Gaming

Now you’re journaling with power! (with this Mario-branded Moleskine gear)

Posted by | Gadgets, Gaming, moleskine, Nintendo, stationery, TC | No Comments

Although this isn’t a stationery news site (how I should like that!), the latest collection from Moleskine is Mario-related, so technically I can write about it. There’s even a phone case and a rolltop backpack!

It’s pretty much exactly what you expect: the usual solid Moleskine notebooks with a Nintendo flourish. They’re all Mario-related, but have different styles: a cartridge and Game Boy for the pocket-size notebooks, and stylized NES graphics on the larger ones. Unfortunately there’s no planner (hint hint, Moleskine).

“It’s a newstalgic mixture of contemporary technology and timeless paper,” reads the press release. “Nostalgic” already implies both new and old so there’s no need for a portmanteau, and a Game Boy isn’t exactly “contemporary,” but they got the paper thing right.

Actually, the notebooks have some pretty dope detailing. The small ones are embossed with cartridge ridges and Game Boy controls. All of them have internal illustrations and come with a sticker pack.

I would have loved to have these in the old days, though some SMB3 gear would probably have been more timely.

In addition to the notebooks, there’s a solid-looking, candy-red phone case that you can only get in stores and a truly 🔥 backpack. Look at these details (click for the gallery):

Wear that at E3 and people will bow down. Well, it’s better than carrying around a giant swag bag from Atlus, anyway.

You can buy everything but the phone case online; you’ll have to find Moleskine dealers to get that for some reason.

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Roblox responds to the hack that allowed a child’s avatar to be raped in its game

Posted by | children, family, games, Gaming, hackers, kids, parents, Roblox | No Comments

There’s a special place in Hell for people who think it’s funny to rape a 7-year-old girl’s avatar in an online virtual world designed for children. Yes, that happened. Roblox, a hugely popular online game for kids, was hacked by an individual who subverted the game’s protection systems in order to have customized animations appear. This allowed two male avatars to gang rape a young girl’s avatar on a playground in one of the Roblox games.

The company has now issued an apology to the victim and its community, and says it has determined how the hacker was able to infiltrate its system so it can prevent future incidents.

The mother of the child, whose avatar was the victim of the in-game sexual assault, was nearby when the incident took place. She says her child showed her what was happening on the screen and she took the device away, fortunately shielding her daughter from seeing most of the activity. The mother then captured screenshots of the event in order to warn others.

She described the incident in a public Facebook post that read, in part:

At first, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My sweet and innocent daughter’s avatar was being VIOLENTLY GANG-RAPED ON A PLAYGROUND by two males. A female observer approached them and proceeded to jump on her body at the end of the act. Then the 3 characters ran away, leaving my daughter’s avatar laying on her face in the middle of the playground.

Words cannot describe the shock, disgust, and guilt that I am feeling right now, but I’m trying to put those feelings aside so I can get this warning out to others as soon as possible. Thankfully, I was able to take screenshots of what I was witnessing so people will realize just how horrific this experience was. *screenshots in comments for those who can stomach it* Although I was immediately able to shield my daughter from seeing the entire interaction, I am shuddering to think of what kind of damage this image could have on her psyche, as well as any other child that could potentially be exposed to this.

Roblox has since issued a statement about the attack:

Roblox’s mission is to inspire imagination and it is our responsibility to provide a safe and civil platform for play. As safety is our top priority — we have robust systems in place to protect our platform and users. This includes automated technology to track and monitor all communication between our players as well as a large team of moderators who work around the clock to review all the content uploaded into a game and investigate any inappropriate activity. We provide parental controls to empower parents to create the most appropriate experience for their child, and we provide individual users with protective tools, such as the ability to block another player.

The incident involved one bad actor that was able to subvert our protective systems and exploit one instance of a game running on a single server. We have zero tolerance for this behavior and we took immediate action to identify how this individual created the offending action and put safeguards in place to prevent it from happening again. In addition, the offender was identified and permanently banned from the platform. Our work on safety is never-ending and we are committed to ensuring that one individual does not get in the way of the millions of children who come to Roblox to play, create, and imagine.

The timing of the incident is particularly notable for the kids’ gaming platform, which has more than 60 million monthly active users and is now raising up to $150 million to grow its business. The company has been flying under the radar for years, while quietly amassing a large audience of both players and developers who build its virtual worlds. Roblox recently stated that it expects to pay out its content creators $70 million in 2018, which is double that of last year. 

