Thursday, April 17, 2014

PAX East 2014: In-Depth with Blizzard

PAX East had a lot of great things to see all over the huge show floor at the Boston Convention Center – enough to confuse a person about which booths to hit first and which games to demo.  Luckily for me, we’re spoiled with shiny media badges, which gave us an extra hour before general admission to roam peacefully and make that decision.  As a dude that has played Warcraft and Diablo games for over a decade, I decided to hit up Blizzard first. Last year’s PAX East being their launch platform for Hearthstone, I was excited to see what they had in store for us this year - and as far as I’m concerned, they didn’t disappoint.  While Blizzard crew was still setting up the last of the demo stations, I settled in to try out World of Warcraft’s upcoming expansion, Warlords of Draenor, and their upcoming free-to-play mashup barn burner of a title, Heroes of the Storm

Warlords of Draenor @ PAX East 2014
World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

Let me be straight here – what I played was definitely not a complete representation of the game.  The demo was limited, but I’m not going to hold that against them – they had an alpha build, and for those of you that have never worked in software or game testing, an alpha build is early earrrlllyy goins on.  So naturally I wasn’t expecting everything to be in final form.  That’s just how alphas go.  At least they were giving us what they got. The demo allowed players to see all the skins for all of the genders and races (including the updated Alliance models), but restricted player selection to Horde characters only.  It made sense to me really, since the first quest is literally speaking with Durotan in this tweaked timeline, and it wouldn’t exactly be a Gnome carrying that out now would it?  So I made a Blood Elf hunter (deviating from my Night Elven lineage), cranked him as brown as a Blood Elf can get and away I run.  The problem was that whenever I summoned a pet, debug windows came up instead of said pet, and I got good and killed in a sea of mobs despite my best efforts trying to close windows.  That’s ok though. The gameplay (at least as far as I can tell for hunters) is not drastically different at level 90 when you just start out.  BUT if big numbers jumping all over your screen is the life you're about then prepare to make an adjustment. We were equipped in character level 90 greens comparable to Mists of Pandaria endgame gear, but the numbers and damage I was doing was tremendously downsized.  With this expansion they've gotten away from the crazy exponential increase in stat values and damage, meaning I wasn't throwing out six-figure damage with my critical strikes like I'm used to seeing.  It doesn't mean that it takes that much longer to down enemies though - their HP is scaled to match your decreased stats.

Alliance Garrison
Thank the lords of Azeroth for that too.  Right now my hunter is walking around with half a million HP unbuffed, and I get 1000+ agility from just my bow.  My endgame bow in Wrath of the Lich King didn't even break 200.  The numbers now are just getting out of control and more or less have lost all meaning when my 140k DPS is the low number on Recount charts. The big change with Warlords  that everyone’s excited about (and with good reason) is the concept of the garrison – it’s like having your own little Warcraft III style homebase with peasants running back and forth gathering materials for you.  I wasn't allowed to take game footage pictures, but I got some screenshots from the press kit, and as more data is available I'll make sure to get that out to you kids.  I got in on the closed beta, so when I kick that off I'll have some real goods for you.

Heroes of the Storm Alpha Character Select
Heroes of the Storm 

Is there anyone that doesn’t love a good crossover?  How much fun did we have with Super Smash Brothers?  Kingdom Hearts saw Disney and Square-Enix collide.  The Marvel universe squared off against Capcom a number of times behind the controller, and even went head to head with DC Comics on the page before that.  And we love it.  There’s something about different universes coming together that is just pure meta appeal for the geek inside all of us. So what happens then when one company has enough isolated universes to do it within itself?  The answer is Heroes of the Storm – a crossover that pits the heroes (and villains) of the WarcraftStarcraft, and Diablo universes against each other in a good old-fashioned melee. Now you see the thing is this - upon first glance this looks like the MOBA style (multiplayer online battle arena) we’re used to seeing in League of Legends and DOTA.  Do not be fooled though, it’s not.  Well not completely.  I mean it does have the concept of lanes, and you have to take said lanes to crush your foes.  But you don’t have to do a million things to be successful or have fun.  It’s like they stripped out all the annoying parts of the MOBA genre (sorry MOBA fans) and… the only way I can put it really is that it combines that with some old Warcraft III charm, down to unit jokes.

