main

Tech News

A live-action 'Stargirl' series is coming to DC's streaming service

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

DC

When DC officially announced its own streaming service, we couldn’t help but ask whether it could offer enough content to justify its $8-per-month pricing. For loyal fans, the price is probably worth it, because in addition to old Batman animated shows and movies, it will serve as the exclusive home to the comic giant’s originals. DC’s Geoff Johns has revealed one of those originals during his spotlight panel at SDCC 2018: a live-action series based on teen superhero Stargirl.

On his spotlight panel, @geoffjohns announces a new addition to @TheDCUniverse lineup: Stargirl, on a mission to bring back the legacy of the Justice Society! #DCSDCC pic.twitter.com/kbKyjMSuRe

— DC (@DCComics) July 19, 2018

Stargirl aka Courtney Whitmore is the first character Johns made for DC, and he based her on his late sister. In the show, we’ll see her as a high school sophomore who brings together a group of unlikely heroes to form the Justice Society of America, which you might know as the precursor to the Justice League. As a prominent member of the JSA, she appeared in many other DC shows over the years — just last year, she showed up in CW’s Legends of Tomorrow as a WWII-era superhero. It’s unclear if DC is considering the actress (Sarah Grey) who played her in Legends for the series’ title role, but we’ll likely hear more about it the nearer we are to its 2019 premiere.

Gaming News

You Can Now Watch U.S. Congresspeople Stream Video Games

July 19, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

phuyr5fuawszjmgjn7vr.png

Washington Post reporter David Weigel (left) interviews Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz (right) while the two play Madden 18. Screenshot: Kotaku (Twitch)

The Washington Post is now Twitch streaming politicians beating its reporters at video games, starting today with Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz demolishing reporter David Weigel 26 to 0 in Madden 18. It’s an extremely weird interview format, but one that feels perfectly at home in the absurd media landscape of 2018.

Why Madden 18? Apparently Gaetz, who admits he doesn’t really play games all that much, picked it. He began explaining why at one point—“if you needed a game to prove you were a real American”—before trailing off. For his part, Weigel confessed to preferring shooters, saying he plays Call of Duty online from time to time. “The WWII game was a little less exciting than it should have been,” he said, offering the hottest gaming take he could muster. Both men looked like they felt out of place, unsure how to interact over the game, despite both being extremely adept at their respective crafts. Every couple of minutes Weigel would criticize his own play-calling and then pivot to an open-ended question. Gaetz would offer a hedged response before immediately pivoting to a rehearsed-sounding zinger about how badly he was beating Weigel.

It was far from the type of media appearance Gaetz has become known for. The 35-year-old Congressman has spent his relatively young political career courting the most unapologetically conservative and alt right parts of the Republican party. The banner for his Twitter page is him taking a selfie with Trump. He’s been on Alex Jones’ InfoWars in the past, and earlier this year he invited Holocaust denier and white supremacist Chuck Johnson to be his guest at the State of the Union. Elected the same year as Trump, he’s since made a name for himself by being the President’s number one congressional defender, ready to appear in any article or on any TV show to spin his right wing yarns. Last month, for instance, he went on Lou Dobbs Tonight to claim that Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, accused of not acting on allegations of sexual abuse while serving as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University, was being unfairly targeted by people affiliated with the deep state.

Waluigi won’t be in this year’s Super Smash Bros. game, but it looks like he will at least have weekly appearances on the Washington Post Twitch channel. Screenshot: Kotaku (Twitch)

The Washington Post began its Twitch programming in April by streaming Mark Zuckerberg’s Senate hearing. This week it used Trump’s Helsinki Summit with Vladimir Putin to kick off a more regular schedule, including a series of analysis talk shows with reporter Libby Casey and a series of more traditional gaming streams called “Playing Games with Politicians.” The Post is owned by Jeff Bezos—who also owns Amazon, which also owns Twitch—so the paper’s attempts to break out into political coverage oriented around playing video games isn’t a surprise. The product, so far at least, is still bizarre. The Washington Post did not immediately respond to a request by Kotaku for comment about the reasoning behind the Twitch program.

