voice and rates your performance. Apple tells Engadget its feature doesn't use microphones at all, so you won't have to worry if your version of "Islands in the Stream" needs some polish.

There's no mystery behind the addition. Sing gives you another reason to use Apple Music in group settings — it's not just for soundtracking your latest soirée. It could also serve as a selling point for the Apple TV, where music has rarely been a major priority. While this probably won't replace the karaoke machine at your favorite bar, it might offer a good-enough experience for those times when you'd rather stay home.

Facebook Dating finally adds age verification

Three years after bringing Facebook Dating to the US, Meta is finally adding a way for users to verify their age. As it did when it began testing age verification on Instagram this past summer, Meta is once again turning to a company called Yoti for help. If Facebook’s automated systems suspect a minor is trying to use Facebook Dating, the website will prompt that individual to provide more information. Users can prove they’re old enough to use the service either by submitting a copy of a photo ID card or a video selfie. In the latter case, Meta will share a video still with Yoti “and nothing else.” Yoti’s machine learning algorithm estimates your age based on your facial features. Once the company shares its estimate with Meta, Yoti will delete the image.

Yoti’s technology is controversial for a few reasons. To start, like other neural networks, it’s something of a black box. Yoti has said it doesn’t know exactly which facial characteristics its software uses to make judgments. The AI is also more likely to incorrectly estimate someone’s age depending on their gender and skin tone. In general, it’s the least accurate when examining female faces with dark skin and the most accurate when looking at light-skinned males. However, Meta claims it has found a lot of success using Yoti's software. On Instagram, for instance, it says that the technology has stopped 96 percent of teens from changing their birthdays to make it seem like they are over the age of 18. In the case of Facebook Dating, it’s also one of those instances where whatever concerns people have with the technology may be outweighed by the fact it’s being used to protect minors from online predators.

Facebook Dating age verification is currently only available in the US. Meta says it will bring the feature to more countries once it has had time to do more testing.

Anime classic ‘Berserk’ still isn’t available on Netflix in the US, UK and Canada

So much for streaming the influential anime seriesBerserk on Netflix in the US, at least on day one. As PiunikaWeb and viewers have noticed, the 1997 manga-based show still isn't available on the service in key markets like the US, UK and Canada well after its December 1st release date. You can watch the saga in countries like Portugal, so it is viewable — just not where you might have expected. For now, you'll likely have to rely on a VPN with the right local servers if you're determined to watch the 25-episode program.

We've asked Netflix for comment. There's still a countdown on the official Japanese Berserk website that suggests something is coming in about five days, but this appears to relate to the "Memorial Edition" that recut the 2012 movie trilogy for TV, not the original anime production. Given that the decade-old movies have plenty of critics, you may be better off waiting for their well-received predecessor.

The classic Berserk was a dark and unflinching fantasy tale that covered the Golden Age Arc of the manga, when Guts joined up with major characters like Casca and Griffith. The title is frequently considered the best adaptation of the manga, and is said to have inspired other legendary anime releases like Attack on Titan and Fullmetal Alchemist.

Limited regional launches certainly aren't new to Netflix. The company has a long history of international distribution for shows that are only available on a rival service in the US. However, Netflix bought worldwide streaming rights to Berserk and other well-known anime offerings as part of a deal with Nippon TV. There's theoretically nothing preventing a wider release. Barring surprises, though, you may have to settle for Netflix's many alternative movies and series if you're looking for a Japanese animation fix this winter.

Google is shutting down Duplex on the Web

Another Google service will soon join the company’s graveyard of apps. The search giant quietly announced this week it is shutting down Duplex on the Web. In a support page spotted by TechCrunch, the company notes the service won’t work after the end of 2022. “As we continue to improve the Duplex experience, we’re responding to the feedback we’ve heard from users and developers about how to make it even better,” a Google spokesperson told the outlet. “By the end of this year, we’ll turn down Duplex on the Web and fully focus on making AI advancements to the Duplex voice technology that helps people most every day.”

Google first announced Duplex on the Web in 2019 as an expansion of its Duplex phone reservation AI. Initially, the feature was designed to help Android users buy movie tickets. Duplex on the Web gave Assistant the ability to navigate websites on its own. Provided you had your credit card information stored on Chrome, Assistant could take care of all of the busy work of buying film tickets for you. Google later expanded the feature to protect users against online data breaches. At one point, you could also use it to check into flights and track discounts.

As for the reason why Google is shutting down Duplex on the Web, TechCrunch suggests it may have something to do with the cost of training an AI to parse websites. The feature’s support page notes Google used a special user agent to crawl websites as much multiple times per day. What's more, the performance of Duplex on the Web could suffer significantly if website administrators prevented the crawler from indexing their content.

Google is shutting down Duplex on the Web

Another Google service will soon join the company’s graveyard of apps. The search giant quietly announced this week it is shutting down Duplex on the Web. In a support page spotted by TechCrunch, the company notes the service won’t work after the end of 2022. “As we continue to improve the Duplex experience, we’re responding to the feedback we’ve heard from users and developers about how to make it even better,” a Google spokesperson told the outlet. “By the end of this year, we’ll turn down Duplex on the Web and fully focus on making AI advancements to the Duplex voice technology that helps people most every day.”

Google first announced Duplex on the Web in 2019 as an expansion of its Duplex phone reservation AI. Initially, the feature was designed to help Android users buy movie tickets. Duplex on the Web gave Assistant the ability to navigate websites on its own. Provided you had your credit card information stored on Chrome, Assistant could take care of all of the busy work of buying film tickets for you. Google later expanded the feature to protect users against online data breaches. At one point, you could also use it to check into flights and track discounts.

