Hilmar Petursson Interview (DICE Europe 2016)

Saving my favorite DICE Europe 2016 interview for last, here’s my chat with Hilmar Petursson, CEO of CCP Games. Many gamers know CCP for the popular MMORPG EVE Online. More recently, the company has been a pioneer in VR gaming, with titles like Gunjack and EVE: Valkyrie. At a previous DICE talk, Hilmar Petursson spoke about the human brain as a gaming platform. At DICE Europe 2016, he’ll be speaking about how gaming can benefit humanity.

As you can tell from the topics he chooses to speak about, Hilmar Petursson thinks a bit differently from most people in game development and game publishing. This is why chatting with him was so much fun. He has a beautifully creative mind, but he’s also kind of out there. Here’s an excerpt from my conversation with Hilmar Petursson.

I think we’re just beginning. How old would you say computer games are? Let’s say 30-years old. For the greater part of those three decades, the majority of games have been single-player. It’s one person playing against a device, not unlike solitaire. I am personally very interested in when you add a social dimension to it — when people are playing with other people. What we’ve learned through our work on EVE: Online is that once you start playing with other people, you’re part of a society. If you look at society as a computer game — at least the socio-economic aspects of society — it’s a fairly upstart endeavor. Money, debt obligation, and the concept of possession are really virtual phenomenon. They’re social constructs that we’ve trained ourselves to adhere to over thousands of years. They’re upheld mostly through paper, as well as our own understanding of rules and regulations. I believe that with computers, we will be able to elevate and accelerate those concepts quite a bit.

We’ve been inspired by a lot of what we’ve learned though EVE: Online. You could basically call it a society. I wouldn’t call it a country, because that’s a very specific thing, but it has all the expressions of a society. It has its own social economy. People value the things in that world. They have a similar relationship to their possessions in the virtual world as they do in the real world. Even though EVE: Online was one of the first games made like this, in many ways it can be improved upon a lot. It’s the first hint of what can be done with games. And then we see virtual reality and how we can really engage with the rest of the human senses. Then you can buy into the notion that not only do you belong to a virtual world in the abstract, but you can also buy into the notion that you are part of a virtual world in a concrete, physical sense. Even though you aren’t, so many of the body’s sense are engaged that you feel like you are. The illusion takes a step further.

I believe that with advances in both concepts — these vast, massive social worlds and economies — coupled with advances in the visual domain with technologies like virtual reality, we will be able to really bring about a virtual world where we have higher and deeper relations with each other. Physical reality is, in many ways, kind of primitive. We have to implement the atoms of the Earth to create clothing to express our personalities. It’s taking away resources that could be used for something else. Ninety percent of what we buy for our homes is out of them six months later as trash. We have all these very wasteful processes that we’ll be able to implement much more efficiently using technologies in computer games. In many ways, we’re trying to tell this to ourselves in science-fiction, whether it’s The Matrix or other works that discuss the virtualization of social interactions.

Please check out my full talk with Hilmar Petursson when you have a chance. He’s a wonderfully creative person that supports my theory that all Icelanders are at least a little bit crazy (see Guðmundsdóttir, Björk).

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Jeff Hilbert Interview (DICE Europe 2016)

It was fun chatting with Jeff Hilbert, founder and CEO of Starting Point. One of the oldest agents and managers in the videogame business (in terms of experience, not chronologically), Jeff Hilbert was also the founder of Digital Development Management (DDM). Think of him as the Ari Gold of videogame agents…but with less tantrums and profanity. At DICE Europe 2016, Jeff Hilbert will be talking about “Realistic Opportunities in AR/VR.” In addition to touching on that subject, he spoke to me about traditional movie and television agents entering the videogame business. My favorite part of the conversation was when he spoke about aspects of Hollywood he’d like to see come to games. Here’s an excerpt from my conversation with Jeff Hilbert.

I’m indifferent to Hollywood talent coming into games, to be honest with you. I don’t really see any individual that makes me care whether they make a game or don’t make a game. I just don’t care.

