TIME Video Games

Nintendo Deal Lets Gamers Upload Directly to YouTube

General Nintendo Imagery As The Company Reports Earnings
A pedestrian walks past an advertisement for Wii U, Nintendo's gaming console, outside a store in the Japanese city of Osaka on May 2, 2014 Tomohiro Ohsumi—Bloomberg/Getty Images

In its latest attempt to resuscitate revenue, Nintendo hopes to cash in on content creators’ ad payments

A new initiative by Nintendo allows players on Wii U, the company’s latest gaming console, to upload their game-play footage directly to YouTube.

The deal comes after Nintendo controversially flagged thousands of game-play clips uploaded to YouTube and blocked content creators from collecting ad revenues. Under the planned affiliate program, earnings will be split among Nintendo, Google (which owns YouTube) and the content creator. Exactly how the cash will be divided has yet to be disclosed.

Nintendo posted its third consecutive annual loss last month following disappointing holiday sales.

[Mashable]

TIME Video Games

Apple’s ‘Metal’ Could Transform iOS Gaming If It Works as Promised

Apple's Metal could transform the complexity limits of games in iOS 8, but if it wants to eventually compete with game consoles -- and the company referred to "console-level" graphics during its WWDC presentation repeatedly -- it still has an interface problem to solve.

Apple’s gaming strategy — anemic enough in the past that some might view those three words used in the same sentence as oxymoronic — took an interesting turn at the company’s annual WWDC 2014 conference on Monday. Apple software engineer VP Craig Federighi surprised onlookers after steering lengthy presentations on OS X Yosemite (Apple’s latest version of OS X) and iOS 8 by revealing something the company calls “Metal,” which Federighi prefaced as “huge in the area of 3D graphics.”

Metal, says Apple, is designed to supplant OpenGL, or the Open Graphics Library, as the mechanism in iOS whereby developers get their hooks into the hardware — in this case, Apple’s powerful A7 system-on-a-chip processor. Calling OpenGL “increasingly…a thick layer of overhead between the game and the hardware,” Federighi claimed Metal would dissolve most of that layer and replace it with one that offers “near bare-to-the-metal access to the power of A7.” According to Federighi, the difference is “stunning,” with draw call rates clocking up to 10 times faster (“draw call rate” refers to the process whereby an application renders different types of visual data to the screen, though there’s some debate over its importance as a performance bottleneck).

That, in theory, would reduce processing overhead, allow developers room to access the “compute” aspect of the GPU portion of A7 (in addition to graphics), and Metal supports both precompiled shaders and “efficient” multithreading. (Shaders are employed to “color” aspects of an image or create other visual effects, and precompiling them can reduce load times.)

Technical claims of API prowess aside, it seems Apple’s been working with Crytek, Epic, EA and Unity to come up with Metal-based demos. The first three of those companies are long-reputed for pushing graphical boundaries in games: Crytek with Crysis and Ryse, Epic with its proliferative Unreal Engine and EA with subsidiary DICE’s Frostbite technology.

Federighi said these companies had only been fiddling with Metal for a few weeks, but managed to achieve “stunning” results, then he brought up a clip of EA’s Plants vs. Zombies — a “console-level title” — running in iOS 8 with over “1.3 million triangles on the screen at a time.”

How does that compare to a pre-Metal 3D game? I have no idea, but I’m guessing Apple wouldn’t risk boasting about the metric in specific terms before an audience largely composed of developers if it wasn’t a meaningful leap.

(Federighi added that EA was using its Frostbite engine here, though when he said EA “thought [it] could never come to mobile,” it’s not clear if he meant the console-native version of Frostbite, or he meant EA’s Frostbite Go, a version of Frostbite designed specifically for iOS and unveiled over a year ago.)

Federighi went on to highlight footage of a game by Crytek (from The Collectables, a squad-based tactics game for iOS announced last year — the big deal with Metal, apparently, is that they can do up to 4,000 draw calls per frame, says Federighi), before turning the stage over to Epic founder and Unreal Engine co-creator Tim Sweeney.

