“Game X” Is Only as Fun as…

Keystone gameplay elements, called so because if they’re taken out the game isn’t that much fun anymore. I started thinking about this during a bitter game of Overwatch and I’ve applied it here to bunch of other games:

Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) is only as fun as the loot you find in the first five minutes. If you’re in the top-20 on Miramar without a a scope you’re going to have a difficult time going forward. The same is somewhat true for the Erangel map but there’s much more consistent cover and loot is a little more dense from the start too.

Fortnite is only as fun as the rarity level of the guns you find. Unlike the staggered –textile mixed– loot spawns of PUBG, the potions (armor) and type of weapons you find in the beginning do not so much influence your fun in the long run.

Overwatch is only as fun as your teammates are willing to cooperate. This is independent of game mode, there’s this strange contrast between Quick Play and Competitive game modes. In competitive, people can be resistant to changing characters which put the team at a deficit, even to the point where they’ll spitefully throw the game. In Quick Play, people play the characters they want to play, leading to deficient and unusual compositions of all DPS and tanks or or all DPS and one secondary healer. Usually, the team to take some composition initiative get’s momentum and wins.

DOTA 2, LoL, Heroes of the Storm (MOBA’s) are similarly fun to Overwatch. It’s only as fun as your team mates are willing to cooperate. Unlike Overwatch though, it’s much harder for a single person to carry the team.

Hearthstone is only as fun as the cards you initially get and how well they align with the current meta. However, you will always be outspent by the people who take the game seriously.

World of Warcraft is only as fun as your character’s level and/or your guild’s ability to organize and raid. There are some truly amazing sights through out the game but until you’re of a certain level you’ll never get to see them. The even larger content needs to be done through raids which need a guild to do. Once, I was lucky enough to raid Molten Core with 39 other people and it was very exciting.

Path of Exile is only as fun as the quality of your build. The game has a staggeringly complex skill tree, while most basic builds can work through the first and second difficulty levels the third one will really test it, and it’s usually where I’m forced to scrap my characters. There are plenty of sample builds on the forums but they too often require unique equipment which is extremely expensive and drop very, very, rarely.

Kerbal Space Program is only as fun as the length of your patience and determination to reach other planets or build space stations. With a little experience missions to the Mun and Minmus can become routine. However missions to the Jool and the far outer/inner planets consist of lots of time waiting for comparatively small maneuvers only to get there and find out you don’t have enough fuel to complete the orbital burn or you forgot to deploy the solar panels and you’re out of power. Being honorable, you revert the save to vehicle assembly and redesign your rocket only to go through that whole process again.

Rocket League is only as fun as the mean skill all players compared to your skill individual. If your skill is lower than all other players it can be a bit daunting to have cars of all variety flying around while you drive in circles just trying to get some boost. This does not apply to 4×4 modes, anything can happen there.

Minecraft is only as fun as your desire to explore and create. The caverns are deep and endless, but what is over that hill? The sun is low, the monsters are coming, are there enough torches? To my 1:1 scale model of Helm’s Deep!

Starcraft 2 is only as fun as you know your build order and it’s the right build order to counter your opponent. Contrary to popular belief, unless you’re Master league or higher, the game is not so heavily depended on super-human actions per minute (APM) and micro ability.

X-Com[1] is only as fun as your ability to best position a squad of units against an unknown enemy. Though ultimately, it relies on the secret RNG which determines the actual probability of your shots to hit the target.

Civilization (chose your version I through VI) is only as fun as the AI is able to be even to you point-wise. An experienced player playing on Settler (easiest) difficulty won’t have much fun as they stomp across the globe. On higher difficulties, it feels as though each move is precious and the struggle against your digital strategic equals will not be firmly decided until the last move!

No Man’s Sky is only as fun as you can convince yourself you’re having fun collecting resources in order to build better tools used to collect more resources to collect more tools.

  1. This is only applicable to the current iterations of the game, the original games in the 90’s have some mechanical differences which do not apply.

Alto’s Odyssey Review

I place the first game, Alto’s Adventure, high in the echelons of great iOS games. Alto’s Odyssey builds on the simplicity of Adventure in just the right ways. While I still greatly recommend the first game, after playing all the way through Odyssey I’m starting to think you should skip it entirely.

