video games

Minecraft to get big lighting, shadow and color upgrades through Nvidia ray tracing

Posted by | cologne, computing, Gadgets, Gaming, GeForce, Germany, microsoft windows, Minecraft, Mojang, nvidia, rtx, TC, Video Cards, video games, Virtual reality | No Comments

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, as 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 — 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 (i.e. gold blocks, for instance).

This is welcome news after Minecraft developer Mojang announced last week that it canceled 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 at Gamescom 2019 in Cologne, Germany a range of 2019 games with real-time ray tracing enabled, including Dying Light 2, Cyperpunk 2077, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Watch Dogs: Legion.

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Roblox announces new game-creation tools and marketplace, $100M in 2019 developer revenue

Posted by | david baszucki, Gaming, online games, player, Roblox, Software, video games, video gaming | No Comments

A week after gaming platform Roblox announced its new milestone of 100 million monthly users — topping Minecraft — the company said at its fifth annual developer conference that its developer community is on track to earn $100 million in 2019. Roblox also introduced a new set of developer tools for building immersive, more realistic 3D experiences; detailed its plans to make its developer software fully cloud-based; unveiled a new Developer Marketplace where creators can set their development assets and tools to others; and more.

Over the past decade or so, Roblox has grown to become a $2.5 billion company, with roughly half of U.S. children ages 9 through 12 playing on its platform.

The company provides game-creation tools via Roblox Studio, which developers use to build their own games for people to play. Roblox doesn’t pay the developers for their work — rather, the developers generate revenue through virtual purchases, which players buy using the in-game currency Robux.

At its invite-only event, the Roblox Developers Conference, which was held Friday, August 9 through Sunday, August 11, the company announced new tools aimed at enabling small developer teams to work together to build more massive games that can support hundreds of players.

The news follows the growing popularity of Roblox’s larger games, like Adopt Me (180.7K players), Royale High (68.7K players), Welcome to Bloxburg (66.7K players), MeepCity (52.4K players), Murder Mystery 2 (33.7K players), Work at a Pizza Place (32.7K players) and others.

The new toolset will offer developers access to an enhanced lighting system, updated terrain and other visual upgrades, including support for building competitive matchmaking games that will match players of similar skill levels, the company said.

Roblox had earlier discussed its plans for these sorts of visual improvements, which VP of Product Enrico D’Angelo said were prioritized in order to up the quality of the games.

The company said at RDC it’s also on track to bring its creation tools, Roblox Studio, to the cloud by year-end. This will allow developers to collaborate in real time, access their development files online and work across computing platforms to do things like manage permissions, versions and rollbacks.

In addition to monetizing their games, developers also will be able to monetize their development assets and tools through a new Developer Marketplace, where they can sell their plug-ins, vehicles, 3D models, terrain enhancements and other items.

RDC 2019 Audience

“The Roblox creator community thinks of things we could never imagine, and their continued growth is our future,” said David Baszucki, founder and CEO, Roblox, in a statement about the new tools. “With top Roblox experiences achieving more than 100,000 concurrent users and 1 billion plays, there’s no denying the power of user-generated content. We are committed to supporting our creator community with the tools and resources they need to realize even greater success,” he added.

The company also made note of its improved localization support for Brazilian Portuguese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Simplified and Traditional Chinese and Spanish, and discussed its recent Microsoft partnership in more detail.

Roblox had previously announced a collaboration with Microsoft Azure PlayFab, which made PlayFab’s LiveOps analytics service free to Roblox’s top 10,000 developers. This allows the game creators to track trends in player behavior, purchase history and game telemetry.

Alongside Roblox’s user growth, its creator community has been expanding, as well.

Today, there are more than 2 million Roblox game creators worldwide, ranging from indie developers to studios with teams of 10 or 20 people. Over 500 developers attended the three-day event in San Francisco and the private RDC 2019 viewing party in London.

“We ultimately become more and more inspired and convinced that this is not just the future of gaming, this is really the future of a whole new category,” said Baszucki, during the keynote. “I believe we’re sitting with not just the future of gaming,” he said, addressing the crowd of developers at RDC, “but the future of human co-experience.”

“We have this vision that there’s a new category emerging that’s bigger than gaming,” the CEO continued. “It’s the category that allows people around the world to connect, to not just play together, but to work together, to learn together and to create together.”

TechCrunch’s Extra Crunch recently analyzed Roblox’s history and business in its EC-1, which you can read here (Extra Crunch membership required).

Photo credits: Ian Tuttle/Getty Images for Roblox

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Hit indie game Cuphead is headed to Tesla vehicles in August

Posted by | animation, automotive, ceo, Disney, electric vehicles, Elon Musk, Flash, Gaming, hyperloop, Netflix, Nintendo, TC, Tesla, tesla roadster, video games | No Comments

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.

