The Planet Zoo economy is broken and flooded with genetically mutated warthogs

Nate Crowley wrote for Rock Paper Shotgun about the broken (as of this writing) economy in Planet Zoo. The game allows players to raise animals and then sell them for money or the rare currency called conservation credits. But the economy is broken, and desirable animals are unobtainable to all but the early adopters:

In any case, the fact nobody is selling for cash has put CC at a massive premium: those who had got in early on endangered, prestige or hard-to-breed animals are now hoarding them, only selling them for wild sums. Prices have soared, making gorillas, tigers and the rest completely inaccessible to new players, while Pandas have become virtually mythical: beasts that might as well be made from pure diamond.

New players are forced to breed and sell just a few types of animals, like warthogs, to try to grind their way to a better future. As a result the market is flooded with low quality animals:

to make matters even more splendid, the animals people are selling on are the ones with genetic mutations that make them undesirable for further breeding – they might be highly susceptible to disease, tiny, incredibly short-lived, or even completely infertile. These sell for the lowest prices as well, naturally. Starting off as a new player, then, with your tiny pool of CC, you’re going to be spending a lot of time scrolling through pages and pages of dying mutants, desperately seeking something that won’t horrify your guests, and might have a chance of breeding.

You can read about efforts to fix the market here.

A game jam where coders were limited to two Tweets-worth of characters

The rules for TweetTweetJam were simple--keep it short:

Why 560?
Because you don't always need a ton of code to make something fun. Because sometimes it's nice to scale back. But mostly because it's the length of two tweets. Use a minifier if you need to, and bend the rules if you can. PICO-8 is our recommended tool, but TIC-80 and other text-based engines will work as well!

Rules:

1. Your final game code must be 560 characters or less. This includes spaces and brackets.
2. No spritesheets or external art libraries allowed! All of your game art must fit into your code. Symbols such as 웃 and ★ are acceptable, as long as they work in your editor and can be included in a tweet!

The 60 entries included a typing game, city builder, and downhill racer:

Girl kidnapped on street out of mother's arms, then rescued in dramatic hotel raid

A young girl snatched from her mother's arms on a Texas street was traced two days later to a nearby hotel, where cops busted down the door and arrested the kidnapper. Here's an Inside Edition segment showing the kidnapping, partially captured from a nearby video doorbell, and the hotel raid.

Seven months after an 8-year-old girl was kidnapped while walking with her mom in their Texas neighborhood, police released heart-stopping video of the moment officers busted into the suspect's hotel room and rescued her. Michael Webb, 51, kidnapped the 8-year-old girl on May 18 as she was walking with her mom in Fort Worth. As the distraught mom tried to fight him off, he was able to get the girl in his car and take off. She called 911 and police immediately went searching for the girl.

They bungled it once and almost bungled it again.

Acting on a tip, police in nearby Forest Hill searched Webb’s hotel room early the next day but didn’t find her. Two hours later, after getting another tip, Forest Hill and Fort Worth police responded. The girl was found hidden in a laundry basket.

The Forest Hill police chief fired a sergeant who expressed doubt about the tip that led to the second visit.

Webb was sentenced to life imprisonment on Federal kidnapping charges; jurors deliberated for 15 minutes. State charges of sexual assault of a child are yet to go to trial.

This hi-tech turntable brings your vinyl into the modern age

Vinyl is officially back. People are hearing the proof behind the initial "retro" excitement: that records really do have a richer sound. And if you haven't switched to old-school records for serious listening, it's a new golden age.

Why? Because quality turntables like the Altec Lansing ALT-500 are finally available to a market other than rich audiophiles.

This unit comes with everything you need to start playing: A stylus cartridge, 45 RPM adapter, auto stop feature and two built-in hidden speakers.

But there are some definite upgrades for modern listeners in terms of output. You can transmit sound to your own speakers through left-right RCA jacks. It's also compatible with Bluetooth technology, so you can use your wireless speakers or headphones. You can even stream in reverse, playing music from your own device through the ALT-500's speakers.

