Where Should Valve Draw the Line on Hosting and Selling Software?

In the past Valve has had a policy of not allowing software onto Steam for violating some unwritten policy about nudity. The only examples I know of are for games containing drawn nudity. Developers who want to work around this policy offer a different version of the game on Steam and a patch on the side to re-enable the content. It’s a bad solution because it means that Steam users could be missing out on the full experience. One recently released game seems to have changed this policy for Valve, or at least they didn’t apply it to that game.

Two days ago another product was released on Steam, for VR headsets, called Dating Lessons.

Let’s break down the description from the developer:

!Dating Lessons developed by Cerevrum Inc. is the very first VR course on dating which will give a man the skillset to build a dating life he wishes for.

Not sure why they put that exclamation mark in there. Everyone could use some help feeling confident and understanding relationships. That isn’t terrible.

Men are expected to be always strong, confident and charming. But it is not easy at all!

Ok, they have defined a huge problem with being a man in our culture and finding confidence in oneself. Maybe this software could help people better themselves. Let’s keep reading!

How to approach a woman? What to say to be interesting and charming? With the help of Magic Leone, a professional coach with 10+ years of experience teaching dating skills, every man will overcome his low-esteem and shyness.

11 lectures and 7 practical interactive sessions will give men tools to enhance their power of attraction and develop behavior patterns to handle stress and excessive worrying.

Don’t miss a chance to have an unforgettable VR experience. Following these simple hacks and cheat codes can change your dating life forever.your dating life forever.

Uh. What?
Magic Leone?

Hacks and cheat codes?

The typo at the end of repeating themselves I can forgive, but relationships aren’t a game and there aren’t “hacks” and “cheat codes” for life.

Maybe English isn’t the first language of the developer, let’s look at the screenshots.

What the fuck? Are you supposed to be some kind of dating T-1000?

 

Now you’re in a photography studio? That is a strange place for a date.
Now we have battery Meters and Magic Leone is imploring us to do something.
Back to the Terminator vision.

Well, the screenshots didn’t help things. Let’s look at one of Magic Leone’s websites:

Well, I think we know what kind of guy Magic Leone is now. We also find out on this page that he can teach men to become a “SEX GOD.” That was his emphasis that made it uppercase. Lets check out one of his testimonial videos:

I only made it 25 seconds in, when the blurred gentlemen — most of the testimonial videos feature men who are blurred out, presumably because they refused to be depicted — told us he won’t accept “no” for an answer from women. Here’s a cheat code, that makes him a rapist and a terrible person.

Other stores, like Walmart, have a long history of only stocking their shelves with music that is edited to remove language that Walmart doesn’t like. Apple rejected The Binding of Isaac from their iOS App Store only to let it through about a year later without any alteration. There’s a whole page up on Wikipedia about other media that Apple has rejected, and in some cases later allowed through. It’s up to each business to decide what they want to sell, set their policies appropriately, and hopefully enforce those policies fairly.

I hope a wide range of software and games are available on Steam in the future from many different kinds of people and with different viewpoints. As far as I know, this software does not contain nudity, which is something I believe Valve should handle on a case-by-case basis along with explicit polices and filtering for parents and guardians.

Dating Lessons exploits a user’s lack of confidence in relationships and teaches them how to be terrible people and rapists.

This is not what Valve should host and sell, this is where Valve should draw the line.

Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017 Notes

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Nintendo Japan had a live-streamed presentation revealing new details about their upcoming console, the Nintendo Switch. Here are my notes.

Screen Shot 2017-01-12 at 7.00.55 PM.pngIt’ll be available March 3rd 2017 in Japan, US, Canada, “major Euro nations.”

29,980 JPY

$299.99 USD

It’ll be up for pre-order in Japan on the 21st. No word on the US.

The system will include the tablet console, the dock, Joy-con controllers, wrist straps, the grip that can hold both Joycons into a Voltron-like regular gamepad, an AC adapter using a USB-C cable and an HDMI cable. There are two different versions of the console bundle, one with the regular Joy-cons and one with differently-colored Joy-cons as depicted below.

