It’s an SE, As You May Have Heard

These were the hidden images of the Macintosh SE dev team hidden on the ROM

Here’s what happened in the final 1 infinite loop Apple Town Hall today, before everything moves to the new UFO campus next year:

Ufocampus

Apple opened with a short video about the 40th birthday of the company coming up on the 1st. Tim Cook Briefly spoke about the FBI’s misguided attempt at defeating personal security for everyone who uses an iPhone everywhere. Then moved on to former US EPA chief, now Apple enviro director, Lisa Jackson.

After discussing efforts to power stores and server farms with solar and wind farms, Jackson moved on to Apple’s upcycled recycling initiatives. Electronics recycling is great when people are actually motivated to do it. The new program is called Apple Renew and they’ll even help you ship your old devices in for free. Here’s where you can find it online. I love these exploded views:

Recycling

The FBI’s recycling initiative always seems to take a little bit longer while they lock themselves out of your phone for some reason that even they don’t quite seem to understand.

Jeff Williams spoke about Apple’s health initiatives which are fortunately missing  exploded views. Last year they released ResearchKit for people to participate in research studies. This year’s CareKit is a new tool for sharing information about your personal health issues with your doctor and your family through apps created with CareKit.

Nylon watch bands

Tim Cook came back to drop The Apple Watch starting price to $300 from $350. Some stores have been dancing around that price on sale for the past few months on and off. The Watch also got new a few new bands, the nylon ones look pretty cool but they’re almost not NATO-y enough. It also receives WatchOS 2.2 today, which is mainly about internationalization improvements and an update to Apple’s Maps on the device for finding nearby things like restaurants. Here’s what it looks like:

Nearby

Moving on to tvOS 9.2 software update available for the 4th generation Apple TV today. Split-screen NCAA march madness basketball so you can finally watch four teams at once get the least amount of education their basketball institutions can provide under bullshit NCAA rules. You can now enter usernames and passwords for logging into services with Siri dictation and (finally) bluetooth keyboards which had been supported in previous Apple TV generations. I like mine, just wish it were easier to side-load emulators without having to hook it up to Xcode on my laptop. 

Iphonese

Greg Jozwiak introduced the iPhone SE. Apple made four inches great again as was widely rumored with this exact name. I believe this is the first SE Apple product since the Macintosh SE when SE stood for System Expansion. This time the iPhone SE is not getting 3D touch and there is no announced initialism or other meaning behind the name. 3D Touch is the biggest feature of the 6s and 6s Plus missing in the iPhone SE. It still retains more of the squared-circle shape of the 4 and 5 series iPhones it is replacing, and that is honestly a design I preferred in my hand. It’ll be $400 for 16GB. Which is a capacity that very much still needs to go away. $500 for 64GB. Pre-orders are up on the 24th, it ships on the 31st.

After announcing the new 4 inch phone, Jozwiak moved on to reiterating new features of iOS 9.3 which is also out today but were announced in January. Night Shift is f.lux for iOS and is the most important new feature in there. I’ve been waiting for that so I don’t do as much damage to my eyes at night. Great update, wish they had credited or bought out the f.lux people who really popularized the notion.

The truetone display of the new 10 inch iPad Pro

Phil Schiller came up to introduce the new 10 inch iPad Pro that replaces the iPad Air for anyone interested in that size of device. Huge screen improvements compared to the Air, and it even has sensors to adjust the display so that the color balance and brightness of the display’s white balance adjusts based on the lighting of the environment you’re currently in. It’ll also have the speakers, pencil and keyboard add-ons, and other improvements that already work with the iPad Pro. Though the 13 inch Pro lacks some of the updates seen in the new 10 inch Pro, the 13 inch version still sounds preferable to me. The camera gets a big upgrade to iPhone quality , recognizing that many people are goofily taking pictures with huge tablets so why not.

Schiller calls the new 10 inch iPad Pro a PC replacement, I’m still waiting for Xcode for iPad to cede that. $600 for 32GB, $749 for 128GB, $899 for the new 256GB tier on Wifi. Pre-orders go up on the 24th and it ships on the 31st. The 13 inch iPad gets the new 256GB model at the new high end wifi-only price of $1,100.

HTC/Steam VR Vive Pre-Orders Priced at $800

The Vive HMD

If you thought the Oculus Rift was expensive at $600, then you’re going to want to sit down for this. HTC and Valve’s Steam VR kit, the  Vive, is priced at an eye-watering $800 before tax and shipping. Pre-orders go up on the 29th at 10 AM Eastern Like the Oculus Rift, it ships in April.

