TIME Innovation

Why Read Hamlet When You Can Play It?

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Why read Hamlet when you can play an immersive time-traveling video game version instead?

By Jess Joho in Kill Screen

2. Here’s how to attract female engineers.

By Lina Nilsson in the New York Times

3. Everyone is losing in Yemen’s war.

By Adam Baron in Foreign Policy

4. Google and Facebook could save — or consume — journalism.

By Emily Bell in the Columbia Journalism Review

5. We know how to dramatically reduce teen pregnancies, but we don’t. Here’s why.

By Nora Caplan-Bricker in the National Journal

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Video Games

5 Reasons You Need to Check Out Cities: Skylines

Colossal Order

The city-building genre is alive and kicking, thanks to an unabashed SimCity tribute by Finland-based developer Colossal Order

It used to be, the video game everyone played (if they played video games) was SimCity. This was back when PC gaming ruled the roost, and you called computers “desktops” because they actually sat on your desk and doubled as monitor stands. SimCity would eventually fall behind The Sims in terms of sales—now one of the top 10 gaming franchises in history. But for most of 1990s and early 2000s, SimCity was one of those series folks who’d never identify as gamers might, if you brought up gaming in conversation, cop to playing obsessively.

Over the last decade, the “sim” aspect of SimCity has vectored off toward steadily fuzzier, un-simulation-like pastures. Blame the success of The Sims, or the presumption that softer, friendlier, social-angled gameplay is some sort of Platonic gaming ideal. Whatever the reasons, by the time Maxis rebooted SimCity in 2013, the game felt very little like its acclaimed forerunners. You didn’t build cities so much as towns, monitored abstract symbols and color bars in lieu of meaningful metrics, and Maxis’ stumbling conflation of mandatory online play with a bunch of glitchy, not-ready-for-primetime servers — many couldn’t play the game at all, prompting Amazon to yank it from their e-shelves — wound up alienating hardcore and casual players alike.

Enter Cities: Skylines, a PC game by a totally different studio (interlopers!) that’s singlehandedly revitalizing the city-building genre. And not in a “Look, here’s something more clever than SimCity!” way, so much as a “Hey, why not just do SimCity old school?” one. Here’s a look at some of the reasons why.

It’s an unapologetic city-building simulation

“[Developer] Colossal Order delves deep into what Maxis and EA once made so popular with a traditional city-building approach,” writes GameSpot. “Few surprises or even significant innovations can be found here: There is just a standard single-player mode of play in which you choose from a handful of maps representing territory types ranging from flat plains to tropical beaches. You may also play the game with standard conditions, dial up the difficulty, and/or turn on sandbox and unlimited-money mods.”

And it’s ultimately about getting your city’s thoroughfares right

“Each stretch of road, every bus stop, every link in the transport network is important, and even small changes can have meaningful results,” writes PCGamesN, later adding “Everything in Skylines starts with a road. The very first thing you do is drag out that first stretch of tarmac from the highway, the first little piece of the city. Eventually that will connect up with elevated intersections, roundabouts, bridges and other roads both small and huge. Everything grows up around them.”

But it’s not overly complex, or byzantine for the sake of bean counting

“In addition to managing the physical aspects of your city, you’ll have to keep an eye on your bank account and supplement it with loans, decide what to budget for various utilities and services, and tweak taxes for residents and business,” observes PC Gamer. “None of this feels deep, simulation-wise—it’s mostly fiddling with sliders and finding a balance between keeping a positive revenue and annoying residents with steep taxes—but nothing about Skylines’ simulation feels terribly deep, at least economically, and apart from focusing on specific types of industries, or choosing office towers over factories, none of my cities have felt particularly specialized. That suits me just fine, though players looking for a deeply complex city simulation might be a little disappointed.”

Rejiggering your cities isn’t a pain in the butt

“[This] is arguably the heart of Cities: Skylines, which does a fine job making urban renewal as painless as possible,” writes Quarter to Three. “Because so much of the gameplay is premised on the traffic model, Colossal Order knows you’re going to have to widen streets, or put in subways, or deal with railways intersecting roads. So it gives you plenty of smoothly implemented options for one-way traffic, elevated roads, public transportation routing, and especially moveable service buildings. I can’t emphasize enough what a game changer it is that you can relocate an expensive university or hospital instead of having to demolish and rebuild it.”

And the game supports mods that already remedy potential annoyances

“Citizens will let you know what they think of your mayoral skills through the social network Chirper, with new ‘chirps’ appearing under the blue bird logo either criticising or praising your work,” explains God is a Geek. “Despite its helpfulness, this bird can get bloody annoying at times – especially when your population has expanded into the thousands and everyone wants to get their two-pence in. Unfortunately, the option to break the birdie’s neck isn’t available in the base game but mods are already available to combat this incessant feather vertebrae and turn him off completely. Hooray for the internet.”

TIME Video Games

Science Explains Why Mario Runs Left to Right

Inside A Nintendo Store As the Co. Wins Appeals Over Wii
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Nintendo Co.'s Super Mario is displayed on coffee mugs for sale at the Nintendo World store in New York, U.S., on Friday, May 17, 2013.

