Not long ago, I had written off Crash Bandicoot. After those amazing three original games on PlayStation by Naughty Dog, Activision Blizzard churned out bland sequels until the franchise seemed dead. Then 2017 brought a compilation of great remakes of those games with the N. Sane Trilogy. Hope flickered. Still, I would have never thought that my favorite Crash Bandicoot game would come out in 2020.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time comes out October 2 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (I played on a PlayStation 4 Pro). I understand if you’re too busy looking forward to those next-gen machines coming out in November to be excited for a 3D platformer on PS4 and Xbox One.
But if you ever loved Crash — whether through those PlayStation classics or by experiencing the fantastic remakes — then you should be interested in It’s About Time.
Back to basics
Crash Bandicoot 4 comes from Toys to Bob. That’s the team behind the Spyro remakes. Being faithful to the original is important for any remake, but Toys for Bob has applied that same spirit to this Crash sequel. Just like with the original games, It’s About Time is a simple 3D platformer. It uses the same formula from the Crash Bandicoot trilogy. You explore linear levels by navigating through a mix of 3D corridor-based sections and 2D areas.
Compared to the crazy acrobatics of Mario or the high speeds of Sonic, Crash can seem simple. But the beauty is in that simplicity. The best Crash Bandicoot games focus on precision platforming set in beautiful, cartoon-inspired levels.
Instead of trying to turn Crash Bandicoot into an open world experience or a brawler-based action game, Toys for Bob has instead used that original formula to craft an experience that is familiar yet remarkable. Sometimes, we have this unfair demand that all sequels reinvent or innovate. Crash Bandicoot 4 shows that often, all we really need is a new take on an old idea.
Above: Making friends with masks.
Image Credit: GamesBeat
Masks and marsupials
Not that Crash Bandicoot 4 doesn’t have new tricks to make it feel like more than a retread. As you play through the adventure, you come across four magical masks. These serve as powerups that give you special abilities. One mask slows down time for short bit. Another reverses gravity, so you can flip yourself onto the roof. These gimmicks add some needed variety and excitement.
You’ll also occasionally play as new characters. For most levels, you can control either Crash or his sister, Coco. Each have the same abilities that you’ll recognize from the original games. Some levels have you playing as Tawna, who uses a grappling hook and can do wall-jumps. Then there’s Dingodile, who has a giant vacuum that can suck up crates (I was getting some Blinx vibes while playing it). You can even play as series villain Neo Cortex, who can turn enemies into platforms with a ray gun.
I remember Crash Bandicoot 3 tried to add variety to its stages with vehicle levels. You’d suddenly find yourself flying a plane or riding a motorcycle. Those are a bit much for me. I’m playing a 3D platfomer. I want to, you know, jump. Having these different characters with their new abilities does a much better job of adding variety while not diverging too far from the core experience.
Crash 4 has the level design and precision to make a great 3D platformer. The art elevates the experience. These stages are beautiful and brimming with creativity. I mean, sure, you have an ice level. But it’s also a stage inhabited by zombie anglers. A dinosaur-themed level may not seem all that special, but it’s extensive foliage and bright colors make it pop out like a scene from an animated movie.
And when it comes to the animation, the characters and enemies are expressive and fun to watch. Toys to Bob’s animation work on the Spyro remake floored me, and that same expertise makes Crash 4 endearing and full of life. Crash 4 even looks better than those beautiful remakes of the PlayStation trilogy, thanks to its brighter colors and more cartoon-inspired character designs.
The boss battles are another showcase of amazing creativity. As much as I love the original Crash game, they always had weak boss fights. Not so for Crash 4! These fights are full of surprises that test your platforming prowess.
Above: This level has some big Fury Road vibes.
Image Credit: GamesBeat
Play it your way
Crash games can be hard. It’s part of the fun. Crash 4 also offers a good challenge, but you can alleviate the difficulty. No, you just don’t select some sort of easy mode. Instead, you can play the game with a lives system or without one. Of course, the original Crash (and most old 3D platfomers) has lives. If you die when you have lives, you restart at a checkpoint. Run out of lives, and you start a level from the beginning.
