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HTC launches its own VR app and game studio for Vive

HTC spun its Vive VR business into a subsidiary back in June and today the company announced it’s launching its own studio for VR app and game development. The appropriately named Vive Studios will release games that are developed in-house and by other companies in an effort to boost interest in its virtual reality gear. The first title from the new initiative is called Arcade Saga: a trio of games that shows off HTC’s room-scale VR from the internal 2 Bears Studio.

According to Venture Beat, HTC plans to operate Vive Studios much like Microsoft and Sony do for their internal development of Xbox and PlayStation titles. Oculus also has internal studios, one focused on games while the other creates cinematic experiences for the company’s gear.

In addition to games, Vive Studios is working on virtual reality content for cinema, design, real estate sports and more. We’ve already seen uses for the Vive outside of gaming, including BMW employing the tech to design new vehicles. The internal development arm will also build games for HTC’s VR arcade push, an initiative the company says will lead to “thousands” of locations by the end of next year.

In terms of the first release, Arcade Saga is available today for $30 on Steam and the HTC Viveport store. Based on the trailer, Arcade Saga looks two-thirds a modern VR version of Breakout and one-third an archery-style shooter. The title’s three mini games include 84 levels where you’re playing as your computer’s CPU in a battle against the AI henchmen of a computer scientist who goes by Warlock. The so-called Overlords want to keep all AI, like your CPU, enslaved and working as they were intended. It’s a rather elaborate setup, but you can take a look at the game in the trailer down below.

Source: Venture Beat


Sony revives its $50 PS4 price drop for two weeks

Disheartened that you missed out on a price-cut PlayStation 4 around Black Friday? You’re about to get a second chance. In a near-repeat of what happened last year, Sony is resurrecting its $50 discount on the Uncharted 4 slim PS4 bundle between December 11th and December 24th. Yes, you’ll still get the console for $250 in the US if you’re a last-minute shopper. And Canadians get an extra break — while the PS4 costs $330 in local currency, they have until December 29th to go shopping. You’re stuck if you’d rather buy a PS4 Pro, but this remains a solid deal if you’re not interested in 4K and just want to see what all the fuss is about.

Via: Polygon

Source: PlayStation Blog


Nicki Minaj’s new game could make you a rap star

It’s hard to believe anyone that’s not a Kardashian, a Jenner or a Ramsay can successfully make a game about their careers, but Nicki Minaj’s new app actually sounds like fun. Collaborating with Glu Mobile, which also made the Kim Kardashian, Kylie and Kendall Jenner and Gordon Ramsay games, Minaj made The Empire, a game which focuses on rap music, and actually lets players create their own songs. In addition, you can record your own voice (rapping your own words) into the app, and Minaj herself (or her minions, anyway) will select the best few to showcase on her social media accounts. The Empire is now available on iOS and Android, and from my few days playing a beta preview, it seems like more than just another celebrity game.

Unlike other celebrity apps, such as the Kylie and Kendall Jenner game, that simply let you style your own character and interact with the predetermined storyline, The Empire also offers you an outlet for creativity. You get to create your own rap lyrics and record yourself singing your words over what Glu says are “studio-quality custom beats.”

Those who aren’t as confident or eloquent can choose, like I did, to use a template and fill out some keywords, Mad Libs style. The app offers some word options to fill in the blanks with, but you can also enter your own. I wouldn’t call the songs created with this method inspired, but at least they sort of rhyme. And they can turn out pretty wacky, which adds to the fun of the game. You can choose to go straight to rap mode to avoid the hassle of going through the game’s plot, or stick around for the drama in Story Mode.

The story part of the The Empire largely follows the style of others in the category: you’re a nobody, who, by some miraculous stroke of luck, befriends the titular celebrity. She takes you under her wing, helping you record your first single and giving you tips on how to promote it. The goal is to earn song sales and grow your number of fans. All the while, the game tries to inculcate values; in the Jenner game, it was the importance of friendship, while in The Empire, it’s the power of believing in yourself.

The game’s graphics have a very distinctive style that’s fiercely reminiscent of street art. Characters are boldly colored and wear hip, urban outfits, which is appropos for the Queens, New York neighborhood you start out in. As a New Yorker, I found that setting one of the most endearing things about Minaj’s game, compared to the LA backdrop of the Kylie and Kendall app. That’s obviously a matter of preference, though.

