Batman Arkham Origins

I struggle to call this a review – it is at best a biased opinion and at worst a rant about everything that is wrong with video games as a modern media. I started complaining on Twitter and I think people were getting annoyed, so I’ll write it out more long form here.

Disclaimer: I have not yet finished. I may never finish. Frankly, the amount of gameplay I’ve gone through so far to get mere percentage points of completion is ridiculous. Congrats for making a long game, and given the AAA pricetag, probably for the better. Fortunately, I received the game packaged with a new GPU I bought for rendering (okay, and gaming, you caught me) and I say fortunately because I wouldn’t have bought it otherwise. I would have waited several years and then hesitated about pulling the trigger when it’s a $10 Steam sale like I did with the first two games.

But First, Let’s Do This…

This is the main catchphrase of all the missions. Everything seems so simple and then it folds inwards, adding more new sidetracks at every turn. Some of these are big things, major missions and events to deal with (you could argue that every mission is merely a distraction from the ultimate game arch) but then there are the things that I wonder about, the things that feel placed there merely to add time or make us feel like we did more. Conveniently, everything that pops up is at the other end of town. This would be no problem as we’ve introduced the Batjet fast travel to get around… two open zones. Oh. Right. You need to do these other little side annoyances to unlock the other zones for fast travel use. You can run around everywhere freely (which turns into a sloppy Spider-Man wannabe repetitive cable swinging action if you want any speed) but you have to do work to get to use the jet. And by work I mean:

Henchmen #1-5, Again and Again

This was my main complaint with the first two games. I can see how the melee brawling was praised in the first game for it’s fluid action and dynamic use of takedowns based on where you and the enemies were relative to each other. Some of the fights still do feel really satisfying. Most, however, do not. It’s a lot of “Go here, Batman, but look out for those goons guarding the door!” over and over. Same mob of guys, same button mashing, same drop in interest. Everywhere you go there’s just a convenient group of baddies waiting for you. I realize that’s what the game is, but I feel like it’s detracting from what the game could – nay, should be.

Boss fights are similar: a blend of quick time events, button mashing and quick time events that require you to button mash. Bad guys make ludicrous taunts the whole time and you prove them wrong provided you hit the dodge button quick enough every time it pops up. At best they’re tedious, at worst they’re inducing carpal tunnel syndrome into my right thumb.

Choose A or A

I can’t figure this one out. It’s not really a game that’s supposed to have choice, but it’s free roam. But the levels are linear. But there’s a few different upgrade trees you can take advantage of. But it won’t let you advance the plot unless you do everything their specified way. But they reward you for doing those things in a variety of ways.

For example, there’s a laptop on a rooftop I needed to hack or access or whatever and beating up the same baddies seemed trite so I opted to sneak around carefully and just do it with them still alive and unaware. Masterfully get to the laptop and nothing. It won’t allow me to access it. So, I sneak back over to each guy and silently take them out one by one. Now I can access the laptop. Why did I have to break everyone’s legs to get that to work? I opted for the sneaky-sneak bonuses on the upgrades tree and they won’t even let me finish the objective being completely sneaky. I literally have no other choice but to go through the human mob roadblocks at every location.

There’s more meta-choice problems too. I’m on Penguin’s ship and some Anarky fellow hacks the TV screens with a message for me (how he knows I’m there or accomplishes this is never mentioned) about how he’s set up a bomb and it’s my choice to let it go off and kill innocents or disarm it. He actually says in the dialogue that my choice will affect how he treats me in the future. “Okay, cool” I thought “This could be a novel thing: getting on certain villains’ good sides” thinking that it would affect the later game. So I ignore the bomb and redirect my compass to the more main mission. The timer ticks away but I’ve chosen to ignore it. It clicks down to zero and… I’ve failed the mission. I have to repeat it from the checkpoint. Wait, what? So I can choose to disarm it or… disarm it. Great. And guess who was waiting for me at the bomb location. Henchmen #1-5.

Batman the Merciful Arm Breaker

This is bigger than just this game. Batman doesn’t carry a gun and refuses to murder even the most psychotic of villains even when their death would save countless others. Yet he will happily punch everything in his way to a bloody pulp. What kind of bizarre morals are those? You leave, as Batman, swaths of gang members with any number of broken limbs laying face down in the snow or in industrial factories or underground lairs or in cavernous sewers and somehow that wake of violence is better than shooting the villains who lead these gangs and kill the civilians? I just don’t understand him, and that adds into the bigger mosaic of immersion that comes from the story: would I actually behave like this? Not in the ‘would I dress up in a silly costume and run around at night beat up crims for fun in real life’ sense, but in the ‘does this character’s actions make any sense’ sense. Much the same way as we watch horror movies screaming “DON’T GO DOWN THE STAIRS, BECKY” we sit and watch Batman with a “Why are you even doing this?” firmly planted in our brains. This goes for the movies too, by the way. The entire character is hand-waved away with his graveling voice in some confused “Well, because I’m Bah-man” reasoning.

