Every year, in late winter, covering the game industry gives me a chance to leave New York City at its most miserable. It’s with great pleasure that I tell you, yes, we’re here in San Francisco — where its 60 degrees and not 34 — to bring all the news, hands-ons, interviews, videos, and combinations thereof, straight from the 2015 Game Developers Conference. From here on out, we’re gonna make that name a bit simpler: GDC 2015. We’ve even got a page right here where you can keep up to date on all the aforementioned coverage. Head below for a brief rundown of the week to come.
What’s happening this year, besides developers talking to each other about the art and business of making games? We’ve already seen a taste, all the way from Barcelona, care of Mobile World Congress.
HTC and Valve are teaming on a virtual reality headset named HTC Vive. Or HTC ReVive. Or maybe just Vive? Or maybe just Revive? It’s a bit puzzling, honestly.
We’re getting a hands-on in the coming days, and we’ve already got some gorgeous detail shots right here featuring British raconteur James Trew.
Additionally, Samsung and Oculus are continuing their partnership on Gear VR with a new, smaller version intended for use with Samsung’s new Galaxy S6 and S6 edge phones. Don’t expect to be blown away: it’s largely the same as the first Gear VR which launched late last year, albeit with a smaller screen. We’ve got more info right here, and beauty shots below.
And today, just before GDC 2015 officially kicks off, Epic Games announced that its widely used game engine, Unreal Engine 4, is now free for all to use on a commercial (or non-commercial) basis. It’s a major move for an engine maker, and it means one more great tool is more widely available to the folks who make the games we love.
As for what the rest of the week holds, only two things are certain: both Sony and NVIDIA are hosting press events. The former is focusing on PlayStation 4’s virtual reality headset, “Project Morpheus”, while the latter is teased as “more than 5 years in the making” and will apparently “redefine the future of gaming”. I expect nothing less than a picante gouda in a holodeck.
Don’t miss out on all the latest from GDC 2015! Follow along at our events page right here.
Many RPGs have more than one ending, but even then you still have limited ways to control the story or to interact with the characters. Disney Research, however, wants to make real interactive games — ones where your actions can affect how it progresses and ends — so it has created a platform that can help developers do so more easily than if they use traditional tools. This platform makes it simpler for creators to spin as many story arcs as they want that can be triggered any time by your actions. It also automatically detects and fixes conflicts in the storyline that you’ll inevitably cause as you interact with the characters. Take the bears in the video below the fold, for example.
Say, the story arc calls for a beach ball to be in the scene, but there is no beach ball anywhere, because you were playing God earlier and taking all the props away. If that’s the case, one of the bears will ask you for a beach ball, so the story can run its course. Alternatively, the game can trigger the appearance of a ball vendor and a treasure chest, so the bears can buy a beach ball for themselves.
Ex-Disney researcher and Rutgers University assistant professor Mubbasir Kapadia explained:
We want interactive narratives to be an immersive experience in which users can influence the action or even create a storyline, but the complexity of the authoring task has worked against our ambitions. Our method of modeling multiple story arcs and resolving conflicts in the storylines makes it feasible to author interactive experiences that are free form, rather than constricted.
In short, this method could be used to create some truly open-world choose-your-own-adventure games if developed even further — games you can play again and again and get a different experience each time. The team has uploaded a scientific paper you can sink your teeth into for the technical details, but you can watch the video below for a demo of how it works.
Filed under: Gaming
There are two new controllers announced available for pre-order today from Mad Catz. The company unveiled the L.Y.N.X.3 and S.U.R.F.r controllers for consumers that want optimal gaming and media consumption controllers for their mobile devices. Mad Catz provides plenty of buttons controls while keeping the hardware compact.
