‘Minecraft’ Data Mining Reveals Players’ Darkest Secrets

Since Minecraft was first released in 2009, players have been building their own virtual worlds, erecting countless, giant statues of Pikachu and posting semi-obnoxious Let’s Play videos on YouTube. You’d think that by now, we would have seen everything Minecraft has to offer, but some of the game’s most personal, heartfelt, and tragic stories remain buried on dead servers.

Minecraft player Matt B., whose Reddit username is “worldseed,” is data-mining old servers in search of players’ darkest secrets. (He spoke to us anonymously, saying that he preferred to keep his online and offline identities separate.) Matt wrote two programs in Java: BookReader.jar and SignReader.jar. These applications scan a Minecraft map for every book and sign left behind by players. They then dump all these messages into a text file that Matt can search for terms like “treasure.” Each log entry contains the exact in-game coordinates of the written document.

A few days ago, he founded the MinecraftDataMining subreddit and, so far, has enlisted around 30 volunteers in his efforts to dig up love letters, diaries, and bad high school poetry.

“A lot of the material is just cute little slice of life things,” Matt told Motherboard over Discord. “But it can be kind of depressing.”

Minecraft players can write anything they want on in-game books and signs. As expected, many of these notes are related to things players do in the game. There are recipes for healing potions and written notices that one player has intruded upon another player’s property. But occasionally Matt stumbles across something remarkable.

Discoveries range from the utterly bizarre, like the diary written from the perspective of a chicken found buried underground, to discarded documents of loneliness and grief. In one instance, Matt found what appears to be a player’s suicidal thoughts in a cave hidden below a house on a server that has been closed for five years.

“If I kill myself tonight: the stars will still disappear,” one of the signs read. “The sun will still come up, the Earth would still rotate, the seasons would change…”

Another data mined sign led to what appears to be a memorial of a friend of a player who passed away. Matt was able to use the information from the monument to locate the person’s obituary. “RIP Charlie,” the signs read. “Student, Gamer, Friend…No one here knew him, but I will never forget.”

Not all the signs are so somber. One series tells the story of a missed connection. A player has stopped playing the game, only to return to find their online friend now away.

“I don’t think you guys are ever coming back… ~kat 11/10/15,” the sign reads.

“Hey, it’s Zmoney. Yeah. we’ve all stopped playing Minecraft :/,” another sign replies.

Matt’s data-mining efforts were inspired by an unsolved mystery from his days treasure-hunting in Minecraft. Around 2011, a player reportedly hid a treasure chest containing 64 diamonds somewhere on the Aperture Games Minecraft Server. But the chest never turned up, and the lore of unclaimed loot lingered in the back of his mind for the next seven years.

In hopes of finding the missing jewels, Matt wrote the two programs in Java.

When he went to the chest, someone had already raided it. Though half of the diamonds were gone, he had found something more valuable: all the written communication that remained on the server.

Minecraft is enormous, with each game map covering a surface area of four billion square kilometers. Because of the map’s sheer size, the majority of these correspondences might never have come to light otherwise. Matt said the excavation of a server can net anywhere from 20,000 to 450,000 written documents in the form of books and signs.

To pinpoint unconventional signage, Matt uses keyword searches for provocative terms such as “If you are reading this,” “Hate myself,” and “RIP.” If something catches his eye, he opens the server map and has a look around.

“I don’t mean to gawk or anything,” said Matt. “But if I hadn’t found this stuff, nobody would’ve ever seen it again.”

‘Minecraft’ Data Mining Reveals Players’ Darkest Secrets

Elon Musk shows off Falcon Heavy’s Roadster-loving artificial astronaut

Elon Musk is in Florida getting ready for the launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, the first-ever flight of the big new space freight beast. He’s making some final inspections of the cargo, it seems, including a new addition to the cherry red Tesla Roadster that’s going to be on board in the cargo area atop the rocket.

Said new addition is a dummy wearing one of SpaceX’s swanky new astronaut uniforms. Musk’s so-called “Starman” evokes the David Bowie tune that’s going to be playing on the Roadster when it’s launched, hopefully all the way up to space, during Falcon Heavy’s initial test mission on Tuesday at 1:30 PM ET.

SpaceX’s cargo for this one is easily among the most fun things ever put into space, and it’s both symbolic of how this helps Musk achieve his larger mission of reducing human ecological footprint on earth, while simultaneously making sure we can spread our wings and become a truly interplanetary species when the time comes, too.

We’re actually also in Cape Canaveral to witness and report on the historic launch, so stay tuned this week for updates as we near the momentous first journey of this gigantic orbital rocket.

Elon Musk shows off Falcon Heavy’s Roadster-loving artificial astronaut

The tiny, 4K Mavic Air crushes other DJI drones

Every consumer product goes through three stages of life. It’s invented; it’s improved and adjusted; and, finally, it becomes a commodity. There’s not a lot of innovation anymore in microwave ovens, ceiling fans, or toilets — they’ve pretty much stopped morphing. They’ve reached the third stage, their ultimate incarnations.

Drones, love ‘em or hate ‘em, are still in the second stage: They’re rapidly changing direction, gaining features, finding out what they want to be. It’s an exciting period in this category’s life, because new models come out fast, each better and more interesting than the last.

For proof, just look at the Chinese company DJI, the 800-pound gorilla of drones. It releases a new drone or two every single year.

They’ve just introduced a drone called the Mavic Air ($800). It’s so small and smart, it makes you wonder why anyone would buy the 2016 Mavic Pro, which costs $200 more — but it’s not what you’d call perfect.

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The new Mavic Pro is incredibly tiny, stable, and lightweight.

Meet the Air

The 15-ounce Mavic Air is small — and that’s huge. It folds up for travel: its four arms collapse against the body to make the whole thing small enough to fit into a coat pocket, about 6.5 inches by 3.5 inches by 2 inches. (The top two arms swing horizontally, as you’d expect. The bottom two, though, are hinged in two dimensions: They fold downward and inward, and you have to remember to do those before you do the upper arms. You’ll figure it out.)

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The Mavic Air’s arms fold up.

Of course, there are plenty of small drones — but not in this league. The Mavic Air, for example, can capture gorgeous 4K video. And its camera is on a three-axis gimbal for stabilization; the video looks like it was shot from a tripod even when the drone was being buffeted by 20 mph winds, as you can see in the video above.

The box includes the drone, a remote control (it uses your smartphone as its screen), a battery, a charger, a set of propeller guards for indoor flying, and a spare set of propellers (in crashes, they’re the first to go).

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The Mavic Air comes with four propeller guards for indoor flight, 1 battery, a case, spare propellers and a charger.

The Mavic Air is also smarter than any sub-$1,000 drone DJI has ever made. It has depth-sensing cameras on three sides — forward, down, and backward (that’s new) — so that it can avoid collisions automatically in those directions.

Like most drones, this one has an automatic Return to Home feature that kicks in whenever the battery is getting low or if it loses the signal with the remote control. (You can also call it home with one button press whenever you’re just feeling anxious.) Thanks to the cameras underneath, this thing lands exactly where it took off — within a few inches.

The competitive landscape

The Mavic Air’s primary competition comes from two other DJI drones. Here’s the rundown:

  • Mavic Pro (2016 model, $1,000). Twice the size of the Air. Folding arms. 4K video. “27 minutes” of flight per charge (in the real world, 22 minutes). Front and bottom collision avoidance. Remote control included with built-in screen (no phone necessary). Very few palm control gestures (see below).
  • Mavic Air (2018 model, $800 — the new one). Folds up. 4K video. “21 minutes” per charge (more like 18). Front, bottom, and back collision avoidance. Remote control folds up tiny — even the joysticks unscrew and store inside the body, for even smaller packing. Has the most palm gestures of the three drones — and the most reliable palm gestures. 8 GB of internal storage for video and stills, so you can still record if you don’t have a micro SD card on you. Another $200 buys you a “Fly More” kit that includes two extra batteries, an ingenious folding four-battery charger, and even more spare props.
  • Spark (2017 model, $400). The smallest body of all, but its arms don’t fold, so it winds up being bigger for travel. 1080p video. “18 minutes” per charge (more like 11). Front and bottom collision avoidance. Remote control is an extra purchase ($120); uses your phone as a screen. Responds to hand gestures, but not reliably.

