Kickstarting a playable version of the CIA's previously secret training card-game

When Freedom of Information Act enthusiast Douglas Palmer used public records requests to explore the games that the CIA uses to train its analysts, he laid the groundwork for republishing these games for general use. Read the rest

Hot competition in the world of replacement jewel cases for Sega games

Sega made nice jewel cases for its video games, providing ample space for manuals and a nice thick spine for shelf display. But they cracked easily, and Sega's departure from the console business meant fans went for many years without an easy replacement source. But then there were two – in competition.

Sega collectors can finally rest easy, knowing that they’ll now be able to get replacements for their shattered cases from multiple sources—whether that’s Limited Run, or VGC Online, or from hypothetical bootleggers in China. It still remains to be seen whether the demand for these replacement parts can sustain multiple businesses.

One of the surprises in the story is the cost of molds required to make jewel cases. The simultaneous emergence of two competitors, each making big capital investments in the same generic product for the same tiny market, puts both in trouble from the outset. But one spent $150k to make perfect molds in the U.S., whereas the other spent only $8k to crank them out in China. Mr. $150k banked, unwisely, on the assumption that he'd have the market to himself and would never have to worry about cheap competition for his high-quality replicas. Mr $8k just wanted to make cheap Sega cases available and didn't care about third shift copies – but the results are apparently pretty rough, so enthusiasts may well opt for the more expensive alternative. Read the rest

Scientologists were all up in Neopet's business

Since its launch in 1999, Neopets has enjoyed a pretty colorful history. The game offers users the ability to create a virtual pet to take on adventures and, using virtual and real-world currency, feed and trick out their digital pets with swag, homes and other online sundries. It was originally aimed at kids, but grew a cult-following of oldsters, too.

Oh, and it used to be run by Scientologists.

According to The Outline, the company that originally owned the Neopets brand employed business practices deeply rooted in Scientology. Up until the point where NeoPets was sold to Viacom in 2005, Neopet's CEO and practicing Scientologist Doug Dohring rocked L. Ron Hubbard’s Org Board business model in order to keep things running smoothly – provided you considered turning your employees against one another smooth.

From The Outline:

The information currently made public about Org Board is vague — introductory workshops are required to learn more about it. The business model contains seven divisions: Communications, Dissemination (sales/marketing), Treasury, Production, Qualifications (quality control), Public (public relations), and, most important to the system, Executive. The symbiotic divisions are arranged to create a “cycle of production” that parallels the church’s “cycle of action,” which Scientology.org describes as “revealing what underlies the continuous cycle of creation, survival and destruction—a cycle that seems inevitable in life, but which is only an apparency.” It is also made up of seven stages.

As part of putting Org Board into play, employees are called upon to spy on the work practices of other employees. Read the rest

Review: Zotac's Zbox EN1070K is the tiny game PC that could

Regular readers will know I'm fond of tiny computers. During my search for one powerful enough to play games on, I found several beautiful and well-made options. But none were so wee as the Zotac Zbox EN1070K [Amazon], which is roughly the size of a Sega Dreamcast. I've had it for six months, now, and can report that it's great: easily the most enjoyable, compact, no-nonsense game-ready PC I've ever owned.

Miniaturization is accomplished by using the MXM video card form factor originally devised for laptops. In the past, this would have resulted in a severe performance compromise. But current Nvidia models hit close to the numbers posted by full-size counterparts. Even with Zotac slightly underclocking the GTX 1070 (presumably for heat reasons), it benchmarks close enough to the full-size model that I doubt I could tell the difference side-by-side.

There's even a model with the GTX 1080 [Amazon] in it, but it's twice the size of this one and I wanted small, and it turns out the 1070 is more than enough for every game I've tried, outpacing the GTX 970-equipped PC I upgraded from. The latest games on the highest settings on 4k monitors would be pushing it, I'm sure, but if you need that, maybe a PC the size of a hardback novel isn't in your future.

There are compromises to bear in mind. Upgrading the i5 Kaby Lake CPU is possible, but I won't be chancing it for a long time -- it voids the warranty and requires almost complete disassembly. Read the rest

Celebrate Myst's 25th anniversary through this Kickstarter

In 1993, Cyan Inc.'s Robyn and Rand Miller created Myst, a magical interactive story/puzzle published on CD-ROM that forever changed the landscape of immersive gaming. Myst proved once and for all that videogames could be art. To celebrate Myst's 25th anniversary this year, Cyan launched a Kickstarter for a marvelous "historical anthology of the complete series, along with some special, Atrus-approved, authentic game artifacts." The games will be playable on Windows 10. (Mac editions may be in the future.) The Myst 25th Anniversary Collection will certainly spark the imagination of anyone who plays it, including those developing the next generation of immersive experiences.

