I’m here to tell you first-hand: Nintendo Labo is no joke. I’m a grown-up human person, who has spent many hours of his life building things: office furniture, websites, a model of the Batmobile from the 1989 Tim Burton movie. In the fourth grade, I attempted to build Mission Santa Barbara out of sugar cubes. It didn’t go great, but the point (I’m told) is that I tried.
We’re talking multiple decades of building things. Following instructions, backtracking, trying again. I’m sure there are all sorts of valuable lessons I learned along the way; self-discipline, patience, teamwork, why sugar is not a structurally sound building material. But event with all of that building under my wisened belt, Nintendo Labo is no walk in the park.
It’s literal child’s play. It says right there, on the box, “6+.” I’ve been six-plus for — let’s just say… a while now. And yet, it took me around two hours this morning to build a cardboard piano. Now I’ve got a table full of scraps, a small paper cut on my ring finger and a surprise sense of accomplishment. Oh, and the piano is pretty cool, too.
Labo is one of the most fascinating products to come across my desk in recent memory. It’s unique, bizarre and as frustrating as it is fun. In other words, it’s uniquely Nintendo — not so much out-of-the-box thinking as it is the actual box. It’s a product that’s built entirely around the premise of making kids sit still, follow instructions and fold the heck out of some cardboard. And, strangely, it totally works.
I wouldn’t have been my first choice to review Labo, but I was uniquely qualified, if only for the half a day I spent getting walked through the construction kit with a room full of brightly dressed and infectiously enthusiastic Nintendo employees. That experience served as the foundation for our hands on, as we were broken up into small teams and walked through a pair of increasingly complex projects.
We started with the race cars, the box’s introductory project, which is really as much about getting you used to the strange world of Labo. But even that small starter is a glimpse of the cleverness contained throughout, as the cardboard-wrapped Joy-Cons use their own haptic feedback to propel forward, as you control its speed via the touchscreen. Because there are a pair of Joy-Cons for every Switch, you can use them to race against one another.
The second hands-on project felt like a considerable step up. Nintendo puts the fishing rod’s build time at one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours, versus the cars’ 20 minutes total. In other words, find a comfortable spot, maybe put on some music and make sure you’re hydrated. When it’s done, however, you get a working reel with a string and a rod that vibrates when you catch a fish on screen. Pretty neat.
Having accomplished those in a well-supervised room full of Nintendo employees a few weeks back, I naturally took on the most complex project of the bunch.
The piano should take two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half hours, by Nintendo’s estimates. I built the thing in about two hours — an accomplishment of sorts for a grown-up person who was supposed to be working. Even so, it reflects just how large of a time sink these projects are. That’s certainly good news for parents looking for the ideal project for a rainy day. It’s a clever little play that leverages a video game system to get them to do something other than play video games. Neat trick, Nintendo.
The primary set is a big, flat and heavy box with 28 cardboard sheets, comprising six different projects. There’s a plastic bag inside, too, containing a random assortment of knick knacks — rubber bands, reflective stickers, washers — all of which will come in handy down the road. There’s no real instruction booklet, because the Switch is going to do all of the heavy lifting there.
The screen walks you through the process of building, one patient step a time. The touchscreen instructions are superior to paper in a number of ways, including a number of animated videos showing off the motions of properly working components, and the ability to pivot the camera angles to get a full 360-degree view of the build. You can rewind if you need to back up, or fast-forward when things get repetitive — like they did with the piano’s 13 keys.
Don’t go too fast, though. The kit tosses some curve balls at you — as in the case of some tabs that are folded inward, to double as springs. That, however, is the one constant. Folding. So, so much folding. Honestly, it gets pretty tedious on the longer projects. The instructions actually make light of this fact, from time to time, with little quips about the repetition. It also recommends stepping away before a particularly grueling section — probably the right move for both your sanity and health.
Once you get into the rhythm, however, it’s strangely meditative. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold.
Congratulations, you’ve completely 1/6 steps.
I’d say it’s not the destination, it’s the journey, but honestly, it’s really about the destination here. The most satisfying part in all of this was how seemingly abstract shapes lock into place and create a fully formed object. These little kits are truly remarkable feats of engineering in their own right, and in the case of the piano, it’s incredible satisfying to see the object completed — and actually get to play the keys, recognizing the role each individual piece plays in the whole creation.