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The Spark may look smaller than the Mavic Air, but remember that it doesn’t fold up.

True, the Mavic Pro gets a little more flight per battery. And there’s an even more expensive model, the $1,100 Mavic Pro Platinum, that gets “30” minutes per charge.

(Do those seem like incredibly short flights? Yup. But that’s drones for you. As it is, a modern drone is basically a flying frame designed to haul its own battery around.)

But in my book, the Air’s tiny size is far more important than the marginally greater battery life. As the old saying doesn’t go, “The best drone is the drone you have with you.”

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Only the front “arms” have landing gear (the white thing), which fold up for travel.

In-flight entertainment

You can fly the Mavic Air in three ways.

First, you can use the included remote control. If you insert your smartphone into its grippers and connect the little cord, you get a number of perks — like actual joysticks, which make the drone much easier to fly than using the phone alone. The remote also has a dial at the outer corner for adjusting the camera’s tilt in flight, as well as a switch for Sport mode, which unlocks the drone’s top speed of 42 mph (by turning off the obstacle-avoidance features).

The remote also gives the drone a much greater range. It uses a Wi-Fi connection to the drone, instead of the proprietary radio connection of the Mavic Pro. DJI says that still gives you 2.4 miles of range, but I say baloney; even in the middle of the Texas desert, you’ll be lucky to get half that distance. It doesn’t really matter, though, since Federal Aviation Administration rules say you can’t fly a drone out of sight. (Speaking of the FAA: You don’t need a license to fly the Mavic Air as a hobby, but you do need to register the drone itself. And if you intend to fly it professionally — this means you, wedding videographers, filmmakers, construction firms, realtors, police, and farmers — you have to get permission from the FAA.)

The second way to fly the drone is using your smartphone. It works, but you get a much shorter range (about 250 feet), and it’s harder; DJI’s app has become one super-crowded, complex piece of software.

The third way: using hand gestures. The drone must be facing you at all times, and it has to remain pretty close to you, so this trick is primarily useful for positioning it for “dronies” (selfies from the air). Keep in mind that you also need the phone app with you, though, to turn on the palm-control mode.

You stand with your arm out, palm forward, in a “Stop! In the name of love!” pose. Now, you can “drag” your hand up, down, or around you; the drone follows as though connected to your palm by a magnet. It’s the next best thing to The Force.

New, two-handed gestures let you push the drone farther away or pull it closer to you. And you can now make the drone land by pointing your palm toward the ground and waiting.

In the previous model, the Spark, those palm gestures were super iffy; sometimes they worked, sometimes not. The Mavic Air makes them far more reliable, although I never got the new “take off from the ground” gesture working.

As in other DJI drones, the Mavic Air can follow you as you ski, bike, drive, or run (it tracks you optically — you don’t have to have the remote control on you). Unlike earlier ones, this one doesn’t just hover when it encounters an obstacle; it actually attempts to fly around the obstacle and keep going.

How’s it look?

“4K” may be a buzzword, but it doesn’t automatically mean “great picture”; it could refer to 4,000 pixels’ worth of ugly blotch.

The Mavic Air contains the same tiny camera sensor as the Spark and the Mavic Pro. The footage and stills generally look terrific — anything shot from the air is automatically kind of stunning, and the Air uses more data (100 Mbps) to record data than the Pro does.

Unfortunately, this sensor is still fairly disastrous when it comes to dynamic range. That is, it tends to “blow out” bright areas and “muddy up” dark areas. Alas, those are things you get a lot of when you’re shooting from the sky.

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The Mavic Air’s footage is often marred by blown-out highlights (sun, left) and goopy, murky shadows (people, right).

The Air can also do half-speed slow motion (in 1080p, not 4K), and take high-dynamic range photos (not videos).

All of these drones offer preprogrammed flight patterns, called QuickShots, that make great 10-second videos, incorporating flight maneuvers and camera operations that would be incredibly difficult to do yourself.

For example, the one called Circle makes the drone fly around you, keeping the camera pointed toward you the whole time; Helix makes the drone spiral out and away from you; and so on. There are two new ones: Boomerang flies a grand oval around you, up/out and back. Asteroid combines a flight up and away, with a spherical panorama. On playback, the video is reversed, so that it seems to start with a whole planet earth viewed from space, as the camera rushes down toward you. Here, have a look.

But it’s small

Like all drones in this price range, the Mavic Air is complicated and sometimes frustrating. It does a lot of beeping at you, it’s still full of options that are “not available now” for one reason or another, and it still doesn’t come with a printed instruction manual.

And yeah, someday, we’ll look back and laugh at an $800 drone that flies for only 18 minutes.

But you can’t buy a dream drone that doesn’t exist. And among the ones that do, the Mavic Air is ingeniously designed, impressively rugged, and incredibly small. Its features beat the cheaper DJI Spark in every category — and even the more expensive Mavic Pro in almost every category.

In other words, if you’re the kind of person considering a drone, the Mavic Air strikes a new sweet spot on the great spectrum of drones, somewhere between beginner and pro, between tiny and luggage-sized, between cheap and pricey. Invest as much time learning it as you’ve invested in buying it, and you’ll be flying high.

The tiny, 4K Mavic Air crushes other DJI drones

Casually prep for nuclear war with this Minecraft tour of the Russian and American fallout bunkers

Virtual tourism is a little heavy in 2018. Sure, you’ve seen the Minecraft Eiffel Tower and beamed aboard the Minecraft USS Enterprise, but have you considered where you might wait out the end of days? Well, not you exactly, but people more important than you.

To draw attention to the escalating threat of global nuclear annihilation, the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), which works to “prevent catastrophic attacks with weapons of mass destruction and disruption—nuclear, biological, radiological, chemical and cyber,” has partnered with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies to craft a virtual tour of the nuclear fallout facilities that Russian and/or American leadership will be whisked into in the event of nuclear war.

The team has really outdone itself with the Fallout-esque teaser video.

As NTI explains:

Nothing better illustrates the continuing absurdity of plans to fight a nuclear war than the massive complex of underground bunkers that the United States and Russia have built to survive and fight on even after both societies have collapsed. To help explain the scale of these facilities, we have reconstructed two, Site R in rural Pennsylvania (also known as Raven Rock) and the Kosvinsky underground command facility in Russia, roughly to scale using the popular immersive gaming platform Minecraft.

For anyone with the game, you can fire up a multiplayer instance of Minecraft, select “direct connect” and put in server address 185.38.151.31:25566 to visit Raven Rock, the underground makeshift Pentagon located near Camp David, or 185.38.151.2:25566 to tool around Kosvinsky, “a survivable command post” that serves as Russia’s equivalent. NTI cautions that it only lets zombies out on the weekends.

For anyone without Minecraft, you can take an in-browser virtual tour on NTI’s post about the project, which is also chock full of interesting nuclear bunker facts that put the existence of such underground facilities in an appropriately dark context. The tour is much clunkier outside the game, but the Minecraft experience actually looks pretty cool in that eerie we-definitely-won’t-survive-but-these-people-probably-will way.

Casually prep for nuclear war with this Minecraft tour of the Russian and American fallout bunkers

Minecraft had 74 million active players in December, a new record for the game

We’ve all been very impressed by the numbers that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite have been putting up in the past few months. PUBG is regularly pulling in three million concurrent players and more than 25 million people own it on Steam, while Epic’s action game has 40 million players, and recently passed the 2 million concurrent player barrier. But there’s a game that’s outstripping them both: Minecraft.

New head of Minecraft Helen Chiang has revealed that the game had 74 million active users in December—the most in a month since it released nearly nine years ago. In total, more than 144 million copies of the game have been sold. “We just recently set a new record in December for monthly active users, so now we’re at 74 million monthly active users—and that’s really a testament to people coming back to the game, whether it’s through the game updates or bringing in new players from across the world,” she told PopSugar.