Some players will no doubt still crave the stakes that come from the threat of a “game over.” But most people will be happier playing without lives. In that mode, if you die, you always go back to the last checkpoint.
It still has a way for rewarding you for good play. If you beat a level while only dying a few times, you get a gem. You also get gems for collecting wumpa fruit (Crash’s version of coins or rings). Before, getting 100 wumpa fruit would give you an extra life.
Getting gems unlocks new costumes for Crash and Coco. This is a fun incentive to not just beat a level but to perfect it. So if just beating the game is too easy for your tastes, you’ll have a more challenging time unlocking all of these gems and costumes. You can also find tapes in each stage that you can only grab if you reach them without dying. These unlock bonus, extra-difficult levels. Oh, and when you beat each stage, you also gain access to the N. Verted version of that level, with its own set of gems to unlock. N. Verted doesn’t just mirror the layout of the stage, it also adds a weird color effect that makes it harder to see where you’re going.
This is the way to handle difficulty. Make the base experience challenging but easy enough for most people to beat, but offer additional levels and tasks that can test a player’s skill.
Above: Crash’s levels are beautiful.
Image Credit: GamesBEat
The best Crash yet
The original Crash games are classics. For years, it seemed like we’d never get a new game that’s as good as they are.
But now, I feel safe saying that Crash Bandicoot 4 is the new best game in the series. It captures that fun-yet-simple platforming from the original, but its creative levels, mask abilities, and clever bosses help it surpass the PlayStation trilogy.
The remakes reminded us how that those old Crash games are great, but It’s About Time shows us that this character and franchise have a future.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time comes out on October 2 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The publisher gave us a PS4 digital code for the purposes of this review.
Osmo is launching its Math Wizard educational games series, which lets kids learn math at their own pace and reassures parents that their kids won’t fall behind during pandemic schooling.
Quarantine continues to keep many of the nation’s children at home through the fall semester, prompting many parents to worry about their children falling behind in key subjects, Osmo CEO Pramod Sharma said in an interview with GamesBeat. What kids need are games that aren’t as intimidating as most math lessons, he said.
Sharma said that Osmo — a Palo Alto, California company now owned by Indian education company Byju — has created a new curriculum-inspired Math Wizard series for children six years old to eight years old. It teaches math through fun, hands-on, narrative- and adventure-driven games, where kids learn math by touching, manipulating, and experimenting with how it is used every day.
“As soon as we closed our acquisition about 18 months ago, this was a big thing we decided to do,” Sharma said. “It is a much larger task. The goal is for kids from kindergarten to third grade to learn math at their own pace. We are starting with two products right now.”
These self-paced games help kids build confidence and understanding in what they are learning, and are perfect for digital learning at home, Sharma said. In these games, children can pick up objects and place them in front of an iPad or Amazon Fire Tablet. Through a mirror and a camera, the Osmo software recognizes the object and determines whether the child has picked up the correct object. It’s through the manipulation of these objects that the kids stay engaged and learn.
Above: Osmo is targeting kids six to eight with its new Math Wizard series.
Image Credit: Osmo
“We’re trying to provide a lot of physical artifacts or elements that reflect those concepts. And then we connect them with a digital world,” Sharma said. “It is difficult to grasp the concepts. But when you hold it with your hand, it’s much easier. That is a founding principle of everything we do. We don’t want kids to feel like this is part of their school.”
Sharma calls this kind of learning “phygital,” as it combines physical objects and digital learning. And it is the foundation of the games that Osmo has created since 2013.
Osmo has reached millions of children through its games and apps that combine tablets and physical objects such as letter blocks. Osmo’s products are used in more than 30,000 classrooms in the U.S. (at least under normal conditions) and more than 2.5 million homes.
This object-based manipulation helps kids learn much better than memorizing formulas or processes, Sharma said.