Myst: 25th Anniversary Collection (Kickstarter)

Read the rest

Banned Donkey Kong champ promises proof in emulator scandal

Billy Mitchell is an infamous game champion whose Donkey King high score was long the record. But video of his current best time was apparently recorded using an emulator rather than real arcade hardware, making it easier to cheat and ultimately losing him his place in the record books. Now he's speaking out, promising to show that everything was done according to the rules: "witnesses, documents, everything will be made available."

It's amazing how they caught Mitchell, by spotting subtle discrepancies in how MAME emulation software and original hardware refresh the screen. The top image (below) is video of a bona-fide Donkey Kong cabinet, and the bottom image is Mitchell's provided video, now thought to be recorded by connecting an emulator to an arcade CRT monitor. Each GIF covers 1/60th of a second or thereabouts, and is slowed to show the game's girders being drawn out of the usual order.

Another famous game champ, Todd Rogers, was likewise put to pasture recently. Modern hardware analysis made his claimed times and scores too incredible to believe, and he could not produce evidence of having made them. Read the rest

Cheap gaming headset just as nice as my expensive one

This $33 Bengoo stereo gaming headset is every bit as nice as my $100+ one.

Gaming and marijuana do not mix. I break headsets and controllers pretty regularly, every few months something gets dropped hard, or yanked off my head by a dog running past and catching the cable (OUCH!!!) I get tired of replacing them.

This Bengoo headset feels every bit as nice as the expensive SkullCandy set it is replacing. The plastic is just as plastic. The ear cups and padding are plenty comfortable. The sound and volume control seems very much the same.

The headset has a very nice cable that annoyingly has permanently affixed stereo and USB jacks. I have used the velcro cable tender that came with to hold the un-used cable end (USB for me) out of the way. The volume and mute controls are super functional and in a good place on the cable.

The mic works well. Adjust the sensitivity if it is not picking up your clear and cogent call-outs.

There is minor price variation based on the color you pick. The unit is labeled "Kotion" who appears to be the manufacturer. I am not sure what a Bengoo is, a Benji is my brother.

I can direction-ally identify footsteps in Fortnite again.

BENGOO G9000 Stereo Gaming Headset for PS4, PC, Xbox One via Amazon

Image via Amazon Read the rest

$200 Street Fighter II selvedge denim jeans

The gimmick here is that the jeans have the emblem of Shadaloo -- the criminal syndicate operated on the side by Street Fighter II's evil dictator M. Bison -- sewn on them. $200 is quite normal for fancy denim but I'm not shoryuken expect this purchase to be respected by even the most committed fans. Read the rest

Watch how to solve a maze hidden inside a metal cylinder

YouTuber Mr. Puzzle demonstrates Revomaze, a maze puzzle hidden inside a metal cylinder. Read the rest

Play free emulators of all those handheld video games of yesteryear

The Internet Archive has an incredible free collection of 1980s handheld game console emulators. In 1978, my brother and I played the hell out of Coleco Electronic Quarterback. It's amazing how compelling and addictive a flashing array of LED dashes was back then, and still is. From the Internet Archive:

This collection of emulated handheld games, tabletop machines, and even board games stretch from the 1970s well into the 1990s. They are attempts to make portable, digital versions of the LCD, VFD and LED-based machines that sold, often cheaply, at toy stores and booths over the decades.

We have done our best to add instructions and in some cases link to scanned versions of the original manuals for these games. They range from notably simplistic efforts to truly complicated, many-buttoned affairs that are truly difficult to learn, much less master.

They are, of course, entertaining in themselves – these are attempts to put together inexpensive versions of video games of the time, or bringing new properties wholecloth into existence. Often sold cheaply enough that they were sealed in plastic and sold in the same stores as a screwdriver set or flashlight, these little systems tried to pack the most amount of “game” into a small, custom plastic case, running on batteries.

They also represent the difficulty ahead for many aspects of digital entertainment, and as such are worth experiencing and understanding for that reason alone.

(via Waxy)

Read the rest

A brief oral history of classic point-and-click adventure The Dagger of Amon Ra

The 1992 point-and-click classic The Dagger of Amon Ra was a high point of the genre's 16-bit era: an intriguing and offbeat adventure with distinctive colorful pixel art and Sierra On-Line co-founder Roberta Williams overseeing the project. For the Campo Santo Review, Duncan Fyfe takes a deep look at a game "steeped in the aesthetics of the 1920s" and a major influence on the forthcoming Into the Valley of the Gods.

