VR’s most popular game is getting more features (and more expensive)

VR’s most popular game is getting more features (and more expensive)

6:17pm, 14th May, 2019
VR’s most hyped game is getting a price bump later this month as it expands the amount of headsets that it’s playable on. We did a big deep-dive last week on Beat Saber, the best seller from a tiny Prague VR studio that’s pulling in big revenues. The game is part Guitar Hero, part Fruit Ninja, and you’ve got some light sabers to guide you through EDM tunes. It’s sold over 1 million copies. This week, the company Beat Games shared some updates that are likely to increase those revenues further as the company grows more confident that they’ve ironed out most of the game’s bugs. On May 21, Beat Games is bumping the price from $20 to $30 on Valve’s Steam store and the Oculus Home platform, bringing the price in line with the PS VR version. This price bump comes as the company abandons the “Early Access” title, a classifier that has long signified that a game is in beta and hasn’t had all of the kinks ironed out. With this, the studio detailed in a , they feel the game has reached a “stable version,” and that it is now a “full game.” When the game exits early access, it will be picking up a long-promised level editor so that gamers can create custom levels for their own audio tracks. The price change on May 21 isn’t an arbitrary date, that’s when Oculus will be releasing both of its new headsets, the Rift S and Quest. Speaking of the Quest, Oculus had introduced a feature called cross-buy that would enable users who already owned a copy of a game on Rift to let users download that game for free on Quest. On , Beat Games noted today that they won’t be supporting this for the base game, so Quest users will still have to pay up, though the studio said they will enable the feature for add-ons like additional music packs. Beat Saber is going to be unified across all platforms moving forward, meaning you won’t see certain versions getting updates that the others won’t get for a while. This opens up the potential for cross-platform multiplayer as the studio continues to work on a mode for multiple concurrent users. The price jump comes next week, you’ll still be able to score the game at the Early Access price before May 21.
HP’s new gaming laptop has more screens for more content

HP’s new gaming laptop has more screens for more content

9:41am, 14th May, 2019
There’s something about gaming laptops that make manufacturers do weird things. It’s kind of wonderful, in a way. Companies tend to give their teams a much wider berth for strange and novel designs, and HP’s Omen line is certainly no stranger. Designs that tend to be relegated to the concept shelf of history actually hit the market, and indeed, the Omen X 2S is currently on target for a May/June release. The defining characteristic of the $2,700 notebook is almost certainly the inclusion of a second screen that lives just above the keyboard. HP’s not the first to attempt such a thing — in fact, we might actually be approaching a trend here. The six-inch secondary display is considerably smaller than the 15-inch mean dealie. It’s designed to provide supplementary information at a glance. While the idea of a secondary screen has been around for some time, I do think HP’s at least being fairly realistic about how it will primarily be used. Rather than assuming that game developers are going to create content specifically for the 1080p touchscreen, HP suggests that gamers will almost certainly use it for other apps entirely. It suggests chatting in WeChat and WhatsApp, using Spotify and watching Twitch and YouTube videos. In other words, it will essentially serve the same function as just sticking your phone on your laptop — but this one is built in. Oh, and HP sells now, so you can coordinate with your new dual-screen laptop.
Review: Paint a fantasy landscape with indie game ‘Eastshade,’ developed by Seattle-area studio

Review: Paint a fantasy landscape with indie game ‘Eastshade,’ developed by Seattle-area studio

