Friday, May 13, 2016
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
Earlier today, the makers of mobile gaming blockbuster Tiny Tower publishedthe kind of open letter loved by video gaming's instantly and constantly angry fuck-the-man constituency, not least because it can be disseminated byimgur. It alleged that Zynga, the popularly despised maker of Facebook McGames, stole Tiny Tower's idea and was reaping a dishonest profit from it.
On its face, yeah, it seems like developer NimbleBit has a complaint: Zynga'sDream Heights definitely isn't original game design. But is Tiny Tower's, really?
In this rebuttal, we're reminded that NimbleBit's jackpot moneymaker wasn't exactly divinely inspired, either. It seems to have drawn on Corporation Inc., a very popular title hosted by Armor Games. Nor, admittedly, was Corporation Inc.entirely original. The difference is, Corporation Inc. acknowledged its heritage in its credits—and it comes from a title published by Maxis, now owned by that indie outfit Electronic Arts.
But why is this even an issue? Copying isn't theft, remember?
At the University of Texas "every Friday before finals there's a thing called 'Foam Sword Friday,'" writes Austin H., a computer sciences major at the university. Students go to the university district's main drag, cross the street during a red light, and then battle it out with foam swords.
This Friday, a freshman named Nick strode forth into the maw of disaster and was hit by a purple bus, which you can see in that video above at the 0:28 mark. Fortunately, the bus was not injured. As for Nick, he came out with "just a scratch and bruise," says Austin.
To pay tribute to the bus's sacrifice (and Nick's), Austin created "Nick vs. Bus", a Frogger variant you can play now—it's also playable on mobile devices. In it, your "Nick" is invulnerable to purple buses, as he was struck by a purple bus and emerged unharmed. You have 15 seconds to cross the street each time. Enjoy!
Why isn't Kurt Vonnegut's influence seen in more video games? I couldn't help but wonder that after playing through Vonneguts & Glory, a new (very short) browser game by Shaun Inman based on Kurt Vonnegut's classic novelSlaughterhouse-Five.
It's a weird little thing, a shooter that is unstuck in time—you move backwards, picking up from your death and "unshooting" enemies, bringing them back to life and healing yourself. It's got a pretty cool soundtrack, as well.
The game was created as part of the 7 Day FPS Challenge, which tasks players with creating a first person shooter… in… seven days. Okay you probably guessed that.
The short development time explains Vonneguts & Glory's brevity, but it's fun to imagine where a developer could take this idea if given more time. Something like Braid combined with Wolfenstein 3-D, I suppose?
I bet Soulja Boy would love this game.
Neil A. Armstrong, first human to set foot on extraterrestrial soil, died today at age 82.
His name figured tangentially in the continuities of some science fiction games—the Armstrong Nebula in Mass Effect was a notable tribute (two other nebulae also were named for early space explorers in that game.) Moon landings have been featured much more prominently in video games since their earliest days.
One web game, made two years ago for the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, recreates the white-knuckle conclusion to the descent of Eagle, the lunar module Armstrong piloted during Apollo 11's landing phase. As is well known, the vessel's navigation computer was steering Eagle toward large boulders and a crater. Armstrong took manual control and landed Eagle safely, with very little fuel to spare.
PlanetInAction.com's Apollo 11 Moon Lander lets you take control of Eagle at the moment Armstrong did, and attempt to land it softly and safely. You will need the Google Earth plugin.
It is difficult. Don't expect to do it right the first time. Armstrong did, of course, and for it, his name will be remembered for the rest of human history.
If your Science skill was too low, or if you just enjoyed the LSAT problem of trying to figure out how to brute force hack your way into a terminal in Fallout 3 then this flash game is for you. And look, no need to back out of the terminal before making your final attempt!
Complete with authentic keyboard-clacking and power-switch whoomphing, from mitchellthompson.net is this flash timewaster based on the good ol Robco Industries security protocol. I haven't gone to GameFAQs or my strat guide (yes, I bought one) to see if it's using real passwords or not—I don't think it is. I can't even tell if it has a correct answer or just one chosen at random. Anyway, here you go, drive yourself nuts.
It's a tale as old as time. A man needs to go meet his lady. He sets off, usually to the right. There's a monster in the way. He jumps on it!
What happens next, at least in Marius Fietzek, Benedikt Hummel and Irina Gross' The Visit, will surprise you. And probably, make you laugh.
