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Reflections on E3 2018

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After taking a year off, I returned to E3 this week. It’s always a fun show, in spite of the fact that the show floor has come to rival Comic-Con in terms of the mass of people the show’s organizers are able to cram into the aisles of the convention center floor.

We’ve been filing stories all week, but here is a very much incomplete collection of my thoughts on this year’s show.

Zombies are still very much a thing

I’d have thought we’d have hit peak zombie years ago, but here we are, zombies everywhere. That includes the LA Convention Center lobby, which was swarming with actors decked out as the undead. There’s something fundamentally disturbing about watching gamers get pictures taken with fake, bloody corpses. Or maybe it’s just the perfect allegory for our time.

Nintendo’s back

A slight adjustment in approach certainly played a role, as the company has embraced mobile gaming. But the key to Nintendo’s return was a refocus on what it does best: offering an innovative experience with familiar IP. Oh, and the GameCube controller Smash Bros. compatibility was a brilliant bit of fan service, even by Nintendo’s standards.

Quantity versus quality?

Microsoft’s event was a sort of video game blitzkrieg. The company showed off 50 titles, a list that included 15 exclusives. Sony, on the other hand, stuck to a handful, but presented them in much greater depth. Ultimately, I have to say I preferred the latter. Real game play footage feels like an extremely finite resource at these events.

Ultra violence in ultra high-def

Certainly not a new trend in gaming, but there’s something about watching someone bite off someone else’s face on the big screen that’s extra upsetting. Sony’s press conference was a strange sort of poetry, with some of the week’s most stunning imagery knee-deep in blood and gore.

Reedus ’n fetus

We saw more footage and somehow we understand the game less?

Checkmate

Indiecade is always a favorite destination at E3. It’s a nice respite from the big three’s packed booths. Interestingly, there were a lot more desktop games than I remember. You know, the real kind with physical pieces and no screens.

Death of a Tomb Raider

I played Shadow of the Tomb Raider on a PC in NVIDIA’s meeting space. It’s good, but I’m not good at it. I killed poor Lara A LOT. I can deal with that sort of thing when my character is in full Master Chief regalia or whatever, but those close-up shots of her face when I drowned her for the fifth time kind of bummed me out. Can video games help foster empathy or are we all just destined to desensitize ourselves because we have tombs to raid, damn it?

I saw the light

NVIDIA also promised me that its ray-tracing tech would be the most impressive demo I saw at E3 that day. I think they were probably right, so take that, Sonic Racing. The tech, which was first demoed at GDC, “brings real-time, cinematic-quality rendering to content creators and game developers.”

VR’s still waiting in the wings

At E3 two years ago, gaming felt like an industry on the cusp of a VR breakthrough. In 2018, however, it doesn’t feel any closer. There were a handful of compelling new VR experiences at the event, but it felt like many of the peripheral and other experiences were sitting on the fringes of the event — both literally and metaphorically — waiting for a crack at the big show.

Remote Control

Sony’s Control trailer was the highest ratio of excitement to actual information I experienced. Maybe it’s Inception the video game or the second coming of Quantum Break. I dunno, looks fun.

AR’s a thing, but not, like, an E3 thing

We saw a few interesting examples of this, including the weirdly wonderful TendAR, which requires you to make a bunch of faces so a fake fish doesn’t die. It’s kind of like version of Seaman that feeds on your own psychic energy. At the end of the day, though, E3 isn’t a mobile show.

Cross-platform

Having said that, there are some interesting examples of cross-platform potential popping up here and there. The $50 Poké Ball Plus for the Switch is a good example I’m surprised hasn’t been talked about more. Along with controlling the new Switch titles, it can be used to capture Pokémon via Pokémon GO. There’s some good brand synergy right there. And then, of course, there’s Fortnite, which is also on the Switch. The game’s battle royale mode is a great example of how cross-platform play can lead to massive success. Though by all accounts, Sony doesn’t really want to play ball.