As for the reason why Google is shutting down Duplex on the Web, TechCrunch suggests it may have something to do with the cost of training an AI to parse websites. The feature’s support page notes Google used a special user agent to crawl websites as much multiple times per day. What's more, the performance of Duplex on the Web could suffer significantly if website administrators prevented the crawler from indexing their content.

‘The Callisto Protocol’ patch attempts to address PC performance issues

One day after releasing The Callisto Protocol to mixed reviews, developer Striking Distance Studios is rolling out a patch to address the PC version’s stuttering issues. The studio promised the hotfix would “improve performance,” adding that “a number of additional updates” were on the way.

Since its release, PC players have taken to YouTube, Reddit and other online forums to complain about The Callisto Protocol’s performance issues. On Steam, the game currently holds a “Mixed” score after nearly 10,000 player reviews, with the majority of negative posts complaining about the game’s technical shortcomings.

Digital Foundry details the problems in its recent video on the game. According to the outlet, The Callisto Protocol doesn’t precompile its shaders. That’s a big no-no for an Unreal Engine 4 game on PC. Nearly every time The Callisto Protocol introduces new assets or shows something for the first time, players can expect massive stuttering, with the effect worse on PCs with older and less powerful CPUs.

How much the first patch fixes the shader compilation issue is hard to say. Some Twitter users report a “huge” difference, but note the problem isn’t completely fixed. Watching the few YouTube videos that document how the update affects performance, you can still see still plenty of micro stutters. If you want to play The Callisto Protocol on PC, I would say your best bet is to wait before buying the game.

‘The Callisto Protocol’ patch attempts to address PC performance issues

One day after releasing The Callisto Protocol to mixed reviews, developer Striking Distance Studios is rolling out a patch to address the PC version’s stuttering issues. The studio promised the hotfix would “improve performance,” adding that “a number of additional updates” were on the way.

Since its release, PC players have taken to YouTube, Reddit and other online forums to complain about The Callisto Protocol’s performance issues. On Steam, the game currently holds a “Mixed” score after nearly 10,000 player reviews, with the majority of negative posts complaining about the game’s technical shortcomings.

Digital Foundry details the problems in its recent video on the game. According to the outlet, The Callisto Protocol doesn’t precompile its shaders. That’s a big no-no for an Unreal Engine 4 game on PC. Nearly every time The Callisto Protocol introduces new assets or shows something for the first time, players can expect massive stuttering, with the effect worse on PCs with older and less powerful CPUs.

How much the first patch fixes the shader compilation issue is hard to say. Some Twitter users report a “huge” difference, but note the problem isn’t completely fixed. Watching the few YouTube videos that document how the update affects performance, you can still see still plenty of micro stutters. If you want to play The Callisto Protocol on PC, I would say your best bet is to wait before buying the game.

Stunning ‘The Last of Us’ trailer puts Joel and Ellie’s relationship in the spotlight

If the wait to watch HBO's adaptation of The Last of Us wasn't long enough already, the network has shared a new trailer for the upcoming series ahead of its January 15th release date. Clocking in at almost two-and-a-half minutes long, the clip offers our best look yet at the Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) production. And for those who may have worried that the series would hew too closely to Naughty Dog's source material, it shows the adaptation's creators weren't afraid to bring something new to the franchise. 

That's on display early on when there's a short scene of Ellie pretending to be a clicker. The exchange that follows is one of the few light-hearted moments in the trailer. Later in the clip, eagle-eyed fans will spot Ashley Johnson, the actor who voiced Ellie in the video games.  

If you're unfamiliar with The Last of Us, the trailer serves as a decent overview of the first game's story. At the center of the narrative are Joel and Ellie, played by Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey in the upcoming HBO series. Joel must escort Ellie across a post-apocalyptic version of the US in the hopes that she may be the key to protecting what's left of the world's population from a fungal infection that turns its victims into aggressive, zombie-like creatures known as the Infected.    

From all the marketing material HBO has shared to promote The Last of Us, it's clear the network has high hopes for the series. Footage from the show capped off a sizzle reel HBO uploaded earlier this year to hype its 2023 slate. 

Stunning ‘The Last of Us’ trailer puts Joel and Ellie’s relationship in the spotlight

If the wait to watch HBO's adaptation of The Last of Us wasn't long enough already, the network has shared a new trailer for the upcoming series ahead of its January 15th release date. Clocking in at almost two-and-a-half minutes long, the clip offers our best look yet at the Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) production. And for those who may have worried that the series would hew too closely to Naughty Dog's source material, it shows the adaptation's creators weren't afraid to bring something new to the franchise. 

That's on display early on when there's a short scene of Ellie pretending to be a clicker. The exchange that follows is one of the few light-hearted moments in the trailer. Later in the clip, eagle-eyed fans will spot Ashley Johnson, the actor who voiced Ellie in the video games.  

If you're unfamiliar with The Last of Us, the trailer serves as a decent overview of the first game's story. At the center of the narrative are Joel and Ellie, played by Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey in the upcoming HBO series. Joel must escort Ellie across a post-apocalyptic version of the US in the hopes that she may be the key to protecting what's left of the world's population from a fungal infection that turns its victims into aggressive, zombie-like creatures known as the Infected.    

From all the marketing material HBO has shared to promote The Last of Us, it's clear the network has high hopes for the series. Footage from the show capped off a sizzle reel HBO uploaded earlier this year to hype its 2023 slate.