Games

It was probably best that I died, my computer companion told me sadly. Read more

Richard Waters

You’re standing on the surface of Mars. You look down and marvel at the detail, then up to the horizon, following the ridge of mountains around to your left. You jump: the Mars Rover is right behind your left shoulder, taller than you are, one of its cameras slanted to the side and looking like a pet robot waiting for an order.

This isn’t some gamer version of Mars. It’s the real thing. Every rock, in clear 3D. In front of you stands the bronze avatar of a scientist ready to talk about the experiments you’re going to perform.

Microsoft has lacked the “wow” factor for some time. It’s been left to Google, Apple and Facebook, with its acquisition of virtual reality company Oculus, to set the standards in technical daring and creative ambition.

Not any more. With HoloLens, the “mixed reality” headset it unveiled on Wednesday, Microsoft is suddenly a contender in one of the most exciting races in the tech world: to mix the real and virtual worlds in ways that transform both.

 Read more

Richard Milne

Angry Birds may be in free fall but two of the executives most responsible for its success are spreading their wings.

Just days after the company behind Angry Birds cut 16 per cent of its workforce amid disappointing growth, two former Rovio executives are launching their first game backed with $5m of venture capital money.

Andrew Stalbow, former head of strategic partnerships at Rovio and now chief executive at Seriously, said he hoped Thursday’s launch of Best Fiends would be the start of creating a mobile phone-centred entertainment brand. Read more

Tim Bradshaw

The virtual-reality creations on show at this weekend’s Oculus Connect event were as varied as they were bizarre.

Some 800 overwhelmingly male developers gathered at the upmarket Loews Hotel in Hollywood to attend presentations ranging from game design to “360-degree filmmaking”. A session dedicated to the Gear VR, Oculus’s collaboration with Samsung to launch a mobile VR headset later this year, was particularly busy.

Outside the talks, developers lined up to try Oculus’s new Crescent Bay prototype device and showed off their own VR software – just some of the 325 games uploaded to Oculus Share, its version of an app store. Read more

Tim Bradshaw

Oculus is closing in on the consumer release of its Rift virtual reality headset, accelerated by a huge hiring spree since its sale to Facebook in March.

It showed off its new ‘Crescent Bay’ prototype at the Oculus Connect developer conference in Los Angeles on Saturday. Read more

If you thought flying a Flappy Bird was fiendish, just wait until you try swooping Swing Copters. So say new addicts of the latest free app from cult Vietnamese developer Dong Nguyen, who this week overcame his famous revulsion at his previous creation to release what looks like another hit.

Droves of instant Swing Copters devotees took to Twitter Friday to bemoan how guiding the propeller-headed hero through a landscape of deadly swinging obstacles was even closer to impossible than navigating Flappy Bird’s famously exasperating arrays of killer pipesRead more

This is the launch of the century in Chinese video gaming terms. Read more

goog3

Smart watches, TVs and cars featured prominently on Wednesday as Google laid out its plans for pushing its Android smartphone software into new fields. At its annual I/O developer event in San Francisco, “wearables” had pride of place, with news that the first smartwatches based on Android Wear are now on sale – before Apple unveils its much-anticipated iWatch. With Android TV and Android Auto, on the other hand, Google was playing catch up with Apple. The event pointed to how the battle for the next big tech markets beyond the smartphone will be fought. Richard Waters and Tim Bradshaw were at the Moscone Center for this round. 

Tim Bradshaw

Millions of addicted gamers are in a flap over the untimely death of Flappy Bird.

The Vietnamese creator of the most popular mobile game of 2014 has removed the app from sale after saying its internet fame “ruins my simple life”, despite making him tens of thousands of dollars a day. Read more

Tim Bradshaw

The verdict is in and it’s unanimous. The best gadget of this week’s Consumer Electronics Show 2014 is not a curved television, a health-tracking wristband, a Bluetooth speaker or a connected car; in fact, it’s not even a finished product. Yet the latest prototype of the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset has so excited attendees that tech blogs the Verge and Engadget – not to mention this FT reporter – have named it their “best in show”. Read more

Robert Cookson

Endemol, the television production company behind Big Brother and Deal or No Deal, has placed a bet on the growth of social casino gaming with the acquisition of a $13m stake in London-based startup Plumbee.

The deal, which values Plumbee at $40m, brings together the world’s largest independent TV production company with a two-year-old startup whose flagship title Mirrorball Slots is among the top ten highest grossing social casino games on Facebook. Read more

Here’s a small acquisition by Arm Holdings designed to light up its prospects in graphics chips. Read more

Chris Nuttall

The PlayStation 4 is a key element of Sony’s attempt at a turnaround under Sir Howard Stringer’s successor Kaz Hirai, and the first reviews are now in on the new console, which goes on sale in the US on Friday. Read more

Activision Blizzard’s $1bn number for sales of its latest Call of Duty game sounds impressive – at double the $500m in first-day sales it announced last year – but these figures have a hard-to-grasp ghost-like quality to them. Read more

Ubisoft is ruining October for its investors and Christmas for video game fans with the news that its Watch Dogs game has been delayed till next springRead more

Nexon continued its march westwards this week as it partnered with one of the newest entrants to US video game development, writes Jennifer Thompson in Tokyo.

The Japanese online game maker is to take a minority stake in Shiver Entertainment, a Florida-based studio set up by industry veteran John Schappert, a former top executive at Electronics Arts and Zynga. Read more

The world of video gaming used to be dominated by the big publishers releasing games on consoles and the PC. But the rise of smartphone and tablet gaming and new digital distribution channels has led to a big increase in successful indie games. Reaching a large audience used to be about having the biggest budget or the most successful franchise. That isn’t the case today, writes Daniel Garrahan. Read more

Chris Nuttall

Zynga appears to have wasted the $200m it was understood to have paid last year for OMGPop – with the Draw Something maker’s New York office being reportedly shut down as part of the restructuring announced this week.

It had already written down the March 2012 acquisition by around $90m last October as the drawing game’s popularity waned. Zynga is laying off 18 per cent of its global workforce – around 520 people – as it tries to shift the focus of its business away from Facebook to mobile games. One alleged victim of the cuts has been sounding off on Reddit over the past few hours about his experience at Zynga’s San Francisco headquarters. Read more

Tim Bradshaw

Ouya, the open-source games console, has become the first Kickstarter tech project to graduate to a more traditional funding scheme – venture capital.

After getting $8m from 63,000 crowdfunders last August, Ouya on Thursday announced it has raised $15m from investors including Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, Mayfield Fund and Nvidia, to accelerate its plan to attack the mass marketRead more

Chris Nuttall

LucasArts has shut down Star Wars games in development and is laying off staff, as the San Francisco-based publisher switches to a licensing model for video games.

The decision means Star Wars 1313, greeted enthusiastically by gamers at last year’s E3 convention when a preview was shown, and Star Wars:First Assault, a planned first-person shooter, will not now appear. A small team working on casual games is also being disbanded. Read more