Sweeney, sounding a bit stilted, as if reading from a script (which he doubtless was) demonstrated a tech demo alongside one of his colleagues that he called “Zen Garden.” Zen Garden was built using Unreal Engine 4 (the latest UE version, released in early April this year) and designed to highlight detailed special effects, like drawing thousands of leaves on a tree in realtime and watching them flutter to the ground, or poking around in a fish pool filled with hundreds of fish (each able to have CPU time dedicated toward making them individually intelligent), or animating thousands of butterflies as the screen panned and shifted around a complex-looking 3D backdrop in realtime.

Again, it’s impossible to tell how any of that compares in specific terms to some of the highest-end console games today, like Ryse or Killzone: Shadow Fall or Battlefield 4, so we’re left to with generalizations and pretty — if not mind-blowingly so — imagery. Sweeney noted Zen Garden would be available on the App Store for free when iOS 8 ships later this year, so maybe a gaming performance analysis outfit like Digital Foundry can make something of its meaningfulness at that point. Federighi said no more about Metal after Sweeney left the stage — no tout list of third-party developers, or of games in development, or timeframe estimates on when we’ll see iOS 8 Metal-enhanced games.

What this wasn’t, then: Apple throwing down the gauntlet and squaring off with Microsoft’s Xbox One or Sony’s PlayStation 4. Not yet, anyway. The company seems to be stepping, component by component, toward an inexorable confrontation rather than throwing all its weight behind a fully articulated console-competitive games platform — built on iOS — today. Call it an overabundance of caution, call it oblivious nonchalance toward the highest grossing entertainment medium by revenue on the planet, I suspect it’s probably just a company taking its time, fully cognizant of the fact that multitouch devices have serious limitations — interface hurdles that have to be overcome, if indeed they’re worth overcoming — if Apple wants to eventually present tablets (or post-tablets) as console-alternative gaming devices. And that’s still a big if.

TIME Video Games

Mario Kart 8 Clocked 1.2 Million Copies Sold in First Weekend, Says Nintendo

Nintendo

Nintendo says its popular kart-based racer is off to a strong start, but doesn't indicate how the game's impacting Wii U sales.

Our Mario Kart 8 review appeared half a month ago, but the game didn’t go on sale until May 30 — last Friday. Over the weekend, Nintendo’s debut Mario Kart for the Wii U managed to sell more than 1.2 million units worldwide, says Nintendo, “worldwide” in this case comprising Japan, Europe and the Americas.

The news comes a week out from E3 2014, where Nintendo is expected to focus on new software for both its Wii U console and 3DS handheld game system. The Wii U’s been struggling since its launch in November 2012 to strike a chord with both potential buyers and third-party game developers. To date, Nintendo’s only sold in the vicinity of 6 million units, whereas Sony’s PlayStation 4 — launched a year later than the Wii U — is already well ahead of Nintendo’s system, surpassing 7 million units sold worldwide in mid-April.

The 3DS, by contrast, has sold quite well for Nintendo since it dropped the handheld’s price in August 2011 (just six months after its February stateside debut), selling over 42 million units to date. But sales have tapered off recently, posting a year-on-year sales deficit in Nintendo’s most recent fiscal report.

Mario Kart 8 was expected to be a major sales booster for the company. After all, Mario Kart Wii, the sixth in series, sold an unprecedented 33.5 million copies, and Mario Kart 7 for the 3DS has sold over 9.5 million copies to date.

Whether it’s been a major Wii U booster remains to be seen. Nintendo’s only talking unit sales of the game at this point, many of which presumably went to existing system owners.

Life to date (and before Mario Kart 8 sales), Nintendo says the Mario Kart franchise has sold over 100 million units.

TIME Video Games

Mortal Combat X Unveiled with Jiggling Viscera

Remember when you wanted to play Mortal Kombat because it felt subversive? Like sneaking over to your grade school friend’s house whose parents let the both of you watch R-rated movies like Nightmare on Elm Street and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Heavy Metal on HBO? Because then-Senator Joe Lieberman wanted to ban the game on the presumption it was going to turn you into a violence-desensitized zombie barbarian?

Those were the days.

Mortal Kombat X, long rumored/expected and just confirmed/unveiled per the trailer above, looks to continue the series’ anatomically surgical traditions, taking the old buzzy notion of musculoskeletal body mapping and drilling down to far more visceral levels (literally).

