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Italy: factory managers to appear in court over deaths of seven Chinese workers

The managers and owners of an illegal clothing factory in Italy are due in court on Friday over the deaths of seven Chinese workers in a fire last…


Mali confirms its 1st case of Ebola

(CNN) A 2-year-old girl in Mali has been diagnosed with Ebola, making her the West African country’s first confirmed case, health officials said Thursday.

The girl was brought to Mali from neighboring Guinea, where the outbreak this year is believed to have started, World Health Organization spokeswoman Yvette Bivigou said.

Food Shortages in West Africa UK medical ship joining Ebola efforts Aid workers train to battle Ebola

The girl, whose father died of Ebola, was taken to the hospital in Kayes after a nurse noticed she was suffering from what appeared to be Ebola-like symptoms. A test confirmed the girl has Ebola, Health Ministry spokeswoman Markatie Daou said.

WND » World

Civilization: Beyond Earth—Next time, reach for the stars

A single blue orb floating among billions, part of a galaxy that’s among hundreds of billions, houses the sum total of human achievement. The Sid Meier’s Civilization series is one of those achievements, taking the total history of that great, big ball we all live on and condensing it into perhaps the best, and certainly the most popular, 4X strategy game ever made.

Civilization has always held the sanitized, slightly goofy ideal common to all projects bearing Meier’s moniker. Maybe Civilization: Beyond Earth‘s developers felt infinitesimal when considering the vastness of space, or maybe they were simply struck with a distrust of the future common to science fiction. Either way, the latest game in the franchise that all but defines turn-based strategy is a bit less sanitized and a bit more sinister than its predecessors.

For one thing, despite the veneer of technological and social advancement inherent in exploring life on a new planet, the future represented by Beyond Earth is frighteningly similar to that of past Civilization titles. The humans still squabble over resources, land, and ideology, and they do so in ways that are similar to Civilization V from turn one on.

The similarities make Beyond Earth feel more like a sci-fi themed Civ V expansion than a bold new direction for the series. Units are moved the same way; cities are grown the same way; resource tiles are worked in the same way. While the new victory conditions each have some pseudoscience flavor dialogue, winning is still a matter of out-researching or out-fighting opposed factions in more or less the same ways as before.

You’d think breaking free of history and breaking ground on alien soil would make for more immediately distinct mechanics, but Civilization: Beyond Earth doesn’t really go beyond what we’ve already seen in previous Civilization games. Instead, it’s just the next stop on a well-worn (though well-loved) franchise. Developer Firaxis chose to tinker with the game at the margins, with subtle gameplay shifts that are much less grandiose than the shift in setting would suggest. Given the infinite possibilities of science fiction, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disappointed.

A narrow universe

It took some time before I could put my finger on why that disappointment festered, exactly. The phrase “one step forward, and two steps back” burrowed into my mind, but for a while this couldn’t explain the specifics of why I felt this way. Beyond Earth simply felt diminished in some respects when compared to Civilization V.

Perhaps it’s the fact that the new game feels smaller than Civilization V. Part of what makes the Civilization series exciting is the sense of constantly being forced to spin too many plates. Religion, culture, philosophy, military, diplomacy, and science: each needs constant attention while your society scrambles toward whatever victory condition seems most viable before time runs out. Usually, this eventual scramble bears nothing in common with the path to victory the player initially decided to attempt. The need to improvise leads to memorable stories where camel-mounted troops stand beside Sherman tanks in a mad dash toward a Domination win because Gandhi’s culture is simply too close to blanketing the world with peace, love, and understanding.

Beyond Earth doesn’t have enough plates. Instead, it has Affinities, the three ideological paths every nation can level up for bonuses and eventual victories. Players can build toward “Harmony,” adapting their DNA to the alien world around them, “Supremacy” over the alien environment through research like cybernetics, or a “Purity” track that seeks to keep humanity unchanged while terraforming the planet. Affinities are the crux of research, combat, and most of the game’s victories. Affinities also make Civilization: Beyond Earth feel tiny.

You earn points in Affinities by dabbling with the “Tech Web.” This evolution of the previous “tech tree” system that has permeated just about every turn-based strategy game for decades is probably the smartest change in the whole game. Instead of traveling down discrete lines of scientific development, players now hop around a web of nodes, most of which can be reached through a number of distinct, meandering research paths. Each node can also be expanded up to three levels, unlocking more specialized technology in that area.

It’s a smart system that makes R&D more open while also allowing for deeper specificity down chosen branches. The main problem is that players still have no context for what technobabble nodes like Nanorobotics or Swarm Intelligence are actually good for unless they want to read a lot of dense text. This is where the Affinity system is most useful, serving as a quick heuristic for deciding which nodes are actually useful to build toward. In fact, it’s clear that you must build toward any research that grants Affinity points, since achieving a high-level in at least one Affinity is key to completing roughly half of the game’s victory conditions.

