JetSuiteX flies out of private air terminals on Embraer 135 aircraft. (JetSuiteX via PRNewsfoto) says it’s starting air service between Seattle’s Boeing Field and Oakland International Airport in July, with flights that combine the convenience of private jets with the pricing of commercial airlines. Up to three round-trip flights a day will be offered starting on July 1, at prices that range as low as $99 one-way. The expanded service will put JetSuiteX, a California-based airline that has a code-sharing partnership with JetBlue, in competition with Alaska Airlines, Spirit, Delta, American and Southwest. (JetBlue also offers SEA-OAK flights.) Even $99 isn’t as cheap as Alaska’s lowest fares for flights between Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Oakland, which can go as low as $69 one-way, But JetSuiteX is banking on the benefit of avoiding travel delays between Seattle’s urban core and Sea-Tac, as well as the security-line congestion that travelers often face once they get to Sea-Tac. “Travelers between Seattle and the Bay Area can now shave valuable time off the trip by flying from the conveniently located Boeing Field while experiencing JetSuiteX’s unparalleled efficiency and customer service,” Alex Wilcox, co-founder and CEO of JetSuiteX, . JetSuiteX says its passengers can show up at an airport’s private terminal 20 minutes before their flight, avoid long lines and bring free luggage along for the ride. The airline uses 30-seat Embraer 135 aircraft to handle 330 weekly scheduled flights. In addition to Oakland and Boeing Field, daily destinations include Burbank, Orange County and Concord in California, plus Las Vegas. There’s seasonal service to Mammoth Lakes and Coachella Valley. Aircraft can also be chartered for group trips. JetSuiteX’s sister charter airline, JetSuite, is produced by Bothell, Wash.-based in the early 2020s. For what it’s worth, Zunum’s financial backers include JetBlue Technology Ventures as well as Boeing HorizonX Ventures.
A wide-angle view provides an unusual perspective of First Mode’s new lab space on Western Avenue in Seattle. Click on the image for a 360-degree view. (First Mode Photo) Planetary Resources was , but a troop of engineers who used to work for the asteroid mining company is seeking out new frontiers with a new company called . And this time, asteroids aren’t the final frontier. “First Mode is working with industries on and off the planet to do design and creative engineering work, but also to build hardware and build solutions that get deployed around the solar system as well as a lot of harsh and challenging environments here on planet Earth,” Rhae Adams, vice president of strategy and business development, told GeekWire. The company’s expertise is being applied to a wide range of technical challenges, including robotic space missions as well as clean tech, mobility, agriculture, oil and gas development, high-reliability consumer products — and yes, . “The goal for First Mode and its customers is to provide that method of looking at a problem that, at its starting point, appears to be an intractable issue … and then help the customer break that down into a set of problems that can be worked in parallel, and then brought together to form the functional whole that the marketplace needs,” said Chris Voorhees, president and chief engineer. Chris Voorhees, First Mode’s president and chief engineer. (First Mode Photo) Voorhees said First Mode has already solved what sometimes seems to be an intractable problem for startups: making money. “We’ve reached a point where the company has achieved profitability,” he said. The company has also expanded from its original core group of 11 Planetary Resources veterans to 14 employees, and Voorhees says there’s more growth ahead. That’s a big change from the final days of Planetary Resources, which made significant headway on its plan to develop asteroid-prospecting spacecraft but after a funding round fizzled. Voorhees and Adams were among those laid off. “We had a core group of engineering, scientific technical staff members that really felt like they had unfinished business coming out of Planetary, and wanted to stay together,” Voorhees recalled. The new venture started out under the name “Synchronous,” and built on the partners’ expertise and connections in the space industry. Last summer, the company said on LinkedIn that its team members were planned by NASA. Just last month, Synchronous moved into a 7,500-square-foot lab space on Western Avenue in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood. It also . Why First Mode? Engineers know that structures have natural frequencies at which they resonate — and that the most basic frequency for that resonance is known as the “first mode.” “The founding members of First Mode realized from their previous experience working together that they too