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With Super Mario Maker 2, Nintendo both unleashes and leashes creators – TechCrunch

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Nintendo’s Mario Maker series is among the most generous gifts the company could have given to its fans, and the new installment on Switch is better than its predecessor in every way. Yet despite the freedom and encouragement it gives, it’s hard not to feel a gentle tug groundward when your ambitions begin to soar.

For those unfamiliar with Mario Maker, the original was a totally unexpected joy on the Wii U and one of the few games that truly took advantage of that console’s unusual hardware. It allowed players to use the touchscreen and stylus to put together Mario levels in a variety of styles, and the resulting number and complexity of creations boggled minds worldwide.

The sequel, Super Mario Maker 2, announced in February and released at the end of June, is a natural evolution of the previous game. It adds new items, new styles, new ways to sculpt the landscape and a variety of other complexifiers like conditions you can impose on players: no jumping, carry this item to the goal and so on.

A welcome addition is the robust tutorial for the maker mode, featuring the weird/cute duo Nina and Kawamura (a girl and a pigeon) walking the player through the tools and providing what amounts to platformer design 101. There’s also a single-player campaign: A hundred unconnected levels that let you have some good old Nintendo-designed Mario fun, but also serve as inspiration for how to use various blocks and level styles.

storymode levels

Within days of release, the “Course World” is already brimming with strange and fun levels to play, full of ingenious ideas and uses for blocks and enemies that will have you shaking your head — and biting your controller with rage. There’s even a whole category for “auto-Mario” levels (a strange and wonderful genre that sprang out of the original Mario Maker) that take the player through an adventure sometimes without any input at all.

Importantly, this game adds a few things that Mario levels really need: locked doors and keys, for instance, or checkpoints so players don’t have to replay a punishing section. That opens up things considerably and already I have seen lots of interesting levels taking advantage of this to make you visit multiple areas, beat a certain enemy before proceeding, and such.

puzzle

This devious little level is nothing like Mario, yet uses Mario rules

I’ll let other reviews go into detail about the various more granular improvements the game makes. Suffice it to say here that it’s a ton of fun, making levels is hard and between the single-player, multiplayer and Course World modes, Mario Maker 2 more than justifies its purchase price. For my part I want to call attention to something I feel is important about the game and the carefully thought-out limitations it places on creators.

Nintendo’s zeal for seeking and destroying copyright violations is well known; just last week we had Mario Royale shut down almost instantly. And the company is also well known for its highly conservative stance on licensing, in some ways at least — for instance, only ever letting Zelda games appear on Nintendo consoles rather than having them come out on Sony and Microsoft platforms as well. There are plenty of good reasons for that, I’m just making a note of it.

Nintendo’s fan base, however, is the only one that rivals it for zeal, and over the years they have found many ways to modify or reuse the properties that Nintendo has been happy to either let lie or recycle tamely via Virtual Console. Nintendo would never, for example, have made Mario Royale. Nor would it make something like the A Link to the Past Randomizer, which changes the locations of items in the classic game to make each playthrough unique. (A similar one exists for Super Metroid and other beloved and much-played classics.)

Again, Nintendo’s philosophy forbids many of these things — their idea of games is a much more pure one and it’s hard to fault it when the results are things like Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild. But players want more, and they regularly do whatever they can to break Nintendo’s creations out of the carefully manicured walled gardens the company has long cultivated for them.

Enter Mario Maker.

This title essentially performs a bleed on the community that is so fervently dedicated to playing Nintendo’s games outside of Nintendo’s rules. By letting players make their own levels, and by giving them a tool that’s really quite powerful to do so, they remove a great deal of the pressure that has built up and resulted in things like rom hacks.

mycourse

A course I’m working on: Infiltrating Moleville

The second game especially opens up the creative floodgates, since the new items and capabilities make possible the complex levels that have made up the best of Mario from the beginning. Straight-up platforming is always fun, but Nintendo’s level designers have learned to theme each level with a specific skill set or feel in mind, and the sequel’s tools enable that to take place in a much greater way than before.