What I Did Like

The CSI thing was cool. They’re playing up the Detective Comics thing here and the crime scene reenactment actually has some cool features, like a simulated playthrough of the crime that you can scrub and look for clues. They’re really rather linear and Batman talks to himself to lead you through it, but if they used that same engine they could actually make a pretty cool straight up crime scene game (Castle game, anyone?). Oh, I should mention, the Batman talking to himself thing is awful and appears everywhere. You’re standing in front of the only door around, the only progression through the level and he chimes in “Those are Black Mask’s men. I bet I can make them tell me where he went” yeah, okay Batman. I wasn’t sure what I should do next, but you really helped me out. Worlds Greatest Detective indeed. They’re just silly and unnecessary and I don’t understand why they’re there.

The narrative sections of the story are actually pretty good. If you remember the scene from Arkham Asylum where Bruce is remembering the alley with his parents and the world around him starts to shift into that memory, it’s more of that style. The Joker > Harley interview is a remarkably elegant way for him to narrate a deeper inner emotion without relying on just the voice acting or just staring at him talk the whole time. As far as plot devices, this is where the game should go. Beating up another group of dudes doesn’t do anything for the story. Give us more of this. Go into the characters. Flesh them out.

Graphically lovely. The PhysX support is really neat with foggy hallways that flow around as you move and papers that flutter in the wind. The cape is still dynamic and the snow leaves actual footprints. Environments are much the same as earlier, but with sheer amounts of them (the game is 16.2 GB to download). The world feels empty, but it is Christmas Eve, so I guess there aren’t civilians just wandering about.

Conclusion

More of the same if you liked the first two. I can’t say I did.

Rogue Industries Maine Wallet Review

Full disclosure: Rogue Industries did send me this wallet for the purpose of reviewing it. My opinions, however, remain unbiased and the following is exactly how I’d review it in any other circumstance.

Okay, so what do we have here? It’s a front wallet with a patented curve that better fits the cut of the pocket. The advantages to carrying your wallet in the front include but are not limited to theft deterrence, spine issues and simple convenience. On those fronts, it seems like a good wallet for the job. I chose mine in charcoal black premium cow leather ($40) but there are plenty of different animals and styles to choose from, including non-animal things like ballistic nylon and stainless steel. They all appear to be the same shape so this review will be more about how that works than the actual leather itself. We can assume it’ll compare to other leather products and is a material we’re all familiar with, unlike my previous Tyvek Slimfold wallet.

Speaking of the Slimfold, this might be the only time ever that someone has gone to such a slim wallet as the Rogue Maine and called the experience “clunky” by relative standards. The photo above shows the thickness difference, and it’s not too bad but I have been spoiled by the carefree weightlessness of the paper fiber material. You’ll also notice how beat up it is – no huge surprise there. So, for normal people who want reliability for more than 6 months, something a little beefier is required. For men who have even bulkier wallets than that: seriously, get something – anything – lighter. Especially if you’re a back pocket type, your body will thank me.

It’s made by Rogue Industries, a company out of Portland, Maine, USA where the aptly-named Maine Rogue is manufactured. As a Canadian I don’t understand the OORAH Made in America patriotism thing, but I do appreciate small companies filled with passionate people and well-made things, so wherever you hail from read this page and understand that they’re cool folks who believe in their product.

The minimalists amongst us will appreciate that there are no logos adorning the outside. It’s the same on both sides: clean, black leather. There’s a nice embossed text logo on the card slot area with a small tag sewn inside the cash hold but that’s it for branding. The curve is nice not only for it’s unique style but because you always know which side is the top, and instinctively know how to open it. One thing about the Slimfold was even after months of use, it was very easy to open upside down because of the featureless symmetry. It’s those sorts of affordances that make for intuitive, good design. The main reason for the curve, of course, is for the front pocket and it fits well. I’m a slim person and my hipster pants are on the tighter side so it felt a little wide for me, but I’m definitely in the minority. Given the material it will probably soften over time and become less of a rigid flat surface on your thigh (unlike the glass smartphone bulge). Other, bigger guys that tried front-pocketing it had no problem and no bulge. It does fit quite nicely in cargo shorts, I noticed. The curve allows for it to sit deeper in the pocket which feels more secure with the wider, more vertical pocket openings that things do slide out of all too easily when sitting.

