writing about tech

Month: July 2014 (page 2 of 4)

My 10 Second Review of the Destiny Beta

Between the Alpha and the Beta for Destiny, I’ve probably spent a good 8-10 hours playing the game…and I still don’t know if I actually want to buy it.  This doesn’t seem particularly encouraging.  I’m mostly just annoyed that I spent yesterday playing Destiny instead of more Divinity: Original Sin, even though Destiny was fun while it lasted.

Crowdfunding always has been, and always will be, a gamble

Another day, another Kickstarter project canceled:

The Yogventures Kickstarter quickly raised over $567,000 from 13,647 backers. A closed beta of the game was released to backers in August of 2013. And then the developer and The Yogscast went mostly silent about the game.

Today, it was officially canceled.

While I definitely empathize with those who pledged and got screwed, this is just another wake-up call that crowdfunding – regardless of what Kickstarter’s TOS wants to claim – will always be a gamble. Personally, I love what crowdfunding has done for gaming – games like FTL and Divinity: Original Sin wouldn’t even exist without it – but I understand that everytime I give someone my money, it’s inherently a gamble. That’s why the games I’ve personally backed – Void DestroyerShroud of the AvatarTorment: Tides of NumeneraStar CitizenProject EternityDead StateWasteland 2, and FTL – were all either cheap enough that I could afford to lose the money, or created by people I already trusted from their history in the gaming industry.

I’m not saying these people shouldn’t be angry; the anger is certainly justified, and I hope those backers are able to get at least some of their money back. However, there is always an element of buyer beware with any product, and crowdfunding just adds an entirely new layer of uncertainty to the equation. Don’t be willing to press the “Back this Project” button unless you accept the risk that the money you pledge might vanish into the abyss.

Ars Technica complains about all the things that make Divinity: Original Sin great

Though this review is generally positive, I found this paragraph entertaining: is is supposed to be a complaint, I imagine, but for me it’s part of why the game is so GOOD:

Unfortunately, Divinity: Original Sin doesn’t make this system clear to players at either the macro or the micro level. Normal RPG behavior suggests that if players receive a quest—without a giant skull icon or other “high-level” warning—then they should be capable of completing that quest immediately. Instead, I spent hours trying to win fights slightly above my level to realize that this wasn’t normal or even expected yet.

Good. That’s exactly the kind of game I (and many others) want to play – don’t mistake your own personal frustrations with the game as design flaws. It’s also the kind of game we were promised, so I’m not sure why anyone would be surprised. Sometimes you’ll get completely curb-stomped, but that’s exactly how it should be – that’s the “polite” way the game is telling you go somewhere else for awhile. We’ve become too use to games holding our hands and telling us explicitly what we can and can’t do and where we can’t and can’t go; I’ve longed for a game that says “go where you want and do what you want, but you might end up making some stupid decisions.” If you think Divinity is bad, apparently you’ve never played an old Ultima game – having a quest log is a luxury compared to amazing games like Ultima 7.

10 Second Premature Review of Divinity: Original Sin

Yet another gaming podcast, and yet another person raving about Divinity: Original Sin. This game came out of nowhere, but suddenly everyone’s talking about it.  I’ve “only” played for maybe 8 hours or so, but so far it’s the frontrunner for this year’s “Holy shit it’s 2 AM what the hell happened I guess I should go to bed” award.  If you’re a fan of games like Baldur’s Gate or the old Ultima series, you need to be playing this right now.

Two weeks with Pressy – the “Almighty” Android Button

So, I had Pressy plugged into my headphone jack for about two days after I received it, then gave up, took it out, put it in its keychain holster…and promptly forgot it existed until a few days ago.  Oops. If you’re thinking this doesn’t bode well for the rest of the review, you’re not wrong – but let me elaborate.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of Pressy, the idea was to leverage what is, for many people, an underutilized aspect of the smartphone – the 3.5 mm headphone jack – and turn it into a customizable hardware button for Android phones. It sticks out a bit on my Nexus 5, but this isn’t unexpected – it is supposed to be a button, after all, so I wouldn’t expect it to be flush:

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It doesn’t blend in terribly well, of course, given that it’s not designed for any one device.  Again, this is a limitation I knew going into it, so it wasn’t really a surprise, but it is worth noting that if you use Pressy without a case, your phone will probably look rather strange – which wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, if they added functionality actually justified it.

