Tag Archives: technology

Sell My Old Consoles, I’m Off To Handheld

There is a house. In the house, there is a room. In the room, there is a closet. In the closet, there is a box. In the box, is 2013’s top-of-the-line consumer hardware technology — dusty and dormant.

I haven’t touched my PS4 since my Switch arrived. In fact, I removed it from the living room entertainment center completely, replacing it with the Switch’s dock — unnecessary seeing as the Switch functions without being connected to a TV at all. TV optional! Sure, bouts of Mario Kart 8 aren’t quite as great without a TV, but that doesn’t happen that often in our house. Still, I was inclined to remove a console dependent on a TV for the chance that I might play the Switch in docked mode.

That’s not to say I haven’t tried playing a home console since. I recently hooked up my Xbox One to a smaller TV in our office with the intention of playing Overwatch with some friends. But after a week with Overwatch, I canceled my Xbox Live account and haven’t touched the console on since.

A friend of mine recently picked up a 3DS. The 3DS has a deep catalog, but Pokémon was his draw. Meanwhile, the Switch was released. He eyed mine, but was reluctant to pick one up due to the limited gaming catalog. He’s now put 120+ hours into The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, completing the game and conquering all 120 shrines — a herculean feat. This friend and I have been going back and forth about Mario Kart, Zelda, and Splatoon 2. Should we get ARMS? How as Super Mario Odyssey at E3?

A colleague of mine took notice of my interest in video games. We got to talking and he let me in that he’d bought a Switch. A recent father, it was the perfect form-factor for him to use while nurturing his newborn. He completed Breath of the Wild long ago.

I’ve had more communication with friends and Twitter users regarding Switch experiences than I’ve ever had with PS4 or Xbox One. More than the gimmick of being able to play anywhere and with friends and family straight out of the box, people are investing in their experiences with the console and it’s reincarnating the schoolyard conversations of yore.

Nintendo’s design mastery certainly make their games ripe for conversation, but the fact that players can play the Switch on a TV, in bed, on trains, on planes, at work, at the park, in hotels… you name it!… makes conversations fuller and more frequent.

Ben Lindbergh on the Achievement Oriented podcast recently entertained a question I imagine many Switch owners have asked themselves:

… As I was trying to make this journey home and failing for a day or so, I wanted to play Tacoma — because we had gotten our review codes for Xbox One and we knew that we were going to do a podcast about it — and I couldn’t because Xbox One is not a portable console. I never would have thought anything of this in the past, but now that I am a Switch owner this just seems backwards.

It’s like I can’t play Tacoma on the road? Now, of course you could get Tacoma for Steam, but I only had a netbook with me. I had no mouse or anything — I didn’t want to play it that way and it’s not quite the same — but what I’m wondering is, do you think future consoles will feel pressure to incorporate Switch functionality?

If they announce PS5 a year from now and it has all the new specs, the graphics look great and a big hard drive and processor and gigaflops out the wazoo, but it doesn’t have portability — it doesn’t do what the Switch does — would you be disappointed? Do you feel like this has to be a component of every console going forward?

The Switch should have been a no-brainer decision for consumers at announce. Tech shrinks. We’ve gone portable. Smart phones rule consumer tech. It was simply Nintendo’s strike out with the Wii U that made the public more weary of Nintendo’s execution on the promise than the promise itself.

The new PS4 Pro and Xbox One X tout teraflops, but they are still anchors. I’ve considered selling my PS4 and Xbox One not to upgrade, but to declutter. The Switch on the other hand is the perfect fit for my life. While I can’t say I won’t be buying home consoles in the future — hell, I purchased my Xbox One on the promise of Below, a game that has yet to see the light of day — unless new consoles offer the same portability as the Nintendo Switch, I will certainly be taking my time in purchasing one.

Tagged , , , ,

Marco on Phil with John

On June 9th, 2015, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller, a man who has spent half of his life at Apple Inc., joined Daring Fireball’s John Gruber on stage for a live episode of The Talk Show.

Here’s a bit from Marco Arment:

This meant a lot for both John and podcasting. Apple sent an executive to be interviewed on a podcast, and one of the highlights of John Gruber’s career as a writer didn’t involve writing at all.

To quote Marco further, “I’d listen to their podcast.” It will be remembered.