Advertisement

While deciding whether to have his Tampa Bay Buccaneers run the ball or pass, Gaetz was much more anodyne than usual. The meandering discussion focused on topics like net neutrality and medical marijuana legalization, topics on which he holds more mainstream views (he’s in favor of both). Rather than defend the latest Trump gaffe or explain his desire to open an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, Gaetz was content to just game and chill, and Weigel likewise wasn’t keen to press him on issues.

At times it seemed like someone might get distracted enough during an offensive drive to actually break from the bullshit and say something real. People laugh at streamers who get paid to game all day, but anyone who’s tried streaming knows how hard it is to speak with charm and wit while a hundred on screen stimuli are screaming for your attention. Unfortunately, the moments of candor rarely came. “I tell you, it’s Donald Trump’s America, man,” Gaetz said early on. He continued: “Is anything really used against anyone anymore? Does anyone even remember that Trump picked a fight with the Pope?”

Advertisement

In keeping with the game-streaming format, cohost Gene Park asked questions from the Twitch chat by users named things like AbortionShark about what Gaetz likes to eat for breakfast and whether he likes pineapple on his pizza. The glimmer of a real moment came when Twitch viewer PikaPalTV asked Gaetz about why he’d associated himself with Chuck Johnson who, among other things, has advocated killing Black Lives Matter activists. “That was a mistake in vetting,” Gaetz said, contrary to his defense of Johnson immediately following the controversy. “I probably should have googled him first.” He then stared intently at a recap of the last Madden play for a few seconds before Park bailed him out with softball question about military readiness.

The Congressman also recently expressed regret for his appearances on Alex Jones’ show. “Upon further reflection, I think that the things that Alex Jones has said and done are so hurtful to so many people that a member of Congress should not grace that platform and legitimize it, and I would not go back,” Gaetz . For anyone who doesn’t know, Jones helped popularize the conspiracy that the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax, calling the parents of the victims liars. He began doing that in 2014, but Gaetz appeared on his show this past January. None of this came up during the 26 points he scored against Weigel, though. It probably wouldn’t have mattered if it had. After all, this is Trump’s America.

“All right guys keep defending democracy or whatever,” said Twitch commenter craigjenkum when the crew signed off. Don’t worry, they will—next Thursday, when the show returns with another politician, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, this time playing Wii Sports.

Tech News

Spotify users still can't block followers, but that could change

July 18, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Spotify isn’t as much of a haven from harassment as many might like. Since the service shares your plays with followers by default, it’s possible for harassers to keep up with your listening habits and exploit that to their advantage (say, by finding out when you’re in a sad mood). The company has remained quiet on the prospect of a blocking feature in response to this, but it now appears to be more receptive to the idea. BuzzFeed News has discovered that Spotify recently labeled a years-old request for a user blocking feature as a “good idea.” It’s not on the company’s “current” roadmap, according to the notice, but that’s a distinct improvement from the approach so far.

Don’t count on it coming in the near future. In a statement, Spotify said it “does not have any timeline on plans for a block feature.” That doesn’t rule out work on an addition, but you won’t want to pin hopes on the feature arriving any time soon.

The apparent change of heart came right as Instagram has confirmed that it’s testing an option to remove followers. And in both cases, the philosophy is the same: they’re acknowledging that users don’t want a binary choice between totally private accounts and opening themselves up to abuse. It similarly recognizes that internet harassment can involve passive activities, not just threatening messages or doxxing.

Tech News

'World's largest' sports streamer makes US debut September 10th

July 17, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for DAZN

DAZN has become one of the better-known live sports streaming services (it bills itself as the “world’s largest”), but you wouldn’t know it if you lived in the US. It’s only been available in Canada, Japan and a handful of European countries. It’s thankfully addressing that omission soon, albeit not quite in the way you’d hope. The company is launching DAZN in the US on September 10th, with your $10 per month initially providing “combat sports” like boxing and mixed martial arts.