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Switch online services will have a free trial at launch, and then cost money this Fall, like  Xbox Live and Playstation Plus.

“In general we will not apply region locking to Nintendo Switch software”

Nintendo highlighted three modes, TV Mode for typical console gameplay with the Switch docked, Tabletop mode where you can play with friends using the Joy-con controllers disconnected from the tablet for multiplayer or single player, and handheld mode where it’s just a tablet with two controllers attached. The switch is supposed to have 2.5 to 6 hours of playtime when it’s not connected to power.

For the first time, Nintendo highlighted that there is an NFC reader in the Joy-con controllers for Amiibo support.

You can get the Joy-cons in multiple colors. The Switch will include a wrist strap that slides on the rails that connect the controllers to the tablet. The Joycon controllers also have an IR sensor on one end to detect distance from objects and hand motions, similar to my old employer Leap Motion’s technology. The Joycons also have “HD Rumble” to convey different sensations. Nintendo oddly chose to highlight this through the idea of holding a glass and feeling ice cubes and then water being poured into it.

 

This was taken to a gaming context through a new multiplayer minigame collection called 1-2-Switch that started out with wild west gunslingers drawing the Joycon controllers. 1-2-Switch, will let you play these minigames without looking at a screen, and instead follow the action by observing your opponent, the rumble feedback, and occasionally the screen of the tablet.

Nintendo also introduced Arms, a fighting game that resembles punch-out at first but looks closer to a more traditional fighting game except with a third-person behind-the-back camera and fighting by swinging the Joycons.

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Nintendo also introduced Splatoon 2, with 4 on 4 multiplayer, and a new akimbo weapon. You can play with gyro features or traditionally via the pro-controller. It’ll be out this summer.

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A new 3D platforming Mario game in the style of 64, Sunshine, and Galaxy, is coming out, featuring Mario in a bizarrely alternate version of our world, Super Mario Odyssey.  It’s very weird seeing Mario interacting with a realistic-ish urban environment and humanoid people. It is supposed to have the excitement of visiting new places. Weird. It’ll be out at the end of the year.

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Monolithsoft is putting out Xenoblade Chronicles 2.

Team Ninja is working on Fire Emblem Warriors.

Screen Shot 2017-01-12 at 6.41.32 PM.pngNintendo assures us that 50 companies are working on software and 80 games are in development.

Square-Enix is working on Dragon Quest 10 and 11 along with Dragon Quest 1 and 2 for Nintendo Switch, remakes.

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Atlus is working on a Shin Megami Tensei game in the Unreal Engine.

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Square-Enix also has a new game called Project Octopath Traveler.

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Sega appeared on stage to show us their logo and say how interested they are in developing for the Switch without any commitment.

Skyrim was finally officially announced for the Switch after being in previous videos without a commitment.

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Suda51 from Grasshopper made a very awkward entrance to let us know that Travis Touchdown from No More Heroes will return. He basically broke the translator who was so bored he sounded like he was about to commit suicide.

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EA showed up to get translated into Japanese live, doubling their on-screen time, and announce EA Sports FIFA for the Switch.

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Nintendo closed with a video highlighting the software available, including quick hints of Street Fighter 2 and other games that haven’t been announced.

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Nintendo then actually closed with an announcement that Zelda will be available March 3rd, launch day.

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In a quick follow-up press release Nintendo also announced Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which has all the DLC from the regular Wii-U version and a few new characters and courses.

Reggie's Gaping Maw

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AirPods Review

The iPhone 7 is half of a vision for a future without wires.

Apple’s AirPods are the other half of that vision.

It’s a future where headphones are no-longer tangled up in your pocket, and are instead a three piece system of two earbuds and a charging case that has its own battery and keeps them topped off throughout the day.

You connect the AirPods to your iOS 10 device by opening up the charging case while it is nearby. A dialog pops up that asks if you want to connect them and once connected they become available via Apple’s iCloud to every other iOS 10 device and Mac you own.


Each earbud is smart enough to know if they’re in your ear or not and pause your music accordingly when removed. When you pop only one earbud in and hit the play button, the device is intelligent enough to downmix both stereo channels into one monaural channel.

