Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Review: Pokémon Let’s Go! Pikachu

Posted in botch, business, video game, video game design by commorancy on November 16, 2018

img_0072[Updated: 11/19/2018 for Pokéball Plus Controller] I’ll make this one short and sweet. This is the first Pokémon for the Nintendo Switch and in some ways it’s fun, but in many ways it’s a sheer disappointment. Let’s Go!

Pikachu

In this review, I’m playing the Pikachu edition. I’m sure that the Eevee edition will likely be very similar in play value, with the exception of certain Pokémon you can only collect in each separate edition.

Controller Problems

Here’s the first disappointment with this game. I want to get this one out of the way right up front. The Nintendo Pro Controller doesn’t work at all in this game. When you press the connect button, the light Cylons back and forth, but never connects.

img_0065Unfortunately, you are forced to use the JoyCons with this game. This is an extreme disappointment. But wait, it gets worse. If you pull the JoyCons off of the console and hold them in your hand and use the JoyCons wirelessly, you can’t use both of them together like you can when they are connected to the console. When they are separated from the console, the game mistakenly assumes that two people will be using one each. An entirely stupid decision. If there’s only one player, then let the player use both. If a second player wants to join, then remap the keys so each player is separate. Don’t just make bad assumptions about this.

Even if you place the two controllers into a JoyCon Grip to make the JoyCons feel like a Pro controller, the game still assumes one controller per person. Bad, bad design. It gets worse, again. If you want to hold the JoyCon horizontally so that the buttons are on the right and so you can hold the single JoyCon with both hands… not possible. The only possible orientation for holding the JoyCon is vertical.

I’m very disappointed in Nintendo and Game Freak here. It keeps getting worse. Because the JoyCons are not capable of the same distance away from the Switch as the Pro Controller, the connectivity to the console is entirely spotty using the JoyCons when it is docked several feet from you. Unless you intend to game with the console just a few inches in front of you (in which case you might as well attach them), using the JoyCons at a distance is entirely problematic and frustrating.

So, the only way to use both controllers to play the game as a single player is when they are connected to the console and that means holding the Switch in your hand playing it using the built-in screen. You CANNOT play Pokémon Let’s Go using the Pro controller at all or by using both JoyCons together when they are not attached. You are forced to play this game using a single JoyCon per player when detached. A stupid and unnecessary requirement and decision. And people wonder why Nintendo is in third place for its consoles.

Pokéball Plus Controller

pokeball-plus.jpgNow that I’ve found, purchased and have had a chance to use a Pokéball Plus controller, I understand Nintendo’s reasoning not to support the Pro controller. It’s all in the name of making yet more money off of a new gadget. Considering that the Pokéball Plus controller costs $50 (just $20 shy of a Pro controller), this Pokémon game is simply a scam means to get you to buy into this new Pokéball controller.

With that said, the Pokéball Plus controller plays the game substantially better than using the JoyCons wirelessly and it has a longer wireless range. Though, with this controller, it’s still nowhere near perfect. However, I do see the attraction in using it.

The Pokéball Plus controller has two main functions:

1) To toss at your screen (cables hopefully keep it in check) and capture Pokémon with Pokéballs. When you toss, it simulates the action of throwing a Pokéball. The throwing action is heavily reminiscent of using a Wiimote.

2) The center knob acts as a joystick and the A button. On the red half, there’s another button that acts as the B button. I’m concerned with the longevity of this controller as you push through a rubberized surface to depress the button. I’m not sure how well that rubberized material will last.

Like the Wiimote, there’s a speaker in the ball. So, you’ll occasionally hear noises coming from the Pokémon when you trap them in the Pokéball. It’s a cute feature, but it’s really just a gimmick and the volume is no where near loud enough.

The downside is that the Y button is used throughout the game, but there’s no Y button on the Pokéball Plus controller. This means you’ll miss all of the areas where Y is used. Worse, there’s no way to take a screen snap or begin a video. You’ll still need to have your JoyCons sitting out for these functions. There’s also no button to get back to the Switch’s main desktop (to easily share videos and snapshots). Because you can only have two controllers active at any one time in this game, you can either have the left JoyCon active (sharing button) or the right JoyCon active (desktop button) in addition to the Pokéball Plus controller. This means you need to choose either to have the sharing button active with the Pokéball Plus or to have the desktop button active with the Pokéball Plus.

Basically, sharing anything from Pokémon Let’s Go is a pain in the rear. It’s just not easy, and it should be. If the single active controller could be the Pro controller, having both the sharing and desktop buttons available would be simple. Nooooo…. they can’t do that. This is only a problem if you have your Switch in the dock. If you’re carrying the Switch around with you and the JoyCons are attached, this isn’t a problem.

For the price of the Pokéball Plus, it’s a hard sell. Thankfully, I got it for about $36, but if you have to pay $50 for it, I’d certainly think twice. There is the game bundle where you get the game and the controller in one package. I don’t think it saves you any money, but it’s one way to give both as a gift. I bought the controller separately.

The round shape, unfortunately, leaves some to be desired. I’ve had problems with spherical shaped input devices in the past and these same problems arise here. If you don’t put the strap on correctly, you’ll always end up holding the ball backwards. You’ll have to take it off and flip it around. This makes it tedious to use this controller. Even if you are holding the ball in the correct orientation, if the controller position in your hand is slightly off, moving the character can be difficult. I find myself constantly readjusting my grip on the ball so that the joystick moves the character correctly.

The accuracy of “throwing” the Pokéball controller is hit or miss. Sometimes I think I’m throwing it correctly, but the ball goes off to the left or the right and misses. It’s a cool idea, but the accuracy and execution of this controller just doesn’t work all of the time. However, I will say that it is more accurate than trying to use a JoyCon. So, there’s at least that.

If I’ve somehow managed to sell you on getting a Pokéball Plus controller, I’d recommend looking for it at your local Best Buy store. Amazon appears to be out of stock and third parties on Amazon are selling it for $75 or higher. It’s also likely to be a hot seller over the holidays. If you’re considering it as a gift, I’d suggest going and getting it now. Don’t wait for Black Friday sales. It’s not likely to go on sale anyway. Just find it at Best Buy for $50 and pay for it at that price. If you have a Best Buy rewards card, I’d suggest using that with your purchase. You can eventually get some money back on it.

Dock

This game almost completely ignores the fact that there’s a dock and, as a result, doesn’t properly support it. Instead of allowing use of the Pro controller when docked, it forces you to pull the JoyCons off of the Switch or use the Pokéball Plus controller instead. I found the JoyCons to be cumbersome, problematic and unwieldy. We spend $70 for the Pro controller and we can’t even use it. To not be able to use the Pro controller on Pokémon (one of Nintendo’s flagship properties) is just an extremely bad design choice. It also ignores the the idea of using the dock to play your game on your large screen TV. It almost seems the developers want to force you to play this game out of the dock by holding the Switch in your hand. In fact, I’d consider Pokémon Let’s Go to be Nintendo’s first real misstep on the Switch platform. Let’s hope this is not a sign of things to come as missteps like this could doom the Switch to failure.

Game Play

img_0064Not completely ignoring the stupidism that is the controller system (which is stupid), the gameplay is underwhelming. Sure, Nintendo finally added the ability to see the Pokémon running around in the weeds before you collect it, but that’s of little concession when the game is basically the same game as every other DS version.

Let’s go back to the controller again, but for a different reason than above. When you are attempting to capture Pokémon with the JoyCons attached to the Switch, it’s much, much easier and simpler to throw Pokéballs. The ball throwing motion needed when using a detached JoyCon is much, much more difficult for no apparent reason. Worse, when using a loose JoyCon, the hand on the screen when trying to interact with your Pokémon is entirely difficult, where using the touch screen is easy peasy. Here’s another place where forcing the use of a JoyCon a tremendously bad idea. The motion to throw a Pokéball with the Pro controller would mimic the same motion used when holding the console… where using the a detached JoyCon for throwing a Pokéball is … well … strange.

Game Design

img_0068I was actually expecting a whole lot more use of the player camera than what is being offered. It’s effectively a 3DS version ported to the Switch. Nintendo completely missed the opportunity to give this game a much needed facelift for the Switch, like they did for Breath of the Wild. It is effectively the same game as every other Pokémon game. This is quite disappointing, but it’s also a double edged sword.

For some players, it is like a comfortable glove. If you’ve played Pokémon in the past, then you can fall right into this game without any problems at all. It’s old hat and feels old hat. The graphics are improved, but it needed a more open world RPG style update rather than this constrained old-school Pokémon conversion.

I’m sure a lot of people will absolutely adore this game. Because Nintendo has chosen to play games with how the controllers work, it really constrains this game to feeling rushed and unfinished or a really bad port.

Graphics

To be honest, the graphics are very low res, flat and cartoony. I sort of expected this, but not at this low of a level. It’s at such a low level, that it looks like a Nintendo DS. Though, as I said above, it is somewhat better than the DS only from the fact that the resolution is higher… but that’s not really saying much.

Overall,  was expecting a whole lot more from this game.

 

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Score

Graphics: 4.5 out of 10 (Underwhelming)
Sound: 2 out of 10 (Music is way too loud and unnecessary)
Controls: 2 out of 10 (Controller system is strange, no Pro controller support)

Overall: 4 out of 10 (Antiquated, strange controller design, seems unfinished or bad port)

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Software Engineering and Architecture

Posted in botch, business, Employment by commorancy on October 21, 2018

ExcellenceHere’s a subject of which I’m all too familiar and is in need of commentary. Since my profession is technical in nature, I’ve definitely run into various issues regarding software engineering, systems architecture and operations. Let’s Explore.

Software Engineering as a Profession

One thing that software engineers like is to be able to develop their code on their local laptops and computers. That’s great for rapid development, but it causes many problems later, particularly when it comes to security, deployment, systems architecture and operations.

For a systems engineer / devops engineer, the problem arises when that code needs to be productionalized. This is fundamentally a problem with pretty much any newly designed software system.

Having come from from a background of systems administration, systems engineering and devops, there are lots to be considered when wanting to deploy freshly designed code.

Designing in a Bubble

I’ve worked in many companies where development occurs offline on a notebook or desktop computer. The software engineer has built out a workable environment on their local system. The problem is, this local eneironment doesn’t take into account certain constraints which may be in place in a production environment such as internal firewalls, ACLs, web caching systems, software version differences, lack of compilers and other such security or software constraints.

What this means is that far too many times, deploying the code for the first time is fraught with problems. Specifically, problems that were not encountered on the engineer’s notebook… and problems that sometimes fail extremely bad. In fact, many of these failures are sometimes silent (the worst kind), where everything looks like it’s functioning normally, but the code is sending its data into a black hole and nothing is actually working.

This is the fundamental problem with designing in a bubble without any constraints.

I understand that building something new is fun and challenging, but not taking into account the constraints the software will be under when finally deployed is naive at best and reckless at the very worse. It also makes life as a systems engineer / devops engineer a living hell for several months until all of these little failures are sewn shut.

It’s like receiving a garment that looks complete, but on inspection, you find a bunch of holes all over that all need to be fixed before it can be worn.

Engineering as a Team

To me, this is situation means that software engineer is not a team player. They might be playing on the engineering team, but they’re not playing on the company team. Part of software design is designing for the full use case of the software, including not only code authoring, but systems deployment.

If systems deployment isn’t your specialty as a software engineer, then bring in a systems engineer and/or devops engineer to help guide your code during the development phase. Designing without taking the full scope of that software release into consideration means you didn’t earn your salary and you’re not a very good software engineer.

Yet, Silicon Valley is willing to pay “Principal Engineers” top dollar for these folks failing to do their jobs.

Building and Rebuilding

It’s an entirely a waste of time to get to the end of a software development cycle and claim “code complete” when that code is nowhere near complete. I’ve had so many situations where software engineers toss their code to us as complete and expect the systems engineer to magically make it all work.

It doesn’t work that way. Code works when it’s written in combination with understanding of the architecture where it will be deployed. Only then can the code be 100% complete because only then will it deploy and function without problems. Until that point is reached, it cannot be considered “code complete”.

Docker and Containers

More and more, systems engineers want to get out of the long drawn out business of integrating square code into a round production hole, eventually after much time has passed, molding the code into that round hole is possible. This usually takes months. Months that could have been avoided if the software engineer had designed the code in an environment where the production constraints exist.

That’s part of the reason for containers like Docker. When a container like Docker is used, the whole container can then be deployed without thought to square pegs in round holes. Instead, whatever flaws are in the Docker container are there for all to see because the developer put it there.

In other words, the middle folks who take code from engineering and mold it onto production gear don’t relish the thought of ironing out hundreds of glitchy problems until it seamlessly all works. Sure, it’s a job, but at some level it’s also a bit janitorial, wasteful and a unnecessary.

Planning

Part of the reason for these problems is the delineation between the engineering teams and the production operations teams. Because many organizations separate these two functional teams, it forces the above problem. Instead, these two teams should be merged into one and work together from project and code inception.

When a new project needs code to be built that will eventually be deployed, the production team should be there to move the software architecture onto the right path and be able to choose the correct path for that code all throughout its design and building phases. In fact, every company should mandate that its software engineers be a client of operations team. Meaning, they’re writing code for operations, not the customer (even though the features eventually benefit the customer).