Now, there are some IPs I’d love to see in gaming. I love the fact that Robotech is being discussed. I think that would be awesome! I love that Marvel, DC, and Tolkien have been coming in. That’s been spectacular! I don’t see Kim Kardashian as an individual because of the way that she’s managed herself. She’s done a brilliant job managing herself as a brand and that’s great to have in gaming.

So, I’m not really into individuals coming in as much as I am into the brands. I love when new brands are introduced into the gaming industry, because they bring in new people that didn’t realize that they love playing games.

Additionally, he mentioned some videogame properties he’d like to see get a second chance in movies and television. He also had some great stories of the attitudes some Hollwood talent had when entering the gaming world.

Kindly check out my full conversation with Jeff Hilbert when you have a moment.

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Henrique Olifiers Interview (DICE Europe 2016)

Here’s a chat I had with Henrique Olifiers, the cofounder of Bossa Studios. The company’s Worlds Adrift is one of the most ambitious online worlds ever conceived, combining the broad aspects of MMORPGs and sandbox videogames. Given DICE Europe 2016’s theme of “World Builders,” Henrique Olifiers was a perfect choice for the summit. His DICE Europe 2016 talk is titled, “A New Dawn for Simulated Worlds: the Making of Worlds Adrift.” During out conversation, he spoke about the evolution of online worlds from the earliest MUDs to what we have today. Here’s an excerpt.

As a game designer, I’ve always looked at what could be the perfect online experience. That was never something that was possible because of technology restrictions and game design paradigms that we have to deal with. If you look back at the history of online interactions, ever since the first MUDs — multiuser dungeons — came along, up to today where you have massively multiplayer online role-playing games like World of Warcraft, EVE Online, World of Tanks, and so on, there was always this progression curve going upwards in terms of what you can achieve and how you could interact with your friends. All of a sudden, we seemed to have hit a wall in that the same tropes and same design mechanics have been repeated, essentially with a new coat of paint.

Some terms came up, such as “amusement park,” from the players. They feel like the worlds that they’re playing in are on rails and that the experience is very scripted. Which is a shame, because as a big fan of MMOs and online interactions on a large scale, I always expected this to go all the way — into virtual worlds where people are free to do what they want. And so, this is what I mean by a means to an end. For me, it’s about being able to show people that we don’t have to be restricted anymore. There’s technology today that’s available to us and that will allow us to continue that trajectory. This is how I see Worlds Adrift — being part of a puzzle, if you will, and part of the evolution of online interactions.

When you have a chance, please check out my full conversation with Bossa Studios’ Henrique Olifiers by clicking the link below.

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Tanya Forsheit Interview (DICE Europe 2016)

It was fun talking to Tanya Forsheit on behalf of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences. Most of the people I chat with for DICE and DICE Europe interviews are game developers or game publishers. Tanya Forsheit is a partner at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz and the co-chair of the firm’s Privacy & Data Security Group. She is considered one of the leading privacy and data security counselors and litigators in the world. At DICE Europe 2016, she’ll be talking about “Building Communities through Big Data.”

While many people have a fear of data collection, Tanya Forsheit believes that gamers, developers, and publishers should embrace big data. Here’s an excerpt from the interview.

In California — where we have a lot of privacy laws — there’s a requirement that we include in privacy policies a disclosure about do-not-track signals. This is a largely meaningless disclosure. What it’s about is if I’m online using just about any browser these days, I have the ability to send a do-not-track signal. If the website I’m visiting chooses to honor that do-not-track signal, then I theoretically won’t be tracked as I navigate through it. Almost no websites respond in any shape or form to do-not-track signals. There was this effort over many years to try to reach a consensus on what it meant to respond to do-not-track signals. It was almost impossible. They couldn’t come up with a solution. California got impatient and instead of looking at the substance of the matter — looking at what’s best for the consumers and best for business — they decided to require putting a disclosure in privacy policies. Now, every single privacy policy out there has this paragraph in it that says “we do not respond to do-not-track signals because there isn’t an industry consensus for it.” Who cares, right?!? Why do we have to put that in there just to confuse people and make them feel like there’s something going on that they don’t understand.

