Monday
Sep162013

Family Sharing and Humble Bundle 9

Picking up where Microsoft left off after recent revisions to the Xbox One digital policy, Steam is set to introduce a friends and family sharing program that will allow selected devices to digitally borrow games from another person’s Steam library.

Valve is planning for a beta test to run later this month, current steam users can opt-in to the beta by joining this group on the Steam community. Up to 10 devices will be allowed to share from a single Steam library, and to make sure the original owner is never inconvenienced, they will always have priority over others when it comes to playing games on their library. In the case of an owner deciding to play their library while another user is borrowing a game, the borrowing user will asked to exit the game and given a grace period to save or otherwise maintain current game progress.

 

Borrowing users will even have access to game specific DLC, assuming it has been purchased by the original owner. Shared users will also be able to earn their own in-game items like hats in Team Fortress 2 as well as Steam trading cards that will show up under their own account and not the original owner’s. This means that shared users can potentially make money playing games they don’t own by selling in-game items and trading cards through the steam community.

 

 

In other Steam related news, the Humble Indie Bundle 9 was recently released. This package includes Trine 2, Mark of the Ninja, Brutal Legend, beta access to Eets Munchies and the soundtracks for each game. People who pay over the average of $4.60 at the time of writing will also get FEZ and FTL: Faster Than Light as well as an games that may be added to the bundle in the future.

 

My thoughts: I can’t overstate what a great deal this bundle is. For less than five dollars you get four of my top 20 games of the last two years, and I paid more than five dollars each when I bought them individually. FTL and Mark of the Ninja would already be a steal and the other games are a delicious gravy on top of an already hearty meal. And if you spend more than a dollar, and really who wouldn’t, provides Steam keys for every game, it really couldn’t be easier.

 

There is just over a week left on Humble Indie Bundle 9 and the next big sale won’t until the Steam Fall Sale after Thanksgiving, so what are you waiting for? Don’t forget you can even adjust your sale to give the proceeds to the charities, developers or Humble Bundle for putting together such a deal.

 

UPDATE: For people who paid over the average sale price, Humble Bundle has added Limbo, Bastion, A Virus Named Tom, and Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken. While I haven't the last two games, the inclusion of Bastion and Limbo have this Humble Bundle offering what are widely regarded as the top 5 indie games of the last three years. They would be hard pressed to make this deal any sweeter.

Thursday
Sep122013

25 Years of Street Fighter/Salty Bet

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Street Fighter, Capcom recently released a documentary titled I Am Street Fighter. The film features commentary from notable people like former Capcom community manager Seth Killian, multiple Evo champion Justin Wong and Tekken director Katsuhiro Harada and many others.

Regardless of how much you care about the FGC or even fighting games in general, the impact Street Fighter II had on ludology and the development of game design will forever be etched in video game history. You can watch the documentary in its entirety below or on the Street Fighter Youtube channel.

 

This also creates the perfect segue into the latest craze in the fighting game community, Salty's Dream Cast Casino, or just Salty Bet for short.

 

If you been wondering why a relatively unknown game called MUGEN has been hovering among some of the most popular channels on Twitch.tv, it’s because of Salty Bet.

MUGEN is a 2D fighting game that features the ability for users to upload their own characters, including sounds, animations and most importantly AI, into the game engine. This is where Salty Bet comes in. Instead of having actual people face off against each other, Salty Bet pitches the AI of the different characters against each other, often resulting in unpredictable and quite often comedic outcomes.  Viewers are also allowed to bet virtual Salty Bucks on who they think will win and the tally is tracked over time. Their channel is regularly among the top 15 most viewed channels on Twitch, often averaging over 2500 concurrent viewers.

 

Salty Bet is the first time the usually atrociousl Twitch chat has felt appropriate often even adding to the excitement of a close match-up. Get engrossed in the insanity of Servbot vs. Mecha Sagat at www.saltybet.com. And don’t forget, all in on waifu and try to stay out of the salt mines.

 

PS - The music on Salty Bet is an amazing eclectic selection of soundtracks, pop hits and everything in between. Watching the chat explode when Guile's theme or Sandstorm comes on is fun in it's own right, but they desperately need to add a tracklist to help us identify those more obscure songs.

