We are about seven months into a pandemic and just two weeks from a presidential election. At this point, surprises are a dime a dozen. So it should feel very 2020 that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is about to stream Among Us, the hit game of 2020, on Twitch alongside mega-streamer pokimane and political analyst HasanAbi.
Ocasio-Cortez tweeted yesterday that she was looking for people to play the popular game with in an effort to get out the vote, noting that she’s never played before but that it looks fun.
Streamer pokimane, who has 6 million followers on Twitch and whose YouTube videos regularly see more than 1 million views each, responded to the tweet with a figurative raised hand.
Let’s do it! I’ll set up and account and get some streaming equipment today
HasanAbi, a very popular political commentator on Twitch, who has more than 380,000 Twitter followers, also chimed in to the conversation saying that they’re already making a lobby. It wasn’t long before Rep. Ilhan Omar raised her hand, too.
A good game of Among Us (imagine that someone mixed a fairly basic multiplayer video game with a murder mystery party) usually requires 10 players, so the other six players are still TBD. But the Verge reports that a handful of other streamers (such as DrLupo, Felicia Day, Greg Miller, James Charles, and Neekolul) also lined up to play with AOC.
According to Ocasio-Cortez, the stream is all about getting out the vote. And this isn’t the first time that she’s used video games to connect with her followers. AOC opened up her DMs to all 6.8 million of her followers back in May to let them send her an invite to their island, and she visited them.
Millennial voters (and Gen Z) skew toward backing the Biden / Harris ticket, and AOC is coming to them by getting on Twitch and streaming one of the rocket ship games of this year.
The stream starts at 9pm ET/6pm PT and can be found here.
Analogue’s beautiful, functional retro gaming consoles provide a sort of “archival quality” alternative to the cheap mini-consoles proliferating these days. The latest system to be resurrected by the company is the ill-fated, but still well-thought-of TurboGrafx-16 or PC Engine.
The Duo, as Analogue’s device is called, is named after a later version of the TurboGrafx-16 that included its expensive CD-ROM add-on — and indeed the new Duo supports both game cards and CDs, provided they have survived all this time without getting scratched.
Like the rest of Analogue’s consoles, and unlike the popular SNES and NES Classic Editions from Nintendo (and indeed the new TurboGrafx-16 Mini), the Duo does not use emulation in any way. Instead, it’s a painstaking recreation of the original hardware, with tweaks to introduce modern conveniences like high-definition video, wireless controllers, and improvements to reliability and so on.
Image Credits: Analogue
As a bonus, it’s all done in FPGA, which implies that this hardware is truly one of a kind in service of remaking the console accurately. Games should play exactly as they would have on the original hardware down to the annoying glitches and slowdowns of that era of consoles.
And what games! Well, actually, few of them ever reached the status of their competitors on Nintendo and Sega consoles here in the U.S., where the TurboGrafx-16 sold poorly. But titles like Bonk’s Adventure, Bomberman ’93, Ninja Spirit, Splatterhouse, and Devil’s Crush should be played more widely. Shmup fans like myself were spoiled with originals and arcade ports like R-Type and Blazing Lazers. The Ys series ( also got its start on the PC Engine (if you could afford the CD attachment). Here’s a good retrospective.
I wouldn’t mind having an HDMI port on the back of my SNES. Oh, Analogue makes one…
Analogue’s consoles are made for collectors who would prefer not to have to baby their original hardware, or want to upscale the signal and play wirelessly without too much fuss. I still have my original SNES, but 240p just doesn’t look as crisp as it did on a 15-inch CRT in the ’90s.
At $199, it’s more expensive than finding one at a garage sale, but good luck with that. The original and its CD add-on cost a fortune, so if you think about it from that perspective, this is a real bargain. Analogue says limited quantities are available, and will be shipping in 2021.
The gaming company Roblox announced today that it had confidentially filed paperwork with the SEC to make its public debut.
In February, the company which operates a free-to-play gaming empire with tens of million of users, was valued at $4 billion after a Series G funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz . The company has raised more than $335 million in venture capital funding according to Crunchbase.
The company has not detailed the number of shares it plans to offer and furthermore notes in standard legalese that their timely debut is “subject to market and other conditions.” After a slow 2019 for tech IPOs the rebound of public markets in mid-pandemic 2020 has provided an awfully wide window for tech startups reaching for their debuts.
In the games space, we recently saw the debut of Unity Technologies, which makes a popular game engine that developers use to build and monetize gaming titles.
