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Nostalgia isn’t doing the gaming industry any favors

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Gaming (and gamers, for that matter) seem to be obsessed with reliving the past. The nostalgia bubble is strong right now, but when it bursts, it might harm the industry as a whole.

Unless you’ve been living primarily for the indie releases, you might have noticed gaming has a bit of a throwback problem. Indeed, if the gaming industry hearkens to its past more often, it risks turning into a time machine.

Will gaming still be able to release the artistic touchstones so many of us will love and remember if it’s currently preoccupied with reviving the ones we already love and remember?

Case study: Nintendo

The poster child for this collective obsession with the earliest generations of gaming is undoubtedly Nintendo. In fact, I’m willing to bet that a good percentage of the people reading this thought of Nintendo before getting beyond the first paragraph.

It’s the natural connection to make: nostalgia isn’t just Nintendo’s business model, it’s practically the company’s entire raison d’etre. Whenever the company wants to experiment with new hardware — motion controls or 3D screens, for example — it brings out mainstays in its mascot library as a way of giving the untested tech a familiar anchor.

Nintendo has at least proven there’s profit in using familiar names and franchises as a way of selling hardware. And it’s taken a niche approach to nostalgia with its release of throwback consoles like the SNES classic. But beyond that, what is this going to mean for Nintendo in the long run if they don’t allow or encourage more original content? I’d wager the Smash Bros roster will suffer, at the very least.

Same, but better; or better, but same?

Let’s examine one of gaming’s biggest events of the year: the Electronic Entertainment Expo. What were the big announcements at this year’s event?

Just off the top of my head, I recall announcements for a new God of War, a new Metroid, a new Assassin’s Creed, a new Far Cry, a new Beyond Good and Evil, and a new Wolfenstein. That’s not even covering the re-releases and remasters, such as those for Age of EmpiresSkyrim (again), Shadow of the Colossus and Rocket League. The number of familiar names far outweighed the unfamiliar ones.

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Outside of that show, some of the most ballyhooed games I’ve seen previewed are Final Fantasy VII Remastered, and Sonic Mania, which was literally made by and for nostalgic fans.

Note that I’m not commenting on the actual quality of the games in question — I loved the new Doom game, and could probably sing its praises throughout this article. I’m not a Crash Bandicoot fan, but if Activision ever releases a Spyro remaster, I’ll be on that like a cat on a mouse. And some of the resurrected franchises — System Shock 3, for example — look more like love letters to a piece of art than an attempt to cash in on a familiar name.

That doesn’t hold true for all of them, however, and I suspect the industry’s retro-infused calendar has more to do with milking a nostalgic audience for cash rather than consistent demand from the players. So what would the gaming industry looked like if the audience as a whole lost interest in remasters, re-releases, and sequels?

World without remasters

Imagine a scenario with me: when a new console generation is released, it’s actually not allowed (or not accepted) for the developers to frontload it with older franchises. Imagine a world where doing so was seen as bad form — as opposed to the world we live in, where it’s the accepted norm.

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So, to compensate in this hypothetical alternate world, both first- and third-party developers would have to create games that rely on great gameplay, beautiful art, or intriguing stories to sell themselves, rather than familiar names and characters. They could be similar to previous games, or take inspiration from them, but would build on them to create something new.

Imagine a world where franchise sequels — or at least a majority percentage of them — were made either as afterthoughts, niche market products, or were generally not considered at all. This world would have its own problems — not the least of which would be that most games would be considered monetary risks by the consumer, rather than investments based on previous goodwill.

But at the very least, it would force the industry as a whole to look forward, not back.

The future, not the past

I’m not doomsaying by any means — gaming does get its fair share of fresh blood. My fear is that a preoccupation with the hits of yesteryear will leave future gamers with nothing to call their own.

If I had a ten-year-old child right at this moment, what kind of games would they be playing that they’ll still be nostalgic for twenty years from now? I can tell from experience that it’s hard to summon that kind of devotion for franchises you enter in the middle.

As for us adult gamers — how long until we realize that reliving the past gives us limited returns?

