Rockstar Games co-founder Dan Houser’s next projects are a graphic novel and an audio drama

Absurd Ventures, the new creative studio from Rockstar Games co-founder and ex-creative director Dan Houser, has announced its first projects. As it happens, neither of them are video games, at least not yet.

The first of these two new universes is called American Caper, which will debut as a graphic novel. It will focus on two normal but damaged families who are mired "in a world of corrupt business, inept politics and bungling crime." Comic book artist Simon Bisley (ABC Warriors, Lobo) is illustrating the graphic novel.

The other project is a 12-episode audio drama that's already in production. A Better Paradise is described as a near-future existential suspense thriller. Absurd Ventures is working with well-regarded audio company Q-CODE Media on the project.

Absurd Ventures plans to reveal more details about both projects in the coming months. However, referring to both American Caper and A Better Paradise as "universes" suggests the company has plans to expand them into transmedia enterprises, which may just include video games.

Meanwhile, we're just days away from getting our first proper glimpse at what has been keeping Houser's former colleagues at Rockstar busy for the last several years. The publisher will unveil the first trailer for the next Grand Theft Auto game in early December. Rumors suggest the reveal will take place at The Game Awards on December 7.

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Amazon now has its own AI image generator

Amazon has hopped on the same bandwagon on which many major tech companies have hitched a ride this year by debuting its own image generator. AWS customers can now check out a preview of Titan Image Generator on the Bedrock console. They can either enter a text prompt to create an image from scratch or upload an image and edit it.

Amazon says the tool can produce large volumes of studio-quality, realistic images at low cost. It claims the AI can generate relevant images based on complex text prompts while ensuring object composition is accurate and that there are limited distortions. This, according to the company, helps with "reducing the generation of harmful content and mitigating the spread of misinformation."

Those looking to edit an image can isolate areas in which they want to add or remove details. They can, for instance, replace the background or swap an object in a subject's hand. The AI can also extend an image's borders by adding artificial details, much like the Generative Expand feature in Photoshop.

Amazon says Titan applies an invisible watermark to images that it generates. The company says this will "help reduce the spread of misinformation by providing a discreet mechanism to identify AI-generated images and to promote the safe, secure and transparent development of AI technology." It claims that the watermarks are resistant to modifications. According to a demo of the image generator, the AI can also generate a description of the image or relevant text to use in a social media post.

News of the image generator emerged at Amazon's AWS re:Invent conference, at which the company also showed off its latest AI chips and revealed a business-centric AI chatbot called Q. The company recently started offering advertisers a tool that lets them add AI-generated backgrounds to product images.

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Substack adds new video tools to compete with Patreon and YouTube

Content platform Substack just released a spate of new video capabilities, placing it in direct competition with YouTube and Patreon, among others. The video tools include a direct upload option, which is handy, and customizable paywalls for content creators. Before this, users were forced to upload videos to YouTube and embed a link. The upload tool is now readily accessible via the dashboard. It’ll even automatically split the audio and video for podcasters who want to court both audiences. 

As for the paywall options, you now get the same level of flexibility available to non-video users. Content creators can select a slice of the video to give away for free, locking the rest behind a paywall. The free preview segment should transition smoothly into a prompt to become a paying subscriber.

There’s also a new AI tool that generates transcripts from videos, for those who like to, gasp, read. The transcript is automatically created alongside the video upload and users can post it to the main feed. Additionally, viewers can click anywhere on the transcript to jump to that section of the video.

Video sharing has gotten a much-needed upgrade. Viewers can create their own custom clips sourced from any video. This creates a shareable link that includes branded visuals at the end featuring the creator’s logo and URL, so there will be no obvious thievery. Obviously, viewers can quickly share links to the entire clip if they want. Users can even directly download videos for publication on services like TikTok and Instagram. Again, that bumper will be there to give credit to the original creator.

The company wrote in a blog post that these new tools, taken together, make it so “the friction in starting a media business based on video has been reduced to almost zero.” To commemorate the launch, Substack is rolling out a number of exclusive video shows. There’s a food culture program with chef Nancy Silverton, a talk show starring actress Amber Tamblyn and a news program anchored by Chris Cuomo, among many others.

Substack has certainly been busy adding new features. The platform recently unveiled a Twitter-esque feature called Notes and last year launched a chat feature to make it more of a social space.