I won't spoil it—just go play the game yourself, it's free online. Crabs, man.
If you've ever had a nightmare about bombing in a musical performance onstage (and who hasn't?), then Drop A Beat, Giuseppe! is for you.
The free flash game puts you in control of Giuseppe, a misunderstood piano genius. His audience is angry, and in order to survive, you have to move your piano underneath the trash they throw and kick up the piano-lid to toss it back. The twist is that in order to move, you must mash your fingers all over your keyboard somewhat like a brilliant pianist. As you do so, Giuseppe will move: He'll go to the left if you bash the "low" keys, and to the right if you play the "treble."
The whole thing is funny in that way that creatively imprecise games can be. It was created by Molkman and MajusArts, and in their author comments, they say it took them about 32 hours. That'll do, Giuseppe.
Super Mario Bros. Crossover, the flash game in which you play through the levels of Super Mario Bros. as Samus, Link, Ryu Hayabusa and other heroes from the Nintendo Entertainment System's glory days, is readying a 3.0 update with even more obscure nostalgia and retro goodness.
The centerpiece of 3.0 will be playing through Super Mario Bros. Special, a Japan-only port of the game for two PC models, the Sharp X1 and the NEC-PC8801. Special added in different enemies and power-ups—including the hammer from the original Donkey Kong, which behaves similarly.
Other upgrades include hard and easy modes for SMBC's levels; harder ones are, duh, harder, while easier ones feature more coin collection. New map skins can also be seen in that trailer above, including Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES and SNES), Super Mario Bros. Special, Castlevania and a low-rez Atari 2600 version.
Jay Pavlina of Exploding Rabbit, the game's maker, says 3.0 will be arriving in May or June. Stay tuned.
Nintendo is again being chastised by activists for not ensuring that minerals mined by slave labor in African conflict areas are not used in the manufacture of their electronics. Nintendo is criticized annually for this, but this time the activists have made a Super Mario game to underscore their point.
It's the work of something called Walk Free, which also recorded a podcast featuring Sasha Lezhnev, whose Enough Project is the one constantly rating Nintendo "dead last" among 24 major electronics firms, worldwide, for their efforts in keeping conflict minerals out of their supply chain. Lezhnev also wrote an op-ed on this subject for Kotaku back in 2010.
Walk Free is particularly incensed that Nintendo won't respond to what it says are more than 400,000 signatures on a petition asking the company "to take credible steps to ensure slave-mined minerals are not in their gaming consoles."
The slave labor in question is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where forced labor—including child labor—mines out resources such as tantalite (or coltan), which is used to make capacitors used in electronics products. Walk Free, The Enough Project and others say using conflict minerals supports the brutal military regime in that county and perpetuates the virtual enslavement of others.
Enough Project's latest report [pdf] found only two companies, according to its standards, more than 50 percent toward "responsible sourcing on conflict minerals." Microsoft rated at 40 percent, Sony at 27 percent. Nintendo was the only company on the list with a score of zero.
“While this parody allows gamers to demand that Nintendo articulate credible steps to ensure slavery is not in its supply chain, slavery is not a game,” Walk Free's Debra Rosen said in a statement. “We’re not mocking the problem, we’re poking fun at the absurdity of Nintendo’s lack of response. Nintendo—as the world’s largest maker of video game machines—should be leading other consumer electronics companies in showing the public that they are working to have a supply chain free of slavery."
Nintendo, in early 2010, responded to another advocacy group, noting that the company itself doesn't purchase any metals as raw materials, and that the company requires its suppliers to comply with Nintendo's procurement guidelines "which stipulate suppliers comply with applicable laws, have respect for human rights and conduct their business in an appropriate and fair manner."
Last year, Nintendo said to CNN that it "outsources the manufacture and assembly of all Nintendo products to our production partners and therefore is not directly involved in the sourcing of raw materials that are ultimately used in our products."
I reached out to a Nintendo representative to offer the company a chance to respond here.
This sort of thing is brought up annually, so Nintendo probably shouldn't expect the matter to go away just because they don't comment on it. Forced labor, conflict minerals and African wars are not issues most folks think about every day, but bootstrapping it to the subject of fun things like gadgets and video games certainly helps raise awareness for it, especially the topic lends itself to flash game interpretations.