People may have a bias for movement to the right-hand side

Mario didn’t just want to run to the right just because he had an insatiable curiosity about what existed on the far side of your vintage Nintendo Game Boy. He was programmed to run forever to the right because that’s the way gamers’ brains like it, a new study surfaced by Gizmodo suggests.

Dr. Peter Walker, a a psychologist at Lancaster University, inspected thousands of still and moving pictures in Google Images, finding evidence of a “rightward bias . . . for photographs of animate and inanimate items in motion,” but “no bias or a leftward bias” for the same items when they were stationary.

“This could indicate a fundamental left-to-right bias for visual motion,” the study says, helping to explain why Mario runs from left to right, not the other way around.

Now if science could only explain why Princess Peach was always in another castle.

Read next: The Best iPhone Games of the Week

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Video Games

The Best Thing to Happen to Xbox 360 Owners in Years

Xbox 360
Junko Kimura—Getty Images Visitors play with the XBOX 360 at the Microsoft booth during the Tokyo Game Show 2009 press and business day at Makuhari Messe on September 24, 2009 in Chiba, Japan.

Microsoft is introducing a preview program on Xbox 360

Microsoft is launching a preview program for Xbox 360 owners that allows users to test new features, a move that follows the success of the company’s Xbox One preview program.

Specially selected Xbox 360 owners will be invited to join the program through a message from Xbox Live, allowing them to sign up and enroll into the program. An initial update will add better network connectivity tests, The Verge reports.

Offering updates is a surprising move considering the age of Xbox 360, which was first released a decade ago.

Microsoft is also allowing Xbox 360 owners to build an Xbox One game library from their existing Xbox 360 console, encouraging users to switch to the latest iteration of the gaming system.

[The Verge]

MONEY Leisure

Casino Revenues Surge as Gas Prices Fall

MGM Grand Hotel & Casino Detroit at night, Michigan.
Benjamin Beytekin—dpa/AP Images

Long-struggling regional casinos have been enjoying a surge in gambling revenues, seemingly out of the blue. Could cheap gas have something to do with it?

Regional casinos—the kind that people typically drive to for a night, rather than fly in for the weekend—seem to have been victims of their own success. As casino revenues increased for years, more and more states wanted in on the action and began welcoming casinos and other gaming venues in order to (hopefully) haul in big bucks by taxing all the money streaming through these places. At some point in recent years, however, observers began worrying that many regions had reached a casino saturation point, the marker at which gambling revenues would level off because there simply aren’t enough customers around to keep throwing money at these establishments.

In 2014, many casinos saw revenues go flat, and a handful of casinos went out of business in spots that were once regional gambling magnets, Mississippi and Atlantic City. Yet as 2014 came to a close and 2015 began, the tables seem to have turned for many casinos around the country.

Five of the six casinos in the St. Louis area reported bringing in more revenues in January 2015 than they did the year before. Detroit’s three casinos collectively saw gambling revenues rise 15% last month compared with January 2014. Even in Connecticut, where the casino business has been on the decline for years largely thanks to increased competition, gambling revenues are on the upswing lately.

In Atlantic City, meanwhile, in January the eight casinos still in business took in revenues that were 19% higher than the same month in 2014. Even when the four A.C. casinos that were open in January 2014 but are now closed are factored in, Atlantic City’s overall gambling revenues are up nearly 1% compared with a year ago—and again, that’s with four fewer casinos to work with.

What’s behind the seemingly sudden surge in casino gambling? Many observers point to low gas prices as a key factor. The late 2014 gambling increase just so happened to coincide with ever cheaper gas prices at the pump. To many, this was no coincidence at all. In other words, the idea is that people have been taking the money they’re “saving” on cheaper gas and driving it on over to the slot machines and table games at their nearby casino.

In late January, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that two notable gaming analysts were forecasting rebounds in 2015 for regional casinos, in particular in the South and Midwest. “Several data points have developed which could point to the beginning of a recovery,” said Morgan Stanley gaming analyst Thomas Allen.

According to Allen, regional casinos have noticed that business has picked up especially among lower-income customers—the demographic that’s most likely to feel the impact of cheaper gas prices and, presumably, act on it.

Data cited by the Baltimore Sun, indicating that Maryland casino revenues have declined for two months in a row, might seem to blow a hole in the theory that cheaper gas is playing a major role in increased casino gambling. Yet Maryland’s casino revenues were soaring in late summer and autumn 2014 thanks largely to the opening of the new Horseshoe Casino Baltimore in August. It appears as if the novelty of the new casino has worn off, and indeed, Maryland’s revenues in December ($85.6 million) and January ($84.9 million) were down slightly compared with the all-time high hit in November ($90.2 million). In fact, Maryland’s overall casino revenues in January 2015 are up $18 million, or 28%, compared to the same month a year ago (when there was one fewer casino). So it’s too simple to state that the state’s gambling revenues are on the decline.

