Hidden Folks is Delightful

Hidden Folks is a fairly new arrival on iOS and it’s wonderful. There’s nothing really complicated here, it’s a simple ‘find stuff’ game, but the whole thing is so delightfully whimsical. From the beautiful and intricate hand drawn graphics, which are full of cute twists and surprises, to the fun little clues, and the awesome and unique sound design.

It’s not a game that does anything particularly new or complex, but it is just a delight to play that will put a smile on your face.

You should go buy it.

Zelda’s Hard Compare

Breath of the Wild, the latest Zelda game launches with the Nintendo Switch in early March. It takes the franchise in a new direction, grafting it into the open worlds that have been prevelant through series like Far Cry or Assassins Creed.

There have been a mass of previews for this game, including huge block of unedited gameplay, and I have been rather unimpressed. The world looks flat and uninspiring, and worse, the game is empty. There are vast open environments, with nothing in them.

Usually open worlds are jam packed with stuff to keep the game interesting and give you stuff to do. I know it’s only previews, but at this stage Zelda looks boring.

Especially when it comes out only two2 days after Horizon:Zero Dawn. I mean look at this thing! It’s incredible.

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We haven’t seen as much of Horizon as we have of Zelda, but what we have seen is a world packed with stuff to do, and with visuals that are vastly better than Zelda.

Now I am sure Zelda will sell well on nostalgia alone, but any rational person, looking at these two games, would be insane to pick Zelda based on what we know so far.

Pillars of Eternity 2

Pillars of Eternity was an awesome game. A call back to the old days of deep, intricate RPGS that would eat up your time. The game, and its expansion was awesome fun with a great story and an interesting world.

Obsidian have announced a funding campaign for a sequel and I am super excited.

It’s already sailed past its funding goal, so there is no real need to get on board if you aren’t excited, but keep an eye on it, and definitley give the original a go if you haven’t played it yet.

https://www.fig.co/campaigns/deadfire

 

Week Two

I feel like this was a bit of a transition week, as I worked my way out of the prep of week one and through to a point where I am just starting to have time to sit down and get serious work done. Unfortunately, that has let my task list get just a little out of hand.

The main activity this week was the construction of a new office with more space for the dogs to snooze, more light and air, and a giant aviary. The aviary is still under construction, but I have the rest sorted, and it’s awesome. A huge improvement over my previous office which was crammed into the corner of the bedroom.

Not a lot else to talk about, but we finished the week in the best possible way, with a puppy play date stocked with lappies. Enjoy the pics.

 

AirPods – A Quick Review

I have had the AirPods for a few weeks, and I love them. AirPods are simply the best product that Apple has released in years.

Using them has that wonderful magic that was the hallmark of Apple in the iPod and early iPhone era. They are beautiful, tiny and, super comfortable. EarPods always fitted my ears fairly well, but the lightness of the AirPods, and the lack of a cord, mean the AirPods fit and feel better. You can genuinely forget you have them in your ears. I’ve tried to get them to fall out, jumping around, running, and playing with the dogs, without success. Once in my ears, they are staying there until  you pull them out.

Pairing is perfect, you just flick open the case and your phone instantly recognises them, and the pairing syncs across all of your devices in minutes. Once they are paired, popping them in your ears is all you need to do to connect them. It’s awesome. The range is also ridiculous, and far beyond anything I have been able to manage with previous Bluetooth headphones I have used. The connection is fairly solid. I have had a few random disconnections that required a restart of the iPhone to rectify though, so you occasionally get reminded that this is still Bluetooth.

Sound quality is good enough, and quite a bit better than the EarPods, with better bass and clearer mids. They aren’t for dedicated music listening, but while commuting, exercising, or for background music while you work, they are fine. The microphones are great, even when using a single AirPod to make calls.

Having Siri in your ear is transformational. I started using Siri a lot more when I started wearing the Apple Watch every day, and the AirPods make it even easier to interact with Siri. There are some downsides. Activating Siri with a double tap is clunky and I would prefer it if the AirPods supported ‘Hey Siri’. Siri also isn’t the best as at voice only interaction. Some queries would benefit greatly from Siri reading the response rather than referring you to the screen that is in your pocket, or another room.

AirPods are great, if you want portable earphones and are in the Apple ecosystem, you shouldn’t consider anything else. 

Week One

I sort of stumbled into 2017.