The Altec Lansing ALT-500 Turntable is already half off the retail cost of $150, but you can take an extra 15% off by using the online promo code BFSAVE15 - for a final price of $63.74.

Sudden Trump trip to hospital 'just a physical', officials say

The president made an unscheduled weekend visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to "get a head start on his annual physical", but everyone is so accustomed to him and his staff lying about things it's blown up into a credible health scare. NBC News reports on the "skeptical reaction."

For any president, a sudden trip to the hospital would raise questions. But such scrutiny was magnified with a president who has a history of exaggeration and playing loose with the facts, giving skeptics room to run with their own theories.

“The one thing you can be absolutely sure of is this was not routine and he didn't go up there for half his physical,” tweeted Joe Lockhart, a press secretary under President Bill Clinton, who was himself impeached for perjury and obstruction. “What does it mean? It means that we just won't know what the medical issue was.”

Note how the speculation abut his health echoes his own crude rumor-monging about the health of others. Bullshit is a hallmark of autocracy, but getting everyone to play by the same rules is another.

How to easily batch geotag DSLR photos in Lightroom

Having spent hundreds of dollars on glass tripods and other camera accessories for my iPhone, it's fair to say that I'm neck-deep in love with iPhone photography. However, there are still some situations where pulling up my trust Sony RX100 III to capture a moment is a better choice. It's a wonderful camera, but it lacks GPS. To get around this issue, after taking a photo with my RX100, I often snap off a throwaway shot with my iPhone for the sake of capturing the location information. I've been doing it for years.

This video covers a bit of this, but it also goes a step further by illustrating how to batch import GPS coordinates for a single location into multiple images via Lightroom Classic. Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to preform the trick described in the video using Lightroom for iOS or Android, but it works a treat with the desktop version of the app.

Image via Pixabay

In 1909, Alice Ramsey set out to cross the United States by car

In 1909, 22-year-old Alice Huyler Ramsey set out to become the first woman to drive across the United States. In an era of imperfect cars and atrocious roads, she would have to find her own way and undertake her own repairs across 3,800 miles of rugged, poorly mapped terrain. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Ramsey on her historic journey.

We'll also ponder the limits of free speech and puzzle over some banned candy.

Show notes

Please support us on Patreon!

Naomi Kritzer's "Catfishing on the CatNet": an AI caper about the true nature of online friendship

Back in 2016, Naomi Kritzer won the Hugo award for her brilliant, endearing story Cat Pictures Please, in which an AI with an insatiable craving for cat pictures explains its view on the world and the way that it makes humans' lives better; now Kritzer has adapted the story into her new novel, the equally brilliant, superbly plotted YA thriller Catfishing on CatNet. (more…)

Declutter the Marie Kondo way with an $86 official KonMarie candle

The Kon Marie method ("does it spark joy?") offers a self-medication regime for middle class people with undiagnosed anxiety disorders and too much stuff. And now there's an official store, complete with $86 candles, to consume your way to minimalism.

In a letter posted on the site, Ms Kondo said her tidying method "isn't about getting rid of things".

Instead, she wrote: "It's about heightening your sensitivity to what brings you joy.

"Once you've completed your tidying, there is room to welcome meaningful objects, people and experiences into your life."

BUY.

Save water (and money) with this smart home monitor

Between all of our apps, streaming devices, Bluetooth speakers, and energy-sucking decorations, paying for utilities each month can be...brutal. In fact, the average household spends roughly $70 a month on the water bill alone. That number might not seem terribly significant, but when you add it up, that's $840 a year — a pretty significant chunk of cheddar, and that's just for one of your many bills. Pair that with the fact that water conservation is becoming increasingly more important, (especially in areas susceptible to droughts) and being conscientious of your water use is, quite frankly, more important than ever.