Wednesday
Aug212013

From iOS to Android With the HTC One

From iOS to Android with the HTC One

 

Too long. Way too long. That was all I could think as I was heading off to get a new phone. I was long overdue to renew my contract and recently I had grown frustrated seeing all my friends show off their new mobiles with giant screens while I sat squinting at the 3.5 inch screen of my iPhone 4S. But as I walked up to my local phone retailer, I broke out in a cold sweat and I quite couldn’t figure out why. I had done my research, compared and contrasted the current lineup of top phones: the iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One. Even considering news of the Google Moto X didn’t sway my mind,  and I am willing to bet the “new” phone from Apple in September is just an iPhone 5 refresh instead of a new 6. Since the release of the 3G, Apple has been working on a two year cycle, meaning their new device won’t have the larger screen size I’m looking for. At the earliest, the iPhone 6 won’t be out until Q2 2014, and I can wait to cross that bridge when the time comes.  So why did I still feel so hesitant about my new phone?

It all comes down to perceived loss and the heavy psychological conditioning these walled garden marketplaces have on the consumer. I’ve bought a grand total of 4 songs, 2 ebooks and one movie on iTunes, but the idea of not being able to access them is what had me so vexed. The reality is that they’re really not gone at all, but when they are more difficult to access it’s hard to convince yourself of that. Coupled with the sense of home you get after using certain procedures and software so long, it takes a little courage to make the jump regardless of which way you leap.

 

One legitimate concern about marketplace variances is that iOS still takes a priority as far a developer importance goes. It has been documented that iPhone users on average tend to spend a little more money in their app store, and despite Android having a larger marketshare there is often a delay between iOS app debuts and their Android counterparts. From simple authenticators to successful games like Spaceteam, they all suffer from a second tier priority assignment. Even huge titles like the just released Plants vs Zombies 2 from Popcap are released first on iOS with the Android version lagging behind. After a quick pause for personal grief counseling I marched ahead even more determined to find my perfect phone.

After just 15 seconds handling each phone I knew the HTC One was what I wanted. You can do all the research you want about pixel density and contrast levels, but until you see the screen in person you can’t really appreciate the gorgeous 4.7 inch 1080p screen with 468 PPI, higher than the S4’s 441 and the iPhone’s 326. Then there is the feeling of density and solidity combined with the seamless construction and brushed aluminum that really tipped the scale when compared to the plastic-backed almost flimsy construction of the S4. I like to think that in an alternate world where Apple had continued with the more rounded design philosophy of the iPhone 3G and then added the brushed metal of the later models, they would have reached a design very similar to the One. The end result is a phone that feels remarkably solid and is luxurious to both look at and hold.

There are also more features on the One that make me wonder why other manufacturers don’t have them. Things like front facing speakers and true stereo sound provide a richer audio experience, even before considering the Beats audio. Sound is directed at your ears instead of away or to the sides like many other phones. Then there is the trickery with the antenna, thin plastic bands running across the back and sides, delivering what is for all intents and purposes an all-metal phone without the reception issues that plagued the original iPhone 4. Additionally HTC had the insight to buck the mega pixel arms race for better lowlight camera performance while also being the first phone to include 802.11 ac wifi. I’m not saying the phone is perfect, and I’ll get to those points in a bit, but it is clear a lot of effort and time when into making strong choices for the phone, and HTC has really raised the bar for flagship models across the industry.

 

There remain a few downsides to the One such as the slightly worse battery life, a trade-off for the screen size, and a slower recharge time. This is where the strength of Apple’s proprietary connector comes into play. Even though  Mini USB is more widely used, I find it’s easier to scrounge up a spare iPhone connector and the throughput of the included Mini USB cord just can’t match Apple’s connection., when charged from either an outlet or USB. Battery life when watching movies was especially concerning as it can vary wildly depending on the file and player. I tested a 480p episode of BBC’s Sherlock Holmes and was alarmed to find that after the 1 hour 29 minute runtime, I had gone from 93% to 46%, even with volume and brightness set at three quarters. I may be in the minority, but I would gladly trade a few millimeters of thickness for a little more substantial battery life.

 

Another demerit which may be more of an annoyance coming from a previous iPhone owner, is the inability to unlock the phone without stretching for the physical button located on the top edge of the device. With a screen this large it's a little cumbersome, made even more frustrating when after a little digging I discovered that there is a small unused capacitive touch enabled space under the HTC logo. Use of that space is only possible through a kernel update but is really something that should be available to every user without that kind of hassle.