I arrived with a messy task list, some broken workflows and a desperate need to replace Evernote with something.

Happily I managed to get on top of all three issues.

For my task list, I consolidated back to using OmniFocus exclusively. I had been farming a subset of tasks out to Due and Reminders, but found that the disjointed scattered approach really didn’t work for me. OmniFocus is a phenomenal app that sits in a customisable GTD sweet spot that really works for me. It’s been made even better lately with URL scheme support on the iPhone. You can now use Drafts to quickly write up a task using Task Paper format and OmniFocus will import it perfectly and apply due dates etc. automatically.

My main issue with workflow was for photos, but I seem to have that well sorted now by just moving the whole thing to Lightroom on the iPad, relying on Apple for backup and using SmugMug exclusively for publishing.I really love editing photos on the iPad. The screen is incredible and it just feels great to be able to touch and draw on your photos with the pencil. It’s feels right to just kick back on the couch and work through your photos.

My other workflow issue was for this blog, solved simply by grabbing the new version of Desk. It’s great, a few minor reliability issues aside.

I loved Evernote as a ‘organise everything’ solution. Having everything in a single place, with great search, was just so damn useful that I overlooked the falling reliability, questionable design decisions, price hikes, and privacy concerns. However, the recent (now retracted) change to allow employees to read my notes was the last straw. I decided to bail on Evernote.

The problem I had was finding a replacement that did everything that I wanted it to. I eventually stumbled across DEVONthink. So far it seems perfect. Importing all my Evernote notes was smooth and fast and organisation is easy. The iPhone and iPad apps are great and capture works really well on all devices. Best of all you can automatically store an encrypted backup on DropBox. I’m still testing, but this really seems to be the solution I was looking for.

In other news, we had two visitors this week, Loki the Finnish Lapphund, who we are baby sitting while his humans are having a holiday. He’s a bit silly and has taken a few days to get into the routine, but has settled into he pack nicely. Pix absolutely loves him and they have spent long days playing with each other.

We also have a rescue Cockatiel that we are fostering. We have christened him BirdieBird for the time being and he is a wonderfully chatty and friendly fella, who seems to be happy enough. Hopefully his family gets in touch soon so we can get him back to them.

The Echo and Google Home are a Dead End

There has been a lot of hype around ‘home hub’ devices such at the Amazon Echo and the Google Home in 2016. At first glance these devices make perfect sense, a simple speaker that allows you to access intelligent assistants from wherever you happen to be around your home. Just speak a command and stuff happens. However, they are a technology dead end. They only make sense now, in the brief period before wearable computing takes over the world.

Even now, as soon as you have an Apple Watch or the AirPods, and get used to having Siri right there on your wrist, or in your ear, the little box stuck in a room in your home becomes irrelevant. The people clamouring for Apple to enter this market are wrong, Apple is already past the ‘box at home’ phase and onto stage two. The AirPods are a future that makes far more sense that a limited box in the home. Having worn the AirPods for a few weeks now, I can see a very near future, where everyone just has a set of AirPod like devices in their ears permanently, giving them instant access to whichever AI assistant they are used to using.

These hubs are a stepping stone on this road, but they have already been superseded.

Rogue One

There is something wonderful about knowing that we will be getting a new Star Wars movie every year. It takes a lot of the pressure of each individual movie, and also allows space for movies that are a bit different from the typical Star Wars saga movies. Rouge One went this route. It’s unequivocally a Star Wars movie, but the tone and story are a departure from the main saga movies. I really liked Rouge One, for its great story, the way it beautifully ties into the original movies and fleshes out some of their interactions, and for the incredible fan service that the movie was packed with.

I really want to avoid any spoilers at the moment, so this will be just a quick overview. I’ll go way more in-depth once the Blu-ray is out and everyone has had a chance to watch.

This was a movie firmly rooted in the Star Wars universe. Everything looks and feels gritty and real in a way that the original trilogy and the Force Awakens achieved (and the prequels really didn’t). The movie is also chock full of fan service, cameos and references to really drill home the fact. It was delightful picking out . The movie is also full of beautiful shots. From X-wings blasting through stormy canyons to the huge space and land battle that ends the movie, everything is gorgeous.

Story wise, Rogue One tells an important story that sets up for A New Hope and fleshes out some of the story in the original trilogy. Darth Vader in particular is a much more menacing figure aft the subtler references, especially the references to Rebels.