There are so many smart touches here, from the incorporation of the Joy-Cons, to the use of reflective tape, which triggers the Switch’s built in cameras. It’s that functionality that makes the piano keys play notes through the Switch itself. It also triggers the arms and legs on the robot through a set of pulleys.
It’s equally relieving the moment you realize you did everything right. Though I still had a few instances where I found myself having to backtrack multiple steps, because I’d missed a fold or turned something the wrong way. Also, as the instructions note, folding is at the heart of the project. A bad or incomplete fold can lead to heartbreak at the end. So fold, children. Fold like your lives depend on it.
Companies that make coding toys will usually tell you the same thing: it ultimately doesn’t matter that they’re not built in some universal programming language, so long as they teach the fundamentals. The jury is still out on all that, as far as I’m concerned, but I think there’s a lot to be said for a product that’s capable of fostering curiosity and love in some bigger idea. That, I think, is the biggest appeal of Labo. It encourages kids to step outside the console for a minute and build something with their hands.
Does building a Labo piano or fishing rod make you any more qualified to create the real thing? Not really, but it does help foster a genuine interest in the way things work. A maker friend of mine recently related a story to me about how she got into the culture. Her parents came home one day and she had disassembled and reassembled a computer, in order to install a component. From then on, she told me, they came to her for computer help.
Every maker has a story like that — a first step that often involves tearing down a computer or clock or toaster, piece by piece. Labo potentially affords the ability to explore that path without destroying some antique clock in the process. (Though, if it’s successful with your kids, I’d keep a close eye on your piano, if you have one at home.) Parental guidance is also recommended for the more complex projects, making for a great opportunity to bond with kids through creation with a side of frustration. And when you’re done, you’ve got a lovely object that looks like it stepped out of the panels of Calvin & Hobbes.
If your kids don’t have the passion to build — they’ll also learn that lesson pretty quickly. Many kids simply won’t have the patience to sit still and fold for hours on end. It’s also worth pointing out that the objects, when finished, are fragile. They are cardboard, after all. Water is their mortal enemy, and rowdy kids are a close second — pieces can easily rip or tear, even accidentally during the building process. Thankfully, the company has started selling pieces individually.
Of course, $70 isn’t an insignificant amount to pay to find all of that out. And by just about any measure, it’s a pretty steep premium for what amounts to a cardboard box full of cardboard. And, of course, that doesn’t factor in the price of the Switch itself.
But what the kit does afford is continual discovery. From there, kids can graduate to the massive Robot Kit (saving that one for a rainy weekend), which runs $80 and features a complex pulley system and a fun little game where you’re a mech trampling some poor, defenseless city. Even more compelling (and significantly less expensive), however, is Toy-Con Garage.
Built into both packs, the portal lets kids remix and hack creations, offering a breaking down of the technologies involved. If there’s a gateway to the wonderful world of making in this box, it’s this. The pre-determined kits are as much a lesson in following instructions as they are building. Toy-Con Garage, on the other hand, opens the door to true creativity.
Labo is the most bizarre, creative and uniquely Nintendo product since the Switch itself. It’s not for every kid — that much is certain. And the $70 fee will make it cost prohibitive for many parents. But those who take to it will do so like ducks to water — and hopefully won’t get that cardboard wet in the process.
If you’ve worked through the amazing selection of games provided by the NES and SNES Classic Editions, you may be in luck: SNK, the legendary arcade game creator behind the likes of Metal Slug and Samurai Shodown, is teasing what looks like its own tiny arcade cabinet.
Teased as part of the company’s 40th anniversary, the shrouded gadget definitely doesn’t look like a NEO-GEO, or even a NEO-GEO Pocket. Gizmodo notes that the description mentions a “new game machine,” but no details beyond that. The tall, boxy outline suggests a small arcade cabinet, and the slab in front of it looks a lot like an arcade controller.
It wouldn’t be a particularly original creation — there are dozens of tiny arcade cabinets with built-in games, but the truth is, none of them is particularly good. They’re novelties, perfectly fun for a laugh, but the hardware — compared with the impressive solidity of real arcade controllers and the NEO-GEO’s itself — just isn’t there.
If I had to guess, I’d say this is an arcade cabinet-style console with improved internals, a decent screen to accommodate games newer than 1996 and a separate, perhaps even wireless arcade controller. Price… I’d put it at $200 or $250. Extra controller (and you’ll want it), my guess is $60. I could easily be way off, though. Maybe they’d even let us plug in our old Tanksticks?