The point here is that the code’s functionality is designed for the customer, but the deploying and running that code is entirely for the operations team. Yet, so many software engineers don’t even give a single thought to how much the operations team will be required support that code going forward.

Operational Support

For every component needed to support a specific piece of software, there needs to be a likewise knowledgeable person on the operations team to support that component. Not only do they need to understand that it exists in the environment, the need to understand its failure states, its recovery strategies, its backup strategies, its monitoring strategies and everything else in between.

This is also yet another problem that software engineers typically fail to address in their code design. Ultimately, your code isn’t just to run on your notebook for you. It must run on a set of equipment and systems that will serve perhaps millions of users. It must be written in ways that are fail safe, recoverable, redundant, scalable, monitorable, deployable and stable. These are the things that the operations team folks are concerned with and that’s what they are paid to do.

For each new code deployment, that makes the environment just that much more complex.

The Stacked Approach

This is an issue that happens over time. No software engineer wants to work on someone else’s code. Instead, it’s much easier to write something new and from scratch. It’s easy for software engineer, but it’s difficult for the operations team. As these new pieces of code get written and deployed, it drastically increases the technical debt and burden on the operations staff. Meaning, it pushes the problems off onto the operations team to continue supporting more and more and more components if none ever get rewritten or retired.

In one organization where I worked, we had such an approach to new code deployment. It made for a spider’s web mess of an environment. We had so many environments and so few operations staff to support it, the on-call staff were overwhelmed with the amount of incessant pages from so many of these components.

That’s partly because the environment was unstable, but that’s partly because it was a house of cards. You shift one card and the whole thing tumbles.

Software stacking might seem like a good strategy from an engineering perspective, but then the software engineers don’t have to first line support it. Sometimes they don’t have to support it at all. Yes, stacking makes code writing and deployment much simpler.

How many times can engineering team do this before the house of cards tumbles? Software stacking is not an ideal any software engineering team should endorse. In fact, it’s simply comes down to laziness. You’re a software engineer because writing code is hard, not because it is easy. You should always do the right thing even if it takes more time.

Burden Shifting

While this is related to software stacking, it is separate and must be discussed separately. We called this problem, “Throwing shit over the fence”. It happens a whole lot more often that one might like to realize. When designing in a bubble, it’s really easy to call “code complete” and “throw it all over the fence” as someone else’s problem.

While I understand this behavior, it has no place in any professionally run organization. Yet, I’ve seen so many engineering team managers endorse this practice. They simply want their team off of that project because “their job is done”, so they can move them onto the next project.

You can’t just throw shit over the fence and expect it all to just magically work on the production side. Worse, I’ve had software engineers actually ask my input into the use of specific software components in their software design. Then, when their project failed because that component didn’t work properly, they threw me under the bus for that choice. Nope, that not my issue. If your code doesn’t work, that’s a coding and architecture problem, not a component problem. If that open source component didn’t work in real life for other organizations, it wouldn’t be distributed around the world. If a software engineer can’t make that component work properly, that’s a coding and software design problem, not an integration or operational problem. Choosing software components should be the software engineer’s choice to use whatever is necessary to make their software system work correctly.

Operations Team

The operations team is the lifeblood of any organization. If the operations team isn’t given the tools to get their job done properly, that’s a problem with the organization as a whole. The operations team is the third hand recipient of someone else’s work. We step in and fix problems many times without any knowledge of the component or the software. We do this sometimes by deductive logic, trial and error, sometimes by documentation (if it exists) and sometimes with the help of a software engineer on the phone.

We use all available avenues at our disposal to get that software functioning. In the middle of the night the flow of information can be limited. This means longer troubleshooting times, depending on the skill level of the person triaging the situation.

Many organizations treat its operations team as a bane, as a burden, as something that shouldn’t exist, but does out of necessity. Instead of treating the operations team as second class citizens, treat this team with all of the importance that it deserves. This degrading view typically comes top down from the management team. The operations team is not a burden nor is it simply there out of necessity. It exists to keep your organization operational and functioning. It keeps customer data accessible, reliable, redundant and available. It is responsible for long term backups, storage and retrieval. It’s responsible for the security of that data and making sure spying eyes can’t get to it. It is ultimately responsible to make sure the customer experience remains at a high excellence standard.

If you recognize this problem in your organization, it’s on you to try and make change here. Operations exists because the company needs that job role. Computers don’t run themselves. They run because of dedicated personnel who make it their job and passion to make sure those computers stay online, accessible and remain 100% available.

Your company’s uptime metrics are directly impacted by the quality of your operations team staff members. These are the folks using the digital equivalent of chewing gum and shoelaces to keep the system operating. They spend many a sleepless night keeping these systems online. And, they do so without much, if any thanks. It’s all simply part of the job.

Software Engineer and Care

It’s on each and every software engineer to care about their fellow co-workers. Tossing code over the fence assuming there’s someone on the other side to catch it is insane. It’s an insanity that has run for far too long in many organizations. It’s an insanity that needs to be stopped and the trend needs to reverse.

In fact, by merging the software engineering and operations teams into one, it will stop. It will stop by merit of having the same bosses operating both teams. I’m not talking about at a VP level only. I’m talking about software engineering managers need to take on the operational burden of the components they design and build. They need to understand and handle day-to-day operations of these components. They need to wear pagers and understand just how much operational work their component is.

Only then can engineering organizations change for the positive.


As always, if you can identify with what you’ve read, I encourage you to like and leave a comment below. Please share with your friends as well.

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Rant Time: The problem with Twitter

Posted in botch, business, social media by commorancy on August 27, 2018

Twitter-smTwitter began as a lofty idea for small text social conversation. For many of its early years, it managed to keep some semblance of order and decency. As of 2018, the platform has devolved into something far less useful and more problematic. Let’s explore.

Primary Twitter Topics

Today, Twitter is primarily dominated by breaking news, gun control and political rhetoric, sometimes all three at the same time. While these topics do have a place, reading these dominant conversations every moment of every day is tiring. It also goes against the diversity of what the platform is intended to offer. While these topics have a place, they don’t really have a place as the dominant force on Twitter. They exist simply to clog up each Twitter user’s feed.

Twitter’s Failings and Slow Development

When Twitter began back in 2006, it offered a fairly limited social conversation platform with its 140 character limit. In fact, that limit wasn’t raised until early 2018, 12 years later… when the limit went up to 280 characters. Talk about slow development! This 140 character limit was a holdover from SMS days which still to this day hold this limit. I do not know why Twitter chose this arbitrarily small amount of text for a social conversation platform. It had no relation to SMS and couldn’t send SMS messages, so it never made sense.

Twitter has also firmly embraced the “no edit” mantra to the chagrin of many. To modify a tweet, you must delete it, then recreate it. This is a cumbersome hassle. It also means that any feedback you had on that tweet must be forfeit. There’s a real incentive to get the tweet right the first time. For a conversation platform in 2018, this limitation on a text discussion platform is completely ludicrous. Clarification of thought is extremely important in all text mediums. The only way to ensure clarify of thought is via editing. We all make mistakes when typing, such as their for there or they’re. These are extremely common typing mistakes. Sometimes it’s the accidental misuse of homonyms. There are plenty of other types of common mistakes. There is also rewording. Yet, here we are… 12 years after Twitter’s inception and we STILL can’t edit a tweet. What the hell is going on over there at Twitter, Jack Dorsey?

While Twitter has grown little since 2006, only offering better privacy, limited feed customization, an ad platform and some UI improvements, it really has done next to nothing to improve the user functionality since 2006. I’ve worked at companies where the product has almost completely performed a 180º turn in product features in only 1-2 years. Twitter has remained nearly stagnant, feature wise and has implemented clamored features at an absolute snail’s pace (read, it hasn’t implemented them) in its 12 years of existence.

Censorship

As we all should understand, the first amendment free speech protections do not apply to private corporations. This ultimately means that there can be no speech submitted on the Twitter platform that is protected. As much as people want to complain that some left or right winger has been suspended, banned or otherwise dismissed from Twitter, that is Twitter’s right. Twitter is not a government owned or operated corporation. Therefore, they can censor, delete, suspend or otherwise prevent a user or entity from putting any content onto their platform for any reason.

What this means is that Twitter can do whatever they wish and claim violations of ‘terms of service’. After all, Twitter writes the terms of service and can modify them at any time without notification to anyone. In fact, Twitter isn’t even required to have explicit terms listed and they can still delete or suspend anyone they wish, for any reason. As I said, free speech protections on Twitter do not apply.

Leadership Team

Jack Dorsey heads up the leadership team at Twitter as CEO. In the last 1-2 years, he’s spouted rhetoric about reduction of hate speech on Twitter. What that ultimately translates to, within Twitter’s current moderation tool limits, is deletion of selected speech or accounts, regardless whether it contains hate speech or not. If Twitter doesn’t like what you have to say, out you go.

Twitter SuspendedNo more evident is that in those users who have amassed 15k followers or more. One foible on one of these accounts and Twitter closes it. No no, can’t have a 15k or more followers seeing something that Twitter management doesn’t like. Even celebs aren’t immune to this. If you are reading the article and you have amassed more than 6000 followers, your account is a risk with each tweet you post, particularly if your speech primarily consists of political messages, controversial topics or divisive ideas (NRA vs Gun Control, Abortion vs Pro Life, Trump bashing, etc).

The current technical means at Twitter’s disposal to reduce this kind of speech consists of tweet deletion, account suspensions or bans. Twitter has no other means at its disposal. In reality, Twitter has dug the hole it is now in. Twitter has failed to foresee problems of user scale. Whenever the total user base grows, so are the problems amplified that go with that. Twitter should have initially implemented some level of moderation and anointed users to help moderate its platform in a similar fashion to both Wikipedia and Reddit. It didn’t.

Twitter is to Blame

Twitter has only itself to blame for not taking proactive action sooner and in failing to build more complete moderation tools sooner. Additionally, social platforms that have implemented self-moderation automated systems have done exceptionally well. When the community downvotes certain content at a certain level, then Twitter should not promote it into user’s feeds. In fact, Twitter’s continual promotion of tweets into people’s primary feeds has actually propagated hate and problematic speech. Instead, Twitter should have been building a self-policing platform from day one or at least within the first couple of years. They chose not to.

Even today, Twitter still hasn’t built a self-policing platform. I regularly find hate speech in my feed. Worse, while I can mark the stuff I like with a heart, I have no such action to force items out of my feed that I choose not to see. The best I can do is mute the user or mute the account. Why is that Twitter? Why can’t I mark individual types of tweets that I no longer want to see and have that content removed from my feed? Why do I have to trudge all the way into preferences and put in mute words or, even more sledgehammery, mute or block the user? Even then, that only affects my account. It doesn’t have any impact on the global Twitter.

Employing Social Moderation and Tweet Grading

Using social moderation is both effective and necessary when you’re working with millions of users sending millions of messages per day. Twitter is a social platform. Let’s use that social interaction of those millions of people to bubble worthy messages to the top and sink crap messages so they never get seen. This is the ONLY way to effectively moderate at scale on a social platform. The value of each tweet is in its worth to viewers. Many viewers all marking tweets downward means less people see it. Many viewers marking tweets up means more people will see it. I can’t imagine that any sane person would choose to vote up hate speech, death threats or similar unacceptable or violent content.

I’m not saying that any one user should have undue influence over a tweet’s popularity. In fact, users will need to build their trust and reputation levels on the platform. For example, newly created accounts might not even be able to influence up or downward momentum of tweets right out of the gate. It might take 2-4 months of interactions on the platform before the user’s interactions begin to count. This way, users can’t go out and create 100 or more accounts in an attempt to get their tweet to the top of popularity. In fact, any tweet that ends up getting upvotes from too many newly created accounts without other upvotes should be marked as suspect and have their own trust levels locked or reduced.

Additionally, it should take interactions from many trusted accounts simultaneously to raise a tweet’s popularity substantially, particularly if those accounts have no relationship to one another (not following each other). This says that independent users have found a tweet’s content to be worthy of interaction by others.

This isn’t to say this is the only algorithm that could be built to handle social moderation, but it would definitely be a good start and a way to take this platform to the next level. Conversely, I will state that building an algorithm to scan and rate a tweet based solely on its textual content is next to impossible. Using the power of social interaction to grade a tweet and raise or lower its value is the best way to force those who want to game the system out of the platform.

Also, there should be no exemptions from the system. Not for CNN, not for Proctor and Gamble, not for any account. Social moderation needs to apply to all accounts or it’s worthless.

I’m not saying that social moderation is in any way a perfect solution. It isn’t. But, at least it can be fair when implemented properly. Can this kind of system be gamed? Probably. But, the engineers would need to watch for this eventuality and be ready to make change to prevent further gaming of the system. Eventually, the holes will be patched.