Hero - Baby Murloc Murky
The heroes are split into different types - Warrior, Assassin, Support and Specialist, each bringing a different type of play style into the game.  One of the interesting new heroes they revealed under the Support style was Brightwing the Faerie Dragon.  She has the ability to not only heal but to blink from ally to ally throwing heals anywhere on the map.  With her other skills she can be a pretty complex hero to play.  Tyrael on the other hand is a Warrior class, primarily dealing damage with high defense, having a less complex play style.

... and then there's Murky.  Yes Murky the Murloc is a hero because as the developers put it, "we decided to make a hero that was awful" and one to consider the "Wile E Coyote" of the game.  Murky has almost no health and no attack, but lays an egg before charging in.  When he dies, in a few seconds he will just respawn from the egg - over and over again.  It was absolutely hilarious to see Murky use this method against Diablo and ultimately run him off with a Murloc army.  So how's that for varied play style?  Each hero has his or her own signature attacks to customize it that much further.

Arthas calling in an air strike from Sapphiron
As far as skins and upgrades are concerned, yes there are some for purchase, but there are also some that can be unlocked just by playing a particular hero a lot without a fee, including what they call "ultimate skins."  There's some humor in these too, like having the abomination Stitches in a bikini. I'll let that one sink in for a bit. I'll be looking forward to when I can get my hands on HotS for real.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Science, COSMOS, and that time I met Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Science is a funny thing.  There's been this traditional stereotype about scientists rolling through life with pocket protectors and slide rules, cloaked in a lab coat and hunched over their microscopes.  But over the last few years the subject has picked up a few more fans.  TV shows like Through the Wormhole hosted by Morgan Freeman and great programming on Science Channel and other educational outlets have started to help pull science into the mainstream, by making it more accessible to everyday people.  Even on the local level for me in Philadelphia I see big events like the Philadelphia Science Festival and can easily see the rise in interest this kind of accessibility can bring.

There's a few scientists that specialize in just that - you have guys like Bill Nye (the Science Guy, and the guy that taught me the art of the bow tie) that have spent their lives making sure that science was accessible and fun for kids, starting from his eponymous show in the 90's to his cemented place in today's geek culture.  In the same vein, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has done the same thing - in addition to running the show at the Hayden Planetarium he's done the late night circuit many times, payed visits to Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report, and even hangs out with Philadelphia's morning radio DJ's Preston and Steve on WMMR from time to time.  Oh he writes books too.

And unless you've been living in a geek vacuum over the last few months, you'll see he's now part of a project far more ambitious than guesting on the late night tour.  He's the host of a new series on FOX called COSMOS, premiering this weekend.  The show is a new take on Dr. Carl Sagan's classic series of lectures from the early 1980’s.  Dr. Tyson's teamed up with some serious names - Brannon Braga, Mitchell Cannold, and Ann Druyan - to make an updated version of our favorite televised class on space and time.

The best part was that I got to talk to them about it.

See back in October (yeah I know it was a ways back) I got to meet the COSMOS crew at New York Comic Con, and talk to them about the vision and the motivation behind the series re-launch.  The first round was with Cannold and Braga.  Braga described the project as a huge undertaking, with every episode tackling “some sort of massive subject matter” with a varied palette of special effects, live action, and even animated sequences.  While the show does feature original content, there will still be a number of homages to Carl Sagan’s original vision – for example fans of the original series will be happy to know that the Cosmic Calendar is still a mainstay in this new edition.