The story struggles a bit with the work it has to do in such a short time. There are a lot of characters in Rouge One, very few of which we have met before. That means there are a lot of rapid fire introductions while also establishing the story. It works, but it is hard work to follow and at times the first third of the movie feels likes its jumping around far too much. Happily, once we have the team together and introduced, the moves settles down and climaxes with a final third that goes down as one of the best Star Wars sequences to date. It’s awesome, awe inshrining, and makes a really complex set of events, with multiple groups doing different things its different places easy to follow and cohesive. You also get treated to Darth Vader reaching his potential.

If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do. It’s a great movie in its own right, and if you are a Star Wars fan this is a worth addition to the universe and one you shouldn’t miss.

The Best Games of 2016

It seems appropriate to start 2017 having a look back at some of the best games I played in 2016. It was a great year for gaming, even though I didn’t get to everything I wanted to play. Anyway, here’s a quick list of what I had the most fun with in 2016.

Civ 6

I have always loved the civilisation games and Civ 6 polishes up the series and adds a great new mechanic with city districts. The games I have played so far have all been interesting and varied, with different win conditions coming into play, and I still want to go back and try out more of the different Civs and different strategies.

Hearthstone

While not new in 2016, Hearthstone continues to improve, with more cards, fun new story adventures, and tavern brawls to keep the game interesting. It’s just a fun and engaging game to play on the iPad when you have a few moments to spare.

Uncharted 4

The ending to the Uncharted series was suitably brilliant. A big engaging romp that really realise the series vision for a ‘playable movie’. It also had a great story payoff for long time series fans.

EVE: Valkyrie

PSVR was an awesome release in 2016, making VR simple, cheap and accessible, without sacrificing on the experience. While there were quite a few great games to play on PSVR, EVE is the one that really lives up to the promise of VR. You actually feel like you are dogfighting in space and I find myself regularly going back to it for one more game.

No Man’s Sky

I had a huge amount of fun exploring the universe of NMS with the original game. Sure it was thin on gameplay, but that was easily countered by the ability to just wander around a giant, incredible universe. The patch late this year only made the game better. Planets look nicer and there is now more to do. It’s my go-to game when I just want to kick back and relax.

 

A few other honourable motions:

Destiny continued to remain fun, although the Iron Lords expansion was a little thin on content.

Stardew Valley is great. It’s Harvest Moon for 2016.

The Witness was both gorgeous and engaging, with its simple looking, yet surprisingly complicated puzzle system.

I’m looking forward to quite a few games in 2017, as well as hopefully finding time to go back and play some of the games I missed in 2016. I’m hopeful 2017 will be another bumper year for gaming.

13 Dec 2016 – Decisions (1)

I noted yesterday, almost offhand, that I was using Unity as my development engine. Obviously, that is a rather big decision, so I ‘ll step through some of my thinking.

While there are myriad game development engines out there at the moment, the main two  contenders are Unreal Engine and Unity, so they are the two that I spent some time testing.

I briefly looked into Stingray and Lumberyard, but both appear to have a rather limited community and less general support than Unity or Unreal.

The decisions in the end was really rather simple and boiled down to three things.

Performance

I love the Mac, most of my workflows rely on it, and (at least for the moment) I’m not willing to switch to Windows, even for more power. In my testing, Unity’s editor runs far better on the Mac than the Unreal’s does.

Community

The Unity community is just larger and more vibrant than the Unreal community. I spent some time on there forums and reddit communities for both engines, and Unity has more activity and questions tend to get answer faster. That means it’s easier to get help and there are more guides and tutorials about.

The Unity Asset Store also has heaps more stuff the Unreal. The makes it up asset to find examples of things you want to make, or just outright use something that saves you doing it yourself. I also looked into specific assets that would help with what I had in mind, and Unity has a better selection.

Ease of Use

Obviously this one is subjective, but, Unity is just easier to use. I completed a small project in both engines and Unity just make more sense to me. It also uses C# instead of C++, a language that I’m more comfortable with and I find easier to write.

Unreal does have some high points. The blueprints are nice and a good shortcut. It also does look a bit better out of the box. From what I can find, Unity can look pretty much as good, it just takes a bit more work.

I don’t think it’s incredibly important which engine you use, the important step is to pick one, learn it, and stick with it till the job is done. SO now I have one, it’s onto the getting the job done part.

I’m experimenting with asset pipelines are the moment as my next part of the tool chain to nail down.