IndieCade: Gaming’s Magic 8-Ball

on Wednesday, Oct. 15th

IndieCade, the International Festival of Independent Games, which takes place in Culver City every October holds an important role in the game industry ecosystem.

IndieCade, the International Festival of Independent Games, which takes place in Culver City every October holds an important role in the game industry ecosystem. I’m tempted to say “niche,” but given the prominence of indie games in the launch of the current console generation cycle “niche” undersells the influence these games have.

While the first thought is to compare the festival to the Electronic Entertainment Expo what IndieCade resembles most is the early years of ComicCon. There a growing tribe freaks and geeks discovered they were not only into the four-color antics of spandex clad heroes but the very personal stories of people who had discovered a medium perfectly suited to express the way they see the world. This revelation provided a cultural depth to what would otherwise be an exercise in entertainment marketing.

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Corey McCall with the video game controller that measures the level of excitement in the player. Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service

Corey McCall with the video game controller that measures the level of excitement in the player. Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service

These Game Controllers Will (One Day) Read Your Mind

on Thursday, Oct. 9th

A version of this story airs on NPR/WBUR’s Here & Now.

A version of this story airs on NPR/WBUR’s Here & Now.

If you’re a gamer, or have one in your household, odds are that there is a wedge of black plastic studded with joysticks and buttons nestled in the cushions of your couch. Buttons get pressed, and things on the TV go boom. That would be the humble video game controller. Humble, perhaps, for not much longer.

“So what we’re doing here is we’ve modified an Xbox 360 controller to help try and sense a player’s emotions as they’re playing video games,” said Corey McCall, a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering at Stanford University.

He’s created a way for game controllers to read your mind. Kind of.

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Give It Away Now: Gear VR Early Adopters To Get Free Game

on Tuesday, Oct. 7th

Consumer-ready virtual reality is stumbling forward, and this month is likely to see the release of Samsung’s Gear VR peripheral for their Galaxy Note 4 phone.

Consumer-ready virtual reality is stumbling forward, and this month is likely to see the release of Samsung’s Gear VR peripheral for their Galaxy Note 4 phone. Some Best Buy stores already has demo units under their counters.

One big question is what games are going to be available at launch and how much will they cost? The answer to the latter question is “free.” The reason: the Gear VR is being launched before Oculus VR sets up the payment system for the content marketplace. (Which seems crazy, but apparently there really are not rules in VR.)

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ello: Can Social Media Exist Without Ads?

on Wednesday, Oct. 1st

A version of this story aired on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A version of this story aired on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Vermont’s known for its green pastures, farmsteads, and roads free of billboards. The founders of the new social network ello live in the state, and they want to bring Vermont-like serenity to the internet.

“We set out to prove that a social network will survive and thrive that doesn’t have an business model of selling ads to its users,” said CEO and co-founder Paul Budnitz. He owns a bicycle company in Vermont, and he’s also the founder of Kidrobot, which makes high-end art toys. Budnitz said ello’s creators initially launched the site for their circle of friends. They wanted a clean online space to exchange large images and longform text. The site has been growing steadily for about a year, he said. But that changed last week, when news stories about a group of disenchanted Facebook users mentioned ello as an alternative, and set off a stampede of interest.

“We’re getting 40,000 combined signups and requests per hour…so it’s a lot,” Budnitz said with a chuckle.

You need an invite from a friend to use ello, and that amps up the allure. Many ello users I talked to, like 24-year-old Charity Walden, say they joined simply out of curiosity. “I use Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat,” she said — and now ello rounds out that group. “I think it’s really cool to be there at the beginning, and see how it’s developed.”

The spike of interest in a new social network also points to intensifying concerns over issues like data mining, online bullying, and the protection of privacy. Users can’t make their ello accounts private, but the founders say that’s coming soon. And ello’s stated mission is to be profitable without selling user data — a claim that attracts scrutiny. Once it was learned that ello received venture capital money in January, the critics went to town.

Aral Balkan is one of them. He’s a privacy advocate who’s building an independent operating system. Balkan says he doesn’t want to support a VC-backed social network that will face pressure to balloon in size and value.

“If you take venture capital, that means at the very beginning, you had to present your exit plan, because that’s when the investors make their money back. Even before you built the thing, you’re selling the people that you hope to get to use it,” he said.

I mentioned to Balkan that for many ello users I spoke to, the fact that it’s ad-free wasn’t necessarily the reason they joined. Attitudes like this are a problem, he said. “We’re just rushing headlong, we’re just making things…not necessarily being critical about the impacts they will have, and just jumping from one bandwagon to the next.”

After just a few days, ello user Jimmy Chan is also losing interest in the site, but for a different reason — he says he’s not getting much out of it. “Some of my friends are jumping in to say ‘You’re all still here?’ as if it’s Monday morning, and people are still in their living room from a Sunday night party,” he joked. Chan says ello probably won’t be fun for him until it picks up traction with more friends, and offers different features.

The site’s being tweaked and re-worked in full view of a rapt online audience. The founders are responding to complaints and requests as the site takes shape. Co-founder Paul Budnitz has a relatively chill attitude about the critiques: “I’m in Vermont, not in Silicon Valley.”

He’s confident that ello can make money through a “freemium” model. Users would pay for extra features like the ability to access multiple accounts with a single login.

Budnitz maintains that the founders don’t feel undue pressure to compromise their ideals. He says they’re content to stay small and modestly profitable in a Vermont kind of way.

Say Ello to the latest David to Facebook’s Goliath

on Thursday, Sep. 25th

Before we go any further, I’d like to say that this isn’t–likely–Ello’s fault.

