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Hump!, the online porn fest that wouldn’t have happened without quarantine

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Enlarge / Columnist and author Dan Savage spoke with Ars Technica about the first year that Hump!, his offline amateur-porn festival, has had an online component.

However cooped up you may feel after months of bingeing films and TV series in quarantine, it’s not entirely likely that you’d look at this article’s headline and say, “Yes, I need to kick my viewing habits up a notch with a curated selection of homemade porn.” The people behind Hump!, the United States’ best-known amateur-pornography festival, certainly didn’t want things this way, either.

“One thing about Hump! is, if you couldn’t get to a theater, you weren’t going to see it,” series curator and sex columnist Dan Savage tells me over the phone from his Seattle home. “Ever since the first Hump!, people have asked, ‘Are you going to sell DVDs?’ Which turned into, ‘Can you watch it online?’ But you can’t. There are no DVDs, and you can’t see it online.”

Hump! was always supposed to be offline. But just like pretty much everything else this year, Savage’s creation had to concede to the realities of coronavirus. And after launching a test run earlier in 2020, Hump! Greatest Hits, Volume 1 is following as a streamed-video exclusive (not VOD) over the next three weekends. And while the festival was never designed for online distribution, the silver lining is a very weird, and surprisingly eye-opening, perspective on what porn on the Internet can look like in 2020.

“An eternity on the Internet”

The festival began life as a Seattle-only experiment, produced by The Stranger, a weekly newspaper where Savage once served as editor-in-chief. (He continues writing for the paper’s print and online editions, primarily in the form of his nationally syndicated Savage Love column, which also has a popular podcast.) The Stranger had already begun promoting local arts and music events, and Savage thought an old-school, all-local porn fest, screened only in theaters, would be a gas.

It had a slogan: “Be a porn star for a weekend in a movie theater, without becoming a porn star for an eternity on the Internet.” This was 2005, after all, by which time free, easily downloadable porn had already become ubiquitous—and content like webcam portals was mostly aping the basest content from mainstream porn productions. Savage wondered what would happen if the “amateur” aspect of the industry was channeled into something old-school. His boss, former Stranger publisher Tim Keck, wasn’t so sure.

“He didn’t think anyone would make and submit films,” Savage says. “That the event would fall on its face and we’d have to cancel it. But even if not, would people come and sit in a movie theater, in the dark, next to strangers [laughs], to watch porn the way their grandparents used to?”

After two years of campaigning, Savage got the go-ahead to organize an event in 2005. As it turns out, local Stranger readers submitted films—over 30 individual clips, which floored everyone involved—while curious patrons snatched up tickets. The first year’s theater booking “sold out within hours,” Savage says. That year, and every year that followed, saw organizers solicit films from the public with optional content requirements that would prove the film was made specifically for the event. (The first year’s theme was a Beavis & Butt-Head-worthy chuckle: use of food and wrappers from local hamburger chain Dick’s. Future, popular themes revolved around Republican politicians that Savage had mocked in his sex-positive and LGBTQ-friendly column over the years, including Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin.)

“Part of the permanent record”

After starting as a Seattle-only theater event, Hump! began touring to other cities, including Portland, Vancouver, and San Francisco. In spite of this, the original version’s careful intent remained: all of the films in The Stranger’s possession were destroyed upon the conclusion of each fest, and theater management forbade attendees from having phones or recording devices out in the slightest. Also, as the series’ reach grew, so did its prize pool, as all participating films were eligible for cash prizes based on audience votes for categories like “funniest” and “best kink.”

For the most part, Savage says The Stranger staff’s early concerns about bashful participants were misplaced. “For the Seattle-only shows, if you made a film and gave it to us, the odds that a roommate, coworker, or [laughs] parent might be sitting in the theater and watch your porn might be high,” he says. “People at the paper thought, ‘I wouldn’t make porn under those circumstances, so nobody else would.’ And they were wrong!” Later in our chat, he concedes that some participants have contacted the fest’s organizers with second thoughts and worries, though that has become much less frequent in more recent years.

“Now in a world of sites like OnlyFans, and the creeping, dawning awareness over the last 15 years that all of us have dirty sex—and maybe even dirty little video clips we share with friends and lovers in circulation out there, as part of the permanent record—the stigma is less if someone were to be outed,” Savage says.

That leads to this year’s evolution to an online-only format, which Savage is adamantly clear about: all involved parties, particularly in this year’s return of older, fan-favorite submissions from the past 15 years, have given Hump! the go-ahead to stream online, knowing full well that someone could tap a “screenshot” button or record a snippet for Twitter sharing. Each screening includes Savage’s own direct, heartfelt appeal to viewers to suppress their possible sharing urges, instead directing them to an official trailer (warning: NSFW). Savage says a few filmmakers declined to be part of an online-only format due to their own concerns, and this is on top of prior festivals’ submissions that had been approved to only screen in certain cities.