Inside, you’ll probably find a generous helping of SNK classics, likely limited to arcade and NEO-GEO titles. Even without SNK’s classic games for home consoles like the NES, my eyes were watering as I scrolled down the list of games the company has put out and which may end up on this device.
King of the Monsters 2? Last Resort? Twinkle Star Sprites? King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown and all the other fighters? Not to mention Metal Slug and its sequels. The amount of quarters I’ve sunk into these fantastic, beautiful games is uncountable.
If SNK is smart, they’ll make it possible to add new games to the system, too. There are plenty to choose from, as the company catered to a number of niches. Having them available for a few bucks each would be a dream — and anyway, if this isn’t a possibility, people will just hack new ROMs onto the system.
Whatever the case is, you can be sure I’m already jockeying for position to review the thing. I’ll let you know the second I hear anything.
The cryptocurrency world is a strange one, but at least it has a sense of humor. A new game has you riding a little crypto-car along the wildly fluctuating prices of major and minor currencies. It’s quite ridiculous, and it isn’t even a bad game!
It’s called Crypto Rider, predictably, and is very much a spawn of the popular Line Rider type of game, though (hopefully) different enough that there won’t be any cease and desists forthcoming.
You select your car, then pick a chart to ride — most are a ride from a coin’s humble start to its highest value. But there’s a mountain-like “total market cap” track, a “drag race” where you need to clear a valuation gap and one that must be depressing for BTC holders: a bumpy downhill ride from $20K to $7,850. New tracks should appear in time, as new cryptocurrencies rise and fall.
The game is cute — there are fun messages along the track, and the exhaust is tiny coins — and you collect coins toward unlocking new cars. I’m pretty sure they’re just aesthetic changes, but I’m gunning for a Dogecar anyway.
“The game was a side project for me to do in my own time,” wrote back Daniel Fahey, founder of the developer, SuperFly Games. “So the first original 10 tracks were what I felt were needed to give the game some replayability. But after the reception the game has received during its launch day, I will certainly be adding more tracks.”
It’s free, it’s dumb and it’s a fun way to waste a few minutes while you inadvertently lampoon the hubris of this rushed attempt to overthrow existing financial systems.
“I hope people find the game funny because it certainly wasn’t meant to be serious,” Fahey wrote. “It’s a bit of light-hearted fun in a somewhat serious space.”
Blockchain stuff is promising and we’ll get there eventually. But as the game seems to emphasize, it’ll probably be quite a ride.
Google does a great deal of research into natural language processing and synthesis, but not every project has to be a new Assistant feature or voice improvement. The company has a little fun now and then, when the master AI permits it, and today it has posted a few web experiments that let you engage with its word-association systems in a playful way.
First is an interesting way of searching through Google Books, that fabulous database so rarely mentioned these days. Instead of just searching for text or title verbatim, you can ask questions, like “Why was Napoleon exiled?” or “What is the nature of consciousness?”
It returns passages from books that, based on their language only, are closely associated with your question. And while the results are hit and miss, they are nice and flexible. Sentences answering my questions appeared even though they were not directly adjacent to key words or particularly specific about doing so.
I found, however, it’s not a very intuitive way to interact with a body of knowledge, at least for me. When I ask a question, I generally want to receive an answer, not a competing variety of quotes that may or may not bear on your inquiry. So while I can’t really picture using this regularly, it’s an interesting way to demonstrate the flexibility of the semantic engine at work here. And it may very well expose you to some new authors, though the 100,000 books included in the database are something of a mixed bag.
The second project Google highlights is a game it calls Semantris, though I must say it’s rather too simple to deserve the “-tris” moniker. You’re given a list of words and one in particular is highlighted. You type the word you most associate with that one, and the words will reorder with, as Google’s AI understands it, the closest matches to your word on the bottom. If you moved the target word to the bottom, it blows up a few words and adds some more.
It’s a nice little time waster, but I couldn’t help but feel I was basically just a guinea pig providing testing and training for Google’s word association agent. It was also pretty easy — I didn’t feel much of an achievement for associating “water” with “boat” — but maybe it gets harder as it goes on. I’ve asked Google if our responses are feeding into the AI’s training data.