Above: Osmo Math Wizard and the Magical Workshop
Image Credit: Osmo
On top of that, games can help relieve anxiety. Math itself creates a lot of anxiety for students, parents, and even teachers, according to research, where almost 50% of elementary school students, 20% of U.S. adults, and 25% of teachers face math anxiety, which may start as early as kindergarten.
Math Wizard games help to alleviate some of this commonly-felt anxiety by creating joy and excitement within a non-threatening, learning environment, Sharma said. That’s because most people don’t view games as a task or a test.
The first two titles in the Math Wizard series, which launch today, are Magical Workshop and Secrets of the Dragons. The series is intended for first and second graders, ages six to eight.
Magical Workshop (available for iPad and Fire for $60 at playosmo.com and Amazon.com) is an addition and subtraction adventure where kids brew potions with dragon claws and sparkle dust to master place value, and they continue their quest by counting balloons to help dragons fly. The games teach things like counting while creating potions or counting objects while flying on a magic broom.
Secrets of the Dragons (available for iPad and Fire for $60 at playosmo.com and Amazon.com) allows kids to learn and master measurement at their own pace as they explore the Dragon Reserve and its outlying biomes. As dragon scouts, they discover new dragons, measure them, and feed them based on their size. They can earn merit badges to become a master scout.
After these two games debut, the next two releases in the series will be released in March 2021.
“We will continue to add to the series. Our goal is to have about 12 to 14 products, and about 40 different games over the next 18 months,” Sharma said.
Computer Weekly is delighted to announce the 2020 additions to its Most Influential Women in UK Tech Hall of Fame.
Each year, when Computer Weekly announces its list of the 50 Most Influential Women in UK Tech, it also chooses women who’ve had a lasting career in technology and have made a lifetime contribution to the sector to add to its Hall of Fame.
The aim of each of these lists is to make great women in the sector visible as industry role models.
Introduced in 2015, the Hall of Fame gives Computer Weekly’s judges the chance to introduce more entrants to the top 50 list as emerging role models. Previous winners of the Most Influential Women in UK Tech list also earn a place in the Hall of Fame.
This year, we are proud to recognise the achievements of five new members of the Hall of Fame.
Debbie Forster, CEO, Tech Talent Charter
The 2019 winner of Computer Weekly’s list of the Most Influential Women in UK Tech, Debbie Forster, CEO of government-backed initiative Tech Talent Charter (TTC), is a long-standing advocate of diversity and inclusion in the tech sector.
The Tech Talent Charter, which is aimed at “connecting the dots” between diversity and inclusion initiatives in the tech sector to increase the number of underrepresented groups working in tech, recently called for a shift in focus away from getting more women into the sector, and towards improving diversity in the industry more widely.
Alongside her work at TTC, Forster is also a diversity board member for the Institute of Coding, an advisory board member for Barcelona Digital Talent, a mentor for We in Social Tech, a board trustee for the British Council, a member of the Digital Economy Council, and director at consultancy Novel Design.
Starting her career as an English teacher and then school headteacher, prior to TTC, Forster was co-CEO for student-focused initiative Apps for Good, as well as heading up education for e-skills UK. In 2017, Forster received an MBE for digital innovation, and was named WISE woman of the year in 2016.
Eileen Burbidge, partner, Passion Capital
Frequently appearing on Computer Weekly’s list of the Most Influential Women in UK Tech over the past five years, Eileen Burbidge is a partner at London-based venture capital (VC) firm Passion Capital, where she offers experience gained from various tech roles throughout her career, as well as by serving as a non-executive director for many small and growing businesses, such as Monzo.
Her career in technology has spanned 15 years and includes roles at companies such as Yahoo!, Skype, PalmSource, Openwave, Sun Microsystems and Apple.
Alongside her role at Passion Capital, Burbidge is the special envoy for fintech for HM Treasury, a non-executive director at Dixons Carphone, and a co-founder/startup angel and advisor for White Bear Yard.
Until recently, she was the chair of Tech Nation, and was previously a member of the Prime Minister’s business advisory group.