The game itself, well, it's a rather basic platformer that spoofs Mario and villains found in the series. (Naturally, I died on the first goomba.) Of course, if you want to save your high score, you have to input a name and email address, which gets you on their mailing list. Otherwise to play again, you must reload the page entirely.
The makers of Candy Crush Saga have issued a lengthy defense of their actions, with regard to a couple of notorious trademark applications and allegations itdeliberately cloned a game whose makers reached a deal with another publisher.
"Our policy is to protect our IP and also respect the IP of others," writes Riccardo Zacconi, King's CEO and co-founder in a statement appended to his company's corporate site today. "Like any responsible company, we take appropriate steps to protect our IP, including our look-and-feel and trademarks. Our goals are simple: to ensure that our employees' hard work is not simply copied elsewhere, that we avoid player confusion and that the integrity of our brands remains."
King in the past week has attracted intense criticism and derision for its pursuit of trademarks to the words "candy" and "saga" as they apply to video games. its opposition to the trademark application of The Banner Saga (a game completely different from Candy Crush Saga) and, lately, its publishing of a flash game called Pac-Avoid, which was accused by the developer of a similar game of being a deliberate clone.
King removed Pac-Avoid from its flash games portal as that controversy boiled up. In the statement, Zacconi concedes that "we should never have published Pac-Avoid," and apologized "for having published it in the first place.
"Let me be clear: This unfortunate situation is an exception to the rule. King does not clone games, and we do not want anyone cloning our games," Zacconi wrote. "Before we launch any game, we do a thorough search of other games in the marketplace and review relevant trademark filings to ensure that we are not infringing anyone else's IP. We have launched hundreds of games. Occasionally, we get things wrong. When we do, we take appropriate action."
As for the trademarks to "Candy" and "Saga," Zacconi said that King acquired the European trademark for "Candy" from a bankrupt company and filed for the same trademark in the U.S. "We've been the subject of no little scorn for our actions on this front, but the truth is that there is nothing very unusual about trademarking a common word for specific uses," Zacconi says. "Think of 'Time', 'Money' 'Fortune', 'Apple', and 'Sun', to name a few.
"We are not trying to control the world's use of the word 'Candy;' having a trade mark doesn't allow us to do that anyway," he writes. "We're just trying to prevent others from creating games that unfairly capitalise on our success.
As for why that requires King to oppose the the trademark of a very different game whose title uses the same word: "We're not trying to stop Stoic [Studios, developers of The Banner Saga] from using the word 'Saga' but we had to oppose their application to preserve our own ability to protect our own games. Otherwise, it would be much easier for future copycats to argue that use of the word 'Saga' when related to games, was fair play."
The first Super Smash Flash was originally submitted to Newgrounds almost 8 years ago, in 2006. You can play its sequel right now, though it is still in development—in fact, it's getting a huge update very soon.
Essentially, the game is (currently) a stripped down version of Super Smash Bros. Brawl with different stages and characters. It's the basic Smash Bros.experience, with a robust Versus Mode and some Event stages, but there's a few key differences: it's free, it's on PC, it uses pixel art, and the production quality varies a bit in places—this can mostly be felt in the music bitrates.
Still, it's a pretty damn entertaining little distraction, and gameplay-wise, to me, it feels as responsive as its console brothers. And with the upcoming update, it's getting even better, with the addition of special game modifiers like Slow, Mini or Turbo, an online mode, and three new characters: Chibi Robo, Marth, and Zero Suit Samus (with Isaac from Golden Sun coming in a future update). The vid below has more details:
You can give Super Smash Flash 2 v0.9a a try over here, at its official site (you can play it in your browser or download it). The big update is scheduled to arrive tomorrow.
Super Smash Flash 2 v0.9b [McLeodGaming@YouTube, via DSOGaming]
Did you enjoy Alien Hominid? Thank Adobe Flash. The Binding of Isaac? The original version ran like crap, but that was Flash, too. Flash eats battery life and makes computer fans run loud, but it’s been important to many developers, which is why they got scared for a while today.
Flash used to power much of what you viewed on the web, including games. That’s changed in recent years, but Flash is still kicking. Today’s anxiety came from a decision by the popular browsers Chrome and Firefox to temporarily block the technology over security concerns. Heck, Facebook’s new chief of security recently called for Adobe to start preparing for Flash’s funeral:
Basically, people want to kill Flash on the web. Before he died, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously wrote an open letter to Adobe about why the iPhone wouldn’t support Flash. He spent hundreds of words explaining his reasoning, but here’s the summary: Flash totally sucks.