The thing I enjoyed the most during my time with The Empire is its soundtrack. I normally disable background music in my games, but because this app pipes in Minaj’s own tunes, such as Starships or Pound the Alarm, leaving the sound on was surprisingly enjoyable. Of course, that’s mostly because I already like Minaj’s music, but players of this game are likely going to be her fans anyway. The app also offers chatrooms for you to meet other Minaj fans in, who could eventually develop into an audience for the songs you create.

Whether anyone will actually become a breakout rap star because of Nicki Minaj: The Empire is not yet clear, but if Minaj keeps to her promise of showcasing the best rapper of the app each month, she may really find some talent among her fans. That potential exposure is solid motivation for aspiring rappers to start sharing their works in the app (although ownership of your tracks isn’t quite clear); it’s like American Idol on a smaller but easier-to-access stage. And if the thrill of potential stardom isn’t fun enough for you, then perhaps the sly anaconda jokes will have to do.


The Novint Falcon: Haptic joystick turned futuristic sex toy

I’m standing in the studio at Engadget’s San Francisco headquarters, holding the remains of a pulverized, cream-filled doughnut. The pastry’s sticky, off-white filling clings to the shaft of a bright pink vibrator, taped to the end of a silver, cone-shaped device with three arms that come together at a point and a horseshoe-shaped base. This disembodied robot boob is the Novint Falcon, a one-time game-changing game controller turned teledildonics legend.

NSFW Warning: This story may contain links to and descriptions or images of explicit sexual acts.

Kyle Machulis, hardware engineer and sex-tech enthusiast, is here to reenact a demo he posted to YouTube in August 2007. He may have been the first person to strap a dildo to the failed haptic game controller, but he wasn’t the last. Since its debut, the Novint Falcon has popped up in tech demos for VR sex suits, adult social networks and as a next-level cam-site interface. So how does a device go from PC-gaming sweetheart to would-be sex-toy wunderkind?

Nearly two years after its announcement, the Novint Falcon seemed poised to change the way we game. The alien-like controller, with its origins in a national laboratory, promised to bring sophisticated haptic feedback to your desktop, allowing users to actually feel the games they played.

It had been a bumpy road to market, but by the summer of 2008 Novint had picked up a number of major licensing deals, secured distribution through big-box stores like Best Buy and managed to impress the gaming and tech press through demos at CES and GDC. The headlines were largely positive, but no one was ready to call it a success just yet. After years of refining its vision and business model, the company had landed on a play for the video game market that could bring industrial-grade haptic controls to consumers worldwide. It just needed to secure another round of funding first.

“It really makes you feel like you’re in a game. It’s the first time you really are the character instead of just controlling the character,” Tom Anderson said.

In its short lifespan, the Novint Falcon was used in medical, industrial and architectural training and visualization. Heavyweights like Chrysler, Mobil, Chevron and Lockheed Martin adopted it, but according to Novint founder and CEO Tom Anderson, the vision for the company had always been consumer applications. Video games presented the perfect interface to introduce a device that Anderson speculated would “fundamentally change computing.”

“At the time, people said we were crazy, you know, these are $15,000 advanced robots — there’s no way that you’re going to take this down to a consumer price point,” Anderson says. “But to make a long story short, we did. We took the price down from $15,000 to under $150 to manufacture them and manufactured them in quantity in China.”

The company had a tough go during the dot-com crash but managed to stay afloat. Now, with its eyes set on the gaming market and a device that could be sold for roughly $250, Anderson and his team were ready to make a play for the consumer market. It was time to show the public what this thing could do.

“For video games, it’s an amazing technology,” Anderson says. “You can feel a gun recoil, you can feel a golf swing, you can feel every bump a car goes over when it slams into something in a racing game. It really makes you feel like you’re in a game. It’s the first time you really are the character instead of just controlling the character.”

The tech and gaming press echoed Anderson’s enthusiasm after the device made its round on the trade-show circuit.


The Novint Falcon, before the dildo.

Joystiq called the Falcon an “ingenious piece of design,” and then-Engadget columnist Ross Rubin said it was “one of the most promising PC interface peripherals to come along in years.” Everyone seemed to agree: The Falcon was a good thing that could only get better.

Even with a warm reception from the press, mainstream adoption would be an uphill battle. Not only was the Falcon significantly larger and more expensive than most controllers, it was also lacking the most important element: games. The device was introduced to market with a handful of fun but rudimentary mini-games and a port of Half-Life 2, but without big-name titles, it was going to be hard to drive mass-market appeal, and without a strong user base, it was near-impossible to secure integration with big-name titles.

