Indie video games saved my 2016

The Stugan game development retreat in Sweden
The Stugan game development retreat in Sweden. Photograph: Mark Backler

Over the summer, I spent a month at Stugan, a Swedish “game development acceleration camp”. That may sound like a faintly sinister concept, but it was in fact stupidly idyllic. The eight-week event, organised by alumni from game publishers Rovio and King, took place in adorable red wooden cabins perched on a hill overlooking a lake – apparently called “Bjursen”, although we just called it The Lake, because we couldn’t pronounce anything correctly. While not working on our game development projects, we watched meteor showers from a nearby mountaintop, swam beneath the Northern Lights, and sat around a campfire getting sloshed on schnapps.

The Stugan attendees were from all over the world, but we’d ended up in this tiny corner of Scandinavia, brought together by the one thing we shared: the desire to create and play video games. I turned up three weeks late, and already an outsider as the only journalist, but within a few days I felt like I’d been welcomed as one of the team. There with me were people like Ivan Notaros, an incredibly talented Serbian developer who was ostensibly making a game called House of Flowers based on his experience and knowledge of the war in Yugoslavia in the 90s, but spent much of his time making tiny games, procedurally generated art, and incredible low-res photogrammetry of us as a group. There were Michael and Laura, a married team who were making a game despite being animators rather than programmers, using their artistic style to inform what their project, Thin Air, would become.

Stugan (Swedish for ‘cabin’) is a two-month game creation retreat. Developers have to apply to attend, and if selected get to stay for free

Auston and Diana, another couple, were making Catdate – a game that seems like a simple dating sim (but with cats) but revealed itself to be a touching, meaningful exploration of connection, friendship and learning how to communicate with others. Robbie, Dorianne and Marc, the only three-person team, all from South Africa, were working on Kingdom in the Sky, a project they’d been unable to work on for months because of their full-time jobs. Mira and Tanja, a team of two women, one Swedish and one Danish, collaborated on their two-player game Tick Tock, when they weren’t playing incredibly tense rounds of Magic: The Gathering. The trailers of these games, and the others made during Stugan 2016, are all worth watching.

It’s largely because of Stugan that I’ve started making my own games. My first – Awkward Dating Simulator – has been downloaded over 1,000 times already, which is amazing and terrifying. Next year, I’ll be taking part in Train Jam – a 52-hour train ride from Chicago to the annual Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, where developers make games as the scenery rushes by. I’m doing it just to be around those people and that feeling again.


Security experts: ‘No one should have faith in Yahoo at this point’

Not only did Yahoo fail to prevent the breach, it also failed to detect the breach when it happened in 2013.
Not only did Yahoo fail to prevent the breach, it also failed to detect the breach when it happened in 2013. Photograph: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Experts have attacked Yahoo’s weak security after the revelation it suffered a hack in 2013, which exposed the personal data of 1 billion users, just months after revealing a 500-million-user data breach from 2014.

The hack saw the potential theft of login details, personal details and any confidential or sensitive information contained within email correspondences. Yahoo provided the email services for BT and Sky customers, as well as other services.

Bruce Schneier, a cryptologist and one of the world’s most respected security experts, said: “Yahoo badly screwed up. They weren’t taking security seriously and that’s now very clear. I would have trouble trusting Yahoo going forward.”

Not only did Yahoo fail to prevent the breach, it also failed to detect the breach when it happened in 2013, only realising the intrusion and data theft after recently being notified by a third party. That left users unknowingly compromised for at least three years, vulnerable to identify theft among many other potential criminal uses of their personal data and passwords.

John Madelin, CEO at RelianceACSN and a former vice president responsible for the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, said: “We thought the previous breach of 500 million user accounts was huge, but 1 billion is monumental.”

Tyler Moffitt, senior threat research analyst at Webroot, said: “All of the data stolen, including emails, passwords and security questions, make a potent package for identify theft. The main email account has links to other online logins and the average user likely has password overlap with multiple accounts.”

Moffitt takes little comfort from Yahoo’s efforts to secure user accounts. He said: “These accounts have been compromised for years and the sheer number of them means they have already been a large source of identity theft. No one should have faith in Yahoo at this point.”

Failing to prevent a breach is just one aspect of Yahoo’s fiasco. Given the sheer number of user accounts and the volume of data each one contained, data security was crucial. Unfortunately Yahoo’s disregard for the safety of user data led to the use of out-dated security techniques.


US regulators seek to reduce road deaths with smartphone ‘driving mode’

smartphone use while driving
While the NHTSA cannot force manufacturers to follow the guidelines, previous guidelines have seen wide adoption and implementation. Photograph: Rob Lever/AFP/Getty Images


US regulators are seeking to reduce smartphone-related vehicle deaths with a new driving-safe mode that would block or modify apps to prevent them being a distraction while on the road.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are to issue voluntary guidelines for smartphone makers, which will seek to restrict the apps and services accessible on a smartphone being used by a driver.

US transport secretary Anthony Foxx told the New York Times: “Your smartphone becomes so many different things that it’s not just a communication device. Distraction is still a problem. Too many people are dying and being injured on our roadways.”

The NHTSA is hoping that Apple, Samsung and other popular smartphone manufacturers will adopt the guidelines in future smartphone and software releases. The so-called driving mode will block distractions such as social media, messages or email, stop the use of the keyboard for communication activities and also restrict access to websites, video and distracting graphics.

The intention is that the driving mode will be adopted in a similar manner to the airplane mode common to most smartphones and connected devices, which restricts radio communications while airborne. Airplane mode has been a feature of smartphones since 2007.

While the NHTSA cannot force manufacturers to follow the guidelines, previous guidelines concerning the design and use of navigation and entertainment systems built into cars have seen wide adoption and implementation.

The guidelines for smartphones call for features able to differentiate between drivers and passengers within cars, so that only the driver is shown a simplified and restricted view. They also request a connection between smartphones and in-car controls such as steering wheel buttons, to remove the need to interact with the screen.

two cars following an accident
Data from the NHTSA shows that 3,179 people were killed and 431,000 were injured in crashes involving distracted driving in 2014 in the US. Photograph: Christof R Schmidt/Getty Images/F1online RM

Such driving modes are already implemented within certain Android smartphones, including Samsung models, but they are not compulsory and are up to the users to activate.

Simplified driving mode interfaces are also a feature of several smart in-vehicle mounting options, which aim to collect navigation, music and other driving orientated features into a large button interface that is easier to at arms length and less distracting.