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Pokémon GO is finally getting player-versus-player battles; here’s how they’ll work – TechCrunch

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Two and a half years after launch, Pokémon GO is at last getting player-versus-player battling.

If you’ve already had your fun with GO and moved on, that headline is probably all you need to know — it’s either enough to re-spark your interest, or not.

But if you’re still polishing up that Pokédex, hatchin’ eggs and raiding every weekend, you’re probably itching for a few more details. Good news! I got to run through a few battles late last week, and I noted damn near everything that was mentioned.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Each player brings three Pokémon into a battle (rather than six, as with the main series). The first trainer to knock out all three of their opponent’s Pokémon wins. Niantic says that 6-on-6 just took too long for a game meant to be played, as the name implies, on the go.
  • If you’re not already friends with a potential opponent, you’ll need to scan a QR code from the other player’s screen to initiate a battle. If you’re ultra friends or best friends, you can battle remotely.
  • Don’t have anyone to battle with? You can also face off against the leaders of the three teams: Blanche (Mystic), Candela (Valor) and Spark (Instinct). The best part of that: training against the gym leaders will earn you points toward the long-frozen Ace Trainer medal (which has been impossible to make progress on since the gym overhaul back in 2017 got rid of training).

  • Once a battle is initiated, you choose to battle in one of three leagues, with each league having a different cap on your Pokémon’s Combat Power (or CP): Great League (with a cap of 1,500 CP), Ultra League (2,500 CP) or Master League (no cap).
  • The thinking there: different Pokémon might shine at different strength tiers, which increases the number of “worthwhile” Pokémon. It also lets newer players jump into battling at lower levels, where higher CP Pokémon aren’t on the table.
  • To fast attack, you tap the screen. Unlike gym battles/raids, there is no swiping to dodge.
  • Tapping to fast attack juices up your charge attack.

  • Or, I should say, charge attacks. Plural! Each Pokémon can now have a second charge move permanently unlocked (using stardust/candy). These unlocked charge attacks will also work in raids/gym battles. The new move is picked at random from that Pokémon’s currently available moves at the time of unlock (read: you won’t get a community day exclusive move, or a legacy move, unless Niantic opts to bring them back into the move pool).
  • You can use Charge TMs to change either attack.

  • When you fire a charge attack, a circle and timer appear on screen. The faster you tap that circle before the timer counts down, the more damage your charge attack can potentially do.
  • When your opponent fires a charge attack, you’ll have the opportunity to use a “Protect Shield,” which greatly limits the damage it can do. The catch: you only get two protect shields per battle, so you’ll want to use them at the right time.
  • Matches are timed (thought Niantic hadn’t settled on a match length when I did my test battles). If the time expires and Pokémon are left, the win goes to the player with the most remaining Pokémon and/or the most health.

  • Both winner and loser are rewarded with items; winning does not guarantee better items.
  • Potential rewards include Sinnoh stones, the much-coveted items required to evolve a bunch of recently added Pokémon.
  • Battling the AI team leader trainers will give you rewards once per day.
  • Wins are recorded; losses are not. Niantic repeatedly noted that they didn’t want there to be any reason to not battle someone.
  • Like sending a gift or participating in a raid together, battling a friend counts toward increasing friendship levels.
  • Potions and revives can not be used mid-battle. Meanwhile, damage and knockouts do not impact your Pokémon outside of the battle.
  • The real-world weather will show up in battles, but it’s purely visual; while this may change eventually, Niantic tells me that weather does not have an impact on Pokémon stats in PvP battles at first.
  • As of last week, the only Pokémon you can’t bring into battles are Ditto and Shedinja.

For anyone hoping that GO’s eventual battle system would be modeled after the battles of the main series, this… isn’t that. Rather than a turn-by-turn back and forth, battling in GO feels closer to what players might’ve grown accustomed to when taking down a gym or participating in a raid. New mechanics, like the aforementioned protect shields, help to make it feel a bit more strategic and less like blindly tapping the screen until something happens — but after 20-something years of Pokémon games, any changes are bound to be a point of heated debate.