That's where Flume comes in. This easy-to-install smart water monitor pops right onto your home's water meter and tracks your water use in real time. You can check in on your use through Flume's companion app directly from your smartphone, which constantly gathers and reports the data back to you. If there's a leak or damage detected, you'll instantly be notified so you can quickly resolve the issue. Flume breaks down exactly where your water is going, so you can figure out how to cut back in areas where you're over-using it and save big on your monthly water bill. And, if you've already got a smart home or speaker setup, you can ask Alexa about your water status, use, and budget.

Keep tabs on your water use with the Flume Smart Home Water Monitor and give the earth and your wallet some relief. You can grab it now for just $169.

Horace Goes Copyright Striking

In the universe of video game mascots, Horace’s star dimmed long ago. Hero of 8-bit hits Hungry Horace and Horace Goes Skiing, he was a shapeless blob with holes for eyes and a flick of hair generally mistaken for a single stunted arm. No official sequels have appeared for decades and few modern players even know his name. But Horace was recently embroiled in controversy after his apparent new owner, a retrogaming entrepreneur, issued copyright strikes against the character’s only YouTube superfan.

The target, whose real name is Sarah but publishes as Octav1us Kitten, reported that she logged in to find her YouTube account flagged with two such strikes, without warning or prior communication.

“All my videos featuring Horace as a character have been taken down,” she wrote. “I am absolutely beside myself. These videos are ones I put my all in....”

Octav1us Kitten, with about 27,000 subscribers, publishes light-hearted videos about the most bizarre and shoddy corners of retrogaming history. Occasionally joining her on reviews of comically mediocre titles such as Granny’s Garden and songs about Roland on the Ropes is a parody incarnation of Horace, the crude sprite posed as her saucy sidekick, its voice a subtitled scramble of cassette data.

The attitude of her videos mocks and honors GamesMaster and Bad Influence, the anarchic and off-color video gaming variety shows of 1990s U.K. teen TV. (Her appropriations of Horace and other characters is also reminiscent of the snarky puppets used as filler content between kids’ shows on the BBC and ITV) Her work, and her use of the characters, serves up ironic nostalgia for British millenial nerds—and satirical reflections on the tropes of their childhood media diet.

A YouTube copyright strike, meanwhile, is the equivalent of nuking a video from orbit. YouTube has an internal system, ContentID, that allows copyright holders to monetize uploads or take them down without official legal action. A copyright strike, though, means the IP holder has formally threatened YouTube itself, with serious (if unlikely) consequences for misrepresentation. Google, YouTube’s owner, reports that ContentID claims outnumber strikes by 50 to 1. But both systems are easy to abuse, and often suborned to silence critics, chill political speech and put the kibosh on fair-use artistic or editorial repurposing of copyrighted material.

“This has shown me how fragile YouTube channels are,” she wrote. “One person can destroy it with copyright claims, whether justified or not.”

Knowing that another complaint would result in the deletion of her YouTube channel, Octav1us took it down and set out to figure out what was going on.

The only clue: Subvert Inc., the complainant listed by YouTube.

HORACE GOES RESEARCHING

Google the name and you’ll land on the UK government’s official register of companies, and from there to the name of its director, Paul Andrews.

It’s a name familiar to the UK retrogaming scene, attached to the successful ZX Vega retro-console and the less successful ZX Vega Plus, which was funded with $657,446 in pledges but arrived late and in unimpressive shape.

Other enterprises listed under Andrews’ directorship include a company named “Erotic Chatbots” and a press that charges authors for services associated with publishing eBooks.

Subvert itself appears to be a "nonpracticing entity", a company that acquires so-called intellectual property for licensing purposes without clear plans to produce anything itself. At its website, it reports acquiring “games, copyright, artwork rights, and all relevant IPs” for classic UK 8-bit brands such as Imagine, Ocean, Microdeal, Artic Computing and Pixel Productions. (Subvert Limited has not, however, acquired its own domain name from the blogger at subvert.com or the squatter occupying subvert.co.uk, and is instead parked at subversive.uk)

Within hours of Octav1us publicly reporting Subvert’s copyright takedown of her Horace videos, a YouTube hashtag campaign, #FreeHorace, sought to right the perceived wrong.

