How do you review something like Animal Crossing: New Horizons? It’s not like most games: There’s no plot, no leveling up and no bosses. You can never beat Animal Crossing — and, conversely, you can’t lose. Instead, you play a bit every day, shaping your adorable house and village into the most idyllic environment possible. That’s a template the series has honed since its Nintendo 64 debut, and with New Horizons on the Switch, which lands on March 20th, it’s evolved into a truly meditative and relaxing escape from reality. And honestly, that’s just what we need today, as our society reshapes itself around the specter of a global pandemic.
For the uninitiated, every Animal Crossing game starts the same way: You play as a human who moves to a small town filled with anthropomorphic animals. An entrepreneurial raccoon named Tom Nook helps you find a home, while also burdening you with a hefty mortgage. And then you’re off to do whatever you want: fish, catch bugs, chat with your neighbors. New Horizons changes things up a bit by offering a lot more customization from the beginning.
Instead of being placed right into a village, you start off at a ticket counter, where the adorable Timmy and Tommy Nook start planning your upcoming getaway to a deserted island. You can choose between a spot in the northern or southern hemispheres, which determines the weather, as well as four different island layouts. (I stuck with a northern island to sync up the weather with New York City.) And, this being an international trip, you’ll need to show your passport photo, which doubles as a character generator. You can shape your hair and face to your liking, but best of all, you can finally customize your character’s skin tone. Previously, you had to go through an annoying tanning process for a darker complexion.
That extra bit of representation goes a long way. I was immediately more connected with my brown-skinned character (sporting blazing white anime hair, because that’s how I really see myself), than I was with the simple models from Animal Crossing: New Leaf on the 3DS. As I picked the ideal spot for my tent — with a river to the north and the ocean to my west — I visualized the sort of area I’d love to escape to in real life, away from anxiety-inducing headlines and reminders of the fragility of modern society.
A quick walk around my new home island “Lostia” (I never said I was very original) made it instantly clear how much of an upgrade New Horizons is. Every new entry in the series is typically an evolutionary leap, thanks to hardware advances. But this time around, it’s even more charming than I expected: the jagged edges and simple textures from the 3DS have been replaced with smooth 3D models and luscious colors. Every area on the island — from forests rustling in the wind to wave-lapped shores — is painstakingly detailed and alive, responding to the weather and time of day. Playing New Horizons is like jumping into an interactive storybook.
And given this is a game where you’re mainly exploring the world and interacting with other villagers, Nintendo has paid close attention to every character model. Tom Nook and his raccoon kin have never looked cuter and more expressive; the sea-faring seagull Gulliver’s shiny beak glistens in the sun every time he washes ashore. Every character is unique and expressive, which makes it particularly thrilling whenever you run into visitors and new community members. That level of detail carries over to your character — your hair styles and outfits are endlessly creative, and you’ll never tire of finding hip new accessories.
New Horizons is more than just a graphical upgrade too: Every sound element is crafted to be as chill as possible. The game’s main theme, a gentle tune led by a soft trumpet and ukulele melody, captures the mood perfectly. It evokes nostalgia while hinting at wonder and adventure ahead. It’s like something you’d find in a slice of life anime series, where there’s often very little plot, just characters going about their lives.
Beyond the music, the game’s sound design deftly bottles the experience of living on a remote island to ASMR levels of brain-tingling joy. I found myself reveling in the moments where I could put on a pair of great headphones and listen to the wind blowing through the trees, or the sounds of insects on a quiet chilly night. I’ll probably never live by the seashore, but I’ll always be able to fish by the calm seaside in New Horizons. It’s as if the developers tried to bottle up every sound of nature that relaxes humans — just in time for us to be locked in our homes as we self-quarantine against coronavirus.
Once your camp is set up, you’ll get a “Nook Phone” from Tom Nook that serves as your main progress hub. (Of course he’s a tech CEO now too.) It’ll help you keep track of DIY crafting recipes, which you can use at workbenches to build new items; earn Nook Miles, a currency based entirely on things you do; design custom items; and even get rescued if you manage to get stuck somewhere on the island. There’s also a camera mode for capturing the perfect in-game selfie.