had found a natural frequency,” the company explained in its . “By working together, our talents and expertise result in technical solutions that are stronger than the contributions of team members working alone.” Voorhees said First Mode draws inspiration from NASA’s , where he began his career more than two decades ago, as well as from design and engineering companies such as and . Lockheed Martin’s and Boeing’s also serve as models, he said. Rhae Adams, First Mode’s vice president of strategy and business development. (First Mode Photo) Adams said First Mode is working with more than 10 different clients in business and government, while Voorhees said the company has taken on more than 40 different projects. Some work has even been done for folks on Capitol Hill, although Voorhees declined to go into specifics. “In general, there’s an intimate connection between the development of new space policy and technology. … We’ve had the opportunity to contribute over the past year to conversations regarding where those two things have had to intersect,” he said. Voorhees said that First Mode’s team members have “good, amicable personal connections” with their former colleagues at what used to be known as Planetary Resources and is now known as ConsenSys Space. But there are no formal business dealings. Nor are there any plans to raise money from investors, at least in the near term. “It was important to us from the get-go that we were employee-owned,” Adams said. Voorhees said he was grateful for the experience he and the other founders of First Mode gained at Planetary Resources’ headquarters in Redmond, Wash . “It would have been very difficult for us to have gone off and done this without that experience,” he said. So just how scary is it to start up a startup, especially when it’s self-funded? ” ‘Exhilarating’ is the right word, which is a simultaneous combination of excitement and terror,” Voorhees said. “That’s what I live under most every day.” Adams seconded that emotion. “I know we’ve not come across anyone else that had 11 founders who have been able to work together and build something,” he said. “It’s gone remarkably smoothly for the number of unique personalities and opinions we have. We’re always able to take that step back and approach things logically as best we can, like any technical problem. It works for founding a company too, not just for pieces of hardware.”
The Switch comes with a docking station, two Joy-Con controllers, and a Joy-Con Grip to make a more traditional controller. (Nintendo Photo) that Nintendo is working on two new versions of its Switch console: a souped up entry for avid gamers and a slimmed down edition that could serve as a successor to the 3DS. WSJ reports that Nintendo could announce these new consoles at the big E3 conference in June and release them soon after. The enhanced version won’t be as powerful as Microsoft’s Xbox One X but it will be an upgrade over the original Switch, per WSJ. The slimmed down version is aimed at casual gamers and will likely be cheaper than the $300 Switch. Developers and suppliers told WSJ that Nintendo wants the new consoles to stand out, beyond just a few design tweaks and enhanced or diminished performance. Pricing details are not yet available. We’ve reached out to Nintendo for comment and will update this story if we hear back. The Switch has been a revelation for Nintendo, since it debuted approximately two years ago. Nintendo has sold 32.27 million Switch units and 163.61 million games, as of Dec. 31. Nintendo sold 9.41 million Switch consoles , its best quarter yet. But the company brought its full-year Switch sales forecast down from 20 million units to 17 million for its fiscal year, which ends this month.
Google stole this spotlight at this year’s GDC with the launch . What the game streaming service lacked in specifics, it more than made up for in buzz. The software giant certainly isn’t the only one eying the space, however. from US Gamer puts Walmart in the running, as well. The retailer has spent the last several years making a push into the high tech sphere. It’s made some high profile acquisitions, including Jet.com, in a bid to compete with the likes of Amazon. The company has even been testing out inventory checking robots in around . And with the recent exit of CTO Jeremy King, it could well be looking for the next big thing. According to the reports, Walmart has been meeting with developers and publishers at GDC. It’s tough to say how advanced these talks are, and those involved with the leaks have understandably wished to remain anonymous. The company certainly has the back end infrastructure to attempt a service. It also has a loyal base of customers in the U.S. to whom it sells a lot of video games. But given how it for a video streaming service as of January, the talks could be little more than just talk.