While Affinities can be useful, they’re also incredibly limiting. It wasn’t until somewhere just shy of turn 300 in my first game that I realized the Affinity system actually dampened the welcome openness and improvisation of the new Tech Web system. After getting about halfway through that game, I recognized that the only way to achieve the “Harmony” victory I wanted was to reach level 13 in that Affinity. That meant another hundred turns of researching technology I didn’t exactly need in order to farm experience. Suddenly, that big, beautifully open web-based design was a series of straight lines branching off in a very small handful of directions… not unlike a tree. Ah.

Simplistic combat

You can ignore the Affinity system somewhat by going for an old-fashioned Domination victory, simply taking over the world by force (though it’s still quite difficult to achieve without at least some focus on a single Affinity). The mechanics of this combat-based path haven’t changed measurably since Civilization V: move your unit to another unit’s space, and they’ll bump into each other until the more advanced unit wins.

What has changed is what constitutes “advanced.” There aren’t nearly as many options for military units in Beyond Earth as in previous Civilization games, and each faction has access to the same units throughout. Advancement is dictated by a culture’s chosen Affinity rather than through research and production.

Fighting without the advantages Affinities offer is ill-advised. The randomly generated environments of Beyond Earth are much harsher than those back on our home planet, full of poisonous miasma, multiple types of hostile aliens, and the occasional monstrous sandworm. Even getting to the opposition’s stronghold is a battle of attrition under these circumstances, a battle that can really only be won by once again grinding out new levels of Affinity (the Harmony path allows units to heal in the miasma, for instance, while Purity causes aliens to keep their distance).

Intentional or not, the harsh climate also makes for a game that’s much slower to get started. Civilization games have always come with the ever-present threat of hostile militaries marching toward your capital while you’re focused on teaching your citizens mathematics or something. Here, that’s not quite as much of a concern, since even the earliest soldier units can easily advance far enough to effectively defend your home base. I only built two military units in my first game, and they could fend off entire missile platforms by the end.

In a way, I appreciated having the peace and quiet to focus on my civilization’s studies, but it’s one less plate to balance without a new one to take its place. The result? Turn after turn of doing nothing but clicking “forward” and letting my research tick forward. More time to grind.

A lack of personality

Eventually, I explored a new “strategy” that focused on using the espionage system to steal science resources from other civilizations in order to increase my speed on the path to becoming one with a giant, psychic flower (the Transcendence victory). The espionage system is very similar to that in Civilization V (as are so many things in the new game)—the biggest difference is that the Spy Agency, headquarters to your undercover astronauts, is available almost immediately.

It’s a complex system, full of options ranging from petty larceny to planting dirty bombs in opposing towns. Unfortunately, it always seems like the most logical course of action was to steal more science to keep the victory research grind chugging along.

There’s also so little in the way of personality throughout Beyond Earth. Previous Civilization games coasted on built-in context to make up for their lack of character. Genghis Khan going to war with George Washington or samurai duking it out against Spartans could form interesting stories in and of themselves. Beyond Earth doesn’t have that real-world link to its in-game fiction, and it does little to nothing to make you care about what the developers put in its place.

Barring what I’ll admit is a pretty great opening cutscene, just about the entire game feels devoid of life. Spies and other units can’t be renamed or personalized in any significant way. Satellites hang stiff and silent a few inches above their launch location. Representatives from other nations now speak various real-world languages instead of the goofy baby talk from games past, but they sport a single, canned response for each interaction. Even the victories—which should be moments of great pride—feel flat when the result on your computer back here in the year 2014 is just a 140-character pat on the back.

I didn’t expect the low-level detail and personality of Firaxis’ XCom: Enemy Unknown to translate entirely into Beyond Earth, but it would have been nice if there was at least some attempt to migrate the lessons from Firaxis’ other major series into this one.

For all these reasons, Civilization: Beyond Earth is not what I hoped it would be, and maybe not quite as good as what came before it. Instead, it’s merely “Civilization V in space,” which, to be fair, is a comparison that many other games would kill for. Still, Beyond Earth often comes across as a dull grind compared to the game that preceded it. Of all the hundreds of billions of possibilities in the universe, this wouldn’t be my last choice, but it’s certainly not the achievement it could have been.

The Good

  • In theory, the Tech Web is a smart, intriguing change
  • Affinities simplify combat in interesting ways
  • Being incredibly similar to Civilization V isn’t an altogether bad thing

The Bad

  • Affinities force a level of min/maxing that feels suffocating
  • Winning is often a grind, with completely uneventful turns
  • Harsh environments make early exploration difficult, if not impossible
  • There’s no personality to the units or leaders and no grandeur in the events that unfold

The Ugly

  • It still takes ages for the AI to take their turns as the game drags on

Verdict: Serious Civ players will almost certainly buy it and might get something out of it. Otherwise, keep playing Civ V and wait to see what the first Beyond Earth expansion holds.