Multiple feeds and Topics

Here’s another area where Twitter has failed. As with any social platform, users have likes and dislikes and topic preferences they want to see. For example, I really don’t want to see political bashing. That’s not my thing. I’d prefer a feed that is politic free. My only interest in politics and political candidates is when there’s an imminent election. Otherwise, I want it out of my feed. Same for NRA / Gun control arguments. Same for Trump tweet bashing. Same for Pro Life vs Abortion. I don’t want to waste time with these types of divisive controversial topics in my feed. I have better uses for my time. If I want to see that content, I will explicitly go searching for it. I don’t want it to automatically appear in my feed.

Yet, Twitter has not implemented any customized feeds based on likes, hobbies or preferences of information (i.e., new technology). Instead, Twitter has based this part on following Twitter accounts that offer such information. The problem is, chasing down these accounts to follow. Even then, because those accounts might only post new on-topic information 20% of the time, the other 80% of the time I would see stuff I don’t want to see in my feed. Herein lies the problem with Twitter. It shouldn’t be based on following a user, it should be based on following conversation topics.

I’d prefer to customize my feeds (and have several feeds hooked to different topics) and subscribe to those feeds. I don’t need to follow any given account that’s talks about stuff I’m not interested in. Instead, by following topics, my feed gets interesting tweets. I can then discover new accounts to follow and also discover topics I’m interested in. This is the single important piece that Jack and team have sorely failed to address within the Twitter platform. To reiterate, I want to see stuff in my feeds that I am interested in, even if I don’t follow that account. I don’t want to see stuff I’m not interested in at all even if following an account that tweets about it. Following by topic is more important than following by user.

This is the power of social media. This is the power of Twitter. This is what is missing to make Twitter a complete platform… this, in addition to social moderation.

Twitter’s Hand Moderation

Instead of implementing a social moderation system or an interests based feed system, Twitter has spent its time hand moderating by suspending and banning accounts all in its stated goal of “reducing hate speech”. While deleting accounts may reduce that account’s ability to post hate speech, it doesn’t stop the user from creating a brand new account and starting it all over again. This is Twitter’s flaw in the user follow model.

Only the above two designs: 1) topic based multiple feeds and 2) social moderation will lead to lasting change within the Twitter platform. Nothing else will. Twitter’s hand moderation technique is merely a small bandaid with limited scope. It will never make a dent in reducing hate speech on Twitter. Lasting change only comes from innovating the platform in new and better ways to improve the end user experience and, at the same time, reducing the signal to noise ratio.

It’s time for Twitter to step up and actually begin innovating its platform in substantial new and meaningful ways… or it will perish.

↩︎

Game Review: Assassin’s Creed Origins

Posted in reviews, video game by commorancy on May 14, 2018

Assassin’s Creed Origins is an attempt by Ubisoft to milk this tired franchise for more money. With each new iteration, they are making more and more mistakes and the games make less and less sense. This game’s sole purpose to exist seems to be a money grab. Let’s explore.

Bayek and Aya

In Assassin’s Creed Origins, you play as the Medjay (pronounced madge-eye) hero Bayek. He’s a nobody really, but the game makes you think he’s somebody. Unlike Altair and Ezio, who were at least well respected for who they were in their respective communities, Bayek is a small-town-kid… kind of like Connor in Assassin’s Creed 3. Unfortunately, this plot device has already worn thin by this franchise. At least come up with something different.

Bayek’s wife is Aya. She only appears in the game in tiny sections and you do get to play as her (sort of) during a boat mission and a handful of other smaller end missions. In fact, Aya takes on a crucial role in one of the final assassinations taking away that pleasure from Bayek unnecessarily. However, you don’t get to do something truly unique and switch between (or choose to play as) either of the characters. Come on Ubisoft, get with the program.
Bayek-ACO

Bayek is conflicted all throughout the game because his kid was killed by who really knows for whatever unnecessary reason. This is intended to give Bayek motivation to become an assassin and kill for revenge (among other reasons).

Storylines

This is as good a time as any to talk about the stories presented. Bayek must find and kill 8 (or so) different individuals along the main quest. Most of them are temple priests who’ve done wrong… or at least, so the game tells us. Aya kills one of the primary baddies as well.

The side quests consist of fetch quests as well as a few side assassination quests, occasionally taking the time out to do racing or fighting. Unlike the original Assassin’s Creed, there is no run-climb racing. The stories are average and uninspired for an Assassin’s Creed title. The ending is forced and really explains nothing. The stories can be fun the first few times doing a task, but ultimately it’s the same things over and over… especially if you’ve already played the Desmond versions. It would be great if Ubisoft could figure out a way to make the stories more dynamic, fresh, less fetch-questy or fighty and do something different. Yes, it does have assassin in the name of the game, but that doesn’t mean everything in the game needs to be a fight. The majority of the stories have nothing to do with assassinations or being stealthy. The ones that do are so weakly written, they might as well just tell you who to kill and put a map pointer. Why bother with the crap setup? Let’s just get to the activity and be done with it.

Taking it to the Next Level

To revitalize this Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft needs to take this franchise to the next level by extending Assassin’s Creed into a full blown RPG. It’s nearly there, but it needs so much more. First, it needs to abandon the idea of a specific character’s look. Instead, let us choose our character’s look through various presets (head, body, body shape, height, facial features, etc). Second, let the player choose a class and focus on it (fighter, seer, magic user, etc).

While the main quest can be primarily about assassinations and then seeing the bad guys one last time in the Duat (the place between life and death) to give them their final send off, the second part of the primary quest should be about present day and the importance of the animus experience to the present day (something lost in this version). The rest of the time the stories should focus on assassinations. It can be side quests or it can be quests that are required to give you an item that let you finish the main quest. There are so many ways to improve the game into a full blown RPG.

After this, they will need to add auto-generating / regenerating dungeons to dive into with random loot. This gives the possibility of finding some really great weapons and armor during the game.

The game would need functional armor, not just costumes that look pretty when worn. In Origins, you can effectively wear nothing or steel armor and it doesn’t reduce your ability to take damage. Armor needs to protect the player character from damage in increasing amounts when worn.

Armor needs to be broken into pieces (chest, legs, arms, head, feet, etc). You should also be able to find or forge armor for your steed. This not only lets you increase your armor in levels, you can mix and match armor to create your own unique costumes. Right now, it’s a look-pretty situation. The costumes look great, but they’re not functional in the game. Also, whatever happened to dying the costumes? Where did that feature go? There is a dye shop in the game, but it can’t be used.

Weapons do have individual strength, but are leveled. That’s fine for the first pass. This method can be carried over. But, I’d like to see a way to craft and improve weapons from in-game materials (brass, copper, etc). The raw materials are in the game, but you can’t really do anything with them. Crafting is only in ACO in a tiny little way. It needs to be fully expanded. Also, having weapons break and wear out allows you to overpower an enemy and wear their weapons, shields and armor out, thus disarming them and gaining the advantage.

The side quests are fine, but lose the fetch quest idea as much as possible. I really tire of having to “go get” something for an NPC. They have legs and can get access to a horse, let them go get it. If it’s a fetch quest type that ends as the item in payment for my service, then I’m okay with that.. particularly if the item is a worthy weapon or piece of armor. But, I don’t want to have to carry it all the way back only to get a piece of food or some silly trinket. Let me keep the stuff I find or let me get it back in some way.

Co-op and group dungeons should be added. Let’s get back to the idea of multiplayer in an RPG. This means I can find and assemble a team to go into a group dungeon to take on a swarm of enemies that can’t be taken alone. This encourages team play.

Item and building interactions must be more complete. Instead of these facades that sit on the ground and do nothing (other than as obstacles to climb), the buildings need to allow for entry into new dungeons to master. Items on the ground should offer much more interactivity. There are so many containers that can’t be opened or checked. Instead, let the game choose which container types to fill with random loot.

This is by no means to be taken as an exhaustive list of ideas for turning Assassin’s Creed into an RPG. It’s nearly there already, it just needs to take the next step. This is exactly what the AC series needs take it to the next level and let it rival that of Bethesda RPG games. However, it’s going to need an entirely new exact game save system by abandoning the current checkpoint save system in Origins.

Random NPC Banter

This just needs to go away. The NPCs have, at most, 3-5 phrases they can say when you pass by them and using the same voices over and over. Don’t do this. Unless you plan to spend the time to create hundreds of different audio clips that can be randomly said by NPCs, just leave them silent. Hearing the same phrases over and over is just plain annoying and unnecessary.

Fighting

Unfortunately, this is probably the worst part of the game. While Assassin’s Creed 2 practically got the fighting aspect 100% right, Assassin’s Creed Origin gets it almost 100% wrong. The fights are not in any way fun. Let me just make this clear. Fighting should be extremely fun in a game like this, but no. There are two tactics the enemies use that just drive me absolutely crazy. It doesn’t matter if it’s an animal or an NPC, they both use this tactic.

Backing Up as an AI combat strategy

While I realize walking backward could be used occasionally by an enemy, it is entirely overused in this game. This tactic always has the enemy moving just out of reach of even your longest weapon. There’s absolutely no point in this AI tactic. It wasn’t in any other AC game, why is it here? It just wastes time and serves to frustrate. This crap tactic is at the top of my least favorite AI fighting tactics in a video game. I’ve never played any other game where this tactic is used by enemy AI. I don’t even know how to rant enough on this particular tactic, but it drives me bat shit crazy.

Note, I’ve seen this tactic employed with human NPCs, lions, tigers, hyenas and practically any other ground combat. Ubisoft, get rid of this tactic. It doesn’t make the game fun, it only makes the combat incredible shite.

Shields

While I realize some NPC’s have shields, the only tactic to get around the bigger shields is try and flank the enemy (almost impossible because they turn around instantaneously) or try to press and hold with a large sword (power attack). The problem I have with these two suggested combat tactics is that they rarely ever work. Yes, the game gives them to you, but by the time you attempt a power attack, the enemy has either stabbed you repeatedly several times or knocked you on the ground and stabbed you. Press and hold attacks are worthless.

Worse, it’s almost impossible to break through a shield on an enemy. The strategy I end up using is climbing and performing a top down assassination over trying to do a break on a shield. Again, Ubisoft got this part totally wrong. Let me at least pull that stupid shield out of their hands and disarm them. Nope, no such feature in the game. Disarming an NPC is just a basic maneuver in any fighting simulator, why is it not here Ubisoft? How about letting me me break their shield in half? Nope, not here either. Shields don’t take damage.

Worse, when I try to use a shield, it’s not nearly as strong as when an NPC uses it. This is the dreaded one-sided fighting behavior that I absolutely abhor in games. If you’re going to make a fighting game, at least have the decency to make it a fair fight. When you tilt the fighting towards the NPC and away from the player, that’s just a shit tactic, Ubisoft.

Finally, shields should eventually break. If I keep hammering on it with my sword, the NPC shield should eventually disintegrate. Nope, these NPC shields are entirely invincible. I shake my head at this crap design.

Combat Mode

In this game, it’s way too easy to trigger combat mode and almost impossible to shut it down short of running far, far away… and even then that doesn’t work if the enemy is on a horse or in a chariot. For whatever reason, an enemy’s horse is always about 25% faster than yours. This is yet another unfair cheat tactic on the part of the game. Horses should either be of equal speed or … what the hell Ubisoft? … let us upgrade our horses to be faster than theirs. Yet another craptacular design failure.

Can’t break out of animations

This should be self-explanatory, but I’ll go ahead and explain it anyway. When you’re in the middle of combat, if you attempt to do certain moves, you can’t do anything else until the animation plays out in full. I’ve had enemies desync the game because I inadvertently triggered a long combat animation sequence that you cannot stop. Because there is no way to break out of an animation sequence, you always have to let it play out in full, enemies can come in and stab or hammer or poke you.

This is even more commonly frustrating because sometimes if you’ve got two or three enemies, they can gang up on you and prevent you from getting out of their fighting tactics. If they hit you in just the right order, even dodging is impossible because the taking wounds animations have to completely play out and cannot be broken out of.

This is crap game design. The player character should always be able to regain control over the situation without waiting for a long-ish animation to complete. All animations need to be broken out of and stopped.

Leveled Characters

So I get that Ubisoft finally added numbers and character levels to the NPC’s in the game. It’s been a long time coming. But, the way this is implemented is entirely and complete garbage… especially for an assassin.

Some enemies are, for all intents and purposes, invincible. These appear with a skull in a red shield above their head. I shake my head at this crap. To simulate real people, the hero should be able to assassinate anyone at any level. Knives don’t discriminate based on level. Assassination is assassination. Level doesn’t matter to a knife. Levels should only matter for melee combat where skill is involved. A stealth assassination from behind or above should always kill the enemy regardless of level. I should rain down from above, knock them down then assassinate any NPC in the game regardless of level. This is how a knife works, Ubisoft. Unfortunately, Ubisoft sets it up so that whenever an enemy is ‘too strong’ (or too high a level), they are invincible from either weapon’s attacks or knife assassination. In fact, a sword that might kill someone at your same level, an invincible enemy might take at most 90 damage.

Again, this crap drives me absolutely bat shit crazy. It’s such a crap design. Ubisoft, stop, learn and listen… and STOP playing these stupid games with your franchises. If you can’t do leveled characters right, then don’t do them at all.

