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’90s nostalgia: Dancing Baby does the cha-cha once more in new HD rendering

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The Dancing Baby became one of the first viral videos in the mid to late 1990s.

Internet denizens of a certain age will recall with fondness the 3D animated Dancing Baby (aka “Baby Cha-Cha” and “the Oogachacka Baby”) that went viral in 1996. Sure, the rendering was crude by today’s standards and—it must be said—a little creepy, but in many ways, the Dancing Baby was a proto-meme. Now, almost 25 years after it was first created, an enterprising college student has re-rendered the original model and animation in a suitable HD format for modern displays.

The Dancing Baby is just a 3D rendering of a baby in a diaper, animated to do a little dance to the opening of the song “Hooked on a Feeling” by Swedish rock band Blue Swede (featured on the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack in 2014). It was developed by Michael Girard and Robert Lurye in 1996 as a sample source file for the 3D animation software package Character Studio (used in conjunction with 3D Studio Max). The 3D source film was released to the public that same year so that animators could render their own video clips.

Then a LucasArts staffer named Ron Lussier shared a tweaked version of the file with a few co-workers in an email, launching innumerable email chains that eventually spread outside the company and all over the world. Eventually people began remixing the original dancing baby. There was a Kung Fu Baby, a Rasta Baby, and a Samurai Baby, for instance. The model hit peak virality in 1998, when it was featured in a dream sequence on the popular TV show Ally McBeal, supposedly representing the titular character’s anxiety over her ticking biological clock.

We may never unlock the secret of the Dancing Baby’s broad appeal. But Rob Beschizza, waxing poetic at Boing Boing, says the Dancing Baby emerged “from a place where new and old media first found a common audience, a place that is now filled with darkness and anxiety but then seemed to promise wonders and new horizons. The dissolving of things was both anticipated and embraced; just not the dissolving of all human bonds before the graceless and impassive crush of technology.”

Jack Armstrong, a student at Bolton University, wrote a Twitter thread detailing the process by which he revived the ultimate 1990s meme. A friend asked if he could put the Dancing Baby as a player model in the physics-based sandbox game Gary’s Mod (GMod), and “I had nothing to do that night, so why not?” (Thus are many viral Internet sensations born.) Tracking down the original file proved challenging. The first file he located proved not to be the iconic model, but after several hours, he finally stumbled across a rather sketchy old abandonware site with a zip file.

After scanning for malware, Armstrong opened the zip file. “To my utter shock, there it was: the entire 1996 Character Studio pack, released only on disc to paying customers, somehow finding its way onto the Internet years after relevancy and the legal consequences of pirating it,” he marveled.

Among the files was the prize he sought: a file called SK_BABY.MAX.  “Not only did it open, but I was delighted to find it came with animation that the model is known for today,” he wrote. It took a bit of work to export the model into GMod, but Armstrong persevered, rendering his final recreation in 1080p and 60FPS for Internet posterity.

“Since the whole model was vertex colored, I didn’t even need to re-map it,” Armstrong wrote. “I hope by re-rendering such a classic meme in HD and putting the model to new use, I have advanced the preservation efforts of the Internet.” May the Dancing Baby go viral once again!

Listing image by YouTube/J. Armstrong Art

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Valve moves Dota 2 International to Romania, adds mask-and-vax rules

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Valve announced this week that its prestigious Dota 2 tournament The International will require all attendees to be fully masked and vaccinated for entry.

As noted on the Dota 2 site, anyone attending the October competition at the National Arena in Bucharest, Romania, must be at least 10 days out from their final vaccination, and attendees will need to present proof of inoculation (which must be in either English or Romanian) along with a photo ID to gain access to the event grounds and tournament arena. All attendees must also wear a mask and proof-of-vaccination wristband along with their registration badges. Additional safety protocols will be put into place throughout the tournament.

Now in its tenth year, The International gathers together the best Dota 2 teams from around the globe to compete for a multi-million dollar prize pool.  But over the past year, Valve has not had an easy time with COVID-related restrictions for its annual tournament. The company’s initial plans to hold The International 10 in Stockholm were scrapped earlier this summer after the Swedish Sports Federation decided not to include esports in its officially recognized body—a move that meant anyone traveling for the tournament would be denied an entry visa.

Valve’s subsequent requests for the Swedish government to intervene were denied, with the company announcing the move to Romania in July. (2020’s tournament, which was also planned to be held in Stockholm, was indefinitely delayed in April 2020 over safety concerns amidst the global pandemic.)