There is a slightly shorter Weekender wallet that I’d be curious to try as well, since I don’t need a ton of card / cash space. If you are looking for massive card space, there are options for you too, but again, I’d try just scaling back first. The Original is slim enough to use as a back pocket wallet if you prefer (I would in dress pants) and while it is noticeable to sit on, it’s not a burden or anything. For those sizing down from a Costanza wallet, it’ll be a welcome reprieve regardless of how it’s worn.

RFID blocking is going to become an increasingly important feature of wallets, and the Maine has it built in already. Basically, smartphones with NFC (Near Field Communication) can read credit cards with tap-to-pay ability (like PayPass etc.), which means if a criminal can get their phone close enough to your cards, they can skim the information and effectively digitally steal your credit card. Obviously, this is bad. The good news is you can block these sorts of communications and prevent these sorts of thefts if you have an RFID blocking wallet. I found a simple app and with my phone did a number of very unscientific tests, but it seems to work. The naked card was easily read, both the Slimfold and my other leather wallets failed to keep my information secret and with the card tucked in the Rogue, it couldn’t get a reading. I’m no Mythbusters, but I’d call this confirmed.

The card slots are firm in the beginning as to be expected but work in over the first couple days. I haven’t felt like anything is going to fall out yet, anyway. There are three card slots on the left side and then an open pocket on either side, with the right having a clear plastic for your license which has a thumb slot for easy ID removal. I’m carrying five cards and a few bills and it all fits easily enough. The pocket behind the slots on the left is empty with that configuration, and could probably fit another two cards if you didn’t mind that they don’t have individual organization. A couple of personal business cards would be perfect here. One tiny gripe is that the middle card in the slots, for whatever reason, sits slightly too low and can get stuck hidden behind the front-most card. It might just be that the front slot has to relax a bit and expand to allow the card to sit lower, or that the middle slot needs it’s bottom sewn a little higher. Not a big deal, just a curiosity.

It might just be the bigger dimensions of Canadian bills, but I did notice the corners stick out of the curve ever so slightly which could be a little bothersome to the more OCD of us. It is a more spatially minimal wallet so the people who like to keep file cabinets worth of receipts and rolodex worth of business cards are not going to have the space for them here but again, it’s probably in your best interest to downsize anyway. Not having space is a great way to not fill up space.

Conclusion: If you’re a guy who has difficulty finding 29” waist pants, you can still enjoy the elegant, durable design and RFID blocking technology but know that it might look funny in the front pocket of your slimmer jeans. There are shorter versions available, so maybe look into those. If you’re normal sized, the Rogue is a great way to switch to front wearing and avoid theft and back pains. It’s reasonably priced, comes in a ton of materials and seems really well made. You’ll be supporting local business and cool people. Win-win.

And hey, father’s day is next weekend…

Fitbit One Review

I’ve been using the Fitbit One for just over two months now, so I think it’s finally time for a review.

My initial reaction when unboxing it was just how tiny the device is. I carry it in that little change pocket that pants have, and very occasionally use the clip if that pocket isn’t available (for example, some kinds of shorts). The marketing material says you can put it anywhere, and it’s probably true, but it just works out to have it near my hip. The carrying clip is a stiff rubber with a metal clip that feels very secure when attached to a belt or pocket edge. Both the material’s grip and it’s tight clamp combined with a ribbed texture on the end make for a fit that’s secure when in place but easy enough to take on and off when you want to. The fit of the One inside the clip is the same way: easy enough to put in and out but I trust it entirely when walking / running / biking. Considering it’s likely going to be bouncing and bobbing around, this is very good.

There’s just one button on the entire thing which is used to cycle through the various stats which include time, steps, flights of stairs climbed, distance, calories burned and a flower that indicates how much activity you’ve recently done, with the idea being you want to keep the flower in bloom across the day (it’ll slowly recede if you’re sedentary). It has a stopwatch, I think, if you hold it but honestly, I’ve never used that since I don’t run with any particular time goal or schedule.

Using your phone, tablet or computer (with the help of a tiny USB dongle) you can Bluetooth from the device to the app / browser and it’ll show you a more comprehensive dashboard of your data. This is where the device really shines and where I as a graph nerd really find it useful. Not only can I quantify my laziness, I can chart it!