“We’d go to a game publisher and say ‘I want you to support our new device,’ and they would say, ‘It’s amazing but come back to me when you have a million install base,’” Anderson says.

In order to break free of the “chicken and egg” conundrum, Novint started buying up the “3D-touch rights” to major video-game franchises. “We were buying something off of them they didn’t even know they had: the sleeves off their vests,” Anderson says.

The first publisher to take the bait was Electronic Arts.

“When we closed with EA everything was going perfectly, really,” Anderson says. “We were hitting all of our milestones, all of our investors were happy, we were about to get much broader distribution. We were talking to the consoles as well. They said, ‘If you can get game support, then we want to carry you with our devices.’ PlayStation, in particular, when we told them about the EA deal, we were ready to move forward and get support for the PS3. So everything was coming together perfectly.”

According to Anderson, Novint closed the deal with EA in May 2008. But it was already too late. The Great Recession was well underway and by the beginning of 2009, Novint was operating with a 10th of its staff, sales were weak and funding had all but dried up.

“We found ourselves in a car we couldn’t continue to put any gas in,” Anderson says. So he merged with ForceTek, which was looking to use the Falcon’s 3D touch technology to create a haptic exoskeleton. The time had seemingly come and gone for the Novint Falcon and Anderson exited the company soon after.

Years before, however, a floppy, purple silicone dildo had signaled a new direction for the Falcon. The semi-hard phallus haphazardly strapped to the end of the device’s three, rotating arms stabbed aimlessly into thin air, foretelling an unexpected if unwanted future for the one-time game-changer.

When Machulis repurposed his Falcon as a desktop fuck machine and posted a video of it to his blog, Slashdong, in 2007, he may have unwittingly set the stage for its reinvention. Machulis, who was working as an engineer on Second Life at the time, had been following the development of the Falcon over the years.

“I was and to this day — it’s something like 9 years old now — am still enamored with it, Machulis said. “It’s such an amazing experience, especially for the cost.”

“It’s made to go in your hand, not in your butt,” Kyle Machulis said.

Machulis got his hands on the device before its consumer debut and created a simple proof-of-concept program he now calls “crude and stupid.” He’s not wrong. The program takes advantage of the device’s force controls to thrust back and forth in a sort of wild stabbing motion, like a drunk teenager aimlessly thrusting his way through his first time. In the demo video he posted to YouTube, a bright purple, anatomically correct dildo is strapped to the end of the device, taking advantage of the modular control knob that would have allowed gamers to attach a gun for first-person shooters, for example.

The Falcon may look like a sophisticated robo-fuck machine to the untrained eye, but as I found out during our doughnut demo, it lacks the precision and force to properly penetrate a pastry, much less a contracted human orifice. That’s not to say it couldn’t be the proverbial “hot dog in a hallway,” but where’s the fun in that?

“It’s made to go in your hand, not in your butt,” Machulis says, pointing out that in order for the Falcon to operate with any level of precision, it has to communicate with the computer running the application thousands of times per second. But technical limitations only partially explain why the Falcon has yet to take off as a legitimate sexual aid.

In 2013, six years after Machulis’ video hit YouTube, a company called Happy Haptics Inc. announced plans for an adult social network called FriXion that would allow users to communicate with their genitals anywhere in the world. The company painted a picture of an adult Facebook that leveraged the Falcon outfitted with either a vibrator or a sex sleeve like a Fleshlight, for remote sex. The company promised one-on-one as well as group teledildonic experiences.

Happy Haptics released a number of proof-of-concept demos of its own, showing users manipulating the devices by hand to simulate sex and called on beta users to test out the social network. Then, in July 2015, the company went dark. It stopped updating its Facebook and Twitter pages with no warning. Soon after, Machulis reported that FriXion had been named in a patent suit along with a handful of other teledildonics companies for infringing on a vague patent covering any “method and device for interactive virtual control of sexual aids using digital computer networks.”

FriXion was foiled by a patent troll going by the name of TZU and it seemed the Falcon was doomed to the annals of vaporware. But like an old dick fortified by Viagra, the Falcon just won’t quit. In 2014, Motherboard called a modified Falcon “The Robot That Makes Virtual Sex Feel Real.” It was referring to a demo of the device by Japanese sex toy outfit, Tenga. The company strapped one of its signature sex toys to the device and synced it to an XXX anime video game that users would experience in virtual reality. Vice’s Brian Merchant admitted that he hadn’t actually penetrated the contraption, but seemed optimistic about its potential. He said his “brief encounter with Tenga’s wiry gadget was enough to see a glimpse of the future of onanism.”

