Monday, December 10, 2012

The Last of Us

May 7th is still very, very far away.

As excited as I am by this trailer - and I am very excited - my enthusiasm has been tempered somewhat by the mention, on the PlayStation blog, of multiplayer. I should have known, of course, that you can't release a big-budget retail game these days without some kind of online component, but given how badly the multiplayer aspect of Uncharted 3 affected the single-player level design, I'm worried.

Hopefully this time through, +Naughty Dog will have more separation between the multiplayer and campaign design teams so The Last of Us won't suffer from Uncharted 3's single-player-levels-that-look-feel-and-play-like-multiplayer-maps issue.

But this trailer does a lot to assuage my fears. The story and cast look promising at this stage, Naughty Dog still do the best cinematics in the business, and there seems to be a much wider variety of locations than I'd expected based on material released before.

I'm wondering, though, how much my experiences with The Walking Dead, and its (superficially, at least) similar plot will affect how I approach situations in The Last of Us. I can't imagine dialogue is going to be much of an option in this one, though.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Returning to Facebook: A thought experiment

This tweet got me thinking.

I've kind of been missing Facebook. Not the service itself, but some of the people on it who I didn't keep in touch with any other way. I miss the social bit, not the network (although this post by maciej makes a strong case that social networks are neither).

I'd quite like to keep up with some of those people again, but don't have any real desire to open up my life to Facebook's increasingly terrifying database of People And Everything That They Do. So I've been trying to figure out how I would rejoin Facebook, if the temptation does eventually reach a point where I cave in.

I don't want to just re-activate my old account (I assume it still exists, even though I told Facebook to delete it a year ago) primarily so they can't link up any old data about me. I want them to have as little (useful) information about me as I can provide, so a new account entirely is required.

(I realise this post is going to go a bit Richard Stallman in places, for which I can only apologise.)

Firstly, there's the signup process.

I don't want Facebook to have my real email address (and I'd used it for my previous Facebook account anyway), so I'd have to set up a new one. Not difficult; there are dozens (if not hundreds) of free email providers, and I'm kind of interested in trying out Microsoft's new(ish) Outlook mailbox anyway.

A slightly trickier section is the phone number - Facebook now requires you to provide a mobile phone number when you sign up for an account. I assume this has to be unique, so I can't just re-use the number I had on my original account, or the number I used on my work Facebook account (I need this for testing, and since it uses my work email address I don't want to try and use it for personal stuff). In this instance, picking up a cheap Pay&Go SIM won't be prohibitively expensive - and while I'm not pleased with the idea of having to pay anything to use Facebook, it's probably worth it for keeping my real details away from their servers.

The other major way Facebook can track your information is by watching what other sites you visit - even if you're not logged into Facebook. The easiest solution to this, that I can see, is to only use Facebook in a different browser than everything else, or to use Private Browsing. Chrome has an "Incognito mode" that you can open which uses a different cache from your main browsing session, and which is disposed of when you close the window. This means you've got to re-login to every site if you're Incognito, but it also means anything you do Incognito can't escape to your main browser history. I already do this with my work Facebook account, so adopting this strategy for a personal one wouldn't be a new habit to learn.

Avoiding linking up my Facebook account to other services seems like a no-brainer, and although I'll happily use my Twitter account as an authenticator for blog comments and the like, there's something about the way Facebook collects, stores and uses the data its users provide that makes me much more wary about giving them that data in the first place.

Even with those precautions, I'll have to give this a lot more thought. There are bound to be things I've over looked or haven't thought of, but as an initial to-do list for opening a Facebook account I think this should protect me pretty well if I cave in and re-join Zuckerberg's Monolith.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why I can't support Penny Arcade Sells Out

I think that generally, Kickstarter is a brilliant service that provides a much-needed funding source for projects that wouldn't have any startup finances at all. The problem is the recent spate of high-profile projects that have been breaking records, which have brought the Kicktsarter process to the attention of people who just want their ongoing costs to be covered rather than bringing something new to the table.

I think that's the main problem I have with Penny Arcade Sells Out. They're not starting anything with this project, and they're not going to do anything new with the money. They're just replacing a revenue stream, which seems to miss the point of Kickstarting something. The admission that they'll have to do this yearly just underlines how far away from the real point of Kickstarter this is.

And how much money will this take away from other Kickstarter projects? How many people will be spending $15 or $25 to Penny Arcade that they would have otherwise spent on projects that are actually creating something new? Gabe in particular has been emphasising on Twitter that nothing's actually going to change in terms of the content of Penny Arcade, so this is literally a $1 million ad blocker. You can get those for free, by the way.

There's been some implication that by replacing the ad revenue with crowdfunding, Penny Arcade will have more time for other projects, but I don't see how. I wouldn't have imagined that Gabe and Tycho are spending a lot of time moderating and approving advertising content; if they are, then what do they have business management people for?

I'd also like to know what their current advertising income is, and how it compares to the Kickstarter goal. Are they ripping people off, charging two or three or several times what they currently make on ads, or is $1m a bargain? Considering how many of the ads they run are seemingly for Penny Arcade's own side projects, what percentage of their advertising rotation is actually external business?

I don't remember the last time I took particular notice of an advert on any webpage, unless it started playing sound at me, or expanded to fill my screen when I rolled a mouse over it - which none of Penny Arcade's ads have ever done, to the best of my memory. They're mostly unintrusive and usually relevant to my (or at least PA's core audience's) interests. They only have two ad locations on the entire site, and one of those isn't even on the page with the comic strip.

If they wanted to do a Kickstarter for the Automata project, or the Lookouts project, or any of the other stretch goal bonus content, that'd be fine (although they'd probably need to do more than six pages each, and it would require a print run, if they wanted to justify the kind of money they'd undoubtedly ask for).