V-Bucks

Oh, Epic Games has more money than God now.

Moebius strip

Video games are art. You knew that already, blah, blah, blah. But Sable looks like a freaking Moebius comic come to life. I worry that it will be about as playable as Dragon’s Lair, but even that trailer is a remarkable thing.

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Playmaji is looking to bring its modular retro-gaming console to market

Posted by | capcom, Co-founder, computing, e3 2018, Entertainment, entertainment software association, Gaming, Konami, Nintendo, nintendo entertainment system, playmaji, sega, TC, Twitch, YouTube | No Comments

Tucked away in a far corner of the West Pavilion of the Los Angeles Convention center among the independent game developers showcased by IndieCade during E3 is a small booth demonstrating the latest Polymega hardware, a device that’s billing itself as the NES Classic for every old-school game released on every old-school gaming platform.

The company that’s making the device first debuted last year as Retroblox, and while its name has changed (it’s now called Playmaji) and its hardware has gotten more refined, the vision remains very much the same.

Playmaji debuted the new system and its user interface last year at E3 and it’s back again this year to tout its new pricing and drum up support for a pre-order campaign — even as it tries to raise money to license games from publishers.

Last year, Playmaji eschewed going down the crowdfunding route and instead raised $500,000 from undisclosed angel investors, according to chief executive and co-founder Bryan Bernal. This year, Bernal said his company would look to launch a pre-order campaign within the next three months and begin shipping systems by the end of the year.

While there are plenty of consoles (like the Retroengine, or Hyperkin’s SNES clone, or Analogue’s SuperNT) that tout similar capabilities to play retro arcade and console games from gaming’s golden age, Playmaji’s grand designs to provide an all-in-one networked console for gaming that can stream to Twitch or YouTube may set it apart.

The company wants to ensure that it’s doing everything by the book and not tacitly encouraging piracy, according to Bernal.

Eventually Bernal does envision a move into licensing (aiming for 50 to 100 games when the company launches its first product in the fourth quarter of this year), but for now users are limited to the cartridges that they own — or that they can find somewhere.

Both Bernal and his co-founder Eric Christensen have a history in the games business, coming from Insomniac Games where Bernal worked on the Ratchet and Clank title.

The hardware console will sell for $249.99 initially, with module sets that allow for users to upload games from different consoles starting at another $59.99. Those modular sets also include controllers that resemble the classic designs from NES and Sega systems.

“We designed new classic controllers packaged with the element modules,” said Bernal. “You can have a retro controller ready to go. To allow the classic feel and emotion of the games to carry on into the future.”

So far, the company has only raised $500,000 in pre-seed funding, but Bernal is gearing up for a larger round of $2 million to $3 million for licensing additional games. He said preliminary talks were already underway with companies like Sega, Konami and Capcom.

“The closest corollary on the market is the Classic Mini,” says Bernal. While Sega supports classic cartridges through one of its game platforms, no other console that’s on the market presents a unified device for all of a user’s old games, he said.

“This is supposed to serve as the home base in your living room,” said Bernal.

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How Nintendo regained its footing with the Switch and smartphones

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As recently as a couple of years ago, Nintendo very much felt like a company at a crossroads. The Wii U presented a rare major misfire for the gaming giant, while its executives stubbornly clung to a strategy that actively excluded smartphones.

The Nintendo of 2018, however, feels newly invigorated. In January, the company announced that the Switch had blown past the Wii’s record to become the fastest selling U.S. console, with 4.8 million units moved in 10 months. These days, that number is closer to 5.9 million in the States, with 17.79 million units sold globally as of April, by NPD’s count.

“We learned from previous launches,” Nintendo executive Doug Bowser (different Bowser) said in an interview with TechCrunch upstairs at the company’s E3 booth. “We made sure we launched with great content. And then we’ve had a steady drumbeat of new titles.”