Like the Rift, the Vive will come bundled with software. Owlchemy Labs Job Simulator and Fantastic Contraption by Northway Games. Both look like good fun that demonstrate the differences between Valve’s VR solution and Facebook’s Rift though Job Simulator isn’t exclusive to the Vive and will also be available for other VR setups.

Unlike the Rift, which is shipping with an Xbox One controller, the Vive custom controller setup is ready at launch and is designed for manipulating objects in 3D space. The Vive does not seem to include any audio solution, where the Rift had a built-in headset.

There is also a benchmark program available on Steam to find out if your computer is ready for the Vive before pre-ordering.

The price isn’t anywhere near as bad as it might have been, some people were expecting the Vive to be over a thousand, but it’s still out of reach for most people at $800.

 

If I were wealthy enough to pre-order either the Vive or Rift, and had a room to dedicate to the experience, I’d choose the Vive over the Rift. The Vive just has more to offer and the holodeck type of experiences it has in addition to the cockpit-style experiences of the Rift as long as developers support OpenVR instead of just the Rift SDK.

It doesn’t change anything about the announcement, but I wanted to point out that the language in HTC’s announcement is ridiculously bad:

We are proud to announce, in partnership with Valve®, the unveiling of the consumer edition of the ViveTM virtual reality system powered by Steam®VR.

[…]

Taking Vive one step further, with refreshed branding and an updated head strap, the Vive consumer edition builds upon the innovative features that were introduced into the Vive Pre. 

Calling it the “consumer version” with “refreshed branding” is just insulting. It is useful to differentiate this version of the Vive from the versions developers have had access to in the past, but people do not give a crap about the logos or iconography of a system changing. Call it improving the hardware design if that actually changed, but don’t call people “consumers” in your announcement post.

Call of Duty Black Ops 3 Multiplayer for $15

shooting is fun

Activision and Treyarch are competing directly with Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive by releasing a multiplayer-only version of Black Ops 3 for $15 exclusively on Steam. The same price as Global Offensive. Activision is calling this version of Blops 3 the multiplayer starter pack and it’s only available until the end of February. There’s a FAQ here that details what you do and don’t get with the starter pack versus the full game, and also the hilarious branding that starter pack players are subjected to:

17. Why is there an icon next to my name in the lobby?

It’s been difficult to find players for anything but team deathmatch, so I hope this starter pack sticks around and brings more people to the best Windows version of a modern CoD yet. 

Long-Haul Space Trucking

Sitting on the dock of the bay

Brendan Caldwell has this unforgettable travelogue of a flotilla that is now traveling for the next three months through Elite: Dangerous’s uncharted systems:

The whole trip is estimated to take three months – and that’s just the outward journey. Officially, the expedition ends when the flotilla (or what’s left of the flotilla) reaches Beagle Point, a distant system on the farthest spiral arm from Sol (here’s a map of the journey plan to give you some idea of the distance). After that, the explorers are free to go wherever they want. Many will stay and explore the virgin systems of the far reaches. Some will simply head back to the “bubble” – the tiny region of space inhabited by humanity and populated with stations like Zillig City.

[…]

“Boredem is quite a weak word for what I’m expecting it to feel like,” says Kaii. “It’s more like complete tedium. It’s going to be very important to break it up. That’s why we’ve got all these waypoints along the way that are incredible locations, getting out in the buggy, bombing about. You can do like 100, 150, 200 jumps maybe and then take a nice break at the waypoints. That’s basically how you have to do it. Not all of us have the patience and fortitude of Erimus, who can do that trip in the space of a month.”

Garbage Game for Garbage People, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Might Have Had Music from Michael Jackson

Todd Van Luling has an article for the Huffington Post about the sad garbage people who got too caught up in Sega’s marketing to recognize that Sonic gameplay was awful and their sad hunt for finding the hidden connection in Sonic 3’s soundtrack to Michael Jackson.

Spoiler, Jackson didn’t even want to be associated with the crap Genesis sound processing:

Jackson and the team wrote the music “high-profile,” Grigsby said, meaning that although replicating the music on the Sega console would eventually require massive compression and simplification of the audio, they started out sounding like typical Jackson songs.

Sometimes, Grigsby remembers, Sega developers would drop by to hang out or help the team compress the songs — which, according to Grigsby, were recorded aiming for a “cinematic type of sound” Jackson sought at the time — into Sega-ready versions. “It all had to be squashed down for the game and they made more room for the graphics,” Grigsby says. “They had more data happening with the graphics and they had very little allocated for audio.”

[…]

Buxer, Grigsby and Jones say Jackson pulled his name from the game — but not his music — because he was disappointed by how different the music sounded on Sega’s console when compressed from that “high profile” sound to bleeps and bloops.

“Michael wanted his name taken off the credits if they couldn’t get it to sound better,” Buxer claimed.

