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Today — August 21st 2019Your RSS feeds

The Sega Genesis Mini Offers a Touch of 16-Bit Nostalgia

By Julie Muncy
The new retro console is a thrilling opportunity to experience Sega's fascinating, eclectic library of games.

Building Virtual Worlds Is a New Form of Self-Expression

By Clive Thompson
As the tools for producing 3D virtual worlds go mainstream, more and more people are using them as an outlet for creativity and communication.
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Minecraft to get big lighting, shadow and color upgrades through Nvidia ray tracing

By Darrell Etherington

Minecraft is getting a free update that brings much-improved lighting and color to the game’s blocky graphics using real-time ray tracing running on Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics hardware. The new look is a dramatic change in the atmospherics of the game, and manages to be eerily realistic while retaining Minecraft’s pixelated charm.

The ray tracing tech will be available via a free update to the game on Windows 10 PCs, but it’ll only be accessible to players using an Nvidia GeForce RTX GPU, since that’s the only graphics hardware on the market that currently supports playing games with real-time ray tracing active.

It sounds like it’ll be an excellent addition to the experience for players who are equipped with the right hardware, however – including lighting effects not only from the sun, but also from in-game materials like glowstone and lava; both hard and soft shadows depending on transparency of material and angle of light refraction; and accurate reflections in surfaces that are supposed to be reflective (ie. gold blocks, for instance).

This is welcome news after Minecraft developer Mojang announced last week that it cancelled plans to release its Super Duper Graphics Pack, which was going to add a bunch of improved visuals to the game, because it wouldn’t work well across platforms. At the time, Mojang said it would be sharing news about graphics optimization for some platforms “very soon,” and it looks like this is what they had in mind.

Nvidia meanwhile is showing off a range of 2019 games with real-time ray tracing enabled at Gamescom 2019 in Cologne, Germany, including Dying Light 2, Cyperpunk 2077, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Watch Dogs: Legion.

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This Is How Porn Ended Up on Ninja’s Zombie Twitch Channel

By Louise Matsakis
Maybe it's time to pay more attention to how the biggest gaming platform in the world is moderated.

'Elsinore' Smartly Reimagines 'Hamlet' with Ophelia as the Hero

By Julie Muncy
The adventure game gives one of Shakespeare's most tragic characters the story she deserves.

Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo Team Up to Demystify Loot Boxes

By Kyle Orland, Ars Technica
Activision Blizzard and major publishers will also boost transparency for players.

Virtual reality game-streaming platform Vreal shuts down

By Lucas Matney

Vreal, an ambitious game-streaming platform that aimed to let VR users explore the worlds that live-streamers were playing in, is shutting down and laying off its staff after raising $15 million in venture capital. The startup announced the shutdown on its website’s homepage.

The Seattle startup raised cash from investors including Axioma Ventures, Upfront Ventures and Intel Capital. Vreal raised an $11.7 million Series A in early 2018.

Vreal’s tech let game streamers share the entire 3D environment of the VR world they were inside, something which allowed users to walk around streamers as avatars or explore on their own as passive observers while listening to the live-streamer blast their way through zombies.

The startup, which was founded in 2015, spent VR’s most hyped years building out their live-streaming tech. By the time they closed their Series A early last year, their platform was still in the pre-alpha launch stage. The platform launched in Early Access on Steam a few months later in June.

“Unfortunately, the VR market never developed as quickly as we all had hoped, and we were definitely ahead of our time. As a result, Vreal is shutting down operations and our wonderful team members are moving on to other opportunities,” a blog post titled “Moving on to new realities…” on the company’s hollowed-out website now reads.

As I noted after the Series A announcement, the Vreal platform was “a product for a pretty tight niche: streamers with VR hardware broadcasting for viewers with VR hardware.” The company’s religious allegiance to VR hardware being the only way to enjoy and produce the content likely limited the platform’s reach too much. Two months ago, the company announced it was adding an experimental web browser view to its platform to expand its reach, but that move seems to have been too little, too late.