The company addressed that issue with the launch of the flagship Zelda title Breath of the Wild, alongside the console. This time two years ago, the company’s booth was awash with Zelda imagery, made up to look like a small-scale version of Hyrule. In 2018, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the clear focus, as its E3 presence has shifted to something more tournament style, with large screens displaying the mega-crossover fighting game.

For the company, those two titles represent the company’s first-party play for an “active gamer” segment — a more direct take on the likes of PlayStation and Microsoft. Nintendo’s family-friendly approach is still present in those titles it produced in-house, but things have softened a bit, perhaps, when it comes to embracing third-party titles.

“Our goal with Nintendo Switch is to appeal to a broad audience,” said Bowser. “That goes well beyond family-friendly titles, and obviously with some of the third-party content we’ve brought to the platform, there’s more mature content. We want to make it accessible, but clearly when it comes to our own IP, it’s in a more family-friendly arena.”

Today’s release of Fortnite for the Switch is a pretty clear example of this. It’s a big win for both parties, as the fast-selling console gets access to the large cross-platform title. But even that is a far cry from some of the extreme gore we saw on the big screen last night at Sony’s big kick-off event.

For younger players, the 3DS/2DS is still going surprisingly strong for an eight-year-old system. 2017 actually saw a jump in consoles sold over the year prior. “Younger consumers are coming in through our 2DS and 2DS XL platforms,” said Bowser. “It’s a great entry point for us. As long as consumers are voting, we’ll continue to support it.”

And for all of its early foot-dragging, mobile has clearly been a boon for the company. First-party games like Super Mario Run and third-party partnerships like Pokémon GO have gone a ways toward spreading the gospel of Nintendo IP. Late last month, Niantic announced that its AR game had hit a staggering 800 million downloads.

The newly announced Switch titles Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee represent another step toward a more open, cross-platform Nintendo, as well. The Poké Ball Plus peripheral lets users capture Pokémon on the mobile title and utilize them into the Switch game. It’s a compelling bit of synergy that could point a ways forward, wherein smartphones and the Switch play even more nicely together.

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Hands-on with Nintendo’s Poké Ball Plus

Posted by | e3 2018, Gaming, Nintendo, Poké Ball Plus, pokemon, TC | No Comments

Nintendo doesn’t come out with a ton of hardware in-between system launches, but the peripherals it does come out with have a history of being pretty quality. That being said, the Poké Ball Plus may be the nicest little game-specific system accessory Nintendo has sold yet.

At Nintendo’s big, honking E3 booth I had a chance to go hands-on with the little golf-ball sized device. Nintendo was not allowing us to take video or pictures of it during use, but rest assured, this is exactly what it looks like in real life.

For what should by all means be a gimmicky little device, Nintendo put a thoughtful amount of engineering into the little ball, which was surprisingly fun to play the new titles with and seemed to offer a lot more than nostalgia for prospective owners.

Build-wise this thing feels nice and hefty with an experience that feels a bit more immersive than using a Joy-Con because you are holding a little ball rather than flicking a controller. Additionally, there are some lights on the joystick/trigger that light up to showcase when you’ve caught a Pokémon or are housing one. You can charge the Poké Ball Plus via USB-C and you’ll get about six hours charge on it, the company tells us.

You can navigate your character through the game with the joy-stick and push it in to make selections. When it comes to actually capturing Pokémon that you encounter, you can sort of flick the little ball — there’s a strap and a little ring to ensure the ball doesn’t go flying.

Will this be something that drastically improves your experience playing the varieties of Pokemon: Let’s Go? No, but you probably won’t feel like an idiot for spending extra money on something your system’s Joy-Cons can already do if more fun is an acceptable system spec.

It’s cool, it’s cute and tiny and, similar to the Pokémon GO Plus wristband, you’ll be able to connect this to your phone and catch the little creatures on-the-go, so you are getting some added functionality if you’ve bought into Niantic’s Pokémon world on mobile, as well.

Other features beyond being able to house a Pokémon that you have captured on the move is that you can actually shake the device and hear the sound of the particular Pokémon you currently have captured. As far as fun little features go, this has a lot to offer fans.

