Start Up No.1622: the hard thing about writing videogames, AR for the ears, a bitcoin mortgage?, Cook’s first CEO decade, and more


The UK government’s forecasts about hydrogen use seem strangely biased towards fossil fuels, a new study has shown. CC-licensed photo by Martin Abegglen on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Sold by weight. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Turns out the hardest part of making a game is…everything • IGN

Rebekah Valentine:

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Earlier this year, game developers across the industry weighed in on Twitter on a seemingly innocuous question: What’s the problem with doors in video games?

It turns out, a lot. A seemingly boring feature such as usable doors can be absolute hell for developers to put in their games for numerous reasons. Everything from physics to functionality, from AI to sound, comes into play while making a single door in a single video game work. And not just work, but work in such a way where the player never has to think about it. Building a working, forgettable door is an incredible game development undertaking.

But it will probably not surprise you to learn that doors are far from the only seemingly simple feature that prove to be unexpectedly challenging in the development process.

A few months ago, I asked developers across the industry the question, “What is a thing in video games that seems simple but is actually extremely hard for game developers to make?” I received nearly 100 responses representing a wide breadth of industry experience, ranging from solo developers to those who had tackled issues within teams of hundreds.

The pool of responses similarly included a number of varied problems, but also a number of similar issues popping up among many projects. Those I spoke to described challenges in making games look and sound good, storytelling, movement and interaction with objects, menus, save systems, multiplayer, and all sorts of intricacies of design that are so rarely discussed outside of studios themselves. Many noted that they’ve received angry player feedback about the topics they mentioned, with their audiences asking, “Why don’t you just do X?” The answer is, almost always: because it’s really, really hard.

So if you’ve ever wondered why the maker of your favorite game didn’t simply fix one of the myriad issues developers mentioned below, here’s why those seemingly simple problems are hardly simple at all.

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Lovely feature, also revealing some wonderful turn-a-bug-into-a-feature thinking by developers. (What if two people are trying to get through a door?)
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Augmented reality is coming for your ears, too • WIRED

Lauren Goode:

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[Jonathan Wegener] watched two friends in Greece, a couple, split a pair of AirPods so they could listen to music together.

So he started building his next thing: PairPlay, a clever if obvious play on Apple’s “AirPlay.” It’s an iOS app that guides partners, friends, or kids through imagined scenarios within their own homes. It’s part of a larger trend in which audio-focused entrepreneurs are taking advantage of a perfect storm of technology—from increasingly sophisticated processors to sensors that track people’s movements to personal devices that can deliver remarkably good sound.

In PairPlay, a voice oozing Andy Puddicombe–grade calmness tells people to face their AirPod partner, and then delivers two different versions of a scenario, one to each earpiece. There are a series of episodes, more akin to scenes than downloadable podcasts. In one episode, one of the participants is turned into a robot. In another series of episodes, both become secret agents. Another simulates a zombie apocalypse, urging players to race around the house, close the windows, and find hiding spots, all the while not knowing if the other person has been “infected.” (Hits a little close in Covid times.)

I tested a beta version of PairPay with a WIRED colleague, then asked him and his partner, who had just moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, to give it a try together. (Welcome to Silicon Valley! Now try this app.) It was nearly as amusing to watch others participate as it was to try the app myself. They faced each other, with eyes closed, then opened again. Then they tore around the place, grabbing throw pillows and placing them in different rooms, awkwardly laughing, attempting what I think was dancing. After a few minutes they removed the AirPods. One of my pals admitted it was fun, but her partner thought it lacked a fully unspooled narrative. It felt silly to use the app, he said, although he acknowledged that was the point.

PairPlay is free to download and all the content is free. For now. It’s easy to see how the company might offer subscription content down the line. (It’s less “free” if you don’t already have an iPhone and AirPods, as you need both items to use the app.)