You’ll see where I’m not even using the full functionality. I don’t log my food (which is a thing that works fairly well in my limited testing) so my calories in are nil and, to be fair, my calories out aren’t very accurate because I don’t log my bike commute every day either. It captures the motion of my legs still, but it counts the effort as if I were walking / running. I happen to know roughly how many calories extra the biking is worth (since I did log it a few times) and just mentally add it in rough. This brings me to my first gripe: there doesn’t appear to be a way to make an activity repeat. I know I’m going to bike to work using the same route and do it in roughly the same time every day (it seems to calculate calories using the distance you enter and your time doing it, mixed with the altitude data) – I wish I could just say “Monday -> friday, these activities (bike there, bike back) get added. Repeat weekly.” Since I’d have to manually enter every ride I quickly gave up and stopped caring that those numbers were in the official data. It should be noted that adding an activity overwrites the walking data for that time block, so it doesn’t get counted twice. Technically then, I am getting some points for biking.

You’ll also notice that I’ve given up on the sleep tracker. Except for those random, bizarre spikes (which don’t make sense since the device is likely on the bathroom countertop sitting undisturbed) it’s empty. The Fitbit One comes with a very soft wristband with a pocket for the tracker and I did track for the first month or so. It told me what I already knew: I sleep like a rock and with solid patterns for going to bed / waking up. That’s also why I stopped using the alarm clock function, which basically vibrates (very similar to a cellphone) on your wrist until you shut it off. This would be nice, I’m told, for people who sleep with other people. Since I am not one of those people, my waking routine involves significantly more sobbing and existential depression. Speaking of which, the device is water resistant and although never really stress-tested, I can imagine it would be. It’s a small, sealed unit with one small rubber button.

Also ignored: there’s a wireless scale that can sync up to the dashboard via WIFI and provide weight info. I don’t have a regular scale, so I couldn’t even input my weight manually, but it would keep track of that too if you wanted. You can also input water consumption and keep a journal of your mood, heart rate and blood pressure, glucose levels and, as mentioned above, food and non-walking activities. Food is always tricky and I’m not sure how they could have made it any better. There’s a big library of foods and you can add by searching and then telling it how much you had, in basically any measurement you can imagine. It’s pretty intelligent with knowing that one granola bar is different than one cup of granola bar etc. Unfortunately, there’s simply too many things out there. How do you log that sandwich you had at the neighborhood deli? It has sandwiches from, say, Subway or common foods from Safeway, but once you start making your own stuff and buying from non-chain stores the accuracy gets sketchy. Understandable, though. It does it’s best.

Battery life is amazing. It’s a small screen that’s rarely on, so it makes sense, but still. I haven’t really paid attention to when it gets charged, but it’d have to be every fortnight or so. Week and a half at least. The charging cable is USB and the device just clicks into it’s rubber embrace. It makes sense that the charging cable and the Bluetooth dongle are different USB devices, but it also means more clutter to have and plug in and out. The Bluetooth syncing is really cool because you never have to think about it. If you sit down at your computer, it’ll do a little sync and anytime you access your data, it’ll be there and roughly up-to-date. It’s that sort of thing that I appreciate in technology. I never have to think or worry about it, it’s never a chore or annoying. Other than having to charge it every so often, I really could just keep it in my pocket all the time and never think about the device itself again.

So after 71 days of more-or-less accurate testing (you can see in the graph I forgot to wear the tracker a few times) I’ve traveled 509 980 steps, which works out to just over 7 000 per day. You’re recommended to walk 10 000, which is alarming. I’m a fairly active person, I walk a fair bit and bike commute 30km a day. I’m usually at my desk, true, but I would have guessed I was higher. Summer’s just getting started, so I imagine hiking will bring up my average some. It’s good to know these things, and it’s a motivation to do more, but it’s equally disappointing to learn just how bad you are.

Verdict: It’s $100. I’d buy it again, easy. It’s robust and well designed in both hard and software. Does what it promises and without complaint, which makes for a boring review but is exactly why you should buy something. It’s invisible design. I might look into the new bracelet version that just came out but from what I’ve seen it’s basically the same thing with a coloured rubber band. The ability to wear the One without drawing attention to it could be useful, perhaps.

Oblivion

OBLIVION GFX Montage from GMUNK on Vimeo.

I’ll keep this short, it’s less a review and more about what the movie is.