They’re the pinnacle of convenience, but there are some significant drawbacks with the first generation of AirPods.

The AirPods are yet another thing that needs charging. It’s less frequent charging than a phone because they come in a special case, but about once a week or every few days, depending on how much you’re listening, you’ll need to charge the case the ear buds rest in.

The earbuds themselves last about five hours and according to Apple they get three hours of charging in 15 minutes resting in the case.
My old Bluetooth headphones lasted just about forever on a charge, but required me to dig out the specific kind of USB cable to charge them. The AirPods charging case uses a USB-A to Lightning adapter. It’s kind of odd that for $159 you don’t get an AC adapter, although you do get the cable in the box.

Each AirPod earbud is comparable to the regular Apple EarPod earbuds in terms of style, but a bit longer in length of the stem that extends out of the bit that goes in your ear. This extra room is where the battery hides inside the AirPods.

There are more little spots on the AirPods than the EarPods had for sensors to know when they’re in or out of your ears.

This elongated EarPod design kind of falls apart for me when you get to the tip of the stem. At that point, furthest out of your ears, is a shiny spot that holds the microphone you can use for talking to Siri or making phone calls.

The shiny microphone spots at the bottom of the AirPods look kind of like earrings or other ear-mounted jewelry, which look kind of goofy to me.

The AirPods are a bit less goofy than the old giant Bluetooth devices we all used for hands-free talking but might get you some funny looks until people get used to them. They’re also not as large as some competing earbud headphones that have large rectangular dinguses sticking horizontally out of your ears and floating there like little matchbooks.
The microphone works well enough for my usage when talking to Siri or on calls, I just wish Apple had styled the tip differently.

I’ve had a few times where when I was listening to a podcast or some music with just one earbud, and put the second one in, the new earbud took a few moments longer than I would like to start working. There have also been moments where I’ve accidentally triggered the sensors that tell the AirPods they’re in my ear when I was picking them up or putting them down.

Without a connecting cable to your devices, the AirPods lost the control module on other headphones that lets you change volume, play or pause whatever you’re listening to, or do extra nerdy commands via tap codes on that button like skipping songs.

Photographers also used that module to trigger the camera shutter without introducing minute vibrations to the phone that could cause pictures to be a little blurrier.

A tiny Bluetooth controller might be nice to replace that functionality, or these controls could be on the AirPods charging case. I’ve been getting out my iPhone or using my Apple Watch to control volume and whatever program I’m listening to.



Siri
is available at any time by double tapping the side of the earbud. She can raise or lower the volume and pause or resume playback. It feels kind of weird to do this, and I’ve heard complaints that the double-tap is an uncomfortable gesture for some people. Roughly equivalent to getting old wired earbuds yanked out of your ear when the cord gets caught on something. If you really hate the gesture, the “Hey Siri” vocal gesture (which is normally disabled when using the speaker) is enabled while using the AirPods. I didn’t feel any discomfort while using the double-tap gesture, but thought it was worth mentioning that other people might have a problem with it.

You can change the double-tap gesture to be a play/pause control in your iOS device’s Bluetooth settings if you prefer that over Siri. I just took one earbud out and used that to pause my music but it might be better to have the gesture if you want to pause while cooking or cleaning without digging out another device or speaking with Siri.

As far as fit, I have huge ears and the AirPods get nestled in there about as well as the EarPods did. Though the AirPods do feel a little bit looser than I would like, I’m glad they don’t make a complete seal so I am not entirely obvious to what is going on around me. Apple has a 14-day return policy if they don’t fit you, I’ve also heard that you can try them on in some stores.

Because they don’t form a total seal of the ear canal, like in-ear monitors or rubberized earbuds would, bass isn’t perfect and sound quality is almost exactly the same as the EarPods. You can tell how much work the little porting cutouts are doing by pressing your finger over one on the back of the earbud and listening as your music suddenly changes from high-quality FM to tinny AM.