In any event, if there is some credence to the concept that low gas prices are giving local casinos a bump in business, these gambling havens may not be the beneficiaries of cheap fuel bills for long. If you haven’t noticed, gas prices have been climbing swiftly in February, although they’re still plenty cheap enough to justify a quick road trip. Now, where might you go?

TIME Video Games

Katy Perry Is About to Get Her Own Mobile Game Like Kim Kardashian

Katy Perry at the Pepsi Super Bowl XLIV Halftime Show Press Conference in Phoenix on January 29, 2015
Mike Lawrie—Getty Images Katy Perry at the Pepsi Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show Press Conference in Phoenix on Jan. 29, 2015

It'll be free to play for everyone with an iOS or Android device

This week, Katy Perry signed an exclusive, five-year partnership to create a free mobile game with Glu Mobile Inc, the mobile developers that created Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. The game will launch on iOS and Android platforms at the end of the year.

Details remain murky about the game’s content, but Glu says it will “introduce players to a digital playground of global success and talent,” according to a press release. With Perry selling over ten million albums and attracting over 60 million followers on Twitter, the 30-year-old’s game is already expected to be a hit like Kardashian’s.

“Katy is arguably the most recognized musician in America following her Super Bowl XLIX Halftime performance this past Sunday,” said Glu CEO Niccolo de Masi. “She is a cultural icon and we expect to translate key elements of her success into an innovative, highly entertaining mobile experience.”

Perry’s Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show performance was broadcast to over 118 million people, drawing the highest number of viewers in the event’s history.

TIME Music

Sony and Spotify Unveil New Music Service for PlayStation

JAPAN-SONY-GAMES
Yoshikazu Tsuno—AFP/Getty Images The PlayStation 4 20th anniversary edition is displayed at Sony's showroom in Tokyo on Dec. 4, 2014

But Sony's Music Unlimited will shut down

Spotify and Sony Network Entertainment International (SNEI) are launching this spring a premium music service called PlayStation Music, offering over 30 million songs as background music to PlayStation games.

The service will initially only be accessible on Sony game consoles and Xperia devices worldwide, reaching 64 million players logged into the PlayStation Network (PSN).

“This partnership represents the best in music and the best in gaming coming together,” Sony president Andrew House said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to make Spotify the foundation of our strategy with PlayStation Music.”

PlayStation Music will replace Sony’s Music Unlimited service, which will close in 19 countries March 2015. However, Music Unlimited subscribers will benefit from a month of free access to PlayStation Music until March 29, 2015. And Sony, which posted lackluster sales targets recently, is pushing for better integration into PlayStation brands by converting Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited into PS Music and PS Video.

“As a gamer and PlayStation 4 user myself, I’m super excited to be able to soundtrack my FIFA 15 Arsenal matches later this spring,” said Spotify founder Daniel Ek.

TIME Video Games

Nintendo to Shut Down Club Nintendo Rewards Program

Mario , Luigi
Jeff Daly—Invision for Nintendo Mario and Luigi take the field at Sun Life Stadium before the face-off between Florida State and University of Miami on Nov. 15, 2014.

But members will be treated to more downloadable content in coming months

Nintendo announced plans Tuesday to shut down its rewards program, Club Nintendo, after six years of operation in North America.

The scheme allowed members to earn free items — such as downloadable games, posters or character figures — in exchange for loyalty “coins” collected by registering products or completing surveys.

The company plans to release new downloadable content until the official end date on June 30, including their Flipnote Studio 3D software, which allows users to create and share three dimensional animations.

“We want to make this time of transition as easy as possible for our loyal Club Nintendo members, so we are going to add dozens of new rewards and downloadable games to help members clear out their Coin balances,” said Scott Moffitt, Nintendo of America’s executive vice president of sales and marketing.

Nintendo says it will announce a new customer loyalty program at a later date.

TIME Video Games

PlayStation Offers Deals in Apology for Holiday Outages

Sony PlayStation
Chesnot—Getty Images Gamers play video games with the PS4 consoles of Playstation during the International Games Week on October 29, 2014 in Paris, France.

The PlayStation Network is offering members a bonus after mass outages

Frustrated gamers who were unable to access the PlayStation Network on Christmas Day are getting reprieve from Sony.

The company is offering PlayStation Plus members a five-day membership extension, as long as users had a membership or free trial on December 25. Those bonus five days will be automatically applied to users’ accounts, so gamers won’t have to fiddle with special requests or forms.

Sony will also offer a 10% discount off a total cart purchase in the PlayStation Store to all PlayStation Network members throughout January. That includes blockbuster new releases, indie games and add-ons, as well as TV shows and movies.

The PlayStation Network was plagued by outages over the Christmas weekend that have been attributed to a hacking collective called Lizard Squad.

MONEY gambling

Spain’s Lottery Awards $3 Billion in Time for Christmas

Winning El Gordo, the grand prize in Spain's 200-year-old annual nationwide lottery, can turn small towns wealthy overnight.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com