Roblox offers an interesting sell to both consumers and developers, shipping a free-to-play vision of the future which pushes developers away from graphics-intense game design towards building content that can be played on a wide variety of devices. The games company has been more successful than most in translating a first-party experience’s success into a robust developer network. Roblox’s platform has been particularly successful with young audiences.
Picture yourself in the role of CIO at Roblox in 2017.
At that point, the gaming platform and publishing system that launched in 2005 was growing fast, but its underlying technology was aging, consisting of a single data center in Chicago and a bunch of third-party partners, including AWS, all running bare metal (nonvirtualized) servers. At a time when users have precious little patience for outages, your uptime was just two nines, or less than 99% (five nines is considered optimal).
Unbelievably, Roblox was popular in spite of this, but the company’s leadership knew it couldn’t continue with performance like that, especially as it was rapidly gaining in popularity. The company needed to call in the technology cavalry, which is essentially what it did when it hired Dan Williams in 2017.
Williams has a history of solving these kinds of intractable infrastructure issues, with a background that includes a gig at Facebook between 2007 and 2011, where he worked on the technology to help the young social network scale to millions of users. Later, he worked at Dropbox, where he helped build a new internal network, leading the company’s move away from AWS, a major undertaking involving moving more than 500 petabytes of data.
When Roblox approached him in mid-2017, he jumped at the chance to take on another major infrastructure challenge. While they are still in the midst of the transition to a new modern tech stack today, we sat down with Williams to learn how he put the company on the road to a cloud-native, microservices-focused system with its own network of worldwide edge data centers.
Mojiit, the Los Angeles-based company behind the popular avatar generation service Mojichat, has landed one of its highest-profile users with the launch of Odell Beckham Jr.’s live stream over the weekend.
Customized, branded emotes are one of the ways that companies are trying to make it easier for live-streamers to make money off of their shows. Companies like Mochjichat argue that it’s a more elegant solution for gamers to use, because it doesn’t take viewers away from the live stream, where they could potentially miss some of the action.
Typically, streamers rely on advertising revenue from pre-roll, mid-roll and post-roll advertising, according to Mojichat co-founder Jeremy Greene. Alongside his wife, Janelle, Greene built Mojichat into one of the premier names in avatar development. As competitors crowded in, the company has been diversifying its products to allow for influencers to begin using their digital avatars as a monetization source.
“No streamer… wants to run a pre-roll,” said Greene. “The first thing about Mojichat that made us very successful from the very beginning, you have to hunt down someone to make your custom emotes for you.”
Earlier this year, the company partnered with DoorDash on a similar activation for a concert to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club as part of a broad celebrity effort to raise money to alleviate food insecurity for families affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Any time someone sends a communication, that will trigger an alert that floats as a Mojichat animation on top of the screen,” Greene said of the earlier activation.
The way that Greene describes the service — and Janelle and his larger vision for the company — is to be the next generation of adserver for the live-streaming market.
“My plan is to become the avatar solution for all of Unity,” Greene told me earlier. “We will offer up our platform to every single gaming platform or mobile developer to plug and play… I would consider us… we’re like the Google Admob for live stream.”
Companies like Streamlabs are integrating Mojichat’s features into their streaming offerings. and the work with Dr. Disrespect and Odell Beckham Jr. show just how much demand there is for these types of offerings.
“The avatar space is going to be won in the gaming community,” Greene said.
Mojichat already has 12,000 streamers using the technology right now, and through a partnership inked earlier this year the company expects to push more ads through the service.
“Nobody wants to sit on a stream for 15 hours a day,” said Greene.
“It’s really wrong that streamers can’t make as much money as YouTubers… a streamer can spend all day on Twitch and they are forced to run these pre-rolls… [meanwhile] Jake Paul can upload a video to YouTube and make $300,000… That’s really why I built Mojichat… I wanted to make gamers’ lives easier… We are going to build custom software for gamers that makes their lives easier.”
Former Apple software engineer and designer Ken Kocienda, whose work included the original iPhone and the development of touchscreen autocorrect, has created his first iOS app, Up Spell. The fast-paced, fun word game challenges users to spell all the words you can in two minutes and uses a lexicon of words Kocienda built to allow for the inclusion of proper names. A portion of app revenues are also being donated to a local food bank, so you can help give back while relieving stress through gaming.
Kocienda says he had never before made a standalone iOS app.
When he worked at Apple, all the code he wrote was integrated into a bigger iOS release. So when Kocienda got the idea to develop a game, he looked to obvious sources of inspiration: his past experiences with typing, keyboards, and autocorrect.