Worse, there’s a preference that allows you to set NPCs to fight at or around your level. Yet, when you turn this setting on, it does absolutely nothing. Characters who were weaker are always weaker. Characters who are leveled way above you stay leveled way above you. If you’re going to add this setting to the menu, Ubisoft can you at least make it work?

Can’t Kill Citizens

In past games, you could kill civilians, but if you killed more than 5, the game would desync. In this game, you can rarely do this. They are simply unkillable in many cases. He’s an assassin. Blades should work equally well on enemies and on civilians alike. Go back to desyncing if you don’t want us doing it. Don’t just prevent the blades from working at all. Though I have found places in the game where civilians can be killed, I’ve also found places where they cannot. This was an unnecessary addition to the game engine.

Horrible combat button placement

For whatever reason, Ubisoft has decided to muck with all of the previous combat button placement. In past games, attack was always on the ABXY or X⃝△▢ buttons in some manner. In Origins, Ubisoft decided to move them to the trigger buttons by default. Wait… what crap is this? Who ever designs games with attack on shoulder or trigger buttons? Thankfully, they offer an alternative mapping that at least puts them on X and Y. No, it’s not optimal placement, but it’s at least it’s on these buttons. Why would you put combat on X and Y over A and B? These combat moves should always be on A and B buttons (Xbox) or X and O buttons (PS4)… like every other game on the planet.

This is always called messing with a good thing and Ubisoft is now firmly guilty of screwing with this game just to screw with it and for no other reason. Bad design.

Smoke Bombs

In past games, you had the ability to get and drop smoke bombs at will. In this game, smoke bombs are tied to combat. To drop a smoke bomb in this game, you now have to perform some kind of combat maneuver, then following that maneuver, press the A button quickly to drop a smoke bomb. No No No NO NO! Dropping a smoke bomb should be a button on its own. Never tie it to a combat move. If I just want to drop a smoke bomb for no reason, that’s my choice. Stupid design.

Perfect Aim

This is one of those complaints I’ve had for a very long time and it keeps coming back time and time again. Every enemy has perfect aim and infinite line of sight. No one ever misses hitting you unless you’re overly good at dodging. Even then, arrows still seem to make their target even after dodging. Yes, you can use your shield to protect yourself, but if that works 50% of the time, you’re lucky. Some enemy is always knocking you back and typically enemies swarm making it impossible to use the shield effectively.

Swarming and moving out of range

Enemies in this game always want to come in swarms. When you climb to avoid the swarms, the NPCs (animals or humans) move just out of range of your ranged weapons if they can’t reach you. This means you can’t shoot arrows at them. This is plain out cheating by the developers. Don’t move NPCs just out of range because they can’t get to you. I’ve seen this tactic in other games and it is entirely unnecessary. Once again, stupid design.

Boat Battles

This is easily the weakest and most unnecessary parts of this game. Several times you’re on board a ship with Aya and random NPC schmoes who don’t make a difference to the story (other than Cleopatra in one battle). You’re tasked to sink ever increasing sized warships. These activities are stupid, unnecessary and overly hard to control. I didn’t find this part of the game at all fun. In fact, I would have preferred skipping this entire section of the game and have the game take me to the final destination. In fact, I almost abandoned the game entirely at this point. I managed to get through this lame, unskippable section of the game through some unnecessary tactics. If you can’t do boat battles right, don’t do them at all… or, at least let us skip the entire activity.

Seriously, what does a boat battle have to do with being an assassin?

Climbing Activities

As with other Assassin’s Creed games, climbing was the gimmick that made Assassin’s Creed work. It’s still in this game as well, but not explained as to how this character does it. He just does. As with other AC titles, climbing sometimes works, but sometimes doesn’t. It depends on what you’re trying to do.

In most cases, the camera gets in the way. Because climbing direction is heavily dependent on which way the camera is facing, when the camera randomly moves, you’ll end up careening off in the wrong direction and setting off a bunch of guards in the process. This is, in fact, one of THE most frustrating aspects of this game (and really, any AC game).

For utilitarian purposes, climbing works fine. For stealthy assassinations, I could swear that the game cheats and sends me careening right in the middle of a load of guards simply to alert them. I’ve learned never to use climbing as an assassination strategy unless there’s plenty of room to maneuver. Even then, it can all go horribly wrong.

Ignoring all of the combat problems, this is one of the games top problems. Though, I’ve had this complaint with just about every Assassin’s Creed game ever made. Though, this game seems to be worse about it than others.

Senu

In lieu of the previous semi-magical “Eagle Vision” that simply just existed, they replaced it with, you know, a pun. They give you “Senu”, a flying Eagle with ‘Vision’. It circles overhead like a vulture. When you activate Senu, you can control him to fly around and over various encampments to identify enemies, loot chests and various other identifiers.

Senu was an unnecessary addition to the game and does nothing to explain the other version of “Eagle Vision”. Instead, they should have simply used the tried-and-true Eagle Vision that had been long established in every prior game. It needed no explaining. Adding this eagle served no purpose other than to make a pun, which wasn’t funny. Senu could have been a great help if it could have not only stunned enemies, but actually damaged them by dive bombing them and/or pecking / scratching them. If you’re going to give us a companion (and since you’re already making this world completely unrealistic anyway), then while you’re at it, let us use Senu as a weapon against enemies right from the start. Such a waste.

Leveling Up

Yes, there is the ability to level up, but it’s so limited as to really not be helpful. You get enough experience points to level up timely enough, but it really doesn’t help make you stronger or better or faster most of the time. The majority of the perks are worthless. There are a few that help (poison darts, smoke bombs), but most don’t do anything to help make Bayek stronger, better or faster. In other words, the majority of the perks do nothing, with only a few having any real purpose. The few that do have purpose are so buried behind the ones that do nothing, you waste a ton perk points just to get to them.

Photo Mode

The photo mode in this game is nice enough, but doesn’t have near enough filters to make it worthwhile with depth of field being the best of the effects. Overall, it’s a nice enough feature, but it’s not worth playing this game just to use it.

Frame Rates, Audio Problems, Crashing, Lost Quests

Frame Rate Problems

One of the things I’ll say about the Xbox 360 versions of this game is that the frame rates were always consistent, particularly with climbing a synchronization point. When you get to the top, the camera circles the player character. This has always been a particularly smooth animation. Not in Assassin’s Creed Origins. Every single synchronization point animation is herky jerky and choppy… and this is at 1080p. I’m not even trying to run this game at 4K. I can’t even imagine what this animation looks like in 4K.

I only recently started playing this game because of a backlog of games I wanted to play first. I also thought that waiting would give Ubisoft enough time to patch stupid bugs. Well, they haven’t. This game is chock full of bugs and problems.

Lost Quests

This is a problem that also drives me insane. I’m playing along, select a quest and I’m on the way there to pick it up or finish it. There are two ways quests are lost here. The first way is I’m traveling a road and an invincible enemy appears and immediately spots me. Invincible enemies are an entirely stupid concept (see above), but they are also on horses that run far faster than mine does… which doesn’t make sense. So, they inevitably catch Bayek and desync. BTW, a single arrow shot or sword swing from an invincible enemy is nearly enough to desync. A second swing or shot and the game always desyncs. Upon respawning, the quest is gone. No where to be found. You can’t find it and you don’t know where it went.

The second place where quests get lost is when the game locks up and/or crashes. Upon restarting the game, the quest is gone. This one is just insanely stupid. It’s not like the game doesn’t have autosaves turned on all throughout. Even if the game just saved seconds before, the quest is gone. Worse, when you respawn, you can end up a long ways away from where you were.

I don’t know how many quests I’ve lost as a result of either of these two problems. Probably 15 to 20. This problem stems from the way this game chooses to save games (see below).

Audio Problems

This is a known problem. Ubisoft has had many reports of this problem going to late 2017. Yet, Ubisoft still hasn’t fixed this issue. I’ve run into it several times. After I’m done playing the game, I then sleep the Xbox One for a period of time. When I wake up the console, there’s no sound at all. When I attempt to change any audio settings in the game to bring it back, I only get an audio chirp about every 5 seconds. Note, the console itself has no problems producing sound as I get that from the Home screen and Cortana and other apps. This problem is entirely a bug in Assassin’s Creed Origins.

Crashing

Most games today crash occasionally. However, this game is well more buggy, crashing way more frequently than average. I’ve had hangs that turn into crashes. I’ve had hangs that recover. I’ve had random crashes with no hang. Since I’ve started playing, I’ve had at least one crash every 1-2 days. This game is not at all stable. Thankfully, the game saves frequently enough that you don’t lose what you’ve already collected. But, you may lose your active quest.

Game Saves

This game chooses to checkpoint save randomly. It makes a noise whenever it saves. I could really do without that noise. If you want to save a game, leave the noises off. Just save the game and put a visual notification. That’s all that’s needed.

You’d think that the game saves would do you a favor. In fact, they don’t. If you desync for any reason, you have to start whatever it was you are doing over from the beginning. The only thing that seems to be saved is chests you may have looted. These seem to remain looted after a desync. Other than that, your character respawns usually far away from the location where you were. This is annoyingly frustrating.

What is the point in a game save if not to recover exactly where you left off? Ubisoft, checkpoint saves are stupid. Get rid of them. Let us save exactly where we are and let us save at will. Let us start right back where we left off… in the middle of battle if necessary. Don’t throw us a long distance away and make us start that activity completely over. Stupid design

Graphics and Sound

While the cities and NPCs are ironically unrealistic in their actions, the visual world itself, particularly the sand dunes, the deserts and the oases are look reasonably realistic. Bayek’s character model is particularly well done. The same for the anime character seen in “Gift from the Gods” quest. I’m not even sure what that quest was about, but the character was straight out of a game like Final Fantasy. For less than 5 minutes on the screen, someone spent an inordinate amount of time modeling that character for the game.

The underwater action is well done and the water movement is better than most games of this type. As with most games today, these hyper-realistic game engines fall down in many small ways… specifically, low res models. While the lighting is well done, the statues and other models are just too low poly. Worse, the flags at the top of the temples are downright horrid. They fly and flap fine, but the edges of the flags look like something out of an 8-bit SuperMario game.

There is one sound thing that drives me insane in this game. It’s when Bayek has to constantly prompt the gamer to go do whatever urgent task is at hand. I don’t need or want that prompting. At least let me turn it off from the settings menu. Additionally, the enemies constantly taunt that the player’s imminent demise. I don’t want to hear this either. Let me shut off those taunting remarks from the enemies. These audio comments are entirely worthless. Either that or turnabout is fair play. If they NPCs can taunt, then let me taunt back with Bayek. Either that, or shut that stupid and repetitive taunting off.

DLC and Season Passes

As if I haven’t railed enough on this game already. Well, let me rail just a little bit more. The season pass costs $40, in addition to the $60 you’ve already paid. Yes, the Season Pass offers the following:

  • The Hidden Ones (Land add-on)
  • The Curse of the Pharaohs (Land add-on)
  • The worthless Calamity blade
  • The Horus Pack (outfit)
  • The Roman Centurion Pack (outfit)
  • 500 Helix credits

Questionably, Ubisoft has excluded certain DLC from this season pass (see below). This is where I begin my rant. What the hell, Ubisoft? First, you add critical game features (levels 41-45) as add-on content instead of actually, you know, patching the game where we already paid $60. I argue features such as increasing character level caps of the original game a critical game patch… not a DLC add-on. At least raise the level cap for everyone in any game version as prep for DLC add-ons. Tying this patch to a DLC is just asinine.

Second, you exclude certain DLC (e.g., the Deluxe Pack) from the season pass entirely? Why is this? All DLC world add-ons should be part of the season pass eventually, including whatever is in release day Deluxe Packs. Excluding these is just an unnecessary money grab. Sure, you can make a deluxe pack be exclusive for a month or two, but they should eventually make their way into season pass holder content. Shit, that’s an extra $10 on top of the $30 we’re expected to spend? Season passes are already questionable enough investments considering it’s possible that no further content will release for that $40 season pass price. Season passes are already a gamble for the gamer as there’s no guarantee of content quality, availability or indeed anything purchasing a season pass on game release day.

Present Day

As with most Assassin’s Creed games, Ubisoft throws in the animus portion as an afterthought. In fact, the story line almost identically follows the Lucy story line in the Desmond stories. Can you guys not think up anything original? The first time through it was fine, but a second time is pointless.

Perhaps it’s finally time to switch the roles around? Make the in-animus games as the afterthought and the out-of-animus present day the actual assassination area. I’d like to see an assassin scale a 50 story building and jump off into a dumpster below or use a parachute. I’d like to see then use the present day as a means to an end. It is fun to see these time period pieces, but let’s not lose sight of the story goal here. If you’re trying to tell a story about Abstergo, then let’s do that.

The in-game ancient temples were almost entirely worthless quest lines in the game as they never come full circle back to the present with Layla. Ubisoft, you guys have a lot of work ahead to actually turn Origins into something better than it currently is.

Overall

The game play mechanics are average. When the mechanics work, they work okay, but occasionally the collision detection is intensely bad. I can see the weapon connect with the enemy, yet nothing. This means extra work just to kill an enemy because the game didn’t detect it. Sometimes it means desync and forced restarting. The enemies who use the back up tactic just drive me absolutely insane. This tactic needs to be removed from the NPC combat AI. It doesn’t serve any purpose other than to frustrate. It doesn’t make the combat harder, it’s just plain stupid.

