bjoreman.com

September 10, 2017

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I went for a run in the forest.

(Realizing during the run that the area would be called Magpie ridge if translated to English.)

It felt like the beginning of a good autumn already, an intense shower having passed just before I headed out and drifting drops mixed with falling leaves taking turns with sunlight filtered through foilage.

I increased my exercise frequency quite a bit over my summer holiday, and now that I have stepped down again (to every other day), it suddenly felt like ages since I last ran, or even moved. Just another little version of changes giving a fresh perspective. As always, I hope the feeling lasts as long as possible.

I feel in the right mood to begin a new week. A nicely full week at that, I realized as I sat down to go create my weekly text file. The best part of the planning was that I suddenly came up with not one but two possible projects for Wednesday's lounge hackers meetup. Perhaps going regularly is actually making me better at finding projects? It also feels just a little bit funny how I can come up with a side project and decided to save it for the meetup instead of diving in, as if I was time constrained outside of the meetup hours. Funny or not, it is all good.

I ended up recording two podcasts yesterday, one of which I edited today. I still enjoy Hindenburg more and more with each episode I edit, to the point where I look forward to the next reason to use the app just because I enjoy the app itself. Speaking of the lounge hacks, I used the last one to tape together a Node.js script to convert Hindenburg's chapter marker text into CUE files which I can import into Podcast chapters. Nice and simple, and kind of outrageous to spin up a whole Javascript server to run, but it flies and gets the job done.

Perhaps I will port it to some other language at a later meetup?

September 04, 2017

Silence

Breathe.

Watch the view go black, sound fade away.

Take the headphones off.

Pull the view of the other world from my eyes.

Come down, with an ever so slight thud.

Add a little violence

I just finished Polybius, Llamasoft's VR … experience.

Such a pure thing.

There were levels I did not care for, levels which felt like a slog.

Like they ate away my shields with cheap tricks I just failed to grasp.

So what are you waiting for?

By the end, all that fell away. In the end, there were no cheap tricks. Just purity, that flow the game always aimed for.

Did it fix what was wrong with you?

Off hand, I can think of few games where the last levels actually felt the purest, most like what the game wanted to be. Polybius feels like that to me. I worked my way through the levels before and was rewarded with an extended experience of pure flow, everything the game wanted to be in one long, focused experience.

Are we less than?

I wonder how they did it. How do you make a great game which builds nicely, yet save the best for last? So many games start really nicely but seem to overshoot somewhere right before the end, passing the purity mark in an attempt to make the end different, bigger, stranger, in some kind of sudden lack of trust in the enjoyment provided by the levels before.

Not Polybius. I think the last level was the very best. And I think the way there played a very important part, ensuring I got the most out of it.

I want to replay it already.

Re-experience.

(VR matters. I would probably enjoy the game in 2D if I had never played in VR. Now, a 2D, non-surround version feels completely uninteresting.)

Are we less than?

August 27, 2017

Tethered

Screenshot of Tethered

Wanting more can be high praise.

I finished Tethered last night, and I think it is a great example of VR gaming. It controls super well, I had fun and felt immersed the whole way through, and now that I have put it down I wish there was simply more of it. A sandbox mode, randomly generated levels, what have you.

(Or multiplayer, to dream big. Wow, that could really be something.)

So, what kind of game is it?

I think of Tethered as a god game or a realtime strategy game, but I bet there are lots of labels which more narrowly describe this type of game. When I think of ”classic” realtime strategy, I think of a game with somewhat freer controls. In Tethered, you can not really tell your units (called peeps) to go anywhere, you always select one and pick a target. So there is no placing units in formations, putting one on guard at a choke point or anything like that. But you do gather resources, construct buildings, advance tech trees and fight enemies, so I think it fits nicely and easily within the genre.

Tethered is very good at always having something to do. Yes, you lack certain freedoms of classic realtime strategy, but you have so many things to do that those freedoms might well have become overwhelming and confusing. I think the mechanics of Tethered have been very carefully thought through and tested. I think of it as "classic" realtime strategy being scaled down and adjusted to fit great with the controls, then having new things added on top to balance and add spice. It all works very well and is great fun once you get into it.

And there is enough complexity that getting in actually takes a few levels. At first I felt as if I was barely scraping by, losing peeps to despair, missing events and generally having too much on my plate. Then, it suddenly clicked. I finished the third or fourth level with much less trouble and suddenly I had reached a plateau where everything just flowed and was fun. I was wondering if there would be another steep increase in difficultly somewhere along the way, but there was not, and I finished the thirteen levels hungry for more.

I played the whole game with my Playstation VR using the standard controller. In this mode, your view is always attached to a fixed point (you can switch to other fixed points to look around the world from different angles) and you control your cursor by simply looking at things. It works great, but I am excited to try the game using Move controllers. Their controls seem equally well thought out, but mainly they offer free camera movement, and I would really love to see this amazing world from more perspectives.

