Dead Island 2’s latest trailer blends zombies and Alexa voice commands

When Dead Island 2 remerged earlier this year after a lengthy absence, publisher Deep Silver announced it would be the first title to support Amazon’s Alexa Game Control, a feature that allows you to use your voice to play a game. On Tuesday, the company shared a trailer showcasing the functionality, albeit one that offers a staged view of things.

The trailer opens with a group of zombie apocalypse survivors finding a playable build of Dead Island 2. “What a weird coincidence,” says one of the characters, commenting on the meta-narrative. “What’s Alexa Game Control?” asks the leader of the group. As one of their friends goes outside for a smoke, the video shows how certain voice commands will trigger actions within the game. “Hey zombie,” for example, draws the attention of the nearest undead. You can also say, “get me my ax” to cause your character to, well, switch to their ax.

Not every voice command that’s in the game is shown off in the trailer. An Amazon spokesperson told The Verge you’ll be able to use your voice to do things like set waypoints and greet other characters. Alexa Voice Control doesn’t require an Echo device. All you need is a headset with a microphone. We’ll get a chance to see how well the voice commands work when Dead Island 2, after nearly a decade of development, finally arrives on April 28th.

Apple’s future iPhones and Macs will use TSMC chips made in Arizona

You didn't have to wait long for confirmation of Apple's domestic chip plans. Company chief Tim Cook has revealed that Apple will buy chips made at TSMC's upcoming factory in Phoenix, Arizona. While Cook didn't say just how those chips will be used, the 4- and 3-nanometer parts are expected to find their way into next-generation iPhones, Macs and other key products. Apple is currently TSMC's largest customer.

The Phoenix facility is expected to start production in 2024. A follow-up plant is expected in 2026 due to increased demand. Combined, they'll make about 600,000 chip wafers per year. TSMC is spending $40 billion on the factories, but they'll be partly subsidized by the government through the CHIPS and Science Act meant to incentivize US semiconductor manufacturing.

Intel is also building factories in Arizona and Ohio. It's planning to serve as a foundry for other companies looking to outsource chip production, and has expressed interest in making Apple's components. Whether or not that happens may depend on Intel's ability to keep up with foundries like TSMC, which frequently leads the push towards next-generation chip manufacturing processes.

The output will represent just a tiny portion of TSMC's total capabilities. CNBC notes the Taiwan firm made 12 million wafers in 2020 alone. The National Economic Council estimates that should be enough to fulfill US demand, though. That could alleviate chip shortages, create jobs and reduce American dependence on foreign production.

While the plants won't come online for two years, news of the expansion comes at an appropriate time. Apple has warned of iPhone 14 Pro manufacturing setbacks due to China's COVID-19 policies. In theory, American facilities would have reduced the impact of those restrictions. Although many parts could still be made overseas even after TSMC's expansion, there could soon be a greater chance of Apple devices reaching your door in a timely fashion.

Apple’s revamped App Store pricing allows $0.29 software

Apple is expanding developers’ options for pricing their App Store apps. The company announced 700 new price points and tools today in what it describes as the App Store's biggest pricing upgrade in its 14-year history. Additionally, devs can now set regional costs automatically in response to exchange rates.

The App Store’s new structure lets developers choose from 900 price points for their apps, nearly 10 times what was previously available. Pricing now starts at $0.29 and can go as high as $10,000 upon request. (If you’re old enough to remember the I Am Rich app, you can imagine that developer salivating over this higher cap.) Additionally, app prices can now go up incrementally across different ranges. For example, they can now increase every $0.10 up to $10, every $0.50 between $10 and $50 and so on.

Apple is also adding different pricing conventions for all 175 regional storefronts. Deves can now use two repeating digits (like ₩110,000) and rounded dollar amounts ($10.00 instead of $9.99).

The update also makes it easier for devs to deal with global exchange rates. Apple uses the example of a Japanese game developer who gets most of their business from Japanese customers. Now they can set their price for the Japan storefront and see global pricing change automatically based on exchange and tax rates. Previously, developers had to do that manually.

Apple says the new pricing structure is available today for apps offering auto-renewable subscriptions. They will arrive for all other apps and in-app purchases in the spring of 2023.

Polestar 2 gets a 68HP power boost through a paid update, no subscription required

Polestar is delivering a not-so-subtle snub to Mercedes' subscription performance upgrade. The automaker has released an update that gives the Polestar 2's long range dual motor variant a 68HP power boost (plus 15lb. ft. of torque) in the US and Canada for a one-time $1,195 fee. That's far from a trivial expense, but it's a decidedly better value than Merc's $1,200 annual fee for EQS and EQE acceleration improvements.