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Think the headline could have been “augmented reality is coming for your ears first”. Audio is a simpler yet equally effective method of creating imagined spaces. Better in stereo, of course.
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Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts dead at 80 • Boing Boing

Rob Beschizza:

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RIP Charlie Watts, drummer with the Rolling Stones. My favorite Watts anecdote, from Victor Bockris’s 1992 biography of bandmate Keith Richards…

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…is a screenshot, and I won’t spoil it. Click through for an idea of the dynamics in the band. A different anecdote is of Keith Richards’s father, in the green room of the Voodoo Lounge tour, starting to get “refreshed” with the champagne on offer.

“Careful,” said Watts, “or you’ll end up looking like your son.”
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Carbon from UK’s blue hydrogen bid still to equal 1m petrol cars • The Guardian

Jillian Ambrose:

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If the government used zero-carbon “green” hydrogen to meet a third of the UK’s forecast hydrogen demand, “blue” hydrogen would create the same emissions as around 1m cars running on the UK’s roads each year.

The analysis, undertaken on behalf of the Guardian by Friends of the Earth Scotland, was based on government data published last week in a long-awaited report on the future of the UK’s hydrogen economy.

The strategy sets out a “twin track” approach to supporting hydrogen production, but it failed to suggest a balance between blue and green hydrogen. This has raised concerns among climate groups that an over-reliance on blue hydrogen could lock the UK into decades of North Sea gas production, fossil-fuel imports and millions of tonnes of carbon emissions.

Richard Dixon, the director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said the government’s support for the major oil companies behind plans for blue hydrogen projects, including BP and the Norwegian state oil giant Equinor, would allow them to “prolong fossil-fuel production indefinitely”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which reviewed the analysis, said investing in both green and blue hydrogen would “allow us to kickstart an entire industry from scratch that creates tens of thousands of jobs and unlocks billions of pounds worth of private investment”.

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Green hydrogen is produced by electrolysing water, ideally using renewable energy; blue hydrogen from fossil fuels. Guess which one has tons of sunk costs and profits that are used to fund the party in power.
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United Wholesale Mortgage will accept bitcoin, other cryptocurrency • CNBC

MacKenzie Sigalos:

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United Wholesale Mortgage, which made its public debut in January via a special purpose acquisition (SPAC) merger, announced plans this week to accept cryptocurrency for home loans, in what is being billed as a first for the national mortgage industry.

“We’ve evaluated the feasibility, and we’re looking forward to being the first mortgage company in America to accept cryptocurrency to satisfy mortgage payments,” CEO Mat Ishbia said in the company’s second quarter earnings call on Monday.

“That’s something that we’ve been working on, and we’re excited that hopefully, in Q3, we can actually execute on that before anyone in the country because we are a leader in technology and innovation.”

The Michigan-based mortgage company confirmed to CNBC that it’s aiming to start by accepting bitcoin, though UWM is in the process of evaluating ether and other cryptocurrencies as well.

“We are evaluating the feasibility and requirements in order to accept cryptocurrency to satisfy mortgage payments,” said Ishbia in a tweet via the company’s account.

UWM – the nation’s second-biggest mortgage lender after Quicken, the Detroit-based lending giant owned by Rocket Companies – works solely through wholesale channels, meaning that the company employs a fleet of brokers who then connect clients to home loans.

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OK, so this allows the intersection of property (old people’s asset) with crypto (young people’s asset). Somehow though the element of the brokers in there makes me ever so slightly apprehensive. Random thought: has anyone seen The Big Short?
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Idle speculation on Apple cars • Digits to Dollars

Jonathan Greenberg:

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The car will need a fairly advanced processor to handle all the software features of the car, as well as the infotainment system, and it will likely need some sort of advanced sensor/signaling hub. We would guess that Apple will design this processor itself, which means there are some lucky souls inside Apple Silicon toiling away on the design right now. The car will need a lot of memory and an ocean of microcontrollers, actuators and sensors. The latter are not glamorous or particularly strategic parts, so Apple will likely source them from some third party with the ability to meet price targets to tight specs.