A designer crafted satirical covers for retro Horace games, with titles such as “Horace Goes To The Job Centre Because His IP Holder Took A Shit On Literally The Only People Who Give A Fuck About The Character”. An artist created a lavish comic strip featuring an unnervingly detailed cartoon Horace forced to dance by an invisible puppetmaster.

A popular Facebook group for ZX Spectrum nostalgiacs announced it had banned Andrews; retrogaming forums lit up with heated discussion.

Just as fast, a cadre of anonymous Twitter accounts sprang up to attack Octav1us under the #FreeHorace hashtag--much of it abusive--and to ensure no tweet supportive of her went unanswered

Octav1us turned to the crowd for advice, and tweeted at Andrews to contact her via email. He replied publicly on Twitter: “Follow me back so we can dm”.

CHAIN OF CUSTODY

The immediate backdrop to Horace Goes Copyright Striking is the demise of Atari SA, a French company that amassed a sprawling wunderkammer of classic game brands (naming itself for the most illustrious acquisition) before bankruptcy forced a fire sale of its portfolio.

But Horace’s chain of custody, it turns out, is murky—and it may even be that he was never Atari SA’s to sell.

He was originally created for Beam Software in 1982 by William Tang, an Australian programmer, and his original series was published by its parent company, Melbourne House. Hungry Horace, a Pac-Man clone, was followed by Horace Goes Skiing, a two-fer clone of Frogger and Atari Skiing. A third game, Horace and the Spiders, was a basic but solid platformer released in 1985.

Sinclair Research, manufacturer of the ZX Spectrum, included Horace Goes Skiing in the Spectrum Six Pack, an official sampler of titles often bundled with the massively successful machine by retailers. Horace's trip to the piste introduced a generation of British youngsters to computer gaming.

A fourth game, Horace to the Rescue, was announced but never completed. Tang reportedly suffered a collapsed lung in 1986 and has no development credits since, though Horace did receive a final official outing on the PSION 3 series—a rare UK palmtop—in the 1990s. Other fans have kept the flame alive, with a handful of unofficial freeware Horace games appearing since on modern platforms.

Beam Software was sold to Infogrames, a French game publisher which bought Atari’s remains in 2008 and began wearing its illustrious corpse. Bankrupted in 2013, Atari SA began selling off its trove of retro trademarks and game rights it had picked up along the way.

According to Piko Interactive, an active and popular creator of retro-themed games, it bought the Beam Software catalogue in 2017—but not Horace.

“We ... acquired lots of IP from Infogrames (Atari SA), Including Beam/Melbourne stuff. However we do not own Horace games. ... We did help acquire Subvert Ltd Some IP, but our involvement is just up to there,” Piko wrote in a posting on the Atari Age forums. “ ... It is unfortunate what it is currently happening, but we wish to not be involved in this. And we hope all parties can resolve their differences amicably.”

Tang himself “definitely doesn’t [own] any rights of the game”, according to a former Beam employee, Gary Liddon, himself a veteran game developer and writer.

“Knowing how shambolically run [Beam Software] was,” Liddon wrote on the same forum thread, “it would not surprise me if the rights ownership of the games they created was badly documented and unclear.”

Indeed, while Subvert was confident enough to declare ownership of Horace to YouTube, Andrews subsequently issued a statement saying that “to the best of our knowledge and also the best of Atari SA’s knowledge, these IPs belonged to them in their entirety”, raising the possibility Subvert may not have had the right to issue a copyright takedown in the first place. Andrews did not return requests for comment sent to his social media accounts and through a contact form on one of his websites.

The mess is typical of recent scandals where YouTube's easily-exploited policies and procedures make it easy for a determined user to remove or disable content they don't like.

But it's also a trend in the retrogaming scene, where enthusiasm and opportunity often outpace legal prudence. Teasing ownership from vague contracts and poorly-documented acquisitions might take years, but nostalgic crowdfunding campaigns whizz by in days.