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Ars Technica

AMC invests $200m to expand BBC America

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breaking news – Google News

Bizarre dinosaur matched to an enormous set of arm bones

Michael Skrepnick

it seems like everywhere scientists look, they’re finding dinosaurs. A new species is emerging at the astounding pace of one per week. And this trend continues with the announcement of perhaps the strangest dinosaur find over the past few years: the toothless, hump-backed, super-clawed omnivore Deinocheirus mirificus, which lived about 70 million years ago in what is now Mongolia.

Deinocheirus may even become a household name, thanks to spectacular new fossils from the Gobi Desert reported by South Korean paleontologist Young-Nam Lee and colleagues, who published their results in Nature. It is a one-of-a kind dinosaur—a creature so astoundingly weird that the world probably won’t be able to avoid taking notice.

Half a century of wild speculation

It has been a banner year for dinosaur discoveries. First it was the “chicken from hell” and a dwarf tyrannosaur announced in the spring, then the long-snouted carnivore “Pinocchio rex” and the feathery glider Changyuraptor came in the summer. Over the past couple of months, we have been awed by the 65-ton, long-necked behemoth Dreadnoughtus and wowed by remarkable new fossils of the sail-backed, shark-eating Spinosaurus from Africa.

But Deinocheirus isn’t actually a new dinosaur. It has been known about for more than 50 years. As is often the case with dinosaurs, Deinocheirus was first reported based on a couple of bones that were enough to show scientists that they had found a new species but not nearly enough to give a complete picture of where this species fit into the dinosaur family tree, much less what it ate and how it interacted with other dinosaurs.

Although the original fossils of Deinocheirus were fragmentary, they were epic. In fact, they were some of the most puzzling bits of a dinosaur that were ever found. They weren’t a couple of ribs, or a few tail bones, or a small portion of the skull. No, they were a nearly complete set of forelimbs, measuring more than 2.4 m in length, capped with scythe-like claws. These arms not only dwarf an adult human in size, but they are the largest arms of a bipedal animal ever discovered, fossil or living.

What kind of body did these monstrous arms belong to? Over the past half century, this has been one of the biggest mysteries in dinosaur paleontology. Cast copies of the record-breaking arms are popular museum exhibits worldwide, inspiring children to let their imaginations run wild and dream up what the rest of this bizarre creature would have looked like. Scientists have dreamt, too—and over the past few decades, countless expeditions to the Gobi have set out to find a complete skeleton of Deinocheirus.

It took a while, but Lee and an international squad of Korean, Mongolian, Japanese, Belgian, French, and Canadian scientists have finally come up with the goods. They found two partial skeletons that together reveal exactly what kind of head and body match the long arms. In doing so, they’ve solved a mystery dating back to the darkest days of the Cold War, when such an international team had no hope of working in communist-controlled Mongolia.

It would have been a great disappointment if Deinocheirus was just some boring old dinosaur with long arms. Fortunately, that’s not the case—the rest of its body has a weirdness befitting its strange arms. It turns out that Deinocheirus was an 11-meter-long, six-ton, long-snouted, duck-billed, toothless, hump-backed, bi-pedal plodder, which lived alongside a menagerie of other dinosaurs during the final few million years before all dinosaurs—except for birds—were snuffed out by an asteroid.

Puts a T. rex to shame

Deinocheirus was nearly the size of T. rex and was a member of the subgroup of dinosaurs called theropods, which, like T. rex, were mostly carnivorous. But Deinocheirus was no bloodthirsty flesh eater. Fish scales and gastroliths—smooth stones that living birds use to grind plants—were found in its gut. It seems to have been a six-ton dinosaur garbage disposal, eating basically whatever it wanted.

Deinocheirus was no normal dinosaur, and that is a good thing. Because while it’s always fun to solve puzzles in paleontology, I must admit a little bit of sadness that we no longer have the mystery of Deinocheirus to ponder. I didn’t like science very much as a kid and had little interest in dinosaurs, but I remember reading in school about this strange set of 70 million year old arms, bigger than a human, found without a body in the far reaches of one of the world’s most hospitable deserts. It was the type of enigma that makes dinosaurs fun.

Today’s dinosaur-obsessed kids can no longer dream about solving the riddle of Deinocheirus, but there are still other mysteries out there. Like this one: how did a creature as big and bizarre as Deinocheirus function as a living animal? And why are there no such mind-bending six-ton, death-clawed, camel-humped omnivores around today?

Nature, 2014. DOI: 10.1038/nature13874.  (About DOIs).

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation.

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Ars Technica

Mexico orders mayor’s arrest over students

Authorities accuse Jose Luis Abarca of masterminding last month’s attack that left six students dead and 43 missing.