Earlier this year, a totally not real and NSFW virtual-reality sex suit reignited the public’s fascination with the device. It turned out to be an April Fool’s joke by Illusion VR, the company behind Tenga’s earlier anime sex simulator. I described it in an earlier column as a clumsy combo of “the Novint Falcon, a Tenga sex sleeve, a pair of silicone breasts, what appears to be a Gear VR and a white spandex bodysuit covered in black velcro straps and power cords.”

Despite the ridiculousness of the thing and the no-duh timing of its release, major online news sources were beside themselves about the possibility of a full-body, haptic sex suit. Unfortunately for the Falcon, the Illusion VR hoax was just that.

While Tenga and Illusion were busy selling a fantasy to a public thirsty for sex robots, Chris Johns and his wife Tabitha Rae were building on a dream that put the Falcon at the center of its modest Madison, Wisconsin-based cam operation,

According to Johns, the couple has gone through the appropriate channels to avoid a suit with TZU, and after a recent server crash is rebuilding its site to allow users to have virtual sex with Tabitha and a small stable of other performers Johns refers to as “virtual girlfriends.” Johns plans to sell sex-toy ready Falcons to customers, who will be able to manipulate a performer’s device using their own, or vice versa., which debuted at AVN in 2014, currently contains a grid of lingerie-clad models and the promise of a “hot and sexy new website, coming soon.” Johns says he has a limited supply of “less than 10,000” Flacons that will be available for purchase to VIP customers when the site relaunches at an undisclosed date. While he acknowledges it is no longer in production, Johns is confident that the Falcon will rise again.

“The select people that we have had try this experience have absolutely loved it — even the performers,” Johns says. “Quotes like ‘I’ll never use my hand again’ have been mentioned several times.”

He echoes the enthusiasm I’ve heard repeated ad nauseam since I first heard of the Falcon. Whether it’s being used as an industrial simulator, a haptic game controller or a futuristic sexual aid, just about everyone agrees, you just have to try it to understand its potential. Nearly 10 years in, however, potential is just about all the Falcon has to offer … potential, and a mutilated chocolate doughnut.


‘Furi’ brings its relentless fighting to the Xbox One

You no longer have to be picky about where and how you play Furi, The Game Bakers’ distinctive (not to mention incredibly challenging) boss battler. The studio has released its indie darling on the Xbox One with both an extra boss fight and “polished” content, giving you a reward for your patience over the months between now and the PC/PS4 versions. If you haven’t played it before and you’re up for the difficulty, you should be in for a treat.

Furi’s specialty is its mix of classic “bullet hell” shooters (think Ikaruga) with hack-and-slash swordfighting. It’s not only extremely fast-paced, but varied — you have to switch skills on a dime if you’re going to thwart the Jailer and other rivals. You may not enjoy it so much if you’re easily frustrated (expect to die often), but it can be satisfying when you emerge triumphant. Combine those mechanics with the unique look and electro soundtrack and it could be a game you’ll remember… hopefully for the right reasons.

Source: Xbox Wire


Survival smash ‘The Flame in the Flood’ comes to PS4 in January

The Flame in the Flood’s distinctive approach to wilderness survival gaming was well-received when it reached PCs and the Xbox One earlier this year, so it’s only natural that the game come to PlayStation gamers, right? Right. The Molasses Flood and Curve Digital have revealed that the game will reach the PS4 sometime in January. The dystopic title will arrive with a director’s commentary offering a peek into the creative process, a “host of gameplay enhancements” and PS4-specific perks like avatars and a dynamic theme. More info about the updated mechanics should come soon.

The game drew initial attention due to the pedigree behind it: The Molasses Flood was founded by a key member of the BioShock Infinite team (Forrest Dowling), and other members are responsible for classics like Guitar Hero, Halo and Rock Band. However, the setting and gameplay are noteworthy in themselves. It’s set in a post-calamity version of the American South with the audiovisual atmosphere to match (alt-country singer Chuck Ragan wrote the soundtrack), and its version of survival emphasizes a nomadic life instead of Don’t Starve-like base camps. In short: while industry veterans are behind The Flame, it’s not a me-too clone in an already crowded genre.