Margaret Ross, emeritus professor of software quality, Southampton Solent University
Originally on track to become a secretary, Margaret Ross, a professor at Southampton Solent University, went on to gain degrees in mathematics, which eventually led her to programming and computing.
Though she’s semi-retired, alongside her work at Southampton Solent she is involved in the BCS in roles including as a member of council, chair of the Hampshire branch, and vice-chair of quality and e-learning specialist groups, and is a part of BCSWomen.
In 2009, Ross was awarded an MBE for services to education.
Nicola Mendelsohn, vice-president EMEA, Facebook
Nicola Mendelsohn has been vice-president of Europe, Middle East and Africa operations at Facebook since 2013, where she focuses on growth areas in the region.
As well as her role at Facebook, Mendelsohn is a chairperson for the Follicular Lymphoma Foundation, non-executive director of consumer goods firm Diageo and co-president of charity Norwood.
Previously, she acted as industry chair of the Creative Industries Council and a director of the Women’s Prize for Fiction.
She has had a long career in technology, as well as advertising and marketing in roles such as executive chairman and partner at the Karmarama advertising agency.
In 2015, she was awarded a CBE for services to the creative industry.
Sheila Flavell, chief operating officer, FDM Group
A member of the tech sector for 30 years, Sheila Flavell was appointed chief operating officer of IT services firm FDM Group in 2008, and is an executive board director of the firm where she spearheads FDM’s Global Women in Tech campaign and FDM’s Getting Back to Business programme, aimed at providing opportunities for returners to work.
She is a non-executive director of TechUK, a chairperson for the Institute of Coding Industry Advisory Board, and is frequently called to advise government committees on various issues, especially around the digital skills gap.
She won Leader of the Year at the Everywoman in Technology Awards in 2012, and in 2019 was awarded a CBE for services to gender equality in IT and the employment of graduates and returners.
As well as her role at Microsoft, de Alwis is a board member at Ada, the National College for Digital Skills, a member of the diversity and inclusion board at the Institute of Coding, an advisory board member at the Founders Academy, and a founding member at Tech Talent Charter.
In 2019, she was awarded an MBE for services to diversity and training in the tech industry.
Russell has been writing about technology since the mid-1990s, and is seen as a subject matter expert when it comes to the technology sector. Before her career in TV presenting and journalism, she sold CD manufacturing to computer game companies.
Russell is a frequent events speaker and works with organisations that aim to increase the number of young people who pursue a role in the tech sector, such as TeenTech.
Parsons founded Decoded in East London “with a credit card and a mission to teach code in a day”. The coding school has taught people in businesses worldwide about the inner workings of technologies such as code, data, artificial intelligence (AI) and cyber security.
Parsons launched the Decoded Data Academy in 2018 and wants Decoded’s efforts to increase digital literacy in businesses and government, and fill the data skills gap.
As well as being a non-executive board member for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, she sits on the business advisory boards for the London mayor and 10 Downing Street.
As executive director for Europe at WEConnect International, Berry helps the firm to develop its corporate and public sector support, and grow its network of more than 1,500 women-led businesses to connect to the corporate supply chain.
Berry previously ran online job board for recruitment and networking womenintechnology.co.uk, and is an advocate for diversity in the technology industry. She was awarded an OBE in 2019 for her services to women in technology and business. She is also a freeman of the Information Technologists’ Company in the City of London and a diversity advisory committee member for Founders4Schools.
Max Benson and Karen Gill
Benson and Gill launched Everywoman in 1999 to act as an online community for women across the UK and provide a network, support and resources for women wanting to start their own businesses.
The network eventually grew to support not only female entrepreneurs, but also women in sectors such as retail, travel, transport and logistics, and insurance and risk.
In 2010, it expanded further to cater to women in the technology sector, and Benson and Gill launched the Everywoman in Technology Awards to showcase the sector’s role models and shine a light on the different types of roles and careers in the sector.
As part of Everywoman, the pair launched the charity Modern Muse, a platform led by girls to inspire young women into careers they may not otherwise have considered by giving them access to role models and information about roles in various sectors.
Benson and Gill were awarded MBEs in 2009 for services to women’s enterprise.