For mobile gamers, the L.Y.N.X.3 is the ideal controller as it mimics the design of a standard gaming controller. There are two analog sticks, shoulder buttons, four action buttons, and a directional pad. The L.Y.N.X.3 itself looks so unique because of its ability to fold and fit into tight spaces. The analog sticks fold inward and the clip comes over the entire controller to confirm its closure. Mad Catz ported over the PC, Mobile Game, and Multimedia modes from the bigger L.Y.N.X.9, too. An app available in the Play Store allows gamers to assign controls to specific genres.
Being that it has a full QWERTY keyboard, the S.U.R.F.r acts as the perfect accessory for media consumption. This controller works with various platforms and services such as Android TV and Amazon Fire TV. In addition to a full keyboard and media buttons like any other remote, the S.U.R.F.r has dual analog sticks. And, for some gaming, it has makeshift shoulder and action buttons as well as a directional pad.
Both products will be available for demonstrations at Mad Catz’s booth at MWC 2015. The L.Y.N.X.3 sells for $69 and the S.U.R.F.r’s price is $79.
Come comment on this article: Mad Catz announces mobile game and media controllers
In Masquerada: Songs and Shadows, the city of Ombre resembles a fantastical, medieval Venice: elegant stone towers are lined with heavy wood furniture and the people dress in lush fabrics, wielding swords and spears. But Ombre is not Venice; it’s an entirely secular society whose citizens put no stock in the idea of an afterlife, and it’s a land where powerful magic stems from a collection of rare masks. The Inspettore, Cicero Gavar, returns from exile to investigate an earth-shattering kidnapping, with the help of spells, weapons, his team — and his sexuality.
“While having the main character be gay and allowing a romance, as BioWare does, is very empowering to a gay player, we hope to serve them in another way — to show our audience the beauty and humanity of a gay character and how it would translate to real world situations,” lead developer Ian Gregory says.
Masquerada‘s world reflects the lives of its developers in a few ways. It comes from Witching Hour Studios, a development company in Singapore, and the world of Ombre is based on Singapore’s own mutli-cultural, diverse population. The game is a “pause for tactics” RPG, meaning players can stop in the middle of battle and plan out efficient attacks. The art and mechanics are inspired by Bastion, The Banner Saga and Baldur’s Gate, a collection of narrative-driven and innovative tactical titles, all sprinkled with a dash of brilliant neon color.
But, these are the surface aspects of Masquerada. Beneath the gorgeous design lies a deeper message about what it means to be human, shaped by Gregory’s dissatisfaction with the portrayal of gay characters in video games.
“I’m tired that gay characters in games are portrayed [as] oversexualized,” Gregory says. “While some have depth, they seem to be defined by their sexuality and not enough by their humanity. If we’re gonna constantly harp on how different they are just by their bedroom habits, that’s all society will latch on to. We’d like to show the perspective of a gay character whose choices and behaviors are profoundly affected by others’ conflicting attitudes to their sexual orientation — and to do so in a way where the conversation isn’t about romance.”
Basically, Gregory treats Masquerada‘s characters as full, flawed and talented people first, rather than approaching each one from the view of a single, limiting trait. Gregory’s goal is to make his characters relatable and accessible without relying on stereotypes or exaggerated tropes.
“We’re going to explore fear, guilt, loss, redemption,” he says. “A situation where a player would take on the role of a good friend instead of a lover. Perhaps something more familiar to those of us not of the orientation.”
Of course, Masquerada has to be a solid game in order for its characters — gay or otherwise — to have any impact on players or society at large. To that end, Gregory says Witching Hour Studios has partnered with Ysbryd Games, a publisher that provides enough funding for the developers to craft an expansive game with rich lore and no compromises. With support from Ysbryd, the full game is due out on PC and unannounced consoles in early 2016, with no need to turn to crowdfunding or other financing options.
“We’re unlikely to take this to Kickstarter unless we suddenly have a need for half a million to get Daft Punk involved or something,” Gregory says. For what it’s worth, a Daft Punk game soundtrack would probably be awesome.
Witching Hour isn’t concerned about funding and the studio has a clear idea of who Masquerada‘s characters are — that doesn’t mean Gregory has zero worries overall.