Japanese giant Bandai-Namco and retrogaming company AtGames are currently at war over the rights to manufacture new Ms. Pac Man arcade cabinets, after AtGames acquired rights to an unusual royalty rights contract from the original third-party developers.

Steve Wilcox of Elite Systems, another ancient 8-bit British gaming brand, was embroiled in a spat over unpaid royalties after successfully kickstarting an app that included classic games.

Tim Langdell, operator of 1980s game publisher The Edge, became infamous decades later as a trademark litigant seeking settlements from companies using the word “Edge” in connection to video games. At first successful, these efforts were exposed after after targets and sleuths banded together online. The trademark was not canceled, however, until deep-pocketed corporate targets such as EA Games decided to join the fight rather than settle.

At the dawn of the web era, Ian Bell and David Braben, co-creators of legendary space-trading game Elite, publicly fueded over the property. Like the Horace scandal, it was fought through public statements and fragmentary disclosures of private communications: an epistolatory tragedy of errors that made resolution less likely the longer it went on.

INTELLECTUAL IMPROPERTY

Andrews’ company, Subvert, has also registered UK trademarks on various other 8-bit era UK brands including “Sinclair Spectrum”, “zx80”, “zx81” and “A500”, apparently in reference to a model of the Commodore Amiga platform popular in the UK.

The original 1982 trademark for the ZX Spectrum, however, remains live as of 2019, assigned to a subsidiary of Sky Group—the final legal resting place of creator Sinclair Research (via Amstrad, yet another defunct consumer electronics company that bought Sinclair in 1986 and was itself absorbed by Sky).

In 2018, Subvert also filed trademarks on classic 8-bit games Jet Set Willy, Manic Miner and Ant Attack.

In Australia, homeland of Horace’s creator and publisher, trademarks for Horace as a “man, stylized monster” were filed in 1982 and designated as “lapsed” in 1985. In the U.K., a trademark for “Hungry Horace” is assigned to one Richard de Courcy-Wheeler, but is under the category for “honey”, not “vaguely nightmarish retrogaming mascots.”

Note that the copyright in the games themselves is different to any trademarks held in the name and the character. While the distinction isn't clearly made in statements of ownership from Subvert or Andrews, copyright is what's relevant to the YouTube strikes that nearly brought down Octav1us's channel.

GAME OVER FOR SIDEKICK HORACE

A week after the controversy began, Octav1us announced that she’d come to a private agreement with Andrews. He would withdraw the copyright strikes on her channel, so long as she agrees not to create any further media featuring Horace (or his other acquisitions) without written permission.

For his part, Andrews says Octav1us’s use of the Horace character “sexualized” a family-friendly character and that he has plans to develop new material featuring it.

Had she had issued an official counterclaim to Andrews’s copyright takedown, Octav1us (who did not reply to an email inquiry) might have prevailed. But with no guarantees and her channel vulnerable to a killer third strike in the meantime, meeting Andrews’ demands was the quickest way to ensure she stayed in business.

“I’m not holding out for an apology but I forgive the person entirely,” Octav1us tweeted. “I just want to make my crappy videos.”

As of November 14, her social media channels are deactivated, reportedly to avoid the continuing abuse she receives from anonymous users.

For a young woman appropriating the obscure personas of 8-bit British game history, hostility comes in forms both legal and personal. But the message is always the same: stay off the slopes.

Contact Rob Beschizza at rob@boingboing.net

Beyond antitrust: the anti-monopoly movement and what it stands for

During a lunch break at the “New Future for Antitrust” conference at the University of Utah, Lina Khan (previously), Marshall Steinbaum (previously), and Tim Wu (previously) drafted "https://onezero.medium.com/the-utah-statement-reviving-antimonopoly-traditions-for-the-era-of-big-tech-e6be198012d7">The Utah Statement, setting out a program for fighting monopolies beyond the mere revival and exercise of antitrust law, premised on the notion "that concentrated private power has become a menace, a barrier to widespread prosperity." (more…)

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