Monthly Archives: May 2018

Fortnite is finally coming to Android this summer

Fortnite is finally coming to Android…in a matter of months. After dominating the iOS gaming charts since March, the wildly popular sandbox survival game will be hitting the world’s top mobile operating system at some point this summer.

Creator Epic Games buried the news in the middle of a larger blog post titled, “The State of Mobile,” noting, vaguely, “We know many of you are excited for this release, and we promise that when we have more information to share, you’ll hear it from us first.”

That news comes amid a flurry of other Fortnite-related announcements this week. Earlier this morning, Epic unveiled a Battle Royale competition with a large in-game cash prize. This morning, the company also laid out plans to bring voice chat and improved gameplay and controls to the mobile side of things. Stats are coming to mobile, as well, along with a reduced install size.

Not that any of those issues have hampered the game’s success, of course. Earlier this year, the game was reportedly bringing in $126 million in monthly revenue — even before it arrived on iOS. With its imminent release on Android, that number’s likely to get a whole lot larger. 

Fortnite Battle Royale’s Solo Showdown lets players compete for up to 50,000 V-Bucks

For the first time ever, Fortnite Battle Royale players have the chance to compete with one another for a huge amount of V-Bucks, the game’s virtual currency.

Fortnite Battle Royale often adds new wacky game modes, like 50 vs 50 or the much-memed Thanos game type made in conjunction with Marvel for Avengers: Infinity War.

Unlike those other game modes, however, Solo Showdown will not change the underlying game in any way — there is no extra shield, the storm doesn’t move any faster, and there are no extra weapon sizes or different team sizes.

Instead, Solo Showdown is a way to compete with other Battle Royale players in solo mode to discover who is the true GOAT.

Players must compete in 50 matches to join the leaderboard, and placement in each of those first 50 matches will determine overall ranking.

Prize pools are as follows:

  • First Place: 50,000 V-Bucks
  • Second Place to Fourth Place: 25,000 V-Bucks
  • Fifth Place to Fiftieth Place: 13,500 V-Bucks
  • Remaining Players in Top 100: 7,500 V-Bucks

Up until this point, V-Bucks could only be earned in increments of 100 after purchasing the Battle Pass, which lets players complete challenges and rank up to earn various cosmetic rewards and V-Bucks. Earning V-Bucks, rather than purchasing them with real money, has never netted much of a return. You can only earn enough V-Bucks to purchase maybe one mid-range item per season, or you can save them over the course of multiple seasons to purchase a high-end item.

For perspective, the most expensive items on Fortnite Battle Royale often cost around 2,000 V-Bucks, so a player with 50,000 V-Bucks is a rich player indeed.

Fortnite Battle Royale has been free to play since its launch, and its virtual currency represents a major revenue stream for Epic Games . While items purchased in the store offer no competitive advantage, they make the game fun and fresh.

However, the ability to earn these V-Bucks (in this large of a sum) is a welcome change to the current meta.

Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller is an inspiring example of inclusive design

Every gamer with a disability faces a unique challenge for many reasons, one of which is the relative dearth of accessibility-focused peripherals for consoles. Microsoft is taking a big step toward fixing this with its Xbox Adaptive Controller, a device created to address the needs of gamers for whom ordinary gamepads aren’t an option.

The XAC, revealed officially at a recent event but also leaked a few days ago, is essentially a pair of gigantic programmable buttons and an oversized directional pad; 3.5mm ports on the back let a huge variety of assistive devices like blow tubes, pedals and Microsoft-made accessories plug in.

It’s not meant to be an all-in-one solution by any means, more like a hub that allows gamers with disabilities to easily make and adjust their own setups with a minimum of hassle. Whatever you’re capable of, whatever’s comfortable, whatever gear you already have, the XAC is meant to enable it.

I’d go into detail, but it would be impossible to do better than Microsoft’s extremely interesting and in-depth post introducing the XAC, which goes into the origins of the hardware, the personal stories of the testers and creators and much more. Absolutely worth taking the time to read.