Tagged , , , , , ,

One Tool to Rule Them All

An important read about Tim Sweeney and Epic Games covering Unreal Engine, it’s use in interactive experiences from cinema to video games, the potential of VR and AR, and the state of free-to-play.

Chris Plante, The Verge:

When asked if Unreal Engine 4 will span the next 10 years, Sweeney says that it’s for the foreseeable future, that Unreal Engine will get to “the promised land,” a vision of the future Sweeney’s hinted at earlier in the day during his speech at the Game Developers Conference. “This is the word I was afraid to use earlier. This is the convergence of all these forms of media.”

Technologists, media theorists, and game designers spoke of the convergence ad nauseam in the 1990s, when film and video games came together in a garbage fire of media that could neither be called a good game nor a good film. In the 2000s, the convergence was replaced with the notion of transmedia, with entertainment spread across different mediums, connected through a shared universe or narrative. However Sweeney believes the convergence is making a comeback, that the graphics world is seeing humans and technology meeting at a unified point. Sweeney sees photorealistic 3D objects and lighting and virtual reality attracting game designers, sure, but also industrial designers, architects, and film makers to engines like Unreal Engine 4.

In this future, or present if you ask Sweeney, lessons learned from one field, say an architect designing a virtual building, can be applied to games or film, and likewise. Sweeney believes the potential application of the engine across all fields increases exponentially as information is shared.

All of this raises the question: does Epic Games identify purely as a games company? “We’re realizing now that Unreal Engine 4 is a common language between all these common fields.” Sweeney doesn’t see the industries as all that different. More interesting than Sweeney’s prediction of field-sharing information and experience is the speculation of the fields in some ways merging together. For their most recent demo, Epic Games partnered with Weta to create a VR demonstration featuring the dragon Smaug from the The Hobbit.

The separation between game and experience and art is becoming more defined. Under the guise of this piece, interactive experiences such as Journey and Dear Esther feel like the blossoms of Tim Sweeney’s greater vision, most recently demonstrated with Smaug.

Update: I failed to mention the main reason why this important. Not only does the diversity of Unreal Engine 4 practical uses help clarify the categories of computer generated media, there’s this:

… this year, Unreal Engine 4 is free — the company asks for a 5 percent royalty for any commercial product made with the engine that makes more than $3,000 a quarter.

Commercial product: a product that can make money (i.e. video games, VR/AR experiences, movies, TV shows, YouTube shorts, amateur animations, etc.).

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Home Economics 2.0

I’ve spent the better part of my career in technical support roles; hours upon hours equating RAM to freeways and CPU-cores to cooks in a kitchen. Countless individuals taking backup advice with a “ya, sure” and a head nod. People terrified over the word “server” and unassuming over the word “cloud”. It baffles me how such basic knowledge is so foreign.

We spend large parts if not the majority of our days wrapped up in feeds and phones, devices and displays. How is it that none of us understand the fundamentals of how they operate?

I am not talking about the Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) behind everyday objects. I am not talking about teaching higher level concepts or tinkering with “niche” concepts like geometry, chemistry, or physics. I am talking about the everyday. I am talking about principle understanding of devices we fear to go without. Tools we use more than anything else in our lives!

Why is it that computer classes are electives? Why is it that those enamored with video games are the only ones expected to understand the relationship between browser tabs and RAM? Why is it that those obsessed with science fiction, participating in chess club, or enrolled in AP classes are the only ones expected to understand the severities of hard shutdowns? Why should cookies, encryption, or battery drain be mysteries to anyone born into today’s world; mysteries to those touching unfathomable technology at 12-months-old?

This is not STEM. This is fundamental. This is commonplace. This is home economics.

Wikipedia:

Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS), also known as home economics, is the profession and field of study that deals with the economics and management of the home and community.[1]The field deals with the relationship between individuals, families, and communities, and the environment in which they live.

As a subject of study, FCS is taught in secondary schoolscolleges and universitiesvocational schools, and in adult education centers; students include women and men. It prepares students for homemaking or professional careers, or to assist in preparing to fulfill real-life responsibilities at home. As a profession, it includes educators in the field and human services professionals.[2]

The field represents many disciplines including consumer science, nutrition, food preparation, parenting, early childhood education, family economics and resource management, human developmentinterior designtextiles, apparel design, as well as other related subjects. Family and Consumer Sciences education focuses on individuals and families living in society throughout the life span, thus dealing not only with families but also with their interrelationships with the communities. Other topics such as sexual educationfood management, and fire prevention might also be covered.