One of the more surprising topics discussed was the role of Seth MacFarlane (yes, the same Family Guy Seth MacFarlane) who is one of the driving forces behind the show. Cannold put the collaborative efforts best, and it might surprise those of you who classify MacFarlane with only animated comedy. “Don’t underestimate Seth MacFarlane - this man is a DaVinci.  Among other things, he happens to be a brilliant science geek.”  The team in fact turned down other studios first in favor of him as someone who could drive the process and execute while respecting the process. Cannold went on “he became our Godfather, champion, emissary at FOX and since then has made an enormous contribution.”  These contributions included introducing Braga to the crew, who brings scores of experience having written and produced for the Star Trek franchise since The Next Generation as well as other hits like 24.

Next up was Ann Druyan and the man himself, Dr. Tyson.  Druyan was the writer of the original COSMOS with Dr. Sagan (and wife of the good doctor as well).  Tyson started off describing Carl Sagan’s shoes as “awesome shoes to fill,” and how if he tried to fill them he’d just fail, following it up with “But I could be a really good version of myself.”  The series, according to him, isn’t just an “homage to Carl” but something people can follow him into the future by watching.  Druyan talked about how special it was working with Tyson, having known him for so long with Carl.  “It was not just that Neil has the science and the ability to connect, but it’s also true that Carl reached out to Neil when he was a 17 year old kid in the Bronx.”  And it’s true – Dr. Sagan took Tyson under his wing from an early age and he became very close with his family.  It was great hearing her speak about the project with such passion and love.

After talking about COSMOS I got to talk to Dr. Tyson about a bunch of random things like a scientific basis for astrology and science skewed by cognitive bias - he actually took the time well past the press event to shoot the breeze with me.  He is 100% the awesome science rockstar we all see on television, with a huge personality to match that sciencey mind of his.  While talking cognitive bias we got to the topic of dowsing rods – you know, using sticks to find water like I’m sure you’ve seen on TV.  He says to me, “If you give anyone a dowsing rod and tell them to find water, they will, pretty much 100% of the time.  And you know why?”  At this point he leans in a little closer to me and continues – “Because there’s water fucking everywhere!  It’s called the water table!”  Comedy and science – an excellent combination.

Fast forward a few months back to New York City and I’m at the American Museum of Natural History at the world premiere event of the show, which lived up to every promise that was made about it (as you can see, the line to get in was crazy long and speaks to Dr. Tyson's fanbase). The first episode introduced the cosmic calendar and the ship of the imagination, and let me tell you, Dr. Tyson is an absolute natural hosting and narrating this production.  The content, varying between special effects to live action film of Dr. Tyson to an animated short about Giordiano Bruno all blend exceptionally well together and make for not only education and information accessible to the masses, but a truly enjoyable program that brings science to the people.

Make sure you catch COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey, which premieres this Sunday night at 9pm on FOX.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

OMAHA: a study in football


The phrase has been uttered countless times by Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning over his record breaking season this year.  When asked what Omaha meant, he explained to the press that it could be anything depending on a number of variables about the game that was being played at the time.  After the embarrassing end of the first half of tonight's Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks, it occurred to me that it was a word conspicuously absent from the first thirty minutes of play.  So since we have the wonder that is the internet, I decided to look up some numbers and see what was what in the postseason. A coincidence? Or something more?

I dunno kids... I'm just sayin' though

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Adult Swim @ NYCC: Venture Brothers, Robot Chicken, and... Emmett.

I had a great time at NYCC this year.  There was a bunch of stuff to see, some great cosplayers (which you can see in the IHOGeek Facebook galleries), and of course a good list of panels to check out.  On the latter I had the side-splitting pleasure of experiencing the Adult Swim treatment on Friday night, catching back to back panels from the Venture Brothers and Robot Chicken.  Two hours of Adult Swim personalities answering fan questions, cutting up and going nuts, and well, just hijinx in general.

… And you know how I feel about hijinx, kids.  Love 'em.

