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This week on The Shift, Eric Chapman and I talked about the number of fan conventions, including Comic-Con and PAX, that are moving online, the Xbox Games Showcase and Xbox Summer Game Fest demos, the pending end of Adobe Flash, the puzzle game Superliminal, and the Eco Lifestyle expansion for The Sims 4.

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This week, Xbox starts ramping up to new games and a new console, Adobe Flash looks into the sunset, Superliminal is like Portal and that’s a good thing, and the Sims 4 gets an Eco Lifestyle. But first, more fan conventions are going online.

More fan conventions moving programs online

Comic-Con at Home begins today and runs through the weekend. This is the online version of San Diego’s massive fan event that includes everything from TV and movies to games, and even comics.

The event includes presentations and demonstrations, panel discussions, watch parties, and portfolio review, and it’s all happening across different platforms, including Discord, Facebook, Twitch, and YouTube.

There are hundreds of things to choose from.

Later in August, DC FanDome is Warner Bros celebrating DC Comics characters and worlds over a 24-hour virtual event on August 22.

Organizers of FanDome are already looking for fans to share their creativity for a chance to be included in the virtual event. You can submit artwork, questions, cosplay, and even portfolios.

And from September 12 to 20, PAX Online combines PAX West and PAX Australia in a nine-day gaming extravaganza. The free event will include three streaming channels worth of panels coming from Australia, London, and the U.S.

One of the things that makes PAX different from other fan events has always been the spontaneous games that happen all over the place, and organizers are working to find ways to support that same kind of discovery online.

Xbox begins the ramp up to a new console, new games

Microsoft’s new video game console, the Xbox Series X, is just a few months away from being released. This week, the company begins ramping up the hype machine.

Phil Spencer’s promise to gamers

The head of Xbox has authentic gamer cred, and in a post online last week he laid out their commitments to gamers. I encourage you to read the article, but here are a couple of highlights:

  • “You won’t be forced into the next generation.” For the next couple of years, all games developed for the Series X will also be playable on the Xbox One.
  • “You can buy games once at no added cost.” With many games that will be playable on both Series X and Xbox One, you will be able to upgrade your game for free when you upgrade your console.
  • The Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription will not only give you access to more than 100 games, but you’ll be able to play them on your console, Windows computer, and your phone and tablet.

Xbox Games Showcase

Spencer also pledged that there will be new games to play on the Series X on the day it is released. We’ll know a lot more about some of those games tomorrow, as the Xbox Games Showcase streams in all of the usual places:

I will be tuning in because I am so excited for Halo Infinite.

Play show floor demos of more than 60 Xbox games until July 27

As the usual summer game festivals and conventions aren’t happening, people are missing out on an opportunity to try out new games and games that are new to them.

The Summer Game Fest aims to remedy that, and as part of that, Xbox is making nearly 100 games available to try out for free.

Many of these games are being developed by independent studios, and you can access them on your Xbox One. Just look for the “Game Fest Demo” tile on your screen.

Major Nelson has the full list.

Adobe Flash is technology that has come to its end

Flash is sunsetting. This December, Adobe will stop distributing and supporting the software, which for more than 20 years has helped create the browsing experience we enjoy today.

Flash, which came into being in 1997 as part of Macromedia software, has been used to create interactive experiences, animation, and video for the world wide web. And in the next couple of years, having Flash on your website was a badge of honour.

In 2005, Adobe acquired Macromedia’s assets, and in addition to embedding Flash in operating systems and browsers, the company hoped the mobile revolution would expand growth.

That didn’t happen, though, for a number of reasons, including Apple’s Steve Jobs refusing to let Flash on the iPhone.

The functionality that Flash allowed is now available through HTML5 and other applications, so it’s time. Even today, most browsers won’t automatically run Flash code, and Adobe recommends that users uninstall the Flash Player now:

Superliminal a fun, quirky, Portal-like puzzle game

If you’ve ever played Portal, you need to be playing Superliminal.

Where Portal taught players how to use the mechanic of doorways to move between places, Superliminal uses perspective. When you pick up an object, its size scales depending on what it’s close to. So a small chess piece can become gigantic or a block becomes miniature.

The puzzles are all about playing with this perspective, and it gets progressively more difficult, where you’ll need to alter the size of a dollhouse so that you can walk into it.

Seattle-based Pillow Castle Games has also given Superliminal a conceit, too, which is another homage to Portal. Here you are a patient at a sleep institute, and there’s a robotic voice, the “Standard Orientation Protocol” that provides you with some context for what you’re doing.

Also like Portal, you’ll find yourself exploring behind the scenes, as it were, and trying to make sense of what’s really going on.

Superliminal is an inventive puzzling experience. It’s available for PS4, Switch, Windows, and Xbox One.

Solar panels come to The Sims 4 with Eco Lifestyle expansion

Electronic Arts has released another expansion for The Sims 4.

Eco Lifestyle modifies the systems of the game so that there are consequences to the actions of your sims.

There are three new communities to live in. Conifer Station, Grim’s Quarry, and Port Promise all have different beginning states, and the sims in those neighbourhoods can embody new personalities, including a Freegan, who will dumpster dive in order to get used objects – like furniture – out of the waste stream while saving a few bucks.

Eco Lifestyle is available now for Mac OS and Windows through EA’s Origin.