The bottom line is that most websites are doing targeted advertising or behavioral advertising based on people’s browsing, including gaming sites. That advertising is based on things like your browser type, IP address, and device information. It’s not a “Big Brother” type of situation that a lot of consumers are afraid of — this idea that somebody out there is watching me all the time. It’s really not like that. This is a machine-automated process. It’s designed to bring people free or low cost services online, using more relevant advertising. And, by the way, even though do-not-track doesn’t work, there are ways to opt out of these programs through self-regulatory organizations like the NAI (Network Advertising Initiative) and the DAA (Digital Advertising Alliance). The funny thing is, if you opt out of targeted advertising then you just end up with a lot of advertising that you don’t want. It’s not an ideal situation, but if people want free or low-cost games or apps then there’s a trade-off. People should look at it as benefit that we could never have imagined having 20 or 30 years ago.

Kindly check out the full interview to get more of her take on big data’s role in videogames, as well as to find out her favorite lawyers from movies and television.

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T-Mobile Giving Free Data to Pokemon Go Players

T-Mobile has announced that it’s giving customers free data to play Pokemon Go as part of its T-Mobile Tuesdays promotions. Starting next Tuesday July 19, customers will receive free data and a bunch of other discounts (while you “gotta catch ’em all,” the company has to sell accessories). Here are the official particulars from the press release.

Next Tuesday, as part of T-Mobile Tuesdays, we’re thanking customers with:

  • Unlimited data for Pokemon Go through August 2017
  • A free Frosty (you gotta stay fueled up to hunt)
  • A free Lyft ride up to $15 (to explore new Gyms and PokéStops)
  • 50% of select accessories like battery packs (to keep playing for hours and hours)

On top of that, 250 people will win $100 to spend on PokéCoins, and five will win trips anywhere in the US to hunt new Pokemon with a guest.

Out of the four major US mobile carriers, T-Mobile has had the most interesting marketing efforts. This is another stellar example of the company’s fantastic marketing. Pokemon Go is the mobile craze at the moment and it’s borderline shocking that a telecommunications company has taken advantage of the phenomenon so quickly. Then again, this is T-Mobile — the company with the most charming (and quite possibly unbalanced) CEO in the industry. T-Mobile plays loud and bold, so if any of the “big four” took advantage of a modern trend, I’d expect the company to be first.

While free Pokemon Go data through August 2017 is outstanding, the other bonuses are pretty sweet too. The Lyft ride can be useful for finding new Pokemon and going on PokeStop binges. The battery pack discount is fantastic, as an external charger is a must for serious players (I highly recommend this Anker external battery).

T-Mobile’s Pokemon Go promotion is absolutely clever. It makes the company seem more in touch with today’s trends, as it sells lots of accessories. While I’m on old, stodgy, and boring Verizon, I’ve been wanting to switch back to T-Mobile for a few years. I want to support cool marketing efforts and an insane CEO while saving money on my mobile bill. Who’s with me?!?

How Virtual Reality is Going to Change the Gaming World

Virtual reality (VR) has the potential be as ubiquitous as the television set or smartphone. The technology for these immersive headsets has drastically improved over the last four years, and for the first time, VR is available to the consumer at a price point that does not break the bank. This has…

The following is a virtual reality feature given to RPadTV by author Geoff Blough.


Virtual reality (VR) has the potential be as ubiquitous as the television set or smartphone. The technology for these immersive headsets has drastically improved over the last four years, and for the first time, VR is available to the consumer at a price point that does not break the bank. This has led to an explosion of new virtual reality technology that will open the door for VR to be a part of everyday life.

“People are going to stop having guest bedrooms and start having VR rooms,” said quality assurance analyst for Personify and VR expert Hunter Kent.

Statista, an online statistics website, projects significant growth in the VR industry. Projections are set to see an increase in VR hardware and software sales from $90 million in 2014 to $5.2 billion in 2018. Statista also projects that the VR industry will reach 171 million active users by 2018.