Nook, the capitalist monster that he is, doesn’t waste time burdening you with a bill. But unlike other Animal Crossing games, you can pay off the cost of your trip through Nook Miles, which you earn quickly early on by doing things like collecting weeds, chatting with your neighbors, and in general being a solid member of the community. You can also use those miles later on to buy specialty equipment and more crafting skills. It didn’t take me long to pay off Nook, but then he dangled another carrot in front of my world-weary millennial face. A home of my very own! How could I say no?
And so began my frenemy relationship with Nook, someone you always end up owing in Animal Crossing. He means well, but you’ll quickly notice you end up doing most of his grunt work. Compared to the real world, though, he’s an angel. Nook may charge you an eye-popping amount of bells to upgrade your flimsy tent into a genuine home with a roof, but there’s no interest on your debt, and no forced payment schedule. You just need to explore your town, earn some cash, and pay it off whenever you can. That’s infinitely better than dealing with college loans in your thirties and fighting with banks and our insane credit system to own a home.
DIY crafting, which debuted in the Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp mobile game, also changes up the flow of the series for the better. Instead of just earning money to buy furniture, clothes and other accessories, you can build them on your own, assuming you have the proper materials. That makes chopping wood, mining for stone and metal and collecting cherries far more rewarding than previous titles.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to try the local or online multiplayer portions of the game, but I’m definitely looking forward to sharing my island experience with friends down the line. And if you share your Switch, you better get used to living on a single island with everyone else in your household. That seems like a particularly draconian move by Nintendo — the only way to get multiple islands is to buy more copies of the game. I also didn’t get to test the New Horizons features in the Switch Online App for smartphones. It’s your gateway to voice chatting with friends, and you’ll also be able to scan QR codes for unique items from older Animal Crossing games.
After diving into New Horizons for about 12 hours, my island utopia has finally started to take shape. There’s an impressively large museum to display the fossils and animals I’ve collected. I helped construct a thriving store run by the Nook kids. And my house is shaping up into quite the bachelor pad, with an expensive stereo, a grown-up reclaimed wood bed and a microphone for my dreams of in-game podcasting. More so than any Animal Crossing before it, New Horizons has become a calming ritual for me. I look forward to checking on my island every morning, greeting newcomers, and taking another look every night to sell items before the shop closes.
It may seem a bit frivolous, but all of the time I spent in the game was time spent avoiding political fights on Twitter, news about how we’re ill-equipped to fight the coronavirus, and fretting about the fate of our civilization. Every moment spent in New Horizons is a moment I can breathe a bit easier, which feels like a miracle today.
Skype rolls out 'Meet Now' for hosting video calls without downloading an app – MobileSyrup
Skype is rolling out a new feature to makes it easier to host online video meetings.
Dubbed ‘Meet Now,’ the feature takes a page out of Zoom’s book by letting Skype users generate shareable meeting links. Then, anyone with the link can quickly join the Skype meeting, no sign-ups or downloads required.
It’s a fairly simple system. Users can quickly create a meeting on Skype’s website with a click. Once the unique meeting link is active, you can share it via Outlook or Gmail, or copy it to your clipboard to send it another way. Anyone can join using the link, even if they’re not on Skype. Plus, the links don’t expire, so you can continue to access the free meeting space in the future.
If you’re using a computer, the link will open the Skype web app and you’ll be free to join the call. If you don’t have a Skype account, you’ll join as a visitor.
On mobile, things are a little different. The link will automatically open in the Skype app if it’s installed on your phone. If it isn’t, the link directs you to the app store on your phone to download Skype so you can participate.
— Skype (@Skype) April 3, 2020
Unfortunately, there are a few caveats. The first is that the Meet Now feature only works with Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome. If you use Safari or Firefox, you’ll need to download the Skype app instead.
The other caveat stems from Zoom. That free video conferencing app recently adjusted how it handles meeting links because online trolls were abusing the system to take over meetings and share graphic content (called ‘Zoombombing’). Zoom added passwords by default to meetings, along with a new waiting room feature to give hosts more control over who can join a meeting in hopes of reducing the ‘Zoombombing’ antics.
