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Space station meets alt-Victorian world with Arkane

One is set in a fantastical alt-Victorian world. The other takes place on a space station. Dishonored 2 and Prey are clearly very different games – yet they share one thing in common. They are both developed by Arkane Studios.

Make that more than one thing. Ever since Arkane was founded in 1999 in Lyon, France, the studio has specialized in making a certain type of game that is, well… uniquely Arkane. These games defy easy genre descriptors. They’re not shooters, but you can shoot stuff. They’re not pure action games, but you can certainly get your fill of bloody, brutal combat. They’re not RPGs, but you have the ability to make choices with real consequences. And they’re not purely stealth games, but there are times when you can finish a mission without ever being spotted.

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“At Arkane, we always apply the same values to the games we make,” says studio President and Co-Creative Director Rafael Colantonio. “Dishonored and Prey share a lot of those values.”

For Colantonio – who led the original Dishonored with Co-Creative Director Harvey Smith – that means a game “where simulation is very important, and where the choices of the player are very important.” Or, as Smith adds, “Arkane is dedicated to very immersive games that engage in first-person combat and first-person stealth. We allow the player to recombine powers and moves in different ways that we couldn’t even predict. We care about empowering the player. You can play our games very creatively.”

After the original Dishonored released in 2012, Colantonio moved his focus to directing Prey in Arkane’s newer studio located in Austin, Texas. Meanwhile, Smith – an industry veteran who joined Arkane in 2008 to work with Colantonio on Dishonored – moved to Lyon to direct Dishonored 2. While they now live in different countries, the two of them continue to collaborate on a daily basis, testing each other’s games, sharing expertise and more. “Harvey and I are constantly talking,” Colantonio smiles. “Either we’re chatting on Skype, or we’re texting each other.”

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A Sense of Place

For Smith, Arkane has become more than just a studio. “From the time 17 years ago when Arkane was just Rafael Colantonio and four guys in an office in France, with a network cable between their computers for transfers, a lot has happened – a long, rich history culminating most recently in the Dishonored series,” Smith says. “I’ve been with the company for eight years, which blows my mind. It’s longer than I’ve been with any other company. It’s amazing, it feels like home.”

When it comes to Arkane’s games, that feeling of “being at home” is no accident. “We are very much into creating a deep setting where there are layers of history,” Smith says. “We understand the architecture of the place, and the waves of settlers that came in, and how the foods have changed since then. It’s the kind of company where we just really care about creating worlds.”

While that makes sense for a lore-rich, fantastical setting like Dishonored’s Empire of the Isles, how does this world-building philosophy translate to a sci-fi game like Prey? Set on board the space station Talos I, Prey offers a vision of the near future that’s built upon a foundation of reality. “But it’s not the world exactly as we know it,” Colantonio says. “It’s another version of 2032. In our world Kennedy survived his assassination. We’re not very overt about it. We hint at it. This allowed us to take all the filters the new timeline would create, and build our world through those filters.”

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Which is why astute observers will see a mix of eras and styles reflected in the design of Talos I: Everything on board is rooted in a carefully thought-out alt-history timeline, with all details accounted for. The space station even includes some very lavish elements because, as Colantonio explains, “They built it in a way that would be attractive to the best scientists in the world. There’s even an artificial park with some engineered trees.”

Self Discovery

Within these Arkane worlds, the teams are also passionate about allowing players to build their own identity. It’s why Dishonored 2 offers a choice of two playable characters – Empress Emily Kaldwin or Royal Protector Corvo Attano, each of whom has unique powers and different perspectives on the world around them. And in Prey, players can choose whether Morgan Yu is male or female – but that’s just for starters. One of the major themes of Prey is identity: Along with killing aliens, players embark on a journey of self-discovery. This is even reflected in the gameplay. “We track what players do all along so there can be consequences to their choices,” Colantonio says. “We give players a lot of tools. It’s all simulated. Players can explore those tools in the environment and against the different AIs, who are themselves simulated – they’re not on a set path but are organically moving around based on what they sense. There’s a full ecology with the aliens. All of this combined really provides for experiences that are unique to every player.”

