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Tech News

Recommended Reading: The rise of 'Desus & Mero'

June 23, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

How ‘Desus & Mero’ conquered late night
Jazmine Hughes,
The New York Times

It’s nothing new for a popular podcast to make the leap to a television show or movie, but that’s not stopping Showtime. This week, the network tapped Desus Nice and The Kid Mero, the stars of the Bodega Boys podcast, to host a weekly late-night show. The New York Times offers a look at how the comedic duo and what makes their work so unique.

Inside Atari’s rise and fall
Jamie Lendino,
TechCrunch

This excerpt from Lendino’s book is an interesting read on one of the most iconic companies in gaming history.

The legend of Nintendo
Felix Gillette,
Bloomberg Businessweek

There’s no denying the popularity of the Nintendo Switch, but it has also given the legendary company new life.

Google is training machines to predict when a patient will die
Mark Bergen,
Bloomberg

An AI project may help Google break into the medical industry.

Here’s what GitHub developers really think about Microsoft’s acquisition
Tom Warren,
The Verge

GitHub is a passionate community, and The Verge spoke to a few developers to gauge the mood.

Gaming News

Splatoon 2's Octo Expansion Is Wrecking Me And I Love It

June 22, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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Screenshot: Splatoon 2 (Nintendo)

Splatoon’s campaigns have always been wacky, inventive, but rarely too difficult. They seemed designed to introduce players to the game’s different weapons and mechanics. The newly released Octo Expansion for Splatoon 2 isn’t about warm welcomes. It’s about mastering all that Splatoon can throw at you and then some.

The setup of the Octo Expansion is that you’re an Octoling, the octopus-inspired cousins of Splatoon’s signature Inklings, the squid kids. As a more humanized version—compared to the purple Day Of The Tentacle-looking mobs found in the game’s main campaign—you traverse a subterranean railway, completing challenges at each train station while accumulating four “thangs” to earn entrance to Inkopolis.

These challenges can be wildly inventive but also brutally difficult. Much like Breath of the Wild’s post-launch DLC, the Octo Expansion seems geared towards those who have beat the game already and want a higher degree of difficulty.

For some, this can be really off-putting. Kotaku editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo and I have talked a few times now about various levels. Some are clever and inventive, like a Breakout-style ball-bouncing level or one inspired by Picross. Some make inventive use of the game’s mechanics, like a level that basically made me play billiards with a sniper rifle.

This level really forced me to think about how I lined up my shots.Screenshot: Splatoon 2 (Nintendo)

But the expansion is filled with plenty of levels that will force you to restart, over and over. On one, I was hopping from rail to rail, trying to break targets. Missing even one meant failure. The level reminded me of the Xbox One’s under-appreciated Sunset Overdrive and reduced me to a wreck. This, I said to myself, is how bad I am at Splatoon.

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I got used to seeing this… a lot.Screenshot: Splatoon 2 (Nintendo)

You have a lifeline if a level proves too challenging. After enough failed attempts and burned credits, you can pay a fee (in-game currency, no microtransactions) to “hack” the level, letting you pass to the next station. The repercussion is light; you only miss out on the Mem Cake, a pencil topper-looking item that’s part of a set, which you turn in for rewards.

I’ve rarely thrown in the towel throughout my subterranean odyssey. While the expansion’s challenges are brutal, they’re also intensely rewarding to surmount. Each life, each attempt, I felt myself inching closer to perfection. I would repeat runs instead of using the skip option because I knew I was one good try away from the goal. The various aspects of the game became ingrained in my mind, seeping into that reptilian section of my brain.

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The rails missions are a blast to perfect over the course of many, many failures.Screenshot: Splatoon 2 (Nintendo)

What the Octo Expansion does is force me out of my comfort zone. The main campaign let me coast by, for the most part, on cursory-level knowledge of each weapon and skill. There were few do-or-die moments, or at least, not to the level of the expansion. I’m god-awful with any sniper-style weapon in Splatoon. Anything that holds a charge, leave it on the sidelines. I’m a spray-and-pray Inkling. I feel most comfortable on an Aerospray or a bucket, covering the largest area I can and outputting more ink-per-second than anyone else.

Within an hour of playing the Octo Expansion, I was playing a level where I had to chain together grappling beacons with well-timed charger shots. I was forced to maneuver an 8-ball using my nemesis, the Splatling ink-minigun. Several levels required me to master maneuverability in supers I never use, like the Ink Jet or the Baller.