3:08pm, 12th May, 2019
Eastshade feels like somebody made an entire game out of a launch trailer. About five minutes after you start a new game, it turns into an endless series of interactive landscape paintings, as a colorful guided tour through someone’s imaginary island. There are a lot of incidental scenes in Eastshade — weird buildings, distant cities, a picturesque eclipse every day at noon that turns the sky red — that look like other games’ concept art, or which they’d use as big, triumphant moments. It’s ridiculously pretty. It’s the result of five years of work by , an indie developer founded in Bellevue, Wash. by Danny Weinbaum, who left a job as an environment artist at Sucker Punch to start the project. , Eastshade didn’t begin with a planned story or game mechanic, but instead, is an attempt to create a world that had a real sense of place. Everything else came after that, including its central gameplay loop. The game is set on an island of the same name, with you playing the part of a traveling painter who arrives one night by ship. (You never leave a first-person perspective or see your character, so in all the ways that matter, your character in Eastshade is you, reimagined.) Your character’s mother has recently passed away, and you’re here to fulfill her last request: travel to Eastshade, a place that she loved, and paint four specific landscapes that were important to her. Your ship sinks right before it was supposed to dock, which initially strands you in the one-horse village of Lyndow. Broke and alone in a strange town, you’re forced to rely on your wits to figure out how to reach the far side of the island and complete your mother’s request. Notably, you’re an artist, not an adventurer, and Eastshade is not the kind of fantasy world that has an apocalypse breathing down its neck. There are no evils brewing on the horizon; no bandits are randomly harassing people in the countryside; there aren’t a lot of suspiciously hostile wild animals out in the forest; and so far, the most violent encounter I’ve found is when an angry villager punched me out. (Frankly, I had it coming.) There are problems on Eastshade, but they aren’t the kind of problems that have to be solved with murder, and even if they were, you’re not the kind of protagonist who’s equipped to do so. Instead, you get around obstacles and complete quests by solving puzzles, gathering information, collecting resources from the wilderness, and exploring the area. Your central goal is to paint your mother’s four memorial paintings, which requires you to get all the way across Eastshade, into its capital, and up into the mountains. That turns out to be a lot harder than it sounds, thanks to short funds, local bureaucracy, and your lack of supplies. You end up having to do odd jobs, befriend the locals, and intervene in a couple of local disputes, but the stakes stay low and nobody ever tries to start a fight. It’s actually sort of weird. Eastshade is set in a big, open world, played from a first-person perspective, with a lot of animal-people around, so I kept thinking it’s an Elder Scrolls game. In Elder Scrolls games, you have to fight half a dozen monsters and cutpurses every time you leave a town. Being able to just walk outside a village in Eastshade and meander around for hours without being repeatedly attacked by skeletons or something makes me feel like I’m cheating somehow. Your character’s skill at painting comes in handy occasionally to make money and finish quests, usually by bribing people with a portrait or landscape piece. You’re limited in how many paintings you can make, however, by your supply of canvas and a stat called Inspiration. The latter is generated by completing tasks, finding new places, and reading new books; the former has to be built on the cheap by scavenging scrap wood and discarded rags from anywhere you can find them. You may never get into a fight in Eastshade, but you will walk into every house you can find to steal all their candles, laundry, and spare boards. There are some fantasy-game tropes that you simply cannot escape. Eventually, you open up repeatable ways to generate Inspiration, as well as a merchant who’ll just sell you spare canvases, but neither are located anywhere convenient. You’re encouraged to be careful and precise about what you paint and when, as well as to constantly explore, read, and scavenge for fresh materials. The whole game is thus built around making you check every stray corner of the map for whatever might be hiding there, whether it’s a new place, a few materials, or maybe an obscure solution to a puzzle that’s been bothering you for the last hour. Eastshade actually reminds me of old adventure games from the 1980s. The user interface is deliberately stripped down to the quick, without a lot of the typical hand-holding features you find in a lot of modern games. It’s about an hour in before you find a map, for example, and while you get a quest log, its instructions are typically vague. This is the kind of game where you’ll get a quest from someone, and in order to finish it, you have to go halfway across the map to an unrelated area, solve two strange puzzles, and get an item that doesn’t seem immediately relevant. You’re just supposed to check everywhere and do everything until you figure out what works. Sometimes, that’s relaxing, especially since there’s no time limit or real urgency. You can calm down, unwind, and go do something else for a while, like fishing. Other times, though, Eastshade’s deliberately languorous pace gets on my nerves, especially when it hits me with a particularly obnoxious quest or two. Sometimes, you just want to play a game where you get something done, and at that point, you’d do better to play something else entirely. I’d also be a little happier if it was easier to make money. There are a lot of quests that can’t be finished without equipment you can buy in the capital city, all of which is surprisingly expensive. There are ways to come up with the cash, like working in the local farmers’ fields, but it’s a bit of a grind, which feels at odds with the easygoing nature of the rest of the game. (There’s actually a whole feedback loop the fans have worked out here, which feels like it’s got to be an unintended exploit. You can turn Inspiration into money working in the fields, then go below the city to the local hippie hangout and repeatedly drink cups of hallucinogenic tea to regain all that Inspiration.) Those amount to nitpicks, though. Eastshade is 100 percent worth your time, if only for its visuals. I’m legitimately impressed that a small team was able to pull a game like this off, to produce landscapes like this that you can explore from every angle, and I’ll be really surprised if Eastshade doesn’t pick up a handful of art-direction awards nominations at the end of the year. It’s a beautiful sort of fantasy world to spend some time in, and while I have to be in the right mood to enjoy Eastshade’s slow-going atmosphere, it’s a great game to fire up just to walk around and see what it’s got to show you.
Final Fantasy VII Remake trailer shows redo of the classic in action

