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Apple and Google reveal the best apps and games of 2019 – TechCrunch

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Continuing their annual tradition, Apple and Google have released their list of the best apps and games of 2019. Apple, for the first time, held a real-world event to celebrate its winners, where it crowned AI-powered camera app Spectre Camera as its best iPhone app of the year and Sky: Children of the Light as its best game. Google, meanwhile, dubbed video messaging app Ablo as its app winner and Call of Duty: Mobile as its best game.

Apple’s event held in New York put its winning developers in front of media in order to demonstrate their apps and games. The event was less formal than the Apple Design Awards held at the company’s worldwide developer conference each year, and instead focused on private presentations to press.

Apple said its winners this year sit “at the nexus of digital and pop culture,” but its list really better highlights what Apple thinks are the key selling features for its devices. For example, with Spectre Camera by Lux Optics, it’s about the iPhone’s ability to serve as your main camera even for complicated tasks like long-exposure photos.

The iPad app of the year was Flow by Moleskin, an app that already won a 2019 Design Award. In this case, the digital notebook app shows off a top iPad use case of being a device aimed at creative professionals. Users can take advantage of its digital graphite pencils and chisel-tipped markers to draw and sketch as they could in real life.

The Mac app of the year, Affinity Publisher by Serif Labs, allows users to design and publish books, magazines, brochures, posters and more — a task that best lends itself to a larger device with a full-sized keyboard.

Finally, the Apple TV app of the year, The Explorers by The Explorers Network, showcases something that works best on your TV’s larger, high-def screen. The app’s community of photographers and videographers are working together to create a visual inventory of the natural world, which you can enjoy on your big screen.

Apple’s iPhone Game of the Year, Sky: Children of the Light by thatgamecompany (makers of Journey, the 2013 Game of the Year), iPad Game of the Year Hyper Light Drifter by Abylight S.L. and Mac Game of the Year GRIS by Nomada Studio, are all the sort of beautifully designed games that Apple prefers to showcase.

Today’s gaming market has become over-filled with free-to-play titles due to the sort of supported business models that work on the App Store. That’s something Apple Arcade is an attempt to correct, in fact. Apple winners show that even free games can be works of art.

Sky: Children...is a free to play social adventure with in-app purchases, but is also beautiful and creative. Similarly, adventure game Hyper Light was already a visual arts award winner at the Independent Games Festival. And GRIS has been described as one of the most gorgeous games.

The Apple TV Game of the Year, Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap by DotEmu, was developed by LizardCube with the cooperation of series creator Ryuichi Nishizawa to bring an ’80s cult classic back to life. That’s part of one of Apple’s larger App Store gaming trends — a year of “blockbusters reimagined.”

Apple also gave mention of other launches in this space, like Mario Kart Tour, Dr. Mario World, Minecraft Earth, Pokémon Masters, Assassin’s Creed Rebellion, Gears POP!, The Elder Scrolls: Blades, Alien: Blackout and Google’s Game of the Year, Call of Duty: Mobile.

And in what could be the start of a new tradition, Apple also anointed an Apple Arcade Game of the Year with the gorgeous, fast-paced and music-filled Sayonara Wild Hearts developed by Simogo and published by Annapurna Interactive.

Apple’s year-end list also highlighted App Store non-gaming trend of  “Storytelling,” which featured a variety of apps to tell stories, including visually, as well as through audio and text. Noted apps here were Anchor, Canva, Unfold, Steller, Spark Camera, Over and Wattpad.

Separately, Apple featured a list of the “top” (most downloaded) apps and games on its App Store for the year, which featured Mario Kart Tour at No. 1 in Games and YouTube as No. 1 in Apps.

Google doesn’t go all-out as Apple does for its “Best of 2019” picks.

Instead, it simply featured best app Ablo and best game Call of Duty: Mobile as its editorial picks, then leaves the rest to a User’s Choice. Voters selected the same game, but gave the Best App award to a video editor, Glitch Video Effects.

Google’s full list also includes Google Play’s best e-books, audiobooks, TV shows and movies, which you can see here.



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Indie devs outraged by unlicensed game sales on GameStop’s NFT market

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Aurich Lawson | Getty Images

In the first week of GameStop’s recently launched NFT marketplace, the NiFTy Arcade collection stood out from the pack. Instead of offering basic JPEGs, the collection provided “interactive NFTs” linked to HTML5 games that were fully playable from an owner’s crypto wallet (or from the GameStop Marketplace page itself).

There was only one problem: Many of those NFT games were being minted and sold without their creators’ permission, much less any arrangement for the creators to share in any crypto profits.

While the man behind NiFTy Arcade has since been suspended from GameStop’s NFT marketplace, he’s still holding on to the tens of thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency he made by selling those NFTs before the suspension. And while the NFTs in question are no longer listed on the GameStop NFT marketplace, the unlicensed games themselves can still be accessed on GameStop’s servers and across a blockchain-based file storage system, where they may now be functionally impossible to remove.