I look forward to hearing more about the system and how its users put it to use, and I’m glad to see inclusivity and accessibility being pursued in such a practical and carefully researched manner.

Call of Duty Black Ops IIII adds battle royale mode while taking the game back to boots on the ground

In recent releases, Activision has taken its Call of Duty franchise into space (with its Infinite Warfare) and back in time (with the World War II release); now it’s looking to its past to bring it back to glory, while adding the massive multi-player Battle Royale mode.

The new Black Ops game is set within a narrative universe between Black Ops II and Black Ops III and stresses multi-player gaming like the battle royale, improved league play and collaborative features for gamers.

Critical to that is the franchise’s introduction of Battle Royale mode, bringing favorite characters, favorite weapons and the most iconic parts of players’ favorite maps along with the ever-popular zombies into a winner-take-all competitive landscape.

It’s a nod to the new ways gamers are playing and a pitch to rejuvenate Call of Duty — one of the world’s most popular game titles, with Black Ops as perhaps the most compelling title in the company’s arsenal. Previous releases have failed to capture the imagination in the same way as its early releases. Black Ops IIII is returning to the complete boots on the ground game play, and stressing the multi-player functionality that made the first games such a hit.

The game will launch in October and will be available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Microsoft Windows.

Black Ops IIII doesn’t have a traditional campaign, but weaves narrative into each of the game’s modes. “This is a game that’s built to last for years to come,” said Treyarch chairman Mark Lamia.

The game developers stressed more nuanced game play, with improved sound and graphics capabilities like more refined muzzle flashes and better audio for improved orientation. Weapons mods are getting an upgrade; each weapon will get its own set of attachments. There are operator mods and better, more realistic recoil.

For players familiar with the game, Treyarch developers stressed changes to make the game more tactical, including a new healing mechanic and better situational awareness for more measured, strategic play.

“Tactical players can choose when to disengage and look for a better opportunity to survive,” said one of the Treyarch developers presenting onstage in a cavernous hangar at the Jet Center Los Angeles for the Call of Duty IIII community reveal. As part of the tactical emphasis, the company reintroduced characters like FireBreak to deal with aerial threats and two new specialists, a reconnaissance expert and a defensive player who can create tactical positions for teams.

Zombie mode 

Black Ops IIII also adds new features and first-time experiences for fans of its Zombie mode. “As with the rest of the Black Ops IIII we’ve gone back to the drawing board on Zombies,” says Jason Blundell. “The zombies community has always been our most loyal…. So 10 years after it all began we’re about to begin a brand new chapter with the Zombie story right here.”

There are three zombie game-play scenarios. Two new scenarios include one set in a past, mythical Romanesque era while the other is set in the luxurious venue of the Titanic as the maiden voyage turns deadly and zombifying. 

For both experiences there are going to be customizable tools and social experiences so that the new Zombie world can exist in an evergreen mode. On offer will be customizable zombie modes for ways fans can customize and trade their own zombies. There’s also a Black Ops stamp system to validate the work that’s been done.

Activision and Treyarch also introduced limited-time creative challenges for modding zombies, and promised new ways to play the game and updated seasonal themes based, in part, on player modifications. For Zombies, Black Ops IIII will include bot support to play with an artificial intelligence. Zombie Rush is a new mode designed to introduce players to the zombie universe and adding in-game tutorials. Difficulty settings are also customizable to encourage repeat game play.

PC focus

Black Ops IIII is the first title to be released on the multi-player Battle.net PC platform. The company is focused on PC as “its own unique platform, integrated with all the social features on Battle.net.” Players can talk across Black Ops IIII and Overwatch, and the company is emphasizing the customizable elements for PC gamers.

Quarterback lets top esports gamers and streamers create their own fan-based leagues

In an effort to tie the top gamers and streamers more directly with their fans, a new company called Quarterback has just raised $2.5 million to create and manage fan-based leagues for the superstars of the esports and streaming world.