And yet there are some purposeful omissions. The most purposeful is the lack of any ability to tie together levels using an overworld map or even a 1-1, 1-2, 1-3 structure. While it’s possible some creators may be able to circumvent this in a small way, this is a clear sign from Nintendo that this is a tool for making levels, not games.

Withholding higher structure (that could be as simple as designing playlists) is a strategic move that reserves that structure for official games. And allowing for easy sharing of levels and playlists, instead of relying on Nintendo’s own algorithms and onerous number-based sharing system, makes it trivial for the company to control the means of distribution.

courseworldAgain, I’m not saying they shouldn’t, exactly — and there will be thousands and thousands of levels worth playing, more than any one player could possibly want. But what’s clear from the popularity of Mario Maker is that millions of players also want to see Nintendo’s creations unbound by Nintendo’s strict rules. And while Mario Maker 2 loosens those rules considerably, it also indicates the limits of what Nintendo is willing to allow its community to do.

That said, within those limits there are near infinite variations and, in fact, it’s probable that the game’s creators deliberated intensely on what to include and what to exclude. I’m desperately missing the invincible giant moles from SMW, but would having them (and a dozen other rare critters) in the enemy selection just clutter it up? I’d like to have an overworld, but for the casual maker or speedrunning level maker, wouldn’t that really just be an extra step that would be skipped more often than not? The intention of the game is to facilitate creation, but part of that is knowing what tools not to provide.

Ultimately my wish that Nintendo demolish the walls of its garden amounts to nothing more than asking them to give away the keys to the castle, so to speak. And it’s not like I’m being oppressed here — I can barely put together a decent course of my own, and others are happy to work within these constraints. Not being a genius Maker myself, I tend to see the restrictions rather than the possibilities.

I just want more Mario, and in fact more Mario than Nintendo is willing to give. With Mario Maker it has secured me a constant drip-feed of Mario-adjacent content that’s just enough to keep me playing but also just limited enough that I look forward with immense impatience to the next “real” game. Whether that’s a kindness or a cruelty I can’t say, but whatever it is, it’s going to take up a hell of a lot of my time over the next couple of years.

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New PS5 exploit unlocks root privileges, read/write memory access

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Enlarge / Hackers are getting closer to fully unlocking user control of the PS5 hardware.

Sony

Long-time console hacker and exploit developer SpecterDev has released a PS5 exploit that can give users root privileges and read/write access to large chunks of system memory. While this exploit can’t be used to actually execute arbitrary code just yet, it represents an important step toward getting homebrew code running on the console.

The exploit, released this weekend, makes use of a FreeBSD vulnerability in the system OS that was reported to PlayStation’s HackerOne bounty program in January (a very similar vulnerability on the PS4 was reported to PlayStation in 2020). Making use of the exploit relies on setting up a fake DNS server on your local network such that accessing the PS5’s on-screen manual (which is loaded via the system’s hidden web browser) points instead to a page on your local PC.

From there, the exploit uses an error in how the PS5’s browser implementation handles memory locking while setting IPv6 socket headers. While the details get pretty technical, the exploit essentially sets up a race condition to access that exposed socket header memory before it’s fully locked. That small bit of access is then used as a hook to start reading and writing arbitrary data into large areas of the PS5’s memory via an RPC server on the host machine.

Limitations

Because this exploit relies on a race condition, SpecterDev warns that it only works about 30 percent of the time and might lead to multiple kernel panics (and subsequent lengthy system restarts) before read/write access is successfully obtained. The exploit also can’t currently write to low-level “kernel space” (which is still protected by an intact hypervisor) or even execute any code that a user might write to user space (which relies on areas of “Execute Only Memory” that are still protected).

Still, the exploit provides access to the PS5’s debug menu, as hacker Lance McDonald demonstrated in a tweet last night. It also provides PS5 hackers with an entry point to learn more about the PS5’s memory and security systems and could serve as a potential beachhead for developing a fully homebrew-compatible hack for the console. That said, SpecterDev warns that “homebrew will take a lot of effort” because of the aforementioned security protections that are still intact.