I had a chance to see the movie last week and was really impressed. The visuals are led by a director with a background in architecture and design and it shows. Like Tron, the movie is as much about it’s style and it’s world as anything else. I went into it with no real expectations and left pleasantly surprised but it’s depth and the little details that usually derail these sorts of movies. I really appreciated that they built the sets and the vehicles – the fact that they shot the cloudscapes and projected them just seems so caring to me. There was a video about Akira that talked about the sheer level of detail they put into it, that there’s a scene that’s only a few seconds long, but they matte painted an entire cityscape to parallax through the buildings behind them. That’s the sort of obsessive vision that I really appreciate. Even if the movie is terrible – and Oblivion isn’t – I appreciate the people who made it so much more.

The soundtrack is M83 and unlike Tron’s Daft Punk score, was actually pretty generic. Save for the credit song and a few of the ambient bits it was the traditional cinematic style found everywhere. It wasn’t bad, it’s just that I wish M83 had more reign to do something awesome.

So. Go see it. Notice that there’s dirt on the pedals of the flying machine from adventures previous. Notice that it feels lived in instead of being a greenscreen soundstage.

Slimfold Wallet Review

A few months back I excitedly ordered a Slimfold Wallet ($20) by designer Dave Zuverink who curiously (and quite awesomely) branched out from UI design to the world of physical goods. So it’s a great idea and a seemingly good execution – let’s see how it holds up in real life.

First off, it hasn’t been long enough. Wallets are one of the few things that we seem to keep forever. There are probably more fingers on one hand than the number of wallets I’ve owned in my life and my most recent, a Kenneth Cole leather trifold will probably wait patiently on a shelf just in case this new kid doesn’t stand up to time.

The product itself is very professionally presented for an Etsy buy. It’s plastic packaged and comes with brief instructions for those who have never, I guess, carried money in any form before? A touch, though, that adds credibility. It’s made of Tyvek which is a high density polyethylene fiber that they use for packaging and house wraps since it’s highly breathable but resistant to water. It’s light weight and has a sort of matte sheen with an expected fibrous texture. There’s something in us that equates lightweight with cheapness – titanium rings an example – it just feels fragile and papery. Everyone who I’ve shown this to has that same reaction of “You’re going to use this to protect money?” with the raised eyebrow subtext of “Wow. How brave.” to their credit, I thought the same thing for the first few days.

It’s a material that, if you’ve tried to open a package made from it you’ve come to know, cuts a lot easier than it rips. On that front, it seems pretty sturdy for the in and out of pocket stress it’ll experience. As long as I don’t leave it anywhere near scissors or knives it should be alright. It’s stitched with a thin thread that seems sufficient and the fold line could be described as reinforced though I doubt it’s required. While we’re focused on the fold I will say it’s not exactly a perfect angle, and not by design. Whoever folded it was a tad off, so when closed the two far edges don’t exactly line up. A minor thing found negligible in use, but tweaked my designer OCD as soon as got it. The slots for cards have held up surprisingly well – I thought for sure those would be the first to go. So far, so good. They are a little stiff in the beginning but relax with use and are perfectly fine after a week or two.

It looks good, I think, though I’ve heard the opposite from friends. In a sudden flash of uncharacteristic boldness I clicked ‘buy’ on the orange one. Since my wardrobe is almost exclusively greyscale it’s a pretty nice pop of colour. For people who actually wear coloured clothes, the charcoal options would be quite handsome too, and will cover the tragic dirtiness factor I’ll get into later. There’s a small printed logo and recycle sign on the front and inside corners respectively which appeals to my minimalism. It’d be cool, I think, to have a Spinnaker style design-your-own graphic option. Customize them a bit with pre-existing graphics or submit your own monotone vectors for print.

There is a qualm that I have here: it’s a different shape than I’d like. Or! Perhaps more accurately: than I’m used to. With a trifold you align the cards vertically and the whole wallet is vertical in your pocket creating a taller profile at the expense of being thicker in depth. This being a simple fold means the vertical cards end up being horizontal in the pocket which was, at first, an awkward extra width. Honestly, I’m not sure I like that. If they made a trifold out of this same material I’d probably spring for that. Of course, this main idea is to take down that depth which brings me to my next point:

It’s frightening to carry around. I say this with an all due tongue-in-cheek nod to it’s brilliance. I don’t notice it. It bends and flexes enough to stay stealthy in my back pocket and being virtually weightless means there’s no reassuring tug when walking. It’s a nervous thing, though, because now I’m paranoid and constantly checking. Will I get used to this? Probably. I’ve already gotten better over the past weeks. I can be sitting directly on it and have that quick pang of “oh no! where’s my wallet?!” worry. Part of me calls that an annoyance or a problem, but that’s sort of why people would buy the product in the first place, isn’t it?