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A ‘silly’ attack made ChatGPT reveal real phone numbers and email addresses

A team of researchers was able to make ChatGPT reveal some of the bits of data it has been trained on by using a simple prompt: asking the chatbot to repeat random words forever. In response, ChatGPT churned out people’s private information including email addresses and phone numbers, snippets from research papers and news articles, Wikipedia pages, and more.

The researchers, who work at Google DeepMind, the University of Washington, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of California Berkeley, and ETH Zurich, urged AI companies to seek out internal and external testing before releasing large language models, the foundational tech that powers modern AI services like chatbots and image-generators. “It’s wild to us that our attack works and should’ve, would’ve, could’ve been found earlier,” they wrote, and published their findings in a paper on Tuesday that 404 Media first reported on.

Chatbots like ChatGPT and prompt-based image generators like DALL-E are powered by large language models, deep learning algorithms that are trained on enormous amounts of data that critics say is often scraped off the public internet without consent. But until now, it wasn’t clear what data OpenAI’s chatbot was trained on since the large language models that power it are closed-source.

When the researchers asked ChatGPT to “repeat the word ‘poem’ forever”, the chatbot initially compiled, but then revealed an email address and a cellphone number for a real founder and CEO”, the paper revealed. When asked to repeat the word “company”, the chatbot eventually spat out the email address and phone number of a random law firm in the US. “In total, 16.9 percent of the generations we tested contained memorized [personally identifiable information]” the researchers wrote.

Using similar prompts, the researchers were also able to make ChatGPT reveal chunks of poetry, Bitcoin addresses, fax numbers, names, birthdays, social media handles, explicit content from dating websites, snippets from copyrighted research papers and verbatim text from news websites like CNN. Overall, they spent $200 to generate 10,000 examples of personally identifiable information and other data cribbed straight from the web totalling “several megabytes”. But a more serious adversary, they noted, could potentially get a lot more by spending more money. “The actual attack”, they wrote, “is kind of silly.”

OpenAI patched the vulnerability on August 30, the researchers say. But in our own tests, Engadget was able to replicate some of the paper’s findings. When we asked ChatGPT to repeat the word “reply” forever, for instance, the chatbot did so, before eventually revealing someone’s name and Skype ID. OpenAI did not respond to Engadget’s request for comment.

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Netflix is adding the GTA Trilogy to its games library on December 14

Netflix continues to bet big on gaming. The streamer just announced that Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition will hit its platform on December 14. The game will be free to play for Netflix subscribers, like the rest of its library. Each of the three titles included in the collection have been updated for mobile. These games include the iconic Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. They'll be playable via the Netflix app, but also available as standalone apps on Android and iOS.

The gameplay’s a bit dated by modern standards but Grand Theft Auto III basically invented the open-world genre, and the sequels further refined the model. Many players actually point to San Andreas as being a high watermark for the series, even outpacing more recent titles. In any event, this trilogy can hold you over until the eventual release of Grand Theft Auto VI. To that end, the forthcoming Rockstar sequel should be getting a trailer any day now.

Netflix has been snagging all kinds of games for its ever-growing library, from the massively popular roguelike Hades to the equally popular, uh, roguelike Dead Cells. The platform’s library also includes Braid, Death’s Door, Katana Zero and other hit indies.

The company’s also developing its own games, thanks to snatching up developer Night School, the team behind Oxenfree and Afterparty. This acquisition has already borne fruit, as Oxenfree II: Lost Signals released earlier this year to wide acclaim. Incidentally, the sequel isn’t stuck on Netflix, as it’s also available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5 and PC via Steam. So the streamer might not be using games as just a way to lure in new subscribers. Netflix could be in it for the long haul.

Beyond Oxenfree II, other original games to hit the platform include Slayaway Camp 2: Netflix & Kill and a whole lot of titles based on pre-existing TV shows. There’s a game based on the recently-canceled fantasy epic Shadow and Bone and forthcoming titles inspired by Money Heist and The Dragon Prince, among others.

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Beyond Good & Evil is getting a 20th anniversary edition in early 2024

A 20th-anniversary edition of the cult classic Beyond Good & Evil is coming in early 2024. Details about the previously unannounced remaster popped up on the Xbox Store, and an incomplete version of the game was briefly available on Ubisoft Plus. Ubisoft used the opportunity to formally acknowledge the game’s existence, promising official details later. The since-deleted synopsis promised “up to 4K, 60 fps with improved graphics, controls, and audio, along with brand-new autosave and cross-save features.”

