To say the gaming community is not known for its friendliness to women and minority groups is something of an understatement. But we’re starting to see developers abandon the usual excuses of tradition, demographics, and the most absurd of all, “realism,” in favor of making gaming more inclusive. Kind of.
This has been an ongoing theme for years, of course. But it feels like this year it was a little less self-congratulatory and a little more self-motivated.
The fun started early, well ahead of E3, with the apparently devastatingly diverse front lines in Battlefield V, which takes place during World War II. The predictable objections as to “historical accuracy” appeared — unironic, despite the utter lack of historical accuracy in pretty much any of these games. The way the war was fought, the locations and situations, the weapons and vehicles have all been liberally massaged to turn the worst thing in history into a fun multiplayer game.
But it was EA’s chief creative officer, Patrick Soderlund, who made the headlines with a searing riposte in an interview with Gamasutra. Citing the historical record of women and people of color in the war, he called out the peanut gallery as both incorrect and irrelevant.
“These are people who are uneducated,” he said. “They don’t understand that this is a plausible scenario, and listen: this is a game.”
A game, he added, intended to surface stories that have been hitherto relatively seldom told, including the roles of those groups.
“This is something that the development team pushed. And we don’t take any flak. We stand up for the cause, because I think those people who don’t understand it, well, you have two choices: either accept it or don’t buy the game. I’m fine with either or. It’s just not OK.”
Then E3 got started. As a pleasant early surprise, Gears of War 5 has you playing a female protagonist in what has long been a mainstay of grizzled space-marine mandom, and your companion is a black guy. Of course you have the new Tomb Raider, a solid franchise with an increasingly strong, well-written female lead.
In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Ubisoft went so far as to twist the lore of the series to accommodate the player’s choice of character: Alexios or Kassandra, between whom there are no real differences — including romance options, a quietly provocative decision.
The Last of Us Part Two has a badass young woman as its protagonist, defending herself with shocking brutality in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. (Yet you can be sure it’s the kiss shared with a girl on the dance floor that will generate more controversy.)
Nintendo offered a variety of customization in the new Smash Bros for Switch, with male and female options for all kinds of characters, including Pikachu. Even Cuphead has a playable lady in it now.
Elsewhere we saw diversity on display in something as simple as having men and women of all races represented as pirate captains, commanders of futuristic forces, medieval knights (a nice Joan of Arc feel from For Honor’s trailer), and futuristic jet pilots. (My favorite outfit was in Control, by the way.)
What it felt like to me, though, was not that these companies were fulfilling some kind of diversity quota — that bogeyman so often invoked by critics — but rather the simple acknowledgement that the world of games should resemble the world of gamers.
Of course, when you pull back a little bit, it becomes extremely clear that the majority of games are still very much dominated by the garden variety grizzled white male protagonist. But that’s fine. We have a similar problem in film, TV, and other fiction as well, right? Moving on from outdated ideas of race and gender in the world of media is an going concern and it won’t happen all at once.
But at least at this E3 we’re seeing indications that developers and publishers are moving in the right direction.
As for the people playing — well, that’s a different story. Whatever the flexibility of your choices in the latest crop of AAA games, female gamers and people of color will still be ruthlessly harassed, abused, and otherwise targeted. Developers can’t change the bigoted minds of toxic players — but they can ban them. Here’s hoping that side of things is getting equal attention.
News Source = techcrunch.com
Rumored full mouse and keyboard support for Xbox One could change the gaming landscape
Microsoft may be readying a new weapon that could shift the balance in the interminable console wars: the mouse. Wait, you say, didn’t they promise that years ago, and aren’t there peripherals already available? Kind of. But going whole hog into PC-style controls allows Microsoft to create powerful synergies with Windows, performing a flanking maneuver against arch-rival Sony.
Mouse and keyboard is, of course, the control method of choice for many games on PC, but it has remained elusive on consoles. Some fancy accessories have made it possible to do it, and years ago Microsoft said it would be adding in mouse support to games on its console, but the feature has in practice proved frustratingly limited. More on-screen pointing has been done with Wiimotes by far.
Windows Central got hold of an internal presentation ostensibly from Microsoft that details what could be a full-court press on the mouse and keyboard front, which is one the company is uniquely suited to attempting.
