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4 Canadians will play key roles in final fours this weekend

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

Quick note before we get started: I’d like to mix in a few “mailbag” newsletters in the coming months. But first I’ll need more mail. So if you have a question about sports that you’ve always wanted to ask, or you want my #take on something, or whatever, send it to thebuzzer@cbc.ca and include your first name and where you’re from. I’ll pick a few of the better ones to answer in some upcoming newsletters.

Also, no newsletter on Good Friday or Easter Monday. Back Tuesday.

OK, here’s what to know for today:

Good things come in fours

Starting tonight, the Easter long weekend will feature four Canadian athletes playing a prominent role in a final four (or, for most of them, a Final Four). Here’s a bit about each:

Bianca Andreescu: She’s back, folks. After nearly a year and a half of injury-induced frustration, the Canadian tennis star has put together her most meaningful tournament run since she won the 2019 U.S. Open. Andreescu won a hard-fought match vs. Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo last night to reach the semifinals of the Miami Open. She also made the semis of the Phillip Island Trophy in Australia in February, but that was a low-stakes event with weak competition — players who’d either been eliminated quickly from the Australian Open or didn’t qualify. Miami is in the WTA 1000 tier — just a cut below the Grand Slams. Andreescu hasn’t made the semifinals at a tournament of this calibre or better since her historic Grand Slam title in New York in September 2019. That was also the last time she reached a final of any kind. Andreescu can end that drought tonight when she faces Maria Sakkari sometime after 8:30 p.m. ET. Sakkari is ranked 25th in the world (16 spots below Andreescu) but the powerful Greek just destroyed Naomi Osaka 6-0, 6-4 in the quarters, snapping the world No. 2’s 23-match win streak. The winner meets No. 1-ranked Ash Barty or No. 5 Elina Svitolina in the final on Saturday.

Aaliyah Edwards: The most impressive Canadian in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament helped UConn reach its 13th consecutive Final Four by averaging 14.5 points and 6.7 rebounds over the first four rounds. Edwards, a freshman forward, won the Big East Conference’s Sixth Woman of the Year award after coming off the bench for most of the regular season, but she’s started the last three games. With freshman sensation Paige Bueckers leading the way, UConn is heavily favoured to beat Arizona on Friday night and will likely meet top-ranked Stanford in Sunday’s final. Canadian Shaina Pellington is part of Arizona’s rotation and is averaging 4.5 points in the tournament.

Laeticia Amihere: The sophomore forward hopes to literally block Stanford’s path to the title game in Friday’s other Final Four matchup. Amihere swatted away nine shots and added 10 points and eight rebounds off the bench in South Carolina’s blowout of Texas in the last round. She’s averaging 11 points and eight boards in the tournament. Stanford has its own Canadian player, Alyssa Jerome, but she didn’t get on the court in their last game and has yet to score in the tournament. For more on the Final Four, check out the latest newsletter from our friends at The GIST, who cover women’s sports with a unique voice year-round.

Andrew Nembhard: Gonzaga is two wins away from becoming the first undefeated NCAA men’s basketball champion in 45 years, and a Canadian starts for them. Nembhard isn’t an elite scorer (8.7 points per game in the tournament) but he’s capable of big games like his 17-point, eight-assist outburst vs. Creighton in the third round. And apparently he doesn’t get tired: Nembhard played 110 of a possible 120 minutes in the last three rounds. Gonzaga is an absolute juggernaut that has blown out its four opponents by an average of 24 points. But if it ever gets tested — either in Saturday night’s Final Four matchup vs. Cinderella UCLA or in Monday’s championship game — there’s a good chance Nembhard is one of the guys coach Mark Few will count on in crunch time.

UConn freshman Aaliyah Edwards has been the most impressive Canadian in the NCAA women’s tournament. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)


The police know what happened to Tiger Woods. But they’re not telling. Citing unspecified “privacy issues,” the sheriff of Los Angeles County said yesterday that he couldn’t reveal exactly what detectives determined caused the single-vehicle crash that seriously injured Woods last month. Sheriff Alex Villanueva has called the crash “purely an accident” and indicated there was no evidence of impairment. In yesterday’s update, he said his team has “reached out” to Woods and his camp about waiving the privacy concerns so that the investigation findings can be released to the public. Read more here.