The game’s lexicon was built first with the New General Service List to serve as its foundation. This was followed by weeks of writing small programs to generate lists of candidate words — like, by adding an “S” to existing words to pluralize them, for example. And hours more were spent scanning lists to choose the words to include.
Kocienda says he also wanted the game to fun, and personally found it frustrating that other word games wouldn’t allow proper names.
“Many games accept words like PHARAOH and PYRAMID, but not NILE or EGYPT. This doesn’t make sense to me. These are all words!,” he says.
So he built his own list that includes thousands of proper names, then added to it more slang and contractions to expand it even further. That means you can spell a word like S’MORES, which involves an apostrophe, for example.
Image Credits: Up Sell
While support for a variety of words, including proper names, is the key way the gameplay differentiates from rivals, the app’s business model is also one that’s becoming less common these days: it’s a one-time paid download.
The app is a $1.99 download that lets you pay once to play forever. Today, many games in this same space use a freemium model where the app download itself is free, but you’re then nagged with in-app hooks to buy coins or tokens to advance gameplay or unlock certain features.
Kocienda’s decision to forgo this model was intentional, he explains.
“I made Up Spell a two-minute game without much in the way of gameplay gimmicks,” says Kocienda. “You just spell words. 2020 has been a rough year for everyone, and sometimes taking out two minutes to think about nothing but spelling a few words is just the kind of right kind of stress reliever,” he adds. “I hope Up Spell brings people a little unexpected happiness to their 2020.”
Also of note, 25 cents per download is being donated to the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, which works to get food to vulnerable people in Kocienda’s area.
If all goes well, Up Spell may be followed by other games with a similar model, like a sounds or color-matching games, for instance.
In a year, Nintendo would have demoed, in person, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. The company would have invited select members of the press into some rented event space and let us experience the game first-hand, like it had with Labo and Ring Fit Adventures. It’s 2020, however, and that’s just not how we do things.
Watching someone else play an RC game over teleconference software is not ideal. But it’s nothing if not extremely of the moment. And more importantly, it’s probably a testament to what Nintendo has built here that it translates so well with a less than ideal setup. Granted, I won’t feel comfortable offering a proper review until I’ve played the game on my Switch, but I can confidently say that Mario Kart Live makes for one hell of an impressive demo.
Image Credits: Nintendo
Like the recently released Mario Lego sets, this is the kind of toy that makes me jealous of kids today. It also, frankly, bums me out that I don’t have more space at home to lay out a track. I’ve heard it was a buyer’s market, so maybe I’ll go buy a house. Whatever the case, bringing Mario to a real-world RC car is one of those no-brainer ideas, and the execution looks great.
The game also finds Nintendo embracing augmented reality in a really convincing and clever way. We’ve seen some AR from the company, most notably in the form of Pokémon GO — which, to be fair, was more of a Niantic joint and, as plenty will happily point out, not really proper AR. And like that title, Nintendo worked closely with a third party. In this case, it’s the New York-state based Velan Studios, which was started by brothers Guha and Karthik Bala who also founded Vicarious Visions, an Albany-based game developer now owned by Activision.
“It started as an experiment by a small team at Velan,” the startup said in a blog post today. “Like many prototypes, the main goal was to “find the fun”. We built an RC car by kitbashing together drone parts, cameras, and sensors to create a unique third–person view driving experience. It gave us the exhilaration of speed and allowed us to see the world from a totally different perspective.”
Image Credits: Nintendo
The execution of Mario Kart Live is a perfect bit of synergy in that it leverages the Switch to really bring the whole thing to life — in a manner similar to what the company has already done with Labo and Ring Fit. Of course, much or most of the real magic here comes courtesy of the racer. Currently limited to Mario and Luigi (no word yet on additional characters), the cars feature both a camera for FPV on the Switch and all of the requisite sensors.
Nintendo declined to answer specific questions about the on-board sensors and other hardware, but one assumes depth-sensing plays a big role here. There’s no calibration out of the box. You can pretty much start it up and start driving around. Once you actually unfold and set up the three gates to create the circular course, however, that will require some driving to generate the lay of the land. Nintendo’s employed a clever graphic for that, with Lakitu dropping a bucket of paint the character drives over and tracks with his wheels.
Image Credits: Nintendo
The game also employs some clever physics, with game action impacting speed and steering. There’s a range of top speeds, from 50 to 200 cc. A demo stripped of AR shows how in-game elements impact the actual kart speed. Other elements, like the sudden occasional sand storm, cause the kart to drift to the sides. The game will also react, if, say, you crash it into a table leg — sending coins flying just as it would in a Mario Kart game.