I can’t tell if that’s in-game video or not, or if those intestines jiggling like jello are being calculated in realtime for concussive-damage-calculative gameplay purposes, but the frame to frame animation looks as fluid as any I’ve seen outside a cutscene. (Again, assuming that’s not a scene and actual gameplay.)

All we know, heading into E3 next week where I’d guess the game might be shown, is that Mortal Kombat (2011) developer NetherRealm is helming Mortal Kombat X, and that it’s due in 2015 .

TIME Video Games

Here’s The New Mortal Kombat Trailer

"Get over here," Mortal Kombat X

The next installment of the Mortal Kombat video game series is coming. Mortal Kombat X’s title was announced on Twitter by the series’ co-creater Ed boon on Twitter.

The game is slated for a 2015 release, according to a new trailer, for the Xbox One, the Xbox 360, Playstations 3 and 4, PC. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment promised it will deliver “the most brutal Kombat experience ever.” We just hope that impatient fans won’t have to yell “Finish him!” if there are any delays.

TIME technology

This Is the Best Home Arcade Ever

Our games, ourselves

$32,000 buys you a lot of video games, but not happiness.

It’s fair to say that Chris Kooluris is obsessed. Though as a professional marketer he doesn’t fit the traditional profile of a geek, the 37-year-old Kooluris has spent $32,000 outfitting a small bedroom in his home into the world’s best retro arcade, complete with bubble-gum machines. His collection includes $3,000 arcade cabinet versions of hit games like Donkey Kong and Ms. Pac-Man (for the ladies, he says).

A fascinating Wired story tracks the development of this shrine to video-game history. Kooluris grew up playing arcade games, especially Street Fighter II. He even got a copy of the game at home as a kid. He was compelled to recreate some of his childhood fascination in the home arcade, a plan that his girlfriend supported—at least at first.

Kooluris got engaged to his girlfriend, but as the arcade took over his life, she was pushed away, and eventually broke things off. He got what he was looking for in video games, but not in love. Then the video games began to sour as well, with support from fan forums waning. When the story ends, Kooluris has just spent his highest amount ever for an individual game—$6,725—but on a pinball machine, which seems to be slated for his new obsession.

In many ways, this is the story of fandom. Being obsessed with a particular video game, or comic, or superhero, is less a concern about the wider culture and more a pursuit of something within ourselves. Video games might capture that elusive sense of play and creativity found in childhood, harder to come by in real life. Of course, that fix is only temporary.

TIME Video Games

This New Mercedes Super Mario Bros. Ad Is Pretty Weird Alright

This couldn’t be more bizarre, or unexpectedly amusing, or kind of clever if you squint with your brain just so: Mercedes plus Nintendo plus Super Mario Bros. plus a sequence halfway in where that’s all reimagined as a live action thing, complete with realistic flagpole, castle, rocky wasteland and no-legged Goomba.

That Mario’s too tall though. Anyone can see that. And what’s with the lazy because-I’m-bad, Goomba toe-stubbing saunter from the car? What’s the message here, “Mercedes makes you steely-eyed, big-nosed and oblivious”?

From the school of “squirrel!” ad design, it’s hard to know what made Mercedes opt to do this now, with Nintendo’s game system (the Wii U) struggling, if not on the ropes. E3 2014 in a week-and-a-half? Maybe. They probably wanted to get people talking about it. And here we are talking about it.

TIME technology

What Does the Pokémon World Eat? Pokémon. 

Pokemon.com

Would you like a Bulbasaur salad with your Pikachu steak?

Anyone who grew up in the 1990s (or any time after that, basically) is familiar with the basic, addictive premise of the Pokémon video games: the world is full of fantastical creatures that “trainers” can collect and make fight each other—kind of like animals, but more easily tamed. But that world, designed for tweens and teenagers, might be far creepier than it appears.

