Minecraft to get big lighting, shadow and color upgrades through Nvidia ray tracing – TechCrunch

Minecraft is getting a free update that brings much-improved lighting and color to the game’s blocky graphics using real-time ray tracing running on Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics hardware. The new look is a dramatic change in the atmospherics of the game, and manages to be eerily realistic while retaining Minecraft’s pixelated charm.

The ray-tracing tech will be available via a free update to the game on Windows 10 PCs, but it’ll only be accessible to players using an Nvidia GeForce RTX GPU, as that’s the only graphics hardware on the market that currently supports playing games with real-time ray tracing active.

It sounds like it’ll be an excellent addition to the experience for players who are equipped with the right hardware — including lighting effects not only from the sun, but also from in-game materials like glowstone and lava; both hard and soft shadows depending on transparency of material and angle of light refraction; and accurate reflections in surfaces that are supposed to be reflective (i.e. gold blocks, for instance).

This is welcome news after Minecraft developer Mojang announced last week that it canceled plans to release its Super Duper Graphics Pack, which was going to add a bunch of improved visuals to the game because it wouldn’t work well across platforms. At the time, Mojang said it would be sharing news about graphics optimization for some platforms “very soon,” and it looks like this is what they had in mind.

Nvidia, meanwhile, is showing off at Gamescom 2019 in Cologne, Germany a range of 2019 games with real-time ray tracing enabled, including Dying Light 2, Cyperpunk 2077, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Watch Dogs: Legion.

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LA-based gaming company, Scopely, expands in Spain and Ireland – TechCrunch

The Los Angeles-based gaming company Scopely is expanding its geographical footprint in Spain and Ireland.

The company is building out its Barcelona offices, tripling its office space and planning to significantly expand its 100-person-strong team in the city. Meanwhile, Scopely is also planning to invest heavily in expanding its strategy-focused game studio, DIGIT, in Dublin.

Scopely didn’t say how many jobs it would be adding in either location.

The company has now hit lifetime revenue of more than $1 billion across its franchises and recently launched “Star Trek Fleet Command” and “Looney Tunes World of Mayhem.” Scopely also has licenses to develop games for World Wrestling Entertainment and The Walking Dead franchise.

“We are thrilled to expand our European footprint to accommodate our exponential growth,” said Javier Ferreira, co-CEO of Scopely, in a statement. “I am excited to further lean in to the Barcelona market, which has top-quality talent. The same is true in Dublin with top tech talent flocking to the area, and both offices have amassed impressive highly-specialized expertise. Our Dublin and Barcelona teams play a critical role in the Scopely journey, and we are actively hiring across both markets.”

The company also plans to double its footprint in its hometown of Los Angeles in 2020.

The company has raised more than $250 million in financing to date, from investors including Greenspring Associates, Greycroft Partners, Revolution Growth, Evolution Media Partners, Highland Capital Partners, Horizons Ventures, Sands Capital Ventures, The Chernin Group, Take-Two Interactive, Kobe Bryant, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Peter Guber, Jimmy Iovine and Brendan Iribe.

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YC’s latest VR bet is a team building a cyberpunk anime MMO – TechCrunch

There are niche startups and then there are VR companies going after fans of the “cyberpunk fantasy anime aesthetic.”

Ramen VR is one of only a few virtual reality startups that Y Combinator has bet on in the past few years and is only one of two in the company’s most recent batch of bets. It has a niche approach, but it’s hoping to build an MMO that can leanly grow alongside the slow-but-steady virtual reality market. Like any content play that’s hoping for VC dollars, Ramen VR wants eventually to be a platform.

“Long-term, our goal isn’t just to create a game, but we’ve seen the issues of VR platforms that tried to be platforms before they had a meaningful use case. If you’re just trying to be a chat room or platform without any users, that doesn’t work,” CEO Andy Tsen tells TechCrunch.

The company’s first title is called Zenith, and it’s an anime-inspired fantasy title that plays with cyberpunk themes as well. The founders are really aiming to give VR geeks the game that they want, one that taps into the 80s futuristic aesthetic with gameplay that pays tribute to popular sci-fi books, movies and games of the era.