With that said (and with the disclaimer that I’ve only had a few battles so far) I’d say I’m… intrigued. It certainly won’t replace the main series battling system in anyone’s heart, but it’s a solid take on a system that works for casual players while still giving them reason to better learn which Pokémon are strong/weak against each other, which move sets are most effective, etc. It’s an intentionally casual battle system for what is an intentionally casual game. Don’t like it enough to take the time to battle a friend? Battle an AI trainer instead, get your rewards, and be done with it. Want to swing the other way and get super into it and become notorious in your neighborhood for being tough to beat? You can do that too, and the gameplay impact is about the same.

I appreciate that they’re allowing friends to battle remotely (once they’ve reached the ultra/best friend tiers). It’s a bit of a departure for this game, which generally requires you to be on-location and face-to-face for nearly everything else. But with many Pokémon GO players being new to the series, remote battling lets them get in more battling practice against an actual human than an exclusively in-person system might.

As usual, Niantic is being a bit ambiguous about when this’ll roll out, saying only that it’ll roll out “later this month” — which, generally, means as soon as they’re able to flip all the switches, squash the last-minute bugs and get the necessary updates through the App Store. From what I’m hearing, and like many of the recent GO feature releases, I’d expect it to go live for higher-level players first.

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Cuphead expansion pack review: As good as DLC gets

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Enlarge / In the new expansion pack The Delicious Last Course, Miss Chalice makes three.

Studio MDHR

Some people will look at an expansion pack like Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course and make up their minds after a single glance. This $8 add-on’s beautiful brutality follows the same path as the original 2017 game Cuphead, a notoriously tough descendant of the Mega Man school of game design. Maybe you love playing games that are as beautiful as they are difficult. Maybe you don’t.

I’m here to talk about Last Course because I might be a lot like you. I’m not Last Course‘s target audience. I never beat the original Cuphead. I have contended that a tough game like this is easier for me to watch than it is to play. But when I saw the expansion’s hands-on demo at this month’s Summer Game Fest Play Days, I shrugged my shoulders, grabbed a gamepad, and gave it a shot. Might as well occupy myself between other scheduled game demos, I thought.

And then I fell in love. For whatever reason, the demo I played, and my subsequent completion of Last Course‘s “normal” difficulty content, grabbed me and wouldn’t let go—which is why I’m compelled to recommend picking it up.

Another island getaway—with useful new abilities

Miss Chalice can only join the battle when she tricks one of the original main characters to chomp on a magical cookie. This temporarily sends someone else to a ghost realm so that she can join in. The trio goes on a quest to bring her back to life for good, no tricky cookies required.
Enlarge / Miss Chalice can only join the battle when she tricks one of the original main characters to chomp on a magical cookie. This temporarily sends someone else to a ghost realm so that she can join in. The trio goes on a quest to bring her back to life for good, no tricky cookies required.

Studio MDHR

Like many other classic “expansion packs,” Last Course requires owning the original game (which is conveniently on sale at most digital download storefronts between this article’s publication date and July 7) and bolts new content onto Cuphead‘s 2D action foundation. The original game divided its 18 boss battles across three “islands” of content, and Last Course adds, among other things, six bosses on a brand-new island.

Miss Chalice's double-jump ability will be useful to get away from those pesky gnomes gathering at her feet.
Enlarge / Miss Chalice’s double-jump ability will be useful to get away from those pesky gnomes gathering at her feet.

Studio MDHR

It also introduces a third playable character, named Miss Chalice, and she appears when you equip a Chalice-specific “charm” on either existing character (Cuphead or Mugman). She comes with four points of health by default (compared to three points for the other characters) and three unique abilities: an invincible dodge-roll, a double-jump, and a parry dash. (The latter gives players a larger “hitbox” when attempting the game’s crucial parry maneuver, making it easier to counter enemies’ specially colored attacks.) Since she must be activated as a charm, Miss Chalice can’t equip other charms in the game, and in two-player co-op sessions, only one person can turn their character into Miss Chalice.

