Interactive musical series ‘We are OFK’ hits PlayStation, Switch and PC on August 18th

Back at the 2020 edition of The Game Awards, we learned about We Are OFK, a new project from Hyper Light Drifter co-designer Teddy Dief and their collaborators at Team OFK. It was supposed to debut in spring 2021 but, as has been the way of things for the last few years, it was delayed. Now, We Are OFK finally has a release date. Or, more accurately, release dates, since it’s an episodic series. The first two episodes will hit Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PS5, Steam and Epic Games Store on August 18th. The remaining three episodes will arrive on a weekly basis.

We Are OFK follows a virtual four-piece indie band called, strangely enough, OFK. It’s billed as an interactive musical biopic that OFK is making about its own origins. As Dief wrote on the PlayStation Blog, “What would it look like to create virtual musicians who watch performances of [pop stars] on their laptops in bed, and know they’re probably never going to play a stadium concert? We wanted to tell that story — how hard it is to make music, to write even one song, to record another video to post online and hope someone leaves a nice comment.”

The game costs $20. Along with each episode, OFK and Sony Music Masterworks will release a new single. A vinyl package of the singles will be available from iam8bit for $32. A limited-edition physical version of We Are OFK is available to pre-order for PS5 and Switch too. You can also pre-save the group’s first EP.

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‘Sound Shapes’ creator Jessica Mak is making a game with Annapurna Interactive

The last time Jessica Mak released a game was in 2012 when they worked with Sony’s Santa Monica Studio to create Sound Shapes. The game went on to become one of the PlayStation Vita’s standout gems, in part thanks to an unforgettable soundtrack that featured contributions from Shaw-Han Liem of I Am Robot and Proud fame, Indie Game: The Movie composer Jim Guthrie and Beck.

After nearly a decade since the release of Sound Shapes, Mak is working with Annapurna Interactive on a new project, the publisher announced on Thursday during its developer showcase. The game doesn’t have an official name or release date yet, but Mak shared some details about the project. 

Like Everyday Shooter and Sound Shapes, music will play a central part in the experience, and part of the reason Mak took a break from making games was to become a better musician.”The music, for me, is very much as important as the game part of it,” Mak said. They went on to describe the game as an action-adventure experience that they hope will surprise players.

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Everything Announced at the Annapurna Interactive Showcase

Annapurna Interactive held its first-ever digital showcase, which offered tons of details on its upcoming slate of games. The show included a release date reveal for Solar Ash, details on the long-anticipated Stray, and a handful of new games coming from the indie publisher.

Spun off from Annapurna’s film division, Annapurna Interactive has delivered dozens of high-profile indie hits over the past few years. The publisher’s first-ever Annapurna Interactive Showcase collected new updates on its games, some of which were announced as early as four years ago.

Only two games got a firm release date. The Artful Escape, a trippy adventure game about a rockstar first shown at E3 2017, is finally coming on September 9. It’ll launch on PC and Xbox consoles via Game Pass. Solar Ash, developer Heart Machine’s follow-up to Hyper Light Drifter, finally got an October 26 release date at the show.

Outer Wilds is getting its first and only DLC on September 28, titled Echoes of the Eye. A cryptic trailer didn’t say too much about what to expect. Meanwhile, the base game is scheduled to come to Nintendo Switch this holiday.

The showcase gave new details on two of Annapurna’s most anticipated games. Stray got a gameplay trailer, which showed a cat wandering around a city and solving puzzles with the help of a drone. The game doesn’t have a firm release date, but it’ll come to PS4, PS5, and PC in early 2022. Neon White got a deep dive too, showing off a unique card system where players can discard weapons to perform mobility actions. The game is still scheduled for a winter launch.

The main character of Neon White faces down some monsters.

We saw a handful of new games during the presentation. Skin Deep is a first-person puzzle game by Blendo, which leans heavily into absurdist humor. A Memoir Blue is a pretty narrative-driven game by Cloisters featuring lots of jellyfish. Storyteller, a puzzler where players build storybook pages, is another new highlight among the batch.

In addition to those games, Annapurna announced several partnerships with indie studios, including Outer Loop, Jessica Mak, and No Code Entertainment Productions. The publisher is also teaming up with Ivy Road, a brand new studio founded by developers behind Gone Home and The Stanley Parable. The project is heavily under wraps, but it will feature music from Minecraft composer C418.

Finally, Annapurna offered platform updates for several of its biggest games. Gorogoa and Telling Lies are both coming to Xbox Game Pass. I Am Dead hits consoles on August 9, The Pathless comes to Steam on November 16, and What Remains of Edith Finch will hit the App Store on August 16.

Editors’ Choice

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Flappy Bird Comes to Mac as Clever Interactive Notification

Most notifications you receive on MacOS turn out to be fairly routine: a new email from mom, an update for your favorite app, a reminder to finally start backing up your Mac. But not anymore: One developer has been able to cram the entire game Flappy Bird into a notification.

The remarkable feat was achieved by developer Neil Sardesai, who took a clone of Flappy Bird created by Wil Eastcott of PlayCanvas and crowbarred it into the new UserNotificationsUI framework in MacOS Big Sur. The result is a large notification (roughly the size and dimensions of an iPhone screen) that you can interact with to play the popular side-scroller game.