Now, we don’t know how many of those are on PC. Minecraft is on every major console, as well as on tablets and phones, so it’s not a fair fight. But still, 74 million active players is a hell of a lot. Combining PUBG’s PC and Xbox One sales figures gets you to about 30 million. And that’s total owners, not active players (granted, Minecraft has been out for many years longer, and at the current rate PUBG is going to get there eventually).

I’ve heard a lot of people frustrated with the lack of meaningful updates to the game recently, which is a fair criticism. 2018 does look like a fairly big year for it, though, starting with a beefy ocean update coming in Spring.

What would you like to see change in Minecraft?

Minecraft had 74 million active players in December, a new record for the game

Mojang will talk about 2018 Minecraft updates at the PC Gamer Weekender

Minecraft developer Mojang will join us on-stage at the PC Gamer Weekender to discuss future updates for the game, as well as offering insight into how features for the game are conceived and developed. The studio’s lead creative designer Jens Bergensten will present at 16.00 on Sunday, 18 February at the Olympia in London. Come along, and learn more about what they’ve got in store for 2018.

Minecraft, of course, just had its biggest active month ever with 74 million users. Hell, you know what it is. This is a great opportunity to go behind-the-scenes with the developer, and while you’re at the Weekender, you can check out many more speakers, games and booths.  Tickets are available now from £12.99, and you can save an extra 20% with the voucher code PC-GAMER20.

Mojang will talk about 2018 Minecraft updates at the PC Gamer Weekender

Minecraft Developer’s Scrolls Will Finally Shut Down Next Week

Minecraft developer Mojang announced that its tactical card game Scrolls would be shutting down on Tuesday, February 13.

Released at the end of 2014, Mojang revealed they would stop development of the game way back in June of 2015. They committed to keeping the servers running until at least July of 2016, though they’ve clearly lasted much longer than that.

As part of the announcement, Mojang also revealed that they are working to make the Scrolls server software public, allowing the community to host their own servers and continue playing online. They said they can’t guarantee this will happen, but that they have “high hopes that we’ll be able to do this in the next few weeks or months.”

As a final goodbye, a community tournament will be held on February 11. Additionally, Mojang developers will be online playing Scrolls with its players on February 9.

Minecraft Developer’s Scrolls Will Finally Shut Down Next Week

King High School teacher prepares students for the future with ‘Minecraft’

As technology offers students more access to the digital world, teachers have to start thinking outside the box on how to prepare their students for the future.

King High School teacher Katherine Hewett is doing just that, but using an unorthodox but futuristic method.

“I use the game Minecraft to teach my students about 21st century skills,” she said.

That’s right, Hewett is using video games in the classroom, and it’s not as crazy as some may think.

“About five years ago, I was having conversations with my students about video games,” said Hewett, who is a career and technical education teacher at King. “I was listening to them tell me about how video games impacted their learning and as a teacher, this was an awakening. I realized kids were receiving an alternate education when they got home.”

Hewett said she started to ask herself questions about who was teaching and mentoring these students when they entered these virtual worlds.

“I was wondering why weren’t adults, teachers, not taking more of an interest and using this is as a tool?” She said.” Why weren’t they in those worlds with them?”

That was when Hewett decided she was going to integrate to virtual reality.

Her goal? To teach the students design, coding, programming and visual media so that they are prepared for the future.

And Minecraft came on to the market, Hewett knew she had a chance to make this dream a reality.

“Here was a VR space that visually looks like Legos and had sandbox features to build, create and design 3-D worlds,” she said. “I approached the administration about it and when I suggested it to them, they were all in! I remember, when we ordered the licenses they told us we were 1 in 700 in the country that integrated the game into a class.”

Since Hewett started the course in 2013, she has had students find careers in the information technology field working for big data companies or working on virtual reality projects of their own.

Hewett said the class starts with a theme topic.

“Each class agrees on a topic where they then start researching and begin replicating the build in Minecraft,” she said. “Students collaborate and communicate to create a really large size 3-D model.”

This year’s classes have different worlds as the game is integrated into all of Hewett’s classes. Some class periods are designing fantasy worlds like Mario World and Tron whereas others are replicating real life places like Alcatraz Prison and the Winchester Mansion.

Sophomore Brendan Fuller said taking  the animated course will open doors for him in the future.

“I’ve always been great with technology, but taking this course has definitely taught me a thing or two about animation,” Fuller said. “I want to use these skills one day when I become an architectural engineer. Learning how to create 3-D models now will benefit me greatly.”

Hewett said “Minecraft” has not just changed her students lives but hers as well.

The King High School teacher said as she was working on her doctorate, she focused her dissertation on her class. Now, her research on the “21st Century Classroom Gamer” has been accepted into the international journal “Games and Culture.”

“This course is everything,” she said. “I’ve learned so much with my students immersing myself into this gaming culture.”

Hewett said the animation course is a first step. She plans to take the next step with virtual reality soon.

“We don’t know what the jobs will be in the next five to 10 years,” she said. “So I’m trying to teach them all the 21st century skills they need to prepare them for jobs that don’t even exist yet.”

King High School teacher prepares students for the future with ‘Minecraft’

Dragon Quest Builders Nintendo Switch REVIEW: Minecraft meets Zelda RPG is no bad thing

While we’re not shy in admitting to never going big on Minecraft, a game that has such a huge following but one that just didn’t grab us, the idea of merging Dragon Quest with some building mechanics piqued our interest when it first launched back in 2016

Some years later and with the launch of Nintendo’s Switch, what better platform to port this RPG-Builder to and explore it for the first time. Especially as Dragon Quest is one JRPG that holds a bright candle in our hearts.

Set after the events of the original Dragon Quest, Builders takes us through an alternate timeline in the long since destroyed Alefgard in which the few left no longer have the ability to build or create.

A simple enough premise giving you enough of a jumping off point to begin your immersion into the world but one which requires essentially no prior knowledge of the previous entries to understand or even fall in love with the games style, enemies and overall shot of nostalgia with its classic Zelda feels.

After a fairly thorough tutorial, giving you all the know how you need to get building, from full on structures to surviving in the harsh wilderness of Alefgard (hot tip, don’t stray too far from a light source when the night falls) Dragon Quest Builders takes the training wheels off and leaves you to build as you see fit.

Thankfully building is simple enough to understand but expansive enough for you to let your imagination run away with you, creating towns of your own.

It’s a hugely satisfying experience, especially when your creations can be built, upgraded and even taken down again with simple commands that feel natural to control.

There are story-based mission of course, as towns folk will need a hand from time to time building anything from simple bedrooms to bathhouses and even wandering the more dangerous parts of the world in search of precious materials and possible new towns-folk.

Simplicity is at the games core though as combat is just as easy to adopt as the main building mechanic, opting for a classic Zelda-esque real-time combat system which is much pacier than the series turn based combat and fits extremely well with the over feel of this iteration.

And while the world here may seem a little different for experienced Dragon Quest fans there are plenty of familiar monsters to deal with; from metal-slime to golems, which appear the further, you delve into the wilderness. Each dropping crucial building materials.

Exploring while treacherous is seldom a waste of time, as all areas of the world from it’s deserts to it’s forests have plenty of secrets to distract you and give you yet another reason to stray from your quest and sink some more time into.

Dragon Quest Builders (Nintendo Switch)

£34.99 £34.99

Perhaps the most interesting aspect we found, however, was the many sieges you’ll encounter once you’ve progressed a little further into your adventure.

As an array of the games nasty’s tear towards all four walls of your towns, you’ll need to prepare barriers and automated defences to survive the onslaught.

These miniaturised tower defence moments are fun and challenging without entering into hair pulling territory.

When you factor in the games free build mode, allowing you to simply create to your hearts content minus the enemy onslaughts and limited supplies, then it shows how

Dragon Quest Builders is a big game disguised in a simple package, and one that fits perfectly with the Switch.

We found ourselves constantly dipping in and out on train journeys before docking at home for longer sessions, delightfully hooked on the games world and that niggling need to spend 5 more minutes building the next addition to our towns.

