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Fraggle Rock is back as Apple TV+ quarantine fodder—so here’s our fan-fiction



Apple TV+ / The Jim Henson Company

You may have noticed news of delays, cancellations, and general scrambling from most major TV and film production companies over the past few months. Today, Apple TV+ showed up with a surprise bit of good pandemic-timed news: a classic Muppet series’ return, built from the ground up to function within the constraints of stay-in-place orders across the world.

Fraggle Rock, a Jim Henson TV series that ran on HBO in the United States through the 1980s, has returned as a Muppets-in-Zoom concept. The new series, titled Fraggle Rock: Rock On!, will premiere a new five-minute “mini-sode” every Tuesday for the foreseeable future, and it sees familiar characters like Red, Gobo, and Mokey teleconference with each other. In the Fraggle universe, this is enabled by the series’ Doozer characters creating a series of “Doozertubes” to connect citizens in their natural, underground habitat.

How the first episode of <em>Fraggle Rock: Rock On!</em> looks in action.
Enlarge / How the first episode of Fraggle Rock: Rock On! looks in action.

Apple TV+ / The Jim Henson Company

In real life, meanwhile, Apple is advertising the fact that every Muppeteer and contributor is filming their sequences with iPhone 11 handsets while abiding by stay-in-place orders across the globe, though Apple hasn’t clarified anything else about the series’ production pipeline (not even a mention of Final Cut Pro). The first attempt is a sweet-and-chipper statement of purpose, complete with the distant-but-connected Fraggles joining together to sing a song (something that’s not necessarily easy to coordinate via shared Internet video feeds).

Since this new Apple TV+ version revolves around optimism and cheer, it doesn’t go too deeply into the original series’ gimmick of Uncle Matthew venturing into “Outer Space” (aka aboveground on modern-day Earth). Thankfully, we have some overactive imaginations at Ars Technica and have taken it upon ourselves to imagine what one of Uncle Matthew’s letters to his nephew Gobo might look like in early 2020, if they weren’t written through the family-friendly filter of the Jim Henson Company.

Here’s Ars Technica’s Lee Hutchinson with the Fraggle Rock fan-fiction you didn’t know you needed.

My dearest nephew—

Everyone is gone. The Silly People have vanished.

I roam a world newly made desolate and empty, as the machinery of the Silly Peoples’ once-great civilization slowly falters like a watch that lacks for winding. Their empires once stretched across this great globe—globe, yes, for my travels have revealed to me the hidden truth that the world is indeed a sphere without edge or border, bound by an Ouroboros of intertwined oceans—but the Silly People lie where they have all fallen, effaced, defeated by a nameless horror so small that a Doozer could hold a trillion trillion of them in its hand and not espy the thing’s deadly temperament.

For a people so outsized both in stature and manner, the Silly Peoples’ passing itself came to pass without bluster. Their end was marked not with the firmament-rending clarion foretold in their ancient texts, or under the false dawn of their terrible weapons, but with the wracking gasps on the lips of an uncountable multitude of mouths… an invisible fever, spread by the invisible wind. A plague, truly, to end all plagues.

I long to see the Rock again—to feel the crisp water of the swimming hole, to savor the taste of radishes and the feel of the adamant stone that shapes and surrounds our Fraggle world. And yet—

<em>Fraggle Rock</em>'s Uncle Matthew will indeed appear in the new Apple TV+ series. Just, er, maybe not exactly the way we imagine it in our fan-fiction.
Enlarge / Fraggle Rock‘s Uncle Matthew will indeed appear in the new Apple TV+ series. Just, er, maybe not exactly the way we imagine it in our fan-fiction.

Apple TV+ / The Jim Henson Company

—and yet, I cannot. For the Silly People, you see, have given me one last gift.

The tightness in my chest now creeps, like a worm in the moss. Last night I lay awake long past the fall of evening, through the watches of the night, into the hour of the wolf, and I beheld a Moon not pale and light but drenched in a fell vermilion, even as a cold fist seized my heart, my eyes widened, and Luna seemed to crash down from her throne in the heavens toward me, plummeting even as I was pulled toward her in madness, in sick, febrile dreams that stain my pith helmet in sweat and damp my mustaches to a face gone sallow with corruption.