As I made clear earlier, I’m not a Cuphead pro, so I was delighted by the new, novice-friendly character when I first tested the game at Summer Game Fest. All of her special abilities are tuned for higher maneuverability to help you contend with the chaos that is an average Cuphead boss battle, and in addition to her extra point of health, she also has a custom “super attack” option that doesn’t do any damage. Instead, it gives her an additional, temporary point of health, and this can be regenerated during long, brutal boss fights. Once she’s unlocked, she’s available in the original campaign’s levels as well, which makes her a nifty entry point for anyone like me who never beat the original campaign.

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Thanks to fans, the weirdest official Doom game is now playable on Windows

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Enlarge / A seemingly lost turn-based version of Doom RPG is now fully playable on modern Windows PCs, thanks to efforts from the Doom reverse-engineering community.

id Software

The creators of the Doom series have presented plenty of official and unofficial historical retrospectives, but these often leave out the weirdest official Doom game ever made: Doom RPG.

Even id Software’s official “Year of Doom” museum at E3 2019 left this 2005 game unchronicled. That’s a shame, because it was a phenomenal example of id once again proving itself a master of technically impressive gaming on a power-limited platform. And platforms don’t get more limited on a power or compatibility basis than the pre-iPhone wave of candy bar handsets, which Doom RPG has been locked to since its original mid-’00s launch. You may think that “turn-based Doom” sounds weird, but Doom RPG stood out as a clever and fun series twist to the first-person shooter formula.

Its abandonment to ancient phones changes today thanks to the reverse-engineering efforts of GEC.inc, a Costa Rica-based collective of at least three developers. On Wednesday, the group released a Windows port of the game based on their work on the original game’s BREW version (a Qualcomm-developed API meant for its wave of mobile phones from 2001 and beyond).

Time for T9

Forget the clunky world of ancient mobile phone platform emulation. <em>Doom RPG</em> feels way better in this week's new native port.
Enlarge / Forget the clunky world of ancient mobile phone platform emulation. Doom RPG feels way better in this week’s new native port.

id Software

GEC.inc’s freely downloadable Windows port has no copyrighted assets and won’t work without the game’s original files. (The same typically goes for other major community efforts that revolve around the reverse-engineering of classic games.) That’s where this whole thing gets tricky, as legitimate access to the game in 2022 is incredibly unlikely. Access requires owning a compatible mid-’00s phone on which the game was purchased, likely via an ancient game-sales marketplace that no longer exists, then extracting the game’s original files from that phone—and that’s assuming its original hardware is functioning and hasn’t been damaged by, say, a slowly expanding lithium-ion battery. id Software has never re-released the game outside of its original platforms (BREW, J2ME), arguably because EA Mobile got a stake in the game after acquiring original publisher Jamdat Mobile.

Whether you’re among the very few to have a preserved, working phone with a purchased copy of the game’s BREW port or you figure out another way to somehow access Doom RPG, you can dump the original game’s data into GEC.inc’s custom asset-translation executable. Ars Technica can confirm that this process is painless and leads to near-instant gameplay on Windows.

The port’s interface is admittedly barebones, made up of menus that require a keyboard to pick through, and its incompatibility with mice and touchpads is startling at first. It’s a hard crash back to the early ’00s to remember that, yes, this game was designed for T9 button arrays by default. Thankfully, the port plays nicely enough with Windows to make it easy to bind an Xinput gamepad via its default menus if you prefer a gamepad (or something like Steam Deck) over the usual WASD options.

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Meta sparks anger by charging for VR apps

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Enlarge / BURLINGAME, CALIFORNIA – MAY 04: Meta employee Ryan Carter (L) helps a member of the media with an Oculus virtual reality headset demonstration during a media preview of the new Meta Store on May 04, 2022 in Burlingame, California. Meta is set to open its first physical retail store on May 9. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Meta is facing a growing backlash for the charges imposed on apps created for its virtual reality headsets, as developers complain about the commercial terms set around futuristic devices that the company hopes will help create a multibillion-dollar consumer market.

Facebook’s parent has pledged to spend $10 billion a year over the next decade on the “metaverse,” a much-hyped concept denoting an immersive virtual world filled with avatars.

The investment is spurred by a desire to own the next computing platform and avoid being trapped by rules set by Big Tech rivals, as it has been by Apple and Google with their respective mobile app stores.

