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300M-user Imgur launches Melee, a gaming meme app – TechCrunch

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Ten years after its debut, 300-million-monthly-user Imgur is one of the last massively popular yet unpersonalized home pages on the internet. Because everyone sees the same upvoted posts when they open Imgur, it creates a shared experience full of inside jokes and running gags. But while you can switch to a feed of topics and creators you follow, Imgur has focused on a one-size-fits-all approach over catering to niche audiences.

The gaming community deserved better, and Imgur needed to seize this opportunity. Video and board game tags were the most popular on Imgur, with 46% of users following them. Esports, Twitch and streaming stars like Ninja have gone mainstream. And there’s a whole world of esoteric memes about absurd in-game moments, highlights from epic wins and commentary about the industry. That stuff gets diluted and buried on cross-functional apps like Imgur, is tough to easily browse on Reddit and oftentimes content about all games is mashed together, even though you might only play certain ones.

That’s why today, Imgur is launching Melee, the company’s first app beyond its flagship product. Melee lets users subscribe to the games from which they love to get a feed of memes and gameplay clips. It’s an elegant way to prevent you from seeing jokes you don’t understand or feats of skill you don’t care about. You also can scroll through a popular post’s feed if you’re curious about unfamiliar games. Melee debuts today on iOS, with an Android version coming in Q1 2020 and a desktop version down the road.

Gamers are constantly taking recordings and screenshots of the games they’re playing,” Imgur founder and CEO Alan Schaaf tells me. “But we found that there’s no place for gamers to share those clips. We want to give these highlights a home.” If 92% of surveyed Imgurians consider themselves “gamers,” and the average one already spends 30 minutes per day on Imgur despite it being a general-purpose image-sharing network, there was clearly room to build something just for them. Schaaf says “Imgur is interested in building things that the internet wants.”

There’s an immediate in-group feel when you play with Melee. Whether you’re into Fortnite, Smash Bros. or Dungeons & Dragons, you can find your people to geek out with. There’s certainly already forums on Reddit, Memedroid and elsewhere dedicated to specific games, but those can get a bit exhausting. Melee keeps things spicy by combining in one feed content about your picks. It’s actually a savvy way to browse any genre of memes. I could see Melee expanding into letting you follow your favorite TV shows, movies and bands… or someone else might with a copy of its format.

I was glad to hear that Imgur took safety seriously with Melee after stumbling into building messaging into its main app without proper protections in 2016. It has multiple layers of community and staff moderation, will remove obscene content and won’t tolerate bullying. That’s critical in the gaming space, which has a nasty habit of turning toxic. If Imgur can keep things on the rails, it plans to monetize Melee with the company’s expertise in display ads.

Eventually, Schaaf hopes Melee can also help up-and-coming game streaming stars find a following, since on Twitch and YouTube they’re often overshadowed by the biggest stars. “If you start a stream today, you have virtually no chance of attracting an audience and competing in this market. Streamers need a place to post their gameplay in order to grow their audience on streaming platforms,” Schaaf tells me. “Melee is that place.” He plans to add more robust profiles and ways for broadcasters to promote their streams in 2020. Viewers will benefit as Melee lets them bypass watching a multi-hour stream just for the best parts.

Imgur remains one of the biggest internet communities no one talks about, despite being a top 15 most popular site in the U.S. according to Alexa. Schaaf bootstrapped the company from his bedroom and beyond for the first five years before taking a $40 million Series A in 2014 from Andreessen Horowitz. Now it’s focusing on becoming a more lucrative business. The startup took a $20 million funding round from strategic partner Coil, which is going to help Imgur launch a premium subscription tier to its free site.

Imgur started at the end of the web era, and took years to build a full-fledged mobile app. Melee is truly mobile first, and offers a lifeboat to Imgur in case its original tribe disperses. It’s a smart way to harness the massive untapped energy of gamers, the way Instagram harnessed our newfound phone cameras. Finally, meme culture is getting purpose-built social networks.



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Arcade1Up pinball cabinet review: Fine for families, interesting for modders

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Enlarge / Say hello to the Arcade1Up Attack From Mars physical pinball cabinet. The chassis is physical; its games are all virtual. Read below to understand what the heck that means.

Sam Machkovech

If you’re of a certain generation, chances are you have imagined (or, at this point in your adulthood, built) your own home arcade that resembles something out of the golden ’80s era. One useful path to making this a reality, especially in tighter quarters, is the “multicade,” an invention that squishes multiple games into a single cabinet.

But what if your old-school gaming dreams revolve around something bigger and bulkier, particularly pinball? Until recently, your options were either buying a bunch of original pinball cabinets or building your own ground-up emulation solution. And the latter is complicated by the realities of how pinball plays and feels.

I’ve wondered how long it would take for that to change in the gaming-nostalgia market, especially as companies like Arcade1Up produce and sell more multicade cabinets for home use. The time for change is now, evidently, thanks to a handful of manufacturers producing pinball multicades. Arcade1Up in particular launched three distinct pinball emulation cabinets this year, each revolving around a different license.

