The cult indie hit is unexpectedly coming to Steam. Silverlake, Wash.-based designer Tarn Adams, the primary creator of Dwarf Fortress alongside his brother Zach, announced last week that the long-running game will arrive on both and in a new version that features actual graphics and “generally enhanced” audio. As the original Dwarf Fortress (see below) has been both freeware and made entirely of ASCII art since 2006, this marks a massive departure for the game in more ways than one. The reason for the new version, according to Adams’ announcement, is related to financial concerns due to healthcare treatment costs. “We don’t talk about this much, but for many years, Zach has been on expensive medication, which has fortunately been covered by his healthcare,” wrote Adams, co-founder of . “It’s a source of constant concern, as the plan has changed a few times and as the political environment has shifted. We have other family health risks, and as we get older, the precariousness of our situation increases; after Zach’s latest cancer scare, we determined that with my healthcare plan’s copay etc., I’d be wiped out if I had to undergo the same procedures.” “The Steam release may or may not bring us the added stability we’re seeking now,” he added. An illustrative screenshot of the original, “classic” Dwarf Fortress. (Official Bay 12 Games screenshot) The current version of Dwarf Fortress is entirely funded through player donations, first through PayPal and currently via Patreon. The Steam and Itch versions of Dwarf Fortress will be published by Montreal-based , with graphics provided by Kitfox’s Tanya Short, and Mike Mayday and Meph, two longtime members of the Dwarf Fortress modding community. The original freeware Dwarf Fortress, which will henceforth be known as Dwarf Fortress Classic, will continue to be made available alongside the graphical, paid version. Adams intends to continue updating both versions simultaneously for the foreseeable future. If you pay any attention to PC gaming at all, you’ve probably at least heard of Dwarf Fortress, a indie game that’s been in steady development since 2006, growing steadily more complex all the while. It’s an open-ended base-building simulator set in a randomly-generated fantasy world, where you try and usually fail to build a successful colony of dwarves despite all of them being eccentric maniacs with a collective death wish. Like early dungeon-crawling games on the PC, such as Rogue and Nethack, Dwarf Fortress Classic eschews graphics entirely in favor of ASCII art. Unlike those games, thanks to years of constant updates, the game features systems on top of systems to simulate everything from damage to individual dwarves’ limbs to your settlement being randomly infiltrated by a vampire. Dwarf Fortress is notoriously challenging, and has no actual win conditions, so a given game will only end in the inevitable destruction of the player’s colony. Its official motto has become “Losing is fun!” At the same time, the game generated enough of a following that it’s . Since the start, Dwarf Fortress has been developed by Tarn and Zach Adams, who founded Bay 12 Games in Silverdale, Wash. in 1996, to publish their own freeware games. In 2006, Tarn Adams, who holds a doctorate in mathematics from Stanford, gave up on his postdoctoral work and became a full-time games developer. He has been releasing regular updates for Dwarf Fortress ever since, with the most recent update coming out in July of last year.
After a conspicuous stretch of silence ending with a mysterious on Thursday, No Man’s Sky creator Sean Murray revealed that another major free update is on the way. The new content, which is the first since last year’s Visions update, will hit the massive space exploration game this summer. The bundle of new content, called will tie together three different updates, though Murray is only giving up the details of one so far. The one we know about is something that Murray is calling “No Man’s Sky Online” which “includes a radical new social and multiplayer experience which empowers players everywhere in the universe to meet and play together” and weaves together three standalone updates into “a vision for something much more impactful.” No Man’s Sky BEYOND, a major free chapter, coming Summer 2019. With three updates in one:1) No Man's Sky Online2) ?3) ? We're working out butts off on something specialMore Info soon — Sean Murray (@NoMansSky) The short preview video doesn’t reveal much, but it shows a ship we haven’t seen before in what looks like either a reimagined space station (that would be nice!) or some kind of brand new multiplayer hub area. Murray emphasized that the multiplayer update wouldn’t add things from other major multiplayer games like microtransactions or subscriptions and that he has no intention of turning No Man’s Sky into an MMO. (Still, if a lot of people are playing online together in a massive world, isn’t it uh, kind of an MMO?) The blog post noted that the team would release more details on the other two big pieces of new content in the coming weeks. “These changes are an answer to how we have seen people playing since the release of NEXT, and is something we’ve dreamed of for a long time,” Murray added. After a very rough launch and its accompanying critical lambasting in 2016, No Man’s Sky’s team has consistently added huge free content updates to the game. That dedication to building out the world the development team initially promised has brought “millions” of new players into the fold and inspired a. That community will be happy to hear that according to his latest , Murray doesn’t intend to walk away from the game any time soon.