The stories are twice told tales that don’t really lead anywhere of any specific nature. The only story that ties it all in is when you exit the animus with Layla… Layla being a cheap knockoff of Lucy from Assassin’s Creed. However, what is she really doing there in the first place? We’ve already established the animus as a commercial thing that people can buy and use at home. Why are we going back to these coffin shaped devices? The only storyline that seems to tie it all in are the too few and far between temples were Bayek enables a pedestal which talks of Desmond and the imminent world destruction… not that Bayek will understand any of that… nor does he ever make any comments under his breath afterwards.

Worse, all of that modern day gibberish was inserted into the genetic code replay by the animus as a bug/feature rather than being an actual genetic memory from Bayek’s original story. Yet, Ubisoft completely ignored this leaving the gamer to assume that Bayek actually encountered that information. Sure, I believe he may have visited those temples, but I don’t believe he actually encountered that information during the reign of the Pharaohs. Why should I believe this? The story gives me more reason to believe the animus added that story element than Bayek actually having encountered it for real.

As for multiplayer, what multiplayer? Past AC games have had multiplayer elements, but this game has no direct multiplayer aspects. The only hint of multiplayer are the revenge quests which have you examine a body of a multiplayer in your world. Then, take on a revenge against the in-game enemies who killed that other player in their game. This is of very little consolation for the lack of multiplayer. It’s not like Ubisoft hasn’t offered multiplayer in past AC games. So, I’m befuddled why it was not in Origins.

This game could have been much, much better.

Graphics: 8.9 out of 10
Sound: 6 out of 10
Game Saves: 1 out of 10
Gameplay: 4 out of 10
Controls: 4 out of 10
Combat: 3 out of 10
Stories: 5 out of 10
Multiplayer: 0 out of 10 (there is no direct multiplayer or co-op).
Stability: 2 out of 10

Final Rating: 4.5 stars out of 10
Buy this game at $20 or less from the bargain bin or, if possible, rent it.

Is the iPhone X Innovative?

Posted in Apple, botch, california by commorancy on September 17, 2017

Clearly, Apple thinks so. I’m also quite sure some avid Apple fanboys think so. Let’s explore what innovation is and what it isn’t and compare that to the iPhone X. Let’s explore.

What is innovation?

Innovation effectively means offering something that hasn’t been seen before, either on other devices or, in fact, at all. I’ll give an example of this. If I create a transporter that can rearrange matter into energy and safely transmit it from point A to B and reassemble it into a whole, that’s innovation. Why? Because even though the concept has existed in the Star Trek universe, it has never existed in the real world. This is true innovation and would ultimately change transportation fundamentally as we know it. Though I won’t get into the exact ramifications of such an invention, suffice it to say this technology would be a world game changer. This example is just to show the difference between true innovation and pseudo innovation. Innovation should be a world game changer to be true innovation.

So then, what is pseudo innovation? This type of innovation, also known as incremental innovation, is to take an existing device and extend it with a natural progression that people expect or, perhaps, have even asked for or because other devices on the market have already added it. As an example, this would be taking a traditional blender and exchanging the blender bowl with a small single service container that can double as a cup. This is a natural progression from an existing blender to a more useful and functional device. This is the kind of change that doesn’t change the world, but solves a small problem for much smaller subset of people.

iPhone X Design

Let’s dissect this design from top to bottom to better understand it better and understand why the iPhone X is not in any way truly innovative and only presents pseudo innovation.

  • OLED display While this is new to the iPhone, it is in no way new to mobile devices. Samsung has been shipping tablets and phones with AMOLED displays for years now. In fact, I’ve personally owned the Samsung Galaxy Tab S for at least 4 years that has a Super AMOLED display. This display has been amazing and remains that way to this day. Apple is substantially late to this party for the iPhone. While it’s new to Apple’s devices, OLED is not in any way a new technology created by Apple. Worse, Apple hobbled their OLED display with the unusual design of that large black brow at the top. I still have no explanation for covering 10% of the display with an unsightly black bar. Worse, when videos play or other active content is viewed, 1/10 of that content is now being obscured by that black bar unless you change the settings. Such a questionable addition to an expensive phone.
  • Removal of Touch ID This is actually negative innovation. Removal of useful features from a device serves only to leave more questions than answers. Touch ID is a relatively new addition to the iPhone. That Apple shipped the iPhone X without it is entirely unexpected. Apple should have postponed the release until they got this right. Touch ID is an intrinsic, non-intrusive technology that works in all conditions, secures the device using biometrics and offers a much safer alternative to login IDs and typing passwords (something entirely cumbersome on small phone devices).
  • Addition of Face ID — Face recognition on a phone, while new to the iPhone isn’t a new technology, nor was it created by Apple. Cameras have been capable of recognizing faces when taking photos, but it does not necessarily take the step to identify the person. Apple takes it to the identification level with Face ID. In fact, it takes it to the next step to use it to identify the owner of the phone. However, this is an untested new technology when used on a phone. While computers with hefty internet connections have been capable of performing this type of fast facial recognition, a phone will require a cloud service to provide such an identification. This means that your facial information will need to transmit to a cloud service and attempt to determine that you are you. It also means that this picture information may be stored on Apple’s servers for this purpose. It also means there’s a huge privacy concern here if Face ID captures something it shouldn’t have. Touch ID is never susceptible to this privacy intrusion problem.
  • Wireless ChargingAgain, Samsung devices have had wireless inductive charging for years. This addition, while new to Apple’s phones, is not in any way innovation. Wireless charging has previously existed on other non-Apple devices and, again, has not been created by Apple. Apple has embraced the Qi wireless charging standard up to a point. However, Apple has denied iPhone devices from using Qi fast charging, instead choosing to offer up Apple’s own standard sometime in 2018.
  • Fast Charging — This allows the phone to charge the battery perhaps 5x faster than the iPhone currently charges today. This is separate from Wireless Charging, but Wireless Charging can take advantage of it.
  • Edge to Edge DisplayWhile Apple’s implementation of this screen seems edge to edge, it really isn’t. There is a small bezel around the display due to the way the case is designed. While it is probably the most edge to edge display we’ve seen in a phone to date, it isn’t the first. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 offered at least side to side edge to edge display and a reasonably small top and bottom bezel. Suffice it to say that what Apple has done is merely semantics. Now, if Apple hadn’t added that questionable brow covering 10% of the display, it might have been a small achievement.
  • Faster CPU, more RAM, faster overall performance — To be expected in any new release, though it will be outdated quickly

In fact, none of what has been included on the iPhone X is in any way newly created ideas by Apple. Apple is firmly playing catchup with the Joneses (or in this case, Samsung). Samsung has already produced phones with every single one of the technological advances that Apple has put into the iPhone X.

Fanboys might claim that the iPhone X is all new. No, it’s all nuances. Apple is simply catching up with existing technologies and ideas to improve their new phones (and I use the word improve loosely). There is nothing actually innovative about the iPhone X. In fact, from a design perspective, it’s probably one of the ugliest phones Apple has yet produced. The brow seals that fate. If there were such Razzie awards for design, Apple would win it for 2017.

iPhone 8

This is one of those things that always irks me about Apple. That they’re releasing the iPhone 8 at all is a bit of a mystery. If you’re introducing a new phone, why keep this line of phones at all? Bet the bank on the new model or don’t do it. This is what Apple has always done in the past. That Apple is now hedging its bets on two different models seems a bit out of ordinary for a company that has typically bet the bank on new ideas. I guess Apple is getting conservative in its old age.

Other than wireless and fast charging introduced into the iPhone X, nothing else has trickled its way into the iPhone 8. Effectively, the iPhone 8 is simply a faster iPhone 7 with Qi wireless and fast charging support.

Let’s talk about wireless and fast charging a little here. While the iPhone 8 is capable of both wireless and fast charging, it won’t come with it out of the box. In fact, Apple’s fast wireless charging pads won’t be released until sometime (probably late spring) 2018. While there are other Qi Wireless chargers you can buy now, these chargers won’t fast charge. Worse, the iPhone 8 still ships with the standard Lightning USB cable and standard speed charger. If you want fast charging, you’re going to need to invest in the extra accessories (cables and chargers) to get that faster charging performance. Until Apple releases its wireless charging pad, you can’t even get wireless and fast charging together. In addition to your phone’s cost, expect to dump an extra $100-200 on these accessories (several times if you want something now and then again when Apple releases its accessories).

Mac Computers

Just to reiterate the point of lack of innovation, I’ll bring up one more point. The MacBook and Mac line of computers has been so stagnant and so far behind the times, I’m not even sure Apple can catch up at this point. While every other non-Apple notebook on the market (even the cheapest, smallest model) now includes a touch display, Apple continues to ship its Mac computers without touch surfaces in defiance of that trend. There’s a point where you have to realize that touch surfaces actually are a necessity to computing. The ironic thing is, we have Apple to blame for this dependency by Apple introducing the original iPad.

Yet, Apple’s stubborn stance on introducing touch displays on the Mac has actually become a sore point with these devices. Apple, lose your stubbornness and finally release touch friendly MacBook computers at the very least. Though, I’d like to see touch screens on every Mac computer. You’ve had Spotlight on the MacOS X for years now (the first step towards touch displays), yet here we are with one computer that has a Touch Bar. The Touch Bar is such a non-innovation as to be a step backwards.

Let’s just get rid of the worthless Touch Bar and finally introduce Macs with touch displays, which is what we want anyway. Since we’re playing catchup, let’s finally catch the Mac line up to every other non-Apple notebook.

Apple’s Worms

It’s clear, Apple has lost its innovative ways. Apple is now relying entirely upon existing technologies and ideas, firmly throwing together half-assed ideas and calling them complete. The iPhone X idea should have been tossed before it ever saw the light of day. Had Jobs been alive to see it, the iPhone X idea would have been tossed out the window in lieu of a new idea.

Additionally, Apple’s technology ideas across its product lines are entirely fractured:

  • The iPhone ships with Lightning connectors, but no other non-mobile computing device in Apple’s line up supports Lightning
  • The iPhone has removed the 3.5mm headphone jack for no other reason than, “just because”
  • New Macs now ship with USB-C, yet none of Apple’s mobile devices support this standard
  • USB-C Macs require dongles because none of Apple’s accessories support USB-C (other than the converter dongles)
  • The Apple Watch has no direct integration with the Mac. It only integrates with a single iPhone.
  • Apple ships Lightning headphones and those can only be used with the iPhone line, not Macs
  • Macs still fail to support touch displays
  • Macs still ship with 3.5mm headphone jacks
  • Apple’s magsafe adapters were amazingly innovative to supply power to the system, yet have been tossed out in lieu of the inferior USB-C connector
  • The iPhone and Mac are only half-assed integrated with each another. The best we get is USB connections and Airdrop. The Universal clipboard only works about half the time and even then it’s not always useful depending on copied content. The single app that works quite well is iMessage. In fact, the entire reason this integration works at all is because of iCloud.

Innovation is about putting together ideas that we’ve never before seen and that take risks. It’s about offering risky ideas in creating devices that offer the potential of changing the game entirely. There’s absolutely nothing about the iPhone X that’s a game changer. Yes, I do want an iPhone with an OLED display because I want the super high contrast ratio and vibrant colors. If that had been available on the iPhone 8, I’d probably have upgraded. For now, there’s no reason to upgrade from any of Apple’s most recent products. Wireless charging just isn’t enough. A hobbled OLED display is just not worth it.

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Game Review: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

Posted in video game design, video gaming by commorancy on November 9, 2015

Warning: This review may contain spoilers. If you want to play this game through, you should stop reading now.

acsWhile Ubisoft got some parts of this game right, they got a lot of the parts very very wrong. And, this game cheats, badly. Let’s explore.

The Good

As with most Assassin’s Creed games, Syndicate is filled with lots of very compelling gameplay in its open world environment. The stories are decent, but short and the assassinations make it feel like Assassin’s Creed I (mostly). They’ve done well to bring back a lot of what made Assassin’s Creed I fun. Unfortunately, there’s also a whole lot of bad go with that fun. And, if you’re sneaky enough, you get the chance to use cover assassinations, air assassinations and haystack assassinations with much more regularity. Unfortunately, this game is about equally outweighed by the bad and the ugly.

The Bad

Controls

As with every single Assassin’s Creed game, the controls get harder and harder to work as the game progresses. And by harder and harder, I mean the designers require much more fine grained control over button presses or else you miss the opportunity to do whatever it is they have you doing. This usually means you miss your opportunity do take down an enemy, you fall off of a building, you can’t escape a fight or whatever.

For example, a person steals something and you have to tackle the thief. Unfortunately, as you happen to be running after the thief, if you also happen to straddle along side a carriage, the carriage will usurp the tackle button and you’ll end up stealing a carriage (all the while letting the thief get away). The really bad part is that you cannot break out of the carriage stealing maneuver and attempt to continue on with the thief chase. Oh no, you have to watch the entire motion capture playback from beginning to end all while your thief you were inches away from tackling runs away.