Read next: The LG V30 is shaping up to be a serious Note 8 competitor

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Shadow upgrades its cloud computer for gamers and opens signups to everyone

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French startup Blade, the company behind Shadow, announced at a press conference that it is launching new offers, updating specifications and the ability to become a client and buy a subscription without any waiting list.

Shadow is a gaming PC in the cloud for a monthly fee. The company has been running thousands of computers with an Intel Xeon processor and an Nvidia GTX 1070 in a data center near Paris. You can then play demanding PC games on a crappy laptop, on a TV thanks to Shadow’s own little device (pictured above), on an Android phone and more.

Let’s start with the new specifications. “The next-generation Shadow is more powerful. When we started Shadow, we said obsolescence would be a thing of the past,” co-founder and CEO Emmanuel Freund said. “That’s what we want to prove today.”

Existing Shadow instances will be updated and have 8.2 teraflops of computing power compared to 6.5 teraflops with the previous configuration. The company says it is the equivalent of a $1,900 computer (€1,600).

When David Legrand from Next INpact asked about the new GPU, Freund didn’t want to name the exact model. From what I’ve heard, it’ll be a mix of GeForce GTX 1080 and Quadro P5000 at first. Nvidia doesn’t recommend using consumer cards in servers because they’re not meant to be running 24/7. At the same time, professional cards are more expensive.

But it’s clear that Nvidia wants Shadow to switch to server-grade GPUs in the near future — Quadro P5000 and GeForce GTX 1080 should be more or less as powerful. When it comes to CPU, Shadow currently uses Intel Xeon 2620 processors.

While there are already thousands of clients, Shadow has been very slowly rolling out its service. There’s now a huge waiting list of people waiting for the next batch of instances. Starting on November 29, you’ll be able to subscribe instantly.

The company is opening two new data centers — one in France for the company’s home countries and neighbouring countries, and another data center in Palo Alto. Shadow has signed a partnership with Equinix, and 2CRSI is manufacturing custom servers for Shadow with four GPUs per server.

A Shadow account will cost $53 per month, or $41 per month with a three-month commitment, or $35 if you’re willing to pay for a year (€44.95/€34.95/€29.95). Those prices aren’t changing, but there are two major changes — you get a beefier computer and you don’t get Shadow’s own device by default.

Now, you can pay $140 or $9 per month (€119.95/€7.95) to receive Shadow’s bridge computer. It is a good way to use your Shadow on your TV for instance. But if you only plan on using Shadow with your existing computer with Shadow’s apps, you don’t have to pay for this option anymore.

In addition to that, Shadow is launching a second version of its app called Shadow Beyond. “On an Android phone or a TV, you rarely use a keyboard and a mouse to browse Windows,” Freund said. So the company is launching a sort of media center interface to access your content. You’ll be able to launch games, movies, photos, music and files.

Freund reiterated that the company wants to attract 100,000 customers by the end of 2018. In order to do this, Shadow has added adaptive streaming to its streaming clients. When you stream a video on YouTube, your browser automatically switches from 480p to 1080p if you have enough bandwidth, and sticks to 480p if you don’t have a fast connection.

Shadow is using a similar technique to downgrade image quality if you’re using a DSL connection with only 15Mb/s. “15 million homes [in France] can now use Shadow instead of 5 million homes,” Freund said.

Back in June, the company raised a Series A round of $57.1 million (€51 million). Many companies are working on computer instances in the cloud, such as Nvidia with GeForce Now and Amazon with WorkSpaces.

Shadow is focusing on gamers first as they’re demanding clients when it comes to latency and service quality. The company hopes that this narrow focus will help them improve the service and attract more clients in the future beyond gamers.
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Pip is a retro games console for kids to learn coding

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The Raspberry Pi Foundation has been incredibly successful at sparking all sorts of creativity via its low cost microcomputers, which arrived in the market back in 2012. Its core electronics are also indirectly responsible for UK-based learn-to-code startups like Kano and pi-top, which have built devices and VC-backed businesses atop Pi.

