Author Archives: Kyle Starr

Good Sudoku and The Grid

Brendon Bigley, writing at his new site, Wavelengths:

After playing daily for about a week after its release, I’ve noticed Good Sudoku activating the same brain-space as roguelikes in the vein of Spelunky or The Binding of Isaac. These are games meant to be played hundreds of times, and for thousands of hours. After years of playing Spelunky I immediately go into auto-pilot when starting a new run because I’ve seen so many permutations of the level generation I can’t help but feel as though surprise is unlikely. But that comfort with such a hostile environment has come from thousands of runs. I’ve died in Spelunky more times than I can count, and each death brings with it a small lesson for survival in future attempts. At this point, my head is crammed so full of strategies and techniques and possibilities that I feel more equipped than ever to survive the next run. I mean I probably won’t… but it’s nice to feel confident sometimes!!

I haven’t played Good Sudoku, nor Spelunky or The Binding of Isaac, but I know enough about vanilla sudoku and these roguelikes to understand that Bigley’s observation is striking. I’m having one of those, “How didn’t I see this before?” moments.

To the uninitiated or uninterested, sudoku puzzles all look the same — a 9×9 grid with numbers sprinkled about. How many variations could there be? How is sudoku not a solved game? But the number of variations of sudoku puzzles is staggering — far more than any human could experience in their lifetime. Nigh-endless possibilities within a consistent environment. And what is the procedurally generated experience of a roguelike if not nigh-endless possibilities within a consistent environment?

Thanks to Bigley, it’s now hard to think of roguelikes and procedural generation as something made possible with today’s technology, but something conceived from a 9×9 grid.

Tagged , , , ,

EndeavorRx: First Video Game Approved by FDA

Rebecca Robbins, reporting for STAT:

The game, known as EndeavorRx and developed by Boston-based Akili Interactive Labs, can now be marketed as a way to improve attention function in kids with ADHD as measured by computerized testing. Physicians can prescribe it to children between the ages of 8 and 12 who have an ADHD diagnosis and have demonstrated an issue with attention.

The FDA’s move is a landmark decision in the emerging digital therapeutics sector: In addition to being the first game to be marketed as a therapy for any type of condition, EndeavorRx is the first digital therapeutic meant to improve symptoms associated with ADHD, the FDA’s announcement said.

The game sends players through landscapes like a molten lava river and an icy winter wonderland, rewarding them with stars and points as they finish tasks. Akili sees the video game as a delivery system for targeted algorithms that can activate and strengthen certain neural networks in the brain. It’s more ambitious than the many digital health apps and software programs that aim to help patients manage medical conditions with education, tips, and reminders — and it’s long been seen as a crucial test case for the potential of the sector.

Tagged , ,

Video games, hell yeah

Tweet thread by Tiffany Pitts:

The whole thread; read it. (h/t Tom Mullen)

Tagged , , ,

‘We’re not necessarily expecting [a setting like Animal Crossing] to be the real world, and maybe that’s partly why it works’

Ashley Fetters, writing for The Atlantic, with a quote from Nicole Ellison of School of Information at the University of Michigan:

The runaway success of the online Nintendo Switch game Animal Crossing also speaks to the appeal of unfamiliar virtual spaces. In Animal Crossing, players can interact with other online players rather than just the characters created by the game, and players who are friends in the physical world can link up in the game and host one another virtually on their “islands.” Crucially, in spaces like this, the norms and communication patterns of face-to-face interaction don’t exist. “We’re not necessarily expecting [a setting like Animal Crossing] to be the real world, and maybe that’s partly why it works,” Ellison said. She added that she wouldn’t be surprised if virtual-reality experiences also become more popular for much the same reason: They can offer people the ability to roam around and interact in unstructured ways, but with just enough novelty to avoid unfavorable comparisons with face-to-face interactions.

The most appealing multiplayer experiences I’ve had have been those that skirt normal real-life situations for something novel or limited.

Animal Crossing‘s success stems from its low barrier to entry, simple obstacles, and limitless opportunity. Quite simply, it’s a sandbox. The hook is personalizing and collecting; both of which, by their very nature, are greatly enhanced by social interaction. And for a digital world, there’s no easier social interaction than digital socialization — i.e. social networks.

Social networks are asynchronous; not every post requires the attention of all, nor are posts layered on top of one another vying for attention; and they don’t require speaking, listening, or being bound to a location. Social networks are as individual as they are communal. For a game that’s being experienced in real-time in both hemispheres in every time zone, there’s an endless amount of creativity, exploration, and fun to be shared wherever and whenever you are.

Other novel multiplayer experiences I’ve had include puzzle solving The Witness and chirping in Journey.