“Audiences all over the country have been lovely and wonderful about protecting Hump!,” Savage says. “They want to keep it a safe space for people who may have an exhibitionist streak or share whatever their thing is, about their lover, their kink, their gender expression, whatever it is. But they don’t want it on the Internet forever.”

Rocky Horny Picture Show?

Having attended a Seattle Hump! festival event in the past, I can attest to its unique weirdness. The events I’ve attended have drawn a diverse audience of ages and proclivities, arguably comparable to a Rocky Horror Picture Show midnight screening, and it’s a crowded house full of audience participation, laughs, and cheers, as opposed to the creepy silence you might expect from a ’70s adult film theater.

“The magic of Hump! requires a packed theater, and we can’t give people that right now,” Savage says when recalling prior years’ success. “That makes me sad.”

But he also admits that he’s fond of this year’s upside. Fans from around the world (and the USA’s more conservative enclaves) have finally gotten their wish for an accessible version of the festival, and they’ll be in for a series that’s designed primarily to entertain and enlighten (though, yes, it also titillates). As in, this isn’t your typical porn, meant for quick-and-dirty viewing. The man responsible for Savage Love’s column and podcast, unsurprisingly, says it better than I possibly could:

“The audiences [whose votes drive Hump!’s prize pool] edited the festival. Some [submissions] aped the conventions of mainstream porn, but audiences mostly voted films that were personal, idiosyncratic, and… you want to say ‘niche,’ but it wasn’t niche. Audiences responded to what was deeply personal about other people’s stuff. That’s what people vibed on. I’m credited as a curator, but audiences really curated it over the years.”

“‘How is that porn?’ For that person, that’s their porn.”

Savage goes on to describe at length a few films that resonated with viewers, and, yes, Savage’s descriptions—uncannily clear, even for old clips not in this year’s “best-of” collection—have to be edited for publication here. One was a single-camera shot of a heterosexual couple very simply having sex, without gimmicks or kinks; “What I remember is the intensity of their connection that they shared, their passion for each other,” Savage says. Another saw a woman stare down the camera while jumping on a trampoline and repeating a kinky phrase before doing something… strange. “Some people asked, ‘How is that porn?’ But for that person, that’s their porn.”

Savage rattles off other film descriptions. One involves a clothed lesbian couple simply chatting about why one partner won’t kiss the other, while another follows a BDSM scene playing out against a chain-link fence, and he’s wise to stitch these stories together with a rise-and-fall of intensity. Some of his descriptions are simple, tame, and sweet. Others are full of production value and bombast. And still others are, to be frank, messed up.

He is also savvy about presenting Hump!’s history to champion its mission. That mission is to ask viewers to watch a carefully sequenced series of different types of erotic videos and deliver something you just won’t find on the Internet’s most popular adult alleyways.

“[When each Hump! event begins], people are knocked back in their seats by the porn that isn’t for them.” [Savage proceeds to describe different reactions to different kinds of content, veering well into NSFW territory.] “But then there’s this shift. At first, all they can see is what’s not theirs. Not my preferred kind of partner, not my gender, not my kinks. But in a moment, they go from not seeing what’s theirs to recognizing what’s the same. Gender differences, kinks—they’re all a thin veneer laid upon everything we have in common: desire, passion, vulnerability, a sense of humor, and a desire for connection and intimacy. All of that is the same. After the five-to-six film mark, you see that shift. No matter how off-the-wall the next film is, everyone’s cheering for each film. It becomes this celebratory, affirming vibe. You’re shielding your eyes at first, then you’re watching and cheering at the same content.”

Find the streaming schedule for Hump! Greatest Hits, Volume 1 at HumpFilmFest.com, with screenings happening tonight, June 26, and two evenings in early July. Tickets start at $25 before fees; the content is only available as a livestreamed feed, not video on demand (VOD).

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How Zelda fans changed the ending to Ocarina of Time on a vanilla N64

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Enlarge / This… isn’t supposed to happen in Ocarina of Time. Here’s the story of how some fans made it happen anyway—all on a stock N64 with an unmodified Ocarina cartridge.

Summer Games Done Quick

Shortly after our guide to Summer Games Done Quick 2022 went live, the event hosted an astounding demonstration of a classic video game—one that has since crowded that Ars article’s replies. If we want to split hairs, this run through the 1998 N64 classic Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is not a “speedrun,” but it’s another example of the “TASBot” concept transforming games in ways we would never have dreamed of 24 years ago.