What if an arcade, but with NFTs?

NiFTy Arcade creator Nathan Ello told Ars his collection grew out of a desire “to highlight potential use cases for NFTs beyond static images.” But Ello got a bit abstract when asked to explain the utility of freshly minted NFT versions of games that were already freely playable elsewhere on the web.

“If people find value in these NFTs, that’s a bonus, but my intent is to create and showcase games that are playable within NFT marketplaces and within NFT wallets,” he told Ars. “Should someone want the convenience of playing the game directly from their wallet or their own profile page on the marketplace without having to navigate to mine, then they’re welcome to buy a copy.”

The NiFTy Arcade collection, as it appeared on the GameStop NFT marketplace on July 15.
Enlarge / The NiFTy Arcade collection, as it appeared on the GameStop NFT marketplace on July 15.

Ello ended up selling hundreds of NFTs based on the NiFTy Arcade collection’s first three games, making at least 46.7 ETH (worth about $55,000 at the time) from those sales as of July 15. But for at least two of those games—Worm Nom Nom and Galactic Wars—Ello admitted he never sought the necessary permission from the original creators before selling them. There’s also evidence that Ello minted and distributed a number of other games through NFT marketplaces without the creators’ permission, including Breakout Hero, Super Disc Box, and Invader Overload, according to Joseph “Lexaloffle” White, the creator of the PICO-8 pixel game engine.

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Evo weekend is here: How to watch the fighting game event of the year

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Enlarge / The crowds this year will be smaller, and masked, but offline is back in Vegas

Evo

After a two-year pandemic-induced break the Evolution Championship Series (better known as just Evo), the annual celebration of all things fighting games, is back in Las Vegas this weekend. Thousands of fighting game players and fans will fill the halls and arena at the Mandalay Bay casino to make their attempts at a top 8 finish, get in casual games with people from around the globe, watch panels, browse Artist Alley, and just generally soak up a chance to be offline with the fighting game community again.

In a more normal year, I’d be there myself, maybe not trying for that top 8 finish, more like just trying not to go 0-2 in Street Fighter V or Third Strike. But despite a robust mask and vaccine policy I’m just not feeling like traveling or being in Vegas with the current state of the world. So I’m going to spend my weekend cozy at home streaming a ridiculous amount of content and trying not to feel like I’m missing out too much. If you’d like to join me here’s a quick guide to what the weekend has to offer.

An Evo overview

You may have heard of Evo before, perhaps from the infamous Evo Moment 37 video or from Sony’s acquisition of the tournament series in 2021. If you’re not already a fighting game tournament watcher, here are the basics of how Evo works. There are eight main games featured, which I’ll list below, as well as a huge amount of less official side tournaments. Each game has the same basic structure, you start in a pool of players, everyone on equal footing. Tournaments are double-elimination, meaning you have to lose twice to be out. If you can win several matches in your pool without being eliminated, you move up to the next one, eventually leading to a top 24 bracket, then a top 8, which leads to the grand finals.

Part of the excitement of watching pools is the upsets. The previous champion has to start the same as anyone else, and there’s no guarantee an unknown won’t hand them their first loss, putting them in the loser’s bracket and one game away from losing that top 8 repeat dream.

As you advance deeper into the matches, the level of play becomes more high level and tense, so if you’re less inclined to spend hours watching the safe bet is to catch a top 24 or wait for the top 8 to see the real high-stakes matches play out.

Every game will feature commentary by people who are experts in understanding and explaining the on-screen action. With a few basics under your belt and their patterns, you should be able to keep up even with games you’re not familiar with.

The key to understanding the double-elimination format is everyone starts out in the winner’s bracket. If you lose once you go to the loser’s bracket. Lose from there and you can sit and watch the rest, you’re done. Mathematically this means that when you get to top 8, half will be in the loser’s bracket, half in the winner’s bracket, and the grand finals match will have a winner’s side and a loser’s side.

To win the entire tournament from the loser’s side you need to beat the other player twice, once to send them to loser’s (known as resetting the bracket). Making a loser’s run is no easy task, but a bracket reset always gets the crowd hyped up. They love an underdog, but it also means another set to watch.

If you see an L or a W next to someone’s name on the stream overlay that’s indicating if they’re playing from the winner’s or loser’s bracket. The last thing that’s handy to know is most games are run as first to two, so you have to win two games to beat someone. This generally becomes the first to three wins in top 8.

Dominique “SonicFox” McLean congratulates Goichi “GO1” Kishida for winning the grand finals of Dragon Ball FighterZ at Evo 2019

Dominique “SonicFox” McLean congratulates Goichi “GO1” Kishida for winning the grand finals of Dragon Ball FighterZ at Evo 2019

Evo

The games

This year the main featured games at Evo are:

  • Street Fighter V: Champion Edition
  • Guilty Gear Strive
  • Mortal Kombat 11: Ultimate
  • Tekken 7
  • The King Of Fighters XV
  • Melty Blood: Type Lumina
  • Dragon Ball FighterZ
  • Granblue Fantasy: Versus
  • Skullgirls: 2nd Encore

All games will be streamed on Twitch starting Friday, August 5 at 10 am Pacific Time. A complete interactive schedule of all the games can be found here. Half the games will have top 8s from the main hall on Saturday. The other four (King of Fighters, Tekken, Street Fighter, and Guilty Gear) will have their top 8 on Sunday in the Mandalay Bay arena.