While this exploit currently works on version 4.3 of the PS5 firmware (released last October), SpecterDev speculates that some slight changes could get a similar exploit to work on firmware version 4.5 (released last December). Sony marked the issue as “resolved” on HackerOne in April, though, suggesting that the same vulnerability probably won’t work in firmware versions released since then.

That makes SpecterDev’s entry point different from a distinct, “essentially unpatchable” PS5 exploit revealed by hacker CTurt earlier this month. That method made use of a separate issue with the PS5’s “just-in-time” compilation of emulated PS2-on-PS4 games to gain a hook into the console’s “user space” memory to write and run homebrew code.

While the days of regular PS5 owners being able to install their own homebrew apps on the PS5 may still be a ways off, the hacking community won’t rest until that time arrives.

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New trailer for Wakanda Forever gives us a peek at the new Black Panther

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Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the final film in the MCU’s Phase Four.

Still reeling from the death of their king T’Challa, the people of Wakanda face a new threat from a feathered serpent god in the new trailer for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. It’s the final film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase Four, although technically, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, slated for a December release on Disney+, will be the official conclusion.

As we’ve reported previously, Wakanda Forever was already in development when Chadwick Boseman—who played T’Challa in 2018’s Black Panther—died of colon cancer in August 2020. Director Ryan Coogler, Marvel’s Kevin Feige, and many others had been unaware that Boseman was ill. They decided not to recast T’Challa, nor would they try to insert the character using visual effects, although most of the other main cast members are returning. So the finished film is, in many ways, a tribute to Boseman.

There are plenty of familiar faces in Wakanda Forever. Per the official premise, “Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), Shuri (Letitia Wright), M’Baku (Winston Duke), Okoye (Danai Gurira), and the Dora Milaje (including Florence Kasumba) fight to protect their nation from intervening world powers in the wake of King T’Challa’s death. As the Wakandans strive to embrace their next chapter, the heroes must band together with the help of War Dog Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and forge a new path for the kingdom of Wakanda.”

Enlarge / Who will be the new Black Panther?

Marvel Studios

Among the new faces is Namor (Tenoch Huerta), the king of a tribe that lives underwater in a world called Talokan (previously assumed by many to be Atlantis). The film will also introduce a new Black Panther—possibly Shuri, who takes up the mantle in the comics, although this has not been confirmed—as well as Riri Williams, aka Ironheart (Dominique Thorne), a teen tech genius who is a protegé of Tony Stark in the comics. (Thorne will also portray Riri in the forthcoming Ironheart series on Disney+.) Isaach de Bankolé, Dorothy Steel, and Danny Sapani reprise their roles as the Wakandan River Tribe, Merchant Tribe, and Border Tribe elders, respectively, while Mabel Cadena and Alex Livinalli will play Namor’s cousin Namora and the Talocan warrior Attuma, respectively.

The somber, elegiac first teaser for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever debuted at Comic-Con in July; we thought it really captured the grief and sense of loss regarding the death of T’Challa (and Chadwick Boseman). And just last month, D23 Expo attendees were treated to new footage showing the broader impact, especially the political ramifications.

At the end of Black Panther, T’Challa revealed the true nature of Wakanda and its vast vibranium resources to the assembled representatives at the United Nations. The footage opened with Queen Ramonda facing an angry UN to defend the hiding of Wakanda’s resources. This was intercut with scenes of soldiers invading a vibranium plant; they were foiled by Okoye and a host of Dora Milaje. The rest of the footage concerned Talokan and Namor, who feared that T’Challa’s big reveal had put his own land at risk.

The film will introduce Tenach Huerta as Namor, king of Talokan.
Enlarge / The film will introduce Tenach Huerta as Namor, king of Talokan.

Marvel Studios

The new trailer opens with T’Challa’s funeral, interspersed with scenes of Talokan and accompanied by a brief voiceover from Namor: “Only the most broken people can be great leaders.” And we learn from M’Baku—whose mountain tribe is no longer isolated from the rest of Wakanda—that Namor isn’t deemed a mere general or king by his people: “They call him K’uk’ulkan, the feather serpent god. Killing him will risk eternal war.” But believing that Wakanda has lost its protector with the death of T’Challa, it seems Namor is now gunning to take over the surface world.