Sensorama
Sensorama

The origin of virtual reality can be traced back to the 1950s with the Sensorama, a cabinet similar to an arcade game. The user would sit down and be surrounded by screens. Video, sound, and even smells would be manipulated within the hood of the machine. Fast forward to 2016, many of the same elements are being used to create a sensory experience. The cabinets have now morphed into headsets that can track movement in a three-dimensional environment.

Though games have been the most common application of virtual reality, this is just the tip of the iceberg with regard to what virtual reality can provide. Enterprise applications currently drive most of the profits for VR. With 360-degree cameras, VR can be used to transport a user to famous historical landmarks around the globe. Users can even enjoy a live concert in New York while sitting on a coach in Los Angeles. Wheelchair-bound individuals can now visit places through VR that were impossible in the real world. Additionally, virtual reality now has medical applications. Surgical training has typically been practiced on cadavers, but now a simulator can give a medical student the same experience without access to a cadaver or a real patient.

“I envision the future VR as kind of the way smartphones changed people’s relationship with technology. I think VR/AR (Augmented Reality) will be even quicker to adopt once we hit the critical mass threshold, and will start becoming integrated with many, if not all, areas of people’s lives. There is so much potential in the non-gaming space, that I think we’ll probably see corporate adoption of VR before we see gamers embrace it wholeheartedly,” said Fox Buchele, developer and CEO of Fox Game Studios.

One example of embracing virtual reality in the non-gaming space is TheWave. It’s virtual reality music software that creates an interactive experience for both the performer and the audience. TheWave allows the performer to not only control the music as most DJ software does, but also create light shows that change depending on the frequency, beat, and tone of the music. A performer in TheWave can even take tracker and physically give them to the audience members who are watching the performance in their own virtual reality headsets.

Finn Staber, chief technology officer and co-founder of WaveVR, Inc. said, “We want to avoid ‘gamification’ with TheWave, and allow people to perform in their virtual venue as they would with a musical instrument or DJ interface in a real world venue.”

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Gamers are still the target market for virtual reality. Videogames being released specifically for virtual reality are allowing gamers to finally enter the world they could only see on televisions in the past. The Void is a company that is creating a completely new experience. Not only is it creating the world that gamers can interact with a virtual environment, The Void is building real world sets that translate directly to the software. This allows for a completely interactive world that players can feel as well as see.

“This is going to replace laser tag venues,” said Kent.

Job Simulator is a game that not only allows players to interact in a fictional parody of everyday cubicle life, it allows for the player to set up cameras so others can join in the action. This kind of interaction was only dreamed about before virtual reality.

Augmented Reality has the ability to bridge the gap between current technology in smartphones and computers to the world of virtual reality. AR differs from VR as it overlays the real world, instead of creating an immersive world under a headset. Google Glass was an early example of AR technology. Typically, AR is created with glasses that have screens integrated into the design. These devices can provide the user information vital to their day. Google, Microsoft, and Magic Leap are companies currently developing AR technology.

“Imagine what you see in Minority Report, being able to manipulate numerous folders with gestures. What took several monitors now only takes one AR headset,” said Staber.

Google Cardboard
Google Cardboard

The most basic virtual reality headset available right now is Google Cardboard, a cardboard box that accepts almost any smartphone, and the Samsung Gear VR which only works with the newer Samsung Galaxy phones. According to economics website The Motley Fool, Google Cardboard has been downloaded from the Google Play store over 10-million times. Samsung recently offered a deal for consumers by giving away free Gear VR headsets to all new pre-orders of the phones. This has allowed Samsung to reach an audience that may not have been excited about the idea of virtual reality in the past.

“I got it for watching movies and TV shows and demoing how far VR tech has come to people who aren’t familiar with it. Whether you have anxiety flying or get motion sick while riding in a car, people are already using Gear VR to deal with these issues. You can zone out on a flight or watch movies, which is what I do,” says Kent.