The games we see advertised the most aren’t necessarily the best representatives for what has become an incredibly diverse medium. Yearly AAA installments and massive open worlds are all well and good, but simplicity is rarely on display — which makes two recent releases, and , all the more delightful. Both are, in a way, very simple games, but from that simplicity arises complex and enjoyable gameplay concepts that can entertain (or frustrate) for hours. It’s a refreshing reversal of games that appear complex but ultimately have very little depth. Ape Out is certainly the more simple of the two, at least in gameplay terms. You’re an ape — a great ape. A gorilla, to be precise. And you have gotten out. The smooth top-down action has you navigating a procedurally-generated office patrolled by gun-wielding ne’er-do-wells. To prevent further ape blood from being spilled, you can either punch them — usually fatal, as you are strong — or grab them, which causes them to fire their gun. Then you can throw them into a wall. That’s pretty much it! A few things elevate the game beyond the apparently arcade-level concepts here. First is a distinctive visual style that combines a sort of watercolor or chalky effect with starkly monochrome characters and surroundings, making gameplay elements highly distinctive and recognizable while giving a definite look to the whole world. [gallery ids="1797601,1797602,1797600,1797603"] The controls are also smooth and largely predictable, letting you confidently move through the world without worrying whether you’ll catch on something or whether your lunge will reach a guy — if you’re not sure, it’s exciting rather than frustrating. Well-spaced checkpoints make you master an area before passing on, but don’t feel punitive, and new enemies and obstacles are introduced gradually and logically. But the music is the most striking bit. A base beat of jazz drums accompanies each stage, growing in intensity as you progress to the next level (it can take as little as 20 or 30 seconds to do so), and every action adds a beat or cymbal crash to the mix. The responsive music makes you feel like a real soundtrack to your acts, while also spurring you on to greater ones. As Penny Arcade , Ape Out is fun and original from the moment you pick it up. There’s no boring tutorial, problematic dialogue, poorly characterized protagonist, obscure and frequently revised gameplay elements, and no “ludonarrative dissonance.” In other words you never think “wait, would an enraged ape really do that?” (By the way, it’s definitely violent — but in an absurd comic style, not graphic and horrible.) Baba Is You is simple in a different way. Its graphics and simple grid-based movement place it in company with The Adventures of Lolo or similar block-pushing games from the ’80s and ’90s. The complexity of this game, however, comes from a mind-bending twist along the lines of Portal and The Witness: the rules of the game are actual blocks that you move around as well. It sounds weird, but that’s the game: In addition to rocks, water, walls, and various other items, there are blocks defining the actual rules of that level with a crude, blocky logic, such as “flag is win” and “rock is push,” meaning you win if you touch the flag and rocks can be pushed. Perhaps the flag is embedded in an inaccessible fortress of walls, though. No problem. A couple pushes mean that now “rock is win” — so just go touch a rock and the level is complete. Or perhaps if you can reach it, the rule “wall is stop” can be shifted, letting you walk right through them to the flag. The simple, cute graphics let you focus on the seemingly limited, yet actually maddeningly diverse, ways of combining and shifting the blocks of the level. “Eureka!” moments are elusive things, as the creator seems to have a knack for predicting how you might think and putting roadblocks in the way of obvious solutions. But there is that amazing feeling that you’re a genius when you come back to an “impossible” level and see it with new eyes, solving it in a handful of seconds. That’s the complexity of simplicity — a single breakthrough that takes half an hour to arrive at. [gallery ids="1797612,1797614,1797613"] I won’t lie, though: Baba Is You is hard. It’s hard as hell. In the forums are puzzle fiends shame-facedly admitting they can’t beat the 6th level, or facepalming after a hint is offered. It’s easy to develop a mental block and never get past it — but fortunately the game is fairly open, letting you take on the first few puzzles of various themed areas of the map rather than making you clear one before moving on to the next. This isn’t a game you’ll be done with in an afternoon. Both Baba Is You and Ape Out cost under $20 (on PC and Switch right now), in the sweet spot between the shovelware under $10 and “full” retail games twice the cost. Both are unique and created with obvious care and attention to detail. And neither ever requires more than two or three minutes of your time — though you can, as I did last night, lose hours just as easily as you would in a AAA title. This is simple done right.