MMOs are attracting quite a bit of inbound interest in the venture-backed startup world. Part of the reasoning has been because of people seeing the scope a title like Fortnite was able to achieve so quickly after going virall; the other part is the prevalence of developer tools that gaming startups are able to easily plug into their tech stacks. Ramen VR is using Improbable’s SpatialOS to bring persistent online gameplay to its users.

The company just rolled out a Kickstarter to gauge interest for Zenith; they launched a week ago and have raised $132,000 in the crowdfunding campaign thus far. Backers get access to a VR version of the title as well as a desktop PC copy. The startup plans to roll out across VR devices, including PC systems, PlayStation VR and Oculus Quest.

“The whole point is that it’s not just on one device, it’s a world, it’s literally the Upside Down from Stranger Things layered on top of your entire world. At any point, no matter what screen you’re on, you can access that,” CTO Lauren Frazier tells us.

The startup still has a bit of development ahead of them, but the current plan is to launch an Alpha in six months, a beta in nine months and to go live broadly a year from now.

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These are the games coming to Google Stadia – TechCrunch

Google’s game streaming service isn’t set to launch until November, but the company kept the hype train going through the mid-August doldrums with a Gamescom Stadia Connect live stream. As promised, the online press conference was “all about the games,” featuring what looks to be a nearly complete list of launch (and some post-launch) titles.

The games include some top names, like Cyberpunk 2077, Final Fantasy XV, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Mortal Kombat 11. It also enlists a number of top publishers, including Bethesda, Square and Ubisoft. A number of key publishing partners have opted to keep their lists under wraps until closer to (or at) launch, however, including EA, Capcom and Rockstar.

As previously noted, the service will run $10 a month, including access to games and discounts on purchases. A base version of the service will also be available at some point next year. When it launches in November, the service will be available in 14 countries, including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Finland. More will be added in 2020.

Google is currently offering up a “Founder’s Edition” pre-order for $130. That includes a controller, Chromecast Ultra and three months of the service for you and a friend.

Here’s the list of titles so far:

  • Bandai Namco – Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2
  • Bethesda – DOOM Eternal, DOOM 2016, Rage 2, The Elder Scrolls Online, Wolfenstein: Youngblood
  • Bungie – Destiny 2, Destiny 2: Shadowkeep Expansion
  • CD PROJEKT RED – Cyberpunk 2077
  • Chump Squad – KINE
  • Coatsink – Get Packed
  • Codemasters – GRID
  • Dotemu – Windjammers 2
  • Deep Silver – Metro Exodus
  • Drool – Thumper
  • Giants Software – Farming Simulator 19
  • Larian Studios – Baldur’s Gate 3
  • nWay Games – Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid
  • Omega Force – Attack on Titan 2: Final Battle
  • Pandemic Studios – Destroy All Humans!
  • Robot Entertainment – Orcs Must Die 3
  • Sega – Football Manager
  • SNK – Samurai Shodown
  • Square Enix – Final Fantasy XV – Tomb Raider Definitive Edition, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Marvel’s Avengers
  • SUPERHOT – SUPERHOT
  • 2K – NBA 2K, Borderlands 3
  • Tequila Works – Gylt
  • Warner Bros – Mortal Kombat 11
  • THQ – Darksiders Genesis
  • Ubisoft – Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Just Dance , Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 , Trials Rising, The Crew 2, Watch Dogs: Legion

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Singularity 6 raises $16.5M from Andreessen Horowitz to create a ‘virtual society’ – TechCrunch

When Fortnite reached stratospheric popularity early last year, there were undoubtedly an awful lot of VCs on the sidelines looking enviously at the massive platform and wondering what opportunities could be gleaned from its rapid rise.

Epic Games went on to raise later that year at a nearly $15 billion valuation so some of those investors decided to invest directly in the Fortnite creator’s continued ascent, but others have been looking to get in on the ground floor of new operations that are aiming to rethink the line between video games and social networks.

Today, Andreessen Horowitz announced that it’s leading the $16.5 million Series A of a stealthy gaming startup called Singularity 6. The startup’s ex-Riot Games co-founders claim their venture is less focused on building a button-mashing competitive shooter than it is a “virtual society” where users can develop relationships with in-game characters powered by “complex AI”.

Singularity 6

Singularity 6 co-founders Anthony Leung (left)and Aidan Karabaich (right)

London Venture Partners (LVP) and FunPlus Ventures also participated in the Series A round. LVP led the company’s $2.5 million seed round last year.