As another example, there are times where you begin a fight and a ton of enemies surround you. Then, one of them takes a swing and practically knocks you out with one blow. You don’t even get enough time to press the medicine button before you’re dead or desynchronized.

On top of this, the game still does not tell you every side mission requirement in advance. You only find them out after you’ve failed them.

Zipline Gun

And this is not the only incident of these types of bad controls. Once you get the zipline gun, it’s handy to use for quick getaways to the top of a building. That is all except, when the designers prevent you from using it. And they do prevent its use intentionally in some areas. Meaning, you can stand in front of some buildings and the zipline control appears. In others, nothing. This is especially true in areas where you have to complete a mission. So, you’ll be down on the ground and spotted, the first thing to do is find a rooftop to zipline to the top. Unfortunately, you can’t in a lot of mission areas. In some you can, in others you can’t.

Ubisoft, if you’re going to give me the zipline gun, let us use it on any building of any size. Not just those you randomly allow. This is so frustrating.

Calling Attention

When you’re sneaking around as an assassin, the pedestrians around you are constantly saying things like, “I hope he knows he can be seen” and other stupid things. While it doesn’t bring attention from enemies, it’s just nonsensical and stupid. Most people would merely ignore someone doing something like skulking around. Worse, it’s not like we have control over day or night in this game. Clearly, for most of the work of an assassin, it should be done at night under the cover of darkness. Instead, you’re out doing this stuff at noon.

Syndicate

Syndicate? What syndicate? Sure, you have a gang that you can find and call together on the street, but you barely ever get to use them alone let alone on missions. You can rope in a few at a time, but it’s almost worthless. When you enter into any place, they only thing they end up doing is drawing attention to you. As an assassin, that’s the last thing you want. You want stealth kills, not big grandiose street kill events. This is not Street Fighter. Other than that, there is no other syndicate. It’s not like you can switch to and play Greenie, which would have been a cool thing. It’s not like there were other assassins roaming the city that join in on the cause. I was hoping the syndicate would have been a huge group of assassins who all band together to get something done. Nope.

Recognition

On some levels, you don’t get recognized quickly. On others, it’s almost instantaneous. It’s really frustrating that there is not one level of recognition that you get with this game. Instead, it’s random and haphazard based on the level designer’s whim.

The Ugly

Glitchy

While it may not be anywhere near as bad as Unity, it’s still bad enough that you have to start (and restart) missions over to complete them. I’ve had glitches which locked my character up in a move that I had to quit out of the game to stop. I’ve had glitches where Jacob falls off of a rooftop merely by standing there. I’ve had glitches where I stand inches from an enemy and don’t get the assassinate action. I can hang below windows with enemies standing in front of me with no assassinate action. I’ve fallen off of the zipline for no reason.

The controls get worse and worse as the game progresses, to the point that if you want to get anything done, you nearly can’t.

Cinematics you can’t abort

Throughout the game, you’ll find that when you click a button to enter a carriage or zipline to the top of the building, you cannot break out of that action until it’s fully complete. If you were trying to do something else and accidentally launched into one of these cinematics, you have to fully complete the action entirely before you get control back.

Character Levels

The introduction of character levels is just plain stupid. I understand why they are in the game, but the reality is, they make no sense. Fighting a level 9 versus a level 2 is not at all realistic. You don’t have levels in real life. You have people who are more skilled than others, but not levels. These enemies are no more skilled than any other. If I walk into an area, my level should not dictate how hard it is to kill an enemy. I should be able to perform moves on a level 2 or level 9 in the same way and take them down at the same rate. In fact, enemies shouldn’t even have levels.

Bosses & Gang Wars

As you complete a section of the city, it unlocks a gang war segment. So, your gang fights their gang. Except, it’s not really a gang war. Instead, it’s half a gang war. The first segment starts out as a gang war where your gang fights theirs and you get to participate. After that first segment is complete, you must fight 5 to 6 of their gang members alone (including the boss). That’s not exactly a gang war. That’s an unfair fight. Where is my 4 to 5 other gang members to help me out. If it’s a gang war, make it a gang war. If it’s to be a 1 on 1 fight then make it so. Ganging up 5 or 6 against 1 is not a gang war and is in no way fair. I know some gamers like beating these odds, but I find it contrived and stupid. If it’s supposed to be a gang war, make it a fight between gangs.

The only consolation is that the game gives you one shot at taking down the section boss right before the gang war. If you can manage to kill them then, you don’t have to do that segment during the gang war. Still, a gang war should be about gangs.

Desynchronization and Load Times

This is one of the most ugly parts of this game. If you fall off a building and die, you have to wait through an excruciatingly long load time. So long, in fact, you could go make yourself a cup of coffee and be back in time for it to finally load. I mean, this is a PS4 and the game is loaded on the hard drive. Yet, it still takes nearly 2-4 minutes just to reload a level? I’m amazed (not in a good way) at how long it takes to reload. Once the game finally does reload, it drops you off some distance away from where you were. This is also frustrating. Why can’t you drop my character exactly in the location or at least close enough that I don’t have to run a ton just to get back there.

Starrick Boss Level

This level is ultimately the most asinine fail level of the entire game. Once you finally find the shroud (which is the whole point to the present day piece of this game), the game should immediately stop and move to present day. No. Instead, you have to attempt to assassinate Starrick in one of THE most asinine levels I’ve ever played in a game.

Evie and Jacob, the two twins, have to be the two most stupid people on Earth. Otherwise, they would simply realize they could cut and drag that shroud off of him with a good cut of their knives and then stab him. No. Instead, you have to attempt to wear-him-down while wearing the shroud. As if that were possible with the supposed healing shroud. If it were truly as healing as it is shown to be, there would be no way to wear his health down ever. I’m not sure what the writers were thinking here, but this level is about as stupid as it gets.

Worse, there are times where Starrick gets these hammer-on-your-character-without-fighting-back segments. Starrick just punches your character and you just stand there taking it. Really? There’s no reason given for these segments. These just wear down your health without any method of fighting back, breaking out of it or countering it. Now that’s just plain out cheating from a game. There is absolutely no need for this part of the fight. When in real life would this ever happen? Like, never. It makes the ending twice as hard without any real payoff.

Either of the twins could cut and pull the shroud off of him. It’s very simple. Then just assassinate him like anyone else. Why is it that you must melee this guy to death? These are assassins who kill from the shadows or by using other stealth methods. Assassins are not street fighters. That the game turns AC into Street Fighter is just plain stupid. This is NOT WHY I BUY Assassin’s Creed games. If I wanted a fighting game, I’d go buy Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. The game devs have lost it. Whomever thought it would be a great idea to end this Assassin’s Creed game by turning it into a stupid fighting game should leave the game development field and specifically be fired from Ubisoft. That person has no business making gaming choices for this (or any) game franchise.

Overall

I give this game 4.0 stars out of 10. It’s a reasonable effort in places, but it’s in no way innovative and the ending plain out sucks from so many perspectives. The zipline is cool, but it doesn’t really help you as much as it needs to. There’s way too much carriage driving. The boss levels are mostly okay up until Sequence 8 as a Street Fighter ending… especially considering that the ‘present day’ part only needed to confirm where the shroud was located. After locating the shroud, the game should have immediately transitioned to present day. There is absolutely no need to kill Starrick, especially in a Street Fighter way. These people are assassins, not fighters. Sure, they can fight, but this tag-team-switching-melee-brawl-that-only-intends-to-wear-down-health is just insanely stupid, especially considering just how quickly that fight would be over by cutting that shroud off of him. I don’t even know how many times either of the two of them had gotten close enough to yank that thing off of him. Yet, the game insists on throwing punches to bring him down.

Ultimately, it has an insanely stupid ending that is majorly out of character for a game franchise that deserves so much better and which offered so much promise. And, of course, where is the Syndicate in all of this melee stuff? Why is it the gang is not there? Instead, Starrick should have been killed by a standard overhead assassination by both of them simultaneously through instant decapitation. I’d have preferred if Greenie had been in on the action and then have all three of them take Starrick out. Even the most healing shroud in the world couldn’t heal a severed head… and it should have been done in one big maneuver by both or all three of the assassins at once. That would have been an ending befitting of the name Assassin’s Creed.

Recommendation: Rent

Rant Time: You gotta hate Lollipop

Posted in Android, botch, business by commorancy on May 27, 2015

You know, I can’t understand the predilection for glaring white background and garish bright colors on a tablet. In comes Lollipop trying to act all like iOS and failing miserably at it. OMG, Lollipop has to be one of the most garish and horrible UI interfaces that has come along in a very long time. Let’s explore.

Garish Colors on Blinding White

Skeumorphism had its place in the computer world. Yes, it was ‘old timey’ and needed to be updated, but to what exactly? One thing can be said, skeumorphism was at least easy on the eyes. But, Lollipop with its white backgrounds and horrible teals, pinks and oranges? Really? This is considered to be ‘better’? Sorry, but no. A thousand times, no. As a graphic designer and artist, this is one of the worst UI choices for handheld devices.

If, for example, the engineers actually used the light sensor on the damned things and then determined that when it’s dark in the room and then changed the UI to something easier in the dark, I’d be all over that. But, nooooooo. You’re stuck with these stupid blinding white screens even when the room is pitch black. So there you have your flashlight lighting up your face all while trying to use your tablet. I mean, how stupid are these UI designers? You put light sensors on it… use them.

Stupid UI Designers?

Seriously, I’ll take skeumorphism over these blazing white screens any day. I mean seriously? Who in their right mind thought that this in any way looked good? Why rip a page from Apple’s horrible design book when you don’t have to. I’ll be glad when Lollipop is a thing of the past and Google has decided to blaze their own UI way. No Google, you don’t need to follow after Apple.

Just because some asinine designer at Apple thinks this looks good doesn’t mean that it actually does. Get rid of the white screens. Let’s go back to themes so we can choose the way we want our systems to look. Blaze your own path and give users the choice of the look of their OS. Choice is the answer, not forced compliance.

Smaller and Smaller

What’s with the smaller and smaller panels and buttons all of a sudden? At first the pull down was large and fit nicely on the screen. The buttons were easy to touch and sliders easy to move. Now it’s half the size with the buttons and sliders nearly impossible to grab and press. Let’s go back to resizing buttons so they are finger friendly on a tablet, mkay? The notification pulldown has now been reduced in size for no apparent reason. Pop up questions are half the size. The buttons and sliders on there are twice has hard to hit with a finger.

Google, blaze your own path

Apple has now become the poster child of how not to design UI interfaces. You don’t want to rip pages from their book. Take your UI designers into a room and let them come up with ideas that are unique to Google and Android. Don’t force them to use a look and feel from an entirely different company using ideas that are outright horrible.

Note, I prefer dark or grey backgrounds. They are much easier on the eyes than blazing white backgrounds. White screens are great for only one thing, lighting up the room. They are extremely hard on the eyes and don’t necessarily make text easier to read.

Google, please go back to blazing your own trail separately from Apple. I’ll be entirely glad when this garish-colors-on-white-fad goes the way of the Pet Rock. And once this stupid trend is finally gone, I’ll be shouting good riddance from the top of the Los Altos hills. It also won’t be soon enough. For now, dayam Google, get it together will ya?

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Apple’s newest MacBook: Simply Unsatisfying

Posted in Apple, botch, business, california by commorancy on March 12, 2015

macbook_largeIt’s not a MacBook Air. It’s not a MacBook Pro. It’s simply being called the MacBook. Clever name for a computer, eh? It’s not like we haven’t seen this brand before. What’s the real trouble with this system? A single USB-C connector. Let’s explore.

Simplifying Things

There’s an art to simplification, but it seems Apple has lost its ability to rationally understand this fundamental concept. Jobs got it. Oh man, did Jobs get the concept of simplification in spades. Granted, not all of Jobs’s meddling in simplification worked. Like, a computer with only a mouse and no keyboard. Great concept, but you really don’t want to enter text through an on-screen keyboard. This is the reason the iPad is so problematic for anything other than one-liners. At least, not unless there’s some kind of audio dictation system. At the time, the Macintosh didn’t have such a system. With Siri, however, we do. Though, I’m not necessarily endorsing that Apple bring back the concept of a keyboard-less computer. Though, in fact, with a slight modification to Siri’s dictation capabilities, it would be possible.

Instead, the new MacBook has taken things away from the case design. More specifically, it has replaced all of those, you know, clunky, annoying and confusing USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt port connectors that mar the case experience. Apple’s engineers have now taken this old and clunky experience and ‘simplified’ it down to exactly one USB-C port (excluding the headphone jack.. and why do we even need this jack again).

The big question, “Is this really simplification?”

