There’s Always Money in the VR Money Pit

Road to VR’s Ben Lang:

For VR to succeed in the consumer space, an ecosystem of developers making content that users want to buy is an absolute must. Oculus for its part has attempted to kickstart that ecosystem by investing hefty sums in content developers, and now the company says it’s starting to pay off.

This is immediately followed by three different bolded UPDATES: (with three months in-between some of them) desperately assuring us that yes there is money in VR, supposedly more than eight games have made over one million dollars. They might even be able to fund their comeback game if there’s no money in VR. Sure glad I didn’t name this site “Road to VR.”

Humble Bundle Bought by IGN

Humble Bundle was bought out by IGN last week.

The increasing reliance of writers on affiliate marketing deals is extremely bad. Most larger sites have some kind of wall between their editorial department and any advertising or affiliate linking, but it still looks wrong. I’ve done the same kind of linking myself, but never kept up with the process to where we are today when many sites have a daily or weekly roundup of deals that are almost entirely affiliate links.

Humble has had their own affiliate program for some time now, and this may end being a pretty big deal for games that have distribution in their Humble Store (outside of bundling) and even bigger for games that they’re publishing.

There were other options for how this was presented. IGN is really one part of a larger company called Ziff Davis that has been bought and sold so many times. The announcements could have said that Ziff was buying Humble, but the people making these decisions must have thought that IGN was going to look the best, or the actual organizational structure will have IGN on top.

I wouldn’t be upset with anyone writing at IGN for this, and it depends on what changes a result, but whatever changes happen to IGN and the Humble Bundle probably won’t look good either way.

Loot Boxes

Kotaku’s Heather Alexandra:

Whether they dole out cosmetics or gameplay-affecting items, loot boxes of any sort exist for the purpose of exploiting players. Whether it’s offering the chance to get Symmetra’s new skin or get a better rifle in Battlefront II, the only reason the loot box exists is to prey on the economically vulnerable. You are not a valued player; you are a statistic on a spreadsheet. You are red or black ink. Loot boxes certainly aren’t there for fun. They have always been designed for the purpose of making sure that a company turns a profit.

They’re in so many games now. This garbage needs to stop.

Listening to Game Designers

As good as interviews with game designers can get, designers are sometimes more open about their work when they’re talking with other designers. The Idle Thumbs podcast network has two great podcasts with these kinds of interviews, get blasted:

  • Tone Control
    Steve Gaynor (Tacoma, Gone Home) interviewed developers for 13 episodes. You’ve got your Ken Levine and Tim Schafer interviews in addition to greats like Tom Francis of Heat Signature and Gunpoint and Brendon Chung of Atom Zombie Smasher and more.
  • Designer Notes
    Adam Saltsman (Canabalt, Overland) and Soren Johnson (Civilization 3 & 4 and Offworld Trading Company) even interviewed Steve Gaynor with their take on this genre of podcast. It’s so good at giving you insights into game designers. I’m currently on episode 2 of the 4 episode series with Sid Meier and there’s so much great stuff in there about the process of working on his incredible games. Some of the best episodes are with designers I wasn’t familiar with at all. One of the recent episodes had Margaret Robertson on and she discussed her work with a game about a movie where a woman was found dead in her apartment after three years.

Uber Had the Opportunity to Monitor Everything on Your iPhone’s Screen

Daniel Jalkut:

Yesterday, Gizmodo reported that Uber had been granted an entitlement for their iOS app that allowed them to capture an image of an iPhone’s screen at any time, even when the Uber app was not the active app on the phone. This is a big deal, because users don’t typically expect than an iPhone app that is not active might have the ability to eavesdrop on anything they are doing.

I have long felt that the sandboxing infrastructure on both iOS and Mac should be used to more accurately convey to users specifically what the apps they install are capable of doing. Currently the sandboxing system is used primarily to identify to Apple what a specific app’s privileges are. The requested entitlements are used to inform Apple’s decision to approve or reject an app, but the specific list of entitlements is not easily available to users, whose security is actually on the line.

This is absolutely fucking ridiculous. Fuck Uber. Apple should be ashamed for working with them at any level. Allowing an app to covertly record your screen without any prompting is exactly the kind of thing that Apple’s iOS app review process should prevent.