“The near term focus is our first product, building a world that begins to tackle the community simulation space, and that’s really combining a strong virtual community with deep and compelling gameplay,” CEO Anthony Leung told TechCrunch in an interview.

He says that the company’s influences for its first title include “Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.”

While the co-founder did specify that Singularity 6 is a “game and tech company” he didn’t have too much to say about what that tech was. “We actually have to roll out a lot of custom tech, because there aren’t really any off-the-shelf solutions for the MMO aspects or the virtual community features,” Leung told us.

A16z has already invested in a company building the underlying tech for MMOs, Improbable, which has raised $600 million+ for its server-stitching SpatialOS platform. Investors like Andreessen Horowitz are largely ambitious that the gaming market will continue to grow as major players invest heavily in platforms that make the titles more accessible to new user bases.

“Interactive entertainment has become more mainstream and approachable than ever before, as technology use is no longer for fringe or techy groups – this new generation of ‘gamers’ is becoming more inclusive of everyone – as immersive, digital experiences will become as accessible and commonplace as the social forums we know and love today.” wrote a16z Partner Andrew Chen, who is taking a seat on Singularity 6’s board as part of this deal, in a blog post.

Singularity 6 isn’t sharing a release date for its “virtual society” quite yet, but Leung tells me the title is “still a ways out” from launch.

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SNES controller for Switch shows up in FCC filing, hinting at SNES games for Nintendo Online – TechCrunch

Nintendo looks set to release wireless SNES controllers for the Nintendo Switch, which likely means it’ll also be bringing classic SNES titles to its Nintendo Online virtual gaming library. The news comes via an FCC filing (hat tip to Eurogamer), which includes a diagram of what looks very clearly to be the backside of a Super Nintendo-style wireless controller.

The diagram includes a model number that uses the “HAC” code that Nintendo employs to designate Switch accessories, and history suggests that the arrival of retro-inspired hardware for the Switch also means throwback games are on their way. Nintendo launched wireless NES controllers for the Nintendo Switch in September, and they arrived alongside NES games delivered via Nintendo Online as free perks for subscribers.

The FCC filing is more or less concrete proof that Nintendo intends to release something, but the rest is speculation (if very likely, informed speculation) at this point. Still, it seems inevitable that Nintendo bring its SNES library to the Switch, especially since it did so for the Wii Virtual Console before.

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Samsung’s Note 10 game streaming arrives in early September – TechCrunch

PlayGalaxy Link got fleetingly little stage time at last week’s Unpacked event. It’s true that Samsung had a lot of information to jam into the hour-long press conference, but the offering was glazed over during a brief segment on mobile gaming — a surprising choice given how big of an industry the category has become.

We got a little more information from the company by way of a quick “hands-on” video served through Samsung’s Korean video channel, but that’s about all we’ve heard. Here’s what we know to date: GamePlay Live is a streaming service that makes it possible to stream PC games to the Note 10.

We can now add that the service will be available as a downloadable app (for Android and Windows 10) at some point during the first two weeks of September. The service is free and leverages technology created by Parsec, a New York-based cloud gaming startup that we covered way back in late 2017. The company’s technology is being used in the PlayGalaxy app, allowing users to stream titles from a Windows PC with limited latency.

“It’s humbling and exciting to us to be the chosen partner to provide the low latency streaming technology that powers the PlayGalaxy Link application,” Parsec’s CEO and co-founder Benjy Boxer says in a release. “This further demonstrates that our market leading technology can form the core of any game streaming product. Providing our ultra low latency high frame rate streaming software and our proprietary networking to other companies furthers our mission to democratize access to games.”

Parsec Artwork

The offering arrives as some of tech’s most prominent names are taking more active — although often distinct — interests in mobile gaming. Apple will be launching its arcade mobile gaming subscription service, while Google is offering full-on remote game streaming through Stadia. Microsoft, which recently announced a major partnership with Samsung, will provide similar console-to-mobile streaming with the Xbox.

Parsec, meanwhile, will be offering developer tools through a newly released SDK.

