Tech, Toys, and Tidbits

Games

First – So exciting!  Doublefine (Tim Schafer – the name behind a slew of great games including Monkey Island, Full Throttle, Psychonauts, Brutal Legend) has started a Kickstart fundraiser for a new game.  This is a great idea – bypassing publishers all together and putting the funding for the game in the hands of the audience.  I LOVE this idea – I just wish I had 10k to give in order to qualify for the lunch with Tim!

Next, this list underlines why a game developer would want to go the above route.  There are a number of incredible games on that list, many of which I have purchased from Steam or GOG.  Sadly, and unbeknownst to me at the time, none of the proceeds of my purchase actually help the developer in the slightest.  Many of them are out of business.  This is a huge problem in the gaming industry.  Publishers like EA (who haven’t actually developed a good game since the 90s!) pay a flat rate to the developers for the rights, and then pass nothing further on if the game actually does well.  And the big-name publishers wonder why people no longer buy their formulaic overpriced and overproduced piles of crap.  I basically read heading of that list as “You now have the right to pirate any of the following games.”  Which is not to say that I condone piracy – I do everything I can to support game devs, but that doesn’t include giving any of my limited budget to a greedy publisher just to fill their coffers while the folks that actually DID THE WORK have to find new jobs since their studio was closed down.  Grrrrr!  Ars Technica has a great article on the list that I highly suggest you read.

Pixy and I have been talking about writing a game, and tonight we had our first “meeting” about it.  We now have the broad storyline figured out, as well as a few of the gameplay details.

I’m not going to give too much away, but I will say:

  • it’s going to be a metroidvania platformer
  • we’ll be using the most excellent Unity3d engine
  • it will be available on Mac/Windows/Android and maybe iPhone/Web
  • I’m not sure what spec Android device it will require, and probably won’t know till Unity3d 3.0 comes out, since that’s when Android support is introduced.

As we get a little further along I’ll create another section on the site here that will contain game notes, art work, and maybe even a web-player teaser level.  🙂

After playing with this phone for almost a week now, I can say that I am very impressed. Not since the first time I played with a Palm Pro have I been so enamoured of a handheld computer. This little beauty is amazing! I know it’s not as slick as the Droid, but it fills a sweet spot in the market that I am smack dab in the middle of. It’s a tiny, powerful, android based smartphone with a full slide out querty keyboard – and it’s actually smaller than any other handheld I’ve ever owned. Plus, with a 3 year contract it only cost me $50 Canadian! Bonus!

To be fair, there are a few things I don’t like about it:

  1. The “LG IME” predictive text helper / software keyboard is horrible. Really, really, horrible. Turn it off as soon as you can. For the longest time I thought the space bar was broken because of the way the IME uses the first space to select the word, and the 2nd to actually insert a space. Sad, and on a full keyboard it’s completely pointless. But, it’s easy to turn off, and once it’s off the keyboard behaves the way a keyboard should. 🙂
  2. It’s Android 1.5 instead of 1.6 or 2.0. It’s a small gripe, really, and I assume it’ll be fixed in the near future with an over-the-air software upgrade. Still, it would have been nice if this new device came installed with the current version of Android. Version 1.5 works fine, however, and most of the missing features are fairly minor.
  3. The battery. The battery lasts me all day from 8am to 8pm under fairly heavy use with wifi on. Barely. I’m sure I could save a tonne of power and add a few more hours on to that by turning wifi off, but why use my data-plan when I have wifi at home + work? Still, I’ve yet to actually run out of power, and since it comes with a handy USB cable, I can charge it from my laptop in a pinch.
  4. The home and back buttons are too sensitive. Maybe it’s just my big paws, but I often end up exiting the app I’m using by mistake. It’s happening less now than when I first got the device, but it’s still an issue.

That’s it. Everything else is awesome:

