Browser Based Gaming Grows Up

on Tuesday, Mar. 18th

Just days after announcing that the latest Unreal Engine was playable in Firefox without any plug-ins web browser maker Mozilla is at it again. This time they’ve teamed up with the makers of the incredibly popular Unity engine to create a plug-in free gaming experience.

Previously those who wanted to play a Unity based game in their browser would have to download a plug-in, which was a barrier for some. Not everyone is comfortable with plug-ins, and you often have to reboot the browser. In short: it is a pain in the you-know-where. With the freshly announced Unity 5 engine those days are gone.

Millions of Unity developers will have the opportunity to export their Unity content directly to the Web without the friction of plugins while maintaining smooth and silky gameplay. To demonstrate this technology in action, Unity and Mozilla are showcasing a preview of the popular game, Dead Trigger 2, running in Firefox at near-native speed. (Source: Mozilla)

Unreal Engine 4 is the state of the art in high-end gaming engines and Unity is the ubiquitous engine that powers countless indie and mobile games. With both of these engines running natively in browsers the value of dedicated gaming tools–whether they are consoles like the Xbox One and Playstation 4 or stores like Steam and the iOS App Store–are being drawn into question.

The aggregation value of consoles and dedicated marketplaces are still clear: finding a game in the wilds of the Internet without a portal of some kind is like finding a needle in a hay field. However the ability to distribute a game using modern middleware like UE4 or Unity 5 puts subtle pressure on platform holders to provide more value on the marketing and revenue side.

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Actor Tamara Bruketta experiences the Oculus VR version of Sound Self at the IndieCade booth at E3 2013. (Noah Nelson)

The VR Dreams of the 90’s Are Alive At E3

on Wednesday, Jun. 12th

The last time most video game players were excited about virtual reality was the 1990s. Before internet browsers were commonplace and game consoles were still actively marketed by the number of bits they could process, virtual reality held out the shimmering promise of the cyberspace envisioned by science fiction authors like William Gibson: the future was going to be accessed by way of immersive technology that would project digital avatars of ourselves into detailed virtual worlds.

The technology was excitedly talked about in techie magazines like Wired, but never quite materialized outside of arcades and college computer labs.

Instead, we all got Playstations, Xboxes and mobile phones. That is, until this year, when a small company–Oculus VR–revived game developers interest in virtual reality.Just a few months ago the company began shipping prototype versions of a new breed of virtual reality headset to the people who backed its crowdfunding campaign. Here at E3, the annual video game conference in Los Angeles that’s in full swing this week, the headset is also available on the demo floor.


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National Association of Black Journalists Withdraws From UNITY

on Thursday, Apr. 14th

After nearly 20 years as a coalition of the four major ethnic journalists’ associations, UNITY Inc. is losing a founding member. The National Association of Black Journalists withdrew its membership on Sunday, citing objections to UNITY’s business model. But observers with longtime ties to several UNITY member organizations say divisions within the alliance go beyond financial concerns.

UNITY was formed in 1994, when members of the NABJ and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists conferred about common challenges they faced as journalists of color, and then acted, forming the official, not-for-profit alliance to convene the four major ethnic journalism associations every four years. (The Asian American Journalists Association, AAJA, and the Native American Journalists Association, NAHJ, are the other two member organizations. This story is admittedly not for the acronymically faint-of-heart, but just remember what NABJ stands for and you’ll be good).
The current dispute stems from the NABJ’s opposition to the way proceeds from the UNITY convention are distributed.

Doug Mitchell is project co-director of New U (which is funded by the Ford Foundation and administered by Unity) and has long worked with all four member organizations, but said as a current NABJ member, he thinks there should have been more communication before the pullout. “I wanted to cast a vote up or down, and not have the board act on my behalf. I don’t always agree with what board does and I don’t agree with what they did here.” But financial considerations aside, Mitchell said contentiousness around shared decisions has been present since UNITY’s inception – which is to be expected, he points out, when attempting to bring four distinct cultural organizations under one umbrella. “There were always extenuating circumstances (with the exception of DC in 2004). In 1994, the Native American group didn’t want to go to Georgia; in 1999 there was a legislative bill (Prop 209) in play so the NABJ didn’t want to go; then in Chicago (where the UNITY convention was held in 2008) the newspaper industry was imploding. Here we are again.”

Former UNITY president Rafael Olmeda agreed that “existential” issues seemed implicit in the split. “When you see the statements that preceded NABJ’s withdrawal, you see language like ‘UNITY has reached beyond its original mission” and “there are four members of this coalition, not five.’ …The financial was merely a symptom.”

In a reply to Olmeda’s blog post on the issue, CNN’s Roland Martin commented that the financial issues were in fact decisive, but he also alludes to tensions over what UNITY staff was achieving in the larger industry on behalf of the member organizations. “In fact, it was Unity’s failures to lead that also played a role in this,” Martin wrote. “The advocacy that Unity did was virtually non-existent. A statement on the Comcast acquisition of NBC? Weighing in on net neutrality? I asked the Unity executive director and Unity president about personal visits paid in the last year to media companies about the hiring and retaining of minority journalists. They couldn’t name ONE company. Not one.” (To that, Olmeda replied that the current president has only been in place for three months).

Olmeda said as UNITY members re-group before next year’s convention, NABJ should be a part of the organization’s rebirth. “Thinking ‘inside the box’ is no longer an option. There is no box anymore. We have no choice but to re-imagine UNITY from the top-down, from the bottom-up, from the inside-out.” And Doug Mitchell said that given the “earthquake” that is transfiguring the industry, as well as the census numbers reflecting major shifts within communities of color, the collaboration that UNITY is meant to engender is critical. “I’m not going to change my behavior because the NABJ decided not to go to UNITY next year. There are more than a few of us who think broadly about what’s happening in our country and we have to participate.”

Mitchell said he’s optimistic that once the temperature cools on this issue, and the August 2012 convention draws closer, there will be a return to collaboration between UNITY and the NABJ. For her part, UNITY Executive Director Onica Makwakwa told Turnstyle that membership isn’t required to attend the UNITY conference, and that although the organization doesn’t have the resources to do outreach to individual journalists, “We are looking at a plan to create opportunities for black journalists to stay engaged…and we have a call for workshops coming up.”

Calls and emails to the NABJ for comment were not returned.

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