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How The Witcher became a gaming smash hit | PlayStation

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I’m going to begin this week’s Pushing Buttons with a personal plea to game developers and publishers: could you stop announcing huge news in the hours before (or just after) my newsletter deadline, please!? I basically had this week’s missive nailed down, and then CD Projekt Red went and confirmed the next game in the Witcher series, so now I’ve gotta talk about that. There are almost no details about the game yet – just confirmation that it’s being made (in Unreal Engine 5, for the tech nerds). But this is still a big deal, because The Witcher 3 in particular is one of the most interesting and beloved (and successful) fantasy games ever made. It’s sold over 30 million copies; the series has topped 50 million in total.

If you’ve never had the pleasure, The Witcher stars a grizzled and fairly indifferent white-haired monster-hunter called Geralt. He is an outcast, a sword-for-hire who’s lived a long and interesting life – more of an antihero than your traditional wide-eyed, world-saving naif fantasy protagonist. Geralt doesn’t have the power to save the world the Witcher drops you into. It is a world at the mercy of idiot kings and their wars, drunk nobles, criminals both petty and organised, and a whole menagerie of aggressive creatures that happily rip peasants apart. This ain’t a happy place, and you can’t make it better – but you can get to know it, quite intimately, and as Geralt you can at least make something of a difference.

The reason The Witcher has stuck in my memory is its moral ambiguity, and the fact that you are no doubt a powerful character, albeit one who is not omnipotent. Geralt makes mistakes and reflects on his choices. He has failed relationships and intriguing regrets and all the other trappings of a life. And he’s not the only interesting character in this series; most of them have some gnarly qualities, and few are straightforwardly evil. I’m not saying The Witcher handles everything with nuance and subtlety – there is one quest in The Witcher 3 where you basically have to fight an aborted fetus, which is absolutely not the pinnacle of taste. But it has more bite than most games. Considering its narrative spans 100 hours or more, it’s admirable that it manages to be interesting for almost that entire time.

The next Witcher game will be the fourth: Polish developer CD Projekt Red’s history with The Witcher began in around the late 90s, when it bought the rights to Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy novels. (The 73-year-old writer remains famously uninterested in the video games that bear his creation’s name, by the way – and seems quite annoyed that he doesn’t profit from them.) The first Witcher game came out in 2007, when I was a baby journalist: I reviewed it at the time and remember it as a slightly shonky but nonetheless interesting action-RPG, with fiddly combat, a surprisingly rich story and – of course, infamously – a series of collectible cards with nudie ladies on them that you acquired by completing “seduction quests” with various female characters. (Gotta catch ’em all, I guess.) I never would have expected at that time that this game, not to mention this developer, would become one of the world’s most successful.

Another interesting wrinkle here is that this next game will be the studio’s first since Cyberpunk 2077, a game whose launch in 2020 was, famously, an absolute disaster. Despite years in development, extensive crunch and the presence of Keanu Reeves as a prominent character, it launched in an absolute state. And even after the technical problems were (very slowly) solved, the game remained a depressingly cliché-ridden and unambitious take on the ideas of cyberpunk that felt inescapably adolescent. I wonder what creative lessons (and workplace-environment lessons) CD Projekt Red will have taken from that experience.

I wouldn’t expect this game to come out before 2024, by the way. Still, that gives you time to play through the rest of them in preparation. I spent nearly 200 hours on The Witcher 3 and its expansions and still didn’t finish it, so there’s plenty for you to get lost in.

What to play

Seriously spooky … Ghostwire: Tokyo.
Seriously spooky … Ghostwire: Tokyo. Photograph: PR handout

I have been looking forward to paranormal Japanese ghost-punching action game Ghostwire: Tokyo for a long time, and it’s out this Friday. If you have ever spent any time in Japan’s mesmerising capital, seeing this eerily deserted version of it will give you feelings, especially as you explore the stories (and meet the abandoned pets) of the people who used to live there. This is actually an endearingly old-school game: no padding, just an extremely good gameplay idea (fighting ghosts with magic) executed brilliantly and with great visual flair. Beware, though: this game is seriously spooky. I’m of a nervous disposition and it is creeping me out.

Available on: PC, PlayStation 5
Approximate playtime: 15-20 hours

What to read

  • Players of the spectacularly nerdy PlayStation racing sim Gran Turismo 7 are rather upset with changes to the game that make the most desirable cars inordinately expensive, all but necessitating that players pay real money for in-game credits to acquire them. Given that the game already costs £70 (and the grind for new cars was harsh even at launch, as the Guardian’s review pointed out), it’s understandable that people are miffed.