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The ClockworkPi GameShell is a super fun DIY spin on portable gaming – TechCrunch

Portable consoles are hardly new, and thanks to the Switch, they’re basically the most popular gaming devices in the world. But ClockworkPi’s GameShell is something totally unique, and entirely refreshing when it comes to gaming on the go. This clever DIY console kit provides everything you need to assemble your own pocket gaming machine at home, running Linux-based open-source software and using an open-source hardware design that welcomes future customization.

The GameShell is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign, which began shipping to its backers last year and is now available to buy either direct from the company or from Amazon. The $159.99 ( on sale for $139.99 as of this writing) includes everything you need to build the console, like the ClockworkPi quad-core Cortex A7 motherboard with integrated Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 1GB of DDR3 RAM — but it comes unassembled.

GameShell Clockwork Pi 3

You won’t have to get out the soldering iron — the circuit boards come with all components attached. But you will be assembling screen, keypad, CPU, battery and speaker modules, connecting them with included cables and installing them in the slick, GameBoy-esque plastic shell. This might seem like an intimidating task, depending on your level of technical expertise: I know I found myself a bit apprehensive when I opened the various boxes and laid out all the parts in front of me.

But the included instructions, which are just illustrations, like those provided by Lego or Ikea, are super easy to follow and break down the task into very manageable tasks for people of all skill levels. All told, I had mine put together in less than an hour, and even though I did get in there with my teeth at one point (to remove a bit of plastic nubbin when assembling the optional Lightkey component, which adds extra function keys to the console), I never once felt overwhelmed or defeated. The time-lapse below chronicles my entire assembly process, start to finish.

What you get when you’re done is a fully functional portable gaming device, which runs Clockwork OS, a Linux-based open-source OS developed by the company. It includes Cave Story, one of the most celebrated indie games of the past couple of decades, and a number of built-in emulators (use of emulators is ethically and legally questionable, but it does provide an easy way to play some of those NES and SNES games you already own with more portability).

There’s a very active community around the GameShell that includes a number of indie games to play on the console, and tips and tricks for modifications and optimal use. It’s also designed to be a STEM educational resource, providing a great way for kids to see what’s actually happening behind the faceplate of the electronics they use everyday, and even getting started coding themselves to build software to run on the console. Loading software is easy, thanks to an included microSD storage card and the ability to easily connect via Wi-Fi to move over software from Windows and Mac computers.

Everything about the GameShell is programmable, and it features micro HDMI out, a built-in music player and Bluetooth support for headphone connection. It’s at once instantly accessible for people with very limited tech chops, and infinitely expandable and hackable for those who do want to go deeper and dig around with what else it has to offer.

Swappable face and backplates, plus open 3D models of each hardware component, mean that community-developed hardware add-ons and modifications are totally possible, too. The modular nature of the device means it can probably get even more powerful in the future too, with higher capacity battery modules and improved development boards.

I’ve definitely seen and used devices like the GameShell before, but few manage to be as accessible, powerful and customizable all at once. The GameShell is also fast, has great sound and an excellent display, and it seems to be very durable, with decent battery life of around three hours or slightly more of continuous use depending on things like whether you’re using Wi-Fi and screen brightness.

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Roblox announces new game-creation tools and marketplace, $100M in 2019 developer revenue – TechCrunch

A week after gaming platform Roblox announced its new milestone of 100 million monthly users — topping Minecraft — the company said at its fifth annual developer conference that its developer community is on track to earn $100 million in 2019. Roblox also introduced a new set of developer tools for building immersive, more realistic 3D experiences; detailed its plans to make its developer software fully cloud-based; unveiled a new Developer Marketplace where creators can set their development assets and tools to others; and more.

Over the past decade or so, Roblox has grown to become a $2.5 billion company, with roughly half of U.S. children ages 9 through 12 playing on its platform.

The company provides game-creation tools via Roblox Studio, which developers use to build their own games for people to play. Roblox doesn’t pay the developers for their work — rather, the developers generate revenue through virtual purchases, which players buy using the in-game currency Robux.

At its invite-only event, the Roblox Developers Conference, which was held Friday, August 9 through Sunday, August 11, the company announced new tools aimed at enabling small developer teams to work together to build more massive games that can support hundreds of players.