Thanks to Arcade1Up, I’ve gone hands-on with arguably the most interesting product in its 2021 pinball line: a collection of 10 classic tables, all created by Williams during its arcade heyday but emulated for more convenient home play. What exactly does $600 get you in terms of emulation and build quality?

Time to get Mad and Medieval

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Game Boy Advance game gets split-screen multiplayer through new FPGA core

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Developer Robert Peip shows off some split-screen Game Boy Advance multiplayer gaming through his new FPGA core.

Here at Ars, we’re big fans of situations where emulation creates a classic gaming experience that’s actually better than what you could get with original hardware in some way or another. In the past, that has meant upsampling rotated sprites in SNES’ “Mode 7” games or adding “widescreen” support to NES games or mitigating the controller lag that was built into certain older consoles or overclocking an emulated SNES to remove slowdown without ruining gameplay timing.

The latest emulation-powered retro-gaming upgrade to cross our paths greatly simplifies an oft-overlooked capability built in to many Game Boy Advance titles. Namely, it adds the ability to play multiplayer titles in split screen on a single display.

This upgrade is the work of Robert Peip, a developer who’s spent years working on field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). These days, Peip works primarily on the MiSTer FPGA an open source project that recreates classic gaming hardware extremely accurately through emulation “cores” that replicate every single logic gate involved in the schematics of the original system (most of Analogue’s high-end retro hardware is similarly powered by FPGA cores). Such cores are currently available for consoles ranging from the Odyssey 2 through the Neo Geo era and more.

Peip’s new “special version” of the Game Boy Advance FPGA core works relatively simply, running two GBA cores in a single MiSTer. As Peip explains, “you get 2 raw GBA cores, one connected to SDRAM, one connected to DDR3, communicating directly inside the FPGA. Sound is used from Core 1 only.”

Thus, games originally designed to be played on two consoles connected via link cable can now be played in split screen on a single MiSTer with a single connected display, as shown in this demonstration video. Peip says that “most multiplayer games should be supported,” a statement that presumably includes original Game Boy games (which work on a GBA link-cable through a supported secondary mode).

Playing these multiplayer GBA games on original hardware required two separate consoles, two copies of the game, and a GBA link cable, ensuring most casual players probably never even bothered (some GBA games offered limited multiplayer with just one cartridge). And while previous GBA emulators have offered link-cable support, even that required a LAN or Internet connection between two separate machines with two separate displays. While some RetroPie users have done a bit of finagling to get multiplayer games for the original Game Boy working via split screen, we’ve never seen a similar one-machine, one-display solution for Game Boy Advance multiplayer games before this.

Peip’s turnkey test core for multiplayer GBA emulation is currently only available by supporting his Patreon, and it is currently missing features like savestates, fast forward, and visual filters available on other GBA cores. Still, we’re excited to have a new, easier-to-use method to try the oft-ignored multiplayer modes in some classic portable titles. Now if we could only get split-screen support for those four-player GBA titles…

Listing image by Nintendo

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Peter Jackson’s 6-hour Beatles documentary confirmed for Disney+ this November

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Peter Jackson’s next six-hour epic is finally coming out this year—and in a first for the acclaimed director, the film will launch directly to a streaming service. It will also be broken up into episodes.

The Beatles: Get Back, an expansive documentary originally announced for a theatrical run this August, has had its release strategy tweaked. On Thursday, Jackson and Disney confirmed that the entire project will launch exclusively on Disney+ during this year’s American Thanksgiving holiday. Each third of the documentary will launch on the streaming service on November 25, 26, and 27. As of press time, Disney hasn’t said how the film will reach audiences outside of Disney+’s supported territories. Neither Jackson nor Disney clarified how the original theatrical run might have worked or whether the global pandemic forced anyone’s hand.

Today’s news confirms that Jackson had an abundance of footage to work with. Roughly three years ago, the remaining Beatles handed him access to a musical holy grail: over 60 hours of previously unseen video recordings, mostly capturing the Beatles working on the album Let It Be and rehearsing for, and then performing, the band’s legendary 1969 rooftop concert in London.

Jackson stitched the footage together with access to what Disney calls “over 150 hours of unheard, restored audio”—meaning yes, somehow Apple Corps. still has some tapes in hiding after this many Beatles special edition albums, anthologies, video games, and Cirque du Soleil collaborations. For further context on the Let It Be recording sessions, the film will be paired with a physical book full of photos and original interviews, now delayed to an October launch.

Jackson’s comments in today’s news, as provided by Disney to members of the press, imply that he indeed sought to release a long documentary: “I’m very grateful to the Beatles, Apple Corps., and Disney for allowing me to present this story in exactly the way it should be told.” He also commented on the original documentary footage, filmed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, as something that is “not nostalgia—it’s raw, honest, and human.”

The Beatles: Get Back will launch on a Thursday, thus breaking Disney+’s latest initiative of launching new series episodes on Wednesdays instead of Fridays. If anyone can break a newly sacrosanct Disney+ rule, it has to be the Beatles.

Listing image by The Walt Disney Company / Apple Corps / Wingnut Films

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