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This week, the Photoshop Camera for mobile devices from Adobe, Paper Mario: The Origami King, and Ghost of Tsushima. But first, facial recognition service Clearview AI has left Canada.

Update at 10 p.m. PT, 2020-07-15: Hackers appear to swindle hundreds of thousands of dollars in Twitter hack

Clearview AI no longer operating in Canada

The technology company, which provides facial recognition services to law enforcement, government agencies, and even retailers, has exited Canada.

Toronto police forces, the Department of National Defence, Rexall, and Via Rail were all customers at one point.

The technology reportedly only pulled image data from the internet, but privacy commissions across Canada, including Alberta, B.C., and Quebec, in addition to the federal commission, are continuing their investigations.

Canadians can choose to opt out of the Clearview AI database of images. But you have to send them a photo of yourself in order to do so.

Adobe Photoshop Camera software comes to mobile devices

Adobe, the software company behind Photoshop, Illustrator, and so many other design apps, has released a camera app for mobile devices.

Adobe Photoshop Camera gives you easy access to backgrounds and filters, which Adobe calls “lenses”. You can apply these to your photos when you take them, or afterwards.

Artists and photographers are also creating other filters that you can add to your lens library. “Astrophotographer” Jaxson Pohlman, for example, has created a couple of lenses that will enhance your night sky photos.

The Photoshop Camera is now available for Android and iOS.

Nintendo’s Mario flattens out with The Origami King

Nintendo’s got a way of taking its franchises and doing something different with them every time. With Paper Mario the conceit is that everything is made of paper, and the world and its characters know it.

In the Origami King, the bad guys are the usual enemies which have been folded up and brainwashed by the titular ruler. Mario straightens them out by engaging in turn-based puzzle combat, in which he stomps on or pounds enemies to flatten them out into proper two-dimensional creatures.

As Mario navigates this paper world, he has to repair holes in the landscape that expose the wire framework upon which it was constructed. To do this he needs to collect confetti, which he then throws onto the holes to patch them.

I enjoyed exploring the world and searching for collectibles more than the combat, which involves you rotating the rings of a circle in order to line up enemies for grouped attacks. It’s a clumsy mechanic that breaks the paper theme.

But it doesn’t destroy the game, which is a typical, cute affair that is winking at itself the entire time.

Paper Mario: The Origami King releases on Friday, exclusively on the Nintendo Switch.

Beautiful Ghost of Tsushima makes it fun to be a samurai

This role-playing adventure game, a PS4 exclusive from Sony’s Sucker Punch Studios, turns players into a samurai on Tsushima Island, an archipelago between what is today Korea and Japan.

Ghost of Tsushima is an open world game, and plays much like the Assassin’s Creed series. You’ll roam the countryside, often on horseback, encountering enemies, helping the locals, and collecting resources that can be used to upgrade your weapons and gear.

In becoming samurai Jin Sakai, players find themselves in 1274, when the Mongol Empire’s Kublai Khan invaded Tsushima as a way to conquer Japan.

The combat is delicious. You switch between different stances depending on what enemy type you’re battling, and using the katana, timing cuts and parries, is particularly delightful. You’ll also use stealth and ranged weapons.

And I’m not mincing words by calling this game beautiful. The art style, which is like an oil painting come to life, is exquisite, and the animations are colourful and fluid.

While you’d be forgiven thinking this game is an Assassin’s Creed title, Sucker Punch does have some lovely touches. Rather than following a mini-map on the screen, you follow the wind, which blows in the direction you need to travel.

There’s also a nod to Japanese culture in how you can seek out shinto shrines and meditation spots where you’ll compose haiku.

But that’s where Ghost of Tsushima is problematic. The developers have admitted they were careful in how they created the game, knowing that appropriation was something to be mindful about. While that explains the tone of the game, it doesn’t excuse it.

Ghost romanticizes the notion of the Japanese samurai in a way that only a group of white, Western Kurosawa fans could. The way the characters talk about codes of honour becomes quite tiresome after a while.

At least the actors playing the major characters are Japanese. Daisuke Tsuji, as the protagonist Jin Sakai, is excellent, taking an understated approach to the role.

That said, I’m going to continue playing Ghost of Tsushima, because I love the world that’s been created, and becoming a powerful samurai is something I enjoy doing. But I’m aware at all times that this isn’t history, it’s only a game.

Update at 8:50 a.m., 2020-07-16: Japanese reviewers of the game, who are able to be more critical than I about how Ghost of Tsushima represents Japanese culture and history, seem to be okay with what Sucker Punch has done here, according to Kotaku’s Brian Ashcraft, who has been living in Osaka since 2001. I still think the game romanticizes the role of samurai, but this is a power fantasy after all.

Update at 9:40 a.m., 2020-07-24: Writing for Polygon, Kazuma Hashimoto validates my concerns about romanticizing samurai: “It feels like it was made by outsiders looking into an otherwise complex culture through the flattening lens of an old black-and-white film. The gameplay is slick and the hero moments are grand, but the game lacks the nuance and understanding of what it ultimately tries to reference.” I’m still enjoying the game, though, for moments of quiet beauty and episodes of visceral sword fighting.

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This week on The Shift with Drex I talked about how social platforms are responding to hate speech by issuing suspensions and bans, major advertisers pulling out of Facebook as part of the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, how Alexa is celebrating Canada Day, Form’s swim goggles with a heads-up display, and using Xbox consoles to get sound effects for Halo Infinite.

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