The core difference between the games is the terrain, there are three new “zones” Dunes, Canyons, and Temples. Each have their own unique set pieces and corresponding tricks you can do in that zone. For some examples: Canyons has cliff faces you can do wall rides on, it’s really satisfying to chain these however if you’re not paying attention you can end up beginning a flip and soon crash. You can only wall ride when in the standing orientation not in the middle of a flip like the wing suit. In the Temple zone there are waterfalls who’s water runoff is similar to the ice flow feature in Adventure. Sometimes, at the end of these flows are pools which act as trampolines if you land in them with enough force. The Dunes are pretty plain but has many air balloons which have lines you can ride between them, being non-fixed points the lines oscillate, making them a little more challenging to land on. The variety of landscapes is simply a joy to endlessly ride through, where going over 20km in Adventure becomes quickly repetitive, 20k in Odyssey is a cool breeze on a hot day.

The next three paragraphs are for if you have played all the way through Adventure. There is a potential spoiler about an unlockable character’s abilities in the second paragraph.

If you have played all the way through Adventure, be prepared to do it all over again with the same characters and similar power-ups. For having completed Adventure you get nothing, I was hoping for maybe some extra currency, maybe half of the power-ups I’ve already grinded for or not having to go through roughly the first 10 levels of essentially the same challenges all over again. (Let’s face it, you won’t use anyone but Maya until you unlock the final character or a challenge requires someone else.)

In the theme with swapping old mechanics for new yet similar ones, instead of disturbing elders who then chase you, there are lemurs you startle. (I guess that cements the game’s setting in Madagascar?) The chases are shorter but more dangerous, the lemurs are a bit faster, can run on rope lines, and will jump at you even if you aren’t on the ground. However, the final character is immune to these leaping lemurs! A great addition to the game, Elder chases are the number one reason why my runs would end in Adventure and it’s a relief I don’t have to pull the same acrobatics to avoid late-game lemurs here.

There are no more llamas and I miss them. Birds of Paradise will fly with you for a minute or two and nearby collect coins, but it’s not the same as wrangling a herd after running over a horn in the first game. A radio beacon replaces the llama horn, running over the radio drops some vessels with coins and power-ups in them, if you level the beacon up twice it can be significantly lucrative.

Adventure is still a joy to play to this day, only until the final character was unlocked did Odyssey replace that for me. I expect I’ll be playing it as much in the coming years. The early drafts of this review were rough on Odyssey, perhaps it was that I could not get fully used to the new and sometimes unfair terrains, or maybe the grind of getting all my characters and power-ups back soured me, but once you get through it Odyssey becomes much more rewarding to play than Adventure. (It’s so tempting to end this review with “See you on the slopes!“ but then again I guess I just did, sorry.)

Google Glass Review

I was thrilled when I heard we were getting a pair of Google Glass at work. This was announced a few weeks after the “Explorer Program” went public. Now, for the extreme cost of $1500 US per pair, Google Glass can be yours too. The upfront cost might make you think that you’re getting an amazing piece of hardware that will augment everything about your life. However in practice the effects of wearing Google Glass are not so thrilling.

I used Google Glass extensively for two weeks, running it through just about every use case I could. It has some notable strengths, but for the most part what it was able to do was underwhelming, insufficient, or problematic. Read on to find out more.

Hardware

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The screen, the camera, and the rim. The take photo button is also visible in this picture.
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Features from left to right: the power button, the USB port, an eye sensor, and the screen.

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I used the first revision of the Google Glass “Explorer Edition” that was released to the public. Here are just a few of its annotated specs from the Google product page:

  • Camera: 5mp stills, 720p video.
  • Audio: Bone conductive transducer, the Explorer edition also comes with a small earbud too, I never tried it.
  • Screen: A small prism of glass, it’s close enough to your eye that you cannot see projected pixels.
  • Memory: 1GB if RAM, the most recent edition has 2GB which would have been a welcomed edition for me.
  • Disk space: 12GB.
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth and WiFi

The actual glasses rim immediately separates it from traditional glasses with lenses. The screen is designed to just barely be in the natural range of your eyes so you’re supposed to put them fairly high on the brow of your nose. It’s surprisingly light, even for all the hardware they’re packing on the right side. However these glasses are only portable on your face, they do not fold up like normal glasses. This makes it really awkward when you want to take them off, you can’t just fold them up and rest them on the collar of your shirt. This same rim gets in the way too. Try as I did, I could not put on another pair of glasses along with Google Glass. Google’s solution is their accessory store where you can buy different glasses attachments.

wearing

Audio

The bone conductive audio is a very clever application. It’s loud enough that it sounds like normal audio, it actually took my friends trying the glasses on to convince me that only the wearer can hear the sounds it makes. It also leaves your ears open for everything else that’s happening around you. The explorer edition glasses also come with a single ear bud that plugs into the body’s micro USB port if you want more traditional audio.