In fact, you may very rightly wonder why it hasn’t been attempted before now. The trouble isn’t implementing it but the changes that have to be made downstream of that implementation.
For one thing, hardly any games will support the control method out of the box. They’ve all been made with very specific hardware in mind and it’s nontrivial to add a pointer to menus, change relative camera movement to absolute movement, and so on.
And for another, mouse and keyboard is simply a superior form of input for some games. Certainly for the likes of real-time strategy and simulations, which involve a lot of menus and precise clicking — which accounts for the relative lack of those on consoles. But more importantly in the gaming economy, first-person shooters are massively dominated by mouse users.
That may sound sort of like a gauntlet thrown to the ground between PC and console players, but this argument has played out before many times and the mouse and keyboard players always come out on top, often by embarrassing margins.
Usually that doesn’t present a big problem, since, for example, competitive Call of Duty leagues are pretty much all on console. You just don’t have match-ups between mice and controllers.
That’s starting to change, however, with the introduction of major cross-platform games like Fortnite. When you have Xbox, Switch, and PC players all on the same server, the latter arguably has a huge advantage for a number of reasons.
And on the other hand, the Xbox One is lagging behind the PlayStation 4 in sales and in attractive exclusives. A fresh play that expands the Xbone into a growing niche — say, pro and competitive gaming — would be a huge boon just about now.
That’s why the document Windows Central received makes so much sense. The presentation suggests that all Windows-compatible USB mice and keyboards will work with Xbox One, including wireless ones that work via dongle. That would change the game considerably, so to speak.
The devices would have to report themselves and be monitored, of course: it wouldn’t do for a game to think it’s receiving controller input but instead getting mouse input. And that leaves the door open to cheating and so on as well. So device IDs and such will be carefully monitored.
Whether and how to implement mouse and keyboard controls will still be left entirely to the developer, the slides note, which of course leaves us with the same problems as before. But what allowing any mouse to be used does, combined with a huge amount of players doing so on a major property like Fortnite, is create a sort of critical mass.
Right now the handful of players with custom, expensive setups to mouse around in a handful of games just isn’t enough for developers to dedicate significant resources to accommodating. But say a few hundred thousand people decide to connect their spare peripherals to the console? All of the sudden that’s an addressable market — it provides a competitive advantage to be the developer that supports it.
Mouse support may also provide the bridge that enables the longstanding Microsoft fantasy of merging its Xbox and Windows ecosystems at least in part. It unifies the experience, allows for improved library sharing, and generally shifts the Xbox One from a dedicated console to essentially a standardized low-cost, high performance gaming PC.
This may have the further effect of helping put pressure on Valve and its Steam store, which dominates the PC gaming world to the point of near monopoly. Being able to play on Xbox or Windows, share achievements and save games, have gameplay parity and so on — this is the kind of compelling multi-platform experience Microsoft has been flirting with for years.
Imagine that: a Microsoft ecosystem that spans PCs and consoles, embraces competitive gaming at all levels, and is easy and simple to set up. Sony would have little recourse, having no desktop business to leverage, and Valve’s own attempts to cross the console divide have been largely abortive. In a way it seems like Microsoft is poised for a critical hit — if only it manages to take advantage of it.
Will this just be the latest chapter in the long story of failed mouse support by consoles? Or is Microsoft laying the groundwork for a major change to how it approaches the gaming world? We didn’t see anything at E3 this year, so the answer isn’t forthcoming, but Microsoft may be spurred by this leak (assuming it’s genuine) to publicize the program a bit more and speak in more concrete terms how this potential shift would take place.
News Source = techcrunch.com
Chirp brings Twitter to Apple Watch
Twitter’s history of being a bit unfriendly to developers building third-party clients hasn’t frightened off Will Bishop. The young Australian developer recently released a version of Twitter for Apple Watch called Chirp, in order to fill the void created by Twitter pulling its official app last fall. (Let’s see how long it will last, shall we?)
Bishop says he was already interested in building for Apple Watch before Chirp, having previously developed a micro version of Reddit called Nano. Afterwards, he heard from a lot of people asking for a Twitter watch app, he says.
