Apple Music and Beats: 1

Apple’s streaming music subscription service, Apple Musicwas released last week in addition to the new streaming radio station Beats: 1 and other features.

I’ll admit that although I had tried Pandora and Spotify they’d never really stuck. Why not own my music and listen to the full albums I love instead of playlists? Why listen to ads alongside my favorite music?

The three month trial of Apple Music has made me a quick convert for now, at least. As well as the low price, $15 for six of my family members isn’t that much more than what I was paying for one Spotify subscription. The killer feature is that the music matching (previously available in iTunes Match) will let you bring in any music that isn’t available for streaming. No Beatles to stream? If it was in your iTunes music library before, it’s available through Apple Music. iTunes Match was the thing that finally let me stop syncing my iPhone to my laptop.

There’s something really strange about the new streaming  Beats: 1 radio station that launched alongside Apple Music. It’s good. 

Unlike most other internet radio stations, there are hosts. A revolutionary concept, I know, but it’s how they host that is so different. They don’t sound like pre-programmed chatter bots with dumbass names like Free Beer and Hotwings from radio planet twelve in the marketing galaxy.

The only part of Beats-1 that sounds pre-programmed are the rare advertising reads that are given by what sounds like a BBC presenter who usually says about five words before a track starts. Not between every track, so far it sounds like it’s once or twice an hour you might hear a few words. Way better than any of the terrestrial radio stations you might hear.

One particular program I heard on the launch night was enough to make Beats: 1 post-worthy. St. Vincent had put together a mixtape for an 11-year old named Piper (who won a contest) and what do you know, this is really good. Even St. Vincent’s banter with Piper is good. 

Earlier in the day there was still plenty of fine music to listen to. Some of which was new to me. The day-time (Pacific time) DJ’s has a more traditional radio jockey style, but almost no ads and it didn’t sound like it was ruined by the influence of the record industry. Awesome.

The ads that were there were voiced by a tonally inappropriate genericly British accented person which was a bit hilarious to hear him talking about some hotel chain for a half second with rap going on underneath.

The only downside to Beats: 1 is that the music was edited for radio with no explicit option when the old iTunes radio stations had an explicit language option.

How To Fix Call of Duty

Tyler Wilde:

I’d bring the multiplayer back to the basics. Good ideas introduced in CoD 4—the ideas that had me obsessed with it for months—have been added to and iterated on and it’s out of control. CoD 4’s unlock system was just about leveling. It was easy to set goals (I worked hard for the Barrett .50cal and was ecstatic when I unlocked it), and loadout decisions felt a lot more meaningful—they weren’t overwhelming, at least.

The last few Call of Duty games have been somewhat disappointing. Super convoluted. Nobody liked Ghosts but Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer still isn’t that fun. The DLC system has been insulting to players, paying for loadout slots and personalization packs? Come on. Look at this shit:

Look at all that juice

I can’t even get my browser window tall enough on my laptop to show them all in one screenshot.

Bullship

There’s a new ship (link plays sound) in the sci-fi space simulation video game Star Citizen. It’s a luxury space yacht called Genesis Starliner that you can’t fly because Star Citizen is still an idea with a few alpha prototype demos. This concept-art bullship will cost you 400 real life dollars to virtually acquire. and by necessity the developer now includes this disclaimer:

Remember: we are offering this pledge ship to help fund Star Citizen’s development. All of these ships will be available for in-game credits in the final universe, and they are not required to start the game. Additionally, all decorative ‘flare’ items will also be available to acquire in the finished game world. The goal is to make additional ships available that give players a different experience rather than a particular advantage when the persistent universe launches.

As far as I can tell, the phrasing “available for in-game currency” actually means “temporarily available when you spend in-game spacebux.” So you could get access to a ship for a few days, but there isn’t any permanence to that purchase.

The process of purchasing a ship in Star Citizen at this point and being able to even play in the alpha is byzantine. First you must choose a game package that includes a ship in the style you might like to play as. But you also have to know what style of play you’re going to want and choose a ship that suits that style with real money before you have the chance to try it out. How can anyone make that choice?

It’ll cost you even more if you decide that instead of space-dogfighting you would rather have a ship more suited to long-haul space trucking. If you purchase the $400 Genesis Starliner and decide that luxury yachting isn’t for you, well tough shit because you didn’t even get alpha or beta access with your $400, or access to any other ships, or even the game when it’s finished. Only some game packages  include access to different versions of the game.

If you’re truly feeling generous you could even sign-up for a subscription that gives Roberts Space Industries $10 or $20 a month for no reason beside that you might like a slightly prettier hanger and more temporary access to one ship. Beyond committing to a lifetime of servitude to Chris Roberts via subscription there are also ship packages that cost $15,000 if you would prefer a one-time transaction of your savings unto a game that might be fun some day.