The team of fans and programmers responsible for this week’s “Triforce-percent” demonstration have since revealed how they achieved the feat with nothing more than a stock N64 and an original Ocarina retail cartridge—though the secret involves controller inputs so fast and precise that they cannot be performed by anything less than a computer.

Nothing stale about this run

An early 2020 video that explains how stale reference manipulation works. You may want to watch this before watching the SGDQ 2022 video, embedded further below.

The 53-minute demonstration (embedded at the end of this article) opens with an exploit previously unearthed in late 2019, which the community dubbed “Stale Reference Manipulation.” This exploit takes advantage of a vulnerability in the game’s original 1.0 version, which allowed players to manipulate numerical values assigned to specific objects in the game’s memory. The breeziest explanation for this complicated technique can be found in a YouTube video from early 2020 (embedded above), as it spells out the various numerical values assigned to each object in the game, such as their X-, Y-, and Z-axes and their rotation.

Savvy players can make values overlap or overwhelm the game’s original code so they can be manipulated as players see fit. The technique we see in this week’s run requires Link to pick up a rock while going through a “loading zone,” a hallway used to disguise loading pauses on N64 hardware, and to do so in a way that the game was not designed to handle.

Initially, this exploit was a speedrunning tool, as it could trick the game into loading the final credits sequence and technically count as a “completion” within only a few minutes. But the Triforce-percent run goes much further.

RAMming new content into a classic game

Hey, wait, that doesn't belong here... but as the TASBot demonstration team points out, an Arwing from <em>Star Fox 64</em> was left in the original <em>Ocarina</em> cartridge, as a reminder that this object was used to test certain animation routines in the early development period.
Enlarge / Hey, wait, that doesn’t belong here… but as the TASBot demonstration team points out, an Arwing from Star Fox 64 was left in the original Ocarina cartridge, as a reminder that this object was used to test certain animation routines in the early development period.

Summer Games Done Quick

By picking up and dropping specific items, then making the game’s hero Link move and perform maneuvers in a specific sequence, the TASBot team opens up a Pandora’s box of what’s known as arbitrary code execution—the type of vulnerability used by hackers the world over to make a closed computer system run whatever code they want. What’s more, the TASBot chain of moves and commands begins to tell the N64 to accept button input from all four N64 controllers as if it’s code.

This item-manipulation menu was left in the game as a beta element, easily unearthed for use in the SGDQ 2022 run.
Enlarge / This item-manipulation menu was left in the game as a beta element, easily unearthed for use in the SGDQ 2022 run.

Summer Games Done Quick

At this point, a computer takes over all four N64 controller ports and sends a rapid-fire series of button taps, as if it were a zillion-finger superhero equivalent to The Flash. The glitched-out Ocarina cartridge has instructed the N64 to accept each button tap in a way that corresponds to specific code strings. Once enough of this payload has been sent, the team can return normal control to the “player one” port, so that a real person can play through an entirely new sequence of content—all being dumped into the N64’s random-access memory (RAM) by the other three controllers’ incredibly fast input.

These on-the-fly patches can do many incredible things that, combined, resemble a fully blown patch of a cartridge’s read-only memory (ROM), though the TASBot team restricts itself to changes that specifically apply to the console’s RAM: tiny changes to existing code, total file replacements, or commands to tell the game to ignore content that it would normally load from the ROM. As a result, this exploit can glitch or crash if players go outside the expected path that this exploit is optimized for.

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Diablo Immortal is bringing in over $1 million a day in microtransactions

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Use cash to buy orbs.

Despite backlash from some players, Diablo Immortal‘s free-to-play, microtransaction-laden game design seems to be working out just fine for Blizzard’s bottom line. Using data from mobile analysis firm Appmagic, MobileGamer.biz estimates that the iOS and Android versions of the game brought in $49 million in earnings from just over 10 million mobile downloads in the versions’ first 30 days of availability.

Those estimates, which are based on public charts provided by the mobile platforms, don’t include the PC version of the game and, thus, may actually be underselling the scale of its financial success. With PC players included, Blizzard announced that Diablo Immortal hit 10 million installs after just over a week, well ahead of the mobile download pace estimated by Appmagic.

By way of comparison, Diablo III took nearly six months to sell 10 million copies after its troubled launch back in 2012. But that game sold for a $60 MSRP, making it hard to compare directly to a free-to-play game that has so far brought in an estimated average of less than $5 in earnings per download, according to Appmagic.

The long tail

While Diablo III‘s earnings were front-loaded on initial sales, though, Diablo Immortal seems well-positioned to bring in additional revenue from its existing player base for a long while. As of Monday, for instance, the game was still the 34th highest-grossing app on the entire iOS App Store, despite having fallen to 134th in terms of new downloads.