Indie developer flooded with racist, misogynist abuse after announcing Epic partnership

By Devin Coldewey

The two developers of an indie game called Ooblets have been subjected to “tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands” of abusive messages following their decision to put their game on the Epic Games Store. It’s a worrying yet entirely unsurprising example of the toxic elements of the gaming community and their strangely unlimited hatred for Epic.

Ooblets is a game by a husband and wife team that looks like a sort of farming/dancing/collecting simulator with a fun, cute style. They’ve been developing it for a couple years now with the help of Patreon supporters, and are getting closer to release.

In the process of lining up where and how to sell the game, the two entered into a contract with the Epic Games Store, which in exchange for near-term exclusivity would guarantee the developers the income they might have gotten if they’d decided to launch on multiple storefronts.

This practice adds some stability to what can be a very unpredictable sales environment, and as a side effect gave the two a fund up front to finish development without having to rely on their Patreon supporters — whom they told about the new deal and consulted about what should happen next.

To be clear, the game will still be able to be bought and played by pretty much everyone on PC, just using a different storefront. Like if the chips you prefer started being sold at 7-11 instead of AM/PM. Except you can go to either one just by clicking your mouse.

But when they announced the news to the broader internet, it drew down on Ben and Rebecca Cordingley the ire of the easily provoked gaming world, specifically those who believe that Epic’s purchase of exclusives for its nascent gaming storefront is an affront to all that is sane and good in this world.

Immediately the two were inundated with messages “on every conceivable platform” telling them to die, swallow bleach, get raped, and both accusing Ben of anti-semitism and mocking his being Jewish. Some, he said, went so far as to doctor video to make it seem like he had posted something then deleted it.

Horrified and taken aback by this massively disproportionate response to two people deciding to make a deal that should benefit their game and not affect their supporters (their patrons on Patreon were never promised the game, let alone on a specific platform), Ben wrote a post with his thoughts on the matter. You can read it here, along with some rather disturbing excerpts of the attacks on him and his wife.

These attacks are likely ongoing — in fact, the new post has probably just stoked the fire, and the two can look forward to a few more weeks of being told to kill themselves or that someone is going to find them and assault them.

The backlash against Epic over the last year has been perplexing to watch. The new storefront was created in the wake of Fortnite’s success to act as a dark horse challenger to the reigning champ of the PC gaming world, Valve’s Steam. Releasing on Steam has been a foregone conclusion for most PC games for years, but recently that practice has been challenged as companies like Epic and Ubisoft created their own launchers and game stores.

Flush with Fortnite cash, Epic has relied on two things to grow its storefront, which began (and remains) rather lackluster compared to its more mature and popular competitors. First, it has simply picked a number of games each month to give away for free, no strings attached — and not shovelware either, but actually great games that people want. Second, they’ve arranged for upcoming games to release exclusively on their platform.

Paid exclusivity is of course by no means new, especially not in the gaming community, where exclusivity among platforms has been the rule since the ’80s, when it was Mario vs Sonic, to today, when it’s Halo vs. Destiny or a hundred others. Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, and many others pay huge amounts to lock in developers for years, sometimes buying them outright so their games will be released exclusively on a certain platform. Epic seems to be joining a fairly large club

Steam has many features Epic doesn’t, it is true. The community of recommendations, mods, forums, and gamified purchasing on Steam is unmatched anywhere else. But for the purpose of buying and launching a game, the two are pretty evenly matched. It’s understandable that people might be upset when a game they are looking forward to disappears from their wishlist on Steam, or that they have to download another app in order to launch some games. But this inconvenience is, let’s be honest, minimal.

It’s sad reading not just the initial outrage at the pair’s decision — which, as they explained, is helpful for them as developers and lets them finish the game with less financial uncertainty — but at the justification that many have put forward that by joking about how angry people get about the Epic thing in the original post, Ben was inviting the abuse he received. These “they should have known” or “they were asking for it” people seem to want the developer’s perceived tone to have equal importance as the thousands of death threats they received subsequently.