Apple is expected to enter the market by releasing a set of augmented reality glasses as early as this year, while Microsoft is developing services using its HoloLens virtual reality headset.

But several developers told the Financial Times of their frustration that Meta, which is seen as having an early lead in a nascent market, has insisted on a charging model for its VR app store similar to what exists today on smartphones. This is despite Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg being strongly critical in the past of charging policies on existing mobile app stores.

“Don’t confuse marketing with reality—it’s good marketing to pick on Apple. But it doesn’t mean Meta won’t do the exact same thing,” said Seth Siegel, global head of AI and cyber security at Infosys Consulting. “There is no impetus for them to be better.”

The “Quest Store” for Meta’s Quest 2, by far the most popular VR headset on the market, takes a 30 percent cut from digital purchases and charges 15-30 percent on subscriptions, similar to the fees charged by Apple and Android.

“Undoubtedly there are services provided—they build amazing hardware and provide store services,” said Daniel Sproll, chief executive of Realities.io, an immersive realities start-up behind the VR game Puzzling Places.

“But the problem is that it feels like everybody agreed on this 30 percent and that’s what we’re stuck with. It doesn’t feel like there’s any competition. The Chinese companies coming out with headsets are the same. Why would they change it?”

Meta defended its policies, pointing out that unlike iPhone owners, Quest users can install apps outside its official store through SideQuest, a third-party app store, or make use of App Lab, its less restricted, more experimental app store.

“We want to foster choice and competition in the VR ecosystem,” Meta said. “And it’s working—our efforts have produced a material financial return for developers: as we announced earlier this year, over $1 billion has been spent on games and apps in the Meta Quest Store.”

Developers welcome these alternatives but say their impact is limited. SideQuest has been downloaded just 396,000 times, versus 19 million for the Oculus app, according to Sensor Tower. App Lab, meanwhile, still takes a 30 percent cut of purchases.

Zuckerberg has previously complained of Apple’s “monopoly rents” and called out its “unique stranglehold as a gatekeeper on what gets on phones,” in reference to the App Store’s approval and curation processes.

That led Apple to accuse Meta of “hypocrisy” when the Oculus headset maker announced in April that Horizon Worlds, its “social VR experience,” would charge a 17.5 percent “platform fee” on top of its 30 percent tax on digital purchases.

Apple added: “It goes to show that while they seek to use Apple’s platform for free, they happily take from the creators and small businesses that use their own.”

Until Apple and others enter the VR market in a more concerted manner, developers also say Meta has the ability to play kingmaker with apps by fast-tracking some and delaying others.

Some titles are relegated to its experimental App Lab store, while a few of the best titles—the fitness games BeatSaber and Supernatural, for instance—have been acquired by Meta.

Another point of friction with developers is Meta’s shift on how “open” its VR app store will be.

Chris Pruett, Meta’s content ecosystem director, has said the VR team engaged in “a knockdown, drag-out debate, for years” over whether the app store should allow developers to upload their content with relatively few restrictions, or whether apps should be “curated” by the company with far more checks—similar to Apple’s approach to its mobile app store.

Pruett said Meta found that lax standards resulted in too many users being frustrated by low-quality content, so the company has opted to play more of a gatekeeper role. But developers said the resulting barriers could lack transparency.

“Getting something on the Quest store is painful,” said Lyron Bentovim, chief executive of the Glimpse Group, an immersive experiences group. “It’s significantly worse than getting on Apple or Android stores.”

Rooom, a Metaverse platform for 3D events, made it to the Quest store after nine months of back and forth, whereas the same process with Apple took less than two weeks, said chief information officer Sebastian Gottschlich.

Devon Copley, chief executive of Avatour, a virtual meeting company, said he had posted questions to the indie developer message board for support that “just go completely unanswered.”

Developer relations at Meta was “completely AWOL,” Copley said. “It’s really frustrating because the hardware development is amazing, the hardware platform is fantastic, and they’re doing great things. But their developer engagement is a travesty.”

© 2022 The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved Not to be redistributed, copied, or modified in any way.

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