Even the sad garbage people now recognize that the gameplay was terrible:

“Someone would track down someone who originally worked on Sonic 2, like a level artist,” said James Hansen, a Sonic fan from the Forest of Dean, near Gloucester. “Then they’d just get bombarded with a million emails and then you’d never hear from them ever again.”

[…]

As a teenager, Hansen was more interested in the “secrets in the Sonic games” than the games themselves, he says now.

Christopher Livingston, Structural Analyst

Christopher Livingston has become obsessed with safety in a new game, INFRA:

I began walking around, exploring the terrain, looking inside power plants, dams, and other structures, and solving the occasional puzzle. I quickly found, however, that I wanted to my job—that of a structural analyst—more than I wanted to solve puzzles or investigate a mystery. Yes, I found some suspicious documents and figured out how to power up a generator to allow me to open a door… but what I really wanted to do was photograph safety issues. All the safety issues. Screw mysteries, I wanted to tally up infractions and write a detailed report and issue fines. That’s what putting a camera in my hand does to me. It makes me want to do my job. If a ghost had floated out of a service tunnel, I’d probably only have photographed it if it hadn’t been wearing a hard hat. Safety first!

TheThrillness Reviews the Elgato HD60 Pro

TheThrillness reviews the HD60 Pro, the first pci-express HDMI capture card from Elgato:

I was pretty sceptical about a card that only accepted HDMI. I found it very weird that they dropped Composite/S-Video/Component support from the original Game Capture HD design.

After having time to reflect on it, I think Elgato has chosen wisely. The future is HDMI and this card is meant to cater to that. Recently I’ve been getting into PC and PS4 gaming so keeping around older consoles like a Super Nintendo doesn’t mean much any more. Time to move on and embrace the new! Eventually some hardware based solution that doesn’t suck (Retron 5 etc) will come out and we can all enjoy the glory of HDMI even with our older games.

TheThrillness’ reviews of other capture devices are the most definitive and thorough reviews out there. I didn’t buy the HD60 Pro due to the lack of input options, and one of the things I had been hoping to capture with a device like this was Windows and Linux gameplay captured to my Mac which isn’t possible as the HD60 Pro is an internal pci-express card which won’t connect to a Mac laptop. Turns out, Elgato’s Mac support for game capture with their Game Capture HD I bought is abysmal anyway (doesn’t work with OBS on a Mac), and capturing Windows games with OBS is usually fine. After reading this review, I know now that I should have gotten the HD60 Pro, upscaled older gaming devices, and put together another machine for capture. My one question is how resource-intensive capturing would be with the HD60 Pro, as cards like this should offload most of the CPU burden.

The Difference Between Two Realities

Speaking of VR, the two leading virtual reality head-mounted displays (HMD) are very different in how they’re intended to be used.

Although the Oculus Rift has head-tracking, it is intended more for playing games in a seated or standing position with extremely limited amounts of head movement. You can think of this as being limited to a cockpit in a jet or the passenger area of a car or mech. The player can look out, and control movement of the vehicle they’re in with a gamepad, but if they get up and walk around they’re still trapped inside that vehicle or cockpit. This is perfect for games like Elite: Dangerous and the Eve: Valkyrie game that will be included with the Rift.

You can also display something with a more traditional third-person camera viewpoint outside of the avatar and have player movement bound to analog sticks on a gamepad or some other controller. That is what you have with Lucky’s Tale:

Many traditional 3D games involve a lot of player movement and a first-person perspective, so being limited to one position in the physical world isn’t quite as immersive as being able to move in a physical space and have that movement be reflected in the virtual world. This is more of the holodeck, or room-scale style of VR. I received a brief demo of this at Valve a few years ago. It is amazing when experienced in action. Valve’s SteamVR system offers this in addition to the ability to play cockpit-style games in a seated or standing position. It’s the main difference between the two headsets. Some games can work on both types.

Holodeck experiences have their downsides. Players need a fairly large space that is empty of obstructions in which to move. You’ll also need to install devices that Valve and HTC are calling lighthouses to define the physical space in which you’ll move and track your physical movement in that space. It’s not something everyone has space for, and although you can adjust the amount of physical space for use with this system you basically need a multi-room house or office to set up that experience. Valve had a few dedicated rooms for it.

It’s been almost impossible to demonstrate that room-scale experience without using it. The Northways, Colin and Sarah, have a video up that demonstrates the perspective of a player in the HTC/SteamVR Vive HMD while playing their Fantastic Contraption:

That’s a clip from a longer stream that you can watch here. The only difference between this and the real thing is that she can’t see the people on the couch while playing, and it’s way more fun to play in-person than watch on a stream.