Modern Farmer published an article that analyzes the mysterious food politics of the world of Pokémon and comes to a conclusion: “Simply put, it is a fact that people eat Pokémon.” Collating creatures from the games and comments from the world’s non-player characters who chat up the protagonist, it becomes clear that Pokémon produce the basis of the world’s existence. Miltanks, a cow-like Pokémon, produce milk, while the tail of the Slowpoke, an exceedingly dumb Pokémon, is a delicacy. The poison of the serpentine Arbok makes a delicious cheese.

So how does this change our view of the games? In battle, Pokémon don’t really die, they just faint and have to be brought back to life. But if Pokemon are actually raised like chickens, for food byproducts and meat, then presumably they are fully capable of death. It’s a gruesome food-chain that sees trainers eating the very pals they depend on in battle.

Real animals have popped up in the Poké-universe in early art and comic books, but they gradually disappear in later games. When a character eats a hamburger, one has to assume it’s more of a Poke-burger. Thankfully, no reference to eating Pikachu has yet been made—you don’t have to eat ‘em all.

TIME Video Games

New Quantum Break Footage Makes Me Wish I Had a Time Machine

Remedy's third-person Xbox One-exclusive shooter won't be out until next year, but to paraphrase the slightly creepy-sounding Dan Hartman 1980s tune, we can dream about it.

Quantum Break looks really, really good. Better than Heavy Rain good. Better than a lot of CGI films good. Assuming Microsoft’s showing us actual Xbox One footage in the trailer above and not something running on a supercomputer-like PC render-farm, Xbox One owners have something special to look forward to, visually speaking, when Remedy’s third-person shooter drops in 2015.

Yep, I said 2015. That’s new. If you missed the earlier news, the game, which was due sometime this year, just got officially bumped to sometime next year. That’s okay, we’ll wait. And while we’re waiting, the trailer above — narrated by Remedy’s enjoyably stentorian creative director Sam Lake — offers a peek at what Remedy’s planning to show, more expansively, at Gamescom 2014 in Europe this August.

I could do without the buzzy “fusion of a cinematic action game and a top-of-the-line live-action show,” because that tells me nothing you couldn’t say about all kinds of games we’ve been playing for years. My advice to Remedy’s PR team, who’ll doubtless just laugh at me, would be to lose that stuff and just have Lake tell us, “We’re having a blast making this thing,” then let the video deliver the message. Because from 1:19 on, it’s doing some pretty persuasive talking.

TIME Video Games

TwoDots Is the Sequel to one of Last Year’s Smartest Mobile Games

Betaworks

Betaworks puzzler-sequel to last year's viral iOS and Android hit heads in a wild-sounding new direction, letting you "traverse arctic tundras, navigate fiery jungles, and plunge the ocean depths."

Meet TwoDots, the sequel to Dots, one of the biggest mobile games of 2013. Developer Betaworks just released the game for iOS Thursday and says an Android version should follow later this year. It’s available now for free (with optional in-game purchases) from Apple’s App Store.

The original Dots, subtitled “a game about connecting” and released a little over a year ago, was about lining up two or more same-colored circles at 90-degree angles. The parameters were simple: you couldn’t do diagonals, if you scored four-in-a-row all dots of the same color on the screen vanished, you could use power-ups to remove certain dots or extend the clock, and that clock lasted 60 seconds per round. It was neat and pretty and pastel and in view of iOS 7’s clean-lined, polychromatic vibe, the kind of game you’d expect someone like Apple’s Jonathan Ive to design.

TwoDots, which makes me think of that lyric in the Peter Gabriel song “Growing Up,” where he’s singing his way through abstract levels of existence, is apparently like and not like Dots. “Join two brave dots as they traverse arctic tundras, navigate fiery jungles, and plunge the ocean depths. Sharpen your skills across 85 challenging levels while uncovering many exciting new features along the way,” reads the pitch on the App Store.

Wait a second, is this Dots or Temple Run?

“The TwoDots gameplay looks much more derivative of Dots then it actually is,” says Patrick Moberg, one of the first game’s creators. “As you dig deeper, you realize TwoDots simply tips their hat to our first game Dots, but quickly takes the player down a very different and fun path.”

So there you go, now it’s a mystery game, too — just the sort of lure the company needs to entice its base. And that base sounds massive: the first game is still played more than 500 million times per month, says Betaworks.

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