The company raked in its seed round from investors led by Bitkraft Esports, which is quickly building one of the most complete portfolios of gaming-related startups in the industry. Additional investors include Crest Capital Ventures, Deep Space Ventures, UpWest Labs and angel investors.

Essentially, it’s a platform for creating gaming leagues and content driven not by game publishers, leagues, or existing streaming sites like Twitch, but by the gamers themselves. It gives streamers and players a new way to reach their audience, the company claims.

Founded by serial entrepreneur Jonathan Weinberg, who acted as the chief executive for Round Robin and held a leadership role in the mobile game studio Spartonix, Quarterback is the latest attempt to get more revenue into the hands of gamers. 

Leagues created on Quarterback can host daily challenges, give away prizes and compete against fan clubs devoted to other top players.

Esports streamers and gamers are among the most bankable influencers, pitching to a new generation of consumers that don’t track traditional media sources. The ability to host and own their own channels gives these streamers an ability to create their own game libraries, cultivate a next generation of talent and encourage one-to-one interactions on platforms they control.

“Most streamers and pros struggle to monetize their fan-base and lose touch with their audience when the fans break away to play their own games,” says Jens Hilgers, a founding partner of Bitkraft Esports Ventures. “Quarterback solves this problem in a unique way by helping streamers become an integral part of their fan’s game-play.”

This functional pinball machine is built entirely of LEGO

I’ve spent a good chunk of my life piecing together various LEGO projects… but even the craziest stuff I’ve built pales in comparison to this. It’s a fully functioning pinball machine built entirely out of official LEGO parts, from the obstacles on the playfield, to the electronic brains behind the curtain, to the steel ball itself.

Creator Bre Burns calls her masterpiece “Benny’s Space Adventure,” theming the machine around LEGO’s classic ‘lil blue space man. It’s made up of more than 15,000 LEGO bricks, multiple Mindstorms NXT brains working in unison, steel castor balls borrowed from a Mindstorms kit, plus lights and motors repurposed from a bunch of other sets. Bre initially set out to build the project for exhibition at the LEGO fan conference BrickCon in October of last year, and it’s just grown and grown ever since.

Bre told the LEGO-enthusiast site Brothers Brick that she’s spent somewhere between 200 and 300 hours so far on this project. Want to know more? They’ve got a great breakdown of the entire project right over here.

NES Classic loaded with classic manga games raises hopes for other special editions

Japanese gamers and manga aficionados and every combination thereof will get a treat this summer with the release of a NES Classic Edition loaded with games from the pages of Weekly Jump. The beloved manga mag is celebrating its 50th anniversary and this solid gold Famicom is part of the festivities.

There’s basically no chance this Jump-themed NES will get a release in the US — first because hardly any Americans will have read any of these manga (with a couple exceptions) and second because even fewer will have played the Famicom games associated with them.

Familiar… and yet…

That said, this nurtures the hope inside me that we will at some point see other themed NES Classics; the original has, of course, a fantastic collection — but there are dozens more games I would have loved to see on there.

You can hack the thing pretty easily and put half the entire NES library on it, but Nintendo’s official versions will have been tested and perhaps even tweaked to make sure they run perfectly (though admittedly emulation problems aren’t common for NES games).

More importantly it’s possible these hypothetical themed consoles may come with new accessories that I desperately need, like a NES Advantage, Zapper (not sure how it would work), or NES Max. Perhaps even a Power Glove?

In the meantime, at least if you missed the chance to buy one the first time around, you can grab one come the end of June.

Nintendo’s NES Classic will return to U.S. retail stores on June 29

Rejoice Nintendo fans: the Japanese gaming giant is bringing the NES Classic back to retail stores this summer.

Nintendo said the console will go on sale again across the U.S. on June 29, with the SNES Classic also set to be available until the end of this year. It isn’t clear what the situation will be outside of the U.S., however.

