December 23, 2023
Issue No. 84
Welcome to this week's AtherXplorer, covering the latest in gaming, blockchain, and everything in between.
This week’s top picks include:
- AI: Stability AI Launches Paid Membership for Commercial Use and Makes SVD Available via API
- Gaming: Imsomniac Games gets Hacked; Versus Evil Shuts Down
- Web3, Metaverse, and NFTs: Immutable’s Gods Unchained Back in Epic Games; MapleStoryU $100M Raise
Stability AI Launches Paid Membership for Commercial Use of its Models and Makes Stable Video Diffusion Available via API
Stability AI has launched a paid membership model granting commercial use of its AI generative models. The tiers include free personal use, $20/month for small entities, and enterprise pricing. Members gain early access to new models like Stable Video Diffusion.
The membership aims to balance openness with profitability to fund ongoing research. But details remain unclear, causing confusion about what constitutes commercial use. Stability claims it still plans "open models" accessible to all.
Critics argue Stability is compromising its open ethos while lacking transparency. Concerns also persist around training data and rights issues. Stability was named in a lawsuit alleging unlicensed use of billions of copyrighted images for Stable Diffusion.
In other news, Stability opened access to Stable Video Diffusion through its developer API. The image-to-video model can create 2-second clips in under a minute, enabling video generation integration for apps and services.
Stable Video Diffusion generates short clips that can be chained into longer videos with different resolutions and controls. Stability claims it can benefit sectors like marketing and gaming.
Recently Published Research Papers Could Lead to more AI-Optimized Apple Devices
Apple recently showcased two major AI research advancements that could transform future iPhones and iPads.
First, Apple introduced HUGS for quickly generating animated 3D avatars from videos. It leverages statistical body modeling and neural rendering to capture details like clothing and hair. HUGS creates avatars up to 100x faster than existing methods while improving quality. This could enable immersive applications like virtual try-on and telepresence on consumer devices.
Second, Apple researchers optimized large language model inference to run efficiently on memory-constrained mobile hardware. Techniques like windowing and data bundling minimize expensive data transfers from flash storage. This cuts latency by up to 25x, potentially allowing complex AI assistants and chatbots to run smoothly on iPhones and iPads.
The innovations highlight Apple's leadership in both foundational and applied AI research. By sharing advancements, Apple contributes to the broader AI community. The company also recognizes the need for ethical implementation of these technologies into products.
Microsoft Copilot Adds New Music-generation Feature via Suno Integration
Microsoft has integrated music creation app Suno into its Copilot AI assistant. Users can now generate full songs via text prompts like "Create a pop song about adventures with your family." Suno turns the text into complete tracks with lyrics, instrumentation, and vocals.
The Suno plug-in rolls out this week to expand Copilot's capabilities into music. Tech giants view generative music AI as a major new frontier, with tools also launched by Google, Meta, and startups.
But ethical and legal concerns persist around training data sourcing and copyright. Suno does not disclose its data sources or compensation for artists. Users can prompt songs "in the style of" famous musicians without warnings.
Suno claims efforts to block certain prompts and prevent lyric uploads for covers. But full artist consent and compensation remains lacking in most generative music models.
Viral AI-created songs imitating artists have already drawn labels' ire over IP rights. Pending court cases and legislation seek to clarify status, with reforms favoring artist protections.
Midjourney Releases V6
Midjourney has released V6, a major upgrade to its AI art generation model. V6 brings substantially more realistic and detailed images through improved prompt following and coherence. It can now generate basic text within images when prompted.
V6 requires relearning prompting techniques as it handles instructions differently. Specificity is key, while "junk" commands like "award winning" are ineffective. Lower stylization can improve prompt fidelity.
Early tests show V6's boost in photorealism, though not yet dramatic. But some users have achieved remarkably vivid results. As an initial alpha, V6 is still changing and lacks some V5 features.