New Case Design

Instead of the full complement of ports we previously had, such as the clever magsafe power port, one or two Thunderbolt ports, two USB 3.0 ports and an SD card slot, now we have exactly one USB-C port. And, it’s not even a well known or widely used port style yet.usb_macbook

Smart. Adopt a port that literally no one is using and then center your entire computer’s universe around this untried technology. It’s a bold if not risky maneuver for Apple. No one has ever said Apple isn’t up for risky business ideas. It’s just odd that they centered it on an open standard rather than something custom designed by Apple. Let’s hope that Apple has massively tested plugging and unplugging this connector. If it breaks, you better hope your AppleCare service is active. And since the unplugging and plugging activity falls under wear-and-tear, it might not even be covered. Expect to spend more time at the Genius bar arguing over whether your computer is covered when this port breaks. On the other hand, we know the magsafe connector is almost impossible to break. How about this unknown USB-C connector? Does it also have the same functional lifespan? My guess is no.

I also understand that the USB-C technology automatically inherits the 10 Gbps bandwidth standard and has a no-confusion-plug-in-either-way connector style. But, it’s not as if Thunderbolt didn’t already offer the same transfer speed, though not the plug-in-either-way cable. So, I’m guessing that this means Thunderbolt is officially dead?

What about the Lightning cable? Apple recently designed and introduced the Lightning connector for charging and data transfer. Why not use the Lightning connector by adding on a faster data transfer standard? Apple spent all this time and effort on this cool new cable for charging and data transfer, but what the hell? Let’s just abandon that too and go with USB-C? Is it all about throwing out the baby with the bathwater over at Apple?

I guess the fundamental question is… Really, how important is this plug-in-either-way connector? Is Apple insinuating that general public is so dumb that it can’t figure out how to plug in a cable? Yes, trying to get the microUSB connectors inserted in the dark (because they only go in one direction) can be a hassle. The real problem isn’t that it’s a hassle, the real problem is that the connector itself was engineered all wrong. So, trying to fit in a microUSB cable into a port is only a problem because it’s metal on metal. Even when you do manage to get it lined up in the right direction, it sometimes still won’t go in. That’s just a fundamental flaw in the port connector design. It has nothing to do with directionality of it. I digress.

Fundamentally, the importance of a plug-in-either-way cable should be the lowest idea on the agenda. What should be the highest idea is simplifying to give a better user experience overall and not to hobble the computer to the point of being unnecessarily problematic.

Simply Unsatisfying

Let’s get into the meat of this whole USB-C deal. While the case now looks sleek and minimal, it doesn’t really simplify the user experience. It merely changes it. It’s basically a shell game. It moves the ball from one cup to another, but fundamentally doesn’t change the ball itself. So, instead of carrying only a power adapter and the computer, you are now being forced to carry a computer, power adapter and a dock. I fail to see exactly how this simplifies the user experience at all? I left docks behind when I walked away from using Dell Notebooks. Now, we’re being asked to use a dock again by, of all companies, Apple?

The point to making changes in any hardware (or software) design is to help improve the usability and user experience. Changing the case to offer a single USB-C port doesn’t enhance the usability or user experience. This is merely a cost cutting measure by Apple. Apple no longer needs to add pay for all of these arguably ‘extra’ (and costly) ports to the case. Removing all of those ‘extraneous’ ports now means less cost for the motherboard and die-cuts on the case, but at the expense that the user must carry around more things to support that computer. That doesn’t simplify anything for the user. It also burdens the user by forcing the user to pay more money for things that were previously included in the system itself. Not to mention, requiring the user to carry around yet more dongles. I’ve never ever known Apple to foist less of an experience on the user as a simultaneous cost cutting and accessory money making measure. This is most definitely a first for Apple, but not a first for which they want to become known. Is Apple now taking pages from Dell’s playbook?

Instead of walking out of the store with a computer ready in hand, now you have to immediately run to the accessory isle and spend another $100-200 (or more) on these ‘extras’. Extras, I might add, that were previously included in the cost of the previous gen computers. But now, they cost extra. So, that formerly $999 computer you bought that already had everything you needed will now cost you $1100-1200 or more (once you consider you now need a bag to carry all of these extras).

Apple’s Backward Thinking?

I’m sure Apple is thinking that eventually that’s all we’ll need. No more SD cards, no more Thunderbolt devices, no more USB 3 connectors. We just do everything wirelessly. After all, you have the (ahem) Apple TV for a wireless remote display (which would be great if only that technology didn’t suck so bad for latency and suffer from horrible mpeg artifacting because the bit rate is too low).

Apple likes to think they are thinking about the future. But, by the time the future arrives, what they have chosen is already outdated because they realized no one is actually using that technology other than them. So, then they have to resort to a new connector design or a new industry standard because no other computers have adopted what Apple is pushing.

For example, Thunderbolt is a tremendous idea. By today, this port should have been widely used and widely supported, yet it isn’t. There are few hard drives that use it. There are few extras that support it. Other than Apple’s use of this port to drive extra displays, that’s about the extent of how this port is used. It’s effectively a dead port on the computer. Worse, just about the time where Thunderbolt might actually be picking up steam, Apple dumps it in lieu of USB-C which offers the same transfer speeds. At best, a lateral move technologically speaking. If this port had offered 100 Gbps, I might not have even written this article.

Early Adopter Pain

What this all means is that those users who buy into this new USB-C only computer (I intentionally forget the headphone jack because it’s still pointless), will suffer early adopter pains with this computer. Not only will you be almost immediately tied to buying Apple gear, Apple has likely set up the USB-C connector to require licensed and ID’d cables and peripherals. This means that if you buy a third party unlicensed cable or device, Apple is likely to prevent it from working, just as they did with unlicensed Lightning cables on iOS.

This also means that, for at least 1-2 years, you’re at the mercy of Apple to provide you with that dongle. If you need VGA and there’s no dongle, you’re outta luck. If you need a 10/100 network adapter, outta luck. This means that until or unless a specific situational adapter becomes available, you’re stuck. Expect some level of pain when you buy into this computer.

Single Port

In addition to all of the above, let’s just fundamentally understand what a single port means. If you have your power brick plugged in, that’s it. You can’t plug anything else in. Oh, you need to run 2 monitors, read from an SD card, plug in an external hard drive and charge your computer? Good luck with that. That is, unless you buy a dock that offers all of these ports.

It’s a single port being used for everything. That means it has a single 10 Gbps path into the computer. So, if you plug in a hard drive that consumes 5 Gbps and a 4k monitor that consumes 2 Gbps, you’re already topping out that connector’s entire bandwidth into the computer. Or, what if you need a 10 Gbps Ethernet cable? Well, that pretty much consumes the entire bandwidth on this single USB-C connector. Good luck with trying to run a hard drive and monitor with that setup.

Where an older MacBook Air or Pro had two 5 Gbps USB3 ports and one or two 10 Gbps Thunderbolt ports (offering greater than 10 Gbps paths into the computer), the new MacBook only supports a max of 10 Gbps input rate over that single port. Not exactly the best trade off for performance. Of course, the reality is that the current Apple motherboards may not actually be capable of handling 30 Gbps input rate, but it was at least there to try. Though, I would expect that motherboard to handle an input rate greater than 10.

With the new MacBook, you are firmly stuck to a maximum input speed of 10 Gbps because it is a single port. Again, an inconvenience to the user. Apple once again makes the assumption that 10 Gbps is perfectly fine for all use cases. I’m guessing that Apple hopes the users simply won’t notice. Technologically, this is a step backward, not forward.

Overall

In among the early adopter problems and the relevancy problems that USB-C has to overcome, this computer now offers a more convoluted user experience. Additionally, instead of offering something that would be truly more useful and enhance the usability, such as a touch screen to use with an exclusive Spotlight mode, they opted to take this computer in a questionable direction.

Sure, the case colors are cool and the idea of a single port is intriguing, it’s only when you delve deep into the usefulness of this single port does the design quickly unravel.

Apple needs a whole lot of help in this department. I’m quite sure had Jobs been alive that while he might have introduced the simplified case design, it would have been overshadowed by the computer’s feature set (i.e., touch screen, better input device, better dictation, etc). Instead of trying to wow people with a single USB-C port (which offers more befuddlement than wow), Apple should have fundamentally improved the actual usability of this computer by enhancing the integration between the OS and the computer.

The case design doesn’t ultimately much matter, the usability of the computer itself matters. Until Apple understands that we don’t really much care what the case looks like as long as it provides what we need to compute without added hassles, weight and costs, Apple’s designers will continue running off on these tangents spending useless cycles attempting to redesign minimalist cases that really don’t benefit from it. At least, Apple needs to understand that there is a point of diminishing returns when trying to rethink minimalist designs…. and with this MacBook design, the Apple designers have gone well beyond the point of diminishing returns.

Technology Watch: Calling it — Wii U is dead

Posted in botch, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on June 10, 2013

I want Nintendo to prove me wrong. I absolutely adore the Wii U system and its technology. The Gamepad is stellar and it feels absolutely perfect in your hands. It just needs a better battery. The battery life sucks. There’s no doubt about it, the Wii U is an amazing improvement over the Wii. So what’s wrong with it?

Titan Tidal Forces

There are many tidal forces amassing against the Wii U which will ultimately be its demise. In similarity to the amazing Sega Dreamcast and, before that, the Atari Jaguar, the Wii U will likely expire before it even makes a dent in the home gaming market. Some consoles just aren’t meant to be and the Wii U, I’m calling it, will be discontinued within 12 months in lieu of a newly redesigned and renamed ‘innovative’ Nintendo console.  Let’s start with the first tidal force…

What Games?

Nintendo just cannot seem to entice any developer interest in porting games to the Wii U, let alone creating native titles. With such big game franchises as Bioshock Infinite, Grand Theft Auto V, Saints Row 3 and Deadpool (Activision, surprisingly) side-stepping the Wii U, this tells me that at least Rockstar and Activision really don’t have much interest in producing titles for this console. Even such bigger titles like Call of Duty, which did make it to the Wii U, didn’t release on the same day as the PS3 and Xbox versions.  Call of Duty actually released later, as did The Amazing Spider-Man.

Worse, Nintendo doesn’t really seem committed to carrying any of its own franchises to this console in any timely fashion. To date, there is still not even an announcement for a native Zelda for Wii U. Although, we’re not yet past E3, so I’ll wait to see on this one. My guess is that there will be a Zelda, but it will likely fall far shy of what it should or could have been.

Basically, there are literally no upcoming game announcements from third party developers. And there’s especially nothing forthcoming from the big franchises on the Wii U (other than Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed IV, which is likely to be just another mashup and rehash). Yes, there are a number of b-titles and ‘family’ titles, but that’s what Nintendo is always known for.

Sidestepped, but why?

I see titles like Grand Theft Auto V, Saint’s Row 3, Destiny and Deadpool where there is no mention of a Wii U version. For at least GTA5 and Saint’s Row, these developers likely had well enough of a lead time to be able to create a Wii U version. So, what happened? Why would these games not be released for the Wii U?  I think it’s very clear, these developers don’t think they can recoup their investment in the cost needed to produce the game for that console. That doesn’t mean that the games won’t be ported to the Wii U six months after the Xbox, PS3 and PC releases. But then, what’s the incentive to play a 6 month old game? I don’t want to pay $60 for has-beens, I want new games to play.

Hardcore gamers want the latest at the moment when it’s released. Not six months after other consoles already have it. As a hardcore gamer, I don’t want to wait for titles to release. Instead, I’ll go buy the an Xbox or a PS so I can play the game when it’s released, not wait 6-9 months for a poorly ported version of the game.

Competition

With the announcement of both Sony’s PS4 (*yawn*) and the Microsoft’s Xbox One ( :/ ), these two consoles together are likely to eclipse whatever hope the Wii U has of gaining the hardcore gaming element. In fact, it’s likely that Sony’s PS4 is already dead as well, but that’s another story. Also, with the lackluster announcement of the Xbox One, we’ll just have to wait and see.  Needless to say, people only have so much money to spend on hardware and only one of these consoles can really become dominant in the marketplace. For a lot of reasons to be explored later in this article, Nintendo’s Wii U cannot survive with the course it is presently on.

I can’t really call which is the bigger yawn, PS4 or Xbox One, but both have problems. Namely, no compatibility to previous console games which really puts a damper on both of these next gen consoles. Maybe not enough for either of them not to become successes in 5 years, but immediate adoption is a concern. Available launch titles will make or break these new consoles as backwards compatibility is not available. Meaning, without launch titles, there’s literally nothing to play (other than Netflix, which you can pay far less than the price of a console to get.. i.e., Roku). For competition alone, this is a huge tidal force against Nintendo that will ultimately keep the Wii U in third place, if not outright dead.

Let’s not forget the nVidia Shield based on Android that is as yet an unknown quantity. Although, the way it is currently presented with the flip up screen and the requirement to stream games to the unit from a PC is a big downer on the usability of this system as a portable. I don’t believe nVidia’s approach will succeed. If you’re a portable system, then it needs to be truly portable with native games. If you’re a console, then make it a console and split the functionality into two units (a controller and a base unit).  The all-in-one base unit and controller, like the Shield, isn’t likely to be successful or practical.  The attached screen, in fact, is 1) fragile and likely to break with heavy usage and 2) make it hard to play games because the screen shakes (loosening the hinge) when you shake the controller.  For the PS Vita, it works okay. For the Shield that still requires a PC to function, this isn’t a great deal, especially at the $350 price tag.