Starting with Queen’s “Princes of the Universe” hitting the speaker system, The Venture Brothers‘ Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick came out to the stage rocking black jumpsuits to a wall of pure sound from the audience.  After playing it up a little, they sat at the table and answered some fan questions.  It was a strange panel in the sense that there was no footage from the show like some of the other panels I attended, but it really wasn’t all that surprising.  Doc and Jackson let us know that they had just started working on the new season 6, and even though it was going to take a while that it is “going to be awesome” (don’t expect it until 2015).  SO i guess without any content to give you, I can at least give you some of the Q&A schtick that they put on -

On underwear: Jackson’s underwear costs $60 a pair.  Sixty.  and Doc rocks boxer briefs.  We’ll just have to take his word on that though – when chants to show the crowd came up he declared he couldn’t, because he has no ass.

On continuity: When asked whether continuity helps or hurts the show’s comedy.  Big surprise, it hurts.

On music: Doc doesn’t care who your favorite guitarist is – your favorite guitarist is Johnny Marr.

On giant robot cosplay: If you ask a question dressed as a giant robot, Doc Hammer will go into strike mode (as he appeared to do) and state his desire to jump across the table and knock you out.

Throughout the answers was of course the nutty behavior we expect from these two fancy lads, but it was their last act that got the biggest round of applause from the audience, myself included.  A young lady stepped up to the microphone and upon trying to speak, saw that she couldn’t find her words. “I’m too nervous to ask a question,” she said.  Without missing a step Doc Hammer comes back with “are you too nervous to DANCE with me?” and proceeded to dance with the young lady while the DJ played “Greased Lightning.”  And a grand time was had by all.  Check it out from Adult Swim here.

Next up was Robot Chicken. The whole crew was out in force – Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, Clare Grant, Breckin Meyer all clad in cat ears, including an unannounced appearance by Macauly Culkin, who is indeed, as it appeared to me, alive and well.  The crew made a couple of big announcements, the first being a sequel to the wildly popular DC Comics Special entitled DC Comics Special II: Villains in Paradise.  They showed some footage from the special, focusing on Batman’s embarrassment about being dragged around in Green Lantern’s green bubble.  A musical bromance ensues between the two, with Batman being floated along in a green sailboat construct.

Seth Green also talked about √úbermansion – a joint project between the Robot Chicken crew and Bryan Cranston, who is fresh off the heels of the success of Breaking Bad.  Cranston voices Titanium Rex, an elderly superhero who fights the day to day perils of, you know, being old sharing the mansion with this super-team.  It’s stop motion like Robot Chicken, and from the trailer we were shown the humor is unrefined, juvenile, and let’s face it kids, right up your alley.

There wasn’t much commentary on future Robot Chicken seasons, but they did announce their Born Again Virgin Christmas Special, which will air this December.

… Oh right.  Then there was Emmett.

Early in the panel a young lad by the name of Emmett got up to the microphone to ask a questions.  The panel addressed him as “the young man in the brown hat.”  After snarkily replying “first off, it’s a Borderlands hat, so…” he went on imply that by Seth Green taking on his series Dads that it could take away from the writing of Robot Chicken.  After some more sass and Green’s “I’ma point at you and yell” antics Breckin Meyer jumped in to Green’s defense – “Hey Seth’s working REALLY HARD!”  After that Emmett became a running gag for the entire panel, cracking me up more than any of the other antics the panelists had, aside from meth jokes at the expense of Macauly Culkin.  Afterwards, in response to a simple “Hi how are you?” from a fan, Breckin’s answer was “Well I was having a great day until I met this douchebag named Emmett.”  And this went on and on for the entire panel.  Please, do yourself a favor and watch the panel here.  Warning though – the panel features a moment between Seth Green and Doc Hammer’s nipple, who made an impromptu cameo.

Stay tuned for my next installment where I talk about that time i met Neil DeGrasse Tyson!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

User Agreements are Long and Boring, but Sometimes EULA Get Rewarded

You guys know I always try to have your back on the technical front.  Whether it's just some advice on new tech that's coming out, game previews, tech law or tips on keeping your digital life safeguarded, I like helping you out.  And today what I want to talk about a bit is a little thing you all know and love (ok maybe loathe) called the end user license agreement, or EULA for short.