And who will put all these parts together, who will manufacture it? A few years ago, Apple clearly made the rounds talking to many leading car makers. Comments from executives at Hyundai, Kia and VW alluded to something going on, but those efforts seem to have stalled out, falling out of view. Our sense (i.e. a guess) is that Apple did not like what it heard in these meetings, and especially did not like the public comment leaking out. Or maybe they just wanted to learn as much as they could and see if they could find the automotive equivalent of the Motorola ROKR.

Apple does not appear to be planning to build a car manufacturing plant, and we doubt they want to do that part of the work themselves. So Apple needs a partner with the ability to handle scale, quality manufacturing, with a good understanding of electronics and not least the ability to keep their mouths shut about it.

On a completely unrelated note… Has anyone else noticed that Foxconn seems to be investing heavily in automotive, especially automotive electronics? In the past two years, they have made so many investments in and around autos that it is hard to keep track of them all. The industry is actually fairly confused about all this. We frequently have conversations about which entity is the best one to approach. There is so much going on that we imagine many people inside Foxconn/Hon Hai are themselves a bit confused about it all.

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The Apple Car is the white whale for so many electronics Ishmaels.
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Apple has had a successful decade. The next one looks tougher • The Economist

The Economist looks at Tim Cook’s first decade in charge, noting his success but pointing to the challenges ahead, of which China seems the most relevant to me:

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Judging by Apple’s latest supplier list, the firm has even increased its reliance on Chinese companies. Of the top 200 suppliers, 51 were based in China, up from 42 in 2018. At the height of the trade war then-president Donald Trump waged with China in 2019, Goldman Sachs, an investment bank, estimated that in the worst-case scenario Chinese retaliation could reduce Apple’s profits by nearly 30%.

The fallout could be worse if Apple’s products and services were banned in China. As the Communist Party turns increasingly authoritarian and the West increasingly suspicious of China, Apple may become a target of Beijing’s wrath or the sort of nationalist-tinged boycotts that have hurt Western brands from the NBA to Zara.

And if Apple’s importance to China’s economy continues to offer a protective shield, this may anger governments and consumers in the West. According to human-rights groups, some of Apple’s suppliers are linked to forced-labour camps for Uyghurs, an oppressed Muslim minority, in Xinjiang. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s boss, has called out Apple for hypocrisy for touting privacy protection at home while allowing the government in Beijing to access personal data in China. “At some point something will happen that becomes a loyalty test,” thinks Willy Shih of Harvard Business School.

Apple says it has found no evidence of any forced labour in its supply chain. Mr Zuckerberg himself could also be accused of being hypocritical, since Facebook is making billions from Chinese advertisers on its social networks.

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I would really like to know what Apple’s worst-case scenario planning is for complete disruption in China. If it took in Taiwan too.. but in that situation, *all* global trade would be screwed. We’d have worse problems than the next iPhone.
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Oh yes, you missed the plug yesterday for my book Social Warming, about how our human biases interact with attention-driven algorithms to make everyone a bit mad. That’s because I didn’t include it.


Jeremy Keith resigns from AMP Advisory Committee: “It has become clear to me that AMP remains a Google product” • WP Tavern

Sarah Gooding:

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When AMP joined the OpenJS Foundation in 2019, skeptics hailed the transfer as “mostly meaningless window-dressing.” What Keith witnessed during his time with the advisory committee lends credit to these early doubts about AMP being able to gain independence from Google:

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Whenever a representative from Google showed up at an advisory committee meeting, it was clear that they viewed AMP as a Google product. I never got the impression that they planned to hand over control of the project to the OpenJS Foundation. Instead, they wanted to hear what people thought of their project. I’m not comfortable doing that kind of unpaid labour for a large profitable organisation.

