‘It’s like friendly punk’

Bennett Foddy, Playdate game developer, in an interview with Edge Magazine (via Apple News+):

We’ve standardised around two hardware platforms: the touchscreen, and ten buttons, two analog sticks. That’s got its benefits, but you miss out on novel experiences. So yeah, there is something that is kind of punk about it, and that yellow case. It’s like friendly punk.

I recently restored my Game Boy. I don’t play it. It just sits on my desk. But I pick it up every now again because, aside from nostalgia, there’s something so pleasing about it.

As I’ve been thinking about Playdate today, it dawned on me — that something is the buttons.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Playdate

Playdate press release:

Playdate is both very familiar, and totally new. It’s yellow, and fits perfectly in a pocket. It has a black-and-white screen with high reflectivity, a crystal-clear image, and no backlight. And of course, it has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB-C, and a headphone jack. But it also has a crank. Yes, a crank: a cute, rotating analog controller that flips out from the side. It’s literally revolutionary.

There’s more: Playdate includes games — a full season of them. The games will be delivered over-the-air, once a week for 12 weeks, and they’ll be a surprise: when the new game light flashes, you’ll never know what you’re about to play. Panic recruited some of the world’s best game designers — some well known; others under the radar — to make games exclusively for our system. Playdate isn’t just hardware: it’s a complete experience.

Hot on the heels of the 30th anniversary of the Game Boy, this little handheld console is a sight to see.

Since bringing my Game Boy back to life, I’ve been yearning for the good ol’ dot-matrix days. But I’ve also had the feeling they‘d likely disappoint. Rose-colored glasses and all. Seeing the Playdate feels like a realization of that pining. Something new of something old:

Playdate’s 2.7-inch (68mm) screen is a unique, black-and-white, low-power LCD from Sharp, with a resolution of 400 × 240. On the surface, it might be tempting to compare the screen to, say, the Game Boy. But Playdate’s display is quite different: it has no grid lines, no blurring, is extremely sharp and clear, and has much higher resolution. It sounds odd to say, but: it’s truly a “premium” black-and-white screen.

And it wouldn’t be the same without Teenage Engineering. At initial glance, I knew something looked familiar. Sure enough, I noticed that Teenage Engineering had a hand in the design (and crank!) of the Playdate. I keep a PO-20 in my nightstand and am constantly enthralled by its ingenuity.

I encourage you to read the press release in full — ideally on an iPhone or iPad as there’s a very cool AR experience to check out. The damn thing is so cute!

I’m signed up to receive updates about the Playdate and I recommend you do too.

Tagged , , , , , ,

A Video Game Developed To Detect Alzheimer’s Disease Seems To Be Working

Zack Zwiezen, Kotaku:

According to researchers, every two minutes spent playing the game is equal to five hours of lab-based research. Because Sea Hero Questhas been out for a few years and downloaded and played by over three million players they’ve collected the equivalent of 1,700 years of research data on Alzheimer’s

Researchers involved with the project studied people who carried the APOE4 gene, which is thought to increase that person’s risk of developing dementia, as they played the game. They then compared these people’s results to the results of folks who played the game who don’t have that gene.

“We found that people with a high genetic risk, the APOE4 carriers, performed worse on spatial navigation tasks. They took less efficient routes to checkpoint goals,” said Professor Michael Hornberger, a member of the team.

Two minutes. 99.33% of time shaved off. Truly incredible.

Tagged , ,

Game Boy Restored

Today marks 30 years since the Game Boy’s initial release in Japan. After seeing loads of Game Boy tributes for the handheld, I decided to dig up my old system for a first-hand experience down memory lane.

It was in pretty shoddy condition — unable to power on, battery corrosion inside, possible paint markings on the back, and general grime throughout. I’ve been reluctant to open it up to attempt a repair, concerned about the reliability of the plastic around the screws after 30ish years.

Well, there’s no better time than Easter — a day of resurrection — to take a crack at it. At least I could say I tried to bring this gamer boy back into the world.

Throughout the teardown, I took a few photos of some of main unit and boards, posting them to Instagram. At the compliment of friend Sam Gross, I’ve decided to post them here as well.

My photo setup is nothing fancy:

  • iPhone XS
  • IKEA Malm desk (white)
  • generic table lamp
  • Philips Hue White Extension Bulb A19 E26
  • Apple Photos app auto-enhance
  • Instagram editing tools
  • Video: Apple’s Clips app + Instagram’s ‘Lark’ filter

The Game Boy, pre-spa treatment:

Both sides of the brain:

Motherboard (3)

Display circuit board

I didn’t take a picture, but there was considerable battery corrosion on the battery contacts. This was the likely culprit of the power issue. To clean, I popped out the battery contacts and submerged them in distilled white vinegar for about 10–15 minutes. They came out looking brand new.

Once all of the guts had been removed, I took a baby wipe to the exterior and buttons. For interior grime, I soaked a Q-tip in the white vinegar and swabbed it out.

After all plastic had been cleaned, it was time for reassembly and the moment of truth…

Happy 30th, Game Boy.