Sometimes it comes titled as a basic user agreement or terms of use, but whatever it's called it usually follows the same format - a monstrosity of a document drafted in some strange melange of english and legalese filling anywhere between 3 and 30 screens for the user to scrutinize, read through and process in their impatient brainspaces.  You've all been there - for gamers there's a healthy sized EULA in a lot of games before you're allowed to play, especially in MMO's.  For the IT crowd there are all sorts of licensing agreements with operating systems and most off the shelf software, requiring you to agree before you can install them on your machine to use.

Of course you could always say you don't agree to the terms, but then that would hinder your gameplay or studious productivity.  But you don't say no, do you?  You've never said no.  You've never done anything but scroll alllll the way to the bottom, check "I agree" and hit OK to move on.  Trust me, you are not alone.  TONS of people go through the same motions.  The issue is that by doing so you miss all the rules and all the meat of the agreement between you and the publisher and probably don't even know what you agreed to.  It could be a rule you don't want to agree to but just did.  Or something that wouldn't normally strike you as obvious.  If you have certain Apple software they make you agree not to use their stuff for developing nuclear weapons.  A while back if you ran Safari for Windows, you may not be allowed to install it on Windows.  If you play Diablo III for example then what you agreed to was that you owed taxes to the IRS for any profits made on the real auction house.  OR - it'll make you feel like an idiot when you post ridiculous things to Facebook.  Yeah, seriously.  It's like signing a document without reading it.

I once didn't play World of Warcraft for a two days after install because of a EULA.  I read the whole thing roughly 4 times because I swore there was a clause in there that could be interpreted as not being allowed to play in a hotel room while I'm traveling. It worked out ok, but I still had to know.

So it made me super happy to see a little experiment that was being run on the forums over at Technical Illusions.  In case you're not aware about what TI is all about, they have an extremely cool device called the CastAR under development - a set of glasses that effectively and awesomely delivers an augmented reality environment to the wearer, complete with a wide array of controls and slick head tracking.  Their forums, much like many forums you can sign up for to use, includes a terms of use/EULA that all users have to agree to before they let you on and take part in forum discussions.  And to make it a little fun, they included the opportunity for reward if you actually had the patience to read all the way through.  The final text? Here it is:

"Any information you provide on these forums will not be disclosed to any third party without your complete consent, although the staff cannot be held liable for any hacking attempt in which your data is compromised. Congratulations you read this far, send the word Toby to jenesee at technical illusions dot com to be entered for a drawing By continuing with the sign up process you agree to the above rules by Technical Illusions"

I'll give you a second to read that last little section.  Even being at the very end of the agreement, how many people do you think would have sent "Toby" over to Jenesee out of the first 100 users?  Three.  That's right, three.  So as she mentions in her experiment data, the same percentage of users that caught the clause are the same as the percentage of people in America that still use dial-up.  Yikes.  In this case the consequences were a little more friendly - sometimes reading the EULA gave a user a chance for a fun reward rather than agreeing to something accidentally.  Congratulations to those three Technical Illusions forum users.

And I guess a kudos to the 3% of you that seemingly read your EULA's.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Back to School Stress for the Non-Student / Non-Parent [tf charts]

Ahhh fall.  A magical time where the temperatures drop, the leaves begin to turn those lovely shades of red and gold, and I along with others face a blinding white hot rage that consumes our being every morning on the way to work.

Anyone who lives in the Philly are and traverses I-95 southbound knows what I'm talking about.  Specifically around the bridge exits.  Summertime is a vacation for us too - from commuter students to local buses to the sheer additional traffic volume the fall brings.  Then there's the leftover construction from the jobs that started two summers ago, taking away lanes and closing exits - all things that cause me (and I'm sure you), to have to resort to increasingly awful acts of autobatics in response to others, all in all giving me pause and worry every morning that I am, in fact, becoming a worse and worse person every single day.

Thanks, PennDOT.