Memory & CPU

The amount of memory available was an issue, if you do too many tasks in a row the body of Google Glass gets hot and significantly slows down the processor. Recording video stressed this the most, but using Google Maps in the background also occasionally proved difficult on the hardware. When the hardware is strained, the effect on the user interface is noticeable.

Touchpad

The touchpad is a blank strip on the right side that is the direct physical interface with Google Glass. Three primary gestures are used with the touch pad and have the corresponding actions: tap selects, swipe left/right scrolls, and swipe up/down dismisses or deletes. Glass prompts you for valid actions for each card so I was never confused interacting with it. There were however a few times where I found the touch pad too sensitive, for example a short swipe was too easily recognized as a tap.

Camera

For everything I did with Google Glass, the quality of the camera was sufficient, but not great. The convenience however was out of this world. It was really nice to not get my phone out of my pocket, turn it on, go to the camera app, focus, and take a picture. There are a few quick and simple ways to take picture: Manually: press a small button on the top of the body. Voice: if my hands are preoccupied the voice command “Ok Glass, take a picture” is astonishingly accurate, it takes a few extra milliseconds to actually take the picture though. Thus, vis-a-vis blurry pictures, I had to learn to stare a little longer at what I wanted a picture of. Wink: This is an experimental feature, you feel a bit like spy when it works, I didn’t use this much because it felt so unusual and covertly invasive, but it works surprisingly well.

Here are a few raw images and videos taken with Google Glass:

Images

books
This image is a good example of how what your eyes are looking at, isn’t necessarily what the camera sees.
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Low light is decent, still very blurry. My hand in this picture is gesturing to the wearer about where the picture button is.
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A typical overexposed shot. I cannot determine if it’s the camera, or that New Mexico is too sunny.
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Best shot I took with Google Glass. Taken with the voice command while riding a bike.

Videos

Activities

My primary goal with using Google Glass was figuring out just what this gadget is good for, while they were in my possession I tried as many reasonable activities as I could with them:

Hiking

Taking-pictures-without-rumaging-through-my-pockets shows its strengths again when hiking. However when the whole purpose of the activity is to get out of the city and back into nature, Google Glass becomes minor nuisance. Whenever I’d look up at the trees the time or a stopwatch would show as if constantly reminding me that my time there is brutally finite. I wore Google Glass for about the first fifteen minutes of the hike, they were in the backpack the rest of the day.

Biking

Great, despite the noise from wind, I was surprised to find voice commands still go through perfectly. Combine this with the mostly touchless controls and it’s completely possible to interact with the (albeit limited) digital world while still having two hands firmly on the handlebars.

Reading

This is oddly the best use I found for it, the “Google” command is really nice when reading. Don’t know who Fritz Perls is? What Lamarkism is? Have Glass Google it for you and it will read back the results through the conductive earpiece. I felt like it added this really great distraction free dimension almost complementary experience to reading. You just look up and say “Ok Glass, what is property dualism?” Wait a second for it to recognize the words, and it will read a concise answer back to you.

Driving

Driving with Glass beats a GPS on a dashboard any day. With just a tap on the side of the device my location and route show up, when there is an instruction coming up, Glass will read off the instructions just like Google Maps for Android or iOS does. Periodically displaying and reading off these instructions however were definitely a kidney shot to battery life though, I didn’t use this for any long trips, I have my doubts whether if it could handle a six hour drive anywhere on one charge.

Cooking

I’ll admit I don’t do much cooking, there are apparently some great Glass apps for this specifically. I took some videos of making breakfast one day, if I edit the clips together the output is somewhat aesthetic. If I made more fancy food than bull’s eyes this would be some great media addition to a food or chef’s blog.