The men’s curling world championship starts tomorrow in Calgary. First-time Brier winner Brendan Bottcher and his rink will try to capture Canada’s first world title since Brad Gushue’s team did it in 2017. Their opponents include Sweden’s Nik Edin, who’s going for a three-peat after beating Brad Gushue and Kevin Koe in the last two finals, and reigning Olympic champion John Shuster of the United States. Read more about Bottcher here and get a quick snippet on each of the 14 teams here. Also, That Curling Show is back. Join hosts Devin Heroux and Colleen Jones tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET on the CBC Sports YouTube channel as they preview the worlds and chat with Bottcher, Edin and Shuster (that’s right, they’re all on tonight’s show).

And finally…

The Sabres won a game! Their tragicomic 18-game losing streak (an unofficial NHL record) ended last night with a cathartic 6-1 blowout of the same Flyers team that prolonged their misery by rallying from a 3-0 third-period deficit two nights before. But Buffalo is hardly out of the woods. They’re last overall by nine points, they’ve been shut out as many times (seven) as they’ve won, and their two best players (Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall) have scored four goals this season. Combined. Nashville’s Rocco Grimaldi, who you’ve possibly never heard of, matched that output by himself in one game last week.

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Everything you need to know about the Blue Jays this year

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

The Toronto Blue Jays open the 2021 baseball season Thursday at 1 p.m. ET at Yankee Stadium. Here’s a quick catchup on Canada’s only major-league team:

They’re not coming back to Canada any time soon

The Jays announced Wednesday that they’re extending their stay in Dunedin, Fla., through at least their May 14-24 homestand. They still want to return to Toronto at some point this year. But if Canadian government pandemic restrictions don’t soften, they’ll continue playing their home games in the United States — either in Dunedin or, if Florida gets too hot and humid, in Buffalo.

2 key new players should bolster the lineup

Toronto’s big off-season catch was slugging centre-fielder George Springer, who it lured from Houston with the richest contract ($ 150 million US over six years) in team history.

The 31-year-old leadoff man won the World Series MVP award in 2017 and averaged 31 home runs in the last four full seasons. But he’s out for a bit because of an oblique strain.

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Jamie Strashin joins John Northcott to preview Jays’ season: 

Jamie Strashin of CBC Sports joins John Northcott on CBC News Network to talk about the kick-off to the Toronto Blue Jays season today. 3:18

New second baseman Marcus Semien, 30, will be in the opening day lineup and looking to recapture his form from 2019, when he hit 33 homers for Oakland and finished third in American League MVP voting.

Springer and Semien join a talented young team

Corner outfielders Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Teoscar Hernández are both coming off excellent seasons and are still on the right side of 30. Ideally, 22-year-old Alejandro Kirk can soon take over at catcher after hitting well in his cameo appearance last year.

But the Jays’ future — and present — hinges on their three core young guys.

A big year by a smaller Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would be huge for the Jays. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Shortstop Bo Bichette, 23, should be a line-drive machine again after a knee injury sapped him of his power last year. Cavan Biggio, 25, is a good hitter who can steal bases and play almost anywhere on the field.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., though, could ultimately be the make-or-break guy. The 22-year-old hasn’t lived up to the massive hype yet. But he’s still very young, very talented and he’s in better shape now. If Guerrero becomes the all-star-calibre slugger everyone expects, he can push the Jays to the next level.

The pitching looks a little shaky

Opening day starter Hyun Jin Ryu is a legit ace who finished third in American League Cy Young voting last year. Behind him are a lot of journeymen and question marks.

The Jays hope prospect Nate Pearson can become the No. 2 guy after he showed flashes as a rookie, but he’s hurt again (strained groin).

The bullpen is pretty deep, but Toronto’s gamble on closer Kirby Yates went bust. The one-time 41-save man suffered a season-ending elbow injury in spring training, leaving the job up to a committee that could be led by Canadian righty Jordan Romano.

Another post-season trip is in reach

Last year’s appearance by the Jays in the post-season was a product of the field temporarily expanding from five teams to eight in each league.

The added randomness of a 60-game season may have helped, too, as the Jays gave up more runs than they scored.

But they’re a good, young team that made some solid additions, and there are objective reasons to think they can make the playoffs in a normal season.

Fangraphs’ projection model has Toronto finishing 88-74 — seven games behind the Yankees in the AL East, but good enough to claim the top AL wild-card spot from a tightly packed handful of contenders.

The Jays are also trendy in the betting market, which has them as the No. 3 favourite to win the AL pennant, behind the Yankees and White Sox.

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This Copy of Super Mario Bros. Is About to Sell for a Record-Setting Sum

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Most of the hottest game releases for next-gen consoles are going to run you $ 70, an increase gamers are not relishing. That’s nothing compared with a copy of the original Super Mario Bros for NES. This sealed cartridge is set to shatter records with its auction price, which is creeping up on $ 400,000 with several days still to go. 