From Ben’s post:

I’d challenge anyone to be on the receiving end of this for a few minutes/hours/days to not come to the conclusion that a huge segment of the broader gaming community is toxic.

There’s a strange relationship a segment of the gaming community has with game developers. I think their extreme passion for games has made them perceive the people who provide those games as some sort of mystical “other”, an outgroup that’s held to a whole set of weird expectations. These folks believe they hold the magic power of the wallet over developers who should cower before them and capitulate to any of their demands. You can see this evidenced by the massive number of angry people threatening to pirate our game in retaliation to any perceived slight.

It’s hard to see the effects or scope of what a massive mob of online harassment is doing to someone until you’re on the receiving end of it. It’s also really hard to realize when you’re unwittingly part of a harassment group because you’ve been so convinced by the mob mentality that your anger and target are justified.

Ben and Rebecca are far from the first to be the target of this type of mob, and let’s not forget that 8chan got its start as a refuge for “gamergate” diehards who had been ejected from other platforms. The original toxic gamer outrage factory is now known for being an incubator for white nationalist terrorists. Threats from the collective fragile internet ego are manifesting in bullets and taking lives with frightening frequency.

If you’d like to support the game and developer, which I already intended to do before this unseemly furore, you can follow the developers and see the latest over at Ooblets.com.

Ninja Is Leaving Twitch. What's Next?

By Julie Muncy
The pro gamer is going to Mixer. Also, the tenth season of 'Fortnite' will have giant robots and a classic open-world game finally gets an English version.

Ninja is leaving Twitch for Microsoft’s Mixer

By Jordan Crook

Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the biggest streamer ever, has today announced his intention to leave the Twitch platform in favor of Microsoft’s Mixer.

Twitch is far and away the biggest video game streaming platform on the internet, claiming 72% of all hours watched, according to StreamElements. Mixer, by comparison, owns 3%, which is approximately 112 million viewership hours this most recent quarter.

Mixer is owned by Microsoft following an acquisition in 2016, back when Mixer was called Beam. Interestingly enough, Beam won the Disrupt NY Battlefield competition in 2016.

Twitch offered this statement to the Verge:

We’ve loved watching Ninja on Twitch over the years and are proud of all that he’s accomplished for himself and his family, and the gaming community. We wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.

Surprisingly quickly, Twitch took away Ninja’s “Partnered” check mark, the Twitch equivalent of a verified blue tick.

Damn they snagged this mans checkmark QUICK pic.twitter.com/Br62NB8uX5

— 100T Mako 🗣💯 (@Mako) August 1, 2019

Ninja announced the news via video:

The announcement is very light on reasons why Ninja might have moved from his longtime home at Twitch over to Microsoft. It’s possible (and likely?) that Mixer offered the streaming star an enormous amount of money to make the move, which could signal the beginning of a new wave of payouts for mega streaming stars — not unlike the current NBA free agency bonanza, which has seen the migration of superstars to marquee franchises in order to form basketball equivalents of supergroups.

It’s also worth wondering who reigns supreme in this equation: players or platforms? Luckily, we’ll find out quickly as the video game streaming space sees its biggest talent shakeup since the industry’s inception.

2 Million People Streamed the 'Fortnite' World Cup Finals

By Angela Watercutter
Also, *Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood* nabbed Quentin Tarantino his best opening weekend yet.

Star Wars News: The End of 'Rise of Skywalker' Will Melt Your Mind

By Graeme McMillan
Just ask Kevin Smith. Plus: Marvel's Kylo Ren origin story, use the Force—in VR, a movie-authentic Boba Fett helmet from Hasbro, and more.

14 Best Online Co-Op Games (2019): PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch

By Robert Carnevale
Our favorite cooperative multiplayer games that let you play together online no matter what system you own—PS4, Xbox One, PC, or the Nintendo Switch.

Fortnite World Cup has handed out $30 million in prizes, and cemented its spot in the culture

By Jonathan Shieber

The Fortnite phenomenon — the wildly popular battle royale game from Epic Games — has manifested itself in concerned articles and cultural shoutouts, and now has sealed its place in the cultural firmament by wrapping up its first “World Cup,” which saw the company give away $30 million in prizes.