Roblox has a number of built-in controls to guard against bad behavior, including a content filter and a system that has moderators reviewing images, video and audio files before they’re uploaded to Roblox’s site. It also offers parental controls that let parents decide who can chat with their kids, or the ability to turn chat off. And parents can restrict kids under 13 from accessing anything but a curated list of age-appropriate games.

However, Roblox was also in the process of moving some of its older user-generated games to a newer system that’s more secure. The hacked game was one of several that could have been exploited in a similar way.

Since the incident, Roblox had its developers remove all the other potentially vulnerable games and ask their creators to move them over to the newer, more fortified system. Most have done so, and those who have not will not see their games allowed back online until that occurs. The games that are online now are not vulnerable to the exploit the hacker used.

The company responded quickly to take action, in terms of taking the game offline, banning the player and reaching out the mother — who has since agreed to help Roblox get the word out to others about the safeguards parents can use to protect kids in Roblox further.

But the incident raises questions as to whether kids should be playing these sorts of massive multiplayer games at such a young age at all.

Roblox, sadly, is not surprised that someone was interested in a hack like this.

YouTube is filled with videos of Roblox rape hacks and exploits, in fact. The company submits takedown requests to YouTube when videos like this are posted, but YouTube only takes action on a fraction of the requests. (YouTube has its own issues around content moderation.)

It’s long past time for there to be real-world ramifications for in-game assaults that can have lasting psychological consequences on victims, when those victims are children.

Roblox, for its part, is heavily involved in discussions about what can be done, but the issue is complex. COPPA laws prevent Roblox from collecting data on its users, including their personal information, because the law is meant to protect kids’ privacy. But the flip side of this is that Roblox has no way of tracking down hackers like this.

“I think that we’re not the only one pondering the challenges of this. I think every platform company out there is struggling with the same thing,” says Tami Bhaumik, head of marketing and community safety at Roblox.

“We’re members of the Family Online Safety Institute, which is over 30 companies who share best practices around digital citizenship and child safety and all of that,” she continues. “And this is a constant topic of conversation that we all have – in terms of how do we use technology, how do we use A.I. and machine learning? Do we work with the credit card companies to try to verify [users]? How do we get around not violating COPPA regulations?,” says Bhaumik.

“The problem is super complex, and I don’t think anyone involved has solved that yet,” she adds.

One solution could be forcing parents to sign up their kids and add a credit card, which would remain uncharged unless kids broke the rules.

That could dampen user growth to some extent — locking out the under-banked, those hesitant to use their credit cards online and those just generally distrustful of gaming companies and unwanted charges. It would mean kids couldn’t just download the app and play.

But Roblox has the momentum and scale now to lock things down. There’s enough demand for the game that it could create more of a barrier to entry if it chose to, in an effort to better protect users. After all, if players knew they’d be fined (or their parents would be), it would be less attractive to break the rules.

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Fortnite maker Epic Games beefs up its Unreal game engine in new update

Posted by | epic games, Gaming | No Comments

After a wildly successful last few months thanks to Fortnite, Epic Games is delivering some substantial new updates to its Unreal game engine, which supports a variety of cross-platform titles and experiences. Some features like smoother compatibility on mobile and better support for Switch come directly from the fact that they’ve had to iterate so quickly on building such a massively successful cross-platform title.

“Our engine is as good as it is because we ship games,” Epic Games CTO Kim Libreri told TechCrunch. “How many clicks an artist has to do to be able to change the color of something or adjust the look of something is all highly optimized because the artists scream at us day-in and day-out on the engine team if it’s not efficient.”

The engine enables indie developers to gain access to a system for environment building and rendering that is on-par with the major studios. A lot of the new features come from tools that Epic Games built because it needed them for its own titles. The latest 4.20 update is fairly notable for the engine, bringing some performance bumps but also a new visual effects engine and some other new stuff.

One of the bigger highlights of this update is a system for rendering objects at reduced polygonal complexity when need be. The engine’s Proxy Levels of Detail tech competes directly with some of the technology built by Simplygon, which Microsoft acquired last year. The tech basically allows objects to render in low-poly mesh versions rather than a soft or all-or-nothing scenario, whereas you traverse an environment, objects will just appear out of nowhere on the horizon as they render.

The company says that this tech was essential for ensuring that Fortnite players are on an even footing even when on lower-power devices. The feature has been available in an experimental build since the most recent update, but it has been honed to be more reliable in this new release.