Final Fantasy VII Remake trailer shows redo of the classic in action

8:07pm, 9th May, 2019
’90s kids will remember this. Final Fantasy VII, the game that busted JPRGs out of their niche and helped make the original PlayStation the must-have console of the generation, is, as we all know, being remade. But until today it wasn’t really clear just what “remade” actually meant. The teaser trailer put online today is packed full of details, though of course they may change over the course of development. It’s exciting not just for fans of this game, but for those of us who prefer VI and are deeply interested in how that (superior) game might get remade. Or VIII or IX, honestly. The trailer shows the usual suspects traversing the first main area of the game, Midgar. A mix of cutscenes and gameplay presents a game that looks to be more like Final Fantasy XV than anything else. This may be a bitter pill for some — while I doubt anyone really expected a perfect recreation of the original’s turn-based combat, XV has been roundly criticized for oversimplification of the franchise’s occasionally quite complex systems. With a single button for “attack,” another for a special, and the rest of the commands relegated to a hidden menu, it looks a lot more like an action RPG than the original. A playable Barret suggests the ability to switch between characters either at will or when the story demands. But there’s nothing to imply the hidden depths of, say, XII’s programmatic combat or even XIII’s convoluted breakage system. But dang does it look good. Aerith (not “Aeris” as some would have it) looks sweet, Cloud is stone-faced and genie-panted, and Barret is buff and gruff, all as detailed and realistic we have any right to expect. The city looks wonderfully rendered and clearly they’re not phoning in the effects. It’s more than a little possible that the process for remaking VII is something that the company is considering for application to other titles (I can see going all the way back to IV), but with this game being the most obvious cash cow and test platform for it. “More to come in June,” the video concludes. Will we enter a gaming era rife with remakes preying on our nostalgia, sucking our wallets dry so we can experience a game for the 4th or 5th time, but with particle effects and streamlined menus? I hope so. Watch the full teaser below:
With new raise, Unity could nearly double valuation to $6 billion