“If we were worried about anything, it wouldn’t be about the resources to make the game, but it’d be about overcoming the hurdles of visibility with our intended audience,” he says. “It’s not something you can plan for. It would suck to be drowned out by the next cadre of ‘I Am Call of Battlefield Creed Roguelike Simulator 2016s’ because we ‘didn’t follow trends’ about what’s hip these days. Exhibiting at PAX can only do so much.”
It may not result in much, but Witching Hour is doing it anyway: Masquerada will be in booth 8236 at PAX East 2015, the game convention held in Boston from March 6 – 8. Fans of Bastion, The Banner Saga or fully formed characters, check it out.
Now you can add “price” alongside “gameplay” to the list of aspects that separates Fable Legends from its forebears. That’s because the game’s launching as a free-to-play title on Windows 10 and gratis with an Xbox Live Gold subscription on Xbox One. What’s it all entail? A lot of similar bits if you’ve paid attention to how free-to-play stuff typically works (microtransactions for cosmetic items, for example), but with a few unique wrinkles. The official FAQ stresses that you’ll be able to play the game from beginning to end without spending any real cash, and that all quests and storylines will be free — same goes for “everything that affects gameplay.” There’s a possibility that some customization options won’t be purchasable with the in-game currency you earn, and with its rotating system for playable characters, you have the option to permanently unlock a favorite character with cold hard cash, too.
This isn’t the first time Microsoft’s stepped into the F2P market, but it’s possibly the highest profile example of it to date. Happy Wars and Project Spark didn’t exactly set the world ablaze (neither did F2P elements that invaded the likes of Forza Horizon and its sequel) so it’ll be interesting to see just how well this does. The PlayStation 4 had its own share of F2P games at launch, too, but when the Xbox One will have a title with a DC Universe Online-level of success is anyone’s guess. But, now that the latter’s developer is free to make games for basically anyone, that could happen sooner rather than later.
What seemed so novel and strange about Kirby: Canvas Curse when it came out now seems almost quaint. Only one part of the screen can be touched at a time? There aren’t gyroscope controls? What is this, an Android store launch game? Please. Just shy of its tenth birthday, though, Canvas Curse still feels like a pristine lesson in touch-control video game design despite its antiquity. It had the depth and challenge of a classic arcade game as well as a strange but clean, immediately understandable interface. Canvas Curse was a colorful dollop of fun that begged for a follow up. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is finally here, and we’re playing it for the very first time today on JXE Streams.
Starting at 3PM ET, we’re streaming two full hours of Kirby and the Rainbow Curse on Wii U. Anthony John Agnello, a Kirby fan stretching all the way back to Kirby’s Dream Land in 1992, will be firing up the GamePad to check out the claymation style of developer HAL Laboratory’s latest.
JXE Streams broadcasts every Tuesday and Thursday from 3PM to 5PM ET on Engadget.com/gaming and Twitch.tv/Joystiq. Our schedule is going to be ramping up over the coming weeks so be sure to check out what we’re playing and when at the top of Engadget.com/gaming.
[We’re playing a retail copy of Kirby and the Rainbow Curse streamed through an Elgato Capture HD via OBS at 720p.]
What do you do after co-founding a studio responsible for myriad massive successes? From Bejeweled, to Peggle, to the massively popular Plants vs. Zombies, former PopCap Games co-founder John Vechey left a wake of breakthrough gaming franchises. After 15 years, he took a brief break. And now, five months after his amicable departure from the studio, Vechey’s taking his hit-making talent to a new medium: virtual reality. Today he announced Pluto VR, an augmented-and-virtual reality studio named after our solar system’s most (loved) distant planet-like mass.
Vechey made it clear that he wasn’t interested half-baked VR experiences. He wants to steer clear of creating something that’s “good because it’s virtual … but is still way worse than real life,” he said when I talked to him recently. “That’s not what we’re aiming for.” Instead, he said Pluto VR is trying to make social experiences and software that are “better than [being there] in person” for the likes of Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard and Samsung’s Gear VR.