Recently, two new virtual reality headsets have hit the consumer market. The Oculus Rift was released on March 28 while the HTC Vive went to market on April 5. Both of these headsets require powerful personal computers to work effectively. These headsets provide a completely immersive experience that the smartphone headsets are unable to provide. These headsets have similarities, but differ on how they provide motion tracking.

The Oculus Rift started as a Kickstarter campaign in 2012 as a development kit. The campaign earned $2.5 million in order to produce and ship the development kits to backers. Though mostly purchased by software developers, many VR enthusiasts purchased the development kit as a way to preview the technology. In 2014, Oculus was purchased by Facebook for $2 billion. This gave Oculus the capital to push their consumer level Rift to market.

The Rift includes a VR headset with basic head tracking and integrated speakers for sound, a head tracking camera, wireless remote, and an Xbox One Wireless Controller. The Rift is priced as $599 and is available for purchase on the Oculus website with turnaround time of about three months. On May 6, the Rift will be available at Best Buy for retail purchase. This headset has been popular because users do not need to move around the room in order to experience the immersion of VR.

HTC Vive
HTC Vive

HTC Vive is the major competitor to the Oculus Rift. The Vive also ships with a headset but this headset also has an external camera so the user can see the outside world while wearing the device. The Vive comes with two wireless controllers with tracking capabilities. Also included with the Vive are two tracking sensors that provide full room tracking. This allows the user to move around and manipulate the three-dimensional world created by the software. The HTC Vive is available on their website for $799 with a similar turnaround time as the Rift.

Sony also has plans to release a virtual reality headset for its PlayStation 4. The PlayStation VR, only works with Sony’s platform and will be released in October 2016. The headset bundle comes with the VR headset, two motion controllers, a tracking camera and a game that showcases the abilities of the platform. The bundle will be available in retail store for $499 and is also available for $399 for just the VR headset.

Developers are excited to work on both of the major platforms. Currently, most are aiming toward the Oculus Rift. Developing software on the Rift is easily ported over to the Vive as the motion tracking are not required in Vive software. The reverse is a bit more difficult because of the tracking not being as capable on the Rift. Because of this, publishers are a bit more apprehensive to develop for the Vive. “Publishers think developing a game specifically for the Vive is much more of a risk right now. Whereas most games developed for the Rift are playable on a normal monitor,” said Kent.

Virtual reality and augmented reality are moving at breakneck speeds. Developers, gamers, and non-gamers alike are excited for the possibilities that VR/AR can bring to the world. As the adoption rate increases, the prices will start to come down allowing for even more people to afford the hardware. VR/AR has potential in the creative and enterprise spaces in ways that have only been seen in science fiction. One day, there may be technology that will rival the holodeck in Star Trek. This kind of innovation drives the human race to places no one has gone before.

Leland Yee Sentenced to Five Years in Prison

Former California state senator Leland Yee was sentenced to five years in prison for his involvement in a corruption scandal involving guns. Longtime gamers will remember Leland Yee as an outspoken politician that attacked videogames. Over the course of his career, he sponsored several bills that hurt the gaming business. He was particularly outspoken against Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and claimed that the ESRB knew about the controversial “Hot Coffee” mod before the game was published. Additionally, Leland Yee held numerous anti-gun stances while in office.

With his games-are-violent and anti-gun positions in mind, it’s hilarious that Leland Yee was caught in an arms scandal. While trying raising money to run for California secretary of state, Leland Yee was busted. According to The LA Times:

The San Francisco Democrat was caught in an FBI sting that recorded him promising votes and guns to an undercover agent who was funneling him contributions. He pleaded guilty last year rather than face a trial.

I’m thrilled that Leland Yee has been legally declared a scumbag, but I’m disappointed that his sentence is only five years. What he did was deplorable and an abuse of the public’s trust. To me, five years seems light for a matter involving the illegal distribution of heavy ordnance. According to this CNN story, he was dealing crates of guns, shoulder-fired missiles, and rockets acquired from Filipino rebels. This kind of gun running and arms dealing leads to tremendous loss of life. Five years seems…light.