I know Philadelphia and I-95 aren't the only places - I feel your pain across the entire US of A, kids. Cities across the land where folks go to work already passing as part of the undead class before even clocking in, where seemingly no amount of caffeine can release us from the shackles.

ouch, my head...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

PAX Prime Part 1: Intel and Square-Enix

Let me tell you, I was glad to get to Seattle a night early before the festivities of PAX 2013 started Friday morning.  After the flight from east coast to west it was weird (yes, weird) to see the Pacific Ocean on the weather map on the local news instead of the Atlantic hazing on the time difference but hey, I was there for PAX so it was cool.  The Penny Arcade Expo spanned the total volume of the Washington State Convention Center with exhibits, vendors and meeting rooms scattered not only throughout the place, but the nearby Sheraton for panels and another building across the street for BYOC gaming (yeah, that’s “bring your own computer”) and press.


The day picked up early – instead of taking advantage of media getting an hour early access to the floor, I opted to go across the street and check out Intel’s press event showing off some gaming laptops and mobile devices from partners that were packing Intel parts.  The Razer Blade we’ve already seen, but this was the first time I got to get my hands on its rival from MSI, the GS70.  The GS70 has all the bells and whistles of a gaming machine at 17 – nVidia graphics, the latest i7 inside, 16GB memory and huge storage space – but weighs less than 6 pounds with its ultralight aluminum chassis.  Before i got to play with it i picked it up and kind of moved it around in the air (under the watchful eye of the Intel folks) and can tell you the weight’s no joke.  And they had it running Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which looked all sorts of candy-like delicious.  The chips inside ran with Intel’s Iris graphics built in, which are reported to support 4K Ultra HD (on up to three screens) and much quicker video editing and processing than the 3rd generation i-core chips that came before.  I can’t really vouch for how well my eyes can tell that precisely, but they can tell that the screens looked pretty damn good.

They were also showing off their Next Unit of Computing (NUC) devices – tiny little boxes (as you can see from the image) that pack some power and seemed to have grown since I saw them at PAX East earlier this year.  Instead of Ivy Bridges, the guts of these units were running i3 and i5 Haswell core chips (with turbo) and Intel HD graphics 5000, which isn’t bad for starting at $400.  The outside featured network, USB 3.0, HDMI and DisplayPorts.  So what did they do after showing us the specs on these units?  We got to game on them.  There were a few stations there that were driven by a NUC stuck to the back of the monitor, that still provided a high-grade gaming experience that I would expect from a desktop build.  They mentioned that they were going to release a Pro edition, which we’ll keep an eye out for.  To be honest I’d consider using these in the enterprise too in pro mode. On a personal note, what was probably the nicest part of the Intel show had nothing to do with going over specs or gaming on their ultrabooks – it was the business card raffle from which I won an i7 4770K processor.  So guess what kids? It’s build time.


S-E had a decent amount of stuff lined up for PAX goers – I didn’t check out all of them because there were a couple reruns from PAX East but there were still some things worth seeing.  First and foremost we know they’re big on remakes and remasters, so there’s no surprise thatKingdom Hearts 1.5 HD RemixFinal Fantasy X/X-2 Remaster and Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director’s Cut all made appearances at their booth.  KH 1.5 and Deus Ex were reruns from PAX East, so I started by taking a look at the remasters of Final Fantasy X/X-2.  The gameplay graphics are definitely sharper and a cut above how they looked on the PS2, when back then they were amazing.  The CG cutscenes also looked pretty good, but not as much of an improvement from S-E’s PS2 edition of the game.  Otherwise, I heard mumblings of rumors that the remaster would be delayed from this year to next.  While it makes sense, I’m not going to say it’s true since I didn’t hear it straight from Square-Enix.

The other game I was glad to finally get my hands on was Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns.  Having played the first and second one through, the series kind of grew on me, and Lighting became one of my favorite Final Fantasy characters of all time.  I knew the gameplay on this one was going to be a little bit different than the previous games in the XIIIuniverse, and did like what I saw.  Lightning is a solo player (at least in the demo) and the overworld work that has to be done is more than just walking around and only being able to jump where there’s a flashy spot on the ground.  The demo featured a slice of the game where you have to chase Snow down, of course learning the mechanics of the game on the way.  Similar to paradigm shifts Lightning can switch between classes on the fly to unleash a broad range of attacks.  These classes each have a different orientation – in the case of this demo it was defense/life, attack power and magic.  It almost reminded me of the dress spheres in Final Fantasy X-2, just done a lot better in the combat style of the XIII universe.  Staggering your opponents changes a little bit, but the core concept is similar.  I for one enjoyed it, and as I am a glutton for completion, will definitely be picking it up to close out the trilogy.