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Of course, Prey and Dishonored 2 are very different games as well. Dishonored is mission-based, with richly detailed, signature levels that you explore and complete in a myriad of ways. Prey, on the other hand, is built around a massive contiguous space, with areas you can revisit. Dishonored places a greater focus on stealth (with the option to play as chaotically as you choose); in Prey, stealth exists, but it’s not the central pillar of the gameplay. And while both games include a wealth of customization options, Prey places an even greater emphasis on RPG-like elements.

And yet they both share similarities that make them uniquely Arkane. “If you like Arkane games – those games that blend narrative and simulation, some choices and a lot of player exploration – Prey will be a game for you,” Colantonio says.

For Smith, Dishonored 2 represents eight years working at Arkane on Dishonored games. “I have a great passion for it,” he says. “The whole team does. Down to every object, the watermarks on the walls, the history of the place you go to, all the quirky characters. We just want our very vocal fans to know that we really are inspired by their passion and their enthusiasm. And for everybody who hasn’t played the first game, we think this is going to be a great entry into the Dishonored world, and Arkane games in general.”

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Cisco gives pre-owned tech a Refresh

In a market of constant upgrades, Cisco Refresh aims to keep quality product away from landfills, writes BRYAN TURNER.

When one gets a new smartphone upgrade, the old device may be used as a backup or can be used by someone else. In business environments, equipment upgrades may not be conducive to keeping old equipment around, which may send older, working equipment to landfills.

This is where Cisco’s Refresh initiative comes in. At Cisco Connect in Sun City this week, Ehrika Gladden, VP and general manager of Cisco Refresh, lifted the lid on a little-known aspect of the company’s strategy. 

“Refresh is Cisco’s global pre-owned equipment business unit,” said Gladden. “It is certified to meet the quality and engineering standards of Cisco. It is licensed for software and it’s also inclusive of a services warranty.

“Our responsibility in 80 countries around the world is tied to both the recovery of assets and the ability to leverage those assets at a lower price point. This ensures our sustainability and proper usage of the Earth’s resources while providing access to small and medium businesses. The products are typically in the range of 20-40% cheaper. The products represent the entire portfolio for Cisco in some part, the majority of that product set is 2+ years in terms of generation.”

Cisco’s Circular Economy initiative ensures a sustainable loop through businesses willing to pay a premium for the latest, cutting-edge solutions, while Cisco markets older, working equipment for resale to those who don’t require the latest solutions. This ensures far less new components need to be used in a product range.

“We are leveraging the model of remanufacturing, refurbishing, recycling, and reusing,” said Gladden. “Depending on the product set, there is a certain set of product yield that we expect. They vary from product to product, but we do have a percentage that doesn’t make it through.

“Those are always reused, meaning we will look at those products and decide to use them completely differently, leveraging the components, remanufacturing back into the overall build process. If that can’t be done, we will go into a recycle process where we melt those products down to reuse them.”

Repairing and refurbishing older products isn’t just that. Cisco is creating repair centres that are owned by third-parties to uplift local ownership.

“The repair centres, as a global manufacturer, is Cisco’s entree into local ownership,” said Gladden. “I want to be precise about what I mean by local ownership. It’s critical for us to have a localised presence, but doing that through ownership. When you look at inclusive economies, those that are participative, to be sustainable – not in the product set, but generationally.

“The ability as a global manufacturer through a local ownership model  isto create a repair centre where a product can be returned, screened, tested, and repaired, leveraging the talent that the Networking Academy is creating.”

Cisco is working closely with local governments to understand where it operates and how to leverage the skills in the market.