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There are some fun chat logs and other goodies for Splatoon lore-fiends.Screenshot: Splatoon 2 (Nintendo)

The Octo Expansion’s brutal difficulty is not for everyone. At least for those who tussle with it too much, there are mechanics in place to shepherd them through to the end goal of getting to play as an Octoling in multiplayer matches. I like it, though. In the subways and tunnels, among the 8-balls rolling off the sides of platforms and paper-thin orbs that need defending (curse that level), I’ve found a challenge that pushes me to master a game I’ve just been casually enjoying for a long time. I’m not great, but with each cleared goal I think to myself, this is how good I can be at Splatoon.

Tech News

'Arena of Valor' beta registration for Nintendo Switch is live

June 22, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

SEA

Arena of Valor was one of the biggest games at E3 this year, you just didn’t know it. Like Super Smash Bros Ultimate it was featured in the Nintendo Direct broadcast, and, like Smash there was also a giant tournament featuring the game in downtown LA last week. It’s also the biggest mobile game in China, free to play and backed by Tencent.

Should you want in on the Switch version’s closed beta that runs next week Thursday (June 28th) through July 12th — a full two weeks — you can sign up right here. Previously the game had a European beta, and this next test phase is exclusively for the European and North American regions. Participants will unlock an exclusive skin for fan-favorite mage Krixi.

If you’re the type to scoff at mobile esports, maybe you should reconsider — last July the South China Morning Post reported the game had over 200 million players on its home turf. Comparatively, Fortnite has 125 million players globally.

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Gaming News

How to Use Pokémon Go's New Trading Feature

June 22, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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Image: Pokémon Go

Even though you probably quit playing Pokémon Go a while ago, thousands of people still “catch ‘em all” in cities across the U.S. And you might soon see a slight uptick of players where you live, because developer Niantic is (finally) adding Pokémon trading to the game, only two years after its release.

Starting this week, you can add friends on Pokémon Go, see their activity on a news feed and, most importantly, exchange Pokémon and certain items with nearby players. However, there are a few limitations.

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At the moment, only those level 40 and above are able to access social features within Pokémon Go, though it’s unclear if this policy is indefinite or temporary. Niantic notes on its site that trades only require players be at level 10.

Screenshot: Pokémon Go

When it comes to rarer Pokémon, there are more rules to keep in mind. Certain Pokémon require a special trade (e.g. rare shiny creatures like Gold Magikarp or legendaries like Mewtwo), which costs players a lot of stardust and can only be completed with a Great Friend or Best Friend (a player you’ve participated in many gym battles or raids alongside). While a regular trade may cost 100 stardust, a special trade could cost 1,000,000. The higher your friendship level with others, the cheaper your trading costs will be.

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Then there are the nitty-gritty details: Traditionally, a traded Pokémon remains the same level it was when sent. In Pokémon Go, as shown in the Pikachu example below, the Pokémon may come out on the other side with fewer hit points (HP), combat power (CP) or both. The game will give you a range of stats to give you an idea of how your must-have creature will look post-trade. However, there’s no way to end up with a better Pokémon than you put in—all you can hope for is one that doesn’t drop any stats once it jumps over to your collection.

The fact that Gifts are the only items that can be traded with friends is a downside, as well. You also have to be near the friend in real life, meaning you shouldn’t expect to trade online with a friend halfway around the world (unless you spoof your location).

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Tech News

'Semblance' is proof of Nintendo's new indie hustle

June 22, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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I found Semblance on the second floor of the Fuego Lounge, squeezed into a booth beside a dance floor and a small stage. It was early afternoon, and waitstaff were restocking the long, rectangular bar in the center of the room as game developers, press and PR handlers flitted from station to station. A cloth tent on the balcony offered psychedelic VR meditation; a geodesic dome on the roof showcased swirling galaxies. And all along the walls inside, indie games waited to be played.

Semblance stood out among the row of screens for its energetic, purple-tinged visuals. It’s a platformer starring an adorable bouncing blob named Squish, and it’s heading to PC, Mac and Nintendo Switch this year. Its conceit is innovative and also glaringly obvious: It’s a platformer where players actually create platforms as they go. Squish is able to distort the world, building tall ledges or deep indentations in the ground in order to solve a series of tricky spatial puzzles. Everything about the game is at once super cute and filled with mystery, from the squashy, haunting sound effects to the cartoonish yet deep background animations.

Semblance was part of Indie Heaven, a showcase hosted by Good Shepherd Entertainment during E3, held inside an abandoned building directly across the street from the Los Angeles Convention Center. Programmer Cukia “Sugar” Kimani and designer Ben Myres spent their days showing off Semblance to the media and their nights partying on the roof with other developers.