On that note, the company tells me that the karts are quite robust, with a bumper that’s essentially designed to run into stuff. That shouldn’t cause any damage, given the top speeds here. Though the company notes that if, say, a heavy book falls on top of the kart after it jostled it loose from a shelf, that could ultimately be an issue. Nintendo says there will be a way to repair the karts, but offered no specifics on warranty.
Image Credits: Nintendo
Races can be played with up to four, though a kart is required to play. In fact, the actual game will be free to download from the Nintendo store, but is essentially worthless without a kart. Until that’s set up, the only thing you’ll be able to access is a game trailer. At the moment, the in-game opponents are just the Koopalings.
Image Credits: Nintendo
Like the karts themselves, however, it seems likely — or even certain — that the company will introduce additional characters down the road. Perhaps we can look for expansions along the lines of what the company has done with Smash Bros. Also, like Mario Maker, you can customize both your character and car for the in-game FPV AR overlays (though these won’t be visible to other players).
Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit arrives October 16, priced at $100 a kart. You’ll need either a Switch or Switch Lite to play.
NexusMods, a large platform and gathering place for modding PC games, has banned all content relating to the U.S. elections following a flood of troll content, saying “we’ve decided to wipe our hands clean of this mess.” Not exactly headline news, no, but a reminder that the toxic behavior frequently seen (and blamed) on social media is pervasive even in niches where politics would seem to be completely irrelevant.
“Modding” (as in modifying) is the practice of creating new content for games that players can then install on their own, for example adding new levels or characters, or adjusting the interface or difficulty. NexusMods is one of the larger collections of such mods, and a lively community.
Unfortunately, even something as simple as a way to add decorative tapestries to Skyrim is a proxy political battleground, with numerous mods appearing to, for example, replace generic enemies in a game with Trump supporters or “rioters.” Here’s a screenshot from Reddit user Cipherx02, who noted that users were also filling the description fields with disinformation:
I blurred out one mod that used an image of a protester shot in Kenosha by Kyle Rittenhouse. Yes, they did!
In a post to the site’s news page, the admins of NexusMods walk a fine line in expressing their frustration without espousing any political ideology apart from, perhaps, “anti-idiot”:
Recently we have seen a spate of provocative and troll mods being uploaded based around current sociopolitical issues in the United States. As we get closer to the US election in November we expect this trend to increase as it did this time 4 years ago.
Considering the low quality of the mods being uploaded, the polarising views they express and the fact that a small but vocal contingent of our users are seemingly not intelligent or grown up enough to be able to debate the issues without resorting to name calling and baseless accusations without proof (indicative of the wider issues plaguing our world at this time) we’ve decided to wipe our hands clean of this mess and invoke an outright ban on mods relating to sociopolitical issues in the United States. We have neither the time, the care or the wish to moderate such things. This ban will apply to all mods uploaded from the 28th of September onwards. We will review this restriction sometime after the next President of the United States has been inaugurated.
No doubt all over the web there are situations of this sort as ordinarily politically neutral spaces are infected by toxic discourse. Unlike Facebook and YouTube, however, smaller sites and communities don’t have thousands of paid moderators or sophisticated machine learning tools to nip the problems in the bud.
As such, a total ban doesn’t seem so much an overreaction, as the only reasonable reaction. As the election approaches (and likely well beyond that), it’s probable that many small communities will have to draw a line in the sand or risk serious incidents such as doxing, threats and the unwelcome attentions of angry internet mobs.
It has always been considered a matter of if, and not when, Nintendo would begin capitalizing in earnest on content from beyond the SNES generation. The company is finally showing its intent to do so today — but with an uneven approach that leaves some fans worried about its intentions for other all-time gaming classics from the 64-bit era and beyond.
In a celebratory video of 35 years of Super Mario Bros. history, Nintendo announced a litter of new and old games starring its iconic plumber protagonist.
Nintendo also demonstrated a willingness to experiment with its oldest and in some ways most conservative franchise with Super Mario Bros. 35, a sort of battle royale version of the original game where 35 players compete on the same level, sending hazards to one another and attempting to finish with a variety of win conditions. A logical sequel to Tetris 99, which applied a similar transformation to everyone’s favorite block-based puzzler, and potentially a lot of fun.
But when it came to bringing fan favorites from the N64 and GameCube to the Switch, the company left much to be desired.