With new raise, Unity could nearly double valuation to $6 billion

5:58pm, 9th May, 2019
the company behind one of the world’s most popular game engines, could nearly double its reported valuation in a new round of funding. The company has filed to raise up to $125 million in Series E funding according to a Delaware stock authorization filing uncovered by Prime Unicorn Index and reviewed by TechCrunch. If Unity closes the full authorized raise it will hold a valuation of $5.96 billion. A Unity spokesperson confirmed the details of the document. The SF company builds developer tools that allow game-makers to build titles and deploy them on consoles, mobile and PC. More than half of all new games are built using the platform. Customers pay for the platform per developer once their projects reach a certain scale. Unity’s competitors include Fortnite-maker Epic Games, which has been able to rapidly startups and game studios in the past two years fueled by the profits of their blockbuster hit. Unity most recently , a “big chunk” of which went toward purchasing the shares of longtime employees and earlier investors. The round left the company’s valuation north of $3 billion. The company, founded in 2003, has raised more than $600 million to date. The company’s previous backers include Sequoia, DFJ Growth and Silver Lake Partners. Earlier this year, Cheddar that Unity was eyeing a 2020 IPO, though the company did not comment on the report.
Fortnite Season 9 adds two locations and wind transport, but is mostly just new virtual items

Fortnite Season 9 adds two locations and wind transport, but is mostly just new virtual items

7:13am, 9th May, 2019
It’s that time again. Parents across the world are doling out $15 to after , the latest update for its hit game Fortnite that’s particularly popular among kids and young adults. , and thanks to sales of seasonal Battle Passes, skins and virtual items for avatars. That’s very much for the focus for Season 9, which dropped today and is really about the cosmetics with the latest Battle Pass unlocking over 100 rewards, including a range of new skins and characters. Season 9 is an upgrade that’ll keep existing gamers locked into Fortnite through evolution — there are no radical changes to excite new or less active players. In terms of gameplay, Fortnite has added two new locations. Neo Tilted replaces Tilted Towers, which was destroyed by a volcano eruption last week, then there’s Mega Mall which is an upgrade on Retail Row. Epic has added ‘Slipstreams’ which are turbines that power a wind-based transport system for getting across the map quickly, and potentially adding an interesting new combat angle. There’s also a new ‘Fortbytes,’ which is essentially a hidden item challenge. Gamers who bought a Battle Pass can collect a series of 100 collectible computer chips which are scattered across the map. There are an initial 18 released, with a new arrival each day — those who collect them all can unlock rewards and “secrets.” There’s just one new gun on offer, the combat shotgun which doesn’t seem particularly impressive, while grenades have returned. A large number of weapons have been removed — or “vaulted” in Epic parlance — and they include clingers, pump shotgun, poison dart trap, scoped revolver, suppressed assault rifle, thermal assault rifle, and balloons. That’s about the sum of the new update, although Fortnite does now include three new limited time games: three-person squad ‘trios,’ a ‘solid gold’ mode that uses legendary weapons and ‘one shot,’ a sniper-only battle set in a low gravity environment.
Tencent’s new alternative to PUBG is already topping the revenue chart