Not a single mention of computers, yet nearly half of our time is spent in front of a screen. (Source: KPCB)

The misunderstanding or incomprehension of OS differences, dot-version subtleties, and computer languages can be expected. What should not be expected is the misunderstanding of “memory” versus “disk space” or the incomprehension of a kilo/mega/giga/tera/petabyte.

I do not fault those without basic computer knowledge or those born into this embarrassing system. There are simple things about computers I’m sure I do not wholeheartedly understand. There are simple things I use every day that I don’t understand. I drive a car to work and still have a very little idea of how it operates. I’m intimidated by the cable, electric, and gas lines in my home. Hand me a toggle bolt (yes, I had to look it up) and I would swear it was a missing piece from an Erector Set. I’m a music junkie and I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the technology behind vinyl records and cassette tapes, let alone speakers themselves!

The lack of basic knowledge about the technology we utilize day-in and day-out, the technology we can’t go five minutes without touching, tapping, refreshing, or waking gives me chills. I’m sure I get more pleasure from solving technological problems for people than most, but I sure as hell get tired of the same questions day-in and day-out. I know this is much bigger than a blog post, but his needs to stop. Redefine Home Ec 101 and make it mandatory.

Tagged ,

Online-Only Consoles

Dan Stapleton, IGN:

When Microsoft announced the Xbox One in 2013, it was going to require an always-on internet connection to function. After backlash from gamers and Sony’s gloating proclamation that the PlayStation 4 would play games just fine without the help of the internet, Microsoft backed down and dropped the requirement (except for a one-time console activation). As it turns out, Microsoft’s initial approach was more realistic about the modern reality of how games are made, and what’s effectively required in order to have a reasonably stable experience with a physical copy of a game you buy off the shelf today. Your console will indeed run without a connection, but your disc-based games may not give it much to work with.

This piece started and ended exactly how I wanted it to; picking up with Microsoft’s original (and much maligned) “always-on” strategy, and ending with today’s “always-on” gaming reality.

Ben Kuchera recently spoke with former AAA developer Keith Fuller for this tragicomic piece on the instability of recent AAA titles. In short:

This sort of thing is more common than you think, and it leads to muddled, unfinished and often buggy releases. It’s not a matter of including the kitchen sink; developers are sometimes tasked with adding a hot tub at the last second as the project develops.

Stapleton touches on the fact that patches are blessing, but I seem to remember a time when there weren’t even a reality. Maybe I’m showing nostalgic naivety, but I’m having a very difficult time recalling game-breaking bugs from the pre-PS3/Xbox 360 era. But can today’s AAA, reality-verging games truly exist in a non-patchable world?

Games are more complex than they have ever been. The benefits of more powerful hardware are simply enablers. In 30+ years, we have moved from simple sketches of fantasy to unparalleled productions that now challenge reality. Global resources are required to make today’s video games. That doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the time and resources it takes to generate cutting-edge animations and textures in highly detailed main characters, let alone randomly generated NPCs. I imagine it’s easier to create windblown hair now than five years ago, but nothing compared to the two frames it took in 1988. Just because a console “can” doesn’t make it any easier create.

As an aside, allow this 2011 piece from Gamesradar entertain you: Top 7… horrendously buggy games we loved anyway. Only one of which did not ship on a patchable console. Oh, how I wish Microsoft would have stuck with their original strategy.

Tagged , , ,

Golden Age Thinking

I’ve never felt as old as I had this morning. I kicked off my day watching Stuart Brown’s Brief History of [Video Game] Graphics. On my commute to work, I listened to Johns Gruber and Moltz discuss ’80s computing technology on The Talk Show.

Being born in ’85 (we may as well call it ’86), some of topics discussed in both of these pieces grazed the edges of my memory but weren’t so far off that I couldn’t muster up a sliver of recognition or plausibility for the topic at hand. However, many of the subjects and terms (DOS, floppy disks, “raster”, 8-bit, etc.) had me pining for life in an earlier time. A time when faster, smaller, cheaper meant a Gameboy vs. Gameboy Pocket; not a 250GB 2.5″ HDD vs. 3TB of cloud storage. It may seem crazy to wish for a pre-Internet era, but then again, Golden Age Thinking is crazy.

