Google’s ‘Semantic Experiences’ let you play word games with its AI

Google does a great deal of research into natural language processing and synthesis, but not every project has to be a new Assistant feature or voice improvement. The company has a little fun now and then, when the master AI permits it, and today it has posted a few web experiments that let you engage with its word-association systems in a playful way. First is an interesting way of searching through Google Books, that fabulous database so rarely mentioned these days. Instead of just searching for text or title verbatim, you can ask questions, like “Why was Napoleon exiled?” or “What is the nature of consciousness?” It returns passages from books that, based on their language only, are closely associated with your question. And while the results are hit and miss, they are nice and flexible. Sentences answering my questions appeared even though they were not directly
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Watch the new trailer for the 15-year Rooster Teeth documentary

Being an online video star might seem cool or even glamorous these days, but Burnie Burns, co-founder and chief creative officer at Rooster Teeth, can remember when that wasn’t the case. Rooster Teeth, which is behind the popular web series Red vs. Blue, is turning 15 years old this month. (The studio was acquired by Fullscreen a few years ago.) And Burns has been looking back at its history as part of the upcoming documentary Why We’re Here: 15 Years of Rooster Teeth. He acknowledged that nowadays, anyone in the business is competing with “an enormous noise,” but at the same time, Burns said, “There’s the misconception that because no one was doing this when we got started, that made it easier. It’s really difficult to go into a place where no one else is and no one else cares what’s going on there.” He recalled
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Arcade fame turns to infamy as Billy Mitchell’s record-setting Donkey Kong score is invalidated

The record-setting score that settled the Donkey Kong arcade rivalry, made famous by the documentary The King of Kong, has been invalidated by Twin Galaxies, the de facto arbiter of arcade world records. What’s more, Billy Mitchell, the occasionally controversial player who set the scores, has been permanently banned from consideration for future records. It’s a huge upset that calls into question decades of history. Will other similarly disputed scores get the ax? Are any old-school arcade legends safe? Before anything, it should be noted that although this sounds like kind of a random niche issue, the classic gaming scene is huge and millions follow it closely and take it very seriously. Breaking a high score on a 30-year-old game or shaving a quarter second off a record time can and will be celebrated as if the player has won an Olympic medal. One can never underestimate the size
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FTC warns companies that void warranties over using third-party services

The days of reading the small print to see whether a repair or new part for your ailing laptop will void its warranty may be coming to an end. The FTC has officially warned several companies that their policies of ceasing support when a user attempts “non-approved” repairs or servicing are likely illegal. It’s the sort of thing where if you buy a device or car from a company, they inform you that unless you use approved, often internally branded parts, you’re voiding the warranty and your item will no longer be supported by the company. The idea is that a company doesn’t want to be on the hook when a user replaces an old, perfectly good stick of RAM with a new, crappy one and then comes crying to them when the computer won’t boot. Or, in a more dire situation, replaces the brakes with some off-brand ones, which
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Microsoft partners with Lightstream Studio to bring customization tools to Mixer streamers

Microsoft’s Twitch competitor, Mixer, is giving streamers a new way to customize their channels. The company has entered into a partnership with Lightstream Studio to allow Mixer streamers to add images, overlays, transitions, and text to their streams, or to switch between scenes. The goal is to make it easier for creators to give their streams a more professional look-and-feel, without requiring they have a lot of technical expertise. Instead, the partnership will allow streamers to route their feed into the web-based Lightstream Studio, which can be accessed via a supported browser on a PC, Mac or tablet. On smartphones, the URL mixer.golightstream.com will allow streamers to use their phone as a remote control for changing their scenes. For instance, gamers can use the Studio to create status screens like “Starting Soon,” or “Be Right Back,” then quickly rotate through them, as needed. Streamers can direct their streams
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Tribe combines arcade games with group video chat

Sick of chatting but want to stay connected? Tribe‘s app lets you play clones of Space Invaders, Flappy Bird, Fruit Ninja, Name That Tune and more while video chatting with up to seven friends or strangers. Originally a video messaging app, Tribe failed to gain traction in the face of Snapchat and Facebook Messenger. But thanks to a $3 million funding round led by Kleiner Perkins in June, Tribe had the runway to pivot into video chat gaming that could prove popular, even if not in its app. “As we all know, Messaging is a super-crowded area,” says Tribe co-founder Cyril Paglino. “If you look closely, very few communication products have been blowing up in the past three years.” Now, he says “we’re building a ‘Social Game Boy.'” A former breakdancer, Paglino formed his team in France before renting a “hacker house” and moving to San Francisco.
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Minit is a monochromatic adventure that eats up hours 60 seconds at a time

