Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Game Review: Red Dead Redemption 2

Posted in botch, video gaming by commorancy on October 27, 2018

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I was so wanting to like Red Dead Redemption 2 right out of the gate. For Rockstar, this game’s lengthy intro and dragging pace is a total misfire. Let’s explore.

A Horrible, Horrible Intro

The whole slow snow covered mountain terrain opening is an incredible fail for a game series like Red Dead Redemption. It’s so slow and rail based that I just want to toss the disc in the trash. This insipid opening doesn’t inspire me to want to “wait it out” for the “rest” of this game. All I desperately want to do is skip this opening and get through it as fast as possible. Unfortunately, not only is it unskippable, it’s ….

Slow, Slow, Slow

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When following the rail based opening “stories”, even when you do manage to follow the correct path (a feat in and of itself), it’s entirely far too slow of a pace. I could run to the kitchen and make a sandwich in the time it takes to get from point A to B in this game.

The horses run like they’re drugged. Even worse is the forced stamina meter on horses. This isn’t a simulation, it’s an RPG style “Old West” game. We don’t want to water and feed our horses so they can run fast. Then, have to stop and feed them again when they run out of “energy”. That’s akin to making us fill our GTA5 cars up with gas at in-game gas stations. Thankfully, they didn’t make us endure that stupidity in GTA5. Unfortunately, that stupidity is included in RDR2. We also don’t want our horses to run out of energy while running at full gallop. A stupid concept made stupider by the mere inclusion of it in this game.

The game seems like it’s running in slow motion. I’m not sure what’s going on here or why R thought this opening play style would be okay, but it isn’t. At least with GTA, when you got in a car, it was fast. Here, everything moves at a snail’s pace and the rail based gang quests are sheer torture. I just want this part to be over so I can finally get to the meat of the game.

R, let us skip these insanely boring, long and insipid intros. I don’t want to endure this crap. This opening is a horrible misfire for a game in a franchise like Red Dead Redemption. It’s fine if a tutorial opening takes 15-20 minutes. But, when an opening takes 2 hours or more to get past, it’s entirely WAY TOO LONG. Cut it down… seriously.

Failed Intro Setup

I understand what Rockstar was trying to do with this opening. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. It’s fine to see the gang camaraderie being built, but it doesn’t take 2+ hours and snail’s pacing to do it. This dragged-out opening is a horribly unnecessary.

I realize the opening of any game is typically tutorial city, but let me skip most of it. I don’t want to be told how to open a cabinet or how to sit down. I can figure this out on my own. Just show me the screen icon and let me do the rest. I don’t need little black boxes appearing in the corner telling me how to do the most simplistic things. It’s like Rockstar thinks we’ve never ever played a video game in our entire lives. Shit, it’s RDR 2 for crisake. It’s a sequel. We’ve likely already played RDR. I have.

Condescending treatment to gamers by hand-holding even the most basic of actions is as torturous as this far-too-slow-paced intro. Whoever greenlit this intro should be removed from producing future video games. Just get to the game already, Rockstar!


Camera

Batter Batter Batter… swing and miss. And, what a miss this one is for R! Let me start this section by saying there is no “photo mode” at all in this game. Instead, you have to obtain an “old timey” camera from some hack who’s in a bar. Then, you have to equip it from your satchel. Only after you obtain and equip this camera can you actually take pictures in-game. Uh, no. I realize this is supposed to be some kind of immersion tactic, but having characters take photos for quests with an in-game camera should be entirely separate from having a photo mode built into the game for player use and sharing. A photo mode should be available from the moment the first gameplay begins. It shouldn’t be something that’s “found or earned” later in the game.

Rockstar again swung and missed on this one. Rockstar, next time, just add a photo mode into the game as part of the UI for the player to use from the start. If the player character needs a camera to take pictures for a quest, just make it disposable and disappear after the quest is completed.

The reason for having a photo mode is so you can add features like exposure, filters and get bird’s-eye views of the environment. Limiting the photos to the perspective of the character holding the camera is stupid and wasteful. We want to use an actual photo mode, not a character acquired and limited camera.

Lighting and Graphics

I was actually expecting a whole lot more from the RAGE engine here. While Grand Theft Auto wasn’t perfect in rendering realism and didn’t always offer the most realistic results, the lighting did offer realistic moments, particularly with certain cars and with certain building structures under certain daylight lighting conditions. With Red Dead Redemption 2, I was actually expecting at least some improvement in the RAGE engine for 4K rendering. Nope. It seems that Rockstar simply grabbed the same engine used in GTA and plopped it right into Red Dead Redemption 2.