Tencent’s new alternative to PUBG is already topping the revenue chart

5:04am, 9th May, 2019
In a move clearly driven by economic interests and an urgency to meet stringent regulations, the world’s largest games publisher Tencent pulled its mobile version of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on Wednesday and a new title called (the literal translation of its Chinese name 和平精英 is ‘peace elites’) on the same day. As of this writing, Game for Peace is the most downloaded free game and top-grossing game in Apple’s China App Store, according to data from That’s early evidence that the new title is on course to stimulate Tencent’s softening gaming revenues following a . Indeed, analysts at China Renaissance that Game for Peace could generate up to $1.48 billion in annual revenue for Tencent. Tencent licensed PUBG from South Korea’s Krafton, previously known as in 2017 and subsequently released a test version of the game for China’s mobile users. Game for Peace is available only to users above the age of 16, a decision that came amid society’s growing concerns over video games’ impact on children’s mental and physical health. Tencent has recently pledged to , and the new game release appears to be a practice of that. Tencent told Reuters the two titles are from “very different genres.” Well, many signs attest to the fact that Game for Peace is intended as a substitute for PUBG Mobile, which never received the green light from Beijing to monetize because it’s deemed too gory. Game for Peace received the license to sell in-game items on April 9. For one, PUBG users were directed to download Game for Peace in a notice announcing its closure. People’s gaming history and achievement were transferred to the new game, and players and industry analysts have pointed out the striking resemblance between the two. “It’s basically the same game with some tweaks,” said a Guangzhou-based PUBG player who has been playing the title since its launching, adding that the adjustment to tone down violence “doesn’t really harm the gamer experience.” “Just ignore those details,” suggested the user. For instance, characters who are shot don’t bleed in Game for Peace. A muzzle flash replaces gore as bloody scenes And when people are dying, they Very civil. Very friendly. “It’s what we call changing skin [for a game],” a Shenzhen-based mobile game studio founder said to TechCrunch. “The gameplay stays largely intact.” Other PUBG users are less sanguine about the transition. “I don’t think this is the correct decision from the regulators. Getting oversensitive in the approval process will prevent Chinese games from growing big and strong,” one contributor with more than 135 thousand followers on Zhihu, the Chinese equivalent of Quora. But such compromise is increasingly inevitable as Chinese authorities reinforce rules around what people can consume online, not just in games but also through news readers, video platforms, and even music streaming services. Content creators must be able to decipher regulators’ , some of which are straightforward as “the name of the game should not contain words other than simplified Chinese.” Others requirements are more obscure, like “no violation of core socialist’s values,” — including prosperity, democracy, civility, and harmony — that are propagated by the Chinese Communist Party in recent years.
Tencent replaces hit mobile game PUBG with a Chinese government-friendly alternative

Tencent replaces hit mobile game PUBG with a Chinese government-friendly alternative

5:25am, 8th May, 2019
China’s new rules on video games, , are having an effect on the country’s gamers. Today, Tencent replaced hugely popular battle royale shooter game PUBG with a more government-friendly alternative that seems primed to pull in significant revenue. The company introduced ‘Game for Peace’ in at the same time as PUBG — which stands for Player Unknown Battlegrounds — was delisted from China. The title had been in wide testing but without revenue, and now it seems Tencent gave up on securing a license to monetize the title. In its place, Game for Peace is very much the type of game that will pass the demands of China’s game censorship body. Last month, the country’s State Administration of Press and Publication released a series of demands for new titles, including bans on corpses and blood, references of imperial history and gambling. The new Tencent title bears a striking resemblance to PUBG but there are no dead bodies, while it plays up to a nationalist theme with a focus on China’s air force — or, per the message, “the blue sky warriors that guard our country’s airspace” — and their battle against terrorists. Game for Peace was developed by Krafton, the Korea-based publisher formerly known as BlueHole which made PUBG. Beyond visual similarities, that the games are twinned since some player found that their progress and achievements on PUBG had transferred over to the new game. Tencent representatives declined to comment on the new game or the end of PUBG’s ‘beta testing’ period in China when contacted by TechCrunch. But a company rep apparently told Reuters that “they are very different genres of games.” Tencent’s new ‘Game for Peace’ title is almost exactly the same as its popular PUBG game, which it is replacing [Image via Weibo]Fortnite may have grabbed the attention for its explosive growth — last year — but PUBG has more quietly become a fixture among mobile gamers, particularly in Asia. At the end of last year, that it was past 200 million registered gamers, with 30 million players each day. , PUBG grossed more than $65 million from mobile players in March thanks to 83 percent growth which saw it even beat Fortnite. There is also a desktop version. PUBG made more money than Fortnite on mobile in March 2019, according to data from Sensor Tower That is really the point of Tencent’s switcheroo: to make money. The company suffered at the hands of last year, and a regulatory-compliant title like Game for Peace has a good shot at getting the green light for monetization — through the sale of virtual items and seasonal memberships. Indeed, analysts at China Renaissance believe the new title could rake in as much as $1.5 billion in annual revenue, according to the Reuters report. That’s a lot to get excited about and resuscitating gaming will be an important part of Tencent’s strategy this year — which has already seen to focus emerging units like cloud computing, and
An Xbox controller with a built-in Braille display is Microsoft’s latest gaming accessibility play