If the overstuffed buffets of Far Cry 5 and other expansive AAA games leave a sour taste in your mouth, you may find Minit a suitable palate cleanser. This charming little top-down adventure combines some clever puzzle solving with a well-realized black and white art style. The pitch is simple: you’re a little guy who picks up a cursed sword that causes you to die every 60 seconds and start over from your home. So whatever you do in this game, you have to do in under a minute. Some things reset when you die, and some things stay done — enemies will return, but favors will be remembered, keys retained, and so on. Figuring out how to effect lasting progress is a big part of the fun. Also fun is the art style, which is determinedly monochromatic; not even a shade of grey to be found, only the kind
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Twitch lays off some employees as part of ‘team adjustments’

Twitch, the Amazon-owned live-streaming platform for gaming, laid off “several” people yesterday, Polygon first reported. It’s not clear how many people were let go, but according to Polygon, probably no more than 30 people were let go. Twitch has since confirmed the layoffs to TechCrunch.
“Coming off the record-setting numbers shared in our 2017 Retrospective, Twitch is continuing to grow and advance with success stories from Overwatch League to Fortnite’s milestone-setting streams,” a Twitch spokesperson told TC. “In order to maintain this momentum, we have an aggressive growth strategy for 2018 with plans to increase our headcount by approximately 30%. While we’ve conducted team adjustments in some departments, our focus is on prioritizing areas most important for the community.”

The SteelSeries Arctis Pro lineup is a new high-water mark in comfort and quality

SteelSeries has two new Arctis Pro gaming headsets out, and they pack a lot of tech and versatility into a comfortable, visually attractive package. The SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless and Arctis Pro + GameDAC are both incredibly capable headsets that deliver terrific sound, and depending on your system needs, should probably be your first choice when looking for new gaming audio gear. The Arctis Pro Wireless is, true to its name, wire-free, but also promises lossless 2.4GHz transmission to ensure lag-free audio, too – a must for competitive gaming. The combination of the wireless functionality, the long-wearing comfort of the suspension system headband and the included transmitter base that can hold and charge a swappable battery as well as display all key information on an OLED readout makes this a standout choice. There are some limitations, however – compatibility is limited to either PS4 or PC for this one,
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The Las Vegas strip’s first legit esports arena just opened for business

On the south end of the Vegas strip, a different kind of gaming is taking root. At the Luxor casino, the Esports Arena Las Vegas just opened its doors, occupying the former home of the LAX nightclub. Following a special event on March 22, the arena, owned by Allied Esports, opened for regular operations on Monday, March 26. Allied Esports is a joint venture of Chinese gaming companies Ourgame International, KongZhong and iRena that aims to build a global network of at least 10 esports arenas over three to five years. The effort is just the latest sign that yes, esports is mainstream now and its momentum — and its accompanying business ventures — will only ramp up from here. The 30,000 square foot space is custom built to accommodate the flashy, massive events that have come to define the esports world, including an in-house “network TV quality” production studio
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HQ Trivia’s first sponsored games roll out this week from Nike and Warner Bros.

HQ Trivia, the TV-style game show in an app, is starting to make money. The company this week is rolling out its first sponsored games, including a $3 million deal which includes sponsored games from Warner Bros., as well as a sponsored game from Nike, arriving today. AdAge was the first to report on HQ Trivia’s deal with Warner Bros., which is using the popular live trivia app to promote three movies, beginning with Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One.” According to the report – which HQ Trivia declined to comment on at the time – the overall deal with Warner Bros. is worth $3 million, and will include a $250,000 jackpot on a sponsored game that promotes “Ready Player One,” airing on Wednesday. The jackpot would be the largest ever seen on the HQ Trivia app, AdAge noted. (HQ Trivia confirmed this is the case, in an
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Roblox, the Club Penguin for Gen Z, is now cash-flow positive

I’m familiar with Roblox because my 8-year old daughter watches YouTube videos of kids playing the game almost every day. I’m also familiar with Roblox because she whined while we were running errands one weekend that she needed to “get on the internet right now” because she had scheduled a playdate with a friend in Roblox. And I’m familiar with Roblox because the other day, she uttered, “ugh, this obby,” which forced me to turn to Google like the old person I am to find out what the heck an obby was. (It’s an obstacle course, in Roblox lingo, by the way.) You see, I’m not the core demographic for Roblox, the massive gaming platform that now sees over 50 million kids playing every month. I’m a grown-up. Roblox users tend to be young – ages 8 through 18 play the game, though the core demographic is really
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The new Dragon Ball game is powered by Google’s cloud

Bandai Namco Entertainment announced the latest entrant in its series of Dragon Ball games this week. Dragon Ball Legends is a player versus player (PvP) mobile game that has players from all over the world battle with each other in real time by using their move cards. From all I’ve seen, it looks like a pretty fun game, though I know nothing about Dragon Ball and I have an unreasonable disinterest in card-based games. What made me perk up, though, was when I heard that Bandai Namco opted to use Google’s Cloud Network to host all the infrastructure for the game and that one of the main components of this system is Cloud Spanner, Google’s globally distributed database. To make a real-time game work at all is hard enough, but Bandai Namco wanted players from all over the world to be able to play against each other. There’s a
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8bitdo’s wireless adapter adds flexibility to Xbox, PlayStation and Switch controllers