Congrats to all of our winners this weekend at the #FortniteWorldCup Finals

Solo Champion: @bugha
Duos Champions: @nyhrox @aquaa
ProAM: @Airwaks @RLGRIME
Creative: #FishFam @cizzorz @hiimtylerh @suezhoo @zandOfficial pic.twitter.com/ilBs7RTeTv

— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) July 28, 2019

The big winner in today’s solo challenge was 16-year-old Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, who won $3 million for beating out the competition in the solo tournament. And, as sports writer Darren Rovell noted on Twitter, Giersdorf’s prize pool is only $850,000 smaller than the pot for the winner of the U.S. Open, which is set to begin in a few weeks at the same stadium.

Indeed, the esports prize pool is one of the biggest awards for a popular competitive event. Wimbledon winners took home less than $3 million and Tiger Woods won $2 million for besting the field of competitors at the Masters.

Fortnite’s big moment is also a big deal for competitive esports in the U.S. The biggest prize pool for an esports event in the U.S. was likely meant to plant a flag and show that competitive gaming is something that can capture the attention of a younger audience that has drifted away from watching more traditional pastimes and watching less sports, according to a McKinsey study.

Screen Shot 2019 07 28 at 6.01.13 PM

Courtesy of McKinsey

Giersdorf, who hails from Pennsylvania and plays professionally for the Los Angeles-based esports team, the Sentinels, became the inaugural Fortnite World Cup solo champion by putting in a dominant performance over the entire weekend of competition.

For folks who’ve never played the game (or had it explained to them), Fortnite involves dropping 100 players onto an island where they have to find weapons, build bases and try to eliminate the competition until only one player is left standing.

It’s a cartoon version of the Hunger Games, with no bloodshed, a lot of victory dances and hours of social networking.

The game has turned its publisher, Epic Games, into a multibillion-dollar business. Certainly, it’s one that can afford to front a $30 million prize purse for a few days of competition.

The tournament wasn’t just about solo play. The company had different rounds for the duos competition featuring two-player teams. That competition, which ended on Saturday, also featured a $3 million prize pool and was won by the European duo of Emil “Nyhrox” Bergquist Pedersen and David “Aqua” W.

Epic pulled out all the stops it could for the multi-day event at Arthur Ashe stadium. In addition to pulling in some of the top names in live streaming and competitive esports to participate in the event, the company also brought in the DJ Marshmello for a performance.

The tournament pulled in nearly 9 million viewers on YouTube alone for the final day of the competition. More than 40 million people tried out for a slot in the World Cup finals.

And while the prize pot takes a significant chunk out of the $100 million that Epic has committed to spend on competitions this year, the returns in terms of the social capital and cachet that Epic has given to the esports world can’t be underestimated.

It’s certainly going to change the life of its first World Cup champion, a fact that Giersdorf knows all too well himself.

“Emotionally, right now, I don’t feel too much, except I know that this could pretty much change my life forever,” Giersdorf said in an interview with ESPN. “It’s just absolutely unreal.”

Hit indie game Cuphead is headed to Tesla vehicles in August

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla’s games library is getting bigger, and the latest announced title is probably a familiar one to gaming fans: Cuphead. This indie game was released in 2017 for Xbox One and Windows after making a big debut in 2013, attracting a lot of attention thanks to its hand-drawn, retro Disney-esque animation style.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that Cuphead would be getting a Tesla port sometime in August, replying to a post in which Tesla announced its latest addition to the in-car arcade library: Chess. The game will run at 60fps on the in-car display, Musk added, noting that while 4K isn’t supported for Tesla’s screens, the game “doesn’t need” that high resolution.

Cuphead for Tesla coming out in August

— e^👁🥧 (@elonmusk) July 27, 2019

Cuphead has since been released for both macOS and Nintendo Switch, and has gained critical acclaim for its challenging gameplay in addition to its unique graphic style. The game works with one or two players (which Tesla cars also now support via gamepad controllers for some other titles) and basically involves side-scrolling run-and-gun action punctuated by frequent boss fights.