Majd Bakar, vice president and head of engineering for Google’s Stadia game-streaming service, explains how it built the infrastructure needed to power that service. (GeekWire screenshot) After spending billions over the last few years to upgrade its cloud computing infrastructure, Google thinks it is ready to tackle the needs of some of the most demanding customers on the planet. Tuesday at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, powered by its massive computing network that works across mobile devices, PCs, and televisions by the end of the year. One of the biggest factors that will dictate the success or failure of Stadia will be the number of times users abandon those games in frustration after encountering glitches, crashes, or delays that have plagued earlier attempts at video-game streaming. “This architecture is the foundation for the new generation of gaming,” said Majd Bakar, vice president at Google and head of engineering for Stadia, during the presentation. Google is hardly the first company to pursue video-game streaming, but it will be the first of the big three cloud companies to ship a service designed to stream the most demanding console games, assuming everything remains on course. later this year, and while Amazon Web Services provides , it doesn’t have a consumer-facing service that is capable of streaming top-tier console games like Assassin’s Creed or Doom to browsers. Stadia will stream games in 4K image quality at up to 60 frames per second, Baker said, which should be enough to satisfy gamers who expect smooth performance from even the biggest games. And it promised developers it would increase that performance over time: “the processing resources will scale up to match your imagination,” Bakar said. To make this all work, Google designed a custom graphics-processing unit (GPU) and server processor with AMD. The GPU will provide 10.7 teraflops of performance that will be matched with a 2.7GHz x86 server processor and 16MB of memory in a Stadia instance. Each Stadia instance is far more powerful than the current generation of video-game consoles, but Google must cope with the latency introduced by moving data over a network. (GeekWire Screenshot) Google also touted the power of its global fiber network, which , as an edge for Stadia, given that most game traffic will flow over its private network as opposed to the public internet. Over the years it has constructed that network to power Google search and ads, the company has amassed 100s of “points of presence” around the globe where users can tap into that network as well as 7,500 edge processing nodes that can handle , Bakar said. Assuming game developers commit to releasing top-tier games for the service, Google will likely have a first-mover advantage as video games inevitably shift away from expensive consoles and boxed CDs to streaming services. However, both AWS and are to meet the needs of a top-tier game streaming service, and the cloud market leaders also maintain sprawling private fiber networks that handle customer traffic. , Google could actually have a first-mover disadvantage if substandard U.S. broadband networks cause a poor gaming experience; it’s hard for consumers to know whether to blame the content provider or their ISP in those situations. While Google’s private fiber network is easily one of the best in the world, it still has that “last-mile” problem of actually delivering those bits into your living room. And AWS could be in a very interesting long-term position in game streaming thanks to Twitch, its corporate sibling. The popular service lets gamers stream their console or PC gameplay to audiences across the world, and organized competitions with massive streaming audiences are starting to become mainstream entertainment. Still, Google is very motivated to carve out its own sections of the cloud computing market as it looks up at AWS and Microsoft. The arrival of workable game streaming could generate tons of business from consumers and developers (pricing details were not released Monday), and would go a long way toward , much of which went toward servers and other cloud computing equipment.
Microsoft Teams. (Microsoft Photo) Microsoft Teams is now used by more than 500,000 organizations, two years after the tool launched and kicked off a collaboration software arms race with rival Slack. Microsoft has steadily integrated Teams with its many productivity offerings and added new features to bring in different groups of workers, from office employees to healthcare and service workers. Teams with 50,000 organizations using it, and that number has increased rapidly to and Today, as Teams turns 2 years old, , mostly focused on virtual meetings. Live captioning and subtitles, customizable backgrounds, support for Whiteboard and the ability to quickly go live to a couple or tens of thousands of people all add to Teams’ meeting capabilities. Microsoft also debuted new features to improve security within Teams, including the ability to set up secure private channels, information barriers and to make sure sensitive data is not unintentionally shared or leaked. Some of these features are available now, while others are available in preview or coming soon. Microsoft doesn’t give out the number of individual users on Teams, making comparisons with other services challenging. Slack said in January it had more than 10 million daily active users, and more than 85,000 organizations using its paid version. Slack, which is expected to go public later this year, immediately ratcheted up the rivalry with Microsoft when it congratulating the tech giant on the Teams launch and warning that “all this is harder than it looks.” Microsoft recognizes the rivalry as well, as last summer it officially in its annual 10-K report.