  1. The OS. Android is amazing! The number of apps, utilities, and games is astounding. Plus, as a bonus most of them are free! I’ll cover the highlights a little farther down.
  2. My phone has a command prompt, and I didn’t void my warranty to get it. Hear that apple?
  3. 5mp auto-focus camera with LED flash that can also take fairly high res video. It works well, and takes a waaay better pic than my Blackberry does. It’s not a dedicated digital camera, but it’s as close as I would expect to come in a PDA/Smartphone
  4. Size – this device is as small as I would want it to be. Small enough that it fits in the front pocket of my jeans without problem, but big enough that it doesn’t feel too cramped
  5. The keyboard is backlit! Awesome for working in the dark!
  6. Has a build in GPS/Compass/Accelerometer. This device knows where it is, and which way it’s pointed, which opens the door for some truly astounding apps – e.g. Google Sky.
  7. The touch screen. A LOT of people are complaining that it’s not a capacitive multi-touch. Phoey to them, I say. I think LG made the right call making this a resistive touchscreen. It means you can use a stylus, and sometimes that’s important. This device is small, and my fingers are big. When I’m RDP’d in to a server the start menu button is about the smallest thing I can reliably hit without a stylus of some sort.
  8. Wifi! Free data when I’m at home or at work. Cuts down on the data package requirements by a massive amount!
  9. Media – It plays DivX and MP4 movies. Sweet! I can watch some Connections or Red Dwarf while waiting for the bus.

Mostly what I’m using this device for is as a mobile internet device. I already have a Blackberry tethered to my hip for work, but I needed something that could get me online while I’m on the phone on the BB. E.g. Someone calls me. A server is having issues. I can be on a bus, or at a cafe, or anywhere – whip out the LG, open an RDP session to the server, and fix the problem. For me, the RDP client available for it is the killer app. But, as a bonus I get all kinds of other fun apps. Here’s a brief rundown of my favourite Android apps so far – in no particular order:

  1. wpToGo – I could be writing this blog entry on the Eve. The client is perfect. Small, tight, and does everything required for a quick post or edit.
  2. Touchdown – ActiveSync exchange synching for Android. It’s amazing! Miles beyond what the built in stuff does. Absolutely required if you have an exchange server you’d like to talk to.
  3. Google Maps – Duh. Never get lost again!
  4. Google Sky Map – Truly amazing. Lie on the beach, gaze up at the night sky, wonder what that star is? Hold your Eve up beside the star and there it is on the screen complete with constellations. The device can tell which way it’s pointed and where you are, so it’s totally effortless to find the star you’re looking at. Beautiful!
  5. Remote RDP – Remote Desktop in the palm of your hand. You can connect to your machine at home, or servers at work. Fantastic for more things than I can mention here. If you manage any servers at all this app is a must have.
  6. Samba Explorer – Browse and copy files off network shares on to your SD card.
  7. ShopSavvy – Scans barcodes with the camera and finds deals nearby. A killer app for any shopaholic.

Oh, and did I mention the games? There are a few really well done Tower Defence games, logic puzzles, bejewelled clones, and the like. However the killer for me are the emulators. NES, SNES, Sega, Commodore 64. Even ScummVM has been ported to run all those fantastic old LucasArts games! I have The Curse of Monkey Island in the palm of my hand!

Basically, I can not imagine a better deal. $50 for this phone is a total and complete steal. if you’re in Canada and in the market for a great smartphone on a budget the LG GW620 deserves serious consideration.

The short version:  If you can afford it, go get this wheel right now!

The long version: This wheel is simply amazing.  The whole driving game experience is completely enhanced by it, to the point where my fiance has become totally hooked on Test Drive Unlimited.  (I’m writing this to the sounds of her brand new Ferrari screaming down the highway)

OVERVIEW:

The box contains the wheel, the pedals, the shifter, and the power supply.  The quality is simply amazing, with a very solid feel.  I should also mention the smell.  The wheel and shifter smell like new leather seats.  It’s a little distracting initially; I keep finding myself leaning forward to smell the wheel at the end of each race…

Getting everything hooked up was a snap, and the software installed easily.  I did have a small problem with it detecting the wheel initially, but it was solved simply by unplugging and re-plugging the wheel at the “Detected Game Controllers” screen, at which point the wheel appeared and allowed me to test/configure it.

THE FEEL OF THE WHEEL:

The first thing you’ll notice about the wheel is the leather, followed closely by the brushed steel.  The main unit is heavy, and solidly built.  It clamps securely to your desk, and if it were just a tad bigger it would feel like a real steering wheel.  The dual force feedback motors provide excellent responsiveness, and provide a very strong effect.  This wheel really lets you know when you fall off the road!

The leather feels fantastic on your hands, even after a few solid hours of driving.  The paddle shifters are very solid, are perfectly sensitive, and don’t flex at all. 

The wheel also has 2 thumb buttons on it.  I would have preferred a few more thumb buttons, but that’s a tiny complaint – and also the only one I can think of for the entire rig.

THE METAL OF THE PEDAL:

The pedals are superb.  Logitech really nailed the feel for your feet.  The gas has light resistance, so it’s easy to hold the pedal at any position.  The brakes are heavy, so you really feel like you’re stomping on the brakes.  The clutch is somewhere in the middle, and felt a lot like my old VWs clutch.