Musk continued on Twitter regarding the Cuphead port that it will use a Unity port for Tesla’s in-car OS, which is already done, and currently they’re in the process of refining the controls. A limit of available onboard storage will be solved by allowing added game storage via USB, so that Tesla owners will be able to add flash drives to hold more downloaded games.

Earlier this month, Netflix announced that it would be developing an animated series based on Cuphead, and the game has sold over 4 million copies world-wide so far. Tesla launched Tesla Arcade last month as a dedicated in-car app to host the growing collection of games it’s brought to the car – and it’s worth noting that you can only access these games while in park.

 

Tencent brings cloud service to Japan in global push

By Rita Liao

The world’s largest video game publisher is looking outside its home country for growth. Tencent, the Chinese internet behemoth that operates WeChat and a few blockbuster games, announced on Friday that its cloud service has entered Japan as part of the firm’s international push in 2019.

Tencent Cloud was already serving clients in Japan prior to the announcement, TechCrunch has learned, but this is the first time it has officialized the entry, which might be a sign of Tencent’s ambition to speed up global expansion. The international push comes at a time when Tencent’s domestic business is under pressure following China’s new gaming regulation.

Indeed, Tencent’s cloud computing division is targeting up to five-fold growth in revenue this year and Japan will be a key market, said Da Zhiqian, vice president of Tencent Cloud.

Tencent’s cloud business is the second largest in China with an 11% market share, according to industry researcher IDC. That puts the Shenzhen-based company behind its arch-rival Alibaba, which accounts for 43% of the local cloud market. The cloud computing battle outside China is only more competitive with the presence of giants AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, which lead with a respective share of 31.7%, 16.8% and 8.5% in 2018, according to research firm Canalys.

But Tencent could be an appealing hosting solution for smaller gaming companies who look to the giant for lessons. The company’s attempt to replicate the success of Honor of Kings outside China fell apart, but it quickly shifted gears by launching a Steam-like gaming platform WeGame X focusing on Chinese games developed for overseas markets. Meanwhile, its mobile version of PlayersUnknown Battleground is making headway globally as revenue surges.

Tencent can also tap into its vast portfolio network around the world. Huya and Douyu, two top game live streaming companies in China that are both backed by Tencent, have ramped up international expansion in recent times and they surely need some cloud computing help to ensure low video latency. It goes the same way with Tencent-backed short-video app Kuaishou, which is fighting TikTok inside and outside China.

Tencent’s cloud engine for games supports features that can smoothen communication between teammates, including the likes of multi-player voice chat, 3D voice positioning, voice messaging and speech to text recognition. The company is providing cloud infrastructure service in 25 countries and regions and has deployed over one million servers worldwide as of May. Besides games, Tencent said it will also roll out cloud solutions tailored to e-commerce, video streaming and mobile mobility clients in Japan. Its local partners include gaming company Pitaya and IT firm E-business.

Depression and the Solace of 'Grinding' in Online Games

By Julie Muncy
The imitation of forward movement in games like 'Destiny 2' is catnip to a mind stuck in neutral.

After restructuring, Amazon’s Game Studios partners with Athlon Games on ‘Lord of the Rings’ title

By Jonathan Shieber

On the heels of its recent restructuring, Amazon Game Studios is partnering with the Los Angeles-based Athlon Games to bring the company’s free-to-play “Lord of the Rings” based multiplayer online game to market.

First announced last year by Athlon Game Studios’ Chinese parent company, Leyou Technologies, the game is set around the time of the events of the Lord of the Rings trilogy using intellectual property licensed from Middle-earth Entertainment.

Amazon Game Studios has had its ups and downs since the company first made its foray into social gaming back in 2012. More of a fast-follower of trends than a market leader, the company made a move to develop more console-friendly and PC-based game title with the acquisition of Double Helix Games in 2014 as those platforms surged in popularity.