Nintendo’s approach to resurrecting its back catalog has been haphazard: Giving away NES and SNES games for free to Nintendo Online subscribers is a nice bonus in a way, but many players have already paid for those games on previous consoles, perhaps multiple times. Why, players have asked, can’t someone just bring their purchase of Kid Icarus over from the Wii’s Virtual Console to the Switch and play it without a subscription? Nintendo has never provided a good answer to this; in the SNES Mini it has provided an excellent alternative — though of course it means buying the game yet again.
The question on countless players’ minds was: Will Nintendo add N64 titles to the library of past-generation games for anyone to access, or gussy them up and sell them separately? With both Mario and Zelda’s 35th anniversaries approaching, this was a very material concern.
As it turns out, Nintendo has somehow threaded the needle with a solution seemingly made to leave everyone wanting something more.
Image Credits: Ninendo
The Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection includes Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy, from the N64, GameCube and Wii respectively, and has a full-size $60 price tag. These are all great games, obviously. But being classics doesn’t mean there’s no way to update them for modern audiences.
Take Mario 64. Universally beloved and hugely influential, it is nevertheless a bit long in the tooth in some ways. But the Mario 64 in All-Stars is only brought up to the barest standard of playability on modern consoles: It works with current Switch controllers and runs at an updated resolution. They didn’t even bother changing the original 4:3 aspect ratio!
Amazingly, Nintendo didn’t even include the substantial upgrades it made itself for the DS re-release of the game. As with the original All-Stars for SNES, which included re-drawn sprites and other improvements, this was an opportunity to show the quality of these games while also doing right by fans who have for years had to resort to emulators and mods to make the games suitable for 21st-century consumption.
Instead Nintendo has opted to do the absolute minimum while charging the absolute maximum. What’s more, there seems to be some kind of limited availability that the company hasn’t quite made clear — what goes on sale in a couple weeks will only be available until March of next year. Then what? Nintendo hasn’t said. (I’ve asked for clarification and will update this article if I hear back.)
Image Credits: Nintendo
Long-time customers will not be surprised by Nintendo’s oblique strategy and seeming lack of ambition here. The company has institutionalized a unique combination of extreme conservatism and eye-popping risk-taking. Overdeliver with one hand and underdeliver with the other is Nintendo’s approach, and it was hoped by many players that the former hand would be the one with the Mario anniversary content in it.
It’s troubling not simply because there’s one game that doesn’t justify its price tag good value, but because it signals an underwhelming approach to the entire library of Nintendo classics. With the 35th anniversary of other beloved franchises on the horizon — Zelda and Metroid, for a start — it is a legitimate worry that Nintendo may likewise let down the fan base.
Sure, it may sound a bit like the notorious entitlement expressed by gamers over things like microtransactions, exclusivity agreements and so on. But with Nintendo and these very important titles from its vault, expectations are justifiably different.
With almost no releases on third-party platforms and an aggressive approach to shutting down what it views as IP offenses, Nintendo exercises an iron grip over its content, especially its crown jewels, Mario and Zelda. If we are ever to receive an improved version of Mario 64, or Sunshine, or for that matter Ocarina of Time, not to speak of dozens of other classics, Nintendo is the only one that can provide it.
Sometimes that means a beautiful total redo of a game like Link’s Awakening. But at other times it means we must make do with scraps from the table, as with the arbitrary trickle of NES and SNES games coming to Nintendo Switch Online (itself a bundle of scraps compared with other console subscriptions, it must be said). Everyone right now is thinking that the inevitable Zelda collection will be equally bare bones (and expensive).
The dream players have for decades cherished for example, a multiplayer Mario 64, will never emerge in the wilds of the internet because Nintendo will swoop in with a cease and desist in record time. So they must rely on the company to make those dreams come true, and it is remarkably inconsistent in doing so.
The treasure chest of games Nintendo has just opened the lid on is potentially a source for years of content and will partly define the company’s overarching strategy going forward. But it makes gamers nervous to see Nintendo aiming at their wallets instead of their hearts. Usually it’s at least both.
India continues to crack down on Chinese apps, Microsoft launches a deepfake detector and Google offers a personalized news podcast. This is your Daily Crunch for September 2, 2020.
The big story: India bans PUBG and other Chinese apps
The Indian government continues its purge of apps created by or linked to Chinese companies. It already banned 59 Chinese apps back in June, including TikTok.
India’s IT Ministry justified the decision as “a targeted move to ensure safety, security, and sovereignty of Indian cyberspace.” The apps banned today include search engine Baidu, business collaboration suite WeChat Work, cloud storage service Tencent Weiyun and the game Rise of Kingdoms. But PUBG is the most popular, with more than 40 million monthly active users.