Source: Curve Digital (YouTube)


‘MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries’ revives a classic series in 2018

It’s been a long, long time since there was a single-player game in the MechWarrior series — 2002’s MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries has been your only option if you didn’t want to play online. Thankfully, a new wave of gamers is about to see what all the fuss was about years ago. Piranha Games (which runs MechWarrior Online) has unveiled MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, a single-player focused title that has you pursuing a career as a private robot pilot serving on behalf of the houses of the Inner Sphere.

The game isn’t due until 2018, so there isn’t much to say about the exact game mechanics or storyline. However, there’s promises of a choice-driven campaign where buying and maintaining BattleMechs hinges on your combat performance. Will the invading Clans make an appearance, we wonder?

The teaser video certainly points to improved immersion, including when you’re outside of your war machine — there’s a sequence where you have to board your mech Star Citizen-style. The Unreal Engine visuals also look to be an upgrade over existing robotic shooters, including those outside of the BattleTech universe. Although it’s far, far too soon to declare this game a success, what’s present suggests that Piranha might breathe life into a genre that many had written off.

Via: Polygon

Source: MechWarrior 5 Mercenaries


‘Wipeout’ comes to the PS4 through the ‘Omega Collection’

Have you been suffering from Wipeout withdrawal symptoms since getting a PS4? You can relax. Sony has revealed that Wipeout Omega Collection is coming to the PS4 with remastered versions of three games (or two, depending on your point of view): Wipeout HD, Wipeout HD Fury and Wipeout 2048. It’s not saying a whole lot about what’s new, but it’s safe to say that a graphical upgrade is on order — especially for 2048, which was meant for the PS Vita. They’re all getting 4K support, high dynamic range graphics and a “targeted” performance of 60 frames per second. You should see an “all-new” soundtrack, too. It’s not a true sequel, and you’ll have to wait until summer 2017 to get it, but it should at least end a years-long drought for people who have fond memories of racing hoverships to a thumping beat.

The crowd goes wild! Wipeout Omega Collection is coming to PS4, includes three classic games. #PSX16

— PlayStation (@PlayStation) December 3, 2016

Source: PlayStation (Twitter), PlayStation Blog


The Pokémon constant: Someone will always beat it with Magikarp

Worthless. Pathetic. Horribly Weak. Virtually useless. This is how Pokémon games’ in-game encyclopaedias describe Magikarp, a hapless fish-creature that is widely regarded as the “worst” monster in the game series’ ever-growing list of fighting creatures. It only has three attacks, and one of them literally does nothing. So, naturally, someone beat Pokémon Sun And Moon using nothing but the worthless flounder. Because why not?

Japanese player Nanako_Official barrelled through Sun and Moon’s Elite Four with a level 70 Magikarp, keeping the weak Pokémon in the fight by stocking up on health items and making the most of the game’s battle mechanics. Specifically, Nanako said he had to use the ‘struggle’ move to overcome Magikarp’s weakness to Ghost-type Pokémon. Normally, a Pokémon only struggles if it’s out of Power Points (PP) — but the move is capable of dealing damage to any opponent, regardless of type. By intentionally letting Magikarp run out of PP, Nanako was able to defeat enemies the Pokémon should never have been able to take down.

Beating a Pokémon game with Magikarp sounds like a gruelling, painful exercise — but it’s also sort of a tradition. The “Magikarp Only Run” is one of half a dozen extremely difficult fan-challenges available to Pokémon players. Other popular runs include the infamous Nuzlocke Challenge, which forces players to release any Pokémon that faints in battle and the MonoType run, which limits the player to using only a single “type” of Pokémon. Frankly, all these challenges sound a little insane — but maybe that’s what it takes to be a true Pokémon master.

Via: Kotaku

Source: Rocket News


‘No Man’s Sky’ files hint at upcoming ground vehicles

When Hello Games said that its No Man’s Sky Foundation Update was laying the groundwork for things to come, it definitely wasn’t kidding. Reddit user eegandj has discovered multiple files that hint at the addition of a buggy to the open-ended space game. There’s an incomplete 3D model of the ground vehicle, icons, textures and even a folder conspicuously marked “buggy” — wonder what that’s for? He even managed to bring the unfinished model into the game to see what it looks like in practice.

There are no guarantees that you’ll be driving across alien planets in a buggy any time soon, or at all. It’s not uncommon for software developers to leave unused assets in updates, even if it’s just due to expediency — it can be easier to keep stray files and code than tidy things up. If this is a sign of what’s to come, though, it’s good news for players who don’t like walking for minutes on end just to collect resources or discover a new base.

Via: Polygon

Source: Reddit (1), (2)

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