The Nintendo Entertainment System occupies a special place in many a nerd’s heart. Some NES games, such as the Super Mario Bros. series, have become cultural touchstones that people still play to this day, and some love these games so much they’ll pay exorbitant amounts of money to own rare physical copies. Nintendo rolled out the NES in select markets with various types of game packaging, which has led to multiple “versions” of some titles. Many of them are worth a whole lot of money, too. 

Heritage Auctions runs most of these rare NES game auctions, and its high-profile latest listing is about to set a new record. The game in question is a copy of the original Super Mario Bros., which first came out in 1985. However, this isn’t one of the early “test market” boxes, several of which have sold for substantial sums. The latest copy of SMB to hit the auction block is from a subsequent batch of game carts that were the first to be shrink-wrapped when they hit store shelves. The game is, of course, still shrink-wrapped. It will presumably remain that way, as any attempt to open it and play the game would destroy all of its (very significant) value. The box has been rated a 9.6 out of 10 by WATA Games, meaning the packaging is in nearly perfect condition. It also has an intact hangtab, indicating it was never even hung up in a store. 

The repositioned “Bros.” is what makes this copy of the game so rare.

The age, condition, and specific box properties make this copy worth a boatload. The auction price is sitting at $ 372,000 at this time, and it could climb further. Even if it doesn’t, this auction will easily set the record for the most expensive single video game. The previous record was set by a copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 with a slightly different box logo (see above) that was modified in later batches. That game sold for $ 156,000, which is nothing to sneeze at for a game that retailed for about $ 60 in 1990. 

As the years wear on, these rare copies of classic games will only become rarer and more expensive. After 30 years, only very carefully preserved copies are in good enough condition to sell for big bucks. If anyone reading this is independently wealthy and would like to steal the game out from under the current high bidder, you’ll have to put up at least $ 384,000.

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This Winnipeg lab confirmed Canada’s 1st case of COVID-19. Then it set to work helping manage the crisis

On Jan. 23, 2020, doctors at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre admitted a 56-year-old man with what appeared to be mild pneumonia. Two days later, he was “Patient Zero” — the first COVID-19 case in Canada.

Four days late, it was senior research scientist Nathalie Bastien’s team at the National Microbiology Lab (NML) in Winnipeg that confirmed the case.

“When you want to become a scientist, when you’re a young kid, this is what you dream of, to be part of helping people and saving lives in a way by stopping the spread of the virus,” Bastien said in a recent interview from her lab. “It’s rewarding.”

Senior research scientist Nathalie Bastien and spent years after the SARS epidemic developing a universal test that could detect any type of coronavirus, but they weren’t sure it would work on the new virus, known as SARS-CoV-2 until they got the sample last January. (Public Health Agency of Canada)

Bastien’s work is one example of 150 different COVID-19 projects at the national lab, which is is the only Level 4 lab in Canada, capable of handling the world’s deadliest pathogens. 

Many of those projects are done in collaboration with academia, industry and public health partners, and more than 50 of them are related to pre-clinical research, including clinical trials in animals, testing of antibody-based therapeutics and vaccine collaborations.

It’s all part of nearly $ 2 billion in funding the lab has received in the last year as part of Ottawa’s COVID-19 pandemic response, although the lab would not give a breakdown of how that money is spent.

“Obviously, collaborating in an environment that is fast-moving, like a pandemic response, has its challenges but the willingness to work together to achieve that common goal, which is, ultimately, to protect Canadians, has been really rewarding to see,” acting scientific general Dr. Guillaume Poliquin said in a recent interview with CBC News.

Dr. Guillaume Poliquin, centre, is the acting scientific director general of the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg. (Warren Kay/CBC)

For Bastien, an expert on respiratory viruses such as the flu, SARS and H1N1, Canada’s first presumed positive case of this pandemic was an opportunity to see if years of work would pay off.

After the SARS epidemic, her team had developed a universal molecular PCR lab test that they hoped would be able to detect any coronavirus.

However, they weren’t certain it would work on SARS-CoV-2 until that first sample arrived at their Winnipeg lab.

It did work. And since then, the lab has made that first-generation test even more sensitive. Those efforts have led to the standardized PCR test now used in labs across Canada.

During the early days of the pandemic, all samples were sent to the NML from provincial and territorial public health labs to confirm the presumptive results.

The NML still helps provinces and territories if their labs are overwhelmed and also supports the PCR molecular laboratory tests being done at the border to confirm or rule out active COVID-19 infections.

As well, it’s constantly doing surveillance for variants of concern.

“We’re still working like crazy,” Bastien said.