Whether you’re new to Dragon Quest or this style of creation based game, you’re sure to be fully enthralled.

THE VERDICT – 4/5

THE GOOD
• Simple but addictive building system
• Great soundtrack
• Familiar Monsters
• Nostalgic feel and aesthetic

THE BAD
• No multiplayer

Dragon Quest Builders Nintendo Switch REVIEW: Minecraft meets Zelda RPG is no bad thing

Minecraft enthusiasts, novices unite

Though Philadelphia resident Gabe Young doesn’t have enough hours in the day to explain all of the twists and turns players of the video game Minecraft can take, this weekend he and a team of gaming enthusiasts will attempt to share what makes the game truly unique with Peninsula residents.

With opportunities to experience the game in virtual reality, live entertainment on four stages and several young gamers sharing tips and tricks with fans of the game, Minefaire, the event Young is coordinating at the San Mateo County Event Center this Saturday and Sunday, is set to immerse players of all ages and ability levels in a game that’s captivated the minds of many.

By gathering resources and building structures like staircases, mazes and amusement parks in the game, Minecraft players can create their own worlds and solve problems in creative ways, said Young. In giving players the option to work with or compete against others and code within the game to create maps of new worlds, Minecraft offers players a seemingly boundless environment to explore, said Young.

“Basically there’s no limit to what you can do with Minecraft,” he said. “Your only limitation is your imagination.”

And perhaps that’s why so many kids have been drawn to the game since it was released in 2011, drawing anywhere between 10,000 to 15,000 people to the five Minefaires Young and event cofounder Chad Collins have pulled off since they started convening enthusiasts in 2016.

Young said he enjoys seeing players, many of whom are accustomed to playing on their own, come alive when they meet others as bullish on the game as they are. Though the events are aimed at attracting all ages, Young said kids ages 6 to 12 have come to enjoy meeting peers and discovering new ways to approach the game. Getting the chance to meet other youth who have made a name for themselves on YouTube as experts in the game is as exciting as it’s been for generations of kids to meet star athletes and celebrities, said Young.

“These kids they see these YouTubers as their A listers in a way that we can’t imagine,” he said. “It gives a lot of these kids the motivation and the energy to keep going.”

Though Young and Collins have experience convening kids at events like a Lego convention, Young said it wasn’t until they saw their own children playing the game that they saw how captivating it was and decided to focus their energy in planning Minecraft events.

“We were blown away with how much we’re learning by watching [them] learn,” he said. “There’s a lot of things happening in these little brains.”

A go-to activity for his four kids before dinner, Young said he’s realized how much the game is teaching them about topics like agriculture, history, geology and architecture, all without their feeling like they are being taught. And he’s hoping the same understanding spreads among parents in the 11 cities expected to play host to Minefaire this year.

Young’s advice to other parents attending the event with their kids is to be open to experiences they might not have had as kids and let them teach them about a game they’ve spent hours exploring.

“These kids are going to grab their parents by the hand and say look what I’m doing,” he said. “Now they’re going to have a better idea of how to guide their kids.”

Minefaire will be held 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 10 and 11 at the San Mateo County Event Center, 1346 Saratoga Drive. Visit minefaire.com for more information and to purchase tickets, which start at $45 and are free for children age 2 and under.

Minecraft enthusiasts, novices unite

Get Nintendo, Overwatch, and Minecraft 2018 Gaming Calendars for Only $4

Yes, we’re a week into February now and we have smartphones and whatnot in 2018, but awesome gaming calendars for only $3.74 each? You could literally mark your Nintendo calendar with all of the awesome Switch releases coming up this year. You can check out the full list of discounted calendars along with their official descriptions below.

The Legend of Zelda 2018 Wall Calendar – $3.74: Set off on an epic journey with our hero Link as he embarks on a series of quests to save the Hyrule Kingdom and Princess Zelda. The Legend of Zelda 2018 Calendar takes you into the action-packed adventure with colorful, iconic images from one of the bestselling Nintendo video games.

On a related note, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild The Complete Official Guide Expanded Edition is on sale for 40% with a release date of February 13th.

Super Mario 2018 Wall Calendar – $3.74: Join Mario on an incredible adventure as he navigates the world of the Mushroom Kingdom in this 16-month wall calendar. Featuring fan favorites including Luigi, Bowser, Toad, Princess Peach, and Yoshi, this calendar is sure to make 2018 a year of fun and games.

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Constructing Religious Worlds With Minecraft

Jeremy Smith wanted to talk about Jesus, so he picked up a shovel and headed out to build a tunnel.

A virtual shovel, that is. As both a Christian and a fan of the video game Minecraft, Smith has one foot in two different communities coming into contact more frequently in the fuzzy halls of cyberspace.

And, as a senior writer at the online ministry ChurchMag, Smith uses each of these communities to serve the other. He “vlogs” — creates online videos of himself playing Minecraft — while simultaneously explaining Christian ideology in a series titled “Minecraft Theology.”

“I wanted to look at some of the more basic stuff, some of the core competencies of Christianity,” he said in one of these videos as his Minecraft icon sped across a screen full of the chunky landscape Minecraft allows users to create and navigate via a computer mouse.

 “Part of the prayer process is admitting that you’ve sinned. If you are of the mindset that you are perfect, then you should probably just go ahead and turn this episode off because I got nothing for you,” he continued. “We have confession when we say ‘yes’ to Jesus and become saved.”

In the realm of video games, the 149 views Smith’s video has logged may be far from viral, but Minecraft is becoming what some video game makers hoped Christian-themed games like Catechumen and Adam’s Venture that failed to sell well would become — a tool for exploring and advancing religion among gamers.

“Because Minecraft is so open any player can design a world,” said Vincent Gonzalez, a scholar who did his doctoral dissertation on Christian video games. “And whenever things are open, religious people tend to use it to express themselves.”

Ithaca College professor Rachel Wagner sees the use of video games like Minecraft as part of what she calls the “gamification” not only of religion, but of the world. She says religions and video games have several things in common — rules, rituals, and a bend toward order and structure.

“Even if they are ‘open’ in the sense of allowing players to construct entire worlds for themselves, as Minecraft does, games always offer spaces in which things make sense, where players have purpose and control,” she said. “For players who may feel that the real world is spinning out of control, games can offer a comforting sense of predictability. They can replace God for some in their ability to promise an ordered world.”

Minecraft is what techie types call a “sandbox” game: It has few rules, so players can dig in anywhere and build what they like. They build with virtual bricks — think digitized Legos — to create bulky buildings, plants, people, anything, in mostly primary colors.

There are Minecraft versions where players try to survive or go on adventures of their own devising. And there are versions where people — sometimes children, sometimes adults like Smith — construct homes, buildings, bridges, churches and other houses of worship.

Some Minecraft users even “build” their own religious icons. Using blocky “skins” — Minecraft lingo for a character — they create Jesuses, popes, priests, rabbis, angels, and more to populate Minecraft worlds everywhere.

But while Minecraft can be used by players of every religion, it seems to be most popular among Christians. Gonzalez, who catalogs religious video games at religiousgames.org, estimates there are about 1,500 religion-themed video games, of which two-thirds are Christian.

Take a peek at Planet Minecraft, a fan site where users can share their creations. It lists 716 “Jesuses” and about 1,000 Catholic priests, but only 58 Jewish rabbis. There is even a Minecraft Richard Dawkins for virtual atheists.

Certainly, not all Minecraft players use religious skins or the churches and other houses of worship they build for some spiritual purpose or for proselytizing. But how they use them is hard to pin down.

“No one’s pastor is telling them the best way to minister to people is to pretend to be Jesus in a Minecraft world,” Gonzalez said. “So the question of why people want to dress up as Jesus and go around in Minecraft is hard to say.”

Still, Minecraft and other computer and video games have become so closely aligned with religion in some circles that the American Academy of Religion created a scholars’ group dedicated to its study four years ago.

“For most people, their virtual lives are an extension of their real lives,” said Gregory Grieve, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro who has studied the two decades religious people have engaged in video games. “Among Christians it was a place for proselytizing and a place for meeting people they would not otherwise meet. People who are religious just see these games as an extension of their religious practice.”