We don’t have an official price for the accessory itself, but Nintendo did reveal today that it will be included with a $100 bundle with a copy of Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu or Eevee. You’ll also get the mythical Pokémon Mew with your Poké Ball Plus.

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How (and when) to watch the E3 2018 press conferences

Posted by | e3 2018, Gaming, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony | No Comments

Sure, E3 doesn’t actually officially start until Tuesday, but the big news kicks off this weekend. Here’s a quick overview of some of the biggest new titles we expect to be shown off at press conferences from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, but there’s a lot more to the show than just the big three.

EA started several days of big announcements with a press conference in downtown L.A. this morning, focused on Battlefield V, Fifa 2019 and a bunch more. Microsoft, meanwhile, will be the first of the big hardware companies to hold court with an early afternoon event on Sunday, followed by Bethesda that night.

Monday is the most packed day of the week with events from Square Enix, Ubisoft and Sony. Nintendo, meanwhile, has Tuesday morning to itself, opting to again return to its pre-recorded streaming format in lieu of renting out a larger hall.

Here’s the full break down.

SUNDAY, JUNE 10

Microsoft: 1PM PT, 4PM ET

What to expect: Crackdown 3, Gears of War, Forza and (maybe?) a new Halo.

Bethesda 6:30PM PT, 9:30PM ET



What to expect: Rage 2, Fallout 76.

MONDAY, JUNE 11

Square Enix 10AM PT, 1 PM ET

Watch live video from Square Enix on www.twitch.tv

What to expect: Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Kingsom Hearts 3, Final Fantasy VII.

Ubisoft 12:30PM PT, 3:30PM ET 

What to expect: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, new Splinter Cell.

Sony 6PM PT, 9PM ET

What to expect: Death Stranding, Last of Us Part II, Marvel’s Spider-Man

TUESDAY, JUNE 12

Nintendo 9AM PT, 12PM ET

What to expect: Super Smash Bros 

What to expect: Super Smash Bros, Pokemon and (maybe) Fortnite

 

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What to expect from Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony at E3 2018

Posted by | e3 2018, events, Gaming, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony | No Comments

It’s June, so that means it’s time to spend some quality time in downtown Los Angeles. E3 doesn’t actually begin in earnest until next Tuesday, but much of the big news will actually drop over the weekend, during press conferences from Microsoft, EA and Bethesda.

Starting Saturday, the video game news will be arriving fast and furious. We’ll be on the ground at the Staples Center to cover all things E3, but in the meantime, here’s a breakdown of what we expect to see at one of the gaming world’s biggest events.

Microsoft

Microsoft’s press conference is the first of the big three. The bad news: The company just confirmed a recent report that Crackdown 3 has been delayed until February. Bummer. Bad news for those aching to get their hands on the open-world action-adventure, but the title will almost certainly get some love during the event, regardless. After all, Microsoft has been talking up the title since way back in 2014.

It wouldn’t be a proper Microsoft E3 event without a Halo title of some kind. Halo 6 seems like a possibility — if not a certainty. The latest rumor has the upcoming game titled Halo Infinity, which may or may not be the first direct follow-up to 2015’s lukewarmly received Halo 5: Guardians.

New Gears of War and Forza titles have also been rumored for the big show.

Microsoft’s event kicks off at 1PM PT on Sunday.

Nintendo

One thing we know for sure: A Super Smash Bros. title is coming to the Switch. Based on Nintendo’s recent habit of focusing on a key game at E3, it seems a safe bet that the beloved fighting game will get the lion’s share of the company’s attention.

Metroid Prime 4 and Yoshi seem like no-brainers for the big event, along with recently announced Pokémon titles Let’s Go, Pikachu and Let’s Go, Eevee. Oh, and did someone say Fortnite for the Switch? The rumor mill has also suggested a Star Fox racing title and even an N64 Classic Edition.

Nintendo is set to open the show at 9AM PT on Tuesday with a pre-recorded presentation.