Star Citizen is already at about $84 million in funding just from the sale of ships. I hope the game comes out in some kind of non-alpha or beta form and lives up to the expectations of the people who have funded it, and I might even get it at that point, but right now this whole deal is gross.

Terminator Genisys: A Fart in a Wind Tunnel

Devin Faraci:

The script is the biggest problem with Terminator Genisys – it is stupid and it is riddled with cheap, lazy callbacks to movies that have technically never happened after this reboot – but the casting gives that shit script a run for its money as The Biggest Problem. Jai Courtney is a disaster as Kyle Reese; he’s wrong in every way, having none of the weary soldier qualities that Michael Biehn brought to the role. Courtney is the new Sam Worthington, who was the new Gretchen Mol, who was the new person whose name I forget because these are forgettable actors foisted upon us by the weird Hollywood hive mind. There are make-up techniques designed to baffle facial recognition software and Jai Courtney seems to have been designed with that in mind – he’s an actor who passes through your brain like a fart in a wind tunnel. Just poof, gone.

In a year where we’ve had the excellent Mad Max: Fury Road, this terrible redux of an action/sci-fi film we all love stands out even more than in an off year where your A Good Day to Die Hard or The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) can be properly ignored and forgotten.

Windows Pretendulation Still Sucks

The Final Fantasy XIV MMO now uses Transgaming’s Windows pretendulation software to get the game on Mac OS X and so it isn’t surprising that it is having trouble running well. Mike Fahey has this article about the terrible Mac version of Final Fantasy XIV.

Over a decade ago there was an article on this site encouraging people to boycott Transgaming’s bullshit ports of games. Back then Transgaming got their start by taking open-source windows emulator code, relicensing it when the license was in flux, and promising access to the source code with their changes included only if they were to get some number of subscribers to their subscription service for Linux gamers to pretendulate Windows games. They soon deleted that promise from their website and turned their back on the open-source community.

Their tech didn’t work well then, and it’s no surprise that it still doesn’t work well.

Transgaming seems to be mostly out of the business of ruining Linux games and has moved on to their TV gaming service, but now  Virtual Programming is continuing the Transgaming legacy of non-native games that work poorly

Logitech k400r Wireless Touch Keyboard Review

K700r

Lets get this out of the way up front, wireless keyboards with built-in pointing devices are almost universally awful. I say “almost’ but what I mean is, I’ve never found a combo wireless keyboard/trackpad that is any good but they must exist somewhere, right? Maybe the Logitech k400r will be one of those good few combo devices. There’s no need to read any further. Abandon your hope, this is not that unicorn device.

You might see the k400 and k400r mixed-up online, as far as I can tell the only difference between the two is that the k400r has a different Windows key and you might end up with either when you order one online or buy it in a store.

These combo keyboard and trackpad devices can fail in one way with either the pointing device or keyboard being awful or they can fail in both ways at the same time and have both an awful keyboard and an awful pointing device that combine to become some sort of awfulness Voltron.

How do the keyboard portions fail? Weird layouts that fight your muscle-memory for where to go to type a key combination or even a single key. On this Logitech k400r keyboard the arrow keys are smashed together with the / and right-shift keys so close that you’ll find even the simplest of two-handed typing maneuvers painful. This too-close layout is repeated throughout the keyboard. Of course the keys are also mushy as heck. How far and with how much force do you have to depress any of the keys on the k400r before they will trigger? I can tell you with all certainty that I have no idea and end up just pressing the keys as hard as I possibly can to type out a sentence.

This is bad. Keys should have some responsiveness either through a noise in the mechanism or a mechanical feeling that assures you that a switch has been triggered to let you know when your finger and the key have travelled far enough down to trigger the appropriate reaction from your computer. A slightly larger layout would enable a more natural typing process and fewer missed keystrokes where you hit the wrong key accidentally. Try entering in a slightly complex password with this keyboard, I double-dog-dare you that you’ll get it wrong at least twice.

Next we move on from the awful keyboard to the pointing device. What’s this, it’s a trackpad like on my Macbook Pro. This could be promising!

How do bad trackpads portions of these devices fail? By default this k400r trackpad enables tap-to-click, the bane of many trackpad users. As far as I can tell, the software (only available on Windows) doesn’t offer any option to disable tap-to-click. The only way I’ve found to disable it on any operating system is a secret hardware key combination of striking the blue function key and the left-trackpad pointing-device button at the same time. Of course this is only a temporary solution and it will need to be repeated every time the keyboard is switched off and back on again or when the wireless receiver is paired with a device again.