Some build houses of worship — YouTube is rife with virtual tours of churches, cathedrals, synagogues, and mosques, both real and imaginary. Some build Noah’s Ark or Solomon’s Temple or their own versions of Jerusalem and other “Bible lands.”

The Australian digital design firm Islam Imagined encourages young users to build the “mosque of the future,” and Jewish educators are enlisting Minecraft to visualize Jewish history and culture for students.

Others users create faith-based Minecraft “servers” — private virtual enclaves where members agree to certain rules (no swearing is a common one) and play the game in a form of religious fellowship.

These groups recently became a meme — or joke spread rapidly among internet users — in which users sardonically responded to foul language by uttering different versions of: “Sorry sir, this is a Christian server. No swearing allowed!”

But Eric Dye, editor of ChurchMag, says its Christian-oriented Minecraft server is merely a reflection of how its users see, or want to see, the real world.

“We can build things in it, like themed cities, and there is actually a church,” he said. “It is not like we have church services or anything but it seemed something fun to have. It seemed fitting. That is why you see religion manifested in Minecraft — it is just an extension of people’s interests in what they create.”

Constructing Religious Worlds With Minecraft

Dragon Quest Builders for Switch review: Minecraft for less imaginative people

Chad Sapieha and his little reviewer-in-training came away with slightly different takes on Square Enix’s blocky crafting RPG

Dragon Quest Builders looks and feels a lot like Minecraft, but adds ingredients missing from Microsoft’s popular crafting game, including a story, missions, and plenty of guidance.Square Enix
I’ve long thought it fascinating that Minecraft, one of the most popular and financially successful games of this – or any – era, hasn’t spawned more clones or direct competition. Square Enix recognized this market gap back in 2016 and tried to fill it with Dragon Quest Builders, a game that combines the Japanese company’s expertise in role-playing with key elements – mining, crafting, and freeform building – liberally borrowed from Microsoft’s powerhouse kids property.The most interesting thing about Dragon Quest Builders isn’t what it takes from Minecraft but instead how it fills in some of the gaps that have existed since that game’s inception. Namely, storytelling, quests, and building guidance. As you explore the world you meet characters who provide lore, you’ll embark on objective-driven missions, and you’ll eventually build items and structures according to specific blueprints. As in Minecraft, you can still build whatever you like wherever you like, but the blueprints help move the story along and provide ideas for things you might want to build on your own.

These are all features I’ve long wished for in Minecraft. And seeing them implemented within the familiar world of Dragon Quest – a long-running series of Japanese role-playing games that I’ve played for decades – was a joy for me when I played the game on PlayStation 4. But it seemed like I wasn’t in the majority. The game had sold a little over a million copies worldwide, last I heard. That’s not terrible, but it’s just a tiny fraction of the more than 130 million copies of Minecraft that have been purchased by kids around the world.

Still, I thought maybe people just hadn’t given it a chance. So I let my 12-year-old kid – a long-time Minecraft devotee and lover of role-playing games – loose with the soon-to-be-released Nintendo Switch edition of Dragon Quest Builders thinking it was bound to become her new obsession. Turns out she’d rather be free to follow her imagination than locked into linear story and told what to do.

Here’s a transcript of the discussion we had after she’d been playing for a few days. It will serve as our review.

Me: I thought you’d have a great time with Dragon Quest Builders. It basically combines the mining, crafting, and building parts of Minecraft with a colourful Japanese RPG – one of your favourite kinds of games. What did you think of it?

Kid: Honestly, it isn’t my favourite. For a few reasons. At the start the problem was mostly controls. I just didn’t like how they were set up. That’s something I can eventually grow used to, but I also didn’t like how you couldn’t explore the whole world right from the start. The story kind of limits you to a specific area – an island – because of some “unseen force.” There are also some things about the inventory that I didn’t like. I had to go back to my chest to store stuff all the time. It’s definitely not an awful game, but it’s not my new favourite.

Interesting. The control problem you mentioned happens to me all the time. Having played games for decades, I expect certain types of games to have specific button schemes. When a developer tries something new – like, say, uses the top action button to jump rather than the bottom one – it can be frustrating. At least until I get used to them.

I’ve kind of grown used to the controls now, but I still get frustrated. This game uses the A-button to get to the menu, which makes no sense to me because it’s your primary button. I’m always pressing it thinking it should do something else. Or at least I was at the start. It’s gotten a little better.

Fair enough. Personally, I have to say that I like Dragon Quest Builders a bit more than Minecraft, mostly just because it has a story and objectives. Minecraft is great when it comes to creative freedom, but I can only build towers and castles for so long until I get kind of bored. It might just be a lack of imagination on my part, but I like to have missions and objectives. Dragon Quest Builders gives us that.

Well, I’d like it more if I could at least leave the island and do whatever I wanted to do. That way I’d have the choice. I could either do the story stuff, or I could go off and just do whatever I wanted to. Find more resources to build stuff. I guess I kind of get why they can’t let you do that – it’d be hard for the designers to tell a story that makes sense if you could go places you weren’t supposed to see until later on – but it’s what I want. Minecraft might not have a story, but I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. I think that’s more important to me.

I get you. And I’m the first to admit that the story in Dragon Quest Builders isn’t anything special. Standard fantasy stuff involving monsters and world saving. But it provides a reason and context for everything you do, which I like. I also like how we get blueprints for building certain buildings and objects. They provide a starting place and a seeding ground for ideas – kind of like a Lego kit with an instruction booklet. Afterward you can go crazy building anything you like, but that initial guidance is nice.

Yeah I really liked the blueprints, too. I thought it was a cool spin. Even in the Lego games you don’t really get blueprints you can build piece by piece, not even in Lego World where you’re free to build anything. I think that’s one of the best parts of Dragon Quest Builders. Something other people who make games like this might want to copy.

Another thing I liked was how this game handles crafting. Once you have what you need for a complex object, you can just build it, instantly. That’s smart. When it comes to crafting, how and where in the world you choose to place what you’ve made is the fun part, not sorting through your inventory to pick out all the pieces you need.

Yeah, the designing is definitely the fun part. But, in Minecraft‘s defence, in newer versions you can go into the settings and change it so that you don’t have to manually go through your inventory to make stuff like beds and doors.

How about the look and feel? I’d be lying if I said Minecraft‘s retro pixelated aesthetic hasn’t worn a little thin with me. Dragon Quest Builders keeps the blocky vibe, but adds more vibrancy and detail. It just feels like it has more character.

Yeah. I do like how it looks more than Minecraft. There are little details, like bits of grass on blocks, that make things a bit more realistic. And I like that the characters in this game are like little cartoon characters with more personality. Maybe it’s just because of how much I’ve played Minecraft, but sometimes it gives me a headache. I’ll go to sleep at night and close my eyes and just see its blocky graphics.

Does Dragon Quest Builders make you want to try other Dragon Quest games? Part of the reason for creative spinoffs like this is to get new people interested in the core series. Other Dragon Quests aren’t really like this one – they’re much more traditional JRPGs – but they contain similar elements, like monster types and the style of dialogue.

It makes me interested in them. But I don’t know if I ever would. I love role-playing games, but they take so much time. I think I’ve got too many to play already. And aren’t there, like, a dozen of them? That’s, like, hundreds and hundreds of hours. I could never catch up.

Good point. Final verdict?

I think you know I’m pretty generous with ratings, so keep that in mind. I think I’d probably give it like a seven or seven-and-a-half out of ten. The idea is really good, and the animation is cute, and even the story isn’t half bad – and you can kind of skip it if you don’t like it – but something about it just doesn’t really click for me the way it does in some of my favourite games. I’ll probably keep playing when I get tired of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or if I’m not online and can’t play Splatoon2, but there are other games I’d rather play.