Well here’s another UK startup using Pi electronics as the foundation for an edtech business idea. Their device-in-the-making Pip, which is currently raising crowdfunds on Kickstarter, is powered by the Raspberry Pi Compute Module set within a handheld console gaming casing that packs a touchscreen, plus speaker, control buttons, multiple ports and even some colored LEDs.

The idea is to engage kids with a retro games device which also doubles as a code learning environment via a browser-based platform, called Curiosity. A second strand to their concept will invite budding hardware hackers to get plugging and playing via a connector on the console that can be used with a maker expansion pack that contains a breadboard attachment for tinkering and learning about electronics.

The team says their software platform will support coding in JavaScript, Python, Lua, HTML/CSS and PHP. While the device will be bundled with step-by- step tutorials to “show the basics” — from coding Snake, to making LEDs flash, to, they claim, “programing smart devices”.

That’s the grand vision. For now Pip remains a prototype — and the Glasgow, UK based startup still needs to reach its £30k funding goal on Kickstarter, though it’s already around half way there after a few days running the campaign.

Early bird pre-order pricing for the Pip device is £150, with the intended future RRP being £200.

It’s true that kids today are already pretty spoiled for choice when it comes to learn to code and/or hardware hack gizmos parents can buy them. So we asked Pip’s founders what makes their approach different?

They described “pocket-sized portability” as Pip’s “main USP” — combined with its “integrated touchscreen and friction-free, open-ended programmability”.

“Pip is compatible with cheap electronics components that can be bought anywhere, as well as the thriving Raspberry Pi HAT ecosystem,” said co-founders Sukhvir Dhillon and Jason Frame.

“Pip makes use of standard languages and tools. Yes, it supports block-based programming for beginners, but once they’re ready to move on we will support for a number of popular languages… all of which have a huge number of freely available resources online for learning.

“Our role in this is to remove the barriers between idea and creation, making these tools immediately usable. Then you can take this knowledge and skill to go on to make things beyond the Pip platform.”

They also noted that Pip is also “still a Pi” — meaning users “can easily swap the SD card, and Pip can become a capable desktop computer (when connected to a monitor, mouse and keyboard), or even a portable RetroPie-powered emulation station”.

Having a goal to support open standards and standard programming languages could indeed make for a device with greater longevity and utility than a learn to code gadget that only supports ‘programming’ via a proprietary and over simplified code blocks system (say), which a child may soon outgrow.

Although very many learn to code devices will fail to make any serious dent in learning outcomes without the support of educational institutions to establish use of the device within a more structured learning environment — to counteract the problem of individual kids getting bored and putting the toy away in a drawer.

Pip’s co-founders are initially targeting the product at parents (and/or ‘big kid’ makers) but say their long term goal is to get the product (and accompanying subscription-based software platform) into educational institutions.

“The software has been developed in such a way that students can write code and test it on whatever equipment the school has available, before running it on Pip itself — this means that schools are not forced to purchase one Pip for every student,” they noted.

The bootstrapping team has been developing Pip since late 2016, taking in some support from Scottish Enterprise but without any formal investors.

At this stage they say they’ve built five working prototypes of their pre-production v5 model — including “custom circuit board built around the Raspberry Pi Compute Module and associated peripherals, high resolution touchscreen, built-in battery, six-piece resin-cast case with integrated kickstand”.

Though there’s clearly still a long way to turn the prototype into shipping product.

They have a Kickstarter timeline of August-September 2018 for shipping Pip to backers. But as ever with crowdfunding campaigns the usual strong caveats apply: You’re making a bet on an idea that may never come to fruition. Many crowdfunded projects fail entirely to deliver.

Hardware can also be especially complex. And even if a device makes it, it may take longer than expected and not be exactly what was originally billed — so, if you are happy to take a punt, it also pays to expect delays and not get too hung up on specific details.
Readmore

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Europe

Pip is a retro games console for kids to learn coding

Published

on


The Raspberry Pi Foundation has been incredibly successful at sparking all sorts of creativity via its low cost microcomputers, which arrived in the market back in 2012. Its core electronics are also indirectly responsible for UK-based learn-to-code startups like Kano and pi-top, which have built devices and VC-backed businesses atop Pi.