The news is welcome but not entirely a surprise. Nintendo said last September that it would bring both consoles — which were originally supposed to be one-offs — back in 2018 following a positive reception and strong sales.

The company originally killed off the hit NES Classic Edition with an announcement last April and it had originally said that the SNES version would not live beyond 2017. The NES system was a surprise hit last year, but the SNES version was even more popular. Nintendo previously revealed that it sold more on launch day in August than the NES sold in the whole of last year.

“Fans have shown their unbridled enthusiasm for these Classic Edition systems, so Nintendo is working to put many more of them on store shelves,” Nintendo said last year.

The two classic systems are part of a new focus for Nintendo, which includes the top-selling Switch console and its first moves into mobile gaming via Pokémon GO and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. The company recently clocked impressive financial returns — including a 500 percent jump in annual profit — as the strategy begins to pay off.

Nintendo’s $20 charging stand finally fixes the Switch’s kickstand problem

Versatility has always been one of the Switch’s best features. The latest Nintendo system is a fascinating hybrid device that skirts the line between home and portable gaming. Still, there are some in-between scenarios the console didn’t get quite right out of the box.

The kickstand problem has plagued the otherwise well-received device since its earliest days. It falls over often, it’s puts the device at a weird angle, and worst of all, the charging port is on the bottom, so you can’t play the system in table top mode while it’s plugged it.

Just ahead of E3, the company’s showing off a $20 solution. The simply named Adjustable Charging Stand props the system, while keeping it plugged in, via an AC adapter port on the side.

An adjustable kickstand on the back, meanwhile, means you can change the viewing angle, depending on the height of the surface it’s on. That’s good news for those times when you don’t have a TV set to plug into, but still want to pull out the Joy-Cons to get the full experience — be it on a desk or an airport tray table. 

The peripheral hits stores July 13.

Esports Overwatch League heads to hipster Brooklyn for its finals

What could be more perfect than moving the inaugural championship finals for an esports league from its Los Angeles home to Brooklyn?

For Overwatch League, the esports conference created by fiat from Activision Blizzard, the move is the first step in its plans for housing esports teams in cities around the country.

Heading from sunny Burbank, Calif. to the hipster heartland of Brooklyn conjures up echoes of the famed Dodger franchise move (in reverse) while tapping into one of the few other markets in the U.S. that might rival LA for esports popularity.

When the Overwatch regular season ends on Sunday, June 17th, six teams will face off in the league’s first post-season playoffs. Those games are set to begin July 11th and will take place in Burbank at the company’s “Blizzard Arena Los Angeles.”

After the playoffs, the final teams will fly to New York to compete for the largest share of a $1.4 million prize pool and the first Overwatch League trophy. The games are slated to begin Friday, July 27th and continue on the 28th.

“The Overwatch League Grand Finals will be an epic experience for fans and viewers,” said Overwatch League commissioner Nate Nanzer in a statement. “We want this to be the pinnacle of esports, and holding it at a world-class venue like Barclays Center, in a global capital like New York, will help us celebrate not only the league’s two best teams, but the fans, partners, and players who have joined us on this incredible journey.”

Overwatch is taking a geographic approach to its franchises with teams sponsored by cities in the U.S. and major esports hubs around the world like London, Shanghai and Seoul.

Eventually the league is looking to set up stadiums in locations outside of Burbank. With league play requiring teams to travel — like a traditional sports league.

The move to Brooklyn could be a test of how well the Overwatch experience travels and a precursor to the league starting to take its show on the road in earnest.

Tickets go on sale on Friday, May 18th, at 10 a.m. EDT, and can be bought on ticketmaster.com and barclayscenter.com, while tickets to the first two rounds of the Overwatch League postseason at Blizzard Arena Los Angeles go on sale Thursday, May 10th, at 9 a.m. PDT via AXS.com.