I like to think I’m not quite as generous as you are with scores, but I’d give it a seven-and-a-half or even an eight. I actually think older players will like it more than kids, both because of the name – there are lots of grown-ups out there who grew up with Dragon Quest – and the guided elements. Problem is, it’s clearly targeted at kids, who, like you, might want a little more freedom and fewer limitations. I guess it’s a good little game that’s maybe stuck between audiences.

It’s true old people have no imagination. Every time you play Minecraft you just build big ugly towers into the sky made of random things and then jump off them into the water. Then you stop playing. And when we play Lego you’re just like Will Farrell in The Lego Movie, except you don’t have his hair or teeth. You just stick to the instructions and leave stuff built until it gets dusty. So, yeah, Dragon Quest Builders is probably about your speed.

Dragon Quest Builders for Switch review: Minecraft for less imaginative people

Dragon Quest Builders review – make the switch from Minecraft

One of the best alternatives to Minecraft comes to Nintendo Switch, with a charming spin-off that’s not just for existing fans.

It’s always seemed odd that no major publisher has ever tried to copy the success of Minecraft. There have been plenty of indie clones, but the only thing that’s come close from a traditional games company is the low profile Lego Worlds. And now this. Whether you care anything about the Dragon Quest games is irrelevant, as this offers a substantially different experience to both its inspiration and its parent franchise. And it’s a game that works particularly well on the Switch.

What excited us most about this game, when it was originally released in late 2016, is that it’s by Kazuya Niinou, creator of Etrian Odyssey – which happens to be one of our favourites. Although we’re sure most Western gamers have probably never heard of it, or probably Dragon Quest for that matter. Even though the latter is the most popular role-playing series in Japan. But if you are a fan there is a story connection here to the very first game, since you play in an alternative version of its ending – where the evil Dragonlord and his monsters actually managed to win.

The unusually non-combative solution to this problem is to rebuild the land of Alefgard from scratch, mining resources and constructing buildings by hand. But although it is still a sandbox game, where you’re free to go and build whatever you want, there’s a properly structured story to follow and non-player characters to talk to and recruit. Plus, some of that ‘mining’ involves beating up classic Dragon Quest monsters and using their carcases to build your home.

Another clear distinction between Dragon Quest Builders and Minecraft is that this is purely a single-player experience. You’re cast as the arts and crafts equivalent of the chosen one, with the plot hinging on everyone else having forgotten how to create anything with their own hands. Which as demonic curses go is a new one on us. They’re all keen to learn though, and the initial hours have you building up your first village from nothing and having various characters come to move in and help.

Unlike Minecraft, you’re treated to some very specific tutorials, that show how for the most common materials you need venture only a little way out of town to mine ores from the ground or harvest the local vegetation for organic materials. As you can see, the entire world is constructed out of little Minecraft-esque cubes; leaving you free to make the minimum of environmental impact with your excavations or carve out a giant statute in the side of a mountain, depending on your preference.

Monsters are little more than a nuisance at first, but inevitably they end up being the source of some of the rarer items. The combat is real-time and reminiscent of the top down Zelda games, so nothing like traditional Dragon Quest games – or at least certainly not the first one. The stronger monsters are what encourage you to build a blacksmith and armoury, and from there new weapons and armour. Before long your village is not only teeming with people but a self-propagating factory for its own enlargement.

Dragon Quest Builders (NS) - the graphics are a bit blocky
Dragon Quest Builders (NS) – the graphics are a bit blocky

All of this is hugely charming and enjoyable. Dragon Quest Builders is not a fast action game, but is instead meant as a counter to such things. You’re rarely in much danger, or under any time constraint, allowing you to take the game at your own pace and digress into building things that have no real benefit to the main story. There’s an old-fashioned playfulness to the game that manifests not just in its lack of pressure or hand-holding but in the Nintendo-esque dialogue that’s entirely PG-friendly but still has flashes of wry, knowing humour.

And unlike most construction games it doesn’t get bogged down in complications during the end game. The crafting elements do get increasingly complex, but at the same time villagers start to help with the busywork, preparing chests full of restoratives and defending the village if it’s attacked. As you gain experience it’s they, not you, that are levelling up and earning more perks and abilities, which is a neat reversal of the usual role-playing formula.

Given anyone can see the influence from just looking at a screenshot, it’s unfortunate that Dragon Quest Builders is often dismissed as a mere Minecraft knock-off. Especially as that leaves it open to complaints that it’s not nearly as open, with very little ability to dig straight down into the ground and some nasty invisible walls whenever you come across water.

But those are stylistic choices as much as anything else, and the only major technical problem is the sometimes awkward camera system. There’s no significant difference between this Switch version and the original PlayStation 4 release, but the unhurried pace and simple controls make it perfect for the Switch and playing on the go (there’s already a PS Vita version). We’re happy to know that a sequel is already on the way, but for now it’s well worth digging out the original.

Dragon Quest Builders

In Short: A surprisingly successful mash-up between two completely different franchises, whose quiet charms offer a welcome alternative to incessant action and overbearing storytelling.

Pros: The Minecraft elements are neatly explained, and offer a significant amount of freedom for a story-base game. Charming script and characters, and some fun twists on the usual JRPG formula.

Cons: Compared to Minecraft there are some obvious limitations, especially when digging underground. Camera isn’t always that helpful. Dragon Quest in-jokes will be lost on many.

Score: 8/10

Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed) and PS Vita
Price: £49.99
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: 14th October 2016
Age Rating: 7

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Dragon Quest Builders review – make the switch from Minecraft

Inspired by Pokemon & Minecraft, PixPet Allows You to Adopt & Care for Pets

Thanks to a news tip from Etamin616, we’ve learned of a new game currently in development for fans of collecting and caring for pets. PixPet is the “spiritual successor” to an earlier game called DragonAdopters that closed in 2013. The original developer is back and working on PixPet. Fan are invited to preregister to keep tabs on the development and earn an Early Adopter title when the game launches. In addition, community members can make suggestions on what they’d like to see implemented.

Inspired by Pokemon, Minecraft and Animal Crossing, the Pixel Pets Network is an independent online pet adoption game focusing on the collection of virtual pets. Along with the Pixpets come a huge amount of collectable objects that can be traded among registered users.

Decorate your realm to your hearts content with precious decorative objects or focus on gathering as many different and rare Pixpets as possible! The goal of the game is to expand your own realm so that you have enough room to give your pets a cozy home.

In order to expand your home, you have to send your Pixpets on hoards to gather new Pixpets eggs and objects which hat can be sold on the market. Grow plants and pumpkins in your garden and brew potions which you can give to your pets to increase hoard success.

Pixpet will be free to play with additional benefits given out to our Patreon supporters.
Pixpet is currently under heavy development, please consider supporting us!

Learn more by visiting the PixPet site.

Inspired by Pokemon & Minecraft, PixPet Allows You to Adopt & Care for Pets

Why Nintendo Switch games are ending up more expensive

Last week we reported that Rime, the puzzle adventure game due out in May, is £10 more expensive on Nintendo Switch than on other platforms. It’s safe to say this did not go down well.

The game’s developer, Spanish studio Tequila Works, came under fire for the difference in pricing. Its follow-up comment to Eurogamer didn’t help matters much, either.

Since then, we’ve done a bit of digging, and it turns out more expensive Nintendo Switch games may not be entirely the fault of developers.

Publishers and developers are free to set the price of their Nintendo Switch games, as Nintendo of America boss Reggie Fils-Aimé has already said, but based on conversations we’ve had with developers this week, it looks like companies making multiplatform games that are also coming out on Nintendo Switch are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Let’s start with Tequila Works’ initial comment on the Rime situation:

“We set prices for our products based on the costs of development and publishing for each specific platform.”

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Nintendo Switch carts cost more to make than Blu-rays.

What does this mean? Well, we’ve heard that the cost of manufacturing a Nintendo Switch game is higher than the cost of making a PS4, PC or Xbox One game, because the cartridges the Switch uses cost more to make than Blu-ray discs.

We’ve also heard that the cost of the cart depends on the size of the cart. Switch game card carts come in a variety of capacities: 1GB, 2GB, 4GB, 8GB, 16GB and 32GB. At a high level, the bigger the cart the more expensive it is, although the price may vary according to print run (lower the volume, higher the price, for example – an issue that may affect indie developers who don’t expect to shift a huge number of copies of their game).