The charging case is a simple white rounded rectangle box with the single button I mentioned above for pairing with non-Apple Bluetooth devices. There is a tiny, shiny metal, hinge that folds open the top of the case up very easily when you want to retrieve the earbuds or put them back. Tiny magnets grab the earbuds and hold them in or guide their safe return. A small light gives you an indication of charging status when the lid is open and also helps to see inside when it’s dark.

It would be nice if the case were thinner, but it’s a small price to pay for about 24-hours of additional listening via the case’s internal battery. I’ll note that I haven’t rigorously tested Apple’s battery life claims, some people have reported that the charging case had been rapidly discharging. I wasn’t able to reproduce that issue, but Apple replaced the charging case for the one incident I heard of.

I’ve been wanting truly wireless earbuds like this for a long time and other Bluetooth earbuds I’ve read about have been disappointing enough with technical hazards that I haven’t bothered trying them.

At $159 these are the most expensive headphones I have right now, but they’re cheaper than other comparable Bluetooth earbuds without cables and have more intelligence to them. If you lose one AirPod then Apple will sell you a replacement for $69. The case itself is replaceable for $59.

Despite the look, the extra dingus to charge, and the loss of the wired control module, I very much prefer going totally wireless with the AirPods over using regular earbuds or my other Bluetooth headsets.

It’s that good to not have to manage untangling a wire from your pocket, or dealing with traditional Bluetooth syncing, or having headphones yanked out of your ear when they get caught on something or grabbed by a kid. Of course since the iPhone 7 can’t charge and use wired headphones at the same time, there’s also the benefit of being able to listen to something on headphones while charging my pocket computer.

I hope that competition brings the price of all truly wireless headphones down and iteration might find new ways to resolve the other issues.

If you travelled back in time about 20 years and showed these to me I wouldn’t believe they could exist. As the first version of this device they’re not perfect, but I am onboard for the wireless future.

Replicants Are Like Any Other Machine

The first trailer for Blade Runner 2049 looks pretty good. Here’s the official description:

Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.

SHENZHEN I/O Released out of Early Access

Zachtronic’s latest programming game, Shenzhen I/O, has exited Steam’s Early Access program. Vaguely similar to PICO-8’s fantasy console, but Shenzhen should be most familiar to people who played TIS-100. I wrote a little bit about TIS here last year, where I wondered “who the heck writes assembly today unless they’re writing code for embedded systems?” That was a little bit of a premonition, as Zachtronic’s Shenzhen I/O is all about writing assembly code for tiny embedded computers with a light helping of laying out circuits. Those layouts are (so far in my game, I’m still not far in) just connecting inputs and outputs between multiple embedded computers that you’re programming at any time.

The version of solitaire included on the fantasy desktop in Shenzhen is good fun, but maybe one of my favorite parts is getting the feelies together. I don’t have a printer anymore, so I had to get the manual printed out at an office store and order the binder online. Putting something physical together for a game is so strange anymore.

Shenzhen manual

Shenzhen I/O is a ridiculous programming game that is available now for Windows, macOS, and Linux/SteamOS, on Steam for $15. It’s on sale for $13.49 until the 24th.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is Splitting Windows Players Up

COW IW E3 Ship Assault Zero G Combat WM
Call of Duty: IW image via Activision

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is coming out tomorrow and it turns out that players on Windows will be split depending on which digital store they buy the game from. If you buy the boxed copy you get a Steam code and can only play with other players who bought the Steam version. If you buy the game from the app store built-into Windows you can’t play with Steam players. This is according to an FAQ on Activision’s support site for Call of Duty, via IGN, and goes for both Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer as well as the remastered version of Modern Warfare.

If you’ve been playing Call of Duty on Windows for a few years you’ve probably seen what I’ve seen, it feels like there are fewer players in multiplayer than ever, and it’s impossible to find anyone playing any modes except for team deathmatch. I can’t believe anyone would splinter the smallest of the three groups of players (Playstation 4, Xbox One, Windows) intentionally.

Rocket League has cross-platform multiplayer across Xbox One and Steam, so it doesn’t seem like a policy prevents multiplayer from functioning between Microsoft-purchased games and other platforms. Really strange move on Activision’s part.