Made-in-Canada supply chain

Scientists at the lab also stepped in to solve one of the early stumbling blocks of the pandemic, a global shortage in lab supplies and equipment needed to test swabs from possible COVID-19 patients. 

This was especially true for reagents, the chemicals needed to extract the genetic material from samples.

As backlogs for testing grew, the need for a “Made in Canada” solution became apparent.

“Half jokingly, we thought: ‘Well, if we can’t buy it, can we make it?'” Poliquin said.

Allen Grolla, pictured in West Africa in 2014. Grolla has analyzed lethal pathogens such as Ebola and Marburg where outbreaks of the deadly viruses occur, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Kenya, Bangladesh, Hong Kong and Guandong, China. (SYLVAIN CHERKAOUI/Doctors Without Borders)

So NML managers called up biologist Allen Grolla, known as a problem-solving MacGyver. 

Grolla was enjoying his first month of retirement but agreed to return to work. 

His task was to find the right chemical cocktail to create a reagent that public health labs across the country could use to diagnose COVID-19. By April 2020, the reagent was being manufactured at New Brunswick-based LuminUltra Technologies Ltd. and shipped to public health labs across Canada.

“When we started down the pandemic road, there was a capacity to do a few thousand tests [a day]. In Canada, the latest capacity figures are over 200,000 tests per day,” Poliquin said. “Sometimes, the crisis averted is not as glamorous as the crisis solved. But at the end of the day, that’s the one that’s most important.”  

Developing vaccines

NML scientists were the ones who developed the world’s first approved Ebola vaccine, which helped save lives in Africa. So when the coronavirus pandemic emerged last year, NML scientists started developing in-house SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates.

Health Canada has approved four COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. (CBC)

There are currently four approved vaccines in Canada, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca-Oxford and Johnson & Johnson, but NML is focused on developing ones that could be effective against some of the variants of concern. There is one promising candidate that has started pre-clinical trials in animal model testing, Poliquin said.

The lab is also conducting animal tests of vaccine candidates being developed at Canadian university and industry labs to see if they’re ready for human trials.

Early warning system

Another project the lab is working on is a study with the Canadian Water Network that monitors the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater. The NML is providing technical guidance to labs across the country and helping them make reliable comparisons of data across communities.

Poliquin said that work made a difference in the Northwest Territories last December, when the lab alerted public health officials to community spread.

“They were seeing an increase in the amount of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in their wastewater in the community, where they knew of a single case that was isolated,” Poliquin said. 

“That really didn’t jibe with what we were observing. The Northwest Territories, in response, did some proactive testing and identified another five individuals that were then isolated. And from there, the signal intensity decreased. So I think that’s compelling evidence that using wastewater as an early warning system can, in fact, help avert larger outbreaks.”

The NML is providing technical guidance to communities testing their wastewater for the coronavirus. Here, researchers at the University of Ottawa test that city’s wastewater. (Pierre-Paul Couture/CBC News )

Quick investment is key

Dr. David Butler-Jones has been watching to see how his former colleagues are managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

He was Canada’s first chief public health officer between 2004 and 2014 and co-ordinated the response during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, which resulted in 428 confirmed deaths in Canada. An estimated 40 per cent of Canadians were immunized in a national vaccination campaign that began in October 2009. 

Butler-Jones also led the Public Health Agency of Canada from its creation and directed PHAC’s efforts to build up and co-ordinate provincial public health systems.  

Dr. David Butler-Jones was Canada’s first chief public health officer from 2004 to 2014. He says Canada learned from the SARS epidemic that funnelling money quickly into research is key when a crisis hits. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

While he says he’s seen a “diminishment in funding” in PHAC and NML’s budgets since 2012, Butler-Jones is pleased one of the big recommendations after SARS has been followed — funnelling money quickly into research where and when it’s needed.

Often, it can take more than a year between concept and development to writing proposals and receiving funding.

“When you’re in the midst of a pandemic or a crisis, you need that money now and you need to do the research,” Butler-Jones said.

Not the time to celebrate

Back in Toronto, public health officials have set up a field hospital in the parking lot of Sunnybrook Hospital’s Bayview campus with 100 beds to take the stress off the intensive-care wards as they prepare for a possible third wave of the pandemic.

A mobile field hospital, pictured March 10, 2021, is being assembled in an empty parking lot at the Bayview campus of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto amid fears of a third wave of COVID-19. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Poliquin knows his own teams have been working full-out for more than a year. He hopes they eventually get a break and the thanks they deserve.

“We’ve all been so busy,” he said. “It’s been less of a time to sit back and reflect on our successes and more of a time to put our heads down and get the work done.