Another heavy hitter of the release is the early access release of Niagara, a long-awaited visual effects editor that the company talked about a lot at GDC. The tool allows developers a lot of control over particle physics for something like an explosion or fire and will eventually be replacing the engine’s existing Cascade system.

In addition to visual effects looking more realistic, Epic is looking to give cutscenes a shot in the arm with tech that allows developers to deliver some pretty top-notch movie-quality shots via depth-of-focus bokeh-like enhancements that draw attention to what matters in a scene. On a similar note, Epic is releasing the tools they have been using in their work to create more realistic digital human characters.

There’s a lot of other new functionality in this release, including updated AR support for Magic Leap One and ARKit 2, as well as some mixed reality capture functionality in early access.

All of these features are available to devs now in the 4.20 update.

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Funko is getting into Fortnite toys because it’d be dumb not to

Posted by | fortnite, Funko, Gaming, TC | No Comments

Funko . Even if you don’t know the name, you’ve probably seen their toys. They’re the ones that make those figurines with the big ol’ heads that line the walls of half the stores at the mall — the ones that seem to exist for just about every pop culture-related license on the planet, from random 80’s horror movies to mega properties like Star Wars or Marvel.

So of course they’re getting into Fortnite toys.

The company announced today that it’ll ship Fortnite-themed toys across 10 different product lines, from clothing, to keychains, to the aforementioned big-headed Pop! figurines. While there don’t seem to be any images of the toys in progress out there just yet, the company says the new stuff should start hitting the shelves by the holidays of this year.

Funko Pop! figures from the company’s Gears of War line — photo by Marco Verch

Fortnite is a pretty obvious fit — and as long as the game’s absolutely ridiculous popularity doesn’t dive off a cliff before Christmas for some reason, it’s a pretty big win.

It’s easy to imagine Funko-fied versions of the game’s most recognizable bits, like a vinyl keychain Battle Bus or a Pop! version of the supply llama. But even beyond that, it could be a pretty consistent source of new, limited run releases — something that Funko loves to do. Fortnite shifts to a new “season” every few months, with each iteration introducing dramatically new character skins and retiring those that came before it. Fortnite’s creators at Epic undoubtedly have the data to prove exactly which skins are most popular, which should help them figure out which ones to turn into merch.

As of April, Fortnite was reportedly already pulling in around $10 million per day on in-game items alone, and adding a bunch of real-world merch to the mix is probably just going to make that money machine crank even harder.

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Niantic acquires Seismic Games

Posted by | Gaming, M&A, niantic, Seismic Games, TC | No Comments

Niantic — the company behind Pokémon GO — is back at it with another acquisition.

After acquiring Escher Reality back in February and Matrix Mill back in June, this morning the company announced it’s acquiring Seismic Games.

Seismic Games is probably best known for its work on Marvel: Strike Force, a mobile, turn-based RPG that has players build battle teams made up of all the big names from the Marvel comic universe.

Niantic’s two biggest games of the foreseeable future — Pokémon GO and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite — both rely heavily on licensed IP. So acquiring a team that already has a wealth of experience with licensed IP — specifically, a team that can walk that fine line of building enough new content to keep the players happy without doing something that sets off the IP owners — makes sense.

No terms of the deal were disclosed.

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No Man’s Sky Next seeks to right the game’s wrongs

Posted by | Gaming, No Man's Sky, TC | No Comments

For a certain kind of gamer, the premise of No Man’s Sky, that of an endless procedurally generated space universe teeming with life, was intoxicatingly perfect, almost too good to be true. After overselling that dream to the disappointment of just about everybody, Hello Games is back to make amends with a major new update: No Man’s Sky Next.

No Man’s Sky Next will introduce a spate of updates, including long-awaited full multiplayer gameplay, a visual update to improve textures and add detail, first to third-person perspective switching, unlimited base building and command freighters that allow you to create, upgrade and dispatch a fleet of ships from the comfort of your own bridge. You can see a few of those changes implemented in the trailer below.

The update, which will hit on July 24 as a free update to PlayStation and PC, also brings the advent of No Man’s Sky for the Xbox — great news for some console gamers who wanted to check it out without committing to a whole new system.

Whether No Man’s Sky Next will truly flesh out and deepen the innovative exploration game in a satisfying way remains to be seen, but both longtime players and those who followed along with curious hesitation now have something to look forward to. Happily, the wait won’t be long.