  • An open letter organised by advocacy group Color of Change calls upon Twitch to do more to protect Black video game streams from racist abuse – particularly “hate raids”: co-ordinated harassment events where people flood a streamer’s comments with the intent to cause harm. The letter calls out Twitch’s Black history month events as “performative” and calls for better human and algorithmic moderation, alongside a commitment from Twitch to racial equity at the company.

  • Mega-publisher EA has decided to cancel EA Play, its annual games showcase that usually happens at the same time as E3, the games industry’s bombastic show-and-tell event in June. This is interesting because it further undermines E3 itself: even when big game publishers desert the show, they still hold their own events on its schedule, in the summer. It looks like the gaming news could be more evenly spread throughout the year in future.

  • Two more investigations into alleged workplace toxicity and emotional abuse in the gaming industry this week – one from GamesBeat on Ori creators Moon Studios, and one from People Make Games on three different auteur-led game studios.

What to click

Question Block

Last week, reader Amanda Forde wrote in asking for recommendations on games to play with kids. So instead of answering a new question this week, I’m pulling together some of your brilliant suggestions. Thank you for writing in with them – and do subscribe to this newsletter and hit reply to send me your questions for future editions!

Super Mario Maker 2, suggested by Tom Walker – “simple enough for my five-year-old son to make a relatively complex level himself … he likes challenging me to be able to complete his levels so that we can upload them”

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, suggested by Michel Blake, who played it with her niece: “It’s so different from their usual iPad fodder, even my brother (not a gamer) was impressed at the storytelling, and they ended up chatting about all sorts of things as a result”

Super Smash Bros, suggested by Tom Madge – “Once all four of us got our heads round the controls, it became a massive go-to game for us. So much fun and variety and just throws up loads of hilarity”

Unravel 2, also suggested by Tom Madge – “Me and my seven-year-old had a lovely time a few weeks back playing together. It really felt like we were on a journey, collaborating to figure out the ingenious environmental puzzles. A real treat”

Overcooked 2, suggested by Ky Purnell (and others!) – “Has probably been responsible for more fun arguments than any other game we’ve played. Four-player mode often sees me turning into Gordon Ramsay, swears included”

And a general tip from Matt on how to get the whole family enjoying games where there’s a skill imbalance – “a reliable trick is ‘kids against adults’ or even ‘the whole family against dad’. Works a treat for Bomberman, Boomerang Fu and Smash Bros”

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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.

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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.

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Aviation and Telecom Industries Reach Compromise on 5G Deployment

The Voice Of EU | In a significant development, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest mobile network operators in the United States, have agreed to delay the deployment of 5G services following requests from the aviation industry and the Biden administration. This decision marks a crucial compromise in the long-standing dispute between the two industries, which had raised concerns over the potential interference of 5G with flight signals.
The aviation industry, led by United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, had been vocal about the risks of 5G deployment, citing concerns over the safety of flight operations. Kirby had urged AT&T and Verizon to delay their plans, warning that proceeding with the deployment would be a “catastrophic failure of government.” The US Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the issue further highlighted the need for a solution.
In response, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) head Steve Dickson sent a letter to the mobile networks, requesting a two-week delay to reassess the potential risks. Initially, AT&T and Verizon were hesitant, citing the aviation industry’s two-year preparation window. However, they eventually agreed to the short delay, pushing the deployment to January 19.
The crux of the issue lies in the potential interference between 5G signals and flight equipment, particularly radar altimeters. The C-Band spectrum used by 5G networks is close to the frequencies employed by these critical safety devices. The FAA requires accurate and reliable radar altimeters to ensure safe flight operations.

Airlines in the US have been at loggerheads with mobile networks over the deployment of 5G and its potential impact on flight safety.

Despite the concerns, both the FAA and the telecoms industry agree that 5G mobile networks and airline travel can coexist safely. In fact, they already do in nearly 40 countries where US airlines operate regularly. The key lies in reducing power levels around airports and fostering cross-industry collaboration prior to deployment.
The FAA has been working to find a solution in the United States, and the additional two-week delay will allow for further assessment and preparation. AT&T and Verizon have also agreed to not operate 5G base stations along runways for six months, similar to restrictions imposed in France.
President Joe Biden hailed the decision to delay as “a significant step in the right direction.” The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and South Korea have also reported no unsafe interference with radio waves since the deployment of 5G in their regions.
As the aviation and telecom industries continue to work together, it is clear that safe coexistence is possible. The delay in 5G deployment is a crucial step towards finding a solution that prioritizes both safety and innovation. With ongoing collaboration and technical assessments, the United States can join the growing list of countries where 5G and airlines coexist without issue.

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