An Xbox controller with a built-in Braille display is Microsoft’s latest gaming accessibility play

2:43pm, 6th May, 2019
has been leaning into accessibility in gaming lately, most visibly with its amazing , and a new patent suggests another way the company may be accommodating disabled gamers: an Xbox controller with a built-in Braille display. As you might expect, it’s already quite hard for a visually-impaired gamer to play some games, and although that difficulty can’t be entirely alleviated, there are definitely things worth doing. For instance: the text on screen that sighted people take for granted, documenting player status, items, onscreen dialogue or directions — how could these be read by a low-vision gamer who might be able to otherwise navigate the game world? In many circumstances a screen reader is what a visually-impaired person would use to interact with this kind of data, but often that text is relayed to them in audio form, which is far less appealing an option when you’re in-game. Who wants to have a computer voice reading off your armor levels and inventory burden while you’re trying to take in the ambient environment? There are already some Braille display accessories for this kind of thing, but there’s nothing like having support direct from your console’s designer, and that’s what Microsoft has demonstrated with its patent for a Braille-enabled controller. The patent was filed last year and just recently became public, and was soon ; there have been no official announcements, though the timing is favorable for an E3 reveal. That said patents don’t necessarily represent real products in development, though in this case I think it’s worth highlighting regardless. The Braille Controller, as it’s referred to in the patent, is very much like an ordinary Xbox One gamepad, except on the back there appears to be a sort of robotic insect sticking out of it. This is the Braille display, consisting of both a dot matrix that mechanically reproduces the bumps which players can run their fingers over, and a set of swappable paddles allowing for both input and output. The six paddles correspond to the six dot positions on a Braille-coded character, and a user may use them to chord or input text that way, or to receive text communications without moving their fingers off the paddles. Of course the mechanisms could also be used to send haptic feedback of other types, like directional indicators or environmental effects like screen shake. I wouldn’t mind having something like this on my controller, in fact. Naturally this means games will need (and increasingly are including) a metadata layer for this kind of conversion of visual cue to auditory one, and vice versa, among many other considerations for gamers with disabilities. It’s on everyone’s minds but Microsoft and Xbox seem to be taking more concrete steps than the rest, so kudos to them for that. Hopefully their leadership in this space will help convince other developers and manufacturers to join up. We’ll be sure to ask the Xbox team about their plans for this controller design and other accessibility improvements when we talk with them at E3 in June.
Augmented reality Minecraft? Microsoft teases Pokémon Go-style adaptation of popular game

Augmented reality Minecraft? Microsoft teases Pokémon Go-style adaptation of popular game

1:06pm, 6th May, 2019
(Screenshot Via Microsoft) A new augmented reality, mobile version of the popular Minecraft game looks to be on the way. Microsoft ended the opening keynote of its Build developer conference with a teaser video showing what appeared to be an AR adaptation of Minecraft, the world-building game that came under its umbrella with the $2.5 billion in 2014. The video ended with the date May 17 and directed viewers to the Minecraft website. What’s up to? Tune in to on May 17 to find out. — Microsoft (@Microsoft) The game is expected to use Azure Spatial Anchors, a program for building “mixed reality apps that map, designate, and recall precise points of interest that are accessible across HoloLens, iOS, and Android devices.” This suggests the game could come to HoloLens as well. The video shows Minecraft Creative Director Saxs Persson sitting on a bench outside the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, where Build is taking place. He leaves his phone on the bench, and it’s picked up by a bystander who sees the Minecraft AR game running on the device. There were few details about the new game, but it did have a similar look to the ever-popular Pokémon Go, the smash hit title that has been downloaded more than 500 million times. Pokémon Go maps its world on top of the real world, using actual points of interest as gathering points in the game. It will be interesting to see if the new Minecraft game adopts a similar philosophy or if Microsoft will take things in a different direction.