Depending on how Skype handles its Meet Now links, the platform could become the next Zoom. Hopefully Microsoft learned a lesson or two from Zoom before implementing Meet Now.
Zoom enables meeting passwords by default, waiting rooms to cut down on intruders – MobileSyrup
Free video conferencing app Zoom announced its first feature change to improve security and privacy: passwords by default.
The announcement comes after the company said it would halt development on new features for 90 days to devote all its resources to fixing the numerous security and privacy flaws plaguing the app.
For those who haven’t followed the Zoom saga, the video conferencing service grew massively in popularity over the last few months — from an average 10 million daily users to 200 million daily users — thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the increase in remote work and physical distancing measures. However, with that popularity Zoom also became a target. Over the last week, reports have detailed several vulnerabilities with Zoom, a flaw that leaked email addresses and something called ‘Zoombombing.’
Zoom’s plan to add passwords by default for all meetings should help prevent that latter issue. Previously, people were able to join publicly available Zoom meetings through links traded online. While that feature was intended to make joining meetings a seamless experience, it also enabled the Zoombombing mischief that has run rampant on the platform. Specifically, Zoombombing is when someone joins a public Zoom meeting and takes advantage of the screen sharing tool to take over the meeting. Often, Zoombombers share graphic content like pornography.
While Zoom users could mitigate Zoombombings by adjusting the default settings so that only specific meeting participants can share their screen, the addition of passwords to all meeting rooms should help. Zoom already turned on passwords by default for new meetings, instant meetings and meetings joined through a ‘meeting ID.’ Starting April 5th, it will turn on passwords for previously scheduled Zoom meetings too.
Zoom’s waiting rooms feature will help cut down on unwanted participants
Ultimately, the process of joining a meeting shouldn’t change for most users. Zoom notes on its support page that attendees who join through meeting invites or calendar events will not have to use a password. Instead, the changes apply to people who try to join manually through a meeting ID.
Along with the new password protections, Zoom will enable waiting rooms by default for all meetings. That means when meeting participants join a call, they’ll have to wait in a “waiting room,” a virtual buffer between participants and the call. From there, meeting hosts can grant some or all in the waiting room access to the meeting.
Zoom released the above YouTube video detailing the changes and how they work. You can also read up on the changes on Zoom’s support website.
The Verge notes that the changes could also help fix another security issue plaguing Zoom. Security researchers recently developed a tool that could scan and identify 100 non-password-protected Zoom meeting IDs in an hour. Plus, the tool could scrape information about those meetings. It’s possible the new password-by-default approach could protect users against similar scanning tools.
Forget Zoom: Skype unveils free 'Meet Now' video calls – Tom's Guide
There’s no question that Zoom has quickly become the leader in video meetings and video calls during the coronavirus pandemic. It offers free, 40-minute conference calls with up to 100 attendees, and lots of people are using this tool to stay in touch and have fun with features like swapping out Zoom backgrounds.
But there’s also serious questions about Zoom’s security and privacy issues, only some of which the company has addressed thus far. In order to capitalize on Zoom’s troubles, Skype has rolled out Skype Meet Now calls that don’t require a sign-up or installation.
Here’s how it works. Meet Now allows you to host conference calls by generating a free unique link with one click. You then share that link with participants to enjoy unlimited meetings via Skype. According to Microsoft, which owns Skype, your meeting link does not expire and can be used at any time.
Skype says that you’ll be able to leverage its features during your video conferences. This includes the ability to record your call and save it for later. The company stores your recording for 30 days. You can also blur your background before entering the call, which is helpful for those of us are don’t have the neatest home office or who have pets or children jumping in and out of the frame.
With Skype Meet Now, you can also share your screen at any time, which makes it easier to collaborate with colleagues and share presentations with a group.
Meet Now works on any device with the Skype app installed, and you don’t even need a Skype account to join these calls. You can also use the Skype web client for making calls.
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