Sony

Sony has already curbed speculation by announcing to the gaming world that there will be no hardware news at this year’s event. That said, there’s still going to be plenty of software firepower.

Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding has been appearing at these shows since way back in 2016. Even so, the game remains something of a mystery. Expect to see a fair bit more next week, as the title becomes something of a tentpole for Sony’s presentation. Kojima has certainly been talking it up on social media, including, compellingly, a tribute to late Joy Division frontman, Ian Curtis.

After debuting it at last year’s show, Sony has confirmed that Last of Us Part II will be making another appearance at E3. The eagerly awaited sequel appears to be largely focused on Ellie’s quest for revenge.

With a slated September release, Marvel’s Spider-Man also seems like a no-brainer for some serious stage time. Peter Parker will return as the webslinger this time out, and there will be a number of notable cameos for Spider-Fans, including Miles Morales and Mary Jane Watson, who will serve as a playable character.

Sony gets started at 6PM PT on Monday.

 

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Pokémon Quest hits the Nintendo Switch with two more Pokémon titles on the way

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Much like the unique and forking joy of catching an eevee you plan to evolve, Poké trainers have some exciting branching paths ahead of them.

In a dedicated press event in Tokyo, the Pokémon Company, Nintendo and Niantic announced three new Pokémon games, with another on the way in late 2019. The first game, a casual “free to start” RPG called Pokémon Quest, is already available for download on the Nintendo Switch.

With a team of up to three Pokémon, you can explore the secrets of Tumblecube Island. Battle wild Pokémon, gather treasure, and even befriend new Pokémon—if you have the right ingredients, that is! #PokemonQuest puts the power in your hands. pic.twitter.com/BuVVenFAYR

— Pokémon (@Pokemon) May 30, 2018

Pokémon Quest revisits the well-loved core cast of ‘mons from the Kanto region (think Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow era) but with a cubist twist. The game will hit the Switch first (it’s already there!) before expanding to iOS and Android later in June. Cube charizard, be mine.

Beyond the cute cubey apéritif, a beginner-friendly set of games called Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! will hit the Switch on November 16. According to its creators, the two titles “bring the experience of a classic Pokémon RPG to Nintendo Switch with gameplay that is easily approachable for newcomers to the series, but is also deep enough to keep veteran Trainers on their toes.” We’ll see about that.

Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee!, and the #PokeBallPlus will be released on November 16, 2018 worldwide! https://t.co/kXLdxUMjjA #PokemonLetsGo pic.twitter.com/bUU3ZcnApi

— Pokémon (@Pokemon) May 30, 2018

The Pokémon Company also explained that the two games will tie into the hit mobile experience of Pokémon GO, though we don’t know the full extent of what that looks like yet:

There is a deep connection between Pokémon GO and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! For one thing, Pokémon originally discovered in the Kanto region that you have caught in Pokémon GO can be brought into these two new Nintendo Switch games. That’s not all, though. Look forward to more details at a later date.

Beyond the crowd-pleasing option to center either pikachu or eevee (let’s be real, you’re picking eevee), the Let’s Go games will showcase a new peripheral for the Switch known as the Poké Ball Plus that’s designed to simulate the evocative gesture that seasoned trainers know so well. Apparently, Nintendo put plenty of thought into that experience, so we’re hoping that it really brings to life the sensation of a wild animal wriggling rhythmically as its freedom seeps away, second by second.

You can use the #PokeBallPlus as a Joy-Con in #PokemonLetsGo! Good things may happen if you place one of your favorite Pokémon into the device and walk around with it in the real world. It will be able to connect to Pokémon GO as well! pic.twitter.com/I18Y55odpp

— Pokémon (@Pokemon) May 30, 2018

Pokemon CEO: Nintendo engineers helped make the Pokeball. The idea was to create the closest thing possible to an actual Pokeball that really felt like it has a Pokemon inside. Bless 😭

— Yuji Nakamura (@ynakamura56) May 30, 2018

Again, these games aren’t the core handheld title that diehard pokéfans are after, but if you’re going to have to wait until 2019 for a proper main series Pokémon RPG experience on the Switch, today’s news should offer plentiful snacks to tide you over.