Game controller compatibility is a labyrinthine nightmare most of the time: Some controllers work with some platforms some of the time, but it’s very hard to keep track of how and when. 8bitdo’s latest accessory adds some simplicity to the mix, enabling use of Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch controllers with Switch, Windows and macOS systems quickly and easily. Yes, that means you can play your PC or Mac games with your favorite Xbox One X/S or DualShock 3/4 controller, or even use a Joy-Con. It also means that you can use a DualShock controller to play Breath of the Wild on the Switch, ion that’s what you want to do. The USB dongle also works with Android TV hardware, and with Raspberry Pi-based devices. It supports DualShock 4 vibration and 6-axis motion control on Switch, and it works lag-free for low latency gaming requirements. It’s also a tiny
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Internet Archive adds trove of cheap LCD handhelds to its emulation collection

During CES, the single piece of electronics I spent the most time with, apart from my laptop and camera, was a Mattel Dungeons & Dragons Computer Fantasy Game handheld. This decades-old device held the attention of John Biggs and myself through quite a few drinks as we navigated its arcane interface (eventually slaying the dragon, thank you). These cheap handhelds, sold as impulse buys at drug stores and Toys ‘R Us (RIP), are the latest thing to be collected and emulated in full by MAME and the Internet Archive. At first when I heard this, I was happy but not particularly impressed. They’re great little devices — mostly terrible games, albeit a nostalgic kind of terrible — but how complicated can they be? Oh, quite complicated, it turns out. Unlike, say, an NES ROM, these little gadgets don’t have their graphics palettized, their logic isolated, etc. No, each one of
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HQ Trivia had a weird night

HQ Trivia was removed from the App Store following a controversial ending to a $25K game on Sunday night, according to Business Insider. HQ has introduced a new high-stakes version of the game where one winner takes home a larger prize. However, on Sunday night, no one won the $25K. The company posted on its Twitter account that moderators kick players who break the company’s TOS.

HQ would not be specific about what rules were broken, but BI reports that Twitter users had suggested it was due to jailbroken iPhones, which could be running software that gives users a leg up in the trivia competition. For those who missed the game last night, two players remained for

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Google Play Instant lets you try games without having to install them

Last year, Google launched Instant Apps, a way for developers to give users a native app experience that didn’t involve having to install anything. Users would simply click on a link on the search results page and the instant app would load. Today, the company is extending this program to games. Thanks to this, you can now see what playing a level or two of Clash Royale, Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire or Panda Pop is like without having to go through the usual install procedure. Instead, you simply head for the Google Play store, find a game that supports this feature, and hit the “Try now” button. Google Play product managers Jonathan Karmel and Benjamin Frenkel told me that the team learned a lot from the experience with building Instant Apps. For games, though, the team decided to increase the maximum file size from 2 MB
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Facebook lets all PC games Live stream and reward viewers

Facebook is challenging Twitch and YouTube for video game live streaming supremacy with the release of its new Games SDK for PC. After testing Live streaming from games like Overwatch from developers like Blizzard since 2016, today Live broadcasting from PC games to the News Feed opens to all developers. And Facebook will let them reward fans who watch by providing in-game items or bonuses. For example, beneath the comments reel, users might see a promotion like “Watch Paladins streams for a chance to earn random loot to use in-game.” The potential for viral growth and sales could convince tons of game developers to bake in Facebook’s new SDK, while players could use the simple broadcasting feature to reach a big audience — though one not as dedicated to gaming as on other platforms. Viewers might choose to watch on Facebook because they get rewarded there. Facebook meanwhile
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Players Lounge lets gamers make money off their eSports skills

Online gamers love to talk a big game, but how willing are they to put their money with their mouth is? Players Lounge is a home for gamers looking to make friendly wagers with strangers and friends in head-to-head matches. When we first covered the startup back in 2015, the team was getting people together at bars in New York for one-off FIFA tournaments on slow nights. Since then, Players Lounge has moved towards greater scalability, though their niche has still centered heavily on sports titles like FIFA and Madden. The company is launching out of Y Combinator’s latest class with some new funding and some new plans to capture gamers’ attention. The company is already expanding beyond its console sports roots, and has added support for titles like Fortnite and Call of Duty, though there’s still a lot of room for the company to flex on PC which hosts
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Volley’s voice games for smart speakers have amassed over half a million monthly users

The rapid consumer adoption of smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home has opened opportunities for developers creating voice apps, too. At least that’s true in the case of Volley, a young company building voice-controlled entertainment experiences for Amazon Alexa and Google Home. In less than a year, Volley has amassed an audience north of 500,000 monthly active users across its suite voice apps, and has been growing that active base of users at 50 to 70 percent month-over-month. The company was co-founded by former Harvard roommates and longtime friends, Max Child and James Wilsterman, and had originally operated as an iOS consultancy. But around a year and a half ago, Volley shifted its focus to voice instead. “When we were running the iOS business, we were always sort of hacking around on games and some stuff on the side for fun,” explains Child. “We made a
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