Tagged , , ,

‘Listen to me, motherfucker, listen’

An excerpt from Jeff Tweedy’s excellent memoir:

I would feel guilty. I’d sit in group sessions and listen to other patients talk about their lives, and what they’d endured was beyond anything I could imagine. They came from homes where they never felt safe; being physically and emotionally abused was just a day-to-day reality. Food was scarce, hope was scarcer, and it was a toss-up whether there was more danger outside or inside. One guy told us about seeing his father murder his mother when he was nine and that he had his first taste of alcohol that night because his father forced him to drink whiskey, thinking it would make him forget what he’d seen. Hearing a story like that made me ashamed of how little I had had to survive and how much pain I’d derived from so much less actual trauma. What was I gonna say when the group got to me? “Um . . . I cry a lot. I get scared sometimes. I have headaches, and it makes it hard to make music.” That was the worst of it. I was out of my league.

One time, after a group session, a few of us were in the smoking room and I confided to them, “I feel like I shouldn’t even open my mouth. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I think my situation compares.

This big black guy, who towered over me, turned around and started shouting at me. “What the fuck is that shit? Shut the fuck up! We all suffer the same, motherfucker!”

“I’m sorry,” I said, backing away. “I didn’t mean—”

“Listen to me, motherfucker, listen.” Getting right up in my face. “Mine ain’t about yours. And yours ain’t about mine. We all suffer the same. You don’t get to decide what hurts you. You just hurt. Let me say my shit, and you say your shit, and I’ll be there for you. Okay?

It set me straight. I still think it’s one of the wisest things I’ve ever heard. I was trying to put things in perspective by pretending I had no perspective, by denying my own feelings. It’s always going to be important to acknowledge someone else’s pain, but denying your own pain doesn’t do that. “It just makes their pain relative to yours, like a yardstick to measure against. It’s a waste of pain. After that I started listening more and I started feeling again.

This knocked me back. Wow.

Tagged , , , ,

VGC: ‘Nintendo will reveal plans to re-release most of Super Mario’s 35-year back catalogue this year’

Andy Robinson, reporting for Video Games Chronicle:

Multiple sources have told VGC that the platform holder is planning to hold an event to coincide with this year’s anniversary, which marks 35 years since the start of the mainline Super Mario series in 1985.

As part of its anniversary celebrations, Nintendo will reveal plans to re-release most of Super Mario’s 35-year back catalogue this year, remastered for Nintendo Switch, VGC was told.

As VGC’s network partner Eurogamer reported in a follow-up to our story, these remasters will include 1997’s Super Mario 64, 2002’s Super Mario Sunshine and 2007’s Super Mario Galaxy.

Nintendo will also release several other Mario titles in 2020, including a new instalment in the Paper Mario series and a Deluxe version of 2013’s Super Mario 3D World.

Speaking of childhood comforts.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

The Comfort of Childhood Media During Lockdown

Amanda Hess, writing for The New York Times:

Myst Time is the opposite of News Time, Twitter Time and Doom Googling Coronavirus Projections Time. The immersive beauty of Myst feels particularly suited to a quarantine: At a time when I can’t go anywhere, it makes me feel far away, surrounded by lapping waves and opulent rugs and actual mist.

But sheltering in place has also activated a strong nostalgic urge. In this, I don’t think I’m alone. Last week, my colleague Astead Herndon imagined being quarantined with old Windows computer games like Minesweeper and 3D Pinball Space Cadet; I recently caught my husband playing a reconstruction of The Oregon Trail on a browser. (“You died of dysentery,” he told me.)

When I saw Herndon’s tweet, I immediately searched for iPhone versions of early ’90s point-and-click adventure games like Sam & Max, Day of the Tentacle, The 7th Guest and Myst — and commenced my reversion. The demand for isolation has knocked me out of my adult life and sent me into a state weirdly reminiscent of childhood, which is the last time I was confined to my bedroom, my free will constrained by a higher authority. I used to play Myst hunched over my family’s hulking PC, home-office doors closed to the rest of my family, and now I play it with my phone in my face, mind blinkered to the rest of the world.

Hess is definitely not alone in this. I am now re-examining my media choices since quarantine began.

When quarantine was imminent, I fought the urge to find a functioning CRT television and Nintendo 64 before lockdown. Since, I’ve been reading Jeff Tweedy’s memoir which reads like a long lost journal of my own childhood, at least before Tweedy’s and my musical careers deviated — he has one, I don’t. We’ve been spinning a lot of ’80s records in the house. (As I write these words, we are listening to Apple Music’s “80s Soft Rock Essentials” playlist.) We watched Back to the Future last night. And like every other Switch owner, my wife and I are escaping to Starrbucks, our Animal Crossing island — serenaded by sloshing waves and an acoustic guitar loop that somehow never overstays its welcome. (Friend code SW-2603-2234-0921. Come visit. Bring oranges.)