Retr0bright Update

A restoration is not complete without attention paid to the appearance. The more I looked at the end result of my Game Boy restoration, the more I was bothered by the yellowing of the casing.

The yellowing of ‘80s and ‘90s electronics plastics is caused by a combination bromine — afire retardant — and exposure to UV light. The plastic is known as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS.

The method to reverse the effect of bromine is referred to as retr0bright and includes a mixture of  hydrogen peroxide, xanthan gum, glycerin, and “oxy” laundry booster. Being the lazy sap I am, I decided to opt in for a discovered alternativeSalon Care by Sally Beauty.

Wearing latex gloves, painted a generous amount of the Salon Care on to the disassembled casing of the Game Boy, wrapped it in Stretch-Tite plastic wrap, and placed the piece outside in direct sunlight.Game Boy disassembled during retr0bright process

Essential: The Salon Care coated plastic should be exposed to UV light for 4–6 hours total. However, it is critical to massage the plastic wrap + Salon Care every 45–60 minutes or so. This helps avoid air bubbles which can contribute to blotchiness in the end result. (This is where I goofed.) Likewise, you should rinse the plastic and re-apply the Salon Care every 90–120 minutes as it begins to evaporate after lengthy exposure. (Another goof of mine. I had to redo the process the next day as the Salon Care seemed to lose its effect after about 2 hours.)

After the process was complete — which is to say the color reversal was at a point that was good enough for me — I rinsed and thoroughly dried the plastic and reassembled the Game Boy and photographed a side-by-side before and after:

Game Boy retr0bright before and after

If you look closely, you will notice some of the blotchiness I mentioned above.

Overall, I’m quite satisfied with the end result. This restored Game Boy teleports me back to Christmas 1989, unwrapping my first console ever, and playing Super Mario Land for hours on end.

Tagged , , , , ,

Nintendo Knew How

Shahid Kamal Ahmad on the Remaster Podcast, looking back on Reggie Fils-Aimé‘s legacy:

This is a real problem with video games, right. You go into video games as a new person who hasn’t played video games. You play a modern AAA game, and first of all, you have tutorials that are extremely patronizing for the really experienced player. But still bewildering for new players. How do you get those players in? Nintendo knew how.

Nintendo knew that they had to make the controls more accessible, and Reggie knew [those controls] were coming with the Wii. He knew that would be suitable for people who were intimidated by the controller. Personally, I thought that was an absolute genius move.

I’ve had issues with controllers for a long time. Not personally, but in terms of accessibility. There’s been this steady increase in the complexity of a controller. It hasn’t become easier to use; it’s become more complicated to use. Yes, it’s got more features — now you have touchpads; now you have analog buttons; now you have analog sticks; now you have two or three or four more buttons on the thing; now you have pro controllers and elite controllers, £120 controllers. What Nintendo recognized was, “oh, we can do something that does away with all of that and introduce an entirely different type of technology that ‘hey! It’s actually not that expensive to manufacture.’” It was utter genius.

Keying in on the phrase, “I’ve had issues with controllers for a long time”: You and me both, Shahid. You and me both.

Tagged , , , ,

‘But the answer is simpler when it comes to the real money maker for Microsoft’

Chris Plante, Polygon:

But the answer is simpler when it comes to the real money maker for Microsoft: Xbox as a streaming platform available on every app store. Microsoft could bring its streaming service to any smart TV and streaming device without all this backroom dealmaking necessary for Switch, and reach a considerably bigger audience.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see all of the above. Going off the others’ reporting, it seems Microsoft is certainly trying to bring Xbox Game Pass to Switch, but the real game changer will be if — like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon — Xbox becomes an app pre-installed on your next TV.

Leave it to Plante to identify the obvious. I’m over here kicking myself that I didn’t think of an Xbox app pre-installed on TV in ‘Activision, Microsoft, and Platforms’. Especially after CES and the growing number of pre-installed services on smart TVs.

If we do see a pre-installed Xbox app, has Microsoft already positioned themselves as the dominant controller manufacturer? In addition to their standard wireless controller, they offer the Elite and classic “Duke” designs as well as the Adaptive Controller, a huge service to those in need of accessibility features.

I personally can not stand the Xbox controller and much prefer Nintendo’s Pro Controller or the PS4 DualShock 4. But if neither of those two options open themselves to an Xbox app — the former due to hardware limitations / lack of foresight, the latter due to some bizarre proprietary lock-in strategy — as an Xbox owner, Microsoft is already poised to be my go-to controller. And with an already broad selection of controllers tailored for the Xbox experience, it makes them the clear winner.

Tagged ,

Rumor: Microsoft Bringing Game Pass And Published Titles To Switch

Imran Kahn, Game Informer:

According to a report from outlet Direct Feed Games, an outlet that has a strong track record for rumors especially centering around Nintendo, Microsoft and Nintendo are about to get together in a big way in the near future. Not only will some Microsoft games find their way to the Switch, but it looks like the entire Game Pass library might arrive via the magic of streaming. 

Oh?