In a perfect world, Leland Yee would be sentenced to 20+ years in Federal Pound Me in the @ss Prison. He’s a liar, a thief, and a frickin’ arms dealer. He should be behind bars for the rest of his life. A five-year sentence, which I imagine will be cut short for good behavior or some other nonsense, isn’t enough for this piece of crap.

That’s my professional opinion, anyway. What do you think of Leland Yee’s sentence? Does the time fit the crime? Or does he deserve harsher punishment?

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Final Fantasy VII Remake Trailer (FFVII Remake)

Sony has released a trailer for the Final Fantasy VII Remake (FFVII Remake) for PlayStation 4. It’s a mix of cutscenes and gameplay footage. Many gamers swear that the original is the best role-playing game (RPG) of all time, while others feel that it’s immensely overrated. No matter which side of the fence you’re on, there’s not denying that the original was highly influential and that the FFVII Remake will be a huge deal.

The FFVII Remake trailer shows an early portion of the game that fans of the original will certainly know. It’s the intro mission, featuring protagonist Cloud Strife, supporting character Barret Wallace, and a bunch of AVALANCHE scrubs. As someone that played the original multiple times, I found it cool to see the scene recreated with modern PlayStation 4 graphics. As someone that loves the FFVII universe (thanks to Crisis Core and Advent Children), it was awesome seeing a modern version of Cloud. The voice sounds like Steve Burton, the voice actor that did a great job with the character in Advent Children.

While it’s hard to know what gameplay will be like without knowing the underlying system that fuels the action, the FFVII Remake trailer left me with a better-than-expected feeling. I feared that the game would have modern action-RPG gameplay, which is to say too much action and not enough RPG elements (for nerds that were weened on turn-based action RPGs). In some ways, the fight scenes reminded me of Final Fantasy XIII (which I liked) and in other ways they reminded me of Crisis Core (one of my all-time favorite games). I’m hoping, perhaps foolishly, that the final gameplay system will be similar to a spruced up Crisis Core. Though I admit that I have no idea if younger gamers would enjoy that (also, get off my lawn!).

Anyway, I’m going to watch the FFVII Remake trailer a dozen more times. When you have a chance, please check it out and let me know what you think of it.

Coffee Talk #665: ESPN’s Closure of Grantland is Disheartening

On October 30, 2015, ESPN made the horrible decision to shut down Grantland. The website offered a fantastic combination of sports and pop-culture coverage. It quickly became my favorite website on the Internet shortly after it launched. Grantland’s writing was longer, smarter, and sharper than most of what you’ll find on the Internet. The site’s closure is disheartening on several levels.

As a readerGrantland’s closure is disappointing because it had some of ESPN’s best writing. The site excelled at long-form articles that were informative and entertaining. It had a wide variety of writers that skillfully covered a wide variety of topics. While sports was Grantland’s emphasis, it also covered movies, music, television, pro-wrestling, and more. No matter the topic, I could always depend on a well-written article on Grantland that always entertained me and often left me a bit smarter than I was before I read it.

As a reader, I also appreciated Grantland’s simple layout. The design emphasized content and the advertising was tame by today’s standards. Grantland loaded quickly on desktop and mobile devices, unlike some of my other favorite websites (I’m looking at you, The Verge). Sadly, a website with great writing and user-friendly design is uncommon these days. That Grantland offered both was extraordinary.

As a longtime Internet writerGrantland’s closure is depressing. It shows that corporate hacks are unwilling and/or unable to support great content creation. It’s sad that the dozens of fantastic editors and writers at Grantland no longer have jobs, while ESPN continues to pay Stephen A. Smith to act like an idiot on television. It makes me wonder what kind of support the website had from the suits, its advertisers, and its readers. Obviously something was missing. The high-quality content was there, but did the suits support it with enough marketing? Did the site not get enough ad dollars? Were people uninterested in longer articles? It’s baffling.