The upgrade exemplifies Midjourney's continued leadership in AI art quality and creativity. But it faces growing competition from rivals with in-house or open source models. Midjourney also contends with lawsuits alleging copyright infringement.
V6's prompt changes reflect AI art models' complexity. Small tweaks can vastly impact output. Mastering prompts is key, but tricky as models rapidly evolve. V6 forces users to effectively relearn Midjourney's language.
Google Unveils VideoPoet, Text-to-Video LLM
Google Research has developed VideoPoet, a new AI model for high-quality video generation. Unlike other models using Stable Diffusion, VideoPoet is a large language model (LLM) trained on over 270 million videos and 1 billion text-image pairs.
Pre-training enabled VideoPoet to generate longer, more consistent motions without artifacts plaguing diffusion models. It handles camera movement, styles, and synthesized audio within one model.
In evaluations, people preferred VideoPoet videos over leading diffusion models, citing better prompt following and more interesting motion. VideoPoet is tailored for vertical mobile video.
The LLM approach showcases Google's innovation in multimodal AI. VideoPoet challenges assumptions that diffusion models are best for video generation. Integrated capabilities also simplify workflow versus specialized components.
VideoPoet produced remarkably smooth, detailed samples, even animating still images. The technology could significantly advance video creation if productized.
Expedia Looking to Leverage AI for Trip Planning
Travel website Expedia aims to leverage AI to keep users planning trips directly on its platform rather than starting with a Google search. Expedia hopes personalized recommendations based on customer data can make its site the one-stop shop for travel planning.
Currently, people often search on Google first before visiting Expedia to actually book flights and hotels. Expedia believes streamlining the process through AI-driven recommendations could boost direct traffic and revenue by reducing reliance on Google.
Expedia has already deployed AI for some customer service functions and generating rental listings. But fully personalized trip planning based on past bookings remains a long-term goal requiring robust recommendation models.
Success is uncertain given Google's search dominance. However, vertical search engines like Expedia have historically struggled on Google, despite increased ad payments. Directing planning search could help Expedia capture more value.
The plan reflects ongoing conflicts between Google's platform power and specialized search players. AI presents opportunity for Expedia to leverage its rich customer data for a competitive edge.
In Other AI News…
Imsomniac Games gets Hacked — Over 1TB of Data Stolen
Insomniac Games recently suffered a cyberattack by ransomware group Rhysida, which stole 1.67TB of internal data including details on unannounced projects. The group leaked the data after failing to sell it back to Sony for $2 million in bitcoin.
The breach exposed information on upcoming titles through 2035, personal employee info, and extensive details on Marvel's Wolverine like gameplay, story, characters, and more. Data on other PlayStation studios' unannounced games was also reportedly leaked.
Insomniac later issued a statement saying it is saddened and angered by the attack, and assessing impacted data. It acknowledged stolen info includes employees' personal details and early Wolverine information.
However, Insomniac said Wolverine's development will continue as planned despite the leak. The game remains in early production with much left to evolve. Official details will come in time.
The studio thanked the community for support during this distressing experience. Insomniac said that like Wolverine, it is resilient, and will push forward.
Game Publisher Versus Evil Shuts Down
Indie game publisher Versus Evil has abruptly shut down and laid off its entire 13-person staff just before the holidays. The closure occurred after nearly 10 years in business.
Versus Evil was acquired by Tinybuild in 2021 but operated as an independent publishing label. Its first release was 2014's The Banner Saga, followed by other acclaimed indie titles over the years.
Staff reported being suddenly laid off without warning. Versus Evil later confirmed the news on social media, thanking players for the journey. But details remain unclear on what prompted the shutdown.
Tinybuild has yet to comment on Versus Evil's fate or the status of its unreleased projects slated for publication. The abruptness of the closure right before Christmas has ignited criticism.
Versus Evil's decade-long run helped bring many notable indie games to market. Its demise demonstrates the fragility of even established players in the indie publishing business.