“I think there will be a time and a need to celebrate everything that was achieved.… But the work isn’t done yet.”

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India reports biggest daily jump in COVID-19 infections this year

India reported the year’s biggest daily increase in COVID-19 cases on Sunday, with 25,320 new infections, a day ahead of a lockdown in the western state of Maharashtra, the epicentre of the renewed surge.

The increase was the biggest since Dec. 16, according to federal health data. India is the third-most affected country globally with 11.36 million cases, behind the United States and Brazil.

India’s COVID-19 deaths rose by 161 to 158,607 over the last 24 hours, Sunday’s data show, compared to an average of about 100 since early February.

Nagpur district in Maharashtra will lock down on Monday for the first time since nationwide curbs were lifted in June. The state reported the highest number of infections with 2.3 million cases.

The capital New Delhi has reported a steady rise in infections over the last two weeks, with health authorities cautioning residents against any slackening of hygiene measures.

WATCH | Coronavirus surges in India to highest numbers in three months:

The CBC’s Salimah Shivji reports on the big spike in India’s COVID-19 cases and the difficulties of trying to encourage public health policies to curb the virus. 2:04

India’s caseload had been falling steadily since peaking in late September, but increased social gatherings and travel have caused a spike since early February, even as a nationwide vaccination campaign is underway.

The federal government aims to vaccinate a fifth of the country’s 1.3 billion people by August.

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New Nintendo Switch With Larger Samsung OLED Rumored for This Year

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Nintendo has consistently downplayed rumors of new Switch consoles, but a report in Bloomberg says 2021 will see the launch of a new high-end version of Nintendo’s massively successful console. This device will allegedly feature a larger Samsung OLED and support for 4K gaming in docked mode, but that might complicate things for developers. 

There are currently two versions of the Switch; the standard hybrid console and the handheld-only Switch Lite. The Switch has a 6.2-inch 720p LCD. and the Lite is just a bit smaller at 5.5 inches. The rumored device would replace the hybrid console and feature a 7-inch OLED panel manufactured by Samsung. 

The LCD on the current Switch is very high-quality, despite the low resolution. The move to OLED could bring better black levels, more vibrant colors, and improved battery life — it’s the same thing we’ve seen with phones over the past few years as even mid-range devices have moved to OLED. The screen will apparently remain 720p, but Bloomberg claims docked mode will feature a resolution change. When this rumored Switch is docked, it might support 4K output. 

The Switch’s lack of support for 4K screens has been a sticking point for gamers who have grown accustomed to higher resolutions, but 1080p was the best the Switch could manage. Developers have complained about the complications of supporting two different resolutions, but the gap will be even bigger if the console steps up to 4K. 

The Switch Lite launched in 2019 with a smaller screen and no support for docked mode.

We don’t know anything about the internals at this point, but it’s safe to assume the device will still have an Nvidia Tegra chip. The GPU on that chip doesn’t have enough power to render games reliably at 4K — it can struggle at 1080p sometimes. The going speculation is that it will leverage Nvidia’s DLSS technology, which uses AI to sharpen and upscale graphics. We know the Tegra can run DLSS because it’s enabled on the Shield Android TV. However, DLSS would use more power, so it might be limited to docked 4K mode. 

Bloomberg’s sources suggest the new display panels will ship to manufacturers around July. That would give Nintendo just enough time to get units manufactured and on the market in time for the holidays. This isn’t the first time rumors have pointed to a new hi-end Switch, but we’re more willing to believe it now. Nintendo will be looking for a way to prop up sales this year as the newer and more advanced PS5 and Xbox Series X become more widely available.

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Sony Will Unlock the PS5’s Expandable Storage by This Summer

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Sony will allow PlayStation 5’s to finally use their M.2 slots by the summer. The new updates will also unlock support for higher fan speeds, which probably isn’t great news to everyone who likes the current noise profile on the Xbox Series S|X or PlayStation 5, but it may be necessary given what we’ve heard about the current power consumption on both consoles.

The storage announcement is straightforward: Sony will finally allow players to expand past the default storage capacity in their systems, provided you buy a PCIe 4.0 drive that meets system requirements. These drives have never been named or announced, however, and the base PS5 is more capacity-constrained than the Xbox Series X. After setup, you have ~667GB to use on the PlayStation 5 right now, and about 800GB on the Xbox Series X. This gives the Xbox Series X 1-3 additional games worth of capacity unless you’re specifically focused on older or smaller games. PS5 owners can alleviate some of this by storing PS4 games on external media.