Partnerships with both Matchroomboxing and Bellator MMA will let you see some fairly big fights, including Anthony Joshua’s bout against Anthony Povetkin (September 22nd) and Matt Mitrione versus Ryan Bader (October 12th). Over 70 fights are already lined up, DAZN said, with an average of at least one fight a week.

The service is already available in other countries on devices ranging from phones to consoles and smart TVs, so accessibility won’t be an issue. Rather, it’s the content that’s the issue. You won’t see NFL games, European soccer (football) league play, motorsport or golf like you do in other corners of the world. DAZN is no doubt hoping to expand its licensing, but it’s a tough sell when ESPN+ can deliver more variety for $5 per month. This is really more about DAZN getting its feet wet in the States than attempting to give incumbents a run for their money.

Tech News

Twitch is giving the people what they want: GIFs

July 17, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Twitch

Twitch’s next way of letting viewers interact with streams is with GIFs. The latest customization tool for the popular broadcasting service arrives via a partnership with Giphy, and the way it works sounds pretty simple. A broadcaster sets a location on the screen for where users can drop GIFs, and once a stream starts viewers click the Giphy icon to start searching for the perfect reaction to the ‘caster’s on-screen antics. From there, it’ll overlay on the stream. Cool! Before you get any crazy ideas for trolling, GIFs will be curated for appropriateness.

“GIFs are limited to a PG rating and below, meaning [GIFs] with violence, sexual references and lewd terms are all prohibited, amongst other things,” according to the official extension description.

It stands to reason that there are some controls available for broadcasters too, so their shows don’t turn into endless streams of cats riding motorcycles, but that wasn’t clear from the initial announcement. After all, the service has tools for keeping chat manageable for popular channels, so we’d expect similar here. We’ve reached out to Twitch for more information and will update this post when it arrives.

Update: A Twitch spokesperson provided the following clarification on its new GIF policy: “GIFs are queued up and delivered one at a time. As with all Twitch extensions, the viewer can minimize or close the screen at any time.” The power is in your hands, folks.

Tech News

Hulu's Mars drama 'The First' debuts September 14th

July 17, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

The-First-Natasha-McElhone.jpg

Paul Schrimaldi/Hulu

Hulu has released photos of its upcoming astronaut drama The First starring Natascha McElhone and Sean Penn, and revealed that it will premiere on September 14th. Developed by House of Cards creator Beau Willimon, the series follows the first human Mars mission and the challenges of planetary colonization. Penn, in his first major TV role, plays astronaut Tom Haggerty and McElhone has the role of Laz Ingram, a visionary Elon Musk-type CEO of private space company Vista.

The streaming site hasn’t released a trailer or plot details yet, but the first images show the characters strictly on Earth. “It’s a story about the human spirit,” said Willimon earlier. “About the cost of that vision, the danger and sacrifice — emotional, psychological, and physical — that’s required to achieve it. How ordinary, imperfect people band together and overcome a myriad of obstacles to grasp the extraordinary.”

Tech News

First 'Stranger Things' season 3 teaser is a perfect '80s mall ad

July 16, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Netflix

Thanks mainly to online shopping, malls are largely struggling nowadays unless they’re willing to change with the times. But in the mid-1980s, they were everywhere, adorned with loud neon signs and welcoming consumers with even louder fashion choices and hairstyles. It seems fitting, then, that a silly ad for such a mall in the town of Hawkins, Indiana, is really the first teaser for the third season of Stranger Things.

Other than the mall opening up in Hawkins and a brief glimpse of Steve and new character Robin (played by Maya Hawke) as ice cream store sales assistants, there’s not much to directly tie the teaser to Netflix’s hit show. There are a few other nods, such as the announcer claiming the mall is “one of the finest shopping facilities in America… and beyond,” which perhaps is a reference to the Upside Down. And, given Stranger Things’ frequent use of classic movies as guiding lights, there’s an obvious link to Dawn of the Dead, George Romero’s mall-set zombie flick.