Sardesai shared a video of the notification in action. At first, an innocuous-looking alert consisting of a few lines of text appears in the top-right corner of the screen. When the user clicks the arrow on the notification, it expands to reveal the game, which can be interacted with by clicking anywhere inside the alert.

Did you know you can put a whole game inside of a push notification

— Neil Sardesai (@neilsardesai) April 9, 2021

Sardesai’s work raises questions as to what else might be possible with the UserNotificationsUI framework. Perhaps your favorite Mac puzzle game could send you a new miniature brain-teaser at regular intervals to keep you on your toes. Or we might see a reminder or calendar app presenting a large notification with directions to your next appointment.

On the other hand, it might be possible for some enterprising marketing team to send you large ads delivered via notifications, which might be a more unwelcome development. If this line of inquiry starts to develop, no doubt Apple will have something to say about it, given the company’s stance on invasive ad tracking.

However, Sardesai seems confident this is an unlikely problem, as you must explicitly give an app permission to send you notifications (which can then be revoked), and most of the alert’s content is hidden until you click to expand it.

The original Flappy Bird was removed from the App Store in 2014 after its creator, Dong Nguyen, revealed he was troubled by what he felt was its addictive nature. Since then, hordes of clones have appeared on the App Store and elsewhere — one of which allowed Sardesai to port the game into a clever Mac notification.

Editors’ Choice

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Tech News

Spatial makes building immersive, interactive soundscapes more accessible

Much of today’s technology has an obsession with things we can see, from photorealistic computer graphics, through increasingly sophisticated computer interfaces, to new virtual and augmented reality experiences. Our senses don’t stop at our eyes, though, and sound is an equally important part of having an immersive and believable experience. With the focus on visuals, however, creating evolved audio experiences has been traditionally more difficult and more expensive, leaving would-be soundscape creators priced out even if they know what tools they should be looking for. That’s the situation that startup Spatial is trying to address, with a suite of tools and services to make creating such soundscapes more accessible to hobbyists and professionals alike.

Spatial, more formally SpatialX Inc., has a pedigree that comes from some well-recognized names in entertainment and technology. Co-founders Calin Pacuraria and Michael Plitkins, for example, hail from Apple, Palm, and Nest, respectively, among other industry experiences. Darrell Rodriguez, who leads operations, had been at Electronic Arts and Lucas Arts at some points in the past. Handling marketing and communications, Jennifer Bowcock formerly ran global communications for Dolby, and before that was a prominent member of the Apple PR team responsible the iPhone, iPad, and the Apple Store’s global expansion.

The entire Spatial team brought their collective experiences and expertise together and cooked – over the course of almost four years – what they say is the perfect recipe for a soundscape that promises to make your visual and interactive experiences more believable. Rather than composing a single piece of music, with Spatial’s tools it’s possible to create a realistic soundscapes that evolve and react in real-time.

That given, the only way I could get a sense of what Spatial is, was through experiencing it for myself: I paid Spatial a visit out in Oakland, CA. Was the trip worth it? Heck yes, which I’ll expand in greater details in a follow-up article which will include my interview with the team – but for now, let’s just say my experience with Spatial was nothing short of a delectable auditory feast.

Spatial has tools and services for crafting these audio experiences that scale from the simplest retail installation to the most sophisticated theme park. Spatial Studio, for example, allow for the creation of audio scenes in full 3D, dragging different audio elements to positions in the virtual space, just like you would create games; while Spatial Control, meanwhile, is the iOS app that puts control of that installation right under your fingertips. Finally, Special Service is the cloud-based platform that ties all of these together, letting you orchestrate the entire soundscape like a technological wizard.

At the heart of it all is the Spatial Reality Engine. Akin to a game engine, the Spatial Reality engine can render soundscapes in real-time, reacting to any kind of input whether touch sensors or computer vision systems. It’s designed to run on off-the-shelf macOS and Linux computers, rather than demanding custom hardware, with industry-standard audio equipment.

An M1-powered Mac mini, for instance, is enough for up to 128 simultaneous channels of Spatial sound. The platform is also capable of driving not only audio, but even lightning and other elements to create the necessary suspension of belief.

Although tools like these do exist, what makes Spatial special is its flexibility and ability to scale to any need or budget. Speaking of budget, all the tools are immediately available to everyone for free for non-commercial use by submitting your request on Spatial’s website. You’ll need a Mac running macOS Mojave or above – Intel or Apple Silicon – since Linux support and sensor integration are currently only for Spatial’s custom customers.

Altogether, you could put together a system for Spatial for under $1,000 if you’re starting from scratch.

With that software and hardware, you could create anything from a spooky haunted house feel for Halloween, through to a block party gathering with the feeling of a Coney Island day out. Installations can range from utilizing just a handful of speakers in the home or on a small retail demo floor, through to thousands of all sizes spread across a theme park.

From hobbyists to pros, Spatial is aiming to empower creators to craft the complete package, immersing people in a realistic and believable audio-visual experience that will take them to worlds they could have only imagined possible. While they may not be the first to offer soundscape tools, what could make the difference – and take audio experiences mainstream – is just how accessible and approachable Spatial’s system is.

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