There is an actual problem with the fibrous texture: it gets dirty. Really dirty. I work in a clean office, I drive a fairly clean car. My jean pockets aren’t lined with ink rollers. How does it get this grimy?

Which becomes my only real suggestion: maybe get the charcoal or black version. The orange, for obvious reasons, isn’t really great at hiding that dirt patina.

TL;DR The build has held up remarkably well after the brief months and I don’t see it going downhill anytime soon. I wish it would stay clean, is all. For $20, I say try it. Why not?

Dredd: Better than Batman?

Go in with no expectations, walk out without the ability to form coherent sentences. That was, at least, what I did. Driving home in the rainy night I tried to think about what I’d write here and it all came forth at once, this tidal wave of opinions. Instead I just turned up the music and watched the coloured lights reflect in the inky road, letting it all come forward.

Possible spoilers ahead.

Batman’s third installment Dark Knight Rises was exactly what it needed to be. It featured a cast of the world’s loveliest people and was directed by one of the best making films today. It was predictable and took very few risks, closing the series nicely. It worked, don’t get me wrong. It fit and was successful. Good. But not… but not brilliant.

…a word one might use to describe Dredd. It was crafted brilliantly. It’s not a clever movie, it too is predictable and if you saw the trailer, you know exactly what it will be. It’s an 80’s movie made in 2012. It has cheesy one liners and ridiculous amounts of violence. The part that I’d describe as brilliant is the balance between it’s tongue-in-cheek cheese and it’s maintained gravity. It’s stylized but not silly. Judge Dredd delivers the same kind of lines as Batman does, but the former’s come out with a self aware over-the-top badass snark whereas the latter’s gravel always made me giggle. Batman just takes itself too seriously and it comes across as laughable.

The violence is abundant. It’s rated R for a reason. It’s based on a gritty, dark comic and the movie adaptation matches; it’s the nature of the beast. With that said, there’s a surprising lack of actual sexual content given it’s testosterone fueled ride. Alluded to a few times, it just doesn’t take center stage in a movie about a soulless justice system. He’s not really a human, he doesn’t really have a face, he’s just the embodiment of justice itself. Justice can’t get the girl. He shoots bad guys.

The slo mo drug, obviously, is a plot device created specifically so they can show neat things in slow motion. What I appreciated is that they didn’t over use it. It’s there and it’s a plot device, it gets shown a few times in the beginning to establish how it works and then the rest is left to simply be understood. Actually, one might say the same about the violence: it’s introduced in the beginning with rather disturbing homicides that the Judges investigate but the final death is almost poetically calm. The 3D too, is usually abused by directors but here it’s just a subtle effect to create depth, never deciding how something is shot that wouldn’t be otherwise. It’s a movie of cinematic balances – the choices of when and where to pull punches show surprising grace for a movie of such genre.

Soundtrack: wow. I’ll be getting that whenever it’s available. So perfect. Subtle 80’s tones in there match the hokey-retro styled motorcycles in a fitting homage to the past. The slow motion parts have this lovely Brian Eno feel and the Judge’s no-nonsense walking around hallways have a fantastic driving pulse to them. Dirty and alive.

Honestly? I think it’ll be an underrated cult classic. It was good. If given the choice, I’d see that again instead of Batman. It’s self aware enough to avoid the trap of cheesiness and knows how to balance thematic elements with surprising deftness.

Steam Greenlight

I’ve agreed with Campster before – his other videos and observations are spot on – but the above strikes me as a little black and white.

The problem with the completely open argument is, and using the mobile app stores as an example (both Apple and Android), they don’t really push good content in the happy “cream floats to the top” way described. There’s the top ten list, which is feedback loop of increased sales and… everyone else. I agree, sure, that Angry Birds was a phenomenon of games going viral, but that wasn’t really the app store’s doing, it was the fact that the game was addicting and charming and delightful and word spread “You’ve got to download this game!”

It would be a hard argument to suggest that Angry Birds wouldn’t exist if there were a $100 entry fee to get in the store. If this is even remotely accurate, they spent $140 000 on development. So $100 would be 0.07% of the total cost. A fraction of the drop in the bucket. Like any business, that’s part of development cost that (hopefully) gets regained when you start making the kind of money Angry Birds did. It’s a gamble.

