Spring Cleaning!

I decided it was about time to clean up my keyboard. It’d been around the block a bit:

I’ve seen worse, but it was pretty filthy. A lot of people were espousing methylated spirits, or isopropyl alcohol. I don’t think I needed to go that far.

A lot of people were also talking about using cotton swaps (dipped in the alcohol) but that seemed like more work than just …

Prying the keys off:

Dropping them in a bucket with dishwashing detergent.

Using a can of compressed air to blow out my keyboard with the keys off, followed up by a wipe with a damp cloth (dipped in the key’s bucket.) The biggest hurdle here was finding a can of compressed air. Those things are so hard to locate around here! Dicksmith is never any help, and the local PC store I went to was similarly useless. I got the last can from a hardware store. This is not the first time I’ve struggled to get a simple can of air. Word of … caution… I guess? (It was less dangerous and more cool) was how cold the can gets when you use it:


(not pictured was the smoke curling off from freezing the moisture in the air.)

Putting it back together was like playing Scrabble. What can be spelt with these letters? Any ideas?

(And bonus points for pointing out the mistake I had to later correct.)

And the final result. Much nicer!

GTalk Replaced by Hangouts

So, in case you haven’t heard, GTalk has been replaced by Hangouts – to much fanfare.

At first I was cautiously optimistic. I like Hangouts in Google+ – although I don’t use them that often. I have a feeling this move might have been long in the works, too, because when Google+ first arrived we had a strange messaging app called Huddle. It was like a text-only hangout for mobile phone users. This app didn’t last long, and we iterated through things like Google+ Messenger and then just Hangouts which was fast becoming Google+’s killer feature.

So, in hindsight, it is no surprise that Google merged GTalk into Hangouts as well. A grand unifying instant messenger. It makes a lot of sense. There was a lot of overlap between Hangouts and GTalk; what with both capable of video calling and text chat using the same Gmail account for authentication. It just made sense to merge them together.

Google did go one step further, though, and added some spiffy stuff to Hangouts. Essentially upgrading my experience. I didn’t know how useful this would be, but as it turns out I’m quite liking it. It’s a combination of bringing everyone into the fold, and having hangouts stay persistent. Basically all of my friends used GTalk, but very few of them use Google+ (in fact they use social media very sparingly in general.) Now the two are merged. So I can just send a message off to the lot of them and know that they will read it on their own time (but, and this is important, not miss it entirely.) Previously I could invite them all to a Gtalk session… but by the time everyone got the invite and actually joined in, the conversation was over. I could post on Google+ to their circle, but it required them to log in and check it. Depending on their notification settings and when they logged in often they would not even know anything was posted. I could force Google+ to email them, and sometimes I do if I really think they should read what I’ve posted – but they infrequently join in on the conversation. That’s not the point anyway. The idea of posting to a social network like that is so they can go and find stuff I think they might find interesting on their own time.

I could also email, but again, it’s not really the right tool for the job. Email doesn’t have any real immediacy about it. Replies could be singular, or replied to all. It is mostly psychological, for sure, but the uses for email and therefore email’s design – the types of things you receive in your inbox – indicate 24-48hrs sort of a turn around. I like to have a reply (and send replies) as quickly as possible, but if I’m using email it’s usually because I’m fine with that sort of turn around (also it’s the only practical solution for those who, for some reason, are not using gmail.)

With the new Hangouts, however, I can fire off a message to a specific circle of friends and it pops up on their phone. They can still read it at their leisure, but the turn around is more like 0-4 hrs. It has some niceties with it too, such as a profile pic of the Hangout members underneath the last message they’ve read, so you can tell exactly what everyone has seen. I’ve been using it to organise online gaming sessions with great success. I can shoot out a message like “Heroes of Newerth tonight – who’s in?” to my HON circle. Some guys will respond with “I’ll be around” etc. but, and this is key, even if they don’t, I can see when they’ve seen the message. It’s a safe bet that if they’ve seen the message and not responded, they won’t be around. And if they do choose to join us, they’ve read the conversation and can see what time we’re kicking off. The final nice feature is that the hangout is persistent. It’s a little thing, but it means I can just open it again the next night, and fire off a quick message to see who’s around again.

Ok, so it took a short while to warm up to Hangouts, but it has some nice stuff. However, and this was originally going to be the point of this post, it has taken away a feature that I found critical and it completely breaks the experience. If I had a choice to go back, I would, just for this one feature despite all the nice things Hangout brings.

That feature is statuses. You used to be able to tell at a glance if someone was active, afk, busy, or offline. You could also tell if they were on their phone or PC. Instead, it’s been replaced with a single, green line. I think you’re suppose to be able to tell if they’re offline or not by how grey their profile pic is… but for the life of me I can’t tell the difference. My friends don’t tend to have bright, vibrant profile pictures so it’s obvious when they go black and white… sorry. I’m not even sure what the green line means – just currently active, I suppose. No-idea if they’re on their phone or PC. No idea if they’re busy or inactive. It’s a criminal loss of information.