For the coders and machine learning enthusiasts among you, Google has also provided some pre-trained TensorFlow modules, and of course documented their work in a couple of papers linked in the blog post.
The record-setting score that settled the Donkey Kong arcade rivalry, made famous by the documentary The King of Kong, has been invalidated by Twin Galaxies, the de facto arbiter of arcade world records. What’s more, Billy Mitchell, the occasionally controversial player who set the scores, has been permanently banned from consideration for future records.
It’s a huge upset that calls into question decades of history. Will other similarly disputed scores get the ax? Are any old-school arcade legends safe?
Before anything, it should be noted that although this sounds like kind of a random niche issue, the classic gaming scene is huge and millions follow it closely and take it very seriously. Breaking a high score on a 30-year-old game or shaving a quarter of a second off a record time can and will be celebrated as if the player has won an Olympic medal. One can never underestimate the size or sincerity of online communities. Cheating is, of course, not tolerated.
With that said, it’s worth considering that Billy Mitchell’s case is unique. He is undoubtedly a highly skilled player and has been setting records since the ’80s. But, as anyone who watched The King of Kong will have learned, he’s also a bit shady and his Donkey Kong acumen is far from established.
The issue is simply that despite having provided tapes of games setting records — including being the first to break a million in Donkey Kong — no one has seen him play like that in person.
That may sound like a red flag, but in the speedrunning and record-setting community, a great deal of practice happens alone, in an empty arcade, or otherwise with no credible witnesses (though Twitch has changed that). You could set a world record while in the zone after getting home from work, but it doesn’t count unless it’s reviewed and accredited by a neutral party. Twin Galaxies is the largest organization performing that duty, and they take it very seriously indeed.
You may remember that at the end of The King of Kong, Mitchell reestablishes his supremacy over plucky local kid Steve Wiebe with a “direct capture” tape of a run scoring 1,047,200 points. There are no witnesses to this game. Shortly after this, he also recorded a 1,050,200 score, also not witnessed. And just a week before being inducted into the International Video Game Hall of Fame in Iowa, he set records in both Donkey Kong (1,062,800) and Donkey Kong 2.
Now here’s where things get dicey (and nerdy).
Jeremy Young, aka Xelnia, put together the official two-part complaint on Twin Galaxies. For one part of it, he mentioned the suspicions some already had regarding the evidence set forth of the last and highest score Mitchell set, in an arcade called Boomers.
As others had already pointed out, not only are the run itself and resulting score not shown in the video, but the referee is among the least reliable, and the timeline is unclear, among other things. Most damning, however, it is clear that when Mitchell’s confederate ostentatiously “swaps out” the Donkey Kong board (so it can be verified elsewhere) for a Donkey Kong Jr. one (which Mitchell supposedly later set a record on), both PCBs were in fact the latter.
Twin Galaxies user Robert.F explained the differences in charming internet forum argot:
to a UN-trained train eye Dk and DKjr look the same and in fact they are vary similar, except for a few noticeable differences…the DK pcb has white text on the pcb and the Dk jr has banana yellow text printed on the board ,, the DK pcb is 1/2 digital and 1/2 Analog sound and there is a adjustment pot on the dk pcb for the Analog sound`s, The Dk Jr board is fully digital and has no Analog sound adjustment pot in the exact same position on the dkjr board, and the 3rd noticeable differences and you will see; it if you review the video carefully Dk has the same ROM socket lay out and the same number of sockets as a Dkjr pcb ,, But DKjr has one of them ROM socket empty ,,,,,,
But these circumstantial issues could be explained as a bit of confusion in the moment, a misspoken word in their excitement, and so on. Fortunately, that wasn’t the extent of the evidence.
As you may know, emulators are a type of application made to run old software (like arcade games) as closely as possible to how it ran on the original hardware. MAME is by far the most complex and perhaps the best-known emulator; this amazing app can emulate everything from Donkey Kong to much more recent games with complex 3D graphics. Of course, MAME runs aren’t accepted for world records — you could easily manipulate the software or even the game data itself. Real arcade hardware is required.
But MAME isn’t perfect; there are tiny differences in how it displays graphics — things you wouldn’t notice unless you were watching a game frame by frame looking for them in particular.
Which is exactly what people started doing with Mitchell’s no-witnesses, only-on-video scores.