“If you’re not traveling a ton, you’re not going to be able to make it.”

The fact that Kimani and Myres were even in LA, let alone dancing all night on a roof in the heart of the city, was nothing short of a miracle. Their studio, Nyamakop, is based in South Africa, and Semblance is the first South African game to ever make its way to a Nintendo console. It’s nearly the first African game, full stop, to hit a Nintendo platform: Ubisoft Casablanca worked on N64 ports out of Morocco, though it never developed an original IP for Nintendo on the continent.

“The entry curve into being an indie game developer in South Africa is like a cliff face,” Myres said, sitting next to Kimani in his booth as the Semblance trailer flashed on a screen in front of them. “Because you don’t have the contacts, the platform holders like Xbox, Sony.”

“You don’t have events near you,” Kimani added.

“You don’t have reps that live in your country,” Myres said, nodding. “The press that matter are all here. There isn’t a big enough market locally to sell to, so you have to make works to sell to the West, which means you have to go to Western shows and you have to meet Western press. So basically, if you’re not traveling a ton, you’re

Tech News

Nintendo can quickly ban Switch pirates from online play

June 22, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Nintendo has implemented some pretty stringent anti-piracy measures for the Switch, and according to one console hacker, it has already started banning game cart certificates. In a lengthy PSA on the SwitchHacks subreddit, “SciresM” said Nintendo can now quickly detect if the game you’re trying to play online has been legitimately purchased, whether it’s a game cart or a digital copy. The gaming giant performs server-side checks, so you can’t bypass them — if it determines that you’re playing a legit copy, it issues an authorization token that can’t be forged. In case it catches you trying to play a pirated copy, it will prevent your game from connecting and could even permanently ban your console from being able to access the Nintendo network.

Looks like we’ve got confirmation that Nintendo is banning gamecart certificates (I guess people aren’t taking my advice…). The relevant error for trying to use a gamecard with a banned cert is 0x1F727C — 2124-4025.

— Michael (@SciresM) June 20, 2018

These strict anti-piracy measures come after the rise of hacks on the Switch following the discovery of an exploit that allowed hackers to run arbitrary code on the console. While it’s easy to dismiss them if you don’t actively play pirated games, you may still want to keep them in mind if you buy second-hand game carts. Try to check if the copy works and isn’t already banned before playing it on your console if you can, so as not to risk getting locked out of online play.

Gaming News

Nintendo And Microsoft Are Rubbing Sony's Face In It

June 21, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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We’re conditioned to expect console manufacturers to be bitter rivals, constantly at each other’s throats in a battle for market supremacy. But sometimes, the enemy of an enemy can be a friend.

We got a reminder during E3 that the PS4, unlike most other platforms on Earth, does not support crossplay between consoles. That means that if you have an Xbox One, and a friend of yours has a PS4, and you both want to play the same game together, you can’t.

Some of the world’s biggest games, from Fortnite to Minecraft to Rocket League, all support some variety of crossplay, allowing people with PCs, Xbox Ones, mobiles and Nintendo consoles to play on the same servers. Yet Sony continues to refuse to allow PlayStation consoles to get in on the fun when it comes to playing with Microsoft or Nintendo consoles.

In the wake of E3 and the disappointment of Fortnite’s account locking, then, two of the companies that do allow crossplay have teamed up to take a swing at the PlayStation 4 with this commercial for Minecraft, a game that’s also available on PS4:

And they’re really rubbing it in:

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This isn’t an ad designed to highlight the platforms that are playing together. It’s designed to highlight the platform that isn’t.

And while at the end of the day it’s just a marketing jab, I think it’s one a lot of people can genuinely get behind because Sony’s policy sucks, and if two rival massive companies want to have some fun with that, then have at it.

Tech News

A vertical case makes arcade games easier on Nintendo Switch

June 21, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Flip Grip

A big part of the Nintendo Switch’s appeal is its portability, but select games — typically older titles that originally debuted in arcade machines — are formatted vertically. Playing them horizontally leads to giant black bars on the sides, which isn’t enjoyable for anyone. But a new gadget (more like a case, really) is up on Kickstarter that situates the console upright with rails on the sides for Joy-Con controllers to slide into, allowing players to enjoy their favorite vertical games on the go.

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The Flip Grip, as it’s called, will retail for $15 if it meets its $42,500 goal (it currently sits just above $14,000). It’s a single piece of ABS plastic with cutouts that leave the game card, SD slot and headphone jack exposed when the console is fully inserted — but unfortunately, the charging port and power button are both inaccessible. There’s even a little slot in the back to insert something (like a credit card (!!), the campaign suggests) as a makeshift stand.