The first step is building a technological base that makes it easier to do multi-user virtual reality. Then you have to start developing some concepts for how to bring people together in the virtual world. “Virtual reality is hard. Anything multiplayer is hard,” he said. “They compound each other, it turns out. There’s a huge technological investment that needs to be there.”
Vechey is already thinking about projects like a virtual conference room, replete with an interactive whiteboard (the “number one collaboration tool” in an office, he said). He’s also floating ideas like shared, virtual workspaces and party games like Cards Against Humanity, Apples to Apples, Mafia and Werewolves. “We’re doing the baseline tech around those use cases because a lot of the hard work is similar between all of those,” he said. “All of those seem very different from a feature-set standpoint, but, from a VR multi-user one, in terms of what’s gonna break and what’s not, they’re all pretty similar.” All that is to say, Pluto’s working to crack the hard parts of shared virtual gatherings for everyone else.
Over the course of our hour-long conversation, a few things became pretty clear. Namely, lot of what Vechey said echoes Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for VR: communal social experiences in a virtual world. That, and his team (comprised of four co-founders, including a former director of technology from Walt Disney Animation Studios) has a lot of big ideas, but they all seem early in the conceptual phase. I posed a hypothetical question to him: If a consumer VR product were announced at the Game Developers Conference next week and it would go on sale soon thereafter, when could we see Pluto VR’s first project?
Surprisingly, he said that if making launch day wasn’t possible, it’d be a matter of weeks, not months or years, before the public experienced Pluto’s work. “I think we have enough lessons [learned] that we could get something out that was simple enough and was still cool and usable.”
“It wouldn’t be world-shattering,” he admitted.
“That’s a really long-winded answer saying ‘Yeah, we have something!’” he said. “Would it be Wii Bowling? I can’t say, but would it be something that we stand by and allow people to think about VR differently and allow for something fun and useful? I think so.” Given Vechey’s work at PopCap, I’m inclined to believe him.
[Image credit: Getty Images]
Source: Pluto VR
Oculus VR has a challenge for aspiring game and app developers: Create something new and exciting for the Gear VR Innovator Edition, Samsung’s Oculus-powered headset, and get a shot at a cash prize from a $1 million pool. The Oculus Mobile VR Jam 2015 kicks off on April 13 and ends on May 11, with sign-ups open now at Challenge Post. The Jam — and the cash — is split between two tracks, “Games” and “Apps or Experiences,” with Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze winners in each segment. The top Platinum Game gets $200,000, while the Platinum App or Experience snags $100,000. There are multiple winners for each of the remaining ranks, and prizes bottom out at $10,000 for each Bronze victor.
The Oculus Mobile VR Jam has four must-hit milestones for participants: Pitches are due by April 20, screenshots by April 27, videos by May 4 and the final build is due by May 11 at 9AM PT. After all that hard work, Oculus will announce winners “on or around” June 4. Developers can go in solo, with a team or as part of an organization, and lonesome devs looking for love can put together a group directly on Challenge Post.
This jam is all about the Gear VR Innovator Edition, a virtual reality headset that uses the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, with a side of Oculus VR software. We were reasonably impressed with the Gear VR Innovator Edition in September, though we noted that it had some rough edges, technically speaking. A Samsung rep told us at the time that these technical issues were what made it an “Innovator Edition,” meant for early adopters, VR enthusiasts and professionals. It seems that the Gear VR is sticking around, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see a new, less buggy model featuring Samsung’s flagship phone, the Galaxy S6, at the Mobile World Conference in early March.
Source: Challenge Post
Blizzard may have shut down the Real Money Auction House after contention from the community, but it’s opening up a new way to potentially use real money for in-game items. The difference here is that it’s doing it in territories that are pretty accustomed to this sort of thing already — most likely China. On the developer’s American and European forums, an employee writes that an upcoming patch will add a new currency (“platinum”), timed experience boosts, cosmetic items, character slots and a tweaked UI to handle all of the above. Basically, the type of microtransactions that are fairly common in free-to-play games. As Gamasutra notes, Blizzard already has a partnership with NetEase (a Chinese internet company that has a web portal and its own massively multiplayer role-playing game), which operates a version of Diablo 3 in the country. All that to say, this makes sense for Blizzard.