Uber claims they didn’t do anything wrong with this ability, the security researchers told Gizmodo that they didn’t detect anything going on with this code.

There are companies that are less trustworthy than Uber, but few have the opportunity to be as evil on such a large scale. Enabling them to do anything more than operate at a basic level on your platform is a mistake. At this point Apple should block them entirely and attempt to help the Taxi industry to reform and compete with Uber. Not that Apple would ever would, but still that would be the best thing to come out of this. The next best thing would be the improvements to the entitlement system that Jalkut suggests.

I wouldn’t even bother to wonder what Uber are doing on Android, where security is a fucking joke and carriers are still selling devices running ancient versions of that operating system that are affected by dozens of security vulnerabilities. This is especially true for pay-as-you-go phones sold cheaply at places like Walmart, Target, and so on. Those carriers and stores are endangering their customers by continuing to sell these devices.

Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy

A few months ago I saw this short video clip that Bennett Foddy posted on twitter of what looked like a man in a kettle rotating some kind of sledgehammer parallel with the camera and everyone in reply was very impressed with the animation on display. I was baffled but similarly impressed “What the fuck is Bennett working on?”

This is the guy that made QWOP, GIRP, and other games that also have intentionally bizarre control schemes that elicit feelings of frustration. When I first played QWOP I thought it was some kind of hilarious one-off joke because it’s almost impossible to play because the Q W O and P keys on your keyboard control the individual thigh and calf muscles on a runner’s legs. Then with GIRP and the other games, well, you start to learn that Foddy is not going away, this is just who he is.

Today I’ve played some of his latest triumph in frustration, the full title is Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy”and holy shit I want to throw my computer out of the window. The newest achievements in torture from the lord of input darkness is that your protagonist is indeed a man in a kettle and that sledgehammer is there to help you slowly drag yourself up a mountain. All of the control is through your mouse now, so a quick grab of a ledge just requires moving the mouse cursor over that ledge in such a way that the hammer doesn’t impact anything else along the way and then pulling your kettle dude up by lifting him with the hammer along the ledge.

Go too quickly and you’ll launch your character into the air, which sounds desirable for a faster ascent of this mountain but doing that in a controlled manner is extremely difficult.

As much like his past nightmares as Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy is, the audio clips of the developer virtually egging you on to continue are so different from anything he’s ever done before. The game also plays jazz music, which I find incredibly grating. When I fell down just now before writing this post he threw up a song with a title specifically about failure, and also had some choice quotes from authors and poets about how failure is when you give up instead of continuing to try.

A developer speaking to the player outside of a commentary mode isn’t entirely original, The Beginner’s Guide from the developer of The Stanley Parable also features a developer speaking to the player but it wasn’t so direct and clearly designed to infuriate anyone playing the game.

I’m not sure how much more of Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy I can tolerate, but it’s definitely worth playing when it comes out on December 7th for Windows and macOS via Steam and the Humble Store. I’d only advise against it if you’re prone to destroying computer hardware.

Press X to Honk

In the pantheon of video games there are few things as fun as having some glee at the expense of NPCs. I love naming them ridiculous things in Pokémon. In a fun old Half-Life level you could torture scientists and reveal what an incredible shit you are. Of course The Sims games were famous for becoming vehicles for NPC torture, I never got into them, though.

Here, at last, is a game exclusively for NPC annoyers called “Untitled Goose Game” (I have a sneaking suspicion that this is actually the name of the game) just about torturing NPCs and you are an angry goose who just wants to frustrate the hell out of a small village. A toddler would probably also work as well as a goose if the goose needs to have a sick day.

The trailer above features some of this scampering goose and hints at what might be a co-op mode with two geese at the end.

I am waiting for 2018 when this game is finally out. No platforms announced yet, but the last game from House House, Push Me Pull You, was released on Windows, macOS, and Linux for Steam as well as PlayStation 4. Anyway, hurry up, goose!

How the Elderly Lose Their Rights

This is an amazing article by Rachel Aviv for the New Yorker about elderly people in Nevada being tossed out of their homes and having their possessions taken by a genuinely evil system of guardianship that was supposed to take care of them.