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Twitch streamers can now let viewers react with GIFs

Posted by | game streaming, Gaming, GIFs, giphy, streaming service, Twitch | No Comments

Giphy is coming to Twitch . For the first time, Giphy is bringing its library of animated GIFs to the Amazon-owned game streaming service. The company today is launching a Giphy extension for Twitch streamers that will allow viewers to react in real-time using GIFs during a broadcast. The idea is that GIFs could make streams more engaging and entertaining, which would, in turn, attract retain viewers for longer periods of time.

Twitch extensions were first introduced last year, but only recently did Twitch add support for running multiple extensions at once. That could encourage more developers to try out the Giphy extension, without having to give up their other favorite overlays.

To use the new extension, the streamer will first configure which part of the screen area will be used to display the GIFs viewers post. Once the extension is activated, viewers will be able to access it during a broadcast via a Giphy icon and the search terms they enter into the message bar.

Twitch is not the first game streaming site to experiment with GIF reactions. The newer site Caffeine had this as a feature, too, but pulled it before launch because they found it could be used for harassment. Twitch and Giphy are hoping to not make the sane mistake by curating the catalog of GIFs that can be shared.

According to Twitch, Giphy’s content is moderated to remove those GIFs that are “overtly offense” to any race, gender, ethnicity or community. It’s also limiting GIFs to those with a PG rating and below, which will prohibit users from posting GIFs with violence, sexual references, and other lewd terms, it says.

“Extensions are a great framework designed to make channels on Twitch more interactive so creators can better engage and retain their fans,” said Amir Shevat, Twitch VP of Developer Experience, in a statement. “With Giphy tapping into their extensive library of animated GIFs for their new Extension, it adds a fun and compelling new element to the social video experience that is sure to resonate with the current meme generation.”

Extensions are one of Twitch’s differentiating features in the game streaming market. Thanks to Twitch’s scale, there are now thousands of these add-ons and overlays in development, and over 250 which have gone live since the feature’s launch. Dozens of these, including Giphy’s, also work alongside others, allowing streamers to better customize their broadcasts and channels.

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This $20 DIY kit makes your NES, SNES or Mega Drive controller wireless

Posted by | 8bitdo, Gadgets, Gaming, Hack, hardware | No Comments

I have to hand it to 8BitDo. At first I thought they were just opportunistically hawking cheap hunks of plastic in an era of unparalleled nostalgia for retro games, but… well, who am I kidding? That’s exactly what they’re doing. But they’re doing it well. And these new DIY kits are the latest sign that they actually understand their most obsessive customers.

While you can of course purchase fully formed controllers and adapters from the company that let your retro consoles ride the wireless wave of the future, not everyone is ready to part with their original hardware.

I, for example, have had my Super Nintendo for 25 years or so — its yellowing, cracked bulk and controllers, all-over stains and teeth marks compelling all my guests to make an early exit. I consider it part of my place’s unique charm, but more importantly I’m used to the way these controllers feel and look — they’re mine.

8BitDo understands me, along with the rest of the wretches out there who can’t part with the originals out of some twisted concept of loyalty or authenticity. So they’re giving us the option to replace the controllers’ aging guts with a fresh new board equipped with wireless connectivity, making it a healthy hybrid of the past and present.

If you’re the type (as I am) that worries that a modern controller will break in ways that an SNES controller would find laughable, if it could laugh, then this will likely strike your fancy. All you do is take apart your gamepad (if you can stand to do so), pull out the original PCB (and save it, of course), and pop in the new one.

You’ll be using more or less all the same parts as these famously durable controllers came with (check out this teardown). The way the buttons feel shouldn’t change at all, since the mechanical parts aren’t being replaced, just the electronics that they activate. It runs on a rechargeable battery inside that you recharge with an unfortunately proprietary cable that comes with the kit.

If you’re worried about latency… don’t be. On these old consoles, control latency is already like an order of magnitude higher than a complete wireless packet round trip, so you shouldn’t notice any lag.

You will, however, need to pick up a Bluetooth adapter if you want to use this on your original console — but if you want to use the controller with a wireless-equipped setup like your computer, it should work flawlessly.

If you buy it and don’t like it, you can just slot the original PCB back into its spot and no harm is done!

There are conversion kits for the NES and SNES, the new Classic Editions of both, and the Sega Mega Drive. At $20 each it’s hardly a big investment, and the reversible nature of the mod makes it low risk. And hey, you might learn something about that controller of yours. Or find a desiccated spider inside.