There was a nice surprise morsel for those following Turtle Beach’s financial’s this week. In addition to a “record fourth quarter,” the headset maker announced that it fellow gaming peripheral company Roccat for $14.8 million in cash. Turtle Beach is best known for creating gaming headsets for a wide range of different consoles, PCs and mobile devices. Picking up Germany-based Roccat will help the San Diego company further expand into additional peripherals like mice and keyboard. Turtle Beach is also hoping it will help expand its primarily U.S. and Europe-based sales into Asia, where Roccat has already made a dent. In a press release tied to the news, Turtle Beach CEO Juergen Stark calls the deal, a key step in achieving our goal of building a $100 million PC gaming accessories business in the coming years.” The complimentary nature of the two companies’ product portfolios should certainly go a ways toward helping expand Turtle Beach’s brand. No word, however, on whether the company will continue to maintain the Roccat line in those markets where it’s already founds some traction. Certainly that would make a lot of sense in the short term. expects the deal to close in Q2.
Vivek Sharma, head of product for gaming, and Vijaye Raji, vice president of games at Facebook, at the company’s Seattle office. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy) Facebook says it has more than 700 million gamers and fans of games on its platform, and it wants to bring them all together in one place. Facebook today unveiled a new dedicated Gaming tab in its mobile app for people to play games on the platform, follow their favorite game streamers and participate in gaming groups. Facebook said it will roll out the new section first to a subset of “10s of millions” of users before releasing it more broadly. Facebook did not reveal any new gaming features or services, but today’s announcement creates a central hub for gaming. It builds on a destination for gaming video that Facebook began testing last summer. The tab separates out gaming-related notifications, groups and other communications from the rest of the platform. Vijaye Raji, vice president of gaming at Facebook, said there are more than 300,000 gaming-focused groups on Facebook with more than 105 million active users. They focus on titles for hardcore gamers like League of Legends as well as more casual games like Pokémon Go. “That’s the kind of organic community that’s already building around gaming on Facebook,” Raji said. “What we’ve noticed is this activity happens all over Facebook, sometimes on Newsfeed, sometimes on Groups and sometimes on Pages, this diffused activity. “We’ve been making each of these experience better over time, but one amazing thing that we could do is to bring all of that together in one destination.” Facebook’s Seattle engineering center. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Gaming has long been a core part of Facebook, dating back to the desktop days that when gamemakers like (Farmville) and (Candy Crush) became household names. That evolved in 2017 when Facebook launched Instant Games and has continued to grow in recent years. Though its not mentioned with the likes of Twitch, streaming is becoming an important part of Facebook’s gaming operation. Facebook’s pitch to creators is its huge global platform and the potential it presents for streamers to attract a big audience. Introduced at the beginning of 2018, Facebook’s streaming offering is still young, giving creators the opportunity to get in on the ground floor. “We’re early in the game, which means you can actually influence the platform,” Raji said. Central gaming hubs like what Facebook is building have the potential to bring people together, but they can also become toxic environments very quickly. Raji said the teams empower streamers with a lot of moderation tools to make sure their channels fit with the environment they want to create. Raji said creating and maintaining an inclusive environment in the gaming section is top ongoing priority. Raji pointed to the authentic nature of Facebook, where users show their real names and profiles, as something that holds people more accountable than a platform where people can be anonymous. However, that logic hasn’t always held when looking at the broader Facebook platform. The games team is based entirely in Facebook’s massive Seattle outpost, and it is led by Raji. He wouldn’t say exactly how many people work on games at Facebook, but the number is north of 100 employees. The Seattle area is replete with gaming talent, from big gaming studios like Bungie to homegrown gaming giants like Microsoft, to global forces such as Nintendo. “It’s much easier to hire talent here in Seattle,” Raji said. “Seattle has this gaming DNA.”