Developers working on Switch have to be mindful of the size of the game, because that will determine the cart it’ll ship on. (As an aside, we asked Tequila Works how big Rime is on Switch. It replied: “as the Switch version is still being developed by Tantalus Media, we cannot estimate the final size yet.”)

But why would a Nintendo Switch game cost more on the Nintendo eShop? Digital games, after all, are just a download. There’s no need to factor in costly cart manufacture with an eShop game. Well, we’ve heard that Nintendo’s policy is that Switch eShop games should cost the same as their physical versions, in a bid to keep bricks and mortar shops on-side. A shop such as GAME, for example, is unlikely to go all in on a Switch game if you can download it for half the price instead.

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Puyo Puyo Tetris costs a tenner more on Switch, too.

So, we end up in a situation such as Rime, where the game costs £39.99 on Nintendo Switch physical and digital, when the PC, PS4 and Xbox One versions cost just £29.99 physical and digital.

Rime isn’t the only game to suffer from this problem, by the way. Puyo Puyo Tetris, from publisher Koch, costs £34.99 on Nintendo Switch both physically and digitally. It costs £24.99 on PS4.

We’ve heard this policy is why some smaller publishers and developers are going with the eShop only for their Nintendo Switch games. To release a physical version would mean factoring in the cost of manufacturing a cart, bumping up the price accordingly then price-matching the digital version.

Snake Pass, from Sumo Digital, comes out on 29th March priced £15.99 on all platforms: that’s PS4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch. It’s digital-only. There’s no Switch cart.

“Snake Pass is digital only,” Sumo COO Paul Porter told Eurogamer, “and we have no issue keeping the price the same across all platforms digitally. Indeed, it was important to us that people wouldn’t be penalised by which platform they decided to purchase.”

For Nintendo, it’s not a good look. Here we have a new console from a company already accused of ripping off its customers with higher-than expected pricing. For many, the Switch itself is too expensive at £280. Mario Kart 8’s port, which adds little, is £50. Then you’ve got the new Zelda, whose RRP is £60. Super Bomberman R costs £50, too. (Nintendo declined to comment on this story.)

So, back to poor old Rime. We went back to Tequila Works to try and find out more about the game’s pricing, and received the following response.

“We cannot enter in any specifics, but we can assure you Rime’s price is based on the costs of development and costs of manufacturing for each specific platform.”

Hopefully now you know a little bit more about what that means.

Additional reporting by Tom Phillips.

Why Nintendo Switch games are ending up more expensive

Sources: Nintendo Switch will have GameCube Virtual Console support

Nintendo Switch will be able to play GameCube games via its Virtual Console service, three separate sources have confirmed to Eurogamer.

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GameCube support is already tested and working, we understand, and three Nintendo games have already been prepped for Switch.

Those games are Super Mario Sunshine, Luigi’s Mansion and Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Wii, Wii U and 3DS have all offered a Virtual Console service for downloading games released on earlier Nintendo hardware. Switch will be no different.

And while the number of platforms to be offered on Switch’s Virtual Console has yet to be nailed down, we’ve heard that there should be an upgrade programme similar to that available on Wii U, where earlier purchases of Virtual Console NES games can be ‘upgraded’ for a small fee rather than being bought again at full price.

We’ve also heard that Nintendo Switch’s Virtual Console is being engineered by (Nintendo European Research and Development) NERD, the studio behind the recent NES Mini micro-console which sold out in many stores ahead of Christmas.

Up next on its slate? A version of the GameCube Animal Crossing is currently being tested for potential release.

Animal Crossing is a particularly interesting title as it included more than a dozen NES classics – such as Donkey Kong, Mario and Zelda – to obtain and play within the game.

Nintendo is also looking at Switch support for the Wii U’s GameCube controller adaptor peripheral, although we understand that a final decision has not yet been made.

Fans have been asking for GameCube titles to be made available on Virtual Console for years – so, why now?

Switch’s increased power from Wii U is certainly a factor. Digital Foundry actually ran tests to see how the GameCube’s Dolphin emulator runs on Nvidia Tegra X1 mobile technology – the chipset which powers Switch.

The results were promising and suggested Switch should be able to run each game at least as well as its original state. How much better, of course, will depend on Switch’s final hardware.

Another big push behind GameCube Virtual Console, we hear, is the desire within Nintendo to continue making Super Smash Bros. Melee easily playable. 15 years on from its initial release, Melee is still a hugely popular game in the esports scene, and a regular major draw at huge competitions such as Evo.

Melee’s easy availability via Switch Virtual Console will help matters, rather than relying on aging hardware or third-party emulation.

Nintendo declined to comment when contacted for this article.

Switch is set to launch in March 2017, and be revealed in further detail at an event in early January.

Eurogamer recently reported that the Switch would have a 6.2″ 720p multi-touch screen and next year host its own version of Pokémon Sun and Moon, code-named Pokémon Stars.

Sources: Nintendo Switch will have GameCube Virtual Console support

PUBG, Fortnite Battle Royale and the question of how new genres form

When Epic added a battle royale mode to Fortnite in September last year, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds publisher Bluehole was pretty upset.”We are concerned that Fortnite may be replicating the experience for which PUBG is known,” said Chang Han Kim, then its executive producer and now CEO of PUBG Corporation, which today runs the breakout shooter. The press release listed concerns over similarities in user interface, gameplay and ‘structural replication’ between the two games, and made a vague threat about potential legal action, which hasn’t apparently gone anywhere.

Fortnite now has 45 million players, which is probably greater than the number which plays PUBG, and Battle Royale mode is what they play. That has to hurt. But it’s not to say PUBG has much of a leg to stand on. “Look, I don’t claim ownership,” Brendan ‘PlayerUnknown’ Greene told Rock Paper Shotgun last summer. “So, it’s a last-man standing deathmatch. That’s been around since people could pick up clubs and hit each other. I would never claim ownership over that … I love to see what the genre has created. It’s various versions on something that I guess I popularised, you know? The idea itself is not mine.”

He’s absolutely right. The battle royale is way bigger than any one company or creator, even PlayerUnknown. And as PUBG began pushing the ‘last-man-standing deathmatch’ from cult curio to console mainstay, it’s become a widely recognised genre of its own. That transformation, in which a new genre has originated, is a fascinating mirror of the wonderful way ideas merge and evolve, spread and multiply, skating through inspiration and invention, copying and stealing.

Genres almost always have muddy origin stories. That’s certainly true of the battle royale. Until Fortnite came along, Greene was the creative force behind the biggest battle royale games around: H1Z1: King of the Kill and the original DayZ mod, PlayerUnknown’s Battle Royale. But the whole thing is much older. It’s very difficult to trace the earliest last-man-standing-style multiplayer game because it’s such a universal concept, but today’s battle royale has direct thematic roots in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and the Japanese cult movie Battle Royale, which both depict groups of kids being dumped in tracts of land and asked to fight each other until only one remains. The first time this theme was expressed in a big way in an online game was in around 2011, when the Survival Games game-type, otherwise known as Hunger Games, began to take over Minecraft servers. Its popularity was so great that it was added as a permanent multiplayer feature in Minecraft’s console versions called Battle Mode.

From there, the proto-battle royale jumped to a new game, DayZ, when a group of players started holding special invite-only events in 2012 called Survival GameZ, which were streamed over Twitch. Their drama and realism-inflected competitiveness inspired Greene, then a keen DayZ player, to recreate Survival GameZ as a mod and he found he struck gold. There ends the history lesson. The point is that the general concept of the battle royale has grown almost naturally from wider culture, the evolving nature of online tech and modding scenes, and also from the bit of human nature that blinks into primitive life at the idea of desperate survival against all odds.

But that’s not to say that PUBG doesn’t feature some critical new ideas. And here’s where the whiff of ‘clone’ comes from in Fortnite: BR. One of PUBG’s genius features is the way a game begins with a plane flying over the island, and Fortnite, despite adding all kinds of other features of its own, notably building, has taken that idea, along with the broad mechanics by which the playing area constricts, all of which have played a big role in PUBG’s success.