The YouTube video’s description says Starcourt Mall will open in summer 1985, which is the year in which season 3 is set. But the end of the clip says the mall is “coming next summer,” which might hint towards the season’s release window — we could have to wait another year for season 3 to arrive. While we await confirmation of when we’ll get to see more Stranger Things (which just picked up a heap of Emmy nominations), take 84 seconds out of your day to enjoy this clip, drink in all of the era-appropriate references and either reminisce about or wonder what it was like to enter a gaudy ’80s mall.

[embedded content]

Tech News

Blockbuster is one store away from extinction in the US

July 13, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

REUTERS

Although it’s well known that there aren’t many Blockbuster stores left open, the announced closure of Alaska’s remaining two outlets is a deathblow. Kevin Daymude, the General Manager of Blockbuster Alaska confirmed via a Facebook post that rental operations in Fairbanks and DeBarr Road will cease next week, before the stores reopen to sell off inventory until August’s end.

Anchorage Daily News reports the video rental chain has been endangered for several years now — in 2013, there were 13 surviving Blockbuster outlets, but three years later, that number had dwindled to just nine. As a result of the closures, only one blockbuster in the United States still exists.

Blockbuster’s march into obsolescence began around 2013, when parent company Dish Network Corp’s CEO Joseph Clayton acknowledged that video entertainment was shifting towards a digital distribution system. After announcing it would close its final 300 retail stores, the company vowed to continue serving customers online through an On Demand app. But Blockbuster faithfuls knew it could never replace the authenticity of a physical store.

Around two months ago, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver attempted to rescue the DeBarr Road Blockbuster by donating the jockstrap used by Russell Crowe in Cinderella Man, but while the unconventional choice of memorabilia helped create short-lived interest and increased customers, it wasn’t enough to secure the store’s future.

It’s been suggested that Blockbuster stores have been preserved for longer in Alaska due to the state’s costly internet — which drove many residents to continue renting videos instead of viewing content online.

The last store standing in the video rental apocalypse, however, is in Bend, Oregon. “If you’d asked me 14 years ago, there’s no way I’d thought we’d be the last one. It just seems a little crazy” General Manager Sandi Harding said, adding that she doesn’t plan on shutting up shop.

Blockbuster might be on its last legs in the US, but a handful of Australian stores and kiosks are keeping the brand alive.

Gaming News

The Xbox Game Pass Library Has Gotten Much Better

July 12, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

y07ysvd5gdbn2i35m3ba.png

Screenshot: Fat Shark (Warhammer: Vermintide 2)

Rocket League and Warhammer: Vermintide 2 came to Xbox Game Pass this week. Game Pass lets you pay $10 a month for access to a library of over 100 Xbox games. As long as you keep your subscription active, you can download and play any of them. Game Pass was an interesting idea when Microsoft introduced it last summer, but now it’s great.

Rocket League needs no introduction, but I feel it necessary to restate just how fucking awesome this game is. For reasons known only to the internet gremlins who actually run Kotaku dot com, it’s not on the site’s list of the 12 best Xbox One games, but if there were a Kotaku list of the 13 best Xbox One games you can bet your rocket-propelled soccer cars it would be on there. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a game outside of a Smash Bros. or Mario Kart that feels as potentially timeless.

Vermintide 2, meanwhile, is a game about slaughtering giant rat men in exchange for rare loot. It came out earlier this year on PC, and in the short time I’ve spent with it since it hit Xbox One yesterday, it’s played well minus the occasional stutter. The light shining through grimey trees and dilapidated medieval towns looks great, and the melee feel of bashing in the heads of oversized rodents, demonic knights, and hulking barbarians is spot on. Like Rocket League, Vermintide 2 is something you can spend weeks grinding through and not feel cheated, which is what I plan to do for much of the rest of this month.

