DMCA takedown removes River City Random Underground from Steam

River City Ransom Underground was removed from Steam late last week, part of an unfolding legal drama surrounding a composer who has been directing DMCA copyright-infringement takedowns at games she says don’t have the rights to her music.

Conatus’ Andrew Russell, one of the developers of River City Ransom Underground, said in a short statement that “we are aware that RCRU is down on Steam. We have contacted Valve’s copyright department, and will let you know when access is restored.” But composer Alex Mauer confirmed to Destructoid that the removal was the result of a Digital Millenium Copyright Act request she made against the title.

“Conatus never got my written permission to use my music in the game,” Mauer told the site. “As far as I know, they have Disasterpeace’s [one of the game’s composers] signature and are trying to act like that alone is enough to have secured rights.”

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Report: Valve’s former augmented reality system is no more

The future of CastAR, an ambitious augmented reality system that began life in Valve’s hardware labs five years ago, is now in serious doubt. A bleak Monday Tweet from a former CastAR staffer was followed by Polygon’s Brian Crecente reporting a full company shutdown.

Citing unnamed “former employees,” Polygon reported that the hardware maker’s primary finance group pulled all funding last week. This was allegedly followed by a full staff layoff and an announcement that the company’s remaining assets would be liquidated.

As of press time, neither CastAR nor its affiliated developer, Eat Sleep Play, have posted any confirmation of shut downs or liquidation. Ars Technica has reached out to CastAR co-founders Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson. We will update this report with any response.

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Valve tries to one-up Oculus Touch with five-finger “Knuckles” VR controller

Valve / SteamVR

We first heard about Valve’s plans for a new SteamVR controller back in October when a few pictures and basic impressions started leaking out of the press-free Steam Dev Days conference. Now we’re getting more details about the upcoming VR hardware—code-named Knuckles—thanks to documents posted on SteamVR’s Knuckles Dev Kit group page.

The most important confirmation in the new documents is that the Knuckles controllers allow for full, independent tracking of all five fingers. Embedded, capacitive sensors in the handle of the unit track the position of the middle, ring, and pinky fingers, while similar sensors in the trigger and face buttons track the index finger and thumb. A ring of sensors around the thumbpad and the back of the hand helps track the unit in space through the standard Lighthouse system.

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Want to get a game on Steam? $100 is all you need

Valve announced today that anyone will be able to publish games on Steam through its previously announced Steam Direct program for “a $100 recoupable publishing fee per game.”

In announcing the direct publishing fee, Valve says it “wanted it to be as small as possible to ensure it wasn’t a barrier to beginning game developers, while also not being so small as to invite easy abuse by people looking to exploit our systems.” The company’s “initial thinking” hovered around a $500 fee, the post notes, but eventually that number came down as “the community conversation really challenged us to justify why the fee wasn’t as low as possible, and to think about what we could do to make a low fee work.”

Valve’s announcement doesn’t go into details on how exactly developers will “recoup” the $100 fee Valve is asking for, outside of the usual 70 percent cut of Steam sales they already receive. The fee may end up being used as a sort of advance payment on Valve’s usual 30 percent cut of revenues, but it’s unclear how that would work for completely free titles listed on Steam.

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Steam tries to shut down “fake” games that abuse Trading Card system

Following its recently announced updates to Steam store curation and game discovery, Valve announced today that it would be taking steps against “bad actors exploiting the store algorithm for financial gain.” Specifically, Valve says it will start targeting game makers that use phony accounts and the addictive collectability of Steam Trading Cards to try to cash in on content-free titles.

After Steam Trading Cards launched in 2013, Valve says “demand for cards became significant enough that there was an economic opportunity worth taking advantage of.” Once that happened, developers started creating “fake” games with little to no content and forcing them onto Steam by exploiting the Steam Greenlight process.

At that point, the “bad actors” could generate and give away thousands of free codes for their fake game to bot accounts. Those bots would then earn Trading Cards in the fake games and sell them on the Steam Marketplace for an easy profit.

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Half-Life, Portal scribe leaves Valve

Chet Faliszek, one of Valve’s most public-facing personalities and a key writer behind some of the company’s most well-remembered games, has left the company after a 12-year stint, according to GamesIndustry.biz.

Faliszek insisted to GamesIndustry that there is “nothing exciting or drama filled” behind his departure. “I worked there 12 years, shipped a bunch of great games and some amazing hardware and wanted to change things up. There’s no news on what’s next etc, I will let you know when that happens.”

Long-time fans of snarky gaming commentary might remember Faliszek from Old Man Murray, an irreverent site he ran with Eric Wolpaw. Wolpaw and Faliszek would both be hired by Valve in 2005 and go on to help develop the unique voice behind two Half-Life 2 expansion episodes, both Portal games, and the Left 4 Dead series, among other titles.

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Valve asks for phone numbers to confirm Dota 2 player identities

Dota 2 maker Valve is taking serious action to cut down on the prevalence of smurfing—using a secondary account in order to to play against opponents of a lower skill level. Starting next month, Dota 2 players will need to have a unique, valid phone number associated with their account to take part in the game’s ranked matchmaking pool.

Ideally, the move would ensure that a single person can only have a single Dota 2 account, so highly skilled players couldn’t pretend to be novices in a ranked match. Unranked play will be unaffected by the change.

Valve says that “online services that provide phone numbers are not allowed,” so potential workarounds to create a new “valid” number shouldn’t work. In North America, data from the FCC-backed NANPA can help determine the source of any such online phone numbers, but it’s unclear whether Valve will also be able to confirm international numbers in a similar way.

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Valve discusses user-centric changes to Steam’s game discovery problem

A decade ago, Steam was a carefully curated PC game marketplace where you could be confident that the relative handful of titles that showed up for sale were at least worth considering. Today, Steam is a vast and bloated superstore cluttered with thousands of new titles every year ranging from AAA blockbusters to the worst of the worst shovelware.

Valve has taken a number of steps to limit the prevalence and reach of the laziest cash-in games on the service, most recently requiring developers to provide tax paperwork and an application fee through Steam Direct. Now, the company is collaborating with some of its harshest critics on YouTube to make further changes to fix what is widely called the service’s “discoverability” problem—the issue of finding the good games among the thousands of bad ones.

Jim Sterling and John “TotalBiscuit” Bain were both invited to Valve’s Seattle headquarters recently to discuss these upcoming changes, and both YouTube stars posted lengthy videos laying out what they heard. For those who don’t want to watch the videos, Kotaku has a pretty good summary of the changes Valve relayed to the two YouTubers.

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