There is too much to quote in the article, but the main through-line is about Rennie and Rudy North who were abducted by their state-appointed guardian and everything they own was either sold or trashed. The most ridiculous part is that there’s a company named “Caring Transitions” that was supposed to help them move at one point and, well:

Belshe rescued the art work, in 2013, after Caring Transitions placed the Norths’ belongings in trash bags at the edge of their driveway.

What a caring company.

Super NES Classic Edition Stuff

SNES Box image via Nintendo

The Super NES Classic Edition is out for $80, Chris Scullion has a review of the Brit version which looks a little different externally and in the menu, but is functionally identical, to the US version:

The only main problem I have with the SNES Mini is how important the Reset button on the console is. Any time you want to change a game, save your state, load a state or rewind you have press the physical Reset button on the SNES Mini.

[…]

A button combo would’ve been a better way of doing this. It could be a complex one to avoid accidental restarts: most Game Boy games back in the day could be reset by pressing A + B + Start + Select, there’s no reason why that shouldn’t have been possible here.

That niggle aside, I’m happy with the way each game is handled here. They look great – even though it only outputs at 720p, on my 4K TV they still look crisp – they sound great, and they play great.

I think it is odd that in some places Nintendo have decided to straight out call it a “mini,” as Chris’ box shows:

Well at least we get our more hideous miniaturized console with buttons that lack colour.

Eurogamer’s John Linneman confirms that the tech inside is exactly the same as the NES Classic Edition:

The fact that the SNES mini runs on the same hardware as its predecessor has a number of implications. Among them, we can expect hackers to be looking to exploit the system in short order to add new games – exactly what happened with the NES mini. And secondly, the use of what is essentially the same technology makes it much easier for Nintendo to resume NES mini production.

The only game exclusive to the Super Nintendo Classic Edition is Star Fox 2, Christian Donlan has a review:

Star Fox 2 is an unusual game, an astonishingly inventive sequel that built on the combat and visual thrills of the first Star Fox but wasn’t afraid to experiment with the structure. Rather than starting you at one end of a space map and asking you to pick your route to the far side, choosing from missions that can eventually be all but committed to memory through sheer repetition, you’re suddenly protecting Corneria, your home world, from an ongoing attack from big villain Andross and the attack pretty much plays out in real time. Andross builds bases on nearby planets, and he has cruisers headed for you and IPBMs launching every few minutes. Your job is still to get across the map to take out Andross directly, but you have to respond to other things as they happen. Those cruisers! Those missiles! These are all problems that compete for your time and there’s a panicky thrill in knowing that if you head for a planet to take on an entrenched baddy, there will be missiles still snaking through space towards Corneria, launched from other points. Throughout this wonderfully breathless game, you are asked to think on the fly, and to dash headlong between danger zones, constantly prioritising threats.

The hackers are working on updating hakchi2 for the SNES Classic Edition so that you can load your own ROMs on to the system. Legally backed-up from your own cartridges or downloaded and deleted within 24 hours, of course.

I’m waiting for delivery of SNES Mini now, it will be delivered tomorrow. Seems like hakchi and hakchi2 will require some minor changes to work with SNES Mini. So please wait little more.

They might also be able to fix it so we don’t need to get off the couch to reset the console and access save states. Here’s hoping.

But if you’re going to go that far you almost might as well just listen to Seth Macy with his hilarious article titled “Why Spend $80 on an SNES Classic When You Can Install Emulators on a Raspberry Pi and Never Shut the Fuck Up About It?”:

Nintendo’s highly coveted SNES Classic Mini system comes out today and is certain to be a hot item. A word of advice to gamers who aren’t able to land an SNES Classic: did you know you can just buy a Raspberry Pi and remind people at every opportunity how much fucking better you are for it?

After the NES Classic Edition was announced and became immediately  impossible to find I attempted to do exactly what Macy is joking about by setting up a Raspberry Pi with emulators and it is indeed still a pain in the ass. It’s great that these classic NES and SNES consoles have embedded Linux at their core, but Nintendo have done so much work to obscure that core from their users and make things easy.

That hard work is exactly what has always been missing from any Linux distribution on a single board computer like the Raspberry Pi or desktops and laptops. I have the patience to use this software and fix it when it breaks but this is never as easy as using a Classic Edition. Hopefully Nintendo lives up to their promise and produces enough to go around.