A report by Sydney newspaper the Daily Telegraph has resulted in the Australian Defence Force cutting ties with two prominent Australian YouTubers, Elliott “Muselk” Watkins (pictured above, a member of Australia’s Overwatch World Cup Team in 2017) and Alen “ChampChong” Catak.
According to the cover story, which was re-reported on broadcast TV yesterday, the ADF spent AUD$52,500 for the two to produce sponsored content. The videos were intended to drive younger Australians to sign up for the armed forces, and one of the said videos can be seen below.
UPDATE: the video has been removed.
The Telegraph’s report went through comments made by Muselk and ChampChong in previous posts and YouTube videos, writing that the pair had made rape jokes online and other derogatory comments. The story also ran with screencaps of old ChampChong tweets, including the ones referenced below:
Examples of tweets sent by Catak include one post in 2013 where he wrote: “not being racist, but movies are made by jews, they care for every last cent lol.” In another tweet written the same year, Catak joked about harassing women writing: “This girl was dressed like a whore & I asked ‘how much’ She replied ‘what’ I was like ‘how much for you’ & she was like ‘u think I’m a slut’.”
In 2016, Watkins also uploaded a video to YouTube titled “The RACIST Bastion!”. The video featured audio of him laughing when another game player says he is being “raped” in the corner. In 2017 he also uploaded a video where he flippantly described a game character he did not like as “the face of cancer”.
– Daily Telegraph, August 15, 2018
Defence Minister Marise Payne has ordered the cancellation of the ADF’s arrangement with the pair, and said the decision to hire the two was a failure of due diligence. “The material is offensive and has no place in any relationship with the Australian Defence Force or the Defence organisation,” the Minister is quoted as saying.
Neither ChampChong or Muselk has made any comment publicly, or to The Telegraph, about the story. Click Management, the talent management agency of which Muselk is a director, said in an email to Kotaku that they “won’t be making a comment” about the story.
Great Games Done Slow will be held in September, and rather than the chaos and stress of trying to play games quickly, players will instead be “encouraged to integrate wellbeing and peaceful play into their streams, find new ways to make a classic game meditative, explore the most relaxing games out there [and] create worlds at your own pace.”
Proceeds raised from the event will be donated to CheckPoint, a charity that works to improve the mental health of those who both play and make video games.
The event is a rare example of good things coming from Twitter, as it’s based on this Tweet by writer (and Kotaku contributor) Kate Gray, which as GGDS’ creation shows worked just as well as a joke as it did an actual good idea:
The last time we spoke to Nick Pearce, he was flying on a high: The Forgotten City, a mod that he’d spent more than 1700 hours building, had just won an Australian Writers’ Guild award. It was the first national screenwriting award given to a video game, a staggering accomplishment given it was a mod borne entirely out of love.
Since then, Pearce has been thinking about what the next stage of development looks like. He quit his full-time job, and after fielding a bunch of offers to work with other studios, Pearce decided to walk a long and difficult path of his own: turning his Skyrim mod into a game of its own.
For many, turning a project like The Forgotten City into something grander would be the logical next step. Pearce, however, was initially against the idea.
In a conversation with Kotaku, the Aussie developer explained that he met with three developers from League of Geeks, the makers of Armello. “They were just really good guys who are keen to help people find their way in the games industry. They asked if I’d considered making the mod into a standalone game,” he said.
The problem, as Pearce saw it, was threefold:
He didn’t have the time, or expertise, to make a game from scratch;
He wasn’t sure he’d get legal approval;
and he wasn’t certain fans of The Forgotten City would want a repeat experience
Part of the help came from the wisdom of others: Dan Pinchbeck, who worked on Dear Esther, told Pearce that their fan base wasn’t perturbed by the mod being transformed into a standalone game. That helped immensely: at the time the gaming community was still divided over the debate surrounding paid mods. “It was unclear how [the modding community] would react to somebody re-imagining a mod as a stand-alone game – it could have been anywhere from apathy to hostility,” Pearce said.
Getting legal clearance wasn’t a small feat, either. “It took well over a year of sending very polite emails,” Pearce explained, “asking if they were cool with me disentangling my IP from theirs and develop mine into a standalone game. Those emails led to a phone call with their lawyer. To their credit, they were pretty reasonable.”