Paul (Michael Sheen), Midnight in Paris:

Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is golden age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in – it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.

I then got to thinking about my mother’s lack of interest in technology. She’s on a candy-bar phone, still abides by a phone book, and prints out directions from MapQuest. Maybe she was never focused on her Golden Age as much as she is comfortable living in it. Where she stands in the current tech landscape is likely a Golden Age for others.

I love technology, but at some point (and I don’t feel it’s too far off) I will I call it quits on trying to keep up? Will I settle in what will become a future someone’s Golden Age? All I know is that this morning, I was the guy in the 7 year old car (my wife drives the new one) listening to talk radio (podcasts) on a 2+ year-old smartphone (I’ve been upgrade eligible for months). And today’s music is terrible. And I’ve been to a movie theater once in the past year. And there will never be better TV than Seinfeld. And I don’t understand EDM (Electronic Dance Music / Erotic Dancing Miley / Exorbitantly Deep Minecraft). And I’m comfortable.

Tagged , , ,

The Innovators

Earlier this evening, I had the very fortunate privilege of attending The Morris Series: Leadership and Innovation, featuring Walter Isaacson put on by The Aspen Institute. Even more fortunate that today is the release date of his latest book, The Innovators.

The introductory illustrated timeline of innovation in the book reads with the following dates:

  • 1993 (Mosaic, AOL)
  • 1994 (Web log and directory, Pathfinder)
  • 1995 (Wiki Wiki Web)
  • 1997 (Deep Blue)
  • 1998 (Google)
  • 1999 (Blogger)
  • 2001 (Wikipedia)
  • 2011 (Watson)

The decade long gap between 2001 and 2011 is a bit alarming. Was it glazed over as said decade has been under careful watch by Isaacson’s primary audience and may read as redundant? Is it simply that he aims to address said decade within the book? I’m hoping for the latter.

Not only did the late ’90s account for the blossoming of the Internet as we know it, but 2001 marks the year of the September 11 attacks. Two critical events intersecting on a single timeline. Add in adolescence (the insane flourishing of ideas, rebellion, and independence — this particular generation referred to as “millennials” by some), and you have the perfect mixture for… something…

If not from himself, this “something” is what I hope someone of Isaacson’s stature addresses. A large majority of the fresh engineering talent, and possibly the next round of innovators, moving into the professional workplace witnessed both the late ’90s blossoming of the Internet as well as the September 11 attacks during adolescence. That must shape the philosophical and social ideas surrounding up-and-coming technology in a profound way, and I would love to know how.

Tagged , ,

‘Sexism, Lies and Video Games: The Culture War Nobody Is Winning’

Leigh Alexander, writing for Time:

As video games unshackle from old constraints, traditional fans double down on keeping the treehouse sacrosanct. The tension between “games as product” and “games as culture” is visible within these online controversies as everyone invested in the industry watches to see which will “win”. Someone should tell the internet conspiracy theorists they can relax — we’ll absolutely, definitely have both.

One of Alexander’s many terrific pieces. Another great bit at Daring Fireball. (via Peter Hollo)

Tagged , , , ,

Ed Catmull on Icons and Story in Games

I had the fortunate opportunity of seeing Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Animation Studios, DisneyToon Studios, in a moderated conversation today.

During the Q&A, an audience member asked Catmull if there exists a current icon who fills the roll of Walt Disney, a man known as a figure who focused on the impact of technology on human experience and story and delivered his message to the public via TV broadcast. While my head went straight to Neil deGrasse Tyson as a viable figure, Cutmull’s answer was quite interesting.

A bit of Catmull’s reply, paraphrased by yours truly:

You can’t make another Walt or another Steve or another John. I think this is a problem the games industry faces. They make great experiences but have a hard time telling great stories. I think we have yet to see who will make that happen.

He deliberately went out of his way to focus on the games industry. He had also made reference to the games industry earlier in the discussion; however, the context is now escaping me.

Tagged , , , , ,

‘How video games have the power to change real lives’

A fun piece cataloging the impacts of the technology used in video games on urban planning, PTSD, education and more.
Daniel Nye Griffiths, The Guardian:

Games are incredibly successful training systems – but all they usually do is train people how to play within fictional worlds. As the tools employed to make them evolve, the potential is there to engage with the real world. In this way, video games offer the power to capture, comment on and change lives.

Tagged ,