Onwurah is the MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central and shadow minister for industrial strategy, science and innovation.
She has held many government roles focused on technology, including shadow minister for culture and the digital economy, shadow Cabinet Office minister leading on cyber security, social entrepreneurship, civil contingency, open government and transparency, and shadow minister for innovation, science and digital infrastructure.
Before her roles in government, Onwurah worked in several connectivity and telecoms-based businesses, including Ofcom, Teligent, and Cable & Wireless.
Dee is an information security and databases lecturer at Aberystwyth University, where she researches computer vision. She has had a long career in science and technology.
She founded the BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium in 2008 as a conference for female undergraduates. Now deputy chair of the colloquium, last year Dee helped run the first Women in Tech Cymru summer conference.
She has won awards in teaching and received a Suffrage Science award in 2018.
Dee sits on the committee of BCSWomenm, is secretary of BCS Mid Wales, and is a founding member of online magazine Scientists are humans.
Wood founded global advertising marketplace Unruly, where she was CEO until 2015 when it was acquired by News Corp.
She sits on several boards, including Tech Nation, and is an ambassador for The Prince’s Trust Women Supporting Women programme.
Wood recently wrote a book, Stepping up: How to accelerate your leadership potential, which she describes as a career handbook for the millennial generation.
In 2016, she was awarded an OBE for services to technology and innovation.
She is now chair of these companies, is an angel investor, and sits on the boards of several companies, charities and universities.
Coutu is a non-executive member of Pearson, Raspberry Pi Trading and the London Stock Exchange.
In 2013, she was awarded an OBE for services to entrepreneurship.
Arnold is managing director of IT recruitment firm Tectre, which is aimed specifically at supporting women in technology roles.
Previously chair of BCSWomen, Arnold has been in the tech sector for more than 30 years.
Now a non-executive director of the BCS, Arnold has spent time as chair of the European Women in IT taskforce aimed at developing best practices and Europe-wide activities to increase the number of women in the tech industry.
As well as having chaired a forum for IT trade body Intellect (now TechUK), Arnold used to act as a board member at Wise, which supports women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
She co-founded TeenTech with the aim of helping young people be inspired by, and seek a future career in, technology by solving real-world problems with technology.
A huge advocate of diversity in the tech sector, Philbin has received eight honorary degrees and an OBE to recognise her services in this area – although she insists those honours belong to her “amazing and dedicated” team.
At the time, Moran was CIO at Thomson Reuters, where she took part in the Thomson Reuters Women’s Network, Women in Technology International and the National Centre for Women in Technology.
Alongside her duties as CIO of Unilever, Moran is a non-executive director for JP Morgan Securities and Institutional Cash Distributors, actively participating in the IT community, and is an advocate for leadership skills and ensuring more women consider a technology career.
A firm believer that the internet should be used as an enabler for change, Lane Fox has used her position as chancellor for the Open University, a member of the board of advisers for the Government Digital Service (GDS), and crossbench peer in the House of Lords, to speak out about the need for diversity and digital enablement.
Lane Fox is now a director at Twitter, having joined the firm’s board in 2016, and was appointed a distinguished fellow by the BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, alongside Wendy Hall.
When she launched the firm, she began signing her name as “Steve” to overcome male preconceptions about women in business.
Shirley appears in both the Bletchley Park and California computing museums, was the first female president of the BCS, a master of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, and co-founded the Oxford Internet Institute in 2001.
She also acts as a mentor for startups at Google Campus for Mums and an advisor for the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS).
Hall holds several positions at the University of Southampton, including professor of computer science and associate vice-president (international engagement), and is an executive director of the university’s Web Science Institute.
Hall was named a Dame CBE in 2009, and is a fellow of the Royal Society.
She has held several prominent positions in the STEM sector, including president of the ACM and senior vice-president of the Royal Academy of Engineering.
As well as being a member of the UK Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology, Hall was co-chair of the UK government’s 2017 AI review, and was recently announced by the government as the first skills champion for AI in the UK.