It turns out that the original Donkey Kong PCBs had a specific method of rendering a scene during graphics transitions called a “sliding door effect,” distinctive in the pattern of how pixels are updated. Careful inspection of Mitchell’s tapes showed not a sliding door, but instead a distinctive artifact of MAME emulation whereby the frame is rendered in chunks according to how the data is loaded from memory.
You can see the similarity in the GIFs below, provided as evidence by Young.
First is footage of an actual machine taken at 60FPS. Note the diagonal “sliding door” that reveals the scene from the top left downwards:
Next, Mitchell’s 1,050,200 run:
Last, how MAME renders a similar scene:
See how the ladders come in all at once in that pattern, and there’s no sliding door? As you can tell, it’s something of a smoking gun. Certainly Twin Galaxies investigators thought so. In their conclusions, issued today on the forums, they wrote (emphasis theirs):
The taped Donkey Kong score performances of 1,047,200 (the King of Kong “tape”), 1,050,200 (the Mortgage Brokers score) that were historically used by Twin Galaxies to substantiate those scores and place them in the database were not produced by the direct feed output of an original unmodified Donkey Kong Arcade PCB.
They decline to go so far as saying they know it was MAME, but that’s a mere scruple — everyone understands it’s the most likely situation. Regardless, the very fact that Mitchell passed off non-authentic footage as real is more than enough to strike his scores and, as they also announce, ban him from further placement anywhere in the system.
Perhaps more importantly, Steve Wiebe, the underdog challenger in The King of Kong, has been elevated to become the first player to actually hit a million points in the game. Better late than never! Belated congratulations to Wiebe. (Wikipedia has already been updated.)
Mitchell, on the other hand, has remained out of sight during the investigation that has gone on these last few months, and has essentially been ruined for good in the arcade world. Even if he were to set a world record today (and existing record holders doubt he has the skill to do so based on reviewing his play), it would be tainted by years of proven deception. The community won’t forgive him.
And that’s the worry others are voicing: Will the investigators come for other scores that for years have been venerated but have not been verified as strictly as modern records are? Will, for example, any score without an accredited witness or reliable recording be removed from the lists?
In their decision, Twin Galaxies’ authorities write:
Twin Galaxies is dedicated to absolutely rooting out invalid scores from our historic database wherever we find them.
Our methodic approach has allowed many things to surface, not only related to this specific score, but other scores as well as some previously never-before-discussed video game related history.
We must repeat, the truth is the priority. That is the concern. Whatever it takes.
This dispute is closed, and a controversial but nevertheless legendary gaming figure covered in shame (or he should be if he has any). Who will be next? Regardless of who falls, the community will no doubt continue to thrive; the passion for these old games is undying and, as new generations have shown, is not limited to an aging cohort of Gen-Xers striving to extend a bygone era of glory (though admittedly they are a big part of it).
If this strange saga interested you anywhere near as much as it interested me, go ahead and dive in. You might find you have a new hobby. Just don’t try to fake it. And by the way, the current top score in Donkey Kong is 1,247,700, set just two months ago by Robbie Lakeman. Good luck.
Myst holds a special place in the hearts of many. Released in 1993, it was unlike any video game most had seen at the time — and yet, its DNA lingers in countless games released today. It was also the game that made tens of thousands of kids beg their parents for a CD drive.
With the game’s 25th anniversary just months away, Myst has found itself in a place no one could have predicted in ’93: Kickstarter.
The game’s original developers, Cyan, have managed to get the rights to all seven games in the Myst universe, and have turned to Kickstarter to re-release it as one big box set. After launching this morning with a target of raising $247,500 dollars, it’s already smashed through its goal and is currently sitting a bit shy of $500,000.
The games included in the set:
$49 gets you digital copies of each game, while $99 gets you DVD copies in a box built to look like a Myst book. Tiers above that include a bunch of real-world goodies, from a recreation of Gehn’s in-game pen/inkwell to original, hand-drawn concept art.
Oh, and they built a friggin’ Linking book, complete with a 800×480 LCD screen that plays video fly-throughs of the game’s environments when the book is opened. (For the unfamiliar: in the Myst universe, “Linking books” transport those that touch the book to a far-off destination.)