This is the sentence where I tell you that of course the k400r uses a proprietary Logitech wireless RF receiver that works only with other Logitech devices instead of the bluetooth standard that has proved itself perfectly fine for gaming devices like the Playstation 3 and 4 with great power saving capabilities and excellent responsiveness. The receiver works fine and doesn’t stick very far out of a USB port on your laptop or desktop but it would be so much better if it used bluetooth which is a standard beyond one company.

The trackpad’s gestures are just as terrible as the tap-to-click and scrolling with two-fingers as has become standard to anyone acquainted with the excellent trackpads on Apple equipment will suffer mercilessly as lord Logitech laughs at their pitiful attempts at doing what they want with this monster. Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn’t do at all what you were expecting. Instead of a scroll you get a jumping page that lands somewhere you didn’t expect.

The tracking speed of the trackpad is just as abysmal and undesirably jumpy.

Your mouse cursor is here, now it’s over there, didn’t expect that did you?” The Lord of Logitech chuckles to himself as he observes you trying to urge the cursor along.

The best thing that I can say about the Logitech k400r wireless keyboard/trackpad combo is that is possible to get used to it for minutes at a time before wanting to chuck it out of the nearest window, and you could use it for many minutes because the battery life is excellent. Recently I’ve started trying to use it with my laptop because that’s raised up a bit off my desk and it isn’t very ergonomic to type on a raised laptop and mouse from a seated position.

Instead, I find myself hooking the receiver up to my laptop only to reach over the k400r and type on my laptop’s keyboard and use my laptop’s trackpad when the k400r inevitably starts proving how awful it is to type on and to use as a pointing device.

You might argue that the k400r is supposed to be used with a computer hooked up to the TV, so it must be good at that. You would be wrong. Entering a password, trying to scroll, playing a game, these tasks are essential for using a computer and it just can’t be trusted at those. Yes the wireless range of the device does seem long. I can wander quite far away and it continues to function, but that isn’t enough, these things have to handle the essentials and be good at them for that range to be useful.

The next best thing about the k400r is that Amazon has it for only $20, which is an appropriately low price to pay to demonstrate how the enjoyment of a cheap product will be eroded by the long-term punishment of using such a device.

What do we say to the lord of Logitech when he presents us with the k400r?

Not today.

1 out of 5 Commodore 64 SID chips

Her Story

Her Story's computer interface

The rare games that don’t follow traditional formulas we’ve come to expect are extremely interesting to me. It’s very difficult to make something that still fits into a video game while getting rid of the traditional systems.

Go here

Do this

Shoot them!

Get some points and a sticker!

Wow you did a good job, you’re so good at games!

I still love RPGs and FPS games, but those mechanics just feel insulting after a while. Can’t we do a little bit more than get a prescribed shot of dopamine every five-to-ten minutes?

Sam Barlow of the excellent Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is here to throw most of that out of the window and take us to a more interactive-fiction style of play without so much reading. Though there are subtitles in his adventure called Her Story, so far the game feels more about listening skills than reading.

Her Story is about a fictional missing persons investigation in Britain from 1994. You’re to review the interview clips on a computer interface that to me is reminiscent of Windows 3.1 which is so realistic as to include a fictionally warezed Othello game, scanlines, and glare. The latter two can be toggled off if you get annoyed but I feel so much more in the game’s world when they’re on.

The interview clips are of a suspect, the missing husband’s wife, and the acting is (again, so far as I’ve seen having not yet completed the game) fantastic.

Once you’ve reviewed the first set of interview clips available to you, your only mechanism for getting more is to type in a search query into the database pictured above. It is a tiny amount of dopamine joy when you get some new nugget of information, but each clip gives me so many new keywords to try and there’s no failure or score unless you count the Steam achievements so I can sit there for a while writing down each keyword that I think of while watching the video clips and making up my mind only to find out every few times I get a keyword jackpot that there is some important fact I’ve been overlooked about the situation.

Typically I’d hold off on sharing my impressions of a game until I had completed it and turned my thoughts into a full review. This a rare case where I couldn’t wait to tell you to play Her Story, because you should.

Her Story is on Mac, Windows, iPhone and iPad. It’s a steal at $6 but it’s on sale for a little while longer at $5.

App Camp For Girls 3.0

Jean MacDonald:

App Camp For Girls is on a mission: we encourage girls to pursue app development as a career by teaching them how to make iPhone apps in a fun, creative summer camp program under the mentorship of women developers. We are shifting the gender balance in our industry. App Camp 3.0 is the next stage in bringing the program to more girls in more locations!

You should support App Camp for Girls in their latest crowdfunding campaign.

Thanks to John Gruber for the heads-up.