Now, the immediate counterargument is correct: “It doesn’t cost $100 for Steam to provide this service, it’s an infinite shelf space.” But that actually isn’t the point. You’re not paying $100 to get shelf space, you’re paying $100 as a token of “I believe in this idea enough that I’m willing to invest in it” because anyone who’s put any sort of effort into something should be willing to say exactly that. I don’t want to sound callous but $100 is working a saturday at a cafe down the street; it’s not exactly an impossible sum to come up with. If you think your idea is good enough to pursue and develop it into a working game, you probably already believe in it enough to put some money down. If it is truly good, you’ll make it back in sales. On the other hand, if you’re some kid in his mom’s basement making games (and I was this kid, years ago) you probably shouldn’t be clogging up the shelves even if they are infinite. Back then we had the Gamemaker forums and you’d post your amateur games to that. It was awesome. The community made up of people using the same language and playing with the same ideas would give you feedback and there was no barrier between me making absolute rubbish (and I did!) and posting it. With that said, Steam should not pursue that as the goal. There’s a big difference between indie games and basement games. Call it a walled garden, but I see it more as a “wash your hands before you come inside from the sandbox” sort of measure.

The expansion of that is the ultimate open marketplace: distributing your product without Steam at all. A perfect example is Blendo Games who made the brilliant Gravity Bone and distributed it via their site for free. It was an .exe and picked up it’s own fantastic reviews for being awesome, passed on by word of mouth and eventually the bigger game news sites. There was no bar to fill up via likes but there was an entry fee: hosting his Blendo site. I’m just guessing based on my own hosting, but it’s probably around $100. Per year. Fast forward a bit and we see other crtically acclaimed success in the 3rd Humble Indie Bundle and eventually 30 Flights of Loving, the soul sequel to Gravity Bone (and, I should say, also fantastic) on Steam for $5. Outside the garden entirely was where Brendon Chung (the one-man studio) proved himself / his ability to make good games and demonstrate that they were worth paying money for.

Youtube is a wonderful thing, as is Vimeo and Society6 and Etsy and Ebay. These are places where you can do things for free because some way or other, they’re making money out of your dealings. That’s fine, we agree, because we get something out of that exchange as well. It’s symbiotic, but it’s not a direct comparison for the ecosystem of paid games. Even 99¢ apps create a sort of hesitation and weight that simply clicking on a Youtube link doesn’t have. Again we see the cream doesn’t float to the top; Errant Signal itself (who, despite this rebuttal, I do love and would describe as quality content) has just over half million combined views and yet the most inane, brain numbing crap on the frontpage gets millions per video. In a just ecosystem this wouldn’t be the case and I genuinely wish channels like Errant Signal got the respect deserved. But, that’s a side note as example of how Youtube shouldn’t be the gold standard model.

TL;DR Should there be an arbitrary like bar? No. If you pay the entrance fee, you’re in. Should there be an entrance fee? Yes, I think it’s a good way to keep the market honest with ideas truly believed in. If you want to make dumb little games there are more than enough channels already available for distribution.

Love the Beast

It showed up on Canadian Netflix a little while back which means, I can only assume, it’s available everywhere. Definitely this post put much more eloquently than I ever could have. It’s a topic that’s coming up more and more lately in not only my interactions with cars but also my observations of people’s interactions with their objects and even the introspective reasoning of who I am and why I design.

One of my favorite bits:

Just briefly:

It’s interesting to me, now that I’m writing for LTKMN and working in fiction more, how much of my writing tends towards objects and spacial relationships. Coinciding with my love for architecture, even when given unlimited range to create things I create spaces, not people. I’d never really thought about it in such a direct way before, but I truly am bored with mere people. It’s a terrible thing to admit aloud but it’s true – I simply don’t find any interest in the people themselves outside of their relationships both with other humans and with other things. I look back to all of my favorite movies and books and stories and music and they’re all about a shift in paradigm that breaks and reforms those relationships. Those are interesting, those are the ones worth watching for me. Because the characters themselves are just tropes, just patterns based on the equally boring and predictable humans in real life. It’s how they collide and spin that’s fascinating.

And so, I write about spaces. I write about alternate histories and futures yet to come. It occurs to me that the few storylines I’ve written about people (or anthropomorphic robots) are all about the splitting and rebinding of relationships towards external things. Internal events, sure, that some might call character change, but that are inherently externally forced.