I can't help but see the Penny Arcade staff watching the total climbing and asking each other, "can you believe people are falling for this?"

Monday, June 04, 2012

On Hitman

I don't often feel like Tycho has completely missed the point, but last Friday's newspost definitely seems to suggest that he's skipped right over the cause of the outrage following the Hitman: Absolution trailer.

Of course the entire industry isn't about fetish-nun assassins and the brutal, fetishised murder thereof, but that doesn't mean we can just dismiss this kind of bullshit.

The attitude that led to the creation of that trailer is a very real and very pervasive part of the (largely male-oriented and male-dominated) games industry, and unless consumers and creators challenge this kind of wannabe-snuff misogynist wet-dream, it will continue to inform and encourage the kind of trashy, offensive (and by all accounts not-even-relevant-to-the-game-being-promoted) marketing that doesn't do anything but undermine the artistic efforts being made by game creators who are trying to do more than fulfill the base fantasies of straight white teenagers.

For excellent (and spot-on) reactions to the trailer in question, and the ensuing fallout, I recommend Keza MacDonald's article at IGN and Rob Fahey's at

Saturday, May 05, 2012

From Kuramathi


Bought a couple hours' internet access from the hotel, catching up on Twitter, G and forums. Doesn't seem like we've missed much news. :P

Honeymoon is going great; coping with the heat better than we expected and no hangovers or sunburn yet (although tans are developing slowly so far too).
Currently posting from the tablet, which only has this one photo on it, but the views are spectacular. Difficult to believe that places like this actually exist outside of films and holiday brochures.

Highlights so far include the seaplane to the island, the phenomenal steak I had the first night, walking on the sand bank on the north of the island, and snorkeling with sharks this morning. The food (and drink) has been outstanding, the staff are really friendly and helpful, and the neighbours have at least been tolerable (the Russians on the left had noisy kids, and the Germans on the right have questionable musical taste, but they've been sensible about the hours they keep).

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fallout: Dundee


The Fallout look is actually something of an improvement for the Dundee council building.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

You Can (Not) Redo

After stumbling across this trailer, I realised I'm looking forward to the last two Rebuild of Evangelion movies more than the first two; as the story is diverging more from the TV series, there seems to be more of a point to the whole exercise.

I've still not gotten around to watching 1.11 and 2.22 back-to-back, so I'll have to rewatch them before sitting down with 3.0.

I have to admit, though, as cool as Asuka looks with an eyepatch, there's something about it that reminds me of Nadine from Twin Peaks.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


After months of speculation and even longer desperate hope, American on-demand video provider Netflix has finally launched its services in the UK. It faces an uphill struggle to gain a foothold on this side of the pond, facing off against the Amazon-owned LoveFilm (which also provides physical DVD, Blu-ray and game rentals), as well as on-demand TV and film services provided by Sky, BT and Virgin Media. And those are just the legal alternatives.

They've made a brave stab at it - apps have launched for Android and Apple devices, as well as all three current home games consoles. Their catalogue, guaranteed to grow quickly in these first few months, is already significantly better-stocked than LoveFilm's offering, which consists mostly of independent and older films.

A larger, high-quality selection of content is a strong opening gambit, although the service at-launch is not without its flaws. The interface on the Netflix website and the Xbox 360 app are both extremely poor, and although slightly better on the PS3 it's still very difficult to find content. You can search for something if you know you want to watch it, but there's no guarantee it'll be in their library yet anyway. Finding something new is almost impossible, as there's no way to drill down into categories, and although there's a "similar items" when you start watching something, you have to start watching something before that option pops up.

The PS3 at least lets you flip through the episodes in a series without having to start the first one, while the web and 360 interfaces only show that option once the show starts.

I'm not sure what they were thinking with the 360 app, though - it's a confusing vertical list of horizontal lists, presenting you with just cover images (which awkwardly expand into a screenshot when you hover the cursor over them for a second). It vaguely uses the same idea as the new "Metro" interface, but it's not consistent enough. The biggest problem is the inability to sort titles, and I'm not entirely sure what governs the order they're presented in. Presumably the date they were added to the service, but wouldn't name or the original release date make more sense?

And would a favourites/want-to-see list be out of the question? Something like LoveFilm's (or Netflix US' DVD rental) queue, that lets you add stuff you're interested in that can then be used to give you more recommendations, or just provide quick access to things you'd like to watch.

The lack of options within the apps is another stumbling block; initially, your video quality is set to stream the lowest bitrate version of the film, but there's no indication where to change this option or even that you can. You've got to go onto the website and update the streaming quality from there (along with any parental controls or language preferences); while it's good that all the account management stuff is in one place, does it really have to be in only one place?

Once I'd bumped up the streaming quality and found something to watch (The Usual Suspects), it actually worked really well. The film started playing in as-near-as-I-could-tell HD within a few seconds and stayed in HD the entire way through, with no skips or lag - a near-miracle on our internet connection, which sometimes struggles to buffer an entire YouTube video. I also watched the start of Battle Royale to check out something with subtitles, and was surprised to see they were using soft subs rather than the hard subs my original DVD version had. A couple of titles (Battle Royale and Avatar: The Last Airbender) started off streaming in quite poor, low-quality video, but after a minute or so they bumped up to at least standard definition and stayed there for the rest of the time I was watching them.

Overall it's a promising start, but I hope they take some time to make the experience of finding films easier. Right now, it's too hard to stumble across something new, but too much effort to search for something specific that might not be there anyway.

At this point I don't think I'll keep the service beyond the first free month, but I'm going to try and get my theoretical money out of it. Maybe it will change the way we watch films and TV, although since most of the stuff we watch is as-it-airs US TV, maybe not.