Like Laura Bow’s first adventure, the game progresses in an approximation of real time: Suspects move around the museum according to their own schedules, in pursuit of their own hidden agendas. It’s the player’s job to keep track of everything. Unsurprisingly it’s a difficult game, concluding in a notorious denouement where the player is required to prove that they have solved each of the murders, as well as a host of related crimes. The game doesn’t help the player with this at all. But the complexity of the task is leavened by the vibe, which can’t be beat: Wandering a museum alone at night, uncovering secret passageways and puzzles, accosting a haughty countess with accusations of murder, and eavesdropping on illicit dalliances between cops and flappers.

There were a number of titles in the late 1980s and early 1990s that took a stab at the "Clue" microgenre -- the murder mystery populated by NPCs following their own schedules, with a culprit that must be deduced rather than simply uncovered via an unfolding series of puzzles and plotlines. The era's technical limitations made modeling and presenting these sealed-off yet dynamic social systems difficult, but The Dagger of Amon Ra was one of the best thanks to its great art, well-defined characters and approachable gameplay. Read the rest

A ball that inverts and changes color when it is midair, and the scientific literature that explains it

The Hoberman Switch Pitch Throwing Ball is a $12 toy that instantiates a dual polyhedron: every time you throw it, it turns inside-out; there's a wealth of scientific literature that explains how this works, including this open-access paper from the Journal of the International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures. Here's JWZ's summary: "The curved body panels that make it look like a sphere hide an internal structure that is a cube; or really, two tetrahedrons embedded in a cube; and when it its its activation energy, the tetrahedron becomes its dual, swapping faces and vertices." Read the rest

Mac OS update adds support for fancy external video cards

Matt Burns at TechCrunch:

"The additional horsepower isn’t needed for general use, but the added graphics cards supercharge Macs for VR rendering and gaming. Only a handful of eGPUs are compatible with macOS so choose carefully before adding one to your rig."

The AMD Radeon RX 580 is the best card for games on the compatibility list, but most of the eGPU boxes are pretty bulky. Your best best is probably the Sonnet Box, which is the smallest and comes with an RX 570 built in (with a cheaper RX 560 option). The caveat is that it doesn't have USB-C output, so you can't put it between a Mac and the LG UltraFine monitors that Apple actually sells. Other eGPU boxes have this feature.

This will probably go unheralded but I think it's a huge milestone in Mac history: serious game support! Finally! Read the rest

"Kingpin: The Hunt for El Chapo": Game designers review the CIA's declassified tabletop training game

Douglas Palmer got wind of a classified CIA program to create board games to train spies, so he used a series of Freedom of Information Act requests to get copies of two of these games: the first is called "Kingpin: The Hunt for El Chapo" and the second (which the CIA revealed to a SXSW audience in 2017) is called "Collection Deck." Read the rest

Data Defenders, a media literacy game about data collection and targeting for kids in grades 4-6

Mediasmarts (previously), a Canadian media literacy nonprofit, has just released Data Defenders, a timely video game about data collection and targeting aimed at kids in grades 4-6. Read the rest

Dashcam auto accident footage recreated in video game

Welcome to the convergence point in a venn diagram of video games, youtube and J.G. Ballard.

A very short comparison between BeamNG and reallife traffic accidents. That's pretty much how much attention I spend to detail when I recreating reallife dash cam crashes in beamng.

Someone should make a forensics/legal-type show using BeamNG.

Previously: Cult driving simulator spawns YouTube genre of automotive chaos Read the rest

Forthcoming Ataribox renamed "Atari VCS"

The Ataribox, announced after Nintendo scored surprise hits with its popular NES and SNES classic consoles, is going to be called "Atari VCS" instead -- the same name as Atari's original, way back in 1977.

The company is showing off the Atari VCS, Classic Joystick, and Modern Controller prototypes to the press this week at GDC. And it is working with game developers, content creators, and other partners to finalize details. In April, Atari will announce a preorder date for the Atari VCS. Earlier, Atari canceled a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo because its development hit a snag.

If you suspected this was an empty nostalgia-marketing ploy, this might not allay your fears: someone's already made it so the Wikipedia page for "Atari VCS" is an ad for the new machine. But the concept is essentially Pi-like hackable hardware in a pretty box with well-made controllers, so what could go wrong?

Update: as noted by nungesser, the potential wrong is the price: $300. Better be a great GPU in there for all that cabbage. Read the rest

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