Before we go any further, I’d like to say that this isn’t–likely–Ello‘s fault.

People have been hungry for a Facebook-killer for a long while now. There was a momentary flash where it looked like Google+ might be it. The whole “circles” idea was different enough to pique interest, and FB had been around just long enough to be boring.

Google blew it, however, by insisting that everyone use their real name. They had forgotten that this is The Internet, and real names are for boring people.

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Virtual Reality’s Future Hinges on Presence and Patience

on Tuesday, Sep. 23rd

There are two reoccurring themes in the reports out of this past weekend’s Oculus Connect developers conference in Hollywood.

There are two reoccurring themes in the reports out of this past weekend’s Oculus Connect developers conference in Hollywood.

The first is disappointment that virtual reality pioneer Oculus VR didn’t announce a release date for the first commercial version of their Rift hardware. The second is that the latest prototype has achieved a level of that elusive experience known as “presence” that pretty much blows everything up until now out of the water.

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Apple & The Magic of NFC

on Monday, Sep. 8th

The speculation engines have been set to maximum across the tech Internet as all eyes turn towards the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, where Apple will make what everyone assumes will be an historic product announcement.

The speculation engines have been set to maximum across the tech Internet as all eyes turn towards the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, where Apple will make what everyone assumes will be an historic product announcement.

Historic because this is the same theatre where the original Mac itself was unveiled back in 1984, and the company has built a large temporary structure next door to the venue for the event.

The assumption on everyone’s lips is that Apple will unveil both a new iPhone and the long rumored “iWatch,” both of which are said to use Near Field Communication technology, or NFC. The killer app for NFC? Mobile payments, specifically frictionless point of sale transactions.

While payments have gotten all of the ink, that’s just one of the magical uses of NFC. We could be in store for a lot more surprises, starting with toys.

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Seven Things To Know About The Future of Immersive Entertainment

on Friday, Sep. 5th

im·mer·sive

adjective

1.

im·mer·sive

adjective

1. (of a computer display or system) generating a three-dimensional image that appears to surround the user. Source: Google.

Immersive. The word pops up in conversations about entertainment with as much frequency as “engagement.” While the definition is tied to its roots as techno-jargon in the cyberdelic 90s, its popularity comes from the fact that the meaning has grown beyond those roots.

Facebook’s acquisition of virtual reality start-up Oculus VR earlier this year put the word back in the mouths of the mainstream press, and this week Samsung announced the Gear VR head mounted display adapter for their next generation phone. Another use of the term is tied to immersive theater productions like the long-running Sleep No More in New York City.

Whether in virtual or flesh and blood reality, the singular goal of an immersive experience is to suspend disbelief so totally that the audience gets wrapped up in the world around them to the exclusion of any other.

What follows is a primer, of sorts, on what the future of immersive media will look like.

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Samsung Hits The Accelerator on the VR Age With Gear VR

on Wednesday, Sep. 3rd

A couple of weeks back I watched the vice president of content for Jaunt VR—makers of a revolutionary live action video camera for virtual reality—hint at the imminent arrival of a consumer VR device.

A couple of weeks back I watched the vice president of content for Jaunt VR—makers of a revolutionary live action video camera for virtual reality—hint at the imminent arrival of a consumer VR device. Jaunt and New Deal Studios would be releasing a short WWII themed film made with the camera this fall, and that meant people would need to able to watch it on something, after all.

There was no way that Sony was fast-tracking Morpheus, and all signs pointed Oculus VR’s first consumer product needing until 2015 to be ready. Google has the DODOcase Cardboard kit already available, but that thing is more like a Viewmaster on steroids than a fully realized VR device.

Which left one suspect in the room: Samsung, and their rumored “Gear VR.” Today the South Korean manufacturer came clean: they will be unleashing the Gear VR, a headset adapter for the forthcoming Galaxy Note 4 phone. The kicker: the software running the Gear VR is from Oculus.

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The Dumbest Case Against Games Journalists You’ll Ever Hear

on Thursday, Aug. 28th

WARNING: Contains Opinions.

WARNING: Contains Opinions. (Oh no!)

When I look at what the culture of gaming has become this summer I recoil in disgust. The worst excesses of geekdom, wherein the bullied become the bullies, have been on display.

The most hideous form of this has been what’s happened to developer Zoe Quinn and feminist cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian in the past two weeks. Quinn was doxed as part of a revenge campaign begun by an ex-boyfriend. Sarkeesian was driven out of her home by threats of violence against her and her family.

Quinn’s story has splintered into a ranging discussion about journalistic ethics in the gaming enthusiast press, even though no one has been able to show that an ethical breach occurred. The problem is that the accusations of unethical behavior found an all too willing audience: gamers just don’t trust the enthusiast press.

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ifthey

The Good And Bad Memes In #Ferguson Race Conversations

A friend of mine launched a depressing conversation recently, and asked me how much I think he is worth.

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Amazon Joins Mobile Payment Game, But Have They Lost The Magic Touch?

Once upon a time it seemed that Amazon could have been destined to be that rare company that could do no wrong.

thermaltouch-interface

Augmented Reality: German Firm Shows Off Touch Based UI

We seem to be on a collision course with wearable computing.

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Will VR’s Killer App Make You Sick?

Polygon’s Ben Kuchera has a close-in look at the design philosophy going into Eve: Valkyrie, the “killer app” for virtual reality systems.

Image: Rachel I. Berman (Alice); Publicity image by Darial Sneed for Then She Fell.

Immersive Cinema And The Age of Voxelpunk

In the wake of the Facebook acquisition of Oculus VR the issue of the future of virtual reality beyond games has stepped into the media spotlight.

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