Notes From Apple’s October 2016 Event

new-macbooks
Macbook Pro photo by Apple

Apple held an event today at their Town Hall in Cupertino to announce new Macs. Here’s what got announced.

Accessibility

Apple opened with a video produced using their accessibility features, and announced a new accessibility website demonstrating them. As I get older I find myself using more of these features, so I am glad they are there for everyone. We will all need to use accessibility features eventually.

Apple TV

Tim Cook announced Minecraft coming to the Apple TV before the end of the year.

The big Apple TV announcement was a new app simply called TV. Apple’s Jen Folse demonstrated the new app that gathers together all of the shows and movies you are watching from any source (iTunes, Showtime, CBS, etc) in one place. It’ll keep track of what you’re watching, and let you know when a new episode is available. Or offer new suggestions from whatever apps support the feature.

The TV app will also keep track of your television service authentication. So, if you’ve  signed into your brother’s Comcast account, you shouldn’t need to re-authenticate into every new app that supports that login.

Folse also demonstrated viewing live programming via Siri. Tuning into the news or football worked smoothly, but It is kind of strange that live TV isn’t part of the TV app.

TV will be available for Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad, this December.

Touch Bar & New Macs

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Macbook Pro photo by Apple

Tim Cook introduced a video featuring their new MacBook Pro with a touchscreen bar at the top of the keyboard that dynamically changes to suit whatever applications you’re using. It’ll replace the row of function keys. Phil Schiller was on stage to introduce the new Macs and explain Apple’s reasoning behind the change. The marketing name for the touchscreen bar is Touch Bar. That sounds like a place I wouldn’t like to drink.

Schiller’s reasoning for this change was that the function keys are 45 years old, and that Apple had been replacing them by default for years with various overlaid functions like laptop brightness, multimedia keys for playback and volume, and other functions specific to macOS.

These overlays on the function key strip have changed to accommodate new features in macOS over the years, and it was always strange if you had a laptop that didn’t have the most current function-key overlay to launch features like expose that gave you an overview of all your open application windows.

The function keys are still available by holding down the function-key (fn) modifier on the keyboard, but the Touch Bar is split into a few sections.

An application area to the left displays functions relevant to the currently running application, like a photo carousel to swipe through. Craig Federighi demonstrated a series of functions for Mail that give quick access to replying to a message and then once you’re typing the Touch Bar will display suggestions similar to an iPhone’s predictive suggestions. While typing up these impressions and switching between the Notes app on my Mac and iPhone I noticed how much more annoying it is to have to reach into the right-click menu on the Mac, which is full of options, just to get the most important ones like replacing a spelling mistake with a suggested word.

As someone who is frequently in the terminal, I appreciated that Apple demonstrated a set of touch bar keys for their Terminal application. That is particularly handy for getting back an escape key even if it is virtual. While macOS is going to offer a setting to use caps-lock as the escape key, I would probably still prefer a permanent physical escape key on the keyboard over a virtual one.

To the right of that, in about a third of the Touch Bar area is the control strip that gives you access to all of the features that were previously overlaid on the function-key area like volume control. Since macOS Sierra introduced Siri to the Mac, there’s a button to access Siri in the Control Strip and that is a feature you might have previously expected to replace a physical key on the keyboard.

Each of these first two sections, the application area and the control strip, are customizable to display the controls you want.

Many of the new virtual controls on the Touch Bar will offer functionality that was previously only available through keyboard shortcuts, but will now be surfaced to anyone who jumps into an application on one of these MacBook Pro laptops.

All of the way to the right of the Touch Bar is a Touch ID sensor as seen on the iPhone. In addition to replacing the power button, this fingerprint reader logs you into your Mac and authorizes Apple Pay purchases through websites that support the functionality. Users can also switch to their desktop by scanning their fingerprint.

The new MacBook Pro laptops have a T1 chip which includes a version of what Apple calls the Secure Enclave that stores your fingerprints and protects them from being accessed by malicious software.

This is the first major MacBook Pro redesign in a long time and both the 13 and 15 inch versions are thinner and weigh less than the previous versions of the MacBook Pro. The new design is more in-line with the MacBook. New color options for the finish are silver and space gray.