They’ve updated the games to work on “modern systems,, but there’s a bit of a good news/bad news situation there. The good news: it’ll work on Windows 10. The bad news: most of the games won’t work on MacOS. That’s a bit of a drag, given that the series started its life on the Mac — but Cyan says getting everything running on the Mac would take resources they “just don’t have.” Cyan notes that while they’ll continue to sell the updated games once the Kickstarter is over, the special box set is a Kickstarter-only deal.
As arstechnica points out, much of the Myst series is already available for Windows 10 — only Myst III and IV had never been updated for compatibility, as the rights were held by a different publisher. But this Kickstarter brings it all together for a whole new generation, with some real-world treats thrown in for the longtime fans.
Online gamers love to talk a big game, but how willing are they to put their money with their mouth is? Players Lounge is a home for gamers looking to make friendly wagers with strangers and friends in head-to-head matches.
When we first covered the startup back in 2015, the team was getting people together at bars in New York for one-off FIFA tournaments on slow nights. Since then, Players Lounge has moved towards greater scalability, though their niche has still centered heavily on sports titles like FIFA and Madden. The company is launching out of Y Combinator’s latest class with some new funding and some new plans to capture gamers’ attention.
The company is already expanding beyond its console sports roots, and has added support for titles like Fortnite and Call of Duty, though there’s still a lot of room for the company to flex on PC which hosts some of the most devoted gamers.
After connecting their gaming accounts, users load cash onto the platform via credit card, PayPal or Bitcoin and can use the funds to enter into head-to-head wagers. The company takes 10 percent of wagers. Bets can range from $2.50 to $500. When it comes to legality, because eSports are considered a game of skill in most states, Players Lounge can operate without a hitch. A few states still don’t allow it though, so if players are in Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana or North Dakota, they won’t be able to make wagers on the site.
One of the biggest issues with online gameplay is matching users of similar skillsets to each other. No one wants to get thrown into a match with a professional eSports player when they barely know what they’re doing. Players Lounge has its own rating system to independently determine someone’s skills as a gamer on a 100-point scale so that users can match themselves up for head-to-head battles accordingly before they pony up a wager.
When money comes into play, gaming can understandably turn ugly. Add in the largely anonymous quality that comes from just knowing someone by their user name and you’re left with a platform ripe for abuse. Players Lounge hasn’t been shy about bringing down the ban hammer on users trying to game the system. In the future, it’s looking to mandate the use of anti-cheating software for anyone on the platform.
The company is looking to add support for larger groups to go at it against each other rather than the current 1v1 wagers. As the company has added support to new titles, its revenues have grown 100 percent month-over-month for the past four months on an annualized run rate of $2 million, the company says. Users are also sticking around, the company says that 30 percent of users play another match within 12 weeks of playing their first game on the service.
Facebook is challenging Twitch and YouTube for video game live streaming supremacy with the release of its new Games SDK for PC. After testing Live streaming from games like Overwatch from developers like Blizzard since 2016, today Live broadcasting from PC games to the News Feed opens to all developers. And Facebook will let them reward fans who watch by providing in-game items or bonuses. For example, beneath the comments reel, users might see a promotion like “Watch Paladins streams for a chance to earn random loot to use in-game.”
The potential for viral growth and sales could convince tons of game developers to bake in Facebook’s new SDK, while players could use the simple broadcasting feature to reach a big audience — though one not as dedicated to gaming as on other platforms. Viewers might choose to watch on Facebook because they get rewarded there. Facebook meanwhile benefits because game streams create compelling niche content that can drive long viewing sessions, helping Facebook monetize viewers in the moment with ads while locking them deeper into the platform long-term.
Facebook is also hooking up developers with deeper analytics through custom “app events” that are now available on PC as well as web and mobile. Game developers can also integrate Facebook’s enhanced Friend Finder feature that lets them play with friends and now see “Key Player Stats” about other people they want to join up with to keep playing together. Developers who want access to the SDK can sign up here.
Facebook got a late start in the game streaming world but has been rapidly developing features and signing deals to grow its viewer base and content catalogue. It inked a deal with esports league leader ESL last year, and just added streaming from tournaments of top games like Counter-Strike and DOTA. It’s brought Live streaming to Messenger games. Facebook also recently started testing a way for viewers to tip cash to their favorite streaming stars, and has even hired some of them for its games team.