Gladden said: “We are also super excited about the National Development Plan and African Union statements which with we align: eradication of poverty, job creation, ownership, healthcare, education, it all fits in the model. So we were very excited to have the opportunity to come to Africa first to announce this. Over the next twelve months, we want to establish our first repair centres, and in the next 3 to 5 years, build that vision into a reality.”

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Why Data Privacy has become a Pipe Dream

If you’re active on WhatsApp, Facebook or any other social platform, you’re not as safe as you thought, writes
AARON THORNTON, MD of Dial a Nerd

As you begin to read this, let’s perform a quick experiment! How many active conversations are you engaged in – right now – on WhatsApp? When was the last time you shared a picture or video on Instagram? Is Facebook currently open and active on one of your devices? And how many internet- connected devices are you using at this moment? Chances are, you have multiple devices running multiple applications most of the time. So what’s the problem, you ask? Since when did checking in with a high school buddy in Australia via Facebook become a dangerous act?  

In reply, we say, read on if you can stomach it!  

Nation-State Hacking & You  

It might seem like a laughably long shot to say that you are a key player in the increasingly sinister and sophisticated world of nation-state hacking. Well, you are. Given that individuals, businesses and governments are now constantly connected, round the clock, consumers and businesses have become fair game in cyber espionage. And as we create and share more and more data, both the value and accessibility of that data increases. According to a report by McAfee, IP theft now accounts for more than 25% of the estimated $600 billion cost of cybercrime to the world economy.    

With data having become the ‘new gold’, nation states are naturally pouring investment and key resources into building advanced cyber warfare tools. Indeed, entire divisions of armed forces as well as the upper echelons of corporate leadership are devising ways to harness data to gain economic, political and social power. At the highest level, tools and platforms are being developed with the specific aim of perpetrating cyber espionage and data theft. No surprise then, that the consumer and business environments are rife with increasingly advanced malware, ransomware and many other malicious hacking tools and methods.  

Still not convinced? Yes, we can smell the scepticism from here! So let’s take a moment to see how this has already played out, beneath our noses.  

Remember the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal of early 2018? For many, this was a watershed moment in the emerging war for consumer data – and the ensuing tensions between privacy, power and profit. Need a refresh? Well, in 2018, Facebook exposed data on up to 87 million Facebook users to a researcher who worked at Cambridge Analytica, which worked for the Trump campaign. In essence, the data was harvested without user consent and used for political purposes.  

Another chilling but less direct example can be found in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. According to Politico, Russia launched a massive social media campaign to ‘sow discord’ leading up to the elections. The website reported that as early as 2014, an infamous Russian “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency – a company linked to Russian president Putin – developed a strategy using fraudulent bank accounts and other fake identity documents to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” 

When referring to the Russian hacks and their impact on election results, one U.S. Representative sagely noted: “They didn’t just steal data; they weaponized it.” 

Ignorance is not bliss 

Okay, so data is being ‘weaponized’, and ordinary people and businesses are being caught in the crosshairs of cyber warfare. A little bit frightening, but the good news is that savvy individuals like you can take steps to protect personal data and actively combat the creeping influence of juggernauts such as Facebook and Google.  

To begin with, awareness is key. As you engage with various platforms and applications at work and at home, take time to understand how your data is being used and what the terms of use are. Is your data being accessed and sold to advertisers? Have you consented to this? In addition to scrutinizing your consent, also pay close attention to how much data you share online – and the nature of the details you are divulging. Always keep in mind that hackers are employing smart social engineering tactics and using the details of your private life (birthdays, holidays, pet’s names, etc) to trick you into opening infected emails and clicking on malware. Whenever you are online, you are a target – and vigilance at all times is critical. Beyond that, it goes without saying that you must commit to following basic security protocols with your devices. So always keep software up to date and keep your data backed up so that you can reboot or wipe a device if needed.   

Now that we’ve left you sufficiently spooked, you can get back to those demanding WhatsApp/Facebook/Instagram notifications (same company, by the way)…albeit, we hope, with a slightly altered [cyber] worldview!  

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