The move to make The International a fully-vaccinated, fully-masked tournament is just the latest in a growing trend of gaming events tightening up COVID restrictions. For instance, this summer’s PAX West in Seattle required attendees to present either proof-of-vaccination or a negative PCR test for entry, as well as wearing a vaccination-proof wristband along with their registration badges.

The International 10’s group stage, which doesn’t appear to be open to the public, will be held October 7-10, while the main stage tournament event (the only stage Valve is selling tickets for) will be split between two midweeks running from October 12-15. The finals are scheduled to be held on October 16 and 17. Tickets for the main stage will go on sale September 22, and those are sold in three separate two-day bundles.

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RIP Sir Clive Sinclair, creator of UK’s famed ZX Spectrum gaming computer

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Enlarge / Sir Clive Sinclair holding the world’s smallest television screen when it was created by Sinclair Radionics in 1977.

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Sir Clive Sinclair, the namesake of a British electronics manufacturer who helped pioneer Europe’s microcomputing boom, is dead at the age of 81.

His company, Sinclair Radionics, is arguably best known around the world for 1982’s ZX Spectrum, an early example of a computer capable of multi-color, real-time graphics. The device dominated the UK and other European territories in the early 1980s. This computer was a major processing step up from black-and-white Spectrum computers like ZX80 and ZX81, and it debuted in a configuration priced as low as £125. American readers probably best know this platform thanks to popular and ambitious ZX Spectrum games from the little developer Ultimate: Play The Game. That company eventually rebranded itself as Rareware and turned into a ’90s powerhouse on Nintendo consoles.

Yet before his name became interminably linked to gaming history, Sinclair’s rise to running his own electronics manufacturing company largely resembles the stories of American electronics pioneers who began as garage hobbyists. A BBC documentary, Clive Sinclair: The Pace Setters, chronicles the inventor’s rise, which began with him selling one-at-a-time radio kits via mail order in the 1960s.

As the documentary is region-locked, many readers will have to settle on this BBC text version of its highlights, which follows Sinclair’s rise as a maker of British pocket calculators and portable TVs before redirecting his efforts to personal computers. During this time, an effort to get the British government to back Sinclair as a formally supported PC maker, especially as the government began bullishly promoting computer access in homes and schools, fell apart. Instead, rival computer manufacturer Curry became a “BBC Micro” partner. Sinclair and Spectrum fired back with the more powerful ZX Spectrum, which went on to sell over 5 million units. Sadly, the rest of his career didn’t reach the same heights, and it was largely marked by botched efforts to launch electric modes of transport, including the famous failure that was the pod-like C5 “car.”

For a charming Clive-on-Clive conversation, check out this 1990 interview with longtime British TV host Clive Anderson (Whose Line Is It Anyway?), complete with the two men looking at and talking about various Spectrum inventions over the years—including, incredibly, Sinclair’s failed C5.

Sir Clive Sinclair talks about his product history in 1990.

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Battlefield 2042 joins recent game-delay frenzy, moves to November

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Enlarge / This looks fun.

Battlefield 2042 has been delayed from its initial October 22 release date, though it will still launch this year, EA announced today. The multiplayer-only shooter will now hit stores on November 19, the publisher said in a statement.

Citing the complications of developing games in a work-from-home environment during a global pandemic—by now a familiar challenge for the countless game makers that have had to delay other high-profile 2021 games—DICE assured fans that the team is working on finishing touches rather than dealing with any kind of development trouble. The developer also reiterated that there would be updates later this month regarding 2042‘s open beta. In other words, this is pandemic business as usual.

After Battlefield 2042‘s reveal during EA’s June E3 news blitz, the publisher announced that the game will feature three modes, none of which are battle royale-related. “All-Out Warfare,” the traditional BF deathmatch mode, is finally upgrading to 128 players on current-gen consoles and PC. “Battlefield Portal” is a mashup game that lets players customize matches with elements of Battlefield 1942, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3 inside 2042 maps. “Hazard Zone” is an alleged squad-based mode that EA has thus far been mum on. Today’s announcement didn’t specify whether all three modes would launch with the game.

As far as the seemingly endless train of 2021 delays is concerned, DICE’s isn’t as bad as it could be. Earlier this week, Techland confirmed its long-in-production Dying Light 2 is being pushed back to February 2, while Ubisoft announced this week that its guitar-instruction game Rocksmith+ is shifting to 2022. Sony also recently announced that Horizon Forbidden West will move to February 28 from its original “late 2021” launch.

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