Microsoft today a new initiative that combines under a single umbrella all of the company’s gaming-related products for developers like Xbox Live, Azure PlayFab, Direct X, Mixer, Virtual Studio, Simplygon and Azure. That umbrella, , is meant to give game developers, no matter whether they are at a AAA studio or working solo, all the tools they need to develop and then operate their games across devices and platforms. “Game Stack brings together our game development platforms, tools and services like Direct X and Visual Studio, Azure and Playfab into a robust ecosystem that any game developer can use,” said Kareem Choudhry, the corporate vice president for the Microsoft Gaming Cloud. “We view this as a journey that we are just beginning.” It’s worth noting that developers can pick and choose which of the services they want to use. While Azure is part of Game Stack, for example, the overall stack is cloud and device agnostic. Undoubtedly, though, Microsoft hopes that developers will adopt Azure as their preferred cloud. These days, after all, most games feature some online component, even if they aren’t multiplayer games, and developers need a place to store player credentials, telemetry data and other info. One of the core components of Game Stack is , a backend service for building cloud-connected games, which now falls under the Azure family. Microsoft the service early last year and it’s worth noting that it supports all major gaming platforms, ranging from the Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch to iOS, Android, PC and web. With today’s announcement, Microsoft is launching a number of new PlayFab services, too. These include PlayFab Matchmaking, a matchmaking service the company adapted from Xbox Live matchmaking, but that’s now available to all developers and on all devices. This service is now in public preview. In private preview are PlayFab Party, a voice and chat service (also modeled after Xbox Party Chat), PlayFab Game insights for real-time game telemetry, PlayFab Pub Sub for pushing content updates, notifications and more to the game client, and PlayFab User Generated Content for allowing players to safely share content with each other. So while Game Stack may feel more like a branding exercise, it’s clear that PlayFab is where Microsoft is really putting its money as it’s competing with and , both of which have recently put a lot of emphasis on game developers, too. In addition to these announcements, Microsoft also today said that it is bringing an SDK for Xbox Live to iOS and Android devices so developers can integrate that service’s identity and community services into their games on those platforms, too.
Among the growing field of indie games, one truly stands alone: . The unbelievably rich and complex and legendarily user-unfriendly title has been a free staple of awe and frustration for years. But the developers, in a huge shift to the status quo, have announced that the game will not only soon have a paid version on Steam — it’ll have… graphics. It may be hard for anyone who isn’t already familiar with the game and community to understand how momentous this is. In the decade and a half this game has been in active, continuous development, perhaps the only thing that hasn’t changed about the game is that it is a maze for the eyes, a mess of alphanumerics and ASCII-based art approximating barrels, dwarves, goblins, and dozens of kinds of stone. You know in The Matrix where they show how the world is made up of a bunch of essentially text characters? It’s basically that, except way more confusing. But you get a feel for it after a few years. So when developers Tarn and Zach Adams announced on their Patreon account that they were planning on ditching the ASCII for actual sprites in a paid premium version of the game to be and indie marketplace .. minds were blown. Of all the changes Dwarf Fortress has undergone, this is likely the most surprising. Here are a few screenshots compared with the old ASCII graphics: [gallery ids="1796812,1796815,1796811,1796818,1796814,1796819,1796816,1796817"] Not that you couldn’t get graphics in other ways — gamers aren’t that masochistic. There are “tile packs” available in a variety of sizes and styles that any player can apply to the game to make it easier to follow; in fact, the creators of two popular tilesets, and , were tapped to help make the “official” one, which by the way looks nice. (maker of the lovely ) is helping out as well. There are plenty of other little mods and improvements made by dedicated players. Many of those will likely be ported over to Workshop and made a cinch to install — another bonus for paying players. Now, I should note that I in no way find this bothersome. I support Tarn and Zach in whatever they choose to do, and at any rate the original ASCII version will always be free. But what does disturb me is the reason they are doing this. : We don’t talk about this much, but for many years, Zach has been on expensive medication, which has fortunately been covered by his healthcare. It’s a source of constant concern, as the plan has changed a few times and as the political environment has shifted. We have other family health risks, and as we get older, the precariousness of our situation increases; after Zach’s latest cancer scare, we determined that with my healthcare plan’s copay etc., I’d be wiped out if I had to undergo the same procedures. That said, crowdfunding is by far our main source of income and the reason we’re still here. Your support is still crucial, as the Steam release may or may not bring us the added stability we’re seeking now and it’s some months away. It’s sad as hell to hear that a pair of developers whose game is as well-loved as this, and who are making a modest sum via Patreon can still be frightened of sudden bankruptcy on account of a chronic medical condition. This isn’t the place for a political debate, but one would hope that the creators of what amounts to a successful small business like this would not have to worry about such things in the richest country in the world. That said, they seem comfortable with the move to real graphics and the addition of a more traditional income stream, so the community (myself included) will no doubt see the sunny side of this and continue to support the game in its new form.
(Microsoft Photo) Microsoft is adding Minecraft to the subscription service in the latest example of . Minecraft, the popular game with 91 million players that Microsoft acquired for $2.5 billion in 2014, will be available on Xbox Game Pass on April 4. Microsoft first launched Xbox Game Pass this past June, charging gamers $9.99 per month ($1 for the first month) in exchange for access to download more than 100 Xbox One and Xbox 360 games. In January it expanded the program to include first-party Xbox-exclusive titles like Halo, Forza, Gears of War, and others. Sony has its own similar program called , which streams more than 750 PS4 and PS3 games, including exclusive titles, to users for $100 per year. to learn more about the future of Microsoft’s gaming arm. The company is plowing resources into developing a streaming service powered by its cloud computing technology. Microsoft aims to let people play its games not just on Xbox devices and Windows PCs, but also smartphones and tablets, and eventually, rival consoles. Microsoft also today that Halo: The Master Chief Collection is coming to PC and Halo: Reach will be added to the collection. Microsoft is working on the newest Halo game, called Halo Infinite, but does not have a release date. Microsoft is also .
(GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy) Credible rumors that Microsoft was working on a new, digital-media-only edition of its Xbox One video game console, without a disc drive. This past week, that the project, code-named Maverick, may be in stores as soon as this coming May, as the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition. The new Xbox would be entirely reliant upon Internet access and digital licenses for its software, which would further incentivize customers to subscribe to Microsoft services such as its Game Pass. This is in addition to the second rumored Microsoft project, “,” which is designed to work with Microsoft’s planned game streaming service. This marks another step towards Microsoft’s continued embrace of the concept of its video game division as a service provider, alongside subscription services such as . That, in turn, seems to paint a picture of Microsoft’s current console strategy as working to disrupt the market entirely. Rather than focus on the more traditional route — focusing heavily on must-have games that are exclusive to their platform, thus giving a consumer several specific reasons to own an Xbox over a Switch or PlayStation 4 — Microsoft has been steadily chipping away at several of the accepted pretexts of what a video game console actually is. This has the potential to trigger a lot of knock-on effects. Between the current age of individual games becoming service platforms all by themselves, such as Fortnite or Warframe, and the continuing rise in popularity of digital media across all platforms, physical media has consistently made up less of a share of gaming revenue over the last couple of years. (Reliable market statistics for video game sales are notoriously hard to come by, since companies rarely divulge their internal data, but when they do, there’s towards digital sales matching or exceeding physical media.) While overall revenues , major brick-and-mortar retailers like GameStop are . The original start of the movement towards downloadable content (DLC) in the console market was due to companies like GameStop in the first place, who realized record profits in the 1990s and 2000s by capitalizing on the used-games market. Since DLC can’t be traded in for store credit or lent to a friend, it became standard industry practice to include at least some cosmetic extras as a digital bonus for a physical disc, because that way, a company is at least making some money off of the sale of a used game. With a digital-only Xbox, which is rumored to be shipping at a significantly cheaper retail price than the current Xbox One S, Microsoft is moving towards bringing in a brand-new audience, all of which is paying Microsoft directly. It also puts Microsoft in a role more akin to Netflix or Hulu than a traditional video game manufacturer, complete with a rotating month-by-month lineup via its Game Pass. At this point, it’s too early to say whether this will end up as an optional quirk that’s unique to the Xbox line or a genuinely disruptive influence in the market. As of right now, Microsoft’s primary competitors in the console space, Sony and Nintendo, are doing fine with their adherence to the current model. Sony in particular rode the sales of last year’s PS4 exclusive Spider-Man to a new milestone, marking nearly as of January of 2019. That’s roughly , although Microsoft’s recent decision to does a lot to change that math. There are also a lot of intangibles that may prevent this move from being successful. In the American market, the evolving debate over net neutrality could play a role, as many modern video games clock in at a few dozen gigabytes of data, and rural customers who already won’t find anything exciting about a digital-only Xbox. As the market continues to evolve towards a greater acceptance of games as a service, however, it may be a solid bet to have a console platform that’s pre-positioned as a cheap method of entry for those services.
“Fresh Prince” star Alfonso Ribeiro has dropped his lawsuit against Fortnite creator Epic Games for using without his permission his “Carlton” dance as an emote in the popular game. According to documents filed in an LA court, Ribeiro voluntarily dismissed the suit. He had already dropped a suit against Take-Two Interactive similarly related to his dance. Last month, Ribeiro was denied a copyright for his dance by federal officials, which seemed to put the nail in the coffin for his lawsuit. The “Carlton” dance seems to be pretty immediately recognizable for its dorky arm-swinging maneuver, but that didn’t cut it for copyright officials. In the U.S. Copyright Office’s statement denying Ribeiro’s copyright claim, their detailed that his copyright was being refused because the work was a “simple dance routine” and thus wasn’t registrable as a choreographic work. On one hand, original creative expression should always incentivize creators to keep pushing boundaries. On the other hand, singular dance moves are a bit of an annoying thing to copyright, though I still certainly understand the sentiment. Perhaps it’s for the best that future copyright trolls will have one less arena in which to file suit.