Glassdoor is now letting employees write diversity and inclusion reviews for companies in a way to make employers more transparent. Employees will be able to rate and review companies on how they treat employees based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other underrepresented groups.
In a poll, Mill Valley, California-based Glassdoor, which has ratings on more than a million companies, found that job seekers and employees trust the employees already working at a company when it comes to understanding the state of diversity and inclusion at a company. Glassdoor said that 76% of job seekers and employees today report that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers. The company said these new features are part of its public commitment to leveraging its product and resources to help achieve equity in and out of the workplace.
The Glassdoor survey was conducted by The Harris Poll. It found that job seekers and employees report that disparities still exist within companies with respect to experiences with and perceptions of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. The company undertook the effort after this year’s racial unrest.
“In recent months, many of Glassdoor’s more than 50 million users have been telling us they want more insight into what the current state of diversity & inclusion is like at a company,” Scott Dobroski, spokesman for Glassdoor, wrote in an email. “Then, after the murder of George Floyd, we saw employee reviews talking about diversity, racial justice, and related topics rise by 63% on Glassdoor.”
Because of this, the company knew people wanted more data. “We believe we have a responsibility as a platform and as an employer to help drive equity in society, and we can help to create more equitable workplaces,” Dobroski said.
Job seekers and employees also say they want to work at companies that truly value diversity and inclusion as part of their culture. The survey shows that nearly half of Black (47%) and Latinx (49%) job seekers and employees have quit a job after witnessing or experiencing discrimination at work, significantly higher than white (38%) job seekers and employees.
In addition, 32% of job seekers and employees today say they would not apply to a job at a company where there is a lack of diversity among its workforce. This is significantly higher for Black job seekers and employees (41%) compared to white job seekers and employees (30%).
“Glassdoor publicly committed to leveraging its product, resources and platform to help drive societal change toward equality at scale,” Dobroski said.
Diversity & Inclusion rating
Above: Glassdoor’s D&I ratings are now available.
Image Credit: Glassdoor
This rating is Glassdoor’s sixth and newest workplace factor that allows employees to rate how satisfied they are with diversity and inclusion at their current or former company, based on a five-point scale. The rating will appear alongside the five existing workplace factor ratings.
While the product was in stealth mode, employees across 12 companies started to rate their satisfaction with their company’s Diversity & Inclusion (D&I). So far, Salesforce has the highest D&I rating among this group according to its employees, with a 4.6 rating. Other companies currently rated in terms of their employee satisfaction with D&I include: Google: 4.4, Accenture: 4.2, Amazon: 4.1, Apple: 4.0, Deloitte: 4.0, Facebook: 4.2, McDonald’s: 3.7, Starbucks: 4.1, Target: 4.1, Uber: 3.6, and Walmart: 3.7.
More than 4,000 employees have rated their companies so far.
Above: Employees have the option of describing their demographic info on Glassdoor.
Image Credit: Glassdoor
Glassdoor now enables U.S.-based employees and job seekers to voluntarily and anonymously share their demographic information to help others determine whether a company is actually delivering on its diversity and inclusion commitments.
Glassdoor users can now also provide information regarding their race and ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability status, parental status, and more, all of which can be shared anonymously through their Glassdoor user profile.
Glassdoor will soon display company ratings, workplace factor ratings, salary reports and more, broken out by specific groups at specific companies. This information will equip employers with further data and insights to create and sustain more equitable workplaces. Sharing demographic information with Glassdoor will be optional and displayed anonymously.
Diversity FAQ across companies
Glassdoor is also debuting a new Company FAQ resource, offering a list of the most popular questions job seekers ask about companies, including a section dedicated to diversity and inclusion. Responses to the FAQs are taken from the employee reviews appearing on Glassdoor. The tool provides easier access to relevant reviews about D&I at specific companies.
According to the Glassdoor survey, 63% of job seekers and employees say their employer should be doing more to increase the diversity of its workforce. But significantly more Black and Latinx job seekers and employees feel this way (71% and 72% respectively) than white job seekers and employees (58%).