This may hit other people less than me, but the other major problem is losing the GTalk status text too. The green/orange/red light was important, but my brother and I had set up Tasker to update our gtalk status with our location. Just roughly, you know? “At home” “At work” “out and about.” That sort of thing. Enough that our friends and family could tell where we were at a glance, but not so much that we could be hit by a long range missile. It was so incredibly handy. Gone. Poof. So annoying!! Arg!

I hope that statuses will make a come-back, but I actually don’t think so. If I had to guess I’d say that persistent status stuff like that is supposed to be done on Google+. So it would be seen as a double-up, which Google has worked to eliminate with this merging. So I have to find a way to post a status to Google+ every 10 minutes, I suppose, in such a way that it doesn’t spam my wall. I’m not sure that’s possible….

Need For Speed Rivals. Will NFS Finally Be Worth Playing Again?

I played the original Need For Speed, way back in 1994. Damn it looked pretty – 3D graphics like Quake but with shiny cars in glorious 640×480 (or was it 320×240? I dunno. Resolutions weren’t as big a deal as numbers of colours, back then.) The best game in the series, though, came in 1997 with Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit. In this game you could actually play as the cops and chase the racers! More impressive, though, was being able to chase and arrest your friends! This was just when LAN parties were starting to take off, so this was just a fantastic game to pull out.

In the era of connectivity I’ve been surprised that Hot Pursuit games haven’t layed down the spike strip and captured this idea once and for all. Until now – consider it a full-blown PIT maneuver. Ok. I’ll stop now.

Check out this quote from the executive producer Marcus Nilsson: “You’re going through the levels of the game and collecting points. I’m your friend, so when I join the game, I’m being put in your world. The world is pretty big, right? I can be on a different side of the map and I’m doing my thing in my play progression, being a racer, being chased by cops and collecting Speedpoints.”

“Then, our experiences can merge so we happen to be on the same street, which means that you can start going after me. Or if we’re both cops, we can go after the racer that we were chasing together” (link)


… it needs Oculus Rift support though.

As Though A Million Gamers Cried Out At Once…

The EAmpire Strikes Back?

So Disney shut down LucasArts and has now given all the Star Wars video games to EA.

I am cautiously optimistic. EA knows how to make some AAA games. Yes, Assassin’s Creed got worse with each iteration. Yes, Battlefield is pretty bad for the microtransactions. Yes, SimCity was… flawed.

But you know what? SWTOR is not half bad. Battlefield is still a great game and SimCity, if it irons out its flaws, could be the best entry to the SimCity franchise ever. (Though I am getting less convinced as time goes by that they’ll succeed in crushing all those flaws.)

No, my biggest concern is Origin. Let me be as diplomatic as possible here: EA, put your games on Steam or die in a fire. It’s that simple.

Having said all that, with a new Star Wars IP, and a company that knows how to squeeze gamers ahem, make a profit, er… release AAA quality games on time, perhaps they’ll see fit to smash out some titles that really need to be made.

1313 had quite a lot of hype behind it and who doesn’t want to be a Boba Fett knock off? They should put that one back in to bake a bit longer.

Battlefront by DICE is a no-brainer.

But do you know what they NEED to do?


Compatible with the Oculus Rift, naturally.

Why the Oculus Rift will succeed

The internet is all a-buzz, all a-tweeter even, over the Oculus Rift(OR) and for good reason, I think.

Look, there’s a lot of speculation about the OR, but there are very few nay-sayers. That’s rare for the internet. Everyone that tries it are quick converts

(and penny arcade)

other than a few niggles, such as low resolution, which the developers promise will be ironed out there’s not much to complain about.

Is the OR the future of gaming? Or even the future of virtual reality — I’m talking virtual offices now (a Google+ post)?

Allow me to speculate:

Virtual Offices

Firstly let’s shoot down the “definitely nots.” No virtual offices. It’s just too different from what we currently do, there’s not enough gains, it will pull people too far out of their comfort zones and it will initially carry a stigma of being “for gaming.” People will also rebel at having to wear the device. For a work day? Not going to happen. People will even rebel because of how they look. Something with augmented reality might catch on – like Google Glass – because glasses have been, can be, and are, fashionable. Google has a ways to go on that front, and the tech, while promising, still has a ways to go to be actually useful.

Will the OR usher in a new revolution in gaming?