 

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3 lessons from Roblox’s growth to gaming dominance

Posted by | david baszucki, EC-1, Facebook, Gaming, Media, mobile gaming, Nintendo, online games, Roblox, Software, Startups, Venture Capital, video games, Virtual reality | No Comments

Our recently published EC-1 on Roblox recounts the origin story and growth prospects of the company. But there’s one more piece to the story: what Roblox’s impact will be on gaming and the broader startup industry, if the company manages to multiply its current 90 million users.

roblox maus 1

Sources: TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Roblox

We’ve distilled three key ideas out of the EC-1 — lessons that may apply not only to game developers and gaming entrepreneurs, but also to the broader startup industry.

Lesson 1: UGC is a missed opportunity in games

Roblox has shown that user-generated content (UGC) is a missed opportunity for much of the game industry. The company aspires, in a way, to be the YouTube of games. And it is succeeding, with 50 million experiences from 2 million creators to date.

The game industry generally has two problems with UGC. One is the games themselves: AAA games today are too complex, and lack the flexibility and simplicity needed for robust UGC. Roblox shows that a simpler look and feel is a valid alternative to today’s super-sized, beautiful AAA games. (Minecraft proved much the same.)

The other problem is the greater complexity of making games than, say, videos or music. Roblox solved this problem by building its own game engine, which is designed solely to output Roblox-style experiences.

But increasingly, engines like Unity are capable of accomplishing similar feats: games are getting easier to build. It’s now possible that savvy entrepreneurs could build a platform like Roblox, without building an entire game engine.

Lesson 2: New opportunities in gaming are still coming

The game industry is infamously cyclical. New platforms emerge, become promising, then grow overcrowded and competitive. Usually, this cycle relates to hardware (the iPhone, virtual reality helmets, game consoles like the Nintendo Switch) or massive changes in consumer behavior (the emergence of Facebook, the early growth of the internet). But Roblox, a pure software play, shows that exceptions could exist.

It’s still early days. Roblox reported that it paid out $30 million to game developers in 2017, doubling to $60 million in 2018. Developers receive a quarter of the revenue made from their games, with another quarter covering payment processing and another quarter covering cloud hosting. Its top 10 developers made about $3 million on average each. Seven of its games have also entered a “billion plays” club:

Adopt Me, a newer game, hit 440,000 concurrent users in June, a new record for the platform.

When a new platform appears, it’s usually found by amateur developers first. That’s certainly the case with Roblox: its successes are being created almost exclusively by first-time game developers in their teens and twenties. At some point, professional developers are likely to conclude they can do at least as well. The current market is particularly exciting because many games are fairly simple and lightweight — recent breakout hits like Camping 2 and Weight Lifting Simulator 3 are significantly smaller than comparable games on other platforms.

For entrepreneurs interested in creating new platforms or portals Roblox’s success as a combined game engine and self-contained platform also shows that opportunities still exist — if you have the patience to wait for them to mature.

Lesson 3: Patience can create amazing growth cycles

It took Roblox 15 years to grow to its current point. But most of that growth is recent: as seen in the chart above, Roblox experienced 10x growth in about 3 years, from 9 million users in February 2016 to 90 million in April 2019.

So what went into the decade or so during which Roblox was a much smaller platform? As we tell it in the origin story: a great deal of work, and very little paid acquisition.

In its early years, Roblox did buy users, to seed a user base while it worked on an impossibly large vision that included a game engine, platform, social features, a creator community, and its own games. But after a few years, it stopped buying users.

All of its growth since has been organic. That’s from two main sources: word of mouth, and YouTube users who watch one of the many Roblox streamers. Of course, any company can try to do the same. But Roblox had the patience to build a unique product — one which took years of work to even reach partial completion.

The key to it all was long-term adherence to a long-term goal: the creation of a new category, which it calls “human coexperience”. Today, Roblox still can’t be called part of a new category; it’s a game platform. But with more years of work, it may eventually get there.

For more on the Roblox story, see Part 1: The Origin Story, and Part 2: The Business Plan.

Update: TechCrunch corrected “2 million experiences” to be 50 million experiences from 2 million creators. We also provided more context of the revenue breakdown of payments made on Roblox to developers.

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How Roblox avoided the gaming graveyard and grew into a $2.5B company

Posted by | Activision, Apple, Apps, Atlassian, Club-Penguin, Computer games, dave baszucki, David Sze, EC-1, engineering, Facebook, Friendster, funding, Fundings & Exits, fundraising tactics, Gaming, Google, Greylock Partners, Growth, growth tactics, Habbo-Hotel, IMVU, king.com, Kongregate, Mark Zuckerberg, Media, Metaplace, Mojang, MySpace, Roblox, Second-Life, Startups, TC, video games, Virtual reality, Windows | No Comments

There are successful companies that grow fast and garner tons of press. Then there’s Roblox, a company which took at least a decade to hit its stride and has, relative to its current level of success, barely gotten any recognition or attention.