The company's catalog now faces uncertainty. Questions loom over Tinybuild's strategy given its radio silence so far. Overall, the situation underscores the volatility in indie publishing despite Versus Evil's pedigree and recent acquisition.
Pokémon Scarlet And Violet: The Hidden Treasure Of Area Zero DLC Epilogue Hits Switch In January
Nintendo has announced a story epilogue DLC for Pokémon Scarlet and Violet titled "The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero." It will release on January 11th as the third and likely final DLC for the Generation 9 games.
The epilogue takes players to a new "Land of Kitakami" for farewells and possibly the reveal of a new Pokémon teased in the announcement trailer. To access it, players must finish the main Scarlet/Violet story plus the two previous Area Zero DLCs - The Teal Mask and The Indigo Disk.
The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero has expanded Scarlet and Violet through sequential story content over several months since the base games' launch. The epilogue marks the completion of this post-release DLC journey.
Overall, the episodic Area Zero narrative has added substantive value for dedicated fans invested in the Gen 9 world. A satisfying conclusion could elevate the regional Pokédex even further.
In Other Gaming News…
Web3, Metaverse, and NFTs
Immutable’s Gods Unchained Back in Epic Games Store Following Policy Changes, Launches Immutable Passport Shortly After
Epic Games Store announced it has changed its content policy to allow blockchain-based games previously rated "Adults Only" by the ESRB, like Gods Unchained, back on its platform.
Immutable’s “Gods Unchained” game was removed a week prior when it received an AO rating solely for having play-to-earn elements. But policy revisions now permit such models, marking a win for Web3 gaming advocates.
This policy update represents progress toward mainstream adoption as assumptions shift. But work remains to fully integrate Web3 games in mainstream ecosystems.
Immutable also launched Immutable Passport, enabling unified profiles across games and marketplaces. Users can now access multiple titles with one secure wallet storing assets, identity, and achievements.
Gods Unchained players signing in via Passport before December 31st get a free in-game cosmetic. Other rewards are planned alongside wider adoption incentives.
MaplestoryU Receives $100M Investment
Nexon subsidiary Nexon Universe recently secured $100 million in funding for its blockchain gaming initiatives around the MapleStory IP. This includes the upcoming MapleStory Universe ecosystem.
MapleStory Universe will comprise PC MMORPG MapleStory N, connected worlds MapleStory N World and MapleStory N Mobile, plus a software development kit. It aims to leverage blockchain technology to enable wider game item availability and ownership.
The $100 million investment arrived via a private token sale. The funds will focus on developing Nexon Universe's existing blockchain gaming projects.
Attracting external investment specifically for blockchain initiatives was previously challenging for Nexon. The token sale signals growing market acceptance.
Details remain scarce on Nexon Universe's blockchain timeline and token plans. But the company stated it will reveal a roadmap in the first half of 2024.
The major backing highlights Nexon's ambitions in blockchain gaming to empower player ownership and communities. But integrating NFTs responsibly into major IP remains complex.
If executed thoughtfully, MapleStory Universe could help advance the blockchain gaming market. But past attempts have faced backlashes without proper communication.
Aurory Suffers $830k Exploit
The Solana-based monster battler game Aurory was exploited on Sunday, allowing one user to siphon around 600,000 AURY tokens worth $830,000 at the time. The attacker utilized a race condition in Aurory's off-chain marketplace to repeatedly purchase items and withdraw funds.
In response, Aurory disabled its SyncSpace bridge connecting the game's native Solana blockchain to Ethereum's Arbitrum network. No user assets were compromised, only developer funds. The AURY token price subsequently dropped around 17%.
Aurory is working quickly to patch the vulnerability and restore bridge access within days. The exploit evaded detection during prior audits, highlighting lingering security gaps despite best practices.
Experts argue such attacks are often preventable with more rigorous, ongoing safeguards beyond one-time audits. The episode underscores the difficulty in securing increasingly complex blockchain gaming systems.
In Other Web3 & Metaverse News…
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