“Symantec recently highlighted Flash for having one of the worst security records in 2009. We also know first hand that Flash is the number one reason Macs crash. We have been working with Adobe to fix these problems, but they have persisted for several years now. We don’t want to reduce the reliability and security of our iPhones, iPods and iPads by adding Flash.
Jobs was mostly right. But while Flash might suck, that doesn’t mean it’s not vital or important.
There are several components to Flash, but the one players are the most familiar with is the web player. It used to power YouTube, but formally switched to HTML 5 earlier this year. Twitch still uses Flash, but there’s a good chance that’s going away eventually, too. It also used to service all sorts of web animation, and was the primary way to play games online for a long, long time.
“For five years I’ve been told Flash is dead,” said Kongregate senior producer John Cooney. “It comes from everywhere: friends in the industry, relatives, blogs, especially news headlines. Flash has died more times than we can remember. It’s become a joke among Flash game developers.”
Kongregate is one of several web sites dedicated to serving browser-based games, which means they’ve relied on Flash for years. (Most also now support HTML 5 and Unity.) Did you play an early version of the popular tower defense game Kingdom Rush? You played it on Kongregate.
“As someone who has loved Flash since 1998, it’s been frustrating to watch everything that has happened over the years,” said Newgrounds founder Tom Fulp.
Newgrounds was also built on Flash games, and chances are you’ve played one at some point. Besides Alien Hominid and Binding of Isaac, there’s Portal: The Flash Version, Super Mario Crossover, Defend Your Castle, and countless others.
Fulp is not only helped build one of the web’s most important gaming destinations, but co-founded Castle Crashers developer The Behemoth. Where’d they get their start? Flash.
Newgrounds has been preparing for the demise of Flash. It built a tool for animators to easily convert creations into a video file for YouTube. Like Kongregate, it also added support for Unity and HTML5, but neither is currently as capable or ubiquitous as Flash.
“People talk a lot about the need for more accessibility in creative industries and I think Flash was the most accessible creative tool in my lifetime,” said Fulp. “It allowed all sorts of people to animate and make games; people like me who otherwise would never have ended up where they are today.”
One such designer is Edmund McMillen, one half of Super Meat Boy’s developer, Team Meat. McMillen originally made a name for himself on the Newgrounds community by building weird, disturbing Flash experiments in 2001. They remain online, if you want to look through them.
McMillen still uses Flash as an animation and illustration program, and was recently considering releasing a tiny game through Flash and HTML5, but eventually decided against it.
“I quickly found out that that whole scene is long dead,” he said. “There is almost no money in Flash games these days. Kinda sucks, but I believe everyones moved to App Store dev. It’s sad to see it slowly die off. Flash was a very easy way to make games, but time changes everything.”
These days, if you utter the term “Flash games,” people will probably roll their eyes. Many of them tend to have crappy art, but there’s a reason for that: Flash made it so easy to get games up-and-running for amateurs that non-artists would end up building every part of the game.
“Flash allowed me to ease myself into being a game developer without having to understand computer science principles off the bat,” said developer Iain Lobb, who’s been building Flash games since 2000. “You could do a little animation, just add in a couple of lines of code to do something interactive, and build up from there.”
When it’s easier for people to participate, it’s not a surprise quality will be all over the place.
“A lot of Flash games were, in fact, terrible,” said Lobb. “ [They] were made by 15 year olds in their bedrooms, with awful stick-man art, so it’s not completely baseless!”
Headlines declared the death of PC game development for years, but it didn’t happen. With Flash, however, it appears the “Flash is dead” narrative is contributing to its demise.
“Our clients refused that we use Flash as the core technology, because of all the news of Flash being dead,” said a programmer who asked to remain anonymous. “The more the media talked about Flash being dead, the more dead Flash became.”
“Steve Jobs and his ‘reality distortion field’ was probably the worst thing to happen to Flash,” said Newgrounds co-founder Tom Fulp. “There were valid concerns about the security of Flash but the reality was that Steve had an ax to grind with Adobe ever since they didn’t have his back when he returned as the head of Apple. [...] But he was a dick, so that’s how it goes.”
It’s possible Flash will soon become irrelevant to players, but based on the developers I talked with today, it will remain a useful tool for building games. Many designers told me it remains useful during the early prototype phase.