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Ubisoft now auto-bans Rainbow Six Siege players who use toxic language

Posted by | Gaming, TC, ubisoft | No Comments

Ubisoft has implemented a new system in Rainbow Six Siege that bans players for using toxic language in the text chat, according to PC Gamer.

Yesterday, a number of players started whining about being temporarily banned from the game after using a racist or homophobic slur in the text chat. The first offense results in a 27 minute ban. Second and third offenses will cost players 2 hours of game time, and any following toxic language will result in an official investigation and potentially a permanent ban from the game.

Like most games, Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six Siege has a Code of Conduct that forbids “any language or content deemed illegal, dangerous, threatening, abusive, obscene, vulgar, defamatory, hateful, racist, sexist, ethically offensive or constituting harassment.” However, most games do close to nothing to enforce these rules, which has led to an overwhelmingly toxic gaming community overall.

This new banning system doesn’t come out of the blue. Ubisoft has been talking about removing toxic language from the platform for a while. In fact, the dev team wrote in April that it has plans to add new features to limit the use of offensive language on the game.

From the April post:

Our team is working on the creation of an automated system that will censor text chat in game based on a chat filter list. This will replace words that have been identified as offensive and provide players with a notification that their language was found to be unacceptable. We will also be tracking the number of times players trigger this filter and will take action as necessary for players that are intentionally having a negative impact on other player’s gaming experience.

The current iteration of the banning system doesn’t censor the offensive words in text chat but rather goes straight to the 27-minute ban.

The gaming world has grown into an increasingly toxic environment, as there has been little to no policing of users’ behavior and communication. But eSports and Twitch are putting gamers in the spotlight, and brand endorsements are a huge piece of the upward trajectory of esports. But no brand is going to get behind a gamer that uses homophobic or racial slurs.

Ubisoft says on Twitter that the ban system is still being updated and the team is taking feedback from the community to continue refining it, as well as punishing players who are cheating.

No system is perfect, but it is working as intended in a majority of the cases we’ve been seeing.
This is not our final update for dealing with toxicity — we will continue to observe and make changes and expansions as needed.

— Rainbow Six Siege (@Rainbow6Game) July 16, 2018

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Klang gets $8.95M for an MMO sim sitting atop Improbable’s dev platform

Posted by | artificial intelligence, Europe, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, improbable, MMO, Northzone, virtual world | No Comments

Berlin-based games studio Klang, which is building a massive multiplayer online simulation called Seed utilizing Improbable’s virtual world builder platform, has just bagged $8.95M in Series A funding to support development of the forthcoming title.

The funding is led by veteran European VC firm Northzone. It follows a seed raise for Seed, finalized in March 2018, and led by Makers Fund, with participation by firstminute capital, Neoteny, Mosaic Ventures, and Novator — bringing the total funding raised for the project to $13.95M.

The studio was founded in 2013, and originally based in Reykjavík, Iceland, before relocating to Berlin. Klang’s original backers include Greylock Partners, Joi Ito, and David Helgason, as well as original investors London Venture Partners.

The latest tranche of funding will be used to expand its dev team and for continued production on Seed which is in pre-alpha at this stage — with no release date announced yet.

Nor is there a confirmed pricing model. We understand the team is looking at a variety of ideas at this stage, such as tying the pricing to the costs of simulating the entities.

They have released the below teaser showing the pre-alpha build of the game — which is described as a persistent simulation where players are tasked with colonizing an alien planet, managing multiple characters in real-time and interacting with characters managed by other human players they encounter in the game space.

The persistent element refers to the game engine maintaining character activity after the player has logged off — supporting an unbroken simulation.

Klang touts its founders’ three decades of combined experience working on MMOs EVE Online and Dust 514, and now being rolled into designing and developing the large, player-driven world they’re building with Seed.

Meanwhile London-based Improbable bagged a whopping $502M for its virtual world builder SpatialOS just over a year ago. The dev platform lets developers design and build massively detailed environments — to offer what it bills as a new form of simulation on a massive scale — doing this by utilizing distributed cloud computing infrastructure and machine learning technology to run a swarm of hundreds of game engines so it can support a more expansive virtual world vs software running off of a single engine or server.

Northzone partner Paul Murphy, who is leading the investment in Klang, told us: “It is unusual to raise for a specific title, and we are for all intents and purposes investing in Klang as a studio. We are very excited about the team and the creative potential of the studio. But our investment thesis is based on looking for something that really stands out and is wildly ambitious over and above everything else that’s out there. That is how we feel about the potential of Seed as a simulation.”

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