Clone is a powerful word. A clone has no creative ideas of its own. It’s a copy, and a malign one at that. Ridiculous Fishing was cloned, and so was Threes. These unique and inventive games found themselves gazumped by close copies which found more success than they did. Vlambeer’s Ridiculous Fishing, previously a free Flash game called Radical Fishing, was beaten to the App Store by Ninja Fishing. Threes was followed a month after its launch by 2048.

But a clone operates at the scale of the individual. Ridiculous Fishing and Threes were distinctive and unique designs which were co-opted by savvy developers (Gamenauts and Ketchapp) who saw opportunity in swooping quickly to take them as their own. And the evil of the clone – aside from the human cost – is that it crushes evolution, feeding off new ideas and bringing none of its own. By comparison, PUBG isn’t built on a unique idea, and Epic took months to turn Fortnite: BR around, adding lots of its own ideas in the process.

Another contrasting example with the relationship between PUBG and Fortnite is that of Firaxis’ XCOM series with newcomer Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Mario + Rabbids has none of XCOM’s crucial strategy layer but in taking key elements of its tactical game, specifically a tweaked version of its move-and-action mechanic and a camera and cursor which behave in much the same way, the experience of playing it feels very close. This co-opting of a game’s play aesthetic is very different to cloning, because while Mario + Rabbids evokes XCOM, you’re playing a very different tactics game which places much more emphasis on dynamic movement within its stage than XCOM does.

Mario + Rabbids also seems unlikely to be the stirrings of a new genre of strategy game based on XCOM, because Mario + Rabbids takes mere slivers of its design. A genre is built on a strong conceptual foundation, not little design ideas: Last-man-standing. Pass the winning line first. Destroy your opponent’s base. Improvise with what you get to reach the end. Successive games take and rearrange little ideas to make new expressions of that foundation.

Most genres bubble up outside the mainstream industry, built by modders and tinkerers, amateurs and enthusiasts. In these ‘folk games’ it’s sometimes hard to find a single originator or author, instead groups of people feeding from each other, freely copying, rearranging and rebuilding to develop and refine a core concept. The best ones find audiences and rapidly grow, even as they’re still evolving. Look at the history of the MOBA, for example, which began with Defense of the Ancients, a mod of Warcraft III originally by Kyle ‘Eul’ Sommer. Others built on it, notably Steve Feak and Abdul ‘Icefrog’ Ismail, adding maps, items and characters. Variants splintered from it; arguments spiralled about which direction they should take and what defined them. Feak wound up helping to found League of Legends. Icefrog went to Valve to make Dota 2. Now it’s a distinct genre, comprising multifarious expressions of the core idea of opposing teams of heroes pushing into each others’ territory to destroy their tower.

The MOBA is nevertheless pretty defined. By comparison there’s the Rogue-like, a looser, wilder, less lucrative, but profoundly important genre which has spurred close and highly refined expressions like Brogue and real-time action expressions like Spelunky, which has almost become a kind of sub-genre in itself, the Rogue-like platformer. Aspects of it even appear all the way out in games like Dark Souls. A genre can be amorphous, but it has to have a strong core concept.

No matter how strong the idea, it generally takes a single game to make it explode. Once that exemplar appears, others rush to replicate it and accusations of cloning abound. For the first-person shooter, it was Doom. The market was awash with ‘Doom-clones’ during the mid ’90s, until the genre became known as the FPS. That’s despite the fact that Doom wasn’t the first FPS by a long shot, but it was the first to capture a profound sense of being in an all-out action world, using lighting, sound and complexity of geometry to such effect that it’s still a delight to play today. Many games followed it to recapture and build on the magic: Dark Forces, Duke Nukem, Chex Quest.

There’s a point in the process when the accusations of cloning dissipate. It’s interesting to ask when – and I don’t know the answer – the Doom-clone ended and the FPS began. Was it in 1995 with first full 3D first-person shooting game, perhaps Descent? If so, does that mean that until that point, the genre was focused on the specific aesthetics and affordances of Doom’s engine? Or was it after Quake in 1996? If so, does that mean that the world waited until id, the leader of the genre, had diversified its expression of the FPS into a fresh new game? Or was it when GoldenEye 007 came out in 1997, which was when the genre successfully manifested itself outside PC, the platform on which it originated?

The FPS came from fuzzy roots, in 3D Monster Maze and Battlezone, Dungeon Master and Ultima Underworld, Catacomb 3-D and Wolfenstein 3D, and was then focused and refocused by Doom and what came next. The fact that not being able to discern exactly when the FPS began shows how the whole question of genre is about feel. It’s about the point when a body of similar works has mapped out the boundaries of what they’re interested in – what they are and what they aren’t – and when there’s no clear leader any more.

Once that happens and a new genre has surfaced, it tends to flower. The games within it no longer have to circle around the game that got things moving. They don’t need to evoke it to attract attention, or to be worried about losing what makes the whole thing tick. They can be themselves. That’s what is happening to the battle royale right now. Fortnite has undoubtedly taken some of the unique ideas that have helped PUBG reach such success, but its own success also marks the point when the battle royale is no longer dominated by one game. That means we can expect to see it diversifying fast from here on. SOS, The Darwin Project, Europa, Paladins: Battlegrounds, Islands of Nyne – maybe there’s a new classic in there somewhere. Let’s play a battle royale.

PUBG, Fortnite Battle Royale and the question of how new genres form

Far Cry 5 season pass will take you to Vietnam and Mars

Ubisoft has announced a bizarre trio of DLC packs coming as part of Far Cry 5’s season pass.The first DLC will be set in Vietnam and pit you against the Viet Cong. The second will be a B-movie-inspired zombies pack. The last will be set on Mars, where you fight alien arachnids.

As a reminder, Far Cry 5 is set in present day Montana, USA.

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And that’s not all – the season pass also includes a downloadable copy of the series’ high point to date: Far Cry 3, AKA the one with Vaas.

Ubisoft will release Far Cry 3 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this summer, but Far Cry 5 owners get the game a month early as part of the season pass.

Today also brings a new story trailer for Far Cry 5. See it below:

Far Cry 5 is now less than two months away – it arrives on 27th March. This isn’t the first time Ubisoft has decided to go all-out with its DLC, either – Far Cry 3 fans will remember the deliciously loopy sci-fi expandalone Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.

Far Cry 5 season pass will take you to Vietnam and Mars

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds gets update to improve divisive desert map experience

Developer Bluehole has released a new update for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on PC, this one aiming to improve the divisive play experience of the game’s recently released desert map, as well as offering enhancements to its new anti-cheat system.

Battlegrounds’ desert map, also known as Miramar, now features more off-road routes for easier vehicle navigation, changes to item spawning in certain areas for better loot balance, and additional buildings and cover across the map – all designed, says Bluehole in its latest patch notes, “to improve the engagement experience”.

Many players in the Battlegrounds community have expressed dissatisfaction with Miramar and have, in the absence of an in-game map selection option (although one is apparently incoming), taken it upon themselves to find ways to remove it from play – ranging from manually deleting the relevant game files to deploying tools that automate the process.

Bluehole’s patch notes sound like a tacit acknowledgement to the community that Miramar, in its current state, perhaps isn’t where it should be from a gameplay perspective.

Elsewhere, alongside general fixes and an improved replay system, the latest update also iterates on Bluehole’s new work-in-progress anti-cheat measures.

Cheating has become the bane of many Battlegrounds players in recent months, with Bluehole struggling to stay on top of rule-breaking ne’er-do-wells. This new anti-cheat solution is the first phase in the developer’s attempts to minimise the disruption caused by cheaters, and to make for a fairer, more enjoyable gaming experience.

Bluehole notes that its new anti-cheat tech is still in the testing stage, “and its stability and compatibility need to be verified”. It’s being released now in order to “collect data about potential compatibility issues, analyze it and solve any issues that may emerge”.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds gets update to improve divisive desert map experience