There are also community-run tournaments for an additional 52 titles, everything from the alternate World War II title Akatsuki Blitzkampf, to barely-a-fighting-game-kinda-like-frisbee-air-hockey Neo Geo classic Windjammers. A list of all 52 games as well as a viewer’s guide summary for each one can be found here, so check that out if you want to dig into the wider range of titles you might not be familiar with.

Playing in a top 8 in the arena at Evo is one of the highest levels of fighting game achievement.

Playing in a top 8 in the arena at Evo is one of the highest levels of fighting game achievement.

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Xbox’s latest dev tools add surprise boost for memory-strapped $299 Series S

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Enlarge / The cheesy visual multiplying effect applied to this Series S isn’t meant to imply that it’s getting four times the memory boost in this week’s Microsoft GDK update. The actual multiplication amount is impossible to confirm until Microsoft updates its public-facing documents on the matter.

Sam Machkovech

The latest update to the Microsoft Game Development Kit (GDK), an official API that targets game development on Xbox consoles and Windows PCs, seemed to be set in stone when it was announced in June. Two months later, however, that update has gone live with a surprise bonus that’s so new it hasn’t yet been detailed on the company’s Github repository.

The news instead comes from an official unlisted Microsoft video, first spotted by XboxERA reporter Jesse Norris, which included a tantalizing proclamation. The June GDK is currently live two months after its named month, and it now includes an increased memory allocation exclusively for the lower-priced $299 Xbox Series S console.

This video does not link to specific patch notes or announcements, and as of press time, searches through the publicly shared GDK do not clarify how this memory allocation boost was achieved. Microsoft representatives did not immediately answer Ars’ questions on this update’s technical breakdown.

Getting devs closer to Series S’ 10GB memory total

In the meantime, it’s reasonable to assume that this newly available pool of RAM, which the video’s narrator describes as “hundreds of megabytes,” had been allocated elsewhere on Series S systems up until today’s update—perhaps tied up by OS-level processes (which previously sucked up roughly 2GB of Series S’ total 10GB pool) that the company has since been able to slash.

Ars’ sources have confirmed what has largely been known by testers and researchers of current-gen consoles: The gap in available RAM between the $499 Xbox Series X (16GB total) and the cheaper Series S (10GB total) has made cross-platform development between the two systems trickier than Microsoft originally advertised. In Microsoft’s best-case scenarios, a Series X game that targets 4K resolutions and incredibly high-resolution textures can downscale all textures for the sake of a 1080p TV screen and otherwise get away with an identical rendering load, mostly thanks to a lot of other architecture being identical between the consoles (particularly the CPU and storage specs).

As more third-party devs have found since getting familiar with the two-year-old consoles, that’s not how development environment transposal always works. Some developers are still finding that their virtual environments, effects budgets, and lighting scenarios get bottlenecked not only by less total GDDR 6 RAM but also a shrink in its bandwidth, down from the 320-bit bus of Series X to the 128-bit bus of Series S.

Thus, even a tiny jump of, say, 200MB in RAM, or 2.5 percent, could make a significant difference for a developer trying to transpose a certain fidelity level of shadows or ambient occlusion from Series X to Series S. The “hundreds of megabytes” count could be even higher, anywhere between 512MB and 768MB, though we’re still waiting to hear exactly how much.

Few modern games are a Rift Apart from past-gen consoles

The move comes while both current-gen consoles continue to fall short on some of their biggest technical sales pitches, at least on a software level. Many of the biggest games of the past two years have failed to illustrate truly game-changing features, particularly the near-infinite virtual worlds that might be enabled by a combination of PCI-E 4.0-graded storage and supercharged memory pipelines.

This was exacerbated by a few highly anticipated Sony games rolling back their previous “current-gen exclusive” statuses in favor of cross-gen launches on PS4 and PS5, seemingly to keep game sales while current-gen systems were largely sold out and behind production schedule. Thus far, we’re largely left with last year’s Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart as a gorgeous demonstration of power exclusive to current-gen consoles.

At least in the case of the Xbox ecosystem, as more current-gen exclusives gear up for their launches, more memory parity between Series X and Series S could help development efforts for 2023 games like Forza Motorsport and Starfield. By the time those games launch, Series S’ default, scant built-in storage count of 512GB could grow, or its proprietary storage expansion cards could come down in price. Either move would boost the weaker, cheaper system’s sales pitch if newer games indeed fulfill the Series S promise of “as powerful as Series X, but for 1080p TVs.”

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