The pedal unit has a nifty carpet grabbing bar on the bottom that held the unit very securely to my floor.  There are also LRFs (Little Rubber Feet) attached that, I expect, would do the same on hardwood or tile.

THE THROB OF THE KNOB:

The shifter knob also has a lovely leather treatment.  The six speed H pattern makes it very easy to find the gear you’re looking for, and allows for fun tricks like skipping gears while shifting – something that no sequential setup can really match.  There is a sequential mode to the shifter, but if you’re going sequential you may as well use the paddles. 

There are also 8 other buttons on the shifter unit, plus an 8-way hat switch.  Loads of buttons for controlling whatever game you play – though again, I would have preferred if some of those buttons had been on the wheel itself.  Just a personal preference though.

THE GAMES:

I tested the wheel with three games.  In order of realism, they are:  Need For Speed Undercover, Test Drive Unlimited, and rFactor. 

I found Need For Speed a little too arcade focused for me.  It’s physics model (and plot) are too squarely aimed at console kiddies.  It’s not that the game is boring, or that it’s not fun.  It’s just weak compared to the other games I tested the wheel on.  The feedback effects were decent, but the realism of the wheel was hampered by the weak physics.  As a side note, I’m VERY glad EA is letting go of the NFS franchise.  Hopefully the new owners will drop all the cosmetic customization, leave the free roam, and otherwise return to the roots of the game.

rFactor, on the other hand, I found to be almost too realistic, though it did a great job of highlighting the strengths of the G25.  The force feedback effects were exquisite!  Hook up to a projector and you’d almost believe you were in the car!  I will admin, however, that I spent more time spinning out than I did driving. 

Test Drive Unlimited was just right.  A solid physics model about half way between arcade and simulation, and a HUGE variety of cars.  The wheel totally shines in this game.  You can immediately feel how a car handles.  You can feel if the steering is loose or tight.  You can feel how much traction your tires have, and (critically!) when they’re about to let go of the pavement.  I enjoyed the game so much, that I’m planning on writing a review of it in the near future.

CONCLUSION:

If you have the means, get this wheel.  You will NOT regret it. 

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

I will be a reviewing the Logitech G25 force feedback wheel as soon as I get my grubby mitts on one!  I should be getting one this weekend!  Stay tuned!

Many moons ago there was a racing game.  Not just any racing game, but a game featuring cars from the golden age of automobiles.  The newest car in the game was a 1973 Firebird, and the oldest was a 1932 Ford.

The game had a number of tracks, ranging from cluttered city streets, to small town main streets, to gravel and dirt country roads.  Basically, there was something for everyone. 

It featured a fairly realistic physics model, and was an amazing amount of fun to play.  The best part of the game, however, was tuning your rides.  There were thousands of aftermarket parts, licensed and realistically modeled, that you could install on your car.  Everything from Holly carbs, to glasspack mufflers, to cams, headers, and crankshafts.  These all combined with a physics model of the engine to give you an unprecedented amount of control over every aspect of your ride.

Plus, all the parts were part of a massive dynamic economy that tied everything together with part and car auctions.  The price of that high-end turbocharger you want is based on supply and demand, not some arbitrary dollar figure.

I actually had 3 separate 1965 Mustangs.  Each of them tuned, balanced, and tested (for hours!) to be perfectly controlled on a specific track type.  My offroad ‘stang could barely stay on an asphalt road, but was a joy to drive on the “Hazard Hollow” dirt track.  Conversely, the ‘stang I’d tuned for the road wouldn’t have made it around the first corner of the dirt track.  

Because of the vast number of parts available, I learned more about how engines worked than I ever thought I’d need to know.  It doesn’t take very many mid-race blown engines before you figure out that adding a turbo and nitrous to a 12.0 compression ratio rig is a BAD plan.

Added on to all that was an amazing group of people, racing clubs, and tuners, all happy to give advice, or go for a race at the drop of a hat.

There were problems with the game, such as lag, and a limit of 4 people per race, but those things were minor compared with the hours of joy the game brought me.

Sadly, in it’s infinite greed, Electronic Arts decided that the game wasn’t making enough profit, and cancelled it.  It was making profit, but not as much as the sims, so they shut it down.  Once the servers were gone, so was the game, and the community.   I haven’t paid for an EA game since.  They are the evil empire of gaming.

I recently found a brave group of folks trying to remake the game.  Check it out at
http://www.motorworldonline.net/