Xbox Series S|X owners have the option to expand the internal storage by up to 1TB for $ 219 while PlayStation 5 owners may be able to beat that deal in the long term by using a qualifying PCIe 4.0 drive. Over time, storage costs for the PlayStation 5 should be cheaper than Xbox, based on the fact that the latter uses expansion cards manufactured by Seagate while Sony will (hypothetically) be open to a range of manufacturers and products over time.

The cooling fan adjustment is interesting, though we have no further detail on it. A report from the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) states that the PS5 uses just 80-105W during last-generation game testing, but 180-200W while playing Astro’s Playroom. Data from Cnet confirms similar numbers, with a 2x – 4x increase in power consumption on next-generation platforms when higher-end games are being played.

Some of these numbers are going to depend on frame rate. Older games that are still locked to 30fps when played on new platforms will use less power because of improvements to underlying efficiency. It would actually be interesting to see somebody dust off an original Xbox or OG Xbox 360 and compare power consumption when playing titles on that platform versus in emulated mode on the Xbox Series S|X, just to see the power consumption figures.

Sony has talked about releasing fan profiles on a game-by-game basis before, so it could be that the company is going to leverage some of that tuning in its next major release. It’s also possible that these settings adjustments are based on data that’s come back in from the millions of PlayStation systems being deployed across the world.

Incidentally, I took a look around for any update on the late-November story about VRAM possibly overheating on the PlayStation 5 due to the fact that one VRAM IC isn’t apparently cooled by the case design.  While the initial news made a splash in late November, there’ve been no public updates or reports of further problems since.

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Diablo II: Resurrected Arrives on PCs and Consoles This Year

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Diablo II: Resurrected, a remaster of Diablo II, will arrive on PCs and consoles this year. To say I’m both excited and curious would be something of an understatement — Diablo II is where I cut my teeth on developing mods. Blizzard is using D2’s original source code, and my heart goes pitter-pat at the idea. That said, this is a game Blizzard can’t afford to screw up, especially after the disaster that was/is Warcraft III: Reforged.

Some definite quality of life improvements are coming with D2R, including a new shared stash and upgraded graphics. The game implements the Lord of Destruction expansion; you can see the launch trailer below:

For those of you who can’t watch video or dislike doing so, here’s a couple of screenshots showing the graphics upgrade in action. Don’t worry if you don’t like the changes; you’ll be able to change to the original graphics options at will. Blizzard hasn’t clarified the situation yet, but we’re betting the company has also dropped Glide support, in favor of standardizing on Direct3D.

The original game, in its 4:3, 800×600 glory. The problem with fixed resolution games is just how badly they’ve scaled to larger monitor sizes.

Here’s the upgraded version. 16:9 and there’ll be resolution options up to 4K. If you don’t like the new graphics you’ll have the option to upscale the old ones to higher resolutions. All cinematics are also being re-done.

Additional features baked into the upgrade include support for cross-platform progression. This allows you to play the same character on, say, a Switch or a PC. Also, characters are now 3D polygons, while backgrounds are still sprites. There’s also a new lighting system.

Blizzard needs to get this right. Warcraft may be the company’s oldest franchise, but Diablo II stands as one of the best and most enduring products it ever built. The baffling choices and changes made to Warcraft 3: Reforged were mistakes that do not need to be repeated.

Also, no word yet on whether everyone will get access to the original Diablo II the way they did when Blizzard launched Starcraft: Remastered. It’d be a nice gesture for the company to make, but we’ll have to stay awhile and listen wait and see if that happens or not.

Anyone else really looking forward to the remastered Tyrael fight in Act II? I admit it. I’m a bit of a fanboy for a game that’s nearly old enough to drink.

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Pretty Sure We’re Prepared This Time: Blizzard Confirms Burning Crusade Classic

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Ever since World of Warcraft Classic proved there are a lot of people willing to facemash their way through the original, most difficult portion of the game, we began to hear chatter that a follow-up might be in the works for The Burning Crusade, the first expansion pack for the popular game. Whether this was wishful thinking or potentially true has not been clear until now. Blizzard has announced The Burning Crusade Classic, arriving later this year.

Features are what you’d expect. It’s The Burning Crusade, with only minor quality-of-life changes to the UI. Raid content will be introduced post-launch over a period of time, the same way Classic content was.

The method Blizzard has chosen for moving the player base is similar to one I proposed when Classic was new. When TBCC launches, players will have the option to either advance there with the rest of their server or stay behind on new, Classic-only servers. In short, Blizzard isn’t just bringing back specific instances of the game as snapshots, they’re recreating the entire character path folks took through the game the first time, with one difference. This time, if you don’t want to progress, you’ll be able to keep playing Classic on servers that are limited to Classic.