Current Switch titles that benefit from vertical play include classics like the original Donkey Kong, Punch-OUt!!, Ikaruga, Galaga and Pac-Man. To be clear, only games that support screen rotation will benefit, but the Switch menu interfaces don’t support vertical orientation, so it’s not a seamless experience.

The Flip Grip is a collaboration between veteran games journalist Jeremy Parish, hardware engineer Mike Choi and production company Fangamer. The case has already been designed and prototyped, according to the site — it just needs funding for mass-production. If the campaign meets its goal, the Flip Grip is expected to begin shipping in November.

Tech News

'Minecraft' cross-play is here for mobile, PC, Switch and Xbox

June 21, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Reuters Staff / Reuters

Announced at E3 last year, Minecraft‘s cross-play update is finally here to unite players on mobile, PC, Nintendo Switch and Xbox hardware. More than just proving to Sony that cross-platform multiplayer is safe and that it works, the “Bedrock” update also brings the Switch version up to par with other platforms.

Meaning, they’ll have access to the Minecraft Marketplace so they can buy skins, texture packs and community creations. When other platforms got this update last fall, the Minecraft team announced it’d arrive for the Switch by the holiday season. Then, this May, it was announced the patch would arrive June 21st (today!).

The update is free for existing owners, and $30 for everyone else. It also includes a Super Mario mash-up pack and Phase One of Update Aquatic, according to a blog post. Oh, and the update will also enable Switch players to earn Gamerscore and achievements — Xbox features that’ve been around since 2005 — on the portable console/handheld hybrid.

Sony has found itself in an unenviable position coming out of E3, angering hundreds of millions of Fortnite players by blocking use of existing Epic Games accounts if they’d been used to access the wildly popular free-to-play game on PlayStation 4.

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It sucked the wind of out a lot of people’s excitement that Fortnite was available on Switch last week with native voice chat support. “We’re always open to hearing what the PlayStation community is interested in to enhance their gaming experience.” was Sony’s canned non-response at the time.

Microsoft and Nintendo, meanwhile, have teamed up for the Bedrock update’s announcement trailer to twist the cross-platform knife. Now to wait and see how long Sony endures the beating it’s taking online before it relents and allows all platforms to play together.

Gaming News

I Don't Know If Nintendo Won E3, But They Are Winning June

June 21, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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The traditional way to view game companies when it’s E3 season is to look at what they announce for the future. In that regard, Nintendo had a so-so E3.

During its pre-recorded presentation, Nintendo announced relatively few games, most of them safe sequels and a line-up for the remainder of the year that’s a little thinner than last year’s. But then there’s what they’re doing now, in June,this very month in which E3 resides. What they’re doing has resulted in one of the best gaming months I’ve experienced on the Switch.

The Switch’s unusually strong June began with the release of Sushi Striker, an ingenious Nintendo-published puzzle role-playing game involving throwing plates of sushi. It sounds silly. It is silly. And it is also a terrific, impressively deep game.

Play this game. Or at least try the free demo.

I’ve been hooked on Sushi Striker, though my flight from New York to Los Angeles for E3 enabled me to catch up on some unfinished Switch games (Super Mario Odyssey and Doom) as well as the recently released pinball-based sidescroller Yoku’s Island Express.

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June should be the slow season for catching up with unfinished games, but by E3 week Nintendo was serving up a demo containing the first few hours of July’s nice-looking JRPG Octopath Traveler and doing out-right-now announcements for the mega-popular online shooter Fortnite the indie game Hollow Knight. They also did a surprise spring launch of the impressive if brutally difficult singleplayer expansion to Splatoon 2, which had been slated for summer.

It’s been a good month.

It’s not that weird that a platform-holder might put out some games and demos during E3, but this month isn’t over yet. We’re a day away from a new Mario Tennis game that sounds like it has a solid story mode. And that’s not all: we’re less than a week away from an extensive, exclusive Donkey Kong expansion to Ubisoft’s Mario/Rabbids crossover (I tried it early at E3. It’s good).

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By month’s end, June 2018 will go down as one of the months that had the most new Switch games—many of them exclusive—that I was interested in playing. That has me looking at Nintendo’s E3 line-up a little differently. Their holiday roster of Super Smash Bros., Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee, Super Mario Party and a Xenoblade Chronicles expansion seems slender. It makes me suspicious that something is missing. It also reminds me that there really is no time like the present. I don’t know if Nintendo’s fall is going to be as rich for Switch as I might want, but I’m blown away by Nintendo’s June.

Kotaku Game Diary

Daily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.