The software tuning gives the Polestar 2 a total 476HP with 502lb. ft. of torque. That's enough to cut the 0-60MPH time to 4.2 seconds (normally 4.5), and it shaves half a second off the 50-70MPH dash (now 2.2 seconds). Polestar says you'll mainly notice the added grunt in the 44MPH to 80MPH range, so this update may be most helpful when you're overtaking someone on the highway.

You can buy the update through the Polestar web shop, and it will apply over the air. It's included with a new vehicle if you opt for the $5,000 Performance pack. You won't have to visit a store, then. There's no word of a comparable upgrade for the single motor Polestar 2 variant, or availability in other regions.

The patch won't suddenly give the Polestar 2 an edge over the Model 3 Performance (0-60 in 3.3 seconds) or other particularly quick EVs. And while this is a one-off purchase, you're still paying for something your car could technically handle before — it just wasn't available when the sedan was new. You're ultimately compensating Polestar for development time, not components, and this won't be thrilling if you preferred the days when paid upgrades were directly connected to better hardware.

This does make the Polestar 2 easier to justify if you crave speed, though. And importantly, you won't have to buy the extremely rare BST edition 270 just to get additional output. While you won't get as many track-ready features, you also won't have to receive an invitation (or, more likely, buy a used model at a premium) to get behind the wheel.

First ‘Vampire Survivors’ DLC coming later this month

A little over a month after it arrived on Xbox consoles, the addictive roguelike shoot ‘em up Vampire Survivors will get its first DLC. The $2 Legacy of Moonspell expansion launches on PC via Steam and Xbox on December 15th.

The new content includes a new map that developer poncle describes as the game’s “biggest stage yet.” The new level, Mt. Moonspell, adds an abandoned castle, a snow-covered mountain and a Yokai-infested village. Additionally, the DLC adds over a dozen new weapons, including an ancestral wind force, orbs that unleash the power of seasons, a dark summoning weapon and an enchanted kimono. It also adds eight extra playable characters and six music tracks.

“In eastern lands, a clan has fallen,” the DLC’s story description reads. “The Moonspell, once vigilant guardians of a sorcerous valley nestled in the mountains, have been overrun by hordes of yokai and oni. Though treacherous, this hive of spectral activity may provide some clue as to the location of a vampire. If not, at least it’ll be entertaining to defeat thousands of wayward spirits in the process.”

Gameplay still from 'Vampire Survivors: Legacy of Moonspell' DLC.
Luca Galante

Vampire Survivors is a casual game that, over time, reveals more complexity than you’d expect from its simple 2D character sprites. Your character auto-fires weapons, leaving you to control their movement and loadout while dodging fire and snagging enemy drops. The goal is to stay ahead of the curve: As wave after wave of enemies approach, it may remind you as much of tower defense as the roguelike games from which it draws inspiration. Once you get the hang of it, it can become an almost meditative experience, which helps explain its standing as the most-played Steam Deck game month after month.

The base Vampire Survivors game is available for $5 on Steam and Xbox Series X/S; it's also available via Game Pass for PCs and consoles.

Apple’s rumored electric car may not be fully self-driving after all

Apple isn't done scaling back its plans for an electric car, apparently. Bloombergsources say the EV, codenamed Project Titan, is no longer a fully self-driving machine. It will reportedly have a conventional wheel and pedals, and will 'only' drive itself on highways. The company has also pushed the launch back by a year to 2026, the tipsters claim.

The rumored vehicle will supposedly offer enough autonomy that you can play games or watch video on the highway, but ask you to take control when it's time to drive on city streets or through adverse weather. Apple may debut the hands-free tech in North America at first and expand access "over time," the insiders add.

Apple has already declined comment. Titan has been in development for years, and has suffered numerous setbacks as well as major strategy shifts. The tech firm may have had doubts as early as 2015, and was said to have scuttled the vehicle in 2016 in favor of a licensed self-driving platform. Executive shuffles and layoffs didn't help, either. While the company did return to making a full-fledged vehicle, according to rumors, it had little success courting production help from brands like Hyundai.

More modest ambitions wouldn't be surprising. Full Level 5 autonomy (where a vehicle can drive itself in any circumstance) still isn't a practical reality, and even Waymo's robotaxis are only allowed to operate in good weather in California. There's also the question of legal permissions. While states are increasingly receptive to self-driving cars, there isn't yet a framework that would let the general public use completely autonomous vehicles. Even if Apple solved all the technical challenges, it couldn't realistically sell a truly hands-off car any time soon.