As someone who has longed for a phone with a hardware camera shutter key, Pressy seemed like a great idea.  The actual implementation of this idea isn’t bad, per say, I just don’t think it lives up to my expectations – primarily because of buggy, unfinished software.  During my brief time with Pressy, I set it up to do a few key things:

  1. Single press – Play/Pause the current playing audio
  2. Long press – Open the camera app
  3. Two short presses – Go to the previous audio track
  4. Two long presses – Turn on the camera flash

Here are the bugs I encountered with this fairly simple setup:

  • Sometimes long presses would be registered as short presses and vice-versa.  Most notably, sometimes it would never open the camera and only play/pause music.
  • The “previous audio track” option never even worked; it always went to the next audio track.  How do you not notice something like this when testing?
  • Pressy could be slow to respond to commands.  It was faster to go into my camera app from the lockscreen than to try and do it with Pressy.  Speaking of the camera…
  • Pressy’s attempt to access the camera hardware after a long press would, occasionally, crash the camera app on my Nexus 5 and make it completely unavailable until reboot.  The second time this happened is when I gave up and took Pressy out of my phone; I can tolerate buggy software, but I can’t tolerate disabling my camera when I would presumably want to be using it most.

Pressy was an interesting experiment, but the overall result – right now at least – is unremarkable.  The good news is that most of the issues are on the software side, so if the folks behind Pressy are able to get some of the kinks worked out, I might give it another shot at some point in the future.  The camera bug is actually my biggest concern, though – I’m just not willing to risk missing an important moment for the minor convenience of a hardware camera button.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m most excited by technology that blends effortlessly into your life, and at times Pressy does come surprisingly close to that – but not close enough.  If I’m adding an actual physical button to my device, I expect it to function as well and as seamlessly as a real physical button would.  Perhaps it’s an unfair way of judging it, but in my experience, the more a piece of technology physically alters the appearance and feel of something I use every day, the higher the bar is.

The inability of Pressy to physically blend in with your device turns out to be an apt metaphor for how it feels to use; it’s mostly functional, but ultimately half-baked and underwhelming.  I’ll continue to keep it on my keychain, though, in case Pressy is able to fix their software problems – or an enterprising third-party comes along to leverage the hardware in more interesting ways.

You should use cloud storage, but you shouldn’t rely on it

In a recent discussion over the tragic loss of saved games that my friend thought were safely in the Steam Cloud, the topic of whether or not you should “trust” cloud storage.  My answer is yes…and no.  If your concern is that someone else might be able to view your files…well, then you’re probably right not to use cloud storage.  If your concern is reliability, though – read on.

I’m a huge fan of services like DropBox and OneDrive, but I don’t rely on them. They exist primarily to keep various important files in sync across several different devices.  My personal setup is:

  • Google Drive – unimportant Office documents and things I want to share with other people, like trip-planning spreadsheets
  • OneDrive – thanks to being an early adopter and winning a contest on The Verge, I have about 225 GB of free OneDrive storage, so OneDrive is my dedicated photo sync and storage service.
  • DropBox – automatic camera uploads and everything else I care about

While these are all incredibly convenient, and I’d recommend any of them myself, you shouldn’t trust any of these services to keep your data long-term.  To me, that’s what these services are about – convenience.  It’s convenient that Steam will sync saves for certain games over the cloud, but I wouldn’t want to rely only on that.

The only devices you should trust are the ones you have physical access to, and what these services do is easily spread your files out across as many physical devices as possible; for me, that means laptop, desktop, and work computer.  That way, if any of those devices fails, I can feel confident that the files I care about exist on another machine that I have physical access to. When I log into a new machine and download DropBox or OneDrive, I know that I will soon have all of my important photos and documents on that device, which means I’ll both have access to them when needed and (more importantly) I have a new physical copy of those important files.

Now, when it comes to long-term backup, your best bet is almost certainly an off-site physical device that you have direct access to.  If you’re like me, though, and too lazy to set up that ideal solution, the next-best-thing is a cloud service like CrashPlan.  Yes, I just finished telling you not to trust the cloud for long-term storage of files you care about, and I still stand by that – if you really care about files, you should have a physical off-site backup.