They also showed some trailers for ThiefFinal Fantasy XV and the Kingdom Hearts 1.5/2.5 HD Remixes in the theater section they had set up.  I’m going to link you the one for Final Fantasy XV.  It’s a rerun from E3, but boy is it delicious.

As for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, S-E seemed have a good (maybe?) problem, actually suffering downtime because they weren’t expecting as many western players as they have.  Director Naoki Yoshida admitted this freely, that he thought players would let others giveFFXIV:ARR  a try first before jumping in.  The server loads were supposedly spread out properly as of today, and more importantly to some, the restriction on YouTube playthroughs and videos has been lifted.  Other than that, new updates will bring more Primal fights, the Gold Saucer in-game (once they get three mini games to kick it off, woot!), and maybe some new jobs and classes.  On that as far as class mounts go for the hopeful, not much more information has been revealed  - but if you want a unicorn, roll a conjurer.

Stay tuned for the next segment tomorrow featuring my faves from the Indie Megabooth and a gameplay review of Dying Light.  Also later in this series will be the 2K roundup featuring X-COM and Borderlands 2, as well as my pick of the litter for the best of PAX 2013.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Xbox One Kinect Requirement Dropped

Seriously, I’m surprised Microsoft didn’t call their new console the Xbox 180, because that’s what they’ve been doing since their next console’s big reveal.  Which is both good and bad really.  Good in the sense that they’re actually listening to their customers when it comes to what makes a deal breaker for them.  Bad in the sense that this is where Microsoft’s game plan is always going to go on the gaming front, until outside forces (i.e. angry customers threatening sales) stop them and force a course correction.

First came the always-on DRM which outraged consumers – including America’s fighting men and women – causing Microsoft to turn an about face, dropping the always-on and check in once a day requirements.  And now yesterday in their latest policy change, the Kinect sensor no longer has to be plugged in for the console to function.

The news came from Chief Xbox One Platform Architect Marc Whitten in an ongoing “Ask Microsoft Anything” segment on IGN, where he addressed users’ Kinect questions yesterday.  When asked how “off” the sensor would be when plugged in, Whitten responded that it can be set to “totally” off in the console settings.  He went on to state that the Kinect sensor will be optional in games where supplemental content calls for it, but naturally would be required for games that focus on Kinect functionality as the primary mode of gameplay:
"You have the ability to completely turn the sensor off in your settings. When in this mode, the sensor is not collecting any information. Any functionality that relies on voice, video, gesture or more won’t work. We still support using it for IR blasting in this mode. You can turn the sensor back on at any time through settings, and if you enter into a required Kinect experience (like Kinect Sports Rivals for instance), you’ll get a message asking if you want to turn the sensor back on in order to continue."
Right – if the word “Kinect” is in the title of the game, you’re going to still need it to play.  And this information is all thanks to a user that asked about the always plugged in requirement and what would happen if their sensor broke. Thanks, random user.

According to Whitten and the others who have spoken on Microsoft’s behalf in the past, the Xbox One is still designed to work with the Kinect, not only for gameplay of certain games but for SmartGlass, search, and UI navigation in general. So if you were planning on buying an Xbox One as your new “one” all-serving console, there’s still that stuff you can use it for.