“An early development version of Beyond Good & Evil: 20th Anniversary Edition was recently released to some Ubisoft+ subscribers by mistake,” Ubisoft posted on X. “We apologize for any confusion and want to assure our community that this version is not indicative of the final game.”

Ubisoft said the version of the game posted to Ubisoft Plus wasn’t the final one. IGN reports the deleted Xbox Store blurb promised a speed run mode, updated achievements and an anniversary gallery with behind-the-scenes glimpses into the cult classic’s development. The synopsis said it supported Smart Delivery, ensuring you get the best version of the game for your Xbox hardware.

Beyond Good & Evil was a critically acclaimed commercial dud when it arrived in November 2003. The game tackled subjects like moral ambiguity, government conspiracies, identity and rebellion — not exactly a recipe for financial success in a United States still in shock from 9/11 and reactively fist-pumping the US invasion of Iraq. Although its gameplay wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking in any single area, it successfully blended action-adventure, puzzles, stealth, platform and racing elements with a polish and alluring atmosphere rarely seen in that era outside of Zelda games.

As psyched as some fans will likely be about the anniversary edition, it probably isn’t the franchise news they hoped for. Beyond Good & Evil 2, initially teased in 2008 and officially announced in 2017, still hasn’t materialized. Although it’s easy to dismiss the comically long-anticipated sequel as the quintessential example of vaporware, Ubisoft insists it isn’t. Despite intermittent reassurances that it’s progressing, Bloomberg reported in 2022 that Beyond Good & Evil 2 was still in pre-production.

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Pokémon Horizons hits Netflix in February

After the Pokémon anime universe said goodbye to its long-time protagonist Ash Ketchum, stateside fans have been anticipating the arrival of the new faces to helm the series. Now, the wait is almost over. Pokémon Horizons: The Series, the latest installment in the franchise, is set to make its English debut on Netflix in 2024.

Pokémon Horizons has been available in Japan since April of this year, but it was previously unclear when the show's English dub would debut. According to a new tweet from the official Pokémon account, Pokémon Horizons will be available for streaming on February 23 in the US. This comes a just few days before the annual Pokémon Day celebration on February 27.

Viewers in the UK won't have to wait until February to catch the Pokémon Horizons fever. The English dub is set to premiere in early December and will be available for streaming on BBC iPlayer. Meanwhile, Canadian viewers will have to wait until March 2 to catch the series on either Cartoon Network or Télétoon.

The dubbed version of Pokémon Horizons will introduce English-speaking audiences to a fresh cast of characters, including Liko (Alejandra Reynoso), Sprigatito (Kira Buckland), Roy (Anjali Kunapaneni) and Fuecoco (Zeno Robinson). Together, they'll embark on an adventure spanning multiple regions within the expansive Pokémon world.

Additionally, Pokémon fans can also look forward to an adorable stop-motion series, Pokémon Concierge, on Netflix this December.

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Google won’t block news links in Canada after all

Google won't block news links in Canada in response to new legislation after all. The company pledged earlier this year to pull links to Canadian news stories from Search, News and Discover when the country's Online News Act (Bill C-18) takes effect in December. However, Google has reached a deal with the country's government that will see it continuing to serve users there with Canadian news.

"Following constructive discussions, our government and Google have reached an agreement — they will contribute to the Online News Act. We worked hard to make this possible," Minister of Canadian Heritage Pascale St-Onge wrote on X. "This Act is good news for journalism, for online platforms and for Canadians."

Google has agreed to pay news publishers in Canada around $100 million CAD per year, according to the CBC. That's significantly less than the government's previous estimate that Google's annual payments should be around $172 million. The $100 million figure is in line with Google's own estimates of how much it should pay. 

The company will still need to sign an agreement with the media after negotiations. Google had demurred over a mandatory negotiation model that would have seen it hold talks with media organizations. Instead, the CBC reports that Google will only need to negotiate with a representative group, which is said to limit the company's risk of arbitration.

"We thank the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Pascale St-Onge, for acknowledging our concerns and deeply engaging in a series of productive meetings about how they might be addressed," Kent Walker, Google and Alphabet's president of global affairs, told Engadget in a statement. "Following extensive discussions, we are pleased that the Government of Canada has committed to addressing our core issues with Bill C-18, which included the need for a streamlined path to an exemption at a clear commitment threshold. While we work with the government through the exemption process based on the regulations that will be published shortly, we will continue sending valuable traffic to Canadian publishers." 