There’s that Debussy quote “Music is in the space between the notes” and it’s apparent: humans, like notes, simply smushed together is just a cacophony. Architecture, and that of a car’s space, is the physical separation required to generate story. My writing, then, is more a reflection on silence than anything, following the metaphor. Obsessed in the other direction.

Soulcraft

You could watch the above with a rational heart and announce “what a load of crap”; I couldn’t argue with you in any logical sense. Still, I’m willing to admit I have cried watching Speed Racer in the past. There’s a scene in the end – and unfortunately not on Youtube – where the car dies and he needs to restart it, ignoring the Grand Prix around him and just listening. Feeling. There is something to these vehicles that transcends the mere logic of metal bits moving about and propelling us forward.

I never understood, having a younger sister, why girls liked horses so much. They are, to my mind, ugly plodding things that emit noxious fumes and are generally impossible to control. They are uncomfortable to be on or around and grossly underpowered compared to the vehicles in the stable’s parking lot. But there is something – and I haven’t experienced it myself – that I assume happens: you become one with the horse and it stops being two free-willed animals attached to each other and starts being one machine, one connection of control. I look at my car, at my seat that fits my back and the steering wheels that bears my thumb prints and I can’t help but think that sometimes it is an animal of it’s own. Somehow, these parts come together and create something better than a mere metal sculpture.

My car (above, photo taken by my father before I was born) is not impressive to most, boasting a whole 70 horse’s power when new (and surely many have run away in the meantime) coming from the ’88 E16s 1.6L engine. It was my parent’s car when they were first married and will be an antique next year. It was a car that I rode in the back seat of as a small child and the one I learned to drive standard in, eventually just buying it outright. I love her.

I’ve mentioned numerous times in the past my love for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and I just started Shop Class as Soulcraft yesterday – two books that compliment each other really well both in terms of message and application. I don’t yet own a motorcycle, although the lessons transfer to not only other vehicles but life itself. That’s why they’re in the philosophy section of the bookstore, I suppose. The medium of machinery is a very good metaphor for the machines that are us, the being of human. I appreciate that in both cases the underlying text is that we as people have sort of detached, like a rider and horse, into separate beasts. Mind and body and white collar and blue collar and emotional states and our very perceptions of things are all in these broad divides. I think the case they’re trying to make is that we need to mount the horse or get in the driver’s seat and become one with ourselves again. That we almost look at the things around us with that same cold calculation that we look at cars as just hunks of metal when really, they are a thing to experience and identify with.

The scene at the end of Speed Racer is the perfect metaphor for our internal, personal divide. The protagonist asks of the car, “What do you need?” and although getting no explicit response, proceeds to listen and to know. To be intuitive about the smallest things. I think we ask ourselves this every day and find ourselves frustrated when we aren’t in tune enough to find the answers. We don’t trust the gut enough to act on those little, unspoken ideas and feelings that pour forth.

Is it silly that I treat my search for a new car much like I’d treat the search for a new stallion or a good German Shepard? Maybe. Is it silly that my eyes get a little watery over the course of a kid’s movie? Yeah. Will I sob violently when I have to say goodbye to my darling Pulsar? Definitely.

But I do think, and I say this as an extremely logical, meticulously practical person, that we need to simply feel and listen more and act on those gut instincts. That we can look at ourselves and know things are wrong much like a mechanic on a motorcycle can feel when the gas mixture is too lean or when a spark plug has build up. The sounds and smells and vibrations are all there, but we have to not only learn to identify with them but to act accordingly and fearlessly.

Rapid Fire Review Haikus

I’m not actually out of hiatus just yet and I realize that my posting things when I shouldn’t is really confusing and annoying and I do apologize but! I will forget these things if I don’t get them down. So. Just ignore me and come back in fall and read them as if they’re coming out every day. It doesn’t matter.

Some things that I’ve been enjoying (or not) lately and want to do full, in-depth reviews of eventually. In the meantime:

Driver: San Francisco

Despite rough polish
Hilarious game play here
What a jolly romp

The Dark Knight Rises

Not terrible but
Really over-engineered
“A solid meh“ – me

Spider-Man Reboot

Exactly needed
Best Stan Lee cameo yet
Well executed

RAT 5 Mouse

HOLY CRAP YOU NEED ONE
HOW DID I LIVE WITHOUT THIS?
WORTH EV’RY PENNY

OS X Mountain Lion

Twenty bucks later
Mere few reboots, all programs
Work better like magic

Prometheus

A good successor
Bald giants v. weird squid things
Awesome in IMAX


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