Though I still travel, I know I am already dead. The dark seed of the Silly People’s gift has taken root, and it sprouts a terrible tree.

Remember me, dear Gobo. Mourn me, perhaps. But—I beg you—do not follow me. There is naught here to find, save ashes.

Perhaps I shall visit the sea again, the soft sands lapped by unending water. The crying of the gulls shall be the last sounds I hear, a final song to sing me home. Think of me dreaming there.

Forever your uncle,

And now that you’ve read that brutal darkness, enjoy the actual, cheerier Apple TV+ trailer for the new Fraggle Rock series, which is now live for paying Apple TV+ subscribers.

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Former Ubisoft executives reportedly arrested over sexual assault allegations



Getty Images / Ubisoft / Aurich Lawson

Five former Ubisoft executives have reportedly been detained for questioning by French authorities, years after they departed from the company amid widespread sexual assault allegations.

According to a report from France’s Libération newspaper (as translated by, this week’s arrests by the Bobigny public prosecutor’s office include Ubisoft’s former chief creative officer Serge Hascoët and ex-VP of editorial and creative services, Tommy François. Hascoët resigned from the company in July 2020, while Francois left less than a month later. A year after those departures, French labor union Solidaires Informatique worked with two of the alleged victims to file a formal complaint about the alleged assaults, which seems to have led to this week’s move by French police.

It’s not immediately clear who else has been caught up in this week’s police actions or whether the former executives will be released from detention after questioning. Other high-profile Ubisoft employees who resigned or were fired amid the 2020 allegations include Assassin’s Creed Valhalla director Ashraf Ismail, former Ubisoft Canada managing director Yannis Mallat; former Ubisoft PR director Stone Chin; former Ubisoft global head of HR Cécile Cornet, and former Ubisoft vice president of editorial Maxime Beland.

Allegations of toxic workplace behavior against multiple Ubisoft employees started on Twitter and were later expanded upon in wide-ranging reports from Liberation, Kotaku, and Bloomberg. The reports detail multiple instances of inappropriate verbal and physical conduct from numerous employees, including one worker who was reportedly choked at a 2014 party by Beland.

Before his departure, Hascoët had served at Ubisoft for 32 years, rising to become the effective right-hand man to CEO Yves Guillemot. Hascoët’s approval was reportedly necessary for almost every project at the company, and his input helped shape numerous games from the publisher.

Guillemot committed to “major changes” in a 2020 earnings call following the initial allegations, including an internal investigation, overhauled HR policies, and a full reorganization of the editorial department. “Our overriding aim is ensuring that all Ubisoft employees have a safe and inclusive workplace environment,” he said at the time.

A year later, though, a report by French newspaper Le Télégramme cited multiple employees in saying that changes inside the company had been minimal. The company answered that report with a blog post laying out “appropriate actions, including training, disciplinary sanctions, and dismissals.”

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Wii U, 3DS online servers to shut down in six months



Enlarge / We’d like to imagine there’s an actual Switch like this that Nintendo will be flipping in April.

The end is nigh for online network support on the aging Wii U and Nintendo 3DS platforms. Nintendo announced overnight that “online play and other functionality that uses online communication” on those consoles will stop working in “early April 2024,” just over a year after Nintendo shut off downloadable game purchases on both platforms through the eShop.

In a brief FAQ, Nintendo clarified that players will still be able to redownload purchased software and download game update data “for the foreseeable future.” Players will also still be able to transfer Pokémon off of a 3DS using the Pokémon Bank system after the planned shutdown. And software that uses the 3DS’s unique Street Pass system will also still work since it uses local wireless communication between systems without the need for a central server.

While there are still some people using this now-classic Nintendo hardware online, spot tests suggest that the player numbers aren’t huge these days. A GameXplain test from the beginning of 2023 found a handful of online players for Mario Kart 8 and Call of Duty games on Wii U, for instance, but failed to find opponents for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Mario Tennis Ultra Smash. A similar 3DS test by a YouTuber in January found similarly mixed results, though 3DS launch titles like Super Street Fighter 4 and Steel Divers still apparently had surprisingly strong online communities.