 

This latest version of HTC Sense is relatively unobtrusive, but I wish I had been able to purchase the new HTC One that came loaded with stock Android. I must also say while Blinkfeed might have seemed like a good idea, it doesn’t quite hit the mark and I end up ignoring anything on that page, especially since it doesn’t seem like it can be removed. I am also hoping that updates come more frequently, because while Android 4.2 has already rolled out on certain international versions of the One, US customers are still using 4.1.1.

 

 

I’ve been living with my HTC One for the better part of a month now, and aside from battery life issues it hasn’t gone wrong once. It may be part of the learning curve for a new phone, but I must admit that I’ve had the phone die from lack of charge twice in 2 weeks compared to maybe once in an entire year with the iPhone. In every other facet, the HTC One has completely surpassed the lofty expectations that I had set. As my interaction with the One and Android become more fluent, I am kicking myself for being so reluctant to make the switch. HTC has made one of most compelling smartphone platforms since the original iPhone. Now the envy has switched from me onto my friends as they all seem to simultaneously be reevaluating their horse in the never ending smartphone arms race.

Friday
Aug022013

New Home For Atlus

Late June, Atlus parent company Index corporation filed for civil rehabilitation, a new form of bankruptcy protection in Japan, and has now begun taking bids for control of their most valuable asset, Atlus. Over 20 companies submitted bids with rumors reporting Sega in the lead with a bid of 20 billion yen ($20.1 million), exceeding previous estimates by 5 billion yen.

 

Atlus is known as both a strong game developer with series like Persona and Disgaea, as well as a publisher that often brings lesser known Japanese games to the west though its North American publishing division. Polygon.com reported that current operations continue despite the looming future restructuring and that Atlus published title Dragon’s Crown will be released on time next Tuesday on August 6th and Shin Megami Tensei later this year.

 

Candidates could be chosen as early as next week with a final buyer to be determined by the end of the month. Many hope that the final purchaser will allow Atlus to have the continued freedom to go after and develop smaller properties while still catering to their devoted fanbase.

 

Index is hoping the auction will raise enough money to stave off stock delisting and pay back a large portion of their 25.4 billion yen debt. 

Tuesday
Jul232013

The Ubuntu Edge

 

The latest in crowd sourcing news come from Ubuntu developers Canonical with what may be the most ambitious goal to date. Off the success of the Ubuntu for phones, Canonical is seeking $32 million in crowd sourced funds to develop a new smartphone call the Ubuntu Edge with the ability to dual boot Ubuntu and Android with enough power to possibly replace many PCs.

 

In just over a day they have already funded 5000 phone pre-sales to the tune of $3 million raised on Indiegogo with 30 days left to go. Canonical cites the issue of not having a test bed for bleeding edge consumer electronics as their reason for turning to crowd sourcing to fund their new phone. With lofty expectations and an impressive feature list including things like a sapphire crystal display, 128 GB storage and 4 GB of RAM, you have to wonder if $32 million will even be enough? This is before you even get to logistical issues of how users will be able to use their phone as a PC and still answer calls at the same time.

 

This isn’t the first time a phone has tried to be a PC replacement. Most recently there has been the Asus Padphone, the Fujitsu Lifebook concept or further back the Motorola Atrix, which allowed users creative ways to dock their phone to a display for a facsimile of a desktop experience. Canonical hasn’t even mentioned the production of a dock with seems like a necessity for use as a traditional PC. Connecting a display, mouse and keyboard and any other externals every time you sit down at your desk seems like more trouble than it’s worth, no matter how powerful the hardware is.

 

There is no doubt the Edge’s spec sheet hits the sweet spot high end smart phone performance, but for a company’s first step into hardware production, getting this device out in time will be a Herculean task, not to mention the reaming $28 or so million dollars they still need to raise.

 

An $830 donation can be your voucher to get an Edge when it releases, and you can find out more on their Indiegogo page here.

 

EDIT: For those of you who missed the Day 1 $675 backer level, Canonical has added more level ranging from $725 to the original $830 level

 

EDIT 2: Mark Shuttleworth, found of Canonical is doing an AMA on reddit answering more questions about the Edge and their future plans