New stuff

So here I am again to talk about a lot of random topics that I’ve completely kept to myself for the last couple of months. Busy months, but not in the same way that most of the rest of my year was busy. Yes, I have still been working more than the average person in the US, but it hasn’t been nearly as crazy. Work changed to being much more focused on designing the “next thing” than actually getting something out of the door (the Kindle Touch). But I won’t talk too much more about it, just that I didn’t really have anything to do with the “famous” Kindle Fire, even though I did buy one and have one at work for development. I’ll talk about it later.

More things that happened: my first niece, Sophia, was born and I went to Sydney, Australia to visit her (and my sister and brother-in-law, just because I might as well say hello to them if I’m there). It’s strange to hear my parents calling themselves grandfather and grandmother, but besides that it was great. Australia is a country worth visiting! After spending a week in Sydney, we went to Tasmania for 3 days and then Melbourne for another 3 days. All amazing places! I’ll post links to the pictures when I finally finish selecting a reasonable number of them.

After I came back, weather started turning colder and leaves started making a mess on the ground everywhere. But that didn’t really make me stay home more often, as we are starting to plan home remodel phase II, and there are always many things to do during the weekend, just really prepare to do it through buying more toys:

iPad – Well, technically I bought this just before our trip to Australia so that I would be able to travel without taking my laptop and it worked alright. It’s just that some hotel WiFi authentication systems don’t work very well with the iPad (or iPhone). Nothing really interesting to mention here. It’s an iPad and it’s a very solid piece of technology. There are lots of applications for it, even if it’s less than for the iPhone (and it’s very annoying to use iPhone-built software on the iPad)

iPhone 4S – I really considered jumping ship to Android when I was switching my phone, but I wasn’t very happy with any of the Android phones out there. Too many mixed reviews with people complaining about battery life, lack of stability, weird update behavior, etc. And I’m so used to all the applications that I had on my iPhone 3GS that I decided to be “safe” and continue on the platform at least for another 2-year cycle. Anyway, it’s not a huge change from my 3GS. Siri is pretty good, which makes me use it quite often, but I’m not as bullish about it as many tech analysts out there, but I can see how it is the closest that I’ve seen to a real usable speech-based UI so far. It’s certainly not something added to the phone just to catch up with Android (which has voice input, but not really a system that can answer natural language voice questions, like “is it going to snow today?”). It’s always great to see technology moving forward!

Skyrim – Probably the most expected game of the year, for friends around me. Yes, there were tons of sequels this year, like Portal 2, Uncharted 3 and Gears of War 3, but out of those sequels that I’ve played, Skyrim is hands-down the best of them. Just like any Elder Scrolls game, it’s not a very quick game (I know people that have already clocked something like 80 hours on it, considering that I has only been out for 9 days now), but it has the level of depth, intrigue and oddness that just makes you excited about most of the time that you are playing the game (not the time that you are lost in the dark trying to find your way to your next destination on the other side of the map).

Kindle Fire – as I’ve mentioned, I did buy one. At $200 it was difficult not to allow my curiosity about owning an Android device to win (even if it’s nothing like your typical Android device). What are my impressions, you might ask… Well, it’s not a bad device. There are quite a few things that work well, like the cloud player integration, the Kindle books, and the Amazon Appstore. However, it’s also a little finicky at times. Some applications crash from time to time (although I heard things like that from any Android device), and only having soft buttons (including volume control) is a little weird in some applications. All in all, it’s certainly a good buy, but I’ll be more excited after a couple of updates (and I’m not talking about new functionality that I may or may not know that is coming in future updates, more about bug fixes and clean up of some weird UI oddities).

And that’s it. As you can see, I can keep myself busy for a long time! And this doesn’t even talk about pre-existing projects.

Xbox woes + Child of Eden review

Today I’m a little sick so I haven’t been able to do anything really productive. In addition to being sick, Comcast today decided that my internet was going to be really slow, which also limits the things that I can do at home (which includes working on my robot project, as I decided that I had to update my kernel and I can’t seem to be able to download it – but I’ll get to more of that once I figure out what is going on).

Well, one of the things that I wanted to do was to play Child of Eden. That’s one of the most hyped non-Microsoft Kinect games that is supposed to show the capabilities of the Kinect in game immersion. So, what is my conclusion? It ended up showing more issues with the Kinect than actually providing game immersion. For me to explain the issues, I have to start by explaining how the game works.

It’s actually a pretty simple game. You have three types of “actions”:

  1. Target and shoot: you move you right hand to target and then move it back quickly to shoot. You can target a limited number of things at once.
  2. Fast shot: when you target with your left hand you get a target that keeps shooting intermittently. It’s a weaker shot.
  3. Euphoria: it’s a “bomb everybody” type element that you do by raising both your arms at the same time.

The main thing of the game is the visual and the music. Things react to your actions and you get different synchronized music based on what you do. And some people seem really excited about it. However, I don’t really care about the music or the visuals, I care whether it’s fun to play. And that’s where the Kinect gets in the way.