I have extremely fond memories of Myst — experiencing it with both step-father at home and my father 350 miles away. (I touched on this in my review of The Witness and a post about a rumored Myst television series.) I’ve jumped into it once or twice on iOS. It is nice to tap into those old memories. And the mystique of Myst (no pun intended) is one that I’m always chasing. (Queue yearning for LOST, BioShock, Annihilation, The Room iOS games, etc.)

What I could really go for is an iOS port of the 1992 remake of Sierra’s Quest for Glory: So You Want to Be a Hero and a macOS port of Sierra’s Johnny Castaway screensaver.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

GameStop is a garbage company

Jason Schreier reporting for Kotaku:

The struggling video game retail chain GameStop told all of its stores this afternoon to stay open even in the event of state or city lockdowns to protect against the covid-19 pandemic, emphasizing that it is “essential retail” alongside groceries and pharmacies and should therefore be exempt from enforced closures.

“Due to the products we carry that enable and enhance our customers’ experience in working from home, we believe GameStop is classified as essential retail and therefore is able to remain open during this time,” the retailer said in a memo to staff this afternoon, obtained by Kotaku.

“We have received reports of local authorities visiting stores in an attempt to enforce closure despite our classification. Store Managers are approved to provide the document linked below to law enforcement as needed.”

Meanwhile, GameStop employees all across the United States have feared for their safety in the wake of the company’s misguided responses to the covid-19 crisis. “Been with company almost a decade,” one told Kotaku this afternoon. “This is indefensible.”

Said document is revolting:

While GameStop is best known as a provider of gaming and home entertainment systems, we also offer a wide array of products and devices that are important to facilitate remote work, distance learning, and virtual connectivity. As millions of Americans face unprecedented challenges adapting to virtual learning, working and interaction, there is significant need for technology solutions and we are one of many providers of these products that are remaining open at this time. Schools, businesses and families are now suddenly dependent on being able to connect through technology. While there are many businesses and organizations far more critical than ours, we believe we can have a positive impact during this very challenging time. The health and safety of our employees and customers is of utmost importance and we have and will continue to take extensive precautions consistent with CDC guidelines. We are complying with all state, county, city and local ordinances and we will continue to adjust to any future developments.

What’s perhaps the most despicable part of this is the “technology” angle. I’d wager a bet having your computer or smartphone repaired ASAP is a bit more critical in a time where we are “suddenly dependent on being able to connect through technology,” yet the largest retailers/repair centers in the world have shut their doors in the name of public safety.

GameStop is a garbage company.


UPDATE: Later on March 20th, Kotaku reported that GameStop began closing stores in California. A single state.

On March 21st, GameStop decided to close all of its stores, offering curbside pickup at select locations.

Their reluctance is flat out gross.

Tagged , ,

NBCSW will broadcast video game simulations of Wizards and Capitals games

Scott Allen reporting for The Washington Post:

The NBA and NHL seasons, which were suspended last week due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, will resume — in video game form — in the coming days. Monumental Sports Network and NBC Sports Washington on Friday announced that they will broadcast hour-long simulations of the Wizards’ and Capitals’ previously scheduled regular season games using NBA 2K20 and NHL 20, respectively.

I don’t see this as something that will be successful. Just a bit of fun during a growing and tumultuous problem for sports franchises, players, and employees, as well as broadcasters, advertisers, and bookies.

What may have been a success would have been a virtual March Madness tournament.

On March 12, as soon as the NCAA canceled March Madness due to COVID-19, I became eager to tweet that exact idea. Upon researching, to my surprise, there hasn’t been an EA Sports NCAA Basketball game since 2010. Tweet canceled.

An “I called it” would have been in order had I blogged or tweeted this idea. My wife is my only alibi. Alas, I’ve been neglecting Zero Counts. Lesson learned.

Tagged , , , , ,

Estimates: Nintendo Switch passed the Xbox One in hardware shipments

Daniel Ahmad, senior analysts at Niko Partners, regarding Nintendo’s FY19 Nine Months Financial Results Briefing:

Also worth pointing out that according to our estimates the Nintendo Switch passed the Xbox One in hardware shipments during the holiday quarter last year.

The Xbox One is not too far behind, but it has only taken Switch 34 months to achieve what the Xbox One did in 74 months.

Nintendo reports that they have shipped 52.48 million Switch units since launch. It’s estimated that Microsoft has sold 46.9 million Xbox One units since launch. 5.58 million more units in nearly half the time.

On the Playstation front, while it’s been a back-and-forth race, it took Sony over 37 months to ship the same number of consoles as the Switch.

Here’s an updated chart for perspective:

The Switch also appears to be leaving it’s older sibling—the 3DS—in the dust:

Tagged , , , , , ,