Hanging Out in a Public Place with Friends

The moment I put these on in a public place I became a magnet for a few judgmental glances from strangers. I was never approached asking to take them off because I could only bear wearing them in the presence of friends and strangers for only about three minutes. As stylish and technological as these are, they do not have a stealth mode. My friends had a blast passing them around and trying them on for a few moments though before I put them away for good.

Apps

There are a multitude of apps that are readily available in a separate app store curated by Google. You can install new apps from the MyGlass companion app for Android and recently for iOS. All apps feel the somewhat the same or have the same interfaces based on principles of how the Glass SDK was designed. So no new app is so foreign because every interface is identical. Apps can all be activated with a phrase the developer picks or they can be clicked through the usual way.

Timer

I’ve gotten very used to saying “Ok Google, set a timer for 15 minutes” to my phone (A 2013 Moto X). I can say almost the same thing to Glass but it stops parsing what I say after “set a timer”. So the application opening is hands free, but then I have to set the time manually. The alarm on the timer has an unorthodox behavior too, it has never rung when it hit’s exactly 0 instead it rings when Glass gets activated next. I learned quickly not to rely on it for things that needed precise countdowns, like cooking. However for exercising activities there’s nothing wrong with going a few seconds, or minutes, over your set.

Stopwatch

Unlike the timer, upon finishing the phrase “start a stopwatch” there is a 3 second countdown and a stopwatch begins. Stopping it takes some touchpad actions.

YouTube

As nice as it would be to just watch cat videos in the corner of my eye whenever I want, the YouTube app is just for posting videos, not for watching them.

Google Now

Google Now provides some helpful cards, I used Glass while the 2014 World Cup was going on in Brazil so it was always nice to look up and see upcoming games or current scores. Other Google Now cards carried over from my phone too like the weather and movies playing nearby. It’s worthwhile to note that these were among the few persistent cards that were left of the clock on the main menu.

Evernote

I used Evernote on a few occasions. I found it nice to dictate thoughts but the margin where it would detect the note ending was too small. So unless my thought stream was really flowing, I just ended up with a lot of fragments that I had to concatenate later. The accuracy wasn’t always good either, here’s a full note where I was testing how long it would listen.

Google glasses text to speech input only last so long and it’s kind of frustrating when thoughts do not cum so unrestricted as when they do when your typing on a keyboard but its just keep talking and talking and talking the notes do continue to be taken it looks like I’ve talked about 40 seconds here and there still taking so how much longer can I talk until I reached a limit I’m really not sure and I’m not exactly motivated to find out you there but this is a lot longer than the first to know that I took is really unusual how thoughts they are kind of broken up with whom are deeper where is keyboard does pasar exactly recognized.

No punctuation and enough mistakes that it gets a little incoherent at the end. The other glaring issue with this was that all the notes are saved with the same title: “Note from Glass.” I only had about half a dozen of them but could see getting overwhelmed with if I used this feature more often. You can also send pictures to Evernote very easily, but with no text content and the same note title.

Hangouts and Messaging

The actual messaging works well, but the user interface is awkward. After the “Send a message” voice command or action, I have to manually select the contact from a list. I have about 100 contacts in my Google address book and Glass does not handle lists of that size very well. Each contact in the list is in a card layout as opposed to a vertical layout. The full computational process goes something like this: load 100 contacts, draw 100 cards horizontally, then load pictures for each one. Finally, when selecting the contact, it’s not immediately apparent which channel you’re sending the message through, that is Hangouts or the SMS app on your phone. There is a small icon on the bottom right of each card contact that represents this, but I would frequently overlook it.

There is no message send confirmation like there is if you’ve ever sent text messages with Google Now’s voice commands on an Android phone. This was a critical problem on two occasions, once where I almost sent an unflattering picture to an old contact, and again where I sent a nonsensical text message to a friend. After these two occasions I was much more careful when sending messages, and opted for using my phone more often than not.

Conclusion

Google Glass looks like a cool product, their website images and the device’s design reeks of it. But in experience, Google Glass is not that great. Having returned the glasses to work, I miss no parts of the experience they provided. Its efforts to augment the human condition is neither successful nor what I had in mind when I first heard of Google Glass several years ago. The price is also something that makes this a fringe product, given the device’s components I could see them lowering the price to $199-$299, but for some reason right now it remains at $1500. If you have the opportunity to try on a pair of Google Glass, without buying them, I recommend it. Otherwise they just don’t offer enough for the average consumer.