Historically, Blizzard always made certain features of new content available to all players, but not all of them. Any new content gated into an expansion pack remained locked to it, but broad world changes are always introduced for all players. Let’s say you were a Druid player stuck at Lvl 60 when everyone else got to go on to Lvl 70. You’re still Lvl 60, but you would get features like spell changes and talent tree adjustments. That may not be the case, here, because it isn’t clear if WoW Classic would freeze just before the final patch of the base game.

Basically, TBCC offers the same deal that WoW Classic did: Play the version of the game you liked better, as long as you want, with WoW Classic and TBCC included with the standard game subscription. I’m interested in TBC, partly because it was the first time players with multi-class characters had a decent chance of actually performing their roles. Paladin and Druid tanks advanced from also-rans to viable options, though Paladin taunts remain a bit annoying here, because you have to target the alternative individual being targeted, as opposed to slapping a mob in the face.

We’re Probably Prepared

If Blizzard makes any changes to TBCC, I’d like to see them make a few small changes or additions to Illidan’s portrayal to keep up with their own lore retcons. In Burning Crusade, Illidan Stormrage is one of the later raid bosses you’ll face in the instance. In the later expansion, Legion, Illidan is something of an anti-hero, whose motivations are rather different than as they were portrayed previously. It would be nice to see a little effort to harmonize the two depictions of the character, but I doubt it’ll happen.

If WoW Classic was a nostalgic opportunity to return to WoW as it was born, The Burning Crusade offers a chance to visit WoW as it matured. The Burning Crusade dramatically expanded character opportunities added the ability to fly via player-owned mounts, increased the overall leveling speed of the game, and expanded the lore with storylines that resonated through multiple expansions. Critical characters like Garrosh were introduced and plot lines that had lain dormant since the end of Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal were paid off.

Players showed up in droves to battle Onyxia and brave the depths of Molten Bore Core. Will they return to brave the Black Temple, battle the trolls of Zul’Aman, and save the Sunwell from corruption?

PS: Paladins, your bubble will not save you in the Serpentshrine Cavern mega-drop. If you plan to skip the elevator and let gravity do its thing, you’d best wait some seconds before you trigger it.

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In Myanmar, the generals are used to getting their way. Did they miscalculate this time?

On the streets of Yangon, the mood captured by news cameras seems friendly, even festive. Young people with brightly painted faces and determined looks fill parks and intersections day after day. Their signs ask “Where is democracy?”

Not here. For all the upbeat music and colourful costumes, worry weighs heavily on a Myanmar whose uneven march toward real people power has been blocked by a military with other plans. For all the talk of a peaceful transition to democracy, tanks block roads and soldiers shoot protestors. A 20 year-old woman died this week after being hit with a real bullet. 

The country’s military coup, now three weeks old, is settling into a tense standoff with the generals on one side and a wide swath of Myanmar’s civilian population on the other, vowing not to give up until they achieve full democracy.

Coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing took charge after sweeping aside the results of an election last year which saw Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party score a landslide victory. Suu Kyi is now being held, charged with a few minor offences to justify her detention.

Hlaing has promised a new multiparty vote next February, and to “hand over power to the one who wins in that election, according to the rules of democracy.” 

For the teens and twenty-somethings on the streets, the shock is real — perhaps greater than the generals have bargained for.

Musicians perform outside the British embassy during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on Friday, Feb. 19, with a sign reading ‘We don’t have guns but we have hope.’ (AFP via Getty Images)

The youth grew up with very different expectations.

“We are young, we have a future,” said Nyi Nyi Nyang, a 24 year-old playing electric guitar to the protest lyrics. “But this dictatorship can destroy all our dreams.” 

He is a digital marketer, a job that didn’t even exist here until a decade ago, he told a freelance CBC News crew. That’s when a previous military dictatorship’s barriers to the outside world started crumbling and the internet flooded in. It spread from one per cent to over 43 per cent penetration, bringing mobile phones, social media and a new vision of western freedoms — not to mention new ways of organizing opposition being used in places like Hong Kong and Bangkok.

Nyi Nyi Nyang, 24, is a digital marketer, a job that didn’t exist in Myanmar a decade ago. ‘This dictatorship can destroy all our dreams,’ he said. (CBC)

Young people have embraced all that.

“We want peaceful change,” said a protestor who goes by the initial M, and reached by CBC by telephone. “We don’t have guns. Our hands are empty, only the mobile phones.”

But they are not the only ones who protest the military’s actions in increasing numbers. A widespread civil disobedience movement — popularly known as CDM — has brought the country’s government and the generals’ cash flow to a near standstill.