A switch to a semi-autonomous design could lead to fiercer competition. While Tesla has long been considered Apple's main rival, the EV market has grown rapidly in recent years. Brands like Ford, Hyundai, Volkswagen and Rivian have all made capable electric rides. Apple would be entering a crowded field, and there's no guarantee the company will stand out.

Amazon reportedly agrees to treat sellers better to end EU antitrust probes

The European Commission and Amazon have reportedly come to an agreement that will allow the retail giant to avoid a fine for allegedly misusing seller data. According to The Financial Times, the company has pledged to give rival products equal treatment in the Buy Box section of its website, a move that should theoretically increase the visibility of the merchants selling those goods. Amazon also agreed to create alternate featured offers for customers less concerned about getting their purchase as quickly as possible, as well as give sellers free rein to decide on the company they want to deliver their goods.

According to The Times, the European Commission plans to announce the agreement on December 20th, though that date could shift. What won’t change are the terms of the deal. “There’s very little to discuss,” a source told the outlet. Once the agreement is formalized, Amazon will be required to honor its commitments for at least five years.

Amazon did not immediately respond to Engadget’s comment request. In July, when the company promised it would take steps to make its seller program fairer, Amazon said it felt it was being “unfairly” targeted by legislation like the Digital Markets Act. At the same time, the retailer said it was "engaged constructively" with regulators to address concerns about its business.

A deal with the European Union would give Amazon the chance to put to rest at least one aspect of a long saga. The European Commission began probing the company’s use of merchant data in 2019, almost a full year before The Wall Street Journalpublished a report alleging that Amazon had used seller data to design competing products. However, the company would still need to mollify US lawmakers and regulators. In April, the Securities and Exchange Commission reportedly began investigating the company’s use of third-party data. Before that, the Senate asked the Department of Justice to open an investigation into Amazon over the possibility of criminal obstruction.

Giphy is adding alt text to make GIFs more accessible

Giphy is looking to improve accessibility and help more people understand what the platform's GIFs are depicting with the help of alt text descriptions. It has teamed up with a content accessibility solutions provider called Scribely to add descriptive text to the platform's content. Screen readers will be able to read the alt text aloud, which will help visually impaired folks to know what's happening in a GIF.

The alt text won't be automatically generated. Giphy says Scribely's writers "are well-versed in accessibility guidelines and write effective and engaging descriptions that take the message and the meaning in mind." Giphy's most popular content, based on the top search terms, now includes alt text. The company plans to add alt text to more of its GIFs.

Screen readers can now read aloud alt text from GIFs on Giphy's web and mobile apps. The company is also making alt text available through its APIs. So third-party companies with Giphy integration can let their users access the alt text on other platforms.

In 2020, Twitter enabled users to add alt text to GIFs. However, if the company, which has a partnership with Giphy, employs the latest feature of the latter's APIs, Twitter users would be able to access professionally written alt text in GIFs.

“GIFs are an important part of our daily lives, thanks to their unique ability to convey ideas, emotions, and humor in ways that static images often can’t. These looping videos move us to moments of joy and happiness," Scribely founder and CEO Caroline Desrosiers said. "But without alt text, the moment is lost and excludes millions. That’s why this project with Giphy is so monumental and necessary.”

‘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.

Amazon Luna lets Prime members play Ubisoft PC games they own for free

Since Amazon first announced its Luna cloud gaming service in 2020, Ubisoft has been one of the company’s closest partners. The publisher embraced the service early and came out of the gate with a dedicated channel. Now the two companies are deepening their partnership with an expansion of what you can do with Luna.

Starting today, it’s possible to stream Ubisoft games you already own on PC through Luna. You'll need an active Prime or Luna+ subscription to do so, as well as a set of linked Amazon Luna and Ubisoft Connect accounts. Once you have those in place, you can play your existing purchases wherever Luna is available, including on Fire TV devices, Chromebooks and phones.

The list of compatible titles features some of Ubisoft’s best-known games, including Watch Dogs: Legion, Riders Republic and nearly every Assassin’s Creed game you could ever want to play. There are also a few older gems on the list, such as Beyond Good and Evil and Child of Light. A Ubisoft spokesperson told Engadget the offer extends to games the publisher allowed Stadia users to transfer to PC after Google announced the service was shutting down

At first glance, Ubisoft letting PC players use Luna without paying for its channel may not make much business sense, but there’s an element of smart marketing to the plan. The best way for a company to attract new customers to a service is to give them the opportunity to use it and see the value in it themselves. After using Luna to play games you previously purchased, you may come out of the experience more inclined to subscribe to the Ubisoft channel. That would be a win for the publisher.