August 09, 2018

More pixels

I sometimes use Safari tabs as reminders or to-do items even though I try to refrain from it. A recent episode of Accidental tech podcast left me with a tab for Mac utility Eye-friendly floating around my various devices, settling on my Macbook for a couple of days until I got myself together and did the reasonable thing: purchased Eye-friendly and closed the tab.

Paying $5 to close a tab might sound expensive, but paying $5 to support some software and try fun things is not.

So, what did I get to try?

Eye-friendly is one of a category of Mac apps which provide quicker and more flexible resolution switching options for (especially) Macs with retina screens. Eye-friendly provides a menu item for switching resolutions, and also keyboard shortcuts for increasing and decreasing the resultion.

So far so good. People use it to step a notch up and down instead of making the trip to system preferences. But what intrigued me was the more outrageous possibilities. You see, where Apple only provides four resolution options for my Macbook, Eye-friendly gives me nine.

Including the option to run the screen as a non-retina 2304 times 1440 pixels.

Too many pixels for twelve inches? Too many pixels for twelve inches?

I have tried this before on a work machine and fully expected it to be completely useless. To my surprise, I found myself actually using this mode for a while. I like to have all the width I can get for editing in Hindenburg, and then there was tons of space to have a browser and the show notes side by side. Text in Sublime remained somewhat readable, and for finding episode links I really do not need all that much readability in Safari. I ended up editing the whole episode in ludicrous mode and was as suprised as anyone.

I definitely enjoy sane resolutions a lot more when it comes to general reading and writing, but it truly is both amazing and actually useful to have the full screen resolution available sometimes. Now I have the space of my 27-inch external monitor available right on my laptop when I need it.

It feels a little like a secret super power.

(One thing I am curious about: the highest resolution Eye-friendly provides is actually somewhat higher than native. It works just like any other, but it is of course very small, and I wonder why it shows up. Perhaps it is the one the machine renders to before scaling down for other retina resolutions?)

July 24, 2018

So let us melt and mobile VR

So let us melt is a beautiful little story and experience for mobile VR. It takes a comfortable two hours to play and I would recommend it to anyone with a grasp of English and a head large enough to wear a compatible headset comfortably.

At the same time, playing the game strongly underlined for me just how far mobile VR - in the shape of Daydream and Gear VR - has to go, even when compared to just the more specialized VR experiences - in the shape of Playstation VR - available today.

To be clear, this is just as it should be. A dedicated headset connected to stationary hardware better be a significant step up from something you slot a mobile phone into. But now that it has sunk in for me, I am not sure I want to play anything on mobile VR that I can get on a stationary platform.

In essence: it is death by a thousand cuts, and the one advantage of being able to use VR in any location is still more than offset by all the little problems and rough edges. Even getting into experiences can be a tedious exercise as things crash, setup procedures are repeated and buttons accidentaly pressed as I slot the phone into the headset.

Once inside, I feel less immersed and controls are less precise. It dawned on me that both things are connected to the lack of external points to track. The Playstation VR uses the Playstation camera to track the position of the headset and controller, which makes it possible to move your controllers around in the environment, and for you to lean in, turn and so on. With mobile VR of today, I am firmly stuck like a camera on a tripod, and drift in both head tracking and controller position is such a problem that the re-centering button needs to be front and center on the controller. Without it, most experiences would actually be unplayable.

Then, I play for a while and start to feel the heat. Oh yeah, everything is powered by that slab of phone centimetres from my face. It can try to clock down, slowing things down in the process, but it quickly and easily gets uncomfortably hot. The less comfortable headsets start to wear on my forehead. I also can not wear my glasses underneath them, but I am unsure whether the additional … hardware blurring … makes things look better or worse.

In all, the coolest thing about mobile VR right now is that it exists and can be played around with. It is a darn marvel what our phones can do already. But I long for the comfort, immersion and controls of the Playstation VR every single time.

The next mobile VR game for me? Virtual virtual reality!

July 18, 2018

Doom VFR

It all got better after I got to hell.

First-person shooters where high on my wishlist for VR gaming since before I even tried a headset. I wanted nothing too strange: just tried and true controls with the added immersion of a VR headset. It seemed like such an obvious move. But I was confused whenever I read about VR shooters, even if they did place you in first person they seemed intent to try and offer anything but classic FPS controls. Sure, aiming guns with your hands is natural and pretty darn cool, but being unable to move, dodge or explore easily? That seemed rather lame.

I was excited to read about Doom coming to VR, but a bit hesitant because all the talk was about Move controllers and teleporting about. Doom to me feels a lot about frantic strafing and rushing backward while firing rockets at the minions of hell. I did find mentions of the possibility to steer using a Dual shock controller, but nobody seemed too excited about it. Neither were the developers, apparently, as they placed focus squarely on teleportation movement. You teleport from place to place, aim and fire as usual and have some quick dodges and turns available with button presses. Very much in line with the other control options (the weaponlike Aim controller and the Move controllers), but it felt meaninglessly restrictive to me. I know how I want my FPS to control.

