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Feast your eyes on these uniquely beautiful indie games from E3

The AAA games on display at E3 this year have, as usual, an amazing array of beautiful, nearly photorealistic graphics — and while they’re amazing in their own way, I always find it fun to highlight a few games that take a totally different approach to their art. Here are a few that caught my eye this time around.

Sable is a “coming-of-age tale of discovery” set in an open world that you can explore at your own pace. The overall look of the place is rather Journey-esque, but there’s also a shade of Hyper Light Drifter in the environments. Most interesting of all, however, is the visual effect that makes the whole thing look rather like a comic book by Moebius.

The effect is a bit hit or miss — some details can end up warping or looking odd — but overall it’s extremely arresting and definitely set the game apart instantly from its more realistic peers. Hopefully the writing and gameplay live up to its visual style.

Overwhelm is a chunkily pixelated hardcore shooter-platformer with a couple of interesting twists.

First of all, you die in one hit. That’s what makes it hardcore.

Second, you only get 99 bullets per level, and your gun needs to cool down after firing three times.

Third, whenever you beat a boss, it gives a special ability like wall climbing not to you, but to all the enemies.

It reminds me a bit of Abuse, a classic side-scrolling shooter with free mouse aiming and scary aliens. But its art style is far more reminiscent of the excellent Downwell, which itself was modeled on (I believe) the original Game Boy’s four-shade palette. Minit is another recent example of successfully using this ultra-pared-down look.

Noita (Swedish for “witch”) is one I’ve actually been following for a while now. At first glance this looks sort of like a dig-’em-up, à la Terraria, but the visual and gameplay twist is that every pixel is physically simulated. That means everything in the game can be burned, exploded, melted and so on — dirt will fall, fire will spread, water (and acid, and lava) will flow and escape its container.

You also create your own spells as you delve deeper into the procedurally generated caves looking for “unknown mysteries.” Well, that’s a bit redundant, but you get the idea. It looks like a real blast.

Signalis goes retro, but in a much different direction than most others. Instead of recreating the beloved pixel art of the SNES or Saturn, it goes to the less-beloved chunky polygons of the PlayStation era. Think Resident Evil. I’m also reminded of the cutscenes from Another World.

Although it’s hard to say exactly what’s going on from the trailer, I’m definitely digging the look and feel. The control panels, the mix of polygons and hand-drawn backgrounds, the scary, lonely air and threatening atmosphere… right up my alley.

Last is Ooblets, which as far as I can tell is about planting and farming strange little creatures that eventually have some kind of dance-off in the forest.

It can be hard to really express a visual style in 3D, but I love what Ooblets is doing. Everything is delightfully awkward and cute, with a deliberate stiffness to it as well as a clear design. The unshaded polygons, careful lighting and modeling, it all creates a strange but compelling whole. The closest thing that I can think of to it is the Katamari Damacy series.

I realize now, having written this, that I put “uniquely” beautiful in the headline and then cited similar looks or inspirations for all the games. But really, though, they do take inspiration from others, they’re definitely all doing their own thing. (Really, really, though, I just didn’t want to scroll up and change the headline.)

There were plenty more striking games at the show — check your local indie games site to see what others have dug up!

News Source = techcrunch.com

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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.

One of these things? Why not?

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.

You don’t bring an analog stick to a sniper fight.

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

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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

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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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