Why has Roblox’s story gone mostly untold? One reason is that it emerged from a whole generation of gaming portals and platforms. Some, like King.com, got lucky or pivoted their business. Others by and large failed.

Once companies like Facebook, Apple and Google got to the gaming scene, it just looked like a bad idea to try to build your own platform — and thus not worth talking about. Added to that, founder and CEO Dave Baszucki seems uninterested in press.

But overall, the problem has been that Roblox just seemed like an insignificant story for many, many years. The company had millions of users, sure. So did any number of popular games. In its early days, Roblox even looked like Minecraft, a game that was released long after Roblox went live, but that grew much, much faster.

Yet here we are today: Roblox now claims that half of all American children aged 9-12 are on its platform. It has jumped to 90 million monthly unique users and is poised to go international, potentially multiplying that number. And it’s unique. Essentially all other distribution services offering games through a portal have eventually fizzled, aside from some distant cousins like Steam.

This is the story of how Roblox not only survived, but built a thriving platform.

Seeds of an idea

GettyImages 1027412388

(Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Before Roblox, there was Knowledge Revolution, a company that made teaching software. While designed to allow students to simulate physics experiments, perhaps predictably, they also treated it like a game.

“The fun seemed to be in building your own experiment,” says Baszucki. “When people were playing it and we went into schools and labs, they were all making car crashes and buildings fall down, making really funny stuff.” Provided with a sandbox, kids didn’t just make dry experiments about mass or velocity — they made games, or experiences they could show off to friends for a laugh.

Knowledge Revolution was founded in 1989, by Dave Baszucki and his brother Greg (who didn’t later co-found Roblox, but is now on its board). Nearly a decade later, it was acquired for $20 million by MSC Software, which made professional simulation tools. Dave continued there for another four years before leaving to become an angel investor.

Baszucki put money into Friendster, a company that pre-dated Facebook and MySpace in the social networking category. That investment seeded another piece of the idea for Roblox. Taken together, the legacy of Knowledge Revolution and Friendster were the two key components undergirding Roblox: a physics sandbox with strong creation tools, and a social graph.

Baszucki himself is a third piece of the puzzle. Part of an older set of entrepreneurs, which might be called the Steve Jobs generation, Baszucki’s archetype seems closer to Mr. Rogers than Jobs himself: unfailingly polite and enthusiastic, never claiming superior insight, and preferring to pass credit for his accomplishments on to others. In conversation, he shows interests both central and tangential to Roblox, like virtual environments, games, education, digital identity and the future of tech. Somewhere in this heady mix, the idea of Roblox came about.

The first release

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Dr. Mario World now available on iOS

Posted by | Apps, arcade games, Gaming, ios devices, Mario, Mobile, mobile games, Nintendo, Peach, TC, tetris, video games | No Comments

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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Tesla is bringing the ‘Fallout Shelter’ game to its cars

Posted by | arcade games, asteroids, Atari, automotive, Bethesda Games, e3 2019, Elon Musk, fallout, Gaming, missile command, TC, Tesla, video games, video gaming, ZeniMax Media | No Comments

As part of the gaming option for Tesla’s cars, Todd Howard, the director of Bethesda Games, said that the company’s “Fallout Shelter” game will be coming to Tesla displays.

Elon Musk is a huge fan of the Fallout series, saying in an interview at the E3 gaming conference that he’d explored “every inch” of Fallout 3.

Earlier this year, Tesla announced that it was adding “2048” and “Atari’s Super Breakout” to the list of games that drivers and passengers can play on the company’s dashboard display.

The company added Atari games to its slate of apps and services last August via a software update. At the time, the initial slate of games included “Missile Command,” “Asteroids,” “Lunar Lander” and “Centipede.”

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Google’s Game Builder turns building multiplayer games into a game

Posted by | cloud gaming, Developer, e-commerce, freeware, Gaming, Google, Javascript, Minecraft, Software, stadia, Steam, video games, video gaming | No Comments

Google’s Area 120 team, the company’s in-house incubator for some of its more experimental projects, today launched Game Builder, a free and easy to use tool for PC and macOS users who want to build their own 3D games without having to know how to code. Game Builder is currently only available through Valve’s Steam platform, so you’ll need an account there to try it.

After a quick download, Game Builder asks you about what screen size you want to work on and then drops you right into the experience after you tell it whether you want to start a new project, work on an existing project or try out some sample projects. These sample projects include a first-person shooter, a platformer and a demo of the tool’s card system for programming more complex interactions.