Just like in Tiny trax, the world is beautiful to look at, like peering down at a model world where miniature creatures live and follow your commands.

The game also supports playing in 2D, but that option holds so little appeal I have never even tried it. Sure, the visuals will be sharper … but why would I want to leave this immersive model landscape for something flatter?

I am curious what someone with more game design theory has to say about the game style and challenge curve, it feels as if there are interesting insights to be had there.

August 16, 2017

Warframed

I watched this Youtube video, and it ate my evening!

I like to think that I enjoy going into new media blind. The less I know, the more open I will be to see what the film or game or book is about in itself, free from the perceptions of others. Makes sense, right?

Still, there are times when a good introduction makes all the difference in the world.

A friend told me of Warframe the other day, a free to play action and loot collection game which sounded very well made and totally outside of my area of interest. I do not want my games built to try and get me to spend money to progress. I am not appealed by games built around grinding and progress with no clear goal. I am all about focused experiences with good stories. Right?

Then my friend sent me this video, presenting itself as a review of the game as it stands in 2017. Warframe has been out for a copule of years and constantly updated, so the point in time is relevant.

I sat down to watch, and I think it is one of the best reviews I have ever seen. The reason is that it took a game and even game type I am reflexively very hesitant about, explained what said game is all about, how you can think about it and made me see that I could probably find a lot of entertainment in it. In short: it was an introduction which might as well have been custom-made for me.

After watching I downloaded the game (watching the progress bar very patiently) and happily sank most of the rest of the evening demolishing hordes of enemies and collecting loot in procedurally generated levels, accompanied by total strangers.

Funny how evenings go sometimes.

August 15, 2017

App size silliness

Yesterday, I wanted to resize an image on my phone. I had just been assigned custom emoji responsibility for a Slack. Such responsibilites one does not delay.

That part of the story had a sad ending in that I found no app up to the task. In the short time spent, the solution was that I posted enough in said Slack that someone else offered to resize the image for me.

However, the quick searching I did do led me to install and breifly play with Photoshop express. It may be called express, but it is in every way a serious app for performing complex editing tasks. I also noticed that it downloaded pretty quickly on my 4G connection, which in turn led me to think about app sizes once again.

A quick digression: for app size here I chose the size listed in IOS' usage section of the preferences, the size you see when you tap on an app and get to see both its "own size" as well as the size of its "documents and data". I was about to use the sizes in the app store, but noticed they differed rather sharply depending on where you looked. Specifically, the sizes given in your list of app updates are much larger than the ones you see if you tap into the details of a given app. The sizes IOS preferences give should be the space actually occupied by each app on disk, and thus a pretty honest size for comparisons.

I made a little list:

Procreate is an embarrassingly (for its price) full-featured drawing app, a tool one can do serious work in. Photoshop express too, when it comes to retouching and the like. Instagram's job is to display a list of images posted by a list of people. How the app for this can eat up more than 75 megabytes of space is beyond me. I suppose they could … include 4K video demonstrating features or something? Fortunately for Instagram, it pales in comparison to the outrageous demands of Facebook's two flagship apps. I installed both of them fresh just to check the sizes. I have had Messenger installed on and off, but I recently deleted it for now because no app I use for sending text and images deserves to eat up this much space, plus the bandwidth it consumes for its weekly updates. I have not used the "main" Facebook in years, partly because it often seemed worse than the web version feature-wise, partly because of its demands, partly because of the stories of it simply being a horrible app citizen, and partly because I have no need to waste more time on Facebook than I already do.

Facebook writes a lot of cool code. I am sure a lot of the code in their apps is really neat, and really useful for someone. But come on, even if all this space is actually for user-facing features (I suspect most of it is a grotesque stack of dependencies by and for developers) there is no way any user is able to make use of all of it. We used to talk about how everyone only used 5% of the features of Microsoft office, but everyone used a different 5% and so it was extremely hard to remove any part of it. But Office is a tool to get serious work done, it is worth serious money and people pay for their 5%. Facebook is a way to communicate with friends and a way to gather obscene amounts of data about this communication. The first part is the one I want, and Tweetbot does that part in less than 1/28th of the space.

I am completely aware of how things may have got here and why. Storage and bandwitdh are always getting cheaper, everyone wants new features, and everyone wants to move forward as fast as possible. Caring less about bandwitdh and space and building things on top of existing things are ways to try and get more things done. Completely fair, just be able to justify the tradeoff to the user. For me, these kind of numbers for apps which, at best, provide pleasant distractions are simply not worth it.

In a way, it is good that Facebook's apps are like this. It keeps them off of my phone, makes it a little easier for me to avoid putting even more resources into their sinkholes. Timesinks which collect my data and show me ads have no right to eat a third of a gigabyte of space on my phone. (And let us not get into how they really, really want to access everything and push notifications to me at every turn.)

Just to wrap up, here is the on-disk size of a full-featured image editor for Macos:

It also made that editing task the story started with fun.