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DualSense is always listening

From Reddit: First time Souls player. I didn’t realise that the PS5 records your microphone’s audio whenever you get a trophy. Whoops.

Let’s unpack this a bit.

By default, the PS5 saves a video clip whenever you get a trophy.

Of course, the PS5 can’t know when you’re about to get a trophy. So that means it’s always capturing video; it just discards most of it unless you get a trophy or manually save a clip.

But the PS5’s DualSense controller has a microphone array that cannot be removed or deactivated. It can apparently be muted, but it’s on by default with no indicator. And audio from this mic is, by default, included in the trophy video clips. Which means that by default, your PS5 is constantly capturing audio from your controller mic, though in theory it simply discards most of it.

How in the world are people okay with this? How is anyone okay with being surprised that their internet-connected game console is continually recording them without asking permission?

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Mario Kart Troll

It’s scummy that Mario Kart Tour pretends its bots are people, presumably to create fake social pressure to spend into the game’s ecosystem. But what I really dislike about it is that the names they give to your opponents are clearly taken from real user names - because they include things Nintendo would never show to you on purpose. I’ve seen names that use unicode or accented characters to sneak past the profanity filter, and recently I raced against a bot named “Trump2020”.

It blows my mind that Nintendo, of all companies, who are so skittish about online experiences that they’re still using friend codes, have created a way for me to be trolled by online strangers while playing alone in one of their most kid-friendly franchises.

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Key rings and tool belts

The mark of a good Metroidvania is that new items and abilities feel like tools in a belt, not keys in a ring.

There’s nothing wrong with, say, DOOM having the player collect red, blue, and yellow key cards - but that’s just scaffolding. It’s just to provide pacing and a series of objectives. It’s not the heart of the gameplay.

But in Metroidvanias or Zelda-likes, getting new abilities and being able to explore further as a result is central to the experience and one of the strongest rewards it can provide. When done well, the new abilities are versatile and create new possibilities for combat and exploration, opening doors you didn’t even know were there.

If instead the new abilities have single niche uses to overcome specific, arbitrary, clearly delineated obstacles - they might as well be colored key cards for opening locked doors.

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#video gaming #metroidvania

Tags: Thought

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The Platform is the Playstyle: Missions and Monetization

A while back, I got Jumping Joe & Friends for free on Switch - one of many free games I’ve gotten from being in QubicGames’ ecosystem. It’s a simple reflex-testing runner-like game (though you jump vertically rather than run horizontally) that you can get into a good rhythm with, so I felt like it would be a better fit for mobile, and of course it actually is a port of mobile freemium title Jumping Joe! I picked that version up, and while the gameplay is indeed well-suited to the sort of casual kill-a-few-minutes experience that mobile enables, it’s both better and worse as a mobile game. Worse for the standard freemium reasons, but better because it has missions - side objectives to complete during runs that provide extra variety and depth to play.

Missions are great for this sort of game. They’re what elevated Jetpack Joyride from good to great. They add another layer to gameplay that keeps things fresh far longer. I don’t understand why the Switch port of Jumping Joe doesn’t have them. Why are they mobile-only? Why can you only get them if you also get the scummy monetization? As is, I find the Switch port dulls quickly and the mobile version feels obnoxious and greedy, and I stopped playing the game pretty quickly.

A bit later, I finally tried Mario Kart Tour, which I’ve complained about before. (Don’t judge me; it was for the mission to get the stupid Mario pins that ran out of stock in five seconds anyway.) And I found that in adapting the experience to mobile, Mario Kart had made several changes that felt like straight-up improvements.

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DualSense violates privacy by default

The PS5’s DualSense controller has a microphone array that is on by default in multiplayer games. It sounds like it doesn’t even light up to indicate that the mic is on - it does so to indicate that the mic is muted.

With no visible headset or microphone, no light, and no opt-in to the mic being on, there are ZERO CUES that you are transmitting audio across the internet. No cues for you and no cues for anyone around you. You can easily forget this and broadcast a private conversation with a third party who has absolutely not opted in to this and may not even know it’s possible.

I can’t understand how this happened. It is so obviously a bad idea.

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Go places and do things

I think my favorite game genre is “go places and do things”. Especially when there are multiple objectives that I can pursue in an order and pace of my choosing.

Prominent examples include 3D platformers like Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank, open world games like inFAMOUS and Saints Row, and action RPGs like Dragon Quest Heroes II and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.

Some games from adjacent genres qualify as well, such as MMO City of Heroes, Metroidvania SteamWorld Dig 2, and life sim Disney Magical World.

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