And they were there. Buried (compared to the other options) deep (again, by comparison) down among the control options was a switch for free movement.

The chains broke, clattering to the floor of the cave. The demon rose slowly, shaking itself, the flames rising within its eyes.

Bring it on

Reviewers have a point: it is a little strange to have the guns attached to your viewport, but it never bothered me when actually playing. This was Doom the way it was meant to control, and when all hell breaks loose it is fantastic. Enemies never felt this towering, this solid, and blasting them to pieces never felt so satisfying.

The one downside is that hell took too long to really break loose. Many early levels combined long-ish (for a relatively short game) periods of exploration and very light puzzling with short bursts of super-satisfying action. Everything looked, felt and played just right, I just wanted more of the action.

Fortunately the last third (or quarter? Just guessing) of the game made that right. Once I stepped through the portal to hell the rest of the game was one long joyride of sliced and diced demons. Enormous ones, legions of small ones, in corridors and open spaces, climbing, jumping, running and flying at me. I shot them, I punched them, I blew them up and I telefragged them. All was right with the world.

And suddenly it was over.

I am still trying to decide if the game ended much too early or exactly at the right time. I would definitely like an even longer experience, but not if it was the same thing diluted with a lot of filler (more corridors, say).

Four stars

Went to hell. Destination was worth it.

July 03, 2018

Pod listening, July 2018

Podcasts I subscribe to and which update frequently:

Roughly one third Swedish, not too bad. Roughly half update every week, which is slightly much for my current amount of listening time. I do reach podcast zero regularly though.


Often caught up regardless

I took both of these (along with Upgrade) off of my subscription list when I realized that A: I listen to a lot of podcasts discussing the same Apple news and B: whenever something truly interesting happens in Apple-land, it filters through to me anyway. So off they went, but I still truly enjoy them and tend to end up listening to all episodes anyway.

Checking regularly, listening to any interesting episodes

June 11, 2018

The day of my tentacle

A few weeks ago, I received a fantastic little package in the mail. Inside was a thing which immediately occupied a very, very high spot on my "things which spark jou" list.

What was it? Why, this:

Purple tentacle, in 3d-printed glory Purple tentacle, in 3d-printed glory

This is a 3d-printed figurine of Purple tentacle from 1993 Lucasfilm adventure game Day of the tentacle. This explanation producing no more than a raised eyebrow when given to my girlfriend, I realized there was a somewhat longer story to tell.

Day of the tentacle came out when PC games were starting to look and sound good. Today, the pixels look huge, but it still has a great style. Thanks to CD-ROMs picking up pace, they were also picking up that most data-intensive feature of spoken dialogue. Of course, the back-of-a-truck version I played at a friend´s place was the floppy version and only included speech in the intro, but I knew it was out there. The game looked and felt like a cartoon, and games before had not.

It was also the era where Lucasarts seemed to do nothing but great things. Their adventure games were the focus for me, and they seemingly came quickly, almost effortlessly, great to play regardless of topic or story.

On top of all this, my English skills were at least approaching the requirements for the games. I had loved adventure games since at least The secret of Monkey island, but in 1990 I understood very little of the clues, context, and least of all the humour.

Taken together, Day of the tentacle was the best looking, sounding and playing point-and-click adventure game so far, and it came out just as I was starting to be able to enjoy them more … efficiently. As I recall, we were eventually able to finish the game without using that much help, and a lot of the puzzles were solved by actually getting the hints and understanding the logic of the game world.

Jumping forward

("Present day" goes the speaker voice.) A Tuesday a couple of weeks ago, Joacim and I were recording Björeman // Melin as usual. We were also broadcasting live in our Discord channel, a highly enjoyable feature of which is that we get realtime interaction with some of our much too kind listeners. For some reason, people started posting photos of their desks or monitors as they were listeing. Just below one monitor, a purple tentacle was standing, blaster raised, most likely shouting out orders. I naturally abandoned all other thoughts immediately to focus on asking where I could get a tentacle of my own. The tentacle turned out to be 3d-printed and hand-painted, and Zimmel (the much too kind listener in this particular question) offered to fix one for me too. I said something like wow, that would be great, and soon forgot about it. Perhaps it did seem a little too good to be true.

A week or so passed. Then, one day, a colleague came by with a strangely lumpy envelope which was clearly addressed to me at work. I had no idea what it might be until I stood there, looking at the tentacle, flood of newly sparked joy washing over me.

As another perfect circumstance, one desk neighbor had no idea about purple tentacles, while the other one did and was just as giddy about it as I was.

Shared happiness along with some confusion in others is tripled happiness, right?