Unfortunately these new MacBook Pro’s are losing the MagSafe connector. Before it was introduced, I had broken at least two laptops by tripping over the power cord and pulling my MacBook off a table like an idiot. The magnetic connector of MagSafe was one of the most important quality of life improvements to Mac laptops and a feature that I can’t ever recall a Windows laptop successfully cloning.

Replacing the MagSafe power connector, and all of the older USB options, are four USB 3.1 Gen 2 type-C ports. Intel and Apple call these  Thunderbolt 3 ports. Any of the USB-C connections can be your power adapter port. Apple demonstrated them alongside a new 5K monitor from LG that also charges the laptop. It’s called the LG UltraFine 5K display, it is also a signal that Apple is unlikely to be in the monitor business in the foreseeable future.

Although both laptops are faster than their previous-generation counterparts, the 13 inch MacBook Pro only has integrated graphics while Apple has chosen AMD’s Polaris architecture chips for the 15 inch MacBook instead of Nvidia’s 10-series.

There is also a new 13 inch MacBook Pro without some of the new improvements like the Touch Bar. It’s designed to be a step up from the regular MacBook and MacBook Air. The Air is now the thickest laptop Apple sells, which is kind of ridiculous given the name.

All of the new MacBook Pro laptops have a base configuration with 256 gigabyte SSDs, the 13 inch models have 8 gigabytes of RAM. The 15 inch has 16 gigs.

They’re all available from Apple to order today, although the 13 and 15 inch models with the Touch Bar won’t ship for a few weeks.

The new 15 inch MacBook Pro looks like a great laptop to replace my late 2013 15 inch MacBook Pro some day, but it has been 742 days since the Mac Mini was updated, and 1,044 days since the Mac Pro was updated. Apple sells a lot of laptops, but I’m disappointed that desktop Macs without integrated screens are dying and Apple did not address users looking for those options during this event.

Clockwork Empires Exits Early Access

The Dungeons of Dredmor developers have taken their new clockwork empire management sim, Clockwork Empires, out of Steam’s Early Access program and released it to the world of steampunk fans. If you enjoy murdering fishpeople, or being terrorized by them, this is the game for you.

Clockwork Empires is available for macOS and Windows, and is on sale for $27 until November 2nd, when it goes up to $30.

The NX is the Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch

Nintendo teased that the NX would get revealed in a short video today and here it is. The device codenamed NX now has an official designation, the Switch, a docking combination of home-console and portable device with a detachable controller that splits off of the main tablet-style unit to become two smaller SNES-style controllers for multiplayer.

This is a path that Sony had been going on with the Vita, which was the first major console to bridge handheld and console play. You could remotely play games from a Playstation 4 to the Vita. Some Playstation 4 and Vita games could also be purchased digitally for one device and that would provide players with both versions.

The Wii-U has not sold well and I don’t imagine many people were going to buy one as a gift later this year, but if anyone were going to they might want to consider waiting for the March release of the Switch. The Switch looks like it’ll run many games that people might have missed out on if they didn’t get a Wii-U like Splatoon and the Wii-U‘s iteration of Mario Kart.

In comparison to the 3DS, the Switch is a portable that is explicitly designed for and sold to adults and perhaps will not so much replace the 3DS as exist alongside it. You can’t put the Switch in a pocket, the tablet center of the device is too large. Nintendo handhelds have always been a little bit more durable than other companies portables and iPhones, but the Switch looks more fragile than the 3DS and comparable to an iPad in that respect.

Like the Wii-U and Wii before it, there will be a more traditional Pro controller available for the Switch.

Nvidia announced that a custom version of their Tegra system is powering the Switch. This will mean it has performance capabilities closer to a high-end tablet than modern x86-based home consoles. While a Tegra-based system will be easier to develop for than previous Nintendo hardware, it will still be more difficult for third party developers to bring Xbox One and Playstation 4 games to this hardware. However, 48 developers, publishers, and middleware providers announced support for the Switch. You can even see Bethesda’s Skyrim in the video above.