As a longtime ESPN.com reader, I’m amused that Grantland’s closure killed the best writing the company had to offer. I used to love ESPN.com, but it has become garbage. While the site is ESPN’s Internet flagship, the writing on Grantland and FiveThirtyEight (another ESPN-owned website) was superior to anything on the “main” website. ESPN.com has devolved in a mashup of moronic click bait, AP reposts, thoughtless opinion pieces, daily LeBron James updates, and the occasional solid article. Copyediting is, sadly, optional on ESPN.com.

Add it all up and it’s disheartening. My favorite website is gone. Another corporate overlord has pissed on the value of quality content. Instead of enjoying my daily dose of Grantland, I’ll have to read the crap on ESPN.com. Oh well, maybe it’s time to give Yahoo! Sports another look.

Mario Tennis Ultra Smash Preview (Wii U)

At E3 2015, I spent a couple of hours playing Mario Tennis Ultra Smash for Wii U. I’m a longtime fan of the series and have spent hundreds of hours playing Mario Tennis games on numerous platforms (N64, GBC, GBA, and GameCube). The earlier games did a brilliant job of imposing everything that’s adorable about the Mario universe on a solid tennis game; they’re addictive, fun to look at, and play well. Last week, I played a near-final version of Mario Tennis Ultra Smash. I was already sold on the game at E3 2015, but after playing it with more characters, I can’t wait for its release.

Unlike Mario Power Tennis for Wii, Mario Tennis Ultra Smash does not use motion controls. Instead, it offers a standard gamepad experience. While fans of flailing their arms about will be disappointed, as a longtime player of games in this series, I like the traditional controls much better.

In the E3 2015 build, there were only two playable characters — Mario and Bowser. Last week, I played a doubles match that pitted Waluigi and Peach against Donkey Kong and Rosalina. The characters have distinct movements and shots. For example, Rosalina floats around the court instead of running. I was told that Yoshi takes adorably small steps, since his legs are so short. My character, Waluigi, was lanky and focused on defense. Like the previous games, I really appreciate how the different characters have noticeably different levels of speed, power, and spin.

Confirmed playable characters include Mario, Luigi, Toad, Peach, Daisy, Rosalina, Wario, Waluigi, Bowser, Yoshi, Boo, and Donkey Kong. In addition to the characters available from the get-go, Mario Tennis Ultra Smash will have some unlockable characters. Known unlockables include Bowser, Jr., Toadette, Dry Bowser, and Sprixie Princess. I’m looking forward to seeing what other players there are to discover and hoping there will be some nifty crossovers.

There will be a number of different courts and surfaces in Mario Tennis Ultra Smash. The real-world surfaces include clay, grass, and hard courts. Clay is the slowest and has a higher bounce. Grass is the fastest and has a lower bounce. Hard courts play fast and have a level bounce. There will also be mushroom- and water-themed courts

What makes Mario Tennis Ultra Smash different from its predecessors is its generous use of power-ups. Players can pick up mega mushrooms and grow to a ridiculous size. Naturally, this gives the powered player a ridiculous amount of power that’s difficult to handle; counter-shots have to be times more precisely when dealing with a powered-up player. Visually, players that consumer a mega mushroom temporarily grow to take up a large chunk of the television screen. While the in-game effect is fierce, the visual effect is bold and hilarious.

If you want to have a more traditional tennis experience (you know, one where players aren’t taller than buildings) then you can opt for a mode that eschews power-ups. In this mode, Mario Tennis Ultra Smash plays more like its predecessors. The exception is the new “jump shot” technique, which can be used in all modes.

Mario Tennis Ultra Smash looks like a fine addition to the Mario Tennis series. From the limited time I’ve had with the game, it looks and plays great. Like the previous installments, the developers have done a superior job at making the players and courts feel distinct. The power-ups add a new layer of fun, especially in party-game situations. Mario Tennis Ultra Smash appears to have everything I loved about its predecessors, with a new wrinkle. I can’t wait to storm the courts as Waluigi when the game hits in late November!