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NES Classic loaded with classic manga games raises hopes for other special editions

Posted by | Asia, Famicom, Gadgets, Gaming, NES, nes classic edition, Nintendo | No Comments

Japanese gamers and manga aficionados and every combination thereof will get a treat this summer with the release of a NES Classic Edition loaded with games from the pages of Weekly Jump. The beloved manga mag is celebrating its 50th anniversary and this solid gold Famicom is part of the festivities.

There’s basically no chance this Jump-themed NES will get a release in the US — first because hardly any Americans will have read any of these manga (with a couple exceptions) and second because even fewer will have played the Famicom games associated with them.

Familiar… and yet…

That said, this nurtures the hope inside me that we will at some point see other themed NES Classics; the original has, of course, a fantastic collection — but there are dozens more games I would have loved to see on there.

You can hack the thing pretty easily and put half the entire NES library on it, but Nintendo’s official versions will have been tested and perhaps even tweaked to make sure they run perfectly (though admittedly emulation problems aren’t common for NES games).

More importantly it’s possible these hypothetical themed consoles may come with new accessories that I desperately need, like a NES Advantage, Zapper (not sure how it would work), or NES Max. Perhaps even a Power Glove?

In the meantime, at least if you missed the chance to buy one the first time around, you can grab one come the end of June.

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Nintendo’s NES Classic will return to U.S. retail stores on June 29

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Rejoice Nintendo fans: the Japanese gaming giant is bringing the NES Classic back to retail stores this summer.

Nintendo said the console will go on sale again across the U.S. on June 29, with the SNES Classic also set to be available until the end of this year. It isn’t clear what the situation will be outside of the U.S., however.

#NESClassic Edition will return to stores on June 29! This system and the #SNESClassic Edition system are expected to be available through the end of the year. https://t.co/LclbG5m4ta pic.twitter.com/1PcXBI5qJC

— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) May 14, 2018

The news is welcome but not entirely a surprise. Nintendo said last September that it would bring both consoles — which were originally supposed to be one-offs — back in 2018 following a positive reception and strong sales.

The company originally killed off the hit NES Classic Edition with an announcement last April and it had originally said that the SNES version would not live beyond 2017. The NES system was a surprise hit last year, but the SNES version was even more popular. Nintendo previously revealed that it sold more on launch day in August than the NES sold in the whole of last year.

“Fans have shown their unbridled enthusiasm for these Classic Edition systems, so Nintendo is working to put many more of them on store shelves,” Nintendo said last year.

The two classic systems are part of a new focus for Nintendo, which includes the top-selling Switch console and its first moves into mobile gaming via Pokémon GO and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. The company recently clocked impressive financial returns — including a 500 percent jump in annual profit — as the strategy begins to pay off.

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Nintendo’s $20 charging stand finally fixes the Switch’s kickstand problem

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Versatility has also been on of the Switch’s best features. The latest Nintendo system is a fascinating hybrid device that skirts the line between home and portable gaming. Still, there are some in-between scenarios the console didn’t get quite right out of the box.

The kickstand problem has plagued the otherwise well-received device since its earliest days. It falls over often, it’s puts the device at a weird angle, and worst of all, the charging port is on the bottom, so you can’t play the system in table top mode while it’s plugged it.

Just ahead of E3, the company’s showing off a $20 solution. The simply named Adjustable Charging Stand props the system, while keeping it plugged in, via an AC adapter port on the side.

An adjustable kickstand on the back, meanwhile, means you can change the viewing angle, depending on the height of the surface it’s on. That’s good news for those times when you don’t have a TV set to plug into, but still want to pull out the Joy-Cons to get the full experience — be it on a desk or an airport tray table. 

The peripheral hits stores July 13.

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