Nintendo already shut down the level upload features for the original Super Mario Maker in 2021, well after the release of its Switch sequel. Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon on the Wii U were also taken offline in March for “extended maintenance” to fix a security exploit. Those games remained offline until early August.

The upcoming Nintendo server shutdown will come almost exactly a decade after Nintendo pulled a similar kill switch for the original Wii and Nintendo DS. After that shutdown, hackers got to work reverse-engineering their own private servers to restore online gameplay. For the 3DS and Wii U, Pretendo is an active open source project that has already replicated some of the soon-to-be-defunct server functionality Nintendo plans to abandon next year.

Earlier this year, Nintendo finally stopped accepting repair requests for the system in Japan, years after doing the same in North America. Meanwhile, reports suggest that Nintendo is ramping up its plans to release a Switch successor next year.

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Is Counter-Strike 2’s new match-abandonment penalty too harsh?



Enlarge / Mark my words, if any of you jerks abandon the unit, there’ll be hell to pay…


Anyone who has played a bit of Counter-Strike probably knows the frustration of having a teammate bail on a match early on, leaving your team at a 4-on-5 disadvantage. The recently launched Counter-Strike 2 is trying to limit this problem by imposing a harsh new penalty for players who leave a match before it’s over. But that system is already drawing angry reactions from players who feel they’ve been punished unfairly for unintentional match departures.

In CS: GO, abandoning a competitive match early resulted in a “cooldown” period before you could join a new match. Those periods started at 30 minutes for the first offense and rose to a full week for a fourth offense (one offense was also expunged from the count every seven days).

That punishment system carried forward to the closed CS2 beta in recent months but was reportedly ineffective at slowing down extremely high match abandonment rates. A series of popular posts on the CS:GO subreddit last month asked for stronger punishments, complaining that “almost every single match now has one leaver… I get it, you haven’t played CS in years and you’re butthurt that you’re losing but you’re just wasting everyone else’s time if you leave.”

With the full public launch of C2 last week, Valve seems to have taken that complaint to heart. Leaving a match early now also gets a player a 1,000-point drop in the ELO rating used for competitive matchmaking. That’s a pretty significant penalty, considering players only gain about 100 points for winning a match (against similarly ranked opponents). Under the current system, it could take hours of play to rebuild the ranking loss resulting from a single abandoned match.

Unintended consequences?

That kind of penalty might be an appropriate deterrent for players who would intentionally hurt their teammates’ experience by abandoning tough matches early. But some players are complaining that the ELO penalty also applies to matches abandoned for unintentional reasons, including the kind of game crashes that can be relatively common in a newly launched online game.

Solo players can also receive the ELO penalty if their random teammates vote to kick them for any reason—or even no reason at all. “[This system] gives way too much power to groups of trolls,” one Reddit commenter said of the ability for four committed players to dock a stranger teammate’s rating. “I just lost 1,000 [ELO points] because a teammate randomly decided to [team kill] me and start a vote kick,” another Redditor added. “They were just unhappy to be losing with bad matchmaking. Worked my ass off to get up to 9k+ and got tossed down to 7999.”

Then there are situations where players decide to leave because of bad behavior by their teammates. “Last match I was in, there was a duo on my team that decided to troll and grief our entire team just because I’m a girl. I abandoned because they were just holding us hostage at that point,” one Reddit user wrote. This player complained that there was no warning that an extra ELO penalty would be tacked on for this match abandonment. “I gladly accepted the 30 minute cooldown but even in casual or deathmatch you get warned that you lose XP points if you abandon, in premier you don’t and I’m not sure why,” the player wrote.

There may be other unintended consequences to the new penalty system, as some players are already contemplating using ELO penalties to easily create a “smurf account” with an artificially low ranking to get matched up with less-skilled players. Meanwhile, some CS2 players also report that remaining players in a 4-on-5 game aren’t allowed to vote to surrender even when the player disadvantage makes the match seem hopeless.

We’re still early in what will no doubt be a long life for competitive Counter-Strike 2, so Valve could definitely continue to adjust these penalties as time goes on. For now, though, the new system highlights the tough balancing act the company faces in trying to enforce good sportsmanship for randomly grouped teams in their online shooter.

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