Most recently, Amazon Studios restructured just as the industry’s largest gaming conference, E3, was winding down in Los Angeles. The division of Amazon laid off dozens of game developers just as the conference was concluding, according to the website Kotaku.

Now the Amazon subsidiary is unveiling its involvement with the LA-based Athlon Games studio, which will see it jointly develop the game for PC and consoles and market and publish the title everywhere except China.

“We’re committed to bringing customers games of the highest quality, both with our own original IP as well as beloved cultural pillars like The Lord of the Rings,” said Christoph Hartmann, VP, Amazon Game Studios, in a statement. “Tolkien’s Middle-earth is one of the richest fictional worlds in history, and it gives our team of experienced MMO developers — from the same studio developing New World — tremendous opportunity to play and create. We have a strong leadership team in place to helm this new project, and we’re actively growing our team to help build this incredible experience.”

This will mark the second launch of a console game from Amazon Game Studios, which released The Grand Tour Game last year for PlayStation and Xbox — and also recently completed a test for its massively multiplayer online title, New World, which is set in an alternate 17th Century timeline.

The new Middle Earth game isn’t Amazon’s only “Lord of the Rings” title coming out. The company’s film and television division, Amazon Studios, is developing a new Amazon Original series based on the work of J.R.R. Tolkien.

The series will be a prequel focusing on the history that led to the events in the original Tolkien trilogy, according to the website Den of Geek.

Screen Shot 2019 07 09 at 10.49.08 PM

 

Stranger Things 3 racks up most viewers in first four days for a Netflix show ever

By Darrell Etherington

Netflix’s most recent season (serialized sequel might actually be more accurate) of Stranger Things is breaking records: The streaming company shared that 40.7 million accounts have been watching the show since it became available on the service on July 4. That’s more than any other Netflix show or movie in its first four days of availability on the service.

It’s also been deemed bingeworthy by a large number of those viewers, since Netflix also said that over 18.2 million accounts (this means households, Netflix is keen to note, so actual viewer numbers could be much higher) have actually already finished the entire third season.

.@Stranger_Things 3 is breaking Netflix records!

40.7 million household accounts have been watching the show since its July 4 global launch — more than any other film or series in its first four days. And 18.2 million have already finished the entire season.

— Netflix US (@netflix) July 8, 2019

That means just about half of the accounts that have started the season have already finished all eight roughly hour-long episodes, just four days after it became available. I am among those people, in fact – though I was doing that in part because it was the topic of discussion for our most recent episode of Original Content.

For comparison’s sake, consider that HBO’s Game of Thrones finale managed about 19.3 million viewers for its first day, including live viewers, early time-delayed streams after the airing and replays.

Dr. Mario World now available on iOS

By Darrell Etherington

Nintendo’s latest mobile game is now available for iOS devices, a day before its official target launch date. The game is based on the Nintendo game created in 1990 for the NES and Game Boy, and re-released/re-made a bunch of times over the years for various Nintendo consoles.

Dr. Mario World, the iOS game available now, is, like its predecessors, a matching puzzle game in which you as Dr. Mario (or maybe you’re just a colleague of Dr. Mario? It’s somewhat unclear) cure ‘viruses’ by matching pill colors to the little jerks. This version has a number of additional gameplay features compared to the first, which was pretty Tetris-like in play. It also focuses on drag-and-drop mechanics, instead of manipulating pills like Tetris blocks as they fall.

For instance, you have other Doctors from the rich Mario fictional world to call upon for help, including Dr. Peach and Dr. Bowser, as well as assistants including Goomba, Koopa Troopa and others who apparently never either attained or aspired to professional medical doctor status. These have different skills that can make virus busting easier, and Nintendo plans to update the game with fresh doctors and assistants regularly.

Multiplayer is also part of Dr. Mario World, and you can go head-to-head or work together. Predictably if you’ve followed Nintendo’s foray into mobile titles, this one is free-to-play, with in-game purchases for unlocking more play time and unlacing additional characters and upgrades.

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