The question will be if a catch-all mainstream social network can succeed in such a niche content space. 800 million people play Facebook-connected games each month. But not everyone’s real-world friends care about video games or want to watch their buddies play, so broadcasts could fall flat if they don’t find the particular subset who love gaming. On networks like Twitch or corners of YouTube, people are there specifically to watch game stream. So Facebook will have to use rapid feature development, and it’s size and potential for audience growth to attracts streamers, viewers, and developers. Otherwise gamers might stay where they never feel embarrassed about their passion.
Last year, Google launched Instant Apps, a way for developers to give users a native app experience that didn’t involve having to install anything. Users would simply click on a link on the search results page and the instant app would load. Today, the company is extending this program to games. Thanks to this, you can now see what playing a level or two of Clash Royale, Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire or Panda Pop is like without having to go through the usual install procedure. Instead, you simply head for the Google Play store, find a game that supports this feature, and hit the “Try now” button.
Google Play product managers Jonathan Karmel and Benjamin Frenkel told me that the team learned a lot from the experience with building Instant Apps. For games, though, the team decided to increase the maximum file size from 2 MB to 10 MB, which isn’t really a surprise, given that a game needs a few more graphical assets than your regular to-do list app. In my experience testing this feature, this still allows the games to load quickly enough, though it doesn’t feel quite as instant as most of the regular instant apps do.
The main idea behind this project, Karmel and Frenkel said, is to drive discovery. To do this, the team is adding a new ‘arcade’ tab in the newly redesigned Google Play Games app to highlight the current crop of Instant games and launching an Instant Gameplay collection in the Google Play Store. The main advantage of these Instant games, though, is that users can try the game without having to install anything. As the team noted, every extra step in the install process offers potential players yet another chance to drop off and move on. Indeed, many users actually install a game and then never open it.
Some casual games already take up less than 10 MB and those developers will be able to opt to make their complete game available as a Play Instant app, too.
For now, this project is still a closed beta, though Google plans to open it up to more developers later this year. Some games that currently support Play Instant include Clash Royale, Words with Friends 2, Bubble Witch 3 Saga and Panda Pop, as well as a few other titles from Playtika, Jam City, MZ, and Hothead.
As Karmel and Frenkel told me, their teams are still working on providing developers with better tooling for building these apps and Google is also working with the likes of Unity and the Cocos2D-x teams to make building instant apps easier. For the most part, though, building an Instant Play game means bringing the file size to under 10 MB and adding a few lines to the app’s manifest. That’s probably easier said than done, though, given that you still want players to have an interesting experience.
Unsurprisingly, some developers currently make better use of that limited file size than others. When you try Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire, all you can do is regularly tap on some kind of blue monster and get some gold until the game informs you how much gold you received. That’s it. Over time, though, I’m sure developers will figure out how to best use this feature.
If the overstuffed buffets of Far Cry 5 and other expansive AAA games leave a sour taste in your mouth, you may find Minit a suitable palate cleanser. This charming little top-down adventure combines some clever puzzle solving with a well-realized black and white art style.
The pitch is simple: You’re a little guy who picks up a cursed sword that causes you to die every 60 seconds and start over from your home. So whatever you do in this game, you have to do in less than a minute.
Some things reset when you die, and some things stay done — enemies will return, but favors will be remembered, keys retained and so on. Figuring out how to effect lasting progress is a big part of the fun.
Also fun is the art style, which is determinedly monochromatic; not even a shade of grey to be found, only the kind of patterning and hatching I remember from my Mac Classic days. But the developers, a motley crew assembled from a variety of teams, use the simplicity to create a wealth of personality. The limited writing is also fun, with characters barking everything from subtle hints to total non sequiturs.
The simplicity of the graphics and controls (there are just the directions, a button to use your item and a button to die early so as not to have to wait) don’t mean pushover gameplay, though. You’ll have to be very observant and explore every nook and cranny to be sure you have what you need to proceed. I was stuck near the end of the game because I didn’t explore literally every corner of one particularly dark area.
It isn’t boring pixel-peeping — I’m just saying you need to keep your eyes peeled, because everything is where it is for good reason.
I finished my first run (there’s a New Game+ mode) in a bit under two hours, but there was definitely a lot of stuff I didn’t find and side quests I didn’t pursue to their ends. I kept surprising myself with locations I thought I’d explored completely, but rushed to the end so I could write this extremely detailed review.
Minit is a bargain at $10 — you can pick it up for PC, PS4 or Xbox One. No Switch yet, although yes, it’d be perfect for it.