Well here’s another UK startup using Pi electronics as the foundation for an edtech business idea. Their device-in-the-making Pip, which is currently raising crowdfunds on Kickstarter, is powered by the Raspberry Pi Compute Module set within a handheld console gaming casing that packs a touchscreen, plus speaker, control buttons, multiple ports and even some colored LEDs.

The idea is to engage kids with a retro games device which also doubles as a code learning environment via a browser-based platform, called Curiosity. A second strand to their concept will invite budding hardware hackers to get plugging and playing via a connector on the console that can be used with a maker expansion pack that contains a breadboard attachment for tinkering and learning about electronics.

The team says their software platform will support coding in JavaScript, Python, Lua, HTML/CSS and PHP. While the device will be bundled with step-by- step tutorials to “show the basics” — from coding Snake, to making LEDs flash, to, they claim, “programing smart devices”.

That’s the grand vision. For now Pip remains a prototype — and the Glasgow, UK based startup still needs to reach its £30k funding goal on Kickstarter, though it’s already around half way there after a few days running the campaign.

Early bird pre-order pricing for the Pip device is £150, with the intended future RRP being £200.

It’s true that kids today are already pretty spoiled for choice when it comes to learn to code and/or hardware hack gizmos parents can buy them. So we asked Pip’s founders what makes their approach different?

They described “pocket-sized portability” as Pip’s “main USP” — combined with its “integrated touchscreen and friction-free, open-ended programmability”.

“Pip is compatible with cheap electronics components that can be bought anywhere, as well as the thriving Raspberry Pi HAT ecosystem,” said co-founders Sukhvir Dhillon and Jason Frame.

“Pip makes use of standard languages and tools. Yes, it supports block-based programming for beginners, but once they’re ready to move on we will support for a number of popular languages… all of which have a huge number of freely available resources online for learning.

“Our role in this is to remove the barriers between idea and creation, making these tools immediately usable. Then you can take this knowledge and skill to go on to make things beyond the Pip platform.”

They also noted that Pip is also “still a Pi” — meaning users “can easily swap the SD card, and Pip can become a capable desktop computer (when connected to a monitor, mouse and keyboard), or even a portable RetroPie-powered emulation station”.

Having a goal to support open standards and standard programming languages could indeed make for a device with greater longevity and utility than a learn to code gadget that only supports ‘programming’ via a proprietary and over simplified code blocks system (say), which a child may soon outgrow.

Although very many learn to code devices will fail to make any serious dent in learning outcomes without the support of educational institutions to establish use of the device within a more structured learning environment — to counteract the problem of individual kids getting bored and putting the toy away in a drawer.

Pip’s co-founders are initially targeting the product at parents (and/or ‘big kid’ makers) but say their long term goal is to get the product (and accompanying subscription-based software platform) into educational institutions.

“The software has been developed in such a way that students can write code and test it on whatever equipment the school has available, before running it on Pip itself — this means that schools are not forced to purchase one Pip for every student,” they noted.

The bootstrapping team has been developing Pip since late 2016, taking in some support from Scottish Enterprise but without any formal investors.

At this stage they say they’ve built five working prototypes of their pre-production v5 model — including “custom circuit board built around the Raspberry Pi Compute Module and associated peripherals, high resolution touchscreen, built-in battery, six-piece resin-cast case with integrated kickstand”.

Though there’s clearly still a long way to turn the prototype into shipping product.

They have a Kickstarter timeline of August-September 2018 for shipping Pip to backers. But as ever with crowdfunding campaigns the usual strong caveats apply: You’re making a bet on an idea that may never come to fruition. Many crowdfunded projects fail entirely to deliver.

Hardware can also be especially complex. And even if a device makes it, it may take longer than expected and not be exactly what was originally billed — so, if you are happy to take a punt, it also pays to expect delays and not get too hung up on specific details.
Readmore

Continue Reading

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