Even worse, Google representatives reminded us that AMP was being used as a foundational technology for other Google products: stories, email, ads, and even some weird payment thing in native Android apps. That’s extremely worrying.

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Keith’s experience echoes some of the claims in the ongoing antitrust lawsuit against Google, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and nine other state attorneys general. The complaint states that the transfer of the AMP project to the OpenJS Foundation was superficial.

…Keith was originally inspired by fellow dissenter Terence Eden to join the committee in hopes of making a difference. Eden eventually resigned from the committee in December 2020, after concluding that Google has limited interest in making AMP a better web citizen.

“I do not think AMP, in its current implementation, helps make the web better,” Eden said. “I remain convinced that AMP is poorly implemented, hostile to the interests of both users and publishers, and a proprietary and unnecessary incursion into the open web.”

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Interesting how Google has gone from being a very insistent proponent of the open web to a very insistent proponent of what suits it now. AMP could be good, but needs to be independent.
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Microsoft delivers calm system sounds in Windows 11 • CNBC

Jordan Novet:

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Personal computers with Windows have made sounds to indicate errors since the 1980s. With Windows 11, Microsoft has revamped those sounds to make them less stressful.

…The designers of Windows 11 took inspiration from an approach called calm technology, which was described by two employees of the Xerox PARC research lab more than two decades ago. “Calmness is much needed in today’s world, and it tends to hinge on our ability to feel in control, at ease, and trustful,” Microsoft’s Christian Koehn and Diego Baca wrote in a blog post. “Windows 11 facilitates this through foundational experiences that feel familiar, soften formerly intimidating UI, and increase emotional connection.”

Calm technology also informed the development of the sounds of Windows 11, said Matthew Bennett, who crafted the sounds, following contributions to Windows 8 and Windows 10.

Windows 11 stands out from its predecessors and its competitors by allowing people to use one group of sounds to match with light visual themes, and a different group that goes along with dark themes. The sounds are similar, which means people can recognize them as they switch between modes, but slightly different. Applying a dark theme generally makes the sounds softer. They seem to echo, as if in a large room.

“The new sounds have a much rounder wavelength, making them softer so that they can still alert/notify you, but without being overwhelming,” a Microsoft spokesperson told CNBC in an email. Just like we rounded UI [user interface] visually, we rounded our soundscape as well to soften the overall feel of the experience.”

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A much rounder wavelength? Are they saying earlier versions used sawtooth waves? I’m not sure that the alert/error sounds are stressful so much as too plentiful. And let’s remember that it was Robert Fripp who designed the sounds for Windows Vista. Error sounds could have been so different.
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Phones of nine Bahraini activists found to have been hacked with NSO spyware • The Guardian

Stephanie Kirchgaessner:

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The mobile phones of nine Bahraini activists, including two who were granted asylum protection and are now living in London, were hacked between June 2020 and February 2021 using NSO Group spyware, according to new findings by researchers at Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto.

A report due to be released on Tuesday will reveal that the hacked activists, some of whose phones were being monitored by Citizen Lab researchers at the time they were hacked, include three members of Waad, a secular leftwing political group that was suspended in 2017 amid a crackdown on peaceful dissent in Bahrain.

Of the nine activists who were “successfully hacked”, four were believed with a “high degree of confidence” by Citizen Lab to have been targeted by the government of Bahrain, which is believed to have acquired access to NSO spyware, called Pegasus, in 2017.

…An NSO spokesperson said in a statement to the Guardian that it had not received any data from Citizen Lab and could therefore not respond to “rumours” of the group’s findings.

“As always, if NSO receives reliable information related to misuse of the system, the company will vigorously investigate the claims and act accordingly based on the findings,” the spokesperson said.

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Would always like to know precisely what “act accordingly” means when NSO says it. Puts up the price to those clients? Sends them an admonishing email? Does NSO actually control which phones Pegasus is put on, which seems to be the implication of the existence of these phone lists?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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