Protesters chant slogans during an anti-coup protest at Sule Square on Feb. 17 in downtown Yangon. Armored vehicles continued to be seen on the streets of Myanmar’s capital, but protesters turned out despite the military presence. (Hkun Lat/Getty Images)

‘Uncharted territory’

Doctors and nurses were the first to stop obeying official orders, immediately after the coup. They were joined by many civil servants, bank employees and rail workers who went on strike. Every day, cars block key intersections, their hoods up under the pretence of mechanical trouble. 

People have also started boycotting corporations owned by the generals: from Myanmar Beer to Red Ruby cigarettes, from banks to bowling alleys. For them, losing power could also mean losing this lucrative stream of extra income.

WATCH | Doctors and nurses refuse to obey orders under military coup:

Myanmar’s military government has laid several charges against the country’s democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained in the coup. The charges are seen as a way of keeping her in custody while the military tightens its grip during a state of emergency. 1:59

In response to the protests, the army has given itself broad new powers of search and arrest, and has made penal code amendments aimed at stifling dissent with tough prison terms. It has arrested more than 500 people, including Suu Kyi and other leaders of the NLD. And it has launched a nightly curfew, regular internet outages, and raids across the country, under the cover of darkness.

The impasse is real and it is unpredictable, says Thant Myint-U, a historian and author of The Hidden History of Burma. He’s worked with the United Nations and as a special advisor to the president of Myanmar. His grandfather was former UN Secretary General U Thant.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” he said in an interview with CBC News from Bangkok. “If the military begins to buckle as a result of these protests, then it’s hard to see exactly where things might go.”

Thant Myint-U, a historian and author of The Hidden History of Burma, says the current impasse between civilian protesters and the military generals is real and unpredictable. (Submitted by Thant Myint-U)

A miscalculation?

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been in similar situations before. Under previous generals, it was a military dictatorship for half a century before 2010, a starkly unequal society divided along lines of race, poverty and power. 

When people demanded more democracy in 1988 — holding nationwide protests and work stoppages, enlisting the support of civil servants and indeed the police — the army responded with deadly force. Hundreds of civilians were killed before the military regained control. 

Since then, the generals have been careful to cede power only under their terms. 

They kept constitutional supremacy in the shadows, even as Suu Kyi stood in the world spotlight, leading Myanmar toward democracy. 

“That didn’t happen because of protests. That didn’t happen because of a grassroots revolution. That didn’t happen because of [international] sanctions,” said Myint-U.

“It happened because the generals were confident. They themselves wanted to move along a certain path toward giving up a little bit of power.”

But Myint-U says this is a different era, and with this month’s coup they may have miscalculated.

“I don’t think they counted on the kind of really visceral anti-military feeling that they’ve unleashed over these past couple of weeks,” he said. 

A man gestures towards residents, unseen, as police stand guard at the entrance gate of a Buddhist monastery where pro-military supporters took shelter after clashes with local residents following a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on Thursday. (Ye Aung Thu/AFP via Getty Images)

“They thought they could do this in a fairly easy way, that they would take over. They would put Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. They would probably deregister [her political party] the NLD. They would have new elections. And then the parties that were friendly to them would somehow win the elections.”

But despite the opposition — and the social and generational changes — sweeping Myanmar, Myint-U doesn’t anticipate splits in the close-knit military which could lead to a street-level victory for the protestors.

“This is not an army that’s ever broken ranks,” he said. And for all the influence of the internet and other ways Myanmar has opened up, “almost everything has been done to keep the army itself relatively isolated from the rest of the world.”

So far, the generals have been undeterred by sanctions imposed on them Thursday by Canada and the UK for army “repression” and human rights abuses or by similar sanctions imposed by the United States. General Hlaing seems indifferent to demands from the U.S., India, Japan and Australia, that he “swiftly restore the democratic system” or to calls by the UN to avoid using force on civilians.

A group of punks take part in an anti-coup protest on Wednesday in downtown Yangon. Teens and twenty-somethings in Myanmar have experienced a decade of internet access, social media and a new vision of western freedoms, making the military coup a shock. (Hkun Lat/Getty Images)

Still, the protestors persist.

Twenty-four year old Phyo Thandar Kyaw says they are afraid, just like earlier generations fighting for democracy in Myanmar.

“My mom told me about what happened in the 1988 uprisings and how they were scared,” she says. “Now I feel like it’s happening again.”

But as fellow protestor Yan Naung Soe adds, this time “we have more educated young generations and more solutions.” More ways, they insist, to defeat the old generals.

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