“Seeing as so many people were disappointed when Twitter pulled their official app, it only made sense to at least try,” Bishop says of building Chirp. “A lot of people think using your watch for more than 30 seconds is ridiculous, but I figure if people want to use it, let them.”
The Apple Watch hasn’t served to become a sizable new app platform for developers, and actually saw a number of bigger names pull their dedicated Watch apps last year besides just Twitter, like Amazon, Google Maps, Instagram, Slack, TripAdvisor, eBay, and others. Instead, users tend to interact with their Watch through notifications – not by launching apps directly and tapping the tiny screen. It just doesn’t make that much sense for anything more than a quick reply, as your iPhone is likely nearby and does a better job.
But Chirp could fill the role of needing to quickly reply to Twitter notifications, like @mentions or DMs.
The app lets you interact with Twitter from the Apple Watch’s interface, including browsing your timeline, catching up on trends, viewing people’s individual profiles, and favoriting and replying to tweets, and more.
In an updated released over the weekend, the app now also adds support for reading and replying to Direct Messages and using Twitter Lists.
These features are available via Chirp’s paid tier, Chirp Pro, which is a pay-what-you-want upgrade starting at $1.99 and going up to $4.99 USD.
In addition to DMs and Lists, Chirp Pro lets you post and reply to tweets, search for users and tweets, and view more than five trends.
In other words, if you want to actually use Twitter not just view it from your wrist, you’ll want Chirp Pro.
Despite having a niche user base, attention detail has been paid here – Chirp even lets you customize the Watch app’s user interface by toggling on or off various elements like Images, the Retweet Counter, Like Counter, Retweet & Like Buttons, and Timestamps. This helps to reduce screen clutter, which is useful given the area Chirp has to work with.
Because of how Chirp is designed, Bishop said the app isn’t as impacted by the forthcoming API changes as other clients.
“The new API restrictions are mainly for the activity APIs, streaming in particular. However, the watch does not support streaming anyway, so fortunately I am not [impacted],” he said. “The only API I was affected by were the changes to the direct messaging API,” Bishop added, noting this is why Chirp didn’t have messaging right away.
Bishop says he plans to keep Chirp free, as “downloads mean more to me than money,” he says. But he hopes people who like using it will pay to unlock the expanded features. The app competes with Tweetbot, Twitterrific, and Bluebird on Apple Watch.
To use Chirp, download the iOS app and add it to your Apple Watch.
News Source = techcrunch.com
Meru Health wants to make mental health care more accessible
Getting mental health services can be burdensome. And if you’re already going through a tough time, you’re probably looking for help sooner than later. But based on the current landscape, it can take months to find the right therapist who also takes your insurance.
This is where Meru Health hopes to come in. By providing its service as a benefit for employers to offer to their employees, Meru Health can operate as a first line of treatment where people can get help in a matter of weeks, Meru Health co-founder and CEO Kristian Ranta told TechCrunch.
Ranta, who lost his brother to suicide a few years ago, said there are “unfortunately lots of people suffering from depression and who are vulnerable to burnout.”
It’s true. Worldwide, more than 300 million people suffer from depression and 260 million suffer from anxiety disorders, according to the World Health Organization.
Meru Health offers an eight-week treatment program for depression, burnout and anxiety. The program, currently led by five licensed therapists, utilizes both cognitive behavioral therapy, behavioral activation and mindfulness-based intervention. Provided as an employee benefit, Meru Health only charges companies if the patients report feeling any better.
Meru Health’s current customers include WeWork and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. To date, Meru Health says 75 percent of the people who go through its program report symptom reduction.
Other startups working in the mental health space include Pacifica and Lantern, a mental health startup that offers tools to deal with stress, anxiety and body image. To date, Lantern has raised more than $20 million in funding. Another one is Talkspace, which aims to be an alternative to traditional therapy.
Down the road, Meru Health may make its service available to everyday consumers, but right now, Ranta said the focus is on selling to larger employers and doing clinical research. Meru Health is also looking to bring on board a doctor to help with medication management and, possibly, even providing prescriptions, Ranta said. Meru Health, which is currently participating in Y Combinator, envisions bringing on a medical doctor post-YC.
News Source = techcrunch.com
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