Google's arrangement with the government will be factored into the Bill C-18 legislative framework, which must be finalized by the middle of December. Although Google said in June that it would remove links to Canadian news stories from several of its key services, it never followed through on that threat. 

Meta, on the other hand, has blocked Canadian news links on Facebook and Instagram since June. According to the CBC, Meta has not returned to the negotiating table with the government. Google and Meta are the only companies that meet Bill C-18's legislative criteria.

Updated 11/29 2:08PM ET: Added statements from Pascale St-Onge and Kent Walker.

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December’s PlayStation Plus monthly games include Sable and PowerWash Simulator

Sony has revealed the PlayStation Plus monthly games lineup for December, and it’s a doozy. There’s no clear headliner here, but a trio of interesting games are about to drop, including the gorgeous open-world exploration game Sable and the cleaning-based tour de force Powerwash Simulator.

First up, there’s Sable, a game that was on everyone’s radar for years before an official release, thanks to the eye-catching graphical style. The "coming-of-age adventure and exploration game” casts you as the titular hero Sable as you ride a hoverbike through vast deserts and mysterious landscapes, encountering the remains of spaceships and other ancient artifacts. The art style is incredible and the soundtrack is by Japanese Breakfast, if that’s your bag (and it should be.) The game’s only available for PS5.

Powerwash Simulator, as the name suggests, is a cleaning sim that has you clearing grime from just about anything you can think of, from Back to the Future’s Delorean to Final Fantasy VII’s Midgar. Most of the game, however, takes place in the town of Muckingham and boasts plenty of upgrade options for your power washer and the ability to play with friends via online co-op. The gameplay is relaxing, though more complex than it lets on at first. It’s available for both PS4 and PS5.

Finally, there’s Lego 2K Drive. This is an open-world driving game comprised entirely of Lego vehicles. There are races just about everywhere you look and, of course, the ability to make your own vehicles by connecting virtual blocks. There’s local couch co-op and online play, with the latter allowing access to the entire game map. Both PS4 and PS5 players can access this game.

It’s also worth noting that some games are about to leave the service, so get those downloads ready. PlayStation Plus members have until December 4 to snag Mafia II: Definitive Edition, Dragon Ball: The Breakers and Aliens Fireteam Elite.

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GM to cut spending on Cruise driverless vehicles by ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’

GM is massively slashing spending on its self-driving vehicle subsidiary Cruise after a string of debilitating setbacks, according to a conference call by company executives transcribed by TechCrunch. GM Chair and CEO Mary Barra said that operations would resume in some capacity, but that any plans for Cruise moving forward would be more “deliberate.”

To that end, the cuts will amount to hundreds of millions of dollars in the next year. This is expected to result in widespread layoffs at the San Francisco-based company that currently employees nearly 4,000 people. Earlier this month, Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt told staffers at an all-hands meeting that he’d have information regarding layoffs in the coming weeks, but he resigned shortly thereafter along with co-founder Dan Kan.

It looks like the entire company may get an overhaul, with CFO Paul Jacobson saying in today’s conference call that there would be specific restructuring information in the coming weeks after two independent safety and incident review boards finish their work. These boards were instituted after a collision between a Cruise robotaxi and a pedestrian. It was also found that the company’s driverless algorithm had trouble recognizing children, which is never good.

GM has invested billions of dollars in Cruise since acquiring the company in 2016. This spending has increased in recent years as the company had planned an aggressive launch in more than a dozen cities throughout the US before everything fell apart. To that end, GM’s latest earnings report indicates that Cruise spent $732 million in the first three quarters of 2023.

The point of today’s call wasn’t just to offer ill tidings for Cruise. Barra and Jacobson also noted that the recently-penned labor deal with United Autoworkers would cost GM $9.3 billion in the long-term, but the company remains optimistic about future growth, noting an adjusted earnings of $12.7 billion in 2023 and an accelerated $10 billion share buyback program.

GM has also named new executives to run Cruise. Mo Elshenawy was promoted from VP of engineering to co-president, with GM’s previous EVP of legal and policy taking up the other co-president role. GM’s CEO said that the company has “a lot of confidence with what the two co-presidents will do,” but notes that “GM will be leaning in to make sure that it meets our strict requirements from a safety perspective.”

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