How’s it going to affect players stateside or in Europe, though? Well, Blizzard says they’ll benefit from the UI changes that are being implemented, and that’s about it. Forumgoers are worried, however, that the free-to-play elements will come to roost in their game, devaluing their progress (a complaint levied at the RMAH) and transforming the game into a pay-to-win scenario rather than skill or luck-based.
It’s a stark contrast to how we view gaming in the United States, and Blizzard’s upcoming additions to Diablo 3 reflect that.
But given how different the Chinese gaming market is from the domestic and European ones, the community’s initial worries are likely without warrant. Free-to-play games are bog standard in China because, as this VentureBeat story illustrates, internet cafes are more affordable than having computers at home, and that’s coupled of course, with the fact that video game consoles had been banned (soft of) for over a decade in the country. That’s to say nothing of China’s economy either (or how quickly microtransactions can add up), which makes shelling out a pretty sizable chunk of money up front for a console and games difficult for many.
It’s a stark contrast to how we view gaming in the United States, and Blizzard’s upcoming additions to Diablo 3 reflect that. The developer’s experimented with different business models in the past, including making World of Warcraft free to a point; the multiplayer portion of StarCraft 2 is largely gratis as well. It wouldn’t be the first time Activision Blizzard has tailored one of its games for the market, either — Call of Duty Online is a region-specific free-to-play version of the wildly popular shooter. Where the microtransactions will appear hasn’t been confirmed, but we’ve reached out to Blizzard for more detail and will update this post should we hear back.
The very conceit of PlayStation 4’s Share Play feature is futuristic as all get-out, but it has a dark side too. Take 5th grader Henry Kramer’s recent Destiny woes for example. After virtually passing his DualShock 4 to another player to access a glitch that Kramer hoped would quickly boost his characters, the other party urged him to go grab something from another room as a distraction, according to Eurogamer. Twitch viewers (Kramer was streaming at the time) watched as the nefarious user proceeded to delete two of his three characters: a nearly maxed out level 31 Warlock and a level 26 Titan, but it wasn’t until Kramer came back that he saw the damage done. You can hear him crying upon his realization in the video linked here, and, well, it’s hard to not be affected by it at least a little bit.
Developer Bungie won’t transfer any high-level gear to Kramer’s account, despite petitions from the game’s community, but in an effort to spread the word, made the video that Kramer’s mom sent in part of last Friday’s weekly update. Sadly, because Kramer knowingly gave control of his account to the troll, no wrongdoing had occurred. To Bungie’s credit, Kramer’s mom says that members of the Destiny development team have offered to play with him to make the leveling process a bit faster. What’s more, the team says it “has plans to make regrettable deletions less permanent,” as it works on new features for the game.
And the person that did the deleting? Game Informer contacted the account owner and the story isn’t as cut and dried as you might think. Turns out that the troll wasn’t the account owner himself, but a visitor. Twenty-three year-old “Adam” was in a pretty serious car accident not that long ago and as such, he’s been at home recovering and has a lot of friends passing through to spend time with him. The jerk that deleted Kramer’s save files was one such pal, but Adam says because of the amount of painkillers he’s on, he sleeps a lot while people are over and he can’t pinpoint exactly who did it.
The team says it “has plans to make regrettable deletions less permanent,” as it works on new features for the game.
So, there are a few takeaways from this. One, this could’ve been prevented with the safety measures available for kids’ PlayStation Network accounts (those that prevent Twitch streaming and limit messaging, for instance). Secondly, don’t let strangers jump into your game sessions with Share Play. Perhaps most importantly though, follow Wheaton’s Law to the letter: Don’t be a dick.