Nintendo Itself

Nintendo is its own worst enemy. Because it has always pushed and endorsed ‘family friendly’ (all age) games over ‘hardcore’ (17+ aged) games, the Wii U has pushed Nintendo into an extremely uncomfortable position. It must now consider allowing extremely violent, bloody, explicit language games into the Wii U to even hope to gain market share with the hardcore 17-34 aged gamers.  In other words, Nintendo finally has to grow up and make the hard decision. Is it or isn’t it a hardcore gamer system?  Nintendo faces this internal dilemma which leaves the Wii U hanging in the balance.

It’s clear that most already released titles have skirted this entire problem. Yes, even Call of Duty and Zombie U do mostly. Assassin’s Creed III is probably the hardest core game on the system and even that isn’t saying much.

Game developers see this and really don’t want to wrestle with having to ‘dumb down’ a game to Nintendo’s family friendly standards.  If I were a developer, I’d look at the Wii U and also ask, “Why bother?” Unfortunately, this is a catch-22 problem for Nintendo. Meaning, Nintendo can’t get people to buy the system without titles, but Nintendo can’t rope in developers to write software without having an audience for those titles. The developers just won’t spend their time writing native titles for a system when there’s not enough users to justify the expense of the development.

Worse, the developers realize they will also have to provide a ‘dumbed down’ version for the Nintendo platform to placate Nintendo’s incessant ‘family friendly’ attitude. For this reason, Nintendo can’t turn the Wii U into a hardcore system without dropping these unnecessary and silly requirements for hardcore games. Nintendo, as a word of advice, just let the developers write and publish the game as it is. Let the ratings do the work.

Bad Marketing

For most people, the perception is that the Wii U is nothing more than a slightly different version of the Wii. The marketing was all wrong for this console. Most people’s perceptions of this system are completely skewed. They really don’t know what the Wii U is other than just being another Wii. This issue is cemented by naming the system the ‘Wii U’.  It should have had an entirely different name without the word ‘Wii’. Unfortunately, the Wii was mostly a fad and not a true long-lasting gaming system. It picked up steam at first not because it was great, but because people latched onto the group gaming quality. For a time, people liked the ‘invite people over for a party’ quality of the Wii. This group gaming quality was something no other gaming system had up to that point. Then came the Kinect and the Move controllers and competition wiped that advantage out.

The Wii U design has decidedly dropped the idea of group gaming in lieu of the Gamepad which firmly takes gaming back to a single player experience. Yes, the Wii U does support the sensor bar, but few Wii U games use it. Worse, the Wii U doesn’t even ship with the Wiimote or Nunchuk, firmly cementing the single player experience. Only Wii compatible games use the sensor bar for the multiple player experience. Because of the focus back to single player usage, this again says Nintendo is trying to rope in hardcore gamers.

Unfortunately, the marketing plan for the Wii U just isn’t working. The box coloring, the logo, the name and the way it looks seems like a small minimal upgrade to the Wii. Until people actually see a game like Batman Arkham City, the Amazing Spider-Man or Call of Duty actually play on the Wii U, they really don’t understand what the ‘big deal’ is. Worse, they really don’t see a need replace their aging Wii with this console knowing that they rarely play it at this point anyway. So, when the Wii U was released, the average Wii user just didn’t understand the Wii U appeal. The Wii U marketing just didn’t sell this console to either the family audience or to the hardcore gamer correctly.

Bad Controller Button Placement

The final piece of this puzzle may seem insignificant, but it’s actually very significant to the hardcore game player. Because the PS3 and the Xbox map action buttons identically to the controller across games, you always know that when you press A, it’s going to do the same thing on the Xbox or the PS3.  So, you can move seamlessly between either console and play the same game without having so shift your button pressing pattern. In other words, you can play blind because the button location+action is identical between the Xbox and the PS3.  The buttons placement is then as follows:

Y/Triangle = 12 o’clock, B/Circle = 3 o’clock, A/X = 6 o’clock, X/Square = 9 o’clock (Xbox / PS3)

The actions of Y and Triangle are the same between the systems.  The actions of B and Circle are the same and so on. If you play Call of Duty on PS3 or Xbox, you always press the button at the 6 o’clock position to perform the same action.

The Wii U designers decided to place the buttons in opposition to the Xbox & PS3. The button placement for Wii U:

X = 12 o’clock, A = 3 o’clock, B = 6 o’clock, Y = 9 o’clock (Wii U)

This button placement would be fine if A (3 o’clock) on the Wii performed the same action as the B/Circle (3 o’clock position) on the Xbox and PS3. But, it doesn’t. Instead, because the Wii’s controller is labeled ‘A’ (3 o’clock position), it has the same function as the ‘A/X’ (6 o’clock position) button the Xbox and PS3. The ‘B’ button at (6 o’clock) matches the B/Circle (3 o’clock) on the Xbox/PS3. This means that you have to completely reverse your play on the Wii U and retrain yourself to press the correct button. This means you can’t play blind. This is a difficult challenge if you’ve been playing game franchises on the Xbox for 10 years with the Xbox/PS3 button and action placement. This would be like creating a reversed QWERTY keyboard so that P starts on the left and Q ends on the right and handing it to a QWERTY touch typist.  Sure, they could eventually learn to type with keys in this order, but it’s not going to be easy and they’re going to hit P thinking it’s Q and such for quite a while.

For hardcore Xbox gamers, making the switch to the Wii U is a significant controller retraining challenge. When I replayed Assassin’s Creed III, I was forever hitting the button at the 6 o’clock position thinking it was the A button because that’s the position where it is on the Xbox and PS3. Same for the reversed X and Y.  By the end of Assassin’s Creed III, I had more or less adapted to the Wii U’s backwards controller, but I made a whole lot of stupid mistakes along the way just from this button placement issue alone.

Either the games need to support Xbox/PS3 alternative action placement compatibility or the Wii U needs to sell a controller that maps the buttons identically to the Xbox and PS3. I personally vote for a new controller as it doesn’t require game designers to do anything different. This button placement issue alone is a huge hurdle for the Wii U to overcome and one that is a needlessly stupid design when you’re trying to entice Xbox or PS3 gamers to your platform. I don’t want to relearn a new controller design just to play a game. Ergonomics is key in adoption and this is just one big Nintendo ergonomics design fail. For the Wii, that button placement was fine. For the Wii U, the controller needs to identically map to the PS3 and Xbox button/action layout to allow for easy and widespread adoption.

Death of the Wii U

Unfortunately, due to the above factors, Nintendo will struggle to keep this console afloat before it finally throws in the towel to the Xbox One and the PS4. Worse, the Wii U really doesn’t have a niche. It lost its fad group gaming image over a year ago when people stopped buying the Wii for that purpose. Those who did use it for that shoved it into a closet. The Wii U may have been somewhat positioned to become a hardcore system, but due to poor controller button placement, lack of quality developers producing hardcore titles, the Wii U’s silly user interface, Nintendo’s antiquated ‘family friendly’ attitudes and Nintendo itself placing silly requirements on titles to reduce violence and language as part of that antiquated attitude, the Wii U doesn’t really have a market. It just doesn’t appeal to the hardcore gamers. So what’s left? Zelda and Mario and that’s not enough to invest in the Wii U.

Just looking at the titles presently available for the Wii U, at least 85% of which were original launch titles (most of which were ported from other consoles).  In combination with the new fall console hardware releases plus hardcore titles for existing consoles that completely sidestep the Wii U, Wii U just cannot succeed without some kind of major miracle out of Nintendo.

I full well expect to hear an announcement from Nintendo dropping the Wii U, not unlike Sega’s announcement to pull the plug on the Dreamcast so early into its console life.

Flickr’s new interface review: Is it time to leave Flickr?

Posted in botch, cloud computing, computers, social media by commorancy on May 21, 2013

New Flickr InterfaceYahoo’s Flickr has just introduced their new ’tile’ interface (not unlike Windows Metro tiles) as the new user interface experience. Unfortunately, it appears that Yahoo introduced this site without any kind of preview, beta test or user feedback. Let’s explore.

Tile User Experience

The tiles interface at first may appear enticing. But, you quickly realize just how busy, cluttered, cumbersome and ugly this new interface is when you actually try to navigate and use it. The interface is very distracting and, again, overly busy. Note, it’s not just the tiles that are the problem. When you click an image from the tile sheet, it takes you to this huge black background with the image on top. Then you have to scroll and scroll to get to the comments.  No, not exactly how I want my images showcased. Anyway, let me start by saying that I’m not a fan of these odd shaped square tile interfaces (that look like a bad copycat of a Mondrian painting). The interface has been common on the Xbox 360 for quite some time and is now standard for Windows Metro interface. While I’ll tolerate it on the Xbox as a UI, it’s not an enticing user experience. It’s frustrating and, more than that, it’s ugly. So, why exactly Yahoo decided on this user interface as their core experience, I am completely at a loss…. unless this is some bid to bring back the Microsoft deal they tossed out several years back. I digress.

Visitor experience

While I’m okay with the tiles being the primary visitor experience, I don’t want this interface as my primary account owner experience. Instead, there should be two separate and distinct interfaces. An experience for visitors and an experience for the account owner.  The tile experience is fine for visitors, but keep in mind that this is a photo and art sharing site.  So, I should be able to display my images in the way I want my users to see them.  If I want them framed in black, let me do that. If I want them framed in white, let me do that. Don’t force me into a one-size-fits-all mold with no customization. That’s where we are right now.

Account owner experience

As a Flickr account owner, I want an experience that helps me manage my images, my sets, my collections and most of all, the comments and statistics about my images. The tile experience gives me none of this. It may seem ‘pretty’ (ahem, pretty ugly), but it’s not at all conducive to managing the images. Yes, I can hear the argument that there is the ‘organizr’ that you can use. Yes, but that’s of limited functionality. I preferred the view where I can see view numbers at a glance, if someone’s favorited a photo, if there are any comments, etc.  I don’t want to have to dig down into each photo to go find this information, I want this part at a glance.  Hence, the need for an account owner interface experience that’s separate from what visitors see.

Customization

This is a photo sharing site. These are my photos. Let me design my user interface experience to match the way I want my photos to be viewed. It is a gallery after all. If I were to show my work at a gallery, I would be able to choose the frames, the wall placement, the lighting and all other aspects about how my work is shown. Why not Flickr? This is what Flickr needs to provide. Don’t force us into a one-size-fits-all mold of something that is not only hideous to view, it’s slow to load and impossible to easily navigate.  No, give me a site where I can frame my work on the site. Give me a site where I can design a virtual lighting concept.  Give me a site where I can add virtual frames. Let me customize each and every image’s experience that best shows off my work.

Don’t corner me into a single user experience where I have no control over look and feel. If I don’t like the tile experience, let me choose from other options. This is what Flickr should have been designing.

No Beta Test?

Any site that rolls out a change as substantial as what Flickr has just pushed usually offers a preview window.  A period of time where users can preview the new interface and give feedback. This does two things:

  1. Gives users a way to see what’s coming.
  2. Gives the site owner a way to tweak the experience based on feedback before rolling it out.

Flickr didn’t do this. It is huge mistake to think that users will just silently accept any interface some random designer throws out there. The site is as much the users as it is Yahoo’s. It’s a community effort. Yahoo provides us with the tools to present our photos, we provide the photos to enhance their site. Yahoo doesn’t get this concept. Instead, they have become jaded to this and feel that they can do whatever they want and users will ‘have’ to accept it. This is a grave mistake for any web sharing site, least of all Flickr. Flickr, stop, look and listen. Now is the time.

Photo Sharing Sites

In among Flickr, there are many many photo sharing sites on the Internet. Flickr is not the only one. As content providers, we can simply take our photos and move them elsewhere. Yahoo doesn’t get this concept. They think they have some kind of captive audience. Unfortunately, this thinking is why Yahoo’s stock is now at $28 a share and not $280 a share. We can move our photos to a place where there’s a better experience (i.e., Picasa, DeviantArt, Photobucket, 500px, etc). Yahoo needs to wake up and realize they are not the only photo sharing site on the planet.

Old Site Back?

No, I’m not advocating to move back to the old site. I do want a new user experience with Flickr. Just not this one. I want an experience that works for my needs. I want an interface that let’s me showcase my images in the way I want. I want a virtual gallery that lets me customize how my images are viewed and not by using those hideous and slow tiles.  Why not take a page from the WordPress handbook and support gallery themes. Let me choose a theme (or design my own) that lets me choose how to best represent my imagery. This is the user experience that I want. This is the user experience I want my visitors to have. These are my images, let me show them in their best light.

Suggestions for @Yahoo/@Flickr

Reimagine. Rethink. Redesign. I’m glad to see that Yahoo is trying new things. But, the designers need to be willing to admit when a new idea is a failure and redesign it until it does work. Don’t stop coming up with new ideas. Don’t think that this is the way it is and there is nothing more. If Yahoo stops at this point with the interface as it is now, the site is dead and very likely with it Yahoo. Yahoo is very nearly on its last legs anyway. Making such a huge blunder with such a well respected (albeit antiquated site) could well be the last thing Yahoo ever does.

Marissa, have your engineers take this back to the drawing board and give us a site that we can actually use and that we actually want to use.

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