So who knows what’s going on?  Maybe they’re feeling threatened by the PS4 and are dropping restrictions to pull in those on the fence outside of the Microsoft die-hards.  Maybe they’ve survived a crisis of conscience.  Maybe their PR doesn’t want any perception issues after all the recent news and events about digital spying.  Either way, this is another 180 from their former draconian policies that console gamers should be able to get behind.  That’s not changing their sales strategy though.  Even though we now know that the Kinect won’t be required to fire up a game on Xbox One, Microsoft still has no plans of selling the console without it at their $500 price point because of that UI design integration they described.  Personally I think selling a non-Kinect version at maybe $400 would get them more sales, because I don’t care how much money you’ve got – $100 is $100.  But that’s just me.

I said before publicly that I wouldn’t buy an Xbox One and would go the Sony PS4 route if those old policies from Microsoft remained in place.  Now that they’re gone, it’s something I might actually consider.

You know, if I buy a new console at all.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Projects, Tech PM's Sanity and Cthulhu [tf charts]

Everyone living as a technology project manager or in any job description where "technology project manager" falls into knows that there are both good projects and bad.  They also know that most of them, regardless of a "good" or "bad" designation, are only done at the cost of their sanity - and precisely how much sanity is dictated by the conditions outside of their control.

The type that's nearest and dearest to my head recently (but nowhere near dearest to my heart) is the type that starts with a tremendous delay.  Paperwork's done. equipment's in. Everything's good to go.  But due to other unseen forces, the start date is pushed a ridiculous degree back.  But then due to other unseen forces, the finish date actually moves forward.

Then the fun begins.  What am I saying here?  Listen to your tech PM and his or her army of project nerds.  Because one thing that isn't unseen is that something rushed like that is its own Cthulhu.

(click the chart for full-size)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Philadelphia Celebrates the City's Geek Elite

There's many reasons why I love the City of Brotherly Love. The place is filled with things to do and places to go from end to end, from museums and nightlife to education and history. The same city that houses the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall plays host to the Eagles, the Phillies, the Flyers and Sixers, not to mention a WizardWorld Comic Con every year.  You'll find the fiercest sports fans here, not to mention some of the fiercest geeks.

In the spirit of the man himself, Ben Franklin, over the last few years the Philadelphia geek scene has really started to grow.  Since 2011 we've seen events like Philly Tech Week and the Philadelphia Science Festival take over springtime in the city as proof of that, highlighting the best that Philadelphia has to offer in science, technology, entrepreneurship and art. And with all of the projects going on the city year round, not just during these celebrations, it's no wonder that someone somewhere thought that the best of Philly geekery should be honored.  So the fine folks at Geekadelphia and the Academy of Natural Sciences put together the Philly Geek Awards, taking place this year on August 17th.

The Philly Geek Awards are a spectacular, annual, one-night event celebrating Philadelphia's vibrant community of geeks. From the artists and the innovators, the programmers and the scientists, the authors and the do-gooders - this ceremony honors the outstanding accomplishments of Philly’s best and brightest.  The Geek Awards have been presented now for the past three years at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.

It's an awards show just like the huge ones you see on TV - black tie, red carpet (with a cocktail hour, of course) that will have the city's premier geeks in their finest trappings featuring notable and local presenters and nominees.  The only difference between this and the televised shows is that it's smaller, more fun, and features subject matter that's far more interesting whether you're a geek, a Philly person, or both.  Not to mention getting to hang out at the Academy of Natural Sciences with your fellow geek ilk with some owls and a T-Rex skeleton is a pretty fun time before the show.  But the best way to get a feel for what the event is really to watch last year's recap video.

So now that you're itching to go, tickets go on sale Monday, July 29th at 10AM for $25.  This will get you entry to the show and the cocktail hour at the Academy.  You better watch your clock and act fast when they go up, because the show has completely sold out two years in a row to a live audience of over 400.  And being featured on FOX News, Philadelphia Daily News (front cover, 8/20/11), CBS Philly, Philadelphia Weekly, Philadelphia CityPaper, The Philly Post (, Newsworks, Philadelphia Metro and more, it's an event you don't want to miss.

In the mean time, check out the Philly Geek Awards site for more info.  And take a look at Geekadelphia to get Philly geek cultured and the cool things happening at the Academy of Natural Sciences while you're at it.