The menu system and building experience take some getting used to and isn’t immediately intuitive, but after a while, you’ll get the hang of it. By default, the overall design aesthetic clearly draws some inspiration from Minecraft, but you’re pretty free in what kind of game you want to create. It does not strike me as a tool for getting smaller children into game programming since we’re talking about a relatively text-heavy and complex experience.

To build more complex interactions, you use Game Builder’s card-based visual programming system. That’s pretty straightforward, too, but also takes some getting used to. Google says building a 3D level is like playing a game. There’s some truth in that, in that you are building inside the game environment, but it’s not necessarily an easy game either.

One cool feature here is that you can also build multiplayer games and even create games in real time with your friends.

Traditionally, drag-and-drop game builders feel pretty limited. The Area 120 team is trying to overcome this by also letting you use JavaScript to go beyond some of the pre-programmed features. Google is also betting on Poly, its library of 3D objects, to give users lots of options for creating and designing their levels.

It’s no secret that Google is taking games pretty seriously these days, now that it is getting ready to launch its Stadia game streaming service later this year. There doesn’t seem to be a connection between the two just yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Game Builder on Stadia, too.

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Assassin’s Creed Odyssey now offers a way for you to create your own quests

Posted by | assassin's creed, assassins creed iii, e3 2019, Gaming, player, TC, ubisoft, video games, video gaming | No Comments

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was definitely my favorite game of 2018, and it’s getting even better thanks to a couple of new updates Ubisoft announced at E3 this year that help make the most out of the game’s incredibly detailed depiction of a mythically massaged Ancient Greek setting.

Starting today via an open beta, players can get in on one of these new features — Story Creator Mode, which is a web-based way for anyone to design, build and share their own in-game story-based quests. That’s right: You’re the myth-maker now, with a quest-building mechanic that lets players choose from six kinds of quest objectives, including assassination of specific targets; rescuing individuals; visiting different locales throughout the world and more. You can write your own dialog, with branches that respond to player choices, and you can add options for in-dialog lying or even let the player go ahead and attack NPCs to end conversations.

All of these missions, once built, can be shared with other Assassin’s Creed Odyssey players regardless of platform — so if you’re playing on PS4, you can share missions to players on Xbox, for example, and vice versa. This whole feature makes me super excited, because I spent literally months creating campaigns in the original Starcraft’s campaign building tool, and I will do the same thing with this. Hmu if you want my missions.

Meanwhile, players with less interest in creating something new, and more interest in visiting something that already exists to savor the details Ubisoft put in this game, can take advantage of the new Discovery Tour mode that’s coming later this fall. Basically it takes out any conflict elements and adds 300 guided tour stations, which provide details about Ancient Greek life, mythology, architecture and philosophy. The game’s dialog engine does double duty here to offer up interactive quizzes.

I like learning — who doesn’t like learning? This sounds great. But I’ll probably spend more time building campaigns than taking in the sites.

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Pokémon Sword and Shield arrive worldwide on November 15, 2019

Posted by | Gadgets, Gaming, hop, Nintendo, player, pokemon, TC, video games, video gaming | No Comments

Nintendo Switch has Pokémon games, but it doesn’t really have its own Pokémon games, not in the true sense. Pokémon Sword and Shield, coming November 15, 2019, will be the first real Pokémon games (don’t even mention Pokémon Let’s Go – don’t) for Nintendo Switch, and now we know more about them thanks to today’s Pokémon Direct livestream event from Nintendo.

Starting with the intro video, you can tell that Sword and Shield will be a full-fledged new extension of the Pokémon world taking place in the new Galar region – a fact emphasized by the theme song that played over it which featured the catchy hook “A whoollle new worlllddd.”

Plus in this new region, part of the fiction is that everyone loves watching battles on TV, which seems like it will come into play for big battles. We also got a glimpse at a bunch of new Pokémon, including a sheep one called Wooloo; a flower thing called Gossifleur (which evolves to Eldegoss); plus a “bite” type called Dredgnaw.

There’s also a new place called, not super imaginatively, the “Wild Area” which is pretty much an open world between human settlements where you get the chance to encounter wild Pokémon you can catch. These will vary depending on weather conditions and time of day, and it looks like much more of a free-ranging experience, when compared to the relatively hard-tracked previous instalments.

Pokémon also get a special power called ‘Dynamax’ in this instalment, which is a special power that makes them huge and more powerful for three turns. This also factors into a new mode where up to four Pokémon trainers can team up to squad raid a single Dynamax wild Pokémon who retains their amped up power for the duration of the conflict. At the end, players get a chance to capture the Pokémon – and some are exclusively available to catch this way.

We also got an intro to new characters including region champion Leon, his younger brother Hop (a primary rival for the player), plus a really quick look at some of the gym battles.

The real capper though was a CG cinematic introducing the game’s legendaries, which are wolf-like Pokémon who have – you guessed it – a sword and a shield respectively. These are called Zacian and Zamazenta.

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