The Kinect seems to sometimes have a hard time to track my hand movements when it passes my body. So hitting something on the left side with my right arm doesn’t always work. The target becomes unsteady. The same thing about the right side with my left arm.

Also, sometimes it doesn’t understand when I move my right hand back quickly, so I end up having to do it multiple times and that doesn’t work when the game is very time-sensitive.

So the final conclusion was that I had to move to using the controller instead of Kinect to play it. And suddenly the game became much more playable! With one final annoyance: if you die you are put back at the beginning of the level, a game design decision that I thought was gone from games a long time ago. After playing it for maybe one hour, I ejected it, and I’m sending it back to GameFly.

Which reminded me of the second Xbox woes that I wanted to talk about. As I’ve mentioned, internet here at home has been really slow. That’s why I decided to play with my console, as it’s an offline game. Well, try to turn on the Xbox when the internet is slow… You will see an initialization symbol rotating for a lot of time trying to connect you to Xbox Live. And this is before I could do anything about it. And the same happened when Child of Eden tried to recognize me using the facial recognition on the Kinect. A lot of waiting for it to later say it can’t connect to the service.

I can still finish video games!

Lately things have been quite hectic here. I had a surgery to remove a cyst from my back a little less than two weeks ago and recovery is very annoying. 10 stitches on my upper back that were removed last Friday made me not sleep very well and get home at the end of the day not feeling so great.

Adding to that, there is a lot of planning going on for a house remodel here, starting only with the basement, but pretty much redoing 90% of it, so it’s expensive and requires quite a few decisions.

Finally, I’ve been focusing lately at work to document all the things that I have worked on in the last 6 years. Well, actually only the last 3 years, as pretty much all my work in the first 3 years was reorged into a different team. I’ve decided to change teams, and it’s kind of important that my current team has in writing (and with recorded presentations) as many design decisions as possible. Writing documentation is not bad, but it’s hard. Sometimes it feels harder than writing the actual code.

But, in the middle of all of this, today I finally finished “Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands“. It’s not a very hard game at all, but it’s quite frustrating. The person that decided that 3D platform games are a good idea is certainly misguided. There are way too many times that I want to jump to the right, but end up jumping slightly forward and miss the platform. Sometimes it’s even worse than that: sometimes due to some oddities of the location and the fact that a controller only has a 2D direction control, I can’t seem to be able to even jump in the right direction.

And there were bugs! I’ve found two main ones during my gameplay. One of them was so puzzling that I even had to open a walkthrough to confirm that I wasn’t missing anything. When you enter a room and there are enemies, most of the time the exits from the room get blocked until you kill the enemies. Storyline-wise it’s strange, but that makes for ok gameplay.

Onto the bug: at one point in the game I get into this large room with traps everywhere and all the exits close. However,  no enemies show up. I find it strange, but decide that maybe it’s closed because I have to do something else in the game. Well, I go through all the traps and arrive at the exit of the room, but… it’s closed! I go back, try to hit everything that I think I can hit, die multiple times and nothing. Then I go to the walkthrough and… It doesn’t mention anything odd about the room! So I give up that day and go do something else. A few days later (probably over a week later, actually), I find time to play again and start the game. This time the enemies appear and everything works fine. Go figure!

The other bug was less strange. I was in this room with levers to rotate and I jump over one of them and… I die! But worse than this, I respawn in the same place and now it looks like I’m falling without moving and I die again… This happened until I was done with my lives and respawned in the last save spot. Very strange.

Bugs and 3D platforms apart, the worst thing in the game was actually the ending. If you like to be surprised by game story lines and plan on playing this game, stop reading here. If you don’t care (as most people), then I’ll add a quick spoiler to vent my frustration:

The story of the game is that you are a prince that wants to prove to your father that you can have your own kingdom. So you find a genie and this genie takes you to this lost kingdom that is enchanted by an evil witch that has kidnapped the princess. The whole story is for you to forge a sword that you broke at the beginning of the game and kill the evil witch to get the princess back. So far so good.

Well, now fast-forward to the end of it: you forge the sword, kill the witch, save the princess and… the princess is still taken away and the kingdom is destroyed so you are left back where you started with nothing. Give me a break! 10+ hours of gameplay for nothing? Well, at least it’s a rental.

Remembering Monkey Island

Apparently Monkey Island is really back. I was going around the web and came across this interesting article:

10 Things You Did Not Know About Monkey Island

It’s not fully true that I didn’t know all 10 things, but it’s good anyway! I remember that I spent many hours working through this game. It’s wasn’t a very easy one, with a lot of silly time moving back and forth to talk to people and look for items, like any good adventure game of the old days. Today I don’t think I’ll be as patient.

For instance, I bought the first one of the Tales of Monkey Island for the Wii and, although it was interesting, I just couldn’t deal with being frustrated with clicking everywhere on the screen, so I never quite finished it.

In any way, I liked the flashback so I had to share and hope you’ll like it too!