Many of those initial Immortal players (and payers) will eventually fall away from the game, of course. But that process might happen slower than you might think. Estimates of Android app retention from analysis firm Quettra suggest an app that launches in the “top 10” on the Google Play Store (as Diablo Immortal did) can expect to keep close to 60 percent of its initial users after three months. And public data from mobile hits like Pokemon Go, Angry Birds, and Candy Crush Saga suggests that roughly 10 to 20 percent of all players who had downloaded those games were still regular players a full year or two after launch.

That all suggests that Diablo Immortal will have millions of active players well into next year and beyond. And while the vast majority of those players will never spend a single cent on the game, the top-end whales could easily spend enough on the game’s confusing sets of currencies to keep the revenue rolling in for Blizzard for a long time.

Blizzard has already promised that the upcoming Diablo IV will limit microtransactions to optional cosmetics. But the early performance for Diablo Immortal helps show why the free-to-play business model can be so appealing for a publisher like Blizzard, even if it can be annoying for many players.

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The best game-exploiting speedruns of Summer Games Done Quick 2022

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Enlarge / All four of the mascots seen in this SGDQ promo image appear in various speedruns hosted over the past week.

Summer Games Done Quick

The Games Done Quick series of charity events has long been a favorite among the gaming fans and critics at Ars Technica since it combines classic, beloved video games and carefully studied methods to break them apart in search of high-speed exploits.

This year’s summertime installment is particularly special, as it’s the first in 2.5 years to take place at a physical venue—albeit with some of the most stringent masking and distancing requirements we’ve seen in a livestreamed public show in 2022. (GDQ’s organizers appear to read the news, which makes sense for a series that benefits the likes of Doctors Without Borders.) Even with precautions taken, its combination of players, commentators, and crowds in the same room has brought excitement back to its broadcasts, which is why we’re pulling together some of the best runs from the past week, as archived at GDQ’s official YouTube channel.

The event is still ongoing as of this article’s publication, which means you can watch it right now via its Twitch channel. The event’s final runs, dedicated to Elden Ring, will conclude in the late hours on Saturday, July 2.

Tunic speedrun, Summer Games Done Quick 2022

Tunic, 2022, “true ending” run

If you haven’t yet played Tunic, we recommend you pause before watching this game-breaking, spoiler-filled romp through many of its biggest secrets. (My March review of the game has far fewer spoilers.) But if you’ve already collected the game’s slew of hidden “instruction booklet” pages, consider this a must-watch, because it includes a compelling guest on real-time commentary: Andrew Shouldice, the game’s lead designer, programmer, and artist.

He’s joined by a member of the Power-Up Audio team, which worked on the game’s soundtrack, and they divulge tons of information about how the game was made—including confirmation about how many of the biggest exploits were intentionally left by the devs in the game. At one point, Shouldice watches a trick begin to play out, telling the crowd that he programmed it to be a possibility but could never personally trigger it. Moments later, the speedrunner demonstrated the trick, allowing him to warp through a wall and bypass a ton of tricky content.

Halo Infinite speedrun, Summer Games Done Quick 2022

Halo Infinite, 2021, “no tank gun” run

Many classic games’ speedruns include multiple categories, and the most broken ones are known as “any-percent” runs, since they allow players to use any tricks and skip any quests that they want. In certain games’ cases, these kinds of runs can be boring to watch, and the infamously glitchy Halo Infinite is no exception.

This speedrun begins with a demonstration of the “tank gun,” which bolts an unlimited-ammo gun to Master Chief’s feet. That’s too much assistance for speedrunners’ tastes, but this SGDQ demonstration still includes a ton of wacky tricks that combine geometry clipping and otherworldly physics exploits—all boosted by Chief’s immediate access to a new grappling hook item. Sure, the hook makes players move much faster through the world, but it also figures into a wild glitch that makes players bounce off explosive barrels in ways that defy gravity.

Thunder in Paradise speedrun, Summer Games Done Quick 2022

Thunder in Paradise, 1995, all-cutscenes run

We’re not sure whether this is GDQ’s first speedrun dedicated to a full-motion video (FMV) game, but it’s certainly one of the dumber examples of the mid-’90s CD-ROM genre. Thunder in Paradise is based on the short-lived TV series of the same name, which starred Terry “Hulk” Hogan alongside Jack Lemmon’s son as a crime-solving action duo on the beach, and it was as bad as that sounds. The video game version, relegated to the CD-I console, forces players to watch excruciatingly bad live-action footage between light gun shootout sections.

In most video game speedruns, players skip as many cinema scenes as possible, but GDQ elected to show this game’s filmed footage in its entirety while cheesing the gun gameplay parts as quickly as possible. Strap in, brother.

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