Screenshot: Gizmodo

But these are only the two most recent additions to Game Pass. There’s currently over a hundred other games in the library. Some of them I’ve never heard of, and plenty of others I know for a fact aren’t worth your time. A bunch are surprisingly good though, and these include, but are not limited to:

Advertisement

  • Fallout 4
  • Gears of War 4
  • Halo 5
  • Sunset Overdrive
  • Limbo
  • Mega Man Legacy Collection 1 & 2
  • Metro Last Light Redux
  • Terraria
  • Warhammer: Vermintide 2
  • Pro Evolution Soccer 2018
  • Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut
  • State of Decay 2

There’s also a huge array of Xbox 360 and original Xbox games, some of which are very good, like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Fable II. These games are nice to have easy access to without have to actually commit to buying them on the Microsoft Store. (You can see the full list here.) Occasionally the lineup changes as different publishers decide add new games or pull others, like Overcooked, which is sadly getting pulled at the end of this month. Currently, though, the library over all has been looking stronger than at any time since it launched, with many of the bigger games getting added in the past few months (The Division, The Elder Scrolls Online, and Fallout 4 all got added during this year’s E3).

Advertisement

Screenshot: Rare (Banjo-Kazooie)

A few weeks ago it was Banjo-Kazooie’s birthday. The backpacking bear and bird duo were celebrating 20 years since releasing on the N64. I re-read Kotaku editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo and alum Patrick Klepek’s epic discussion of the game and was just itching to play it, so much so I even scanned Craigslist for a few desperate minutes seeing if anyone in a 15 mile radius was unloading the console, the game, or hopefully both. Later in the evening I booted up my Xbox and started looking for something else to play. I see so much box art for so many games across so many screens it barely registers anymore, but several rows deep in the Game Pass backlog I spotted Banjo-Kazooie. Of course: Microsoft owns Rare now. Rare Replay was released a few years ago. I didn’t need some stranger’s old N64 to play Banjo-Kazooie, just 10 minutes to download it from Game Pass.

Netflix started in 1997, and by the mid-aughts had began pivoting to streaming. Within a couple years the the quixotic question everyone liked to pose was “What if there was a Netflix for games?” Well, we have i, with services like Game Pass or EA Access (and Origin Access on PC). It’s not on-demand video game streaming like PlayStation Now or Nvidia’s GeForce Now, but in the year of our lord 2018 it accomplishes the same thing without latency issues or the constant threat of weird technical hiccups. Hopefully Sony, Nintendo, and Steam roll out similar programs of their own while we wait for the perfect streaming future to arrive.

Tech News

YouTube terminates accounts promoting Twitch streams

July 12, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

The fight between YouTube and Twitch just got a little uglier. Producers like Linus Tech Tips, Surny and Aztrosizt have complained that YouTube abruptly (though temporarily) terminated their accounts for using videos to promote their Twitch streams, such as LTT’s The WAN Show. It’s not that the videos weren’t violating rules (the site has long forbidden videos that primarily “drive people off of YouTube”). Rather, it’s that YouTube is only now enforcing the rules for videos promoting Twitch streams, and that it’s being unusually aggressive — it immediately terminated accounts instead of issuing strikes. This is oddly harsh when the company has been softer on channels that have done much worse, such as pushing false conspiracies that could lead to harassment and threats.

YouTube didn’t directly address the inconsistencies in enforcement when both Engadget and Polygon asked about the terminations. Instead, it directed concerned people to Twitter posts maintaining that you can “absolutely” produce videos promoting Twitch, and that there’s “no new enforcement.” The statements are problematic, however. The company didn’t outline what it would consider an acceptable promotion of Twitch (a brief mention at the end of an otherwise ordinary video, perhaps?). And when it says enforcement hasn’t changed… well, there are good reasons to be skeptical. Linus Tech Tips has been promoting Twitch streams for years, and it’s a large channel with millions of subscribers — YouTube can’t pretend it just discovered an obscure producer flaunting the terms of service.

The channels in question are back in action. However, the terminations are bound to raise concerns that YouTube is singling out Twitch promotions to hurt a competitor with an increasing amount of overlap. With YouTube diving deeper into gaming and Twitch encouraging non-gaming content, there’s a real chance some users might drift away. Not that allegations of a crackdown are likely to help YouTube’s reputation.