That likely means war with Wakanda, and we will clearly be getting plenty of action on that score. There are several shots of Namor flying through the sky, courtesy of his winged ankles, and Wakanda amassing its considerable resources in response to the looming threat. We see Riri working on her Ironheart costume and taking to the skies (“Let’s go!”). The trailer ends with a tantalizing shot of the new Black Panther with a distinctly feminine silhouette.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever hits theaters on November 11, 2022.

Marvel Studios

Listing image by Marvel Studios

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Nintendoes what Valve don’t: Game barred from Steam will launch on Switch

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Enlarge / Nothing weird going on here. No siree.

Japanese publisher Spike Chunsoft announced that the first official English translation of visual novel Chaos;Head Noah won’t be coming to Steam as planned “due to Steam’s guideline-required changes to the game’s content.” But while the game is apparently too risqué for Steam, the family-friendly folks at Nintendo apparently have no problem with a Switch version that Spike Chunsoft says will still launch in the US on October 7 as scheduled.

“Spike Chunsoft, Inc. believes these [Steam guideline-required] changes would not allow the game to be released to its standards,” the publisher said in its announcement. “The company is looking into delivering the title through alternative storefronts, and when details are decided will make another formal announcement. Until then your patience and understanding is appreciated.”

Nintendo says this scene is appropriate for its store page, so we figure you readers can handle it.
Enlarge / Nintendo says this scene is appropriate for its store page, so we figure you readers can handle it.

Chaos;Head Noah was initially listed for Steam pre-sale in April, but that page was taken down in August, according to tracking site SteamDB. At the time, that led to some concerns about the eventual fate of the Steam version, which Spike Chunsoft finally confirmed today.

Valve’s apparent push for content restrictions comes even though the extremely similar thematic sequel Chaos;Child has been available in English on Steam since 2019 (following its initial 2014 release in Japan on the Xbox One). The English PS4 version of Chaos;Child received an M for Mature rating from the ESRB, which described game scenes of strangling, torture, and “exposed brains” alongside sexual content like “two female characters moaning off screen while discussing each other’s breasts.”

How bad is it?

Chaos;Head Noah is an enhanced port of Chaos;Head, the game that launched the cult-classic Science Adventure series of visual novels (which also includes Steins;Gate and its sequels). The game follows a series of murders and suicides in Tokyo’s Shibuya neighborhood and allows players to change the story progression by indulging in various positive or negative “delusions.” Some of those delusions can reportedly get extremely gory and/or suggest (but not directly show) imminent sexual violence.

“I don’t think it gets much worse than anything already in Steam’s library,” PQube Games Head of Localization Andrew Hodgson (who worked on the English translation of Steins;Gate) told Ars Technica of the “titillating and violent content” in the game. “It’s far from adult, even if it can be quite gruesome in certain scenes.”

Just your average, everyday game on a Nintendo console.
Enlarge / Just your average, everyday game on a Nintendo console.

The original Chaos;Head was originally released for Japanese PCs in 2008 before the enhanced Noah hit the Xbox 360 in 2009. That console port (and a later Vita re-release) received CERO Z content ratings in Japan, which “assumes that the game should not be sold or distributed to those younger than 18 years old” and is roughly equivalent to an ESRB “AO for Adults Only” rating in the US. CERO’s “content icon” system for that game only included a warning about “crime,” however, and not violence or sexual content.

Subsequent Japanese ports of Chaos;Head Noah for the PS3, PSP, Android, and iOS were heavily edited to remove some of the more extreme images and descriptions of violence. In turn, those ports received a lower CERO D rating (roughly equivalent to the ESRB’s “M for Mature” rating) in Japan. A source in the visual novel translation community (who asked to remain anonymous) confirmed that both the Switch and proposed Steam English-language versions of the game were based on this edited-down script.

A Japanese Chaos;Head port for the Nintendo Switch, released earlier this year, received the higher CERO Z rating (and “crime” content icon) despite using the edited version of the game that previously received a CERO D rating. The English translation will launch on Switch in the US next month, with an “M for Mature” rating and content descriptors that warn of “Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, Language, [and] Intense Violence.”

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