The news follows the growing popularity of Roblox’s larger games, like Adopt Me (180.7K players), Royale High (68.7K players), Welcome to Bloxburg (66.7K players), MeepCity (52.4K players), Murder Mystery 2 (33.7K players), Work at a Pizza Place (32.7K players) and others.

The new toolset will offer developers access to an enhanced lighting system, updated terrain and other visual upgrades, including support for building competitive matchmaking games that will match players of similar skill levels, the company said.

Roblox had earlier discussed its plans for these sorts of visual improvements, which VP of Product Enrico D’Angelo said were prioritized in order to up the quality of the games.

The company said at RDC it’s also on track to bring its creation tools, Roblox Studio, to the cloud by year-end. This will allow developers to collaborate in real time, access their development files online and work across computing platforms to do things like manage permissions, versions and rollbacks.

In addition to monetizing their games, developers also will be able to monetize their development assets and tools through a new Developer Marketplace, where they can sell their plug-ins, vehicles, 3D models, terrain enhancements and other items.

RDC 2019 Audience

“The Roblox creator community thinks of things we could never imagine, and their continued growth is our future,” said David Baszucki, founder and CEO, Roblox, in a statement about the new tools. “With top Roblox experiences achieving more than 100,000 concurrent users and 1 billion plays, there’s no denying the power of user-generated content. We are committed to supporting our creator community with the tools and resources they need to realize even greater success,” he added.

The company also made note of its improved localization support for Brazilian Portuguese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Simplified and Traditional Chinese and Spanish, and discussed its recent Microsoft partnership in more detail.

Roblox had previously announced a collaboration with Microsoft Azure PlayFab, which made PlayFab’s LiveOps analytics service free to Roblox’s top 10,000 developers. This allows the game creators to track trends in player behavior, purchase history and game telemetry.

Alongside Roblox’s user growth, its creator community has been expanding, as well.

Today, there are more than 2 million Roblox game creators worldwide, ranging from indie developers to studios with teams of 10 or 20 people. Over 500 developers attended the three-day event in San Francisco and the private RDC 2019 viewing party in London.

“We ultimately become more and more inspired and convinced that this is not just the future of gaming, this is really the future of a whole new category,” said Baszucki, during the keynote. “I believe we’re sitting with not just the future of gaming,” he said, addressing the crowd of developers at RDC, “but the future of human co-experience.”

“We have this vision that there’s a new category emerging that’s bigger than gaming,” the CEO continued. “It’s the category that allows people around the world to connect, to not just play together, but to work together, to learn together and to create together.”

TechCrunch’s Extra Crunch recently analyzed Roblox’s history and business in its EC-1, which you can read here (Extra Crunch membership required).

Photo credits: Ian Tuttle/Getty Images for Roblox

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Samsung is bringing PC game streaming to the Note 10 – TechCrunch

One of the more interesting news tidbits from yesterday’s Unpacked event got a bit drowned out in all of the noise. Understandably so — Samsung jammed a lot into an event that ran just over an hour, virtually sprinting through a handful of gaming announcements.

The below video is the best demonstration we have of PlayGalaxy Link, a new feature that makes it possible to stream games directly from a PC to the Galaxy Note 10. Why the company didn’t make a bigger deal of the feature is beyond me, but when Apple and Google are really starting to get involved in gaming in earnest, Samsung really ought to have shone a bigger light on the new offering.

From the sound of it, the feature will be similar to one that Microsoft has been working on for the Xbox, letting users stream games from their PC onto the mobile device, whether or not they’re on a shared Wi-Fi.

The video showcases the connection, as a user links a Samsung Odyssey gaming laptop to a Note nestled inside a gamepad controller. Things are initiated by signing in on the desktop, opening the PlayGalaxy Link app on the Note and clicking “Start.” In the video, at least, game play happens simultaneously on both machines.

PlayGalaxy is Samsung’s latest shot at getting more heavily involved in mobile gaming, arriving on the heels of the Apple Arcade and Google Stadia announcements. And while the new Note offers a number of hardware features optimized for gaming, it does appear that, as with Microsoft and Google’s offering, the PC is doing the heavy lifting here.

The offering seems to be linked to Samsung’s recently announced partnership with Microsoft — itself a clear shot across the bow against Apple’s ecosystem offering. There are still a lot of questions here, including how bad that lag is going to be. More coming soon, no doubt. 

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