With that sorted, there was just one other problem to untangle: actually making the damn game. So Pearce took a leap of faith: he quit his job, and used the money he had to hire Alex Goss, a programmer who’d worked on the VR space-walker Earthlight.
A shot of a placeholder level from the The Forgotten City, which formed part of the prototype that was submitted to Film Victoria.
At this stage, Pearce had some professional help. But he still didn’t have any experience building something from scratch with modern engines. “I researched Unreal, Unity, and CryENGINE/Lumberyard, and downloaded and tinkered with all of them,” he said.
When he fired up the Unreal Engine, he spent an afternoon playing around with a level, incorporating assets he’d picked up from the Unreal Marketplace. He wanted to recreate the mod’s first scene, and after producing the image above, he “uninstalled the other engines not long afterwards”.
After building out the rest of the placeholder level, Pearce then used iClone and Character Creator to assemble 3D characters and some animations. “I fed my original audio recordings from the mod (stripped of all references to any third party IP) into iClone to generate lip sync, and recorded some full body animations using a Perception Neuron mocap suit,” he explained.
“I brought those characters and their animations into the game level and essentially re-created the first “Act” of the mod in a generic fantasy setting, being careful to avoid infringing anyone else’s IP, which is something I’m really mindful of.”
Through that process, Pearce was able to rebuild a vertical slice of The Forgotten City’s first act. This end result was this:
The pitch and presentation of the game was good enough that Film Victoria’s panel awarded a crucial grant. “If they hadn’t, we would have run out of runway very quickly,” Pearce said.
That experience was also a good example of the value of prebought assets in development, something that’s not always understood. I asked Pearce what he thought of the recent discourse around pre-bought assets, and he pointed out that not only were they crucial in the prototyping stages — it’s hard to build everything by hand until you have a visual structure around how everything will fit — but it was also key in keeping the cost of games down.
“We want players to come away from it with a sense of understanding and pride and elation, and maybe a tear in their eye, and to rave to their friends about the Nolan-esque mind-fuck they just had,” Pearce said. “We want to bring that experience to as many people as possible, for the lowest price possible (in our case $20), and since most indie games never turn a profit it’s a risky business, so we need to be sensible about our budget – as do all indie developers.”
“That’s why a lot of indie devs, including the team behind PUBG, use original artwork supplemented with AAA-quality artwork they’ve licensed on a non-exclusive basis, to bring down the cost of developing their game, and make it more affordable for gamers. That’s why PUBG costs $30 and not something like $80. So it’s good for devs and good for gamers.”
None of the assets used in the prototype were brought over, he added.
After the prototype was complete, Pearce worked with John Eyre, an environment artist who’s worked on Hand of Fate 2 to overhaul the mod’s original setting into an ancient Roman city discovered in the present day. AIE lecturer Christiaan Gerritsen also came on as a technical artist.
Another interesting element, one that Pearce hadn’t shared with me last year, was that the characters were all based on clients and people he’d met during his time as a lawyer. “Some of the characters in The Forgotten City are inspired by former clients of mine, like the vulnerable and disadvantaged people I got to know while volunteering at Community Legal Centres for several years.”
“It’s sometimes said that a legal career is an adventure in applied ethics, and I think that’s absolutely true, and it’s why The Forgotten City has at its core these heart-wrenching ethical dilemmas and open-ended philosophical questions, like can authoritarian rules overcome the problems with human nature and bring us closer to utopia, or is the cure worse than the disease?”
And that’s ultimately what encouraged Pearce to take the plunge: the ability to tell stories.
“I get a constant stream of messages from fans telling me which endings brought them to tears, which twists made them jump out of their chair or scream at their screen, which characters broke their hearts, and how they wish there were more games like it,” he said.
Once he’d surpassed the hurdles originally stopping him from creating a standalone product, Pearce realised he was largely sitting on a once in a lifetime opportunity: he might make another game, another mod, write another story, but they might never have the groundswell of success and interest that he’d created with The Forgotten City.
“If it works out, I’d love to keep telling awesome stories in bigger and better games. If not, I’ll take the extraordinary skill set I’ve accumulated on this adventure, and start a new one. Either way, I’ll have a hell of a story to tell.”