Tagged , ,

‘A thin blanket against the cold reality’

Michael Futter, Polygon:

The sad truth is that the die was cast at Activision Blizzard months, if not years, before these layoffs were first hinted. What makes this so exceptionally painful is that there is an understandable mental link between layoffs and poor financial performance. It’s nigh impossible to rationalize or justify 800 people being shown the door as a company reports record sales.

And yet, here we are. Poor planning, a failure to adapt to current market conditions and consumer desires, and too much investment in trends (like toys to life games) has left Activision Blizzard in a place where it needs to make drastic cuts. That’s a thin blanket against the cold reality that executive pay is broken and now hundreds of people are out of work.

Tagged , ,

Activision Blizzard cuts hundreds of jobs despite ‘record revenue’ year

Allegra Frank, reporting for Polygon:

Before announcing the layoffs, Activision Blizzard noted that it posted record revenues for the 2018 fiscal year. According to its fourth-quarter earnings report, the company made $7.26B in physical and digital sales, compared to $7.16B in 2017. But CEO Bobby Kotick explained that the numbers failed to meet expectations.

“While our financial results for 2018 were the best in our history, we didn’t realize our full potential,” Kotick said in the report. During the Q&A portion of the investor call, he described the layoffs as a “top-five career-difficult moment for me personally.”

Despite the self-proclaimed underwhelming revenues and the layoffs, Activision Blizzard said that it plans to expand its development teams on key, internally owned games (like Call of Duty, Candy Crush, and Overwatch) by 20 percent. Funding this will come through “de-prioritizing initiatives that are not meeting expectations and reducing certain non-development and administrative-related costs across the business,” according to its fourth-quarter fiscal earnings release. Other non-core positions will be eliminated to rededicate resources toward beefing up its development slate, the team said on the call.

This news is awful. No way around it. Record revenue and cutting 800 jobs. Sure, increasing margins, non-core development, loss of Bungie, blah blah. But 800 jobs?! Banking on a single IP (Destiny) and not anticipating what CEO Bobby Kotick called a “top-five career-difficult moment for me personally” is insane. And how is the loss of 800 jobs not number one?

Per Kotaku reporter Jason Schreier, Kotick took home 28+ million in 2017. I get the reasoning behind highly paid executives; I wouldn’t want their jobs. But to say the loss of 800 jobs is “top-five” is an insult. It should be number one, with a bullet.

I feel for the employees. I feel for fans. I don’t see a great outlook for core Blizzard properties outside of World of Warcraft — a recurring revenue behemoth. And that’s sad. I would have loved to see the A/B 800 reallocated to other Blizzard franchises. If the focus is entirely on a Call of Duty, Overwatch, and Candy Crush, I fear the end of Blizzard as we know it.

Tagged , ,

Activision-Blizzard Employees Brace For Massive Layoffs

Jason Schreier, reporting for Kotaku:

This news comes after a tumultuous year for the publisher, which consists of two entities, Activision and Blizzard. Both Activision and Blizzard operate autonomously but are governed by the same C-suite of executives, including CEO Bobby Kotick (whose salary in 2017 was roughly $28.6 million). 

At Blizzard, 2018 was a year full of cost-cutting, under chief operating officer Armin Zerza, whose mandate has been to reduce spending and produce more games. (Other than expansions and remasters, Blizzard has not released a new game since Overwatch in May 2016.) Employees all across Blizzard have been told to cut their budgets and spend less money, and there’s general concern about Activision’s creeping influence as the company looks to make more financially-driven decisions. In October, Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime stepped down, to be replaced by Blizzard veteran J. Allen Brack—not as CEO, but, notably, as president. In December, Blizzard abruptly killed the Heroes of the Storm esports program and cut down the development team for that game, its least successful.

People who work or have worked at Blizzard told me that they expect Tuesday’s layoffs to be primarily in non-game-development departments, such as publishing, marketing, and sales. Some of those jobs and roles may then fall to Activision proper, further reducing Blizzard’s autonomy.

My recent piece Activision, Microsoft, and Platforms amounted to what I’d consider a nothing-burger. I’d considered the question “what now for Activision?” after they ended their partnership with Bungie, and sought an answer. After laying everything out, short of spelling doom, I didn’t really net out with much other than an allusion of the company leveraging Blizzard’s IP to build a paid platform:

This is certainly a “let’s spend Activision Blizzard’s money” post, but short of spelling doom for Activision Blizzard with the rise of Fortnite, departure of Bungie, and Microsoft’s “Netflix of gaming”, Activision Blizzard needs a model that will continue to drive revenue in a PC world without the friction of a hardware platform. If the battle is lost, Activision Blizzard titles join the ranks of third-party titles vying for the top-spot on other launchers and platforms.

This news of layoffs is what I was afraid of, and I think it will extend passed Activision employees.

At this rate, I see the brand “Activision” as an albatross around Blizzard’s neck. Sadly, at the expense of the employees, they should shed the name Activision, divert resources to Blizzard, and focus on Blizzard’s colorful core and new IP.

Tagged , ,