(Stray Bombay Logo) Even if you don’t know ‘s name, you’ve likely heard of his work. As one of the writers at Valve Software in the 2000s, Faliszek helped create the stories of seminal video games including Portal, Left 4 Dead, Half-Life 2: Episode One, and Counter-Strike. To put it less gently, he’s one of the reasons why for the last 12 years. More recently, since leaving Valve in 2017, Faliszek was working in Seattle at Bossa Studios. This week, at the start of this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Faliszek officially announced the founding of his newest venture, , with . Based in Seattle, Stray Bombay is actively hiring at GDC for multiple positions, with funding already in place via Riot Games and , in order to create a new cooperative-play video game. “Players are smart, they are social,” Faliszek wrote on the company’s website. “But games often don’t reflect that and we think that can change. So we’re forming a new studio in Seattle that is itself co-operative.” I am starting off by announcing, and myself just formed a new game studio in Seattle – Stray Bombay Company () – you can read our announcement at and we are at GDC all week looking for people to come join us! — Chet Faliszek @ GDC (@chetfaliszek) Voll left a position as principal technical designer at Riot, the studio behind the popular MOBA League of Legends, to found Stray Bombay. As a programmer, she’s also worked on several titles for Radial Games in Vancouver, B.C., such as Fantastic Contraption and . Voll holds a Ph.D in computer science from Simon Fraser University. Faliszek called her the “smartest person I know.” “We think now is the time to change the culture of game development. Make everyone equals, not just in their impact on the project but in how we divide the loot of our success,” Voll said in the announcement. “Relax strict PTO policies because we trust each other to take the time you need. We want to build games that reflect our culture.” The unnamed maiden project for Stray Bombay is already in prototype, according to Faliszek in . The final project is expected to be iterative, as more developers join the studio and contribute to it, but Faliszek and Voll are specifically planning for it to be a cooperative-play, first-person game. Stray Bombay has five open positions on its website.
The cult indie hit is unexpectedly coming to Steam. Silverlake, Wash.-based designer Tarn Adams, the primary creator of Dwarf Fortress alongside his brother Zach, announced last week that the long-running game will arrive on both and in a new version that features actual graphics and “generally enhanced” audio. As the original Dwarf Fortress (see below) has been both freeware and made entirely of ASCII art since 2006, this marks a massive departure for the game in more ways than one. The reason for the new version, according to Adams’ announcement, is related to financial concerns due to healthcare treatment costs. “We don’t talk about this much, but for many years, Zach has been on expensive medication, which has fortunately been covered by his healthcare,” wrote Adams, co-founder of . “It’s a source of constant concern, as the plan has changed a few times and as the political environment has shifted. We have other family health risks, and as we get older, the precariousness of our situation increases; after Zach’s latest cancer scare, we determined that with my healthcare plan’s copay etc., I’d be wiped out if I had to undergo the same procedures.” “The Steam release may or may not bring us the added stability we’re seeking now,” he added. An illustrative screenshot of the original, “classic” Dwarf Fortress. (Official Bay 12 Games screenshot) The current version of Dwarf Fortress is entirely funded through player donations, first through PayPal and currently via Patreon. The Steam and Itch versions of Dwarf Fortress will be published by Montreal-based , with graphics provided by Kitfox’s Tanya Short, and Mike Mayday and Meph, two longtime members of the Dwarf Fortress modding community. The original freeware Dwarf Fortress, which will henceforth be known as Dwarf Fortress Classic, will continue to be made available alongside the graphical, paid version. Adams intends to continue updating both versions simultaneously for the foreseeable future. If you pay any attention to PC gaming at all, you’ve probably at least heard of Dwarf Fortress, a indie game that’s been in steady development since 2006, growing steadily more complex all the while. It’s an open-ended base-building simulator set in a randomly-generated fantasy world, where you try and usually fail to build a successful colony of dwarves despite all of them being eccentric maniacs with a collective death wish. Like early dungeon-crawling games on the PC, such as Rogue and Nethack, Dwarf Fortress Classic eschews graphics entirely in favor of ASCII art. Unlike those games, thanks to years of constant updates, the game features systems on top of systems to simulate everything from damage to individual dwarves’ limbs to your settlement being randomly infiltrated by a vampire. Dwarf Fortress is notoriously challenging, and has no actual win conditions, so a given game will only end in the inevitable destruction of the player’s colony. Its official motto has become “Losing is fun!” At the same time, the game generated enough of a following that it’s . Since the start, Dwarf Fortress has been developed by Tarn and Zach Adams, who founded Bay 12 Games in Silverdale, Wash. in 1996, to publish their own freeware games. In 2006, Tarn Adams, who holds a doctorate in mathematics from Stanford, gave up on his postdoctoral work and became a full-time games developer. He has been releasing regular updates for Dwarf Fortress ever since, with the most recent update coming out in July of last year.