Australian authorities didn’t buy Apple’s explanation for the infamous Error 53 message, which bricked a lot of phones in 2016. The country’s federal court has slapped the tech giant with a US$6.6 million fine a year after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) filed a lawsuit against it over the phone-bricking error. If you’ll recall, Error 53 disabled phones that were previously repaired by third-party companies, even if it was just to replace cracked screens. Apple originally refused to fix the issue and explained that it bricked the devices to protect users from potentially malicious third-party Touch ID sensors. It eventually relented and rolled out a software patch, but the ACCC still proceeded with its lawsuit.
As ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court explained, you can’t tell Australians that “because you’ve had this third party repair, you are not entitled to any remedy.” She added users should be free to have their screens replaced and other repairs done by third-party companies, so long as the procedure “doesn’t damage the underlying system of the phone.” Under the Australian Consumer Law, “customers are legally entitled to a repair or a replacement… and sometimes even a refund” if a product is faulty.
Even before the court handed down its verdict, though, Apple already agreed to compensate approximately 5,000 customers who were affected by Error 53. Cupertino also promised to train employees about warranties under the Australian Consumer Law in order to ensure compliance going forward.
Amazon launched its Prime service in Australia today, giving most Australians access to free two-day shipping, Prime Video and a number of other perks. A subscription will cost AU$59 (approximately $44) per year — as opposed to the US price of $119 — a discounted rate that takes into account a smaller selection of goods and higher prices. Amazon just launched in the country last December.
Prime comes just ahead of a new policy that will prevent Australian customers from shopping on other countries’ Amazon sites. The country has instituted a new law that requires retailers to collect goods and services tax on products shipped to Australia from abroad. And in response, Amazon has chosen to restrict Australian residents to its Australian website starting July 1st.
Amazon’s Australian site has around 60 million products, far fewer than the US’ 500 million. With Prime, Australians will have access to approximately 4 million items sold on the US site that they won’t have to pay shipping for as long as orders total more than AU$49. Amazon says around 90 percent of Australians will have access to two-day delivery. You can see a full list of regions that qualify here and they include metro areas such as Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide. Non-metro areas that don’t qualify for free two-day delivery will have access to an expedited three- to five-day delivery option for no additional charge.
Amazon is offering a free trial as well as a monthly payment option. Until the end of January, users can get Prime for AU$5 per month and after that the fee will increase to AU$7 per month.
When FIFA greenlit the use of video assistant referees at the 2018 World Cup, there was one overriding question: how long would it take before the technology shaped an important call? Not long at all, apparently. Two days into the group stage, officiators have used VAR to call for a key penalty after Australia’s John Risdon appeared to have fouled France’s Antoine Griezmann with a sliding tackle, disrupting a charge toward a possible goal. Griezmann promptly scored on the subsequent penalty kick, giving France the lead.
Tech played a crucial role later in the match, too. Goal-line systems once again helped France after a Paul Pogba shot bounced vertically off Australia’s crossbar. While it wasn’t initially clear if he’d scored, the equipment determined that the ball had creeped inches past the goal line and counted as France’s second, decisive point.
The game as a whole has been characterized as unexciting (two out of the three goals came from penalties). However, that might just underscore the value of VAR. While there are complaints that it can slow down play, it’s meant to provide clarity in messy situations like this. We wouldn’t be surprised if VAR and goal-line tech played vital roles throughout the rest of the Cup.
Governments around the world are taking various steps to prevent foreign elements from meddling with their elections. For some of them, it’s to prevent foreign interference yet again — the US, for instance, might use paper ballot backups that will allow officials to double check results. Australia is taking things a step further, though, and has formed a task force to guard its election process against cyberattacks and other methods. It’s called the “Electoral Integrity Task Force,” and it involves multiple agencies, including the Department of Finance and Home Affairs. A spokesperson told Reuters that the group will be in charge of identifying and addressing risks to the country’s electoral process.
He added that it’s not targeted “at any specific threat actor or impending malicious action,” but it’s likely a product of the Australian intelligence community’s warnings that foreign entities are trying to access classified info about the country’s military, economy and energy system. In fact, the government is expected to pass anti-foreign interference laws following reports of Chinese meddling, and they’ve been the cause of increasing friction between the two nations.
The task force’s spokesperson said in a statement that the group “is a precautionary measure,” which the country’s government believes will need to become the norm “in the age of increasing levels of cyber-enabled interference and disruption.” We’ll know very, very just how effective the task force is and if other countries should take a leaf out Australia’s book: the country is having five federal by-elections next month.