Well, it depends on what you mean by revolution. The OR won’t be for all games, or all gamers. There’s just nothing to gain for RTSs, strategy games, MOBAs, or even traditional FPSs. In the case of an FPS, it’ll actually be a detriment. You may find that odd, since a FPS might initially seem like the logical place to use an OR (and indeed the first games to support it are FPSs) but FPSs, in their current state, are strictly designed with a keyboard, mouse, (with controller shoe-horned in) and a monitor in mind. There are many conventions in place to make up for the shortcomings of a monitor to the point where… a FPS is really a very terrible way of simulating anything. It’s just a trope that is popular nowadays, just as a RTS is a terrible way of simulating war strategy.

What will happen, though, is a new raft of VR games will be created. You will need the periphal to play, or the experience will be pretty sub-par without. Something akin to the early days of mouse-driven games. It’s always possible to play with the keyboard, but really it was designed with the mouse in mind. I expect in the early days many games will be converted current-gen games. Games like Skyrim, Mirrors Edge, and TF2 overhauled. There will also be a number of games that can really benefit from VR as-is and just need to be made compatible with the OR: DCS and related modules, Hawken, Star Citizen, Cliffs of Dover, MechWarrior Online, iRacing – basically anything where you sit in a cockpit and ride.

Off the basis of this initial success will be the VR games. Games strictly from the first person, and will run the gamut of RPG, shooter, stealth, and let’s say “other” to cover bases that I might not have foreseen.

One side-effect of these new VR games will be the desire for a new form of input. This could be solved in many ways, but the old WSAD mouse and keyboard (or controller if you’re that way inclined) just won’t cut it. Not only will it be disorienting, uncomfortable, and a little unintuitive, but it’ll also put you at a distinct disadvantage. Those players who forego VR in favour of a traditional set up will simply be out-gunned, unless you turn the OR into a simple wearable monitor… which means you’ll quickly revert to your monitor for convenience’s sake.

The point of a full VR environment will be to take advantage of what it provides, and that means an avatar whose arms, hands, and head (at a minimum) you can control. Already, there are several solutions

(and The Leap Motion)

(or hell, some related solution built into the OR. Imagine a Leap Motion, 1 more year down the track, strapped to an OR) and I don’t know which will ultimately catch on. If I had to guess, I’d guess a multiple-camera solution. Largely because I think some sort of Kinect-like set up will be quite common with the next-gen consoles, but also the solution is all-round more powerful. With it, you could put your real body in the world, or as a skeleton for a 3D avatar, and it is not limited to just speculation based on where your hands are but actually represents your full body. Also, multiple-camera setups with the sorts of algorithms this guy is playing with (and I saw some early prototypes of it about 6-12 months ago) could have many other applications:

(e.g. 1998’s Enemy of the State’s near-future technology.)

Why so sure?

VR has been tried before. It was “just around the corner” from the mid-80s through to the mid-90s, but it just never quite got there. Those headsets were essentially two tiny little displays, strapped to your head. To be fair, the OR is basically the same idea, but it’s amazing what 20 years can do. The prototype screens are 1280×800, and the consumer version is supposed to be full 1080p (≥1920×1080.) Basically, compare your modern smart-phone screen – flat, thin, extremely high fidelity – to the “portable TVs” of the 90s

By cannibalising mobile phone / tablet components the OR is able to solve a myriad of other problems of prior VR attempts – latency, field of view, etc. This is why anyone that has tried it are converts.

But I have to tell you the smartest thing they have done. That’s raise the money with kickstarter – but for the development kit. This is essentially a prototype so devs can see how it works, pull it apart, and build things for it. It doesn’t really matter that the resolution is only 2/3rds the eventual consumer version, or that it only tracks rotation rather than lateral movement. You can make allowances for that when building your game. It means that when the OR officially drops, there’ll be a ton of good content out of the gate. And I know that devs will jump into this feet first, because of the hype.

It doesn’t take much Googling to see that the hype is there. That means we can guarantee that the first few hundred-thousand units will fly off the shelves, but what could really kill the OR from that point, is if it’s a gimmick without much to do. To be honest I think the Leap Motion could suffer from this, and Google Glass almost certainly will. The OR, however, I think will have real content – AAA in the form of Hawken, Star Citizen, and TF2 – and indie (and who knows what form that will take) that will keep users begging for more. With the successful launch, you better believe more content will come. And fast. With more content will come more devices and with more devices will come competition, innovation, and hopefully standardisation. I’m sure many games will shoe-horn the OR in when it’s not really needed… but I fully expect some very exciting, immersive, and quality content as well.

One I can think of is a first-person, VR, co-op Splinter Cell; silently signalling my allies with hand-signals, as we use our silenced pistols to clear rooms. Actually, I am also thinking of a lightsaber dueling game. Oh, and VR co-op zombie survival… how about a new X-Wing vs TIE fighter…