If you’re like me, though, you just care about minimizing risk as much as possible with as little effort as possible, and for that, I recommend the one-two punch of a cloud syncing service like DropBox and a full-computer backup service like CrashPlan.  Even if you only have one computer, that’s three places your files are kept – locally, on the cloud syncing service, and in the cloud backup service.  I consider that sort of cloud backup “layering” be good enough for most of my needs, and if I do manage to lose an important file, it’s probably my own fault.

Could the next Dragon Age wash the taste of DA2 from my mouth?

Polygon has a preview up of the new Dragon Age, due out October 7th:

My hour or so with the game took place in the world’s Hinterlands near the Red Cliff Village. The Hinterlands, Laidlaw told me, are so big you could “pour all of Origins into just this region and it would fit.”

The game’s world is made up of more than eight “enormous regions” like the Hinterlands and many smaller ones. And these locations are packed with choices and consequences, all governed by what Laidlaw called the World Master.

This game might just be enough to lure me back into Dragon Age after DA2 so thoroughly pushed me away. I keep hearing that “this one area is bigger than all of Origins!” like, though, and it makes me wonder how exactly that’s being measured. Origins wasn’t an open-world game, but it wasn’t asmall game, either. I’m less interested in size and more interested in diversity and interesting content; DA2 drove me away because the entire game felt like the Deep Roads area of Origins, which was almost enough to drive me away from that otherwise-fantastic game.

Size doesn’t impress me – content does. Still, fingers are crossed.


Pour one out for sandbox MMOs

Philip Kollar of Polygon has a great little piece up about how MMOs are better when they don’t emulate World of Warcraft:

I understand why so many massively multiplayer projects stick to World of Warcraft‘s tried-and-true formula. When something is that massive of a hit, the gravitational pull of being like it isn’t going to wear thin, even a decade later.

It’s not just greed; many of the lead designers on current and upcoming MMOs either worked at Blizzard previously or played a ton of Warcraft and want to recapture the magic they felt. The game has had an impact on the world of MMO design that’s impossible to overstate.

I played MMOs back during the Ultima Online beta, but gradually found myself pushed away from the genre as it took more and more after the “theme park” MMOs like Everquest and World of Warcraft and less and less after the sandbox MMOs like UO and, later, Star Wars Galaxies. UO andSWG were both incredibly flawed in many ways, but remained compelling because of the freedom they granted to their playerbases. The more freedom they both took away – in, I presume, an attempt to be more like WoW – the less enjoyable they became. The only “theme park” MMO I legitimately enjoyed was City of Heroes.

I dabbled in Warhammer Online and Age of Conan because some friends played them, and Star Trek Online because I wanted to make big ships shoot each other, but for me nothing’s recaptured the magic of UO and (to a lesser extent) SWG. It seems like that type of MMO is dead – most likely because making an MMO is incredibly expensive and, understandably, developers are less likely to go with the “risky” option. Making a “theme park” MMO, with your own minor spin on things, is the “safe” route.

Life (or Sony) finds a way

Rogue Legacy is finally coming to the Vita!  Polygon writes:

Rogue Legacy will arrive July 29 on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, original developer Cellar Door Games designer Teddy Lee announced today on the PlayStation Blog.

I’ve been wanting to play Rogue Legacy since I first heard about it, but I’ve been holding off for the Vita version since I feel like it’s the ideal platform for that sort of game.  The timing is perfect – it’s coming out the day before I leave my friends’ wedding.  Guess I know what I’m playing on the flight…and in the hotel room…and during the wedding

Full device backups finally coming to Android?

Android Police writes:

The new restoration process will apparently be part of the Play Store app itself, and would allow users to choose from a list of backups from their other devices, so if you’re setting up the Play Store on a new (or freshly wiped) phone, you could choose to restore a backup from a phone, thereby restoring all your phone-specific apps and eschewing the apps you use only on tablets or other devices. Our information also indicates there may be an option to add on individual apps to the backup you choose.

I hope this is finally happening – one area where Android has always lagged behind iOS is in the backup/restore department. Setting up a new iPhone from a local or iCloud backup is insanely easy, whereas with Android the functionality is very hit or miss. While there are third-party backup and restore apps, this functionality should be native and should have been there years ago, especially given Google’s prowess as a services company.

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