So far with Red Dead Redemption 2, I’m entirely underwhelmed with the indoor lighting model being used. “Wow” is all I can say, and that’s not “wow” in a good way. I am not only underwhelmed by the realism of the character models themselves, but of how the lighting falls on the character models. When a character opens his/her mouth, the teeth read as a child’s attempt at a drawing. It’s bad. B.A.D! Let’s take a look at RAGE’s poor quality indoor lighting:

The wood looks flat and dull. The clothing looks flat and dull. Metal doesn’t look like metal. Glass doesn’t look like glass. The faces just don’t read as skin. The skin on the characters looks shiny and plastic and, at the same time, flat and dull. The teeth look like a child’s drawing. Part of this is poor quality lighting, but part of it is poor quality models and textures. The three main character models in GTA5 (Michael de Santa, Trevor Philips and Franklin Clinton) looked way better than this, likely using the same RAGE engine. The RAGE engine is not aging well at all. Even the “sunlight rays” here look forced and unrealistic. This game looks like something I would have expected to see in 2004, not 2018. Let’s compare this to Ubisoft’s AnvilNext engine which is night and day different:

Wow! What a difference… (click to read Randocity’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey review)

Screenshots vs Camera

And speaking of teeth… trying to get these Red Dead Redemption 2 screenshots is like pulling teeth. I have to attempt to position the gameplay camera just so. I can’t use the “Old Timey” camera for the above in-game shots as there’s no way to get that “Camera” into the proper position using the player character. Using the actual gameplay camera is always hit or miss. If the camera moves a little bit too far or too close to a figure, it pops over the character and you can’t see them.

The point to adding a photo mode is positioning the camera exactly where you want it, to get the best shot. It also allows you to use depth of field. I can’t do that in Red Dead 2 and I’m limited to playing tricks with the camera placement and hope it turns up with a shot using the PS4’s share button. Not to mention, I have to spend time running to the menu to turn off HUD elements (the reason the map and the money is visible in one of the RDR2 screenshots).

R⭑ , get with the program. It’s time to add a real photo mode to RAGE… a photo mode that offers so much more than the player character holding and using an “old timey” camera. It’s fine if the character needs an in-game camera for quest reasons, but it’s time for a real photo mode… which is how I captured all of these Assassin’s Creed Odyssey screenshots above. I should also point out the reason for having photo mode in a game is for the game player, not for the benefit of the in-game character. Adding a photo mode means you’re thinking of the gamer and how they want to use the game to capture and share their gameplay. By not including a photo mode and having such poor quality graphics, it shows that R‘s interest is more in making money and not in advancing their RAGE technology to provide a next gen quality experience.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a huge step backwards for realism in video games.


Meat of the Game

I’m finally past the torturous intro and I’m sad to say that the game itself is absolutely nothing like Red Dead Redemption. Red Dead Redemption was open prairies, tumbleweed and Arizona-like environments. These environments worked tremendously well for “The Old West”. This game is lush green valleys with trees, forests and streams. It’s not so great to set an “Old West” kind of ambiance. Ignoring the wrong environmental settings in which to place an “Old West” kind of game, the game’s pacing is sheer torture to endure. The pacing in Red Dead Redemption was near perfect.

Here, the leisurely slow pace in how the player character moves and walks and how slow the horse runs is totally wrong for this game and is *yawn* b.o.r.i.n.g. Again, this is nothing like Red Dead Redemption. I’m not looking for Lamborghini speeds, here. But, I am looking for a much quicker pace than the la-la-la leisurely pace of this game. In fact, this game’s pacing is so arduous, it makes you want to pop the game out and go do something else at a faster pace. Again, another total Rockstar misfire.

Town Bounties and Game Interference

Just for the sheer heck of it while trying to relieve the boredom with the game’s slow pacing and lame story activities, I decided to have a shoot out in Valentine, the first town you’re supposed to reach in this game. As you progress in dying and getting a higher and higher bounty, the game stupidly pushes your character farther and farther away from the town with each respawn. Game, if you don’t want the character doing this in a town, then just prevent it. Don’t respawn my player character farther away from the town each time. Respawn the character where he fell and let me choose whether to leave or stay. This intentional interference is not only an asinine game design mechanic, it makes me want to break the game disc in half.

I’m merely trying to make the game at least somewhat more interesting and tolerable than the forced slow pacing… but then the game feels the need to frustrate and interfere with my efforts by sending my character farther and farther away from town. On top of that, once you get a bounty, the NPCs that come after you are practically unkillable. I’ve hit them with perhaps 5-10 shots of a shotgun (many times in the head) and they’re still getting up and shooting at me. There is absolutely no way that’s possible. I realize this is a game, but that’s taking the unrealistic nature of this game way too far. It’s not like they’re wearing Kevlar. If I shoot an NPC twice, they need to die. This includes any character, deputy or otherwise. These are not SWAT characters in Los Santos wearing police armor. It’s asinine how the game works this bounty mechanic by protecting the town residents.

If this game is truly supposed to offer RPG style open world play, then I should be able to go into any town and have a gunfight with the entire town if I so choose… and the characters in the town need to die with a realistic amount of bullets. It might make my character wanted, put a bounty on his head, turn him to the “dark side” or whatever, but I should be able to play this game on my own terms without the game interfering with my choice of play. By interfering with my choice of play, the game is specifically telling me that this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing and that I should be following the story path laid out by the game developers. That’s the very definition of a rail based game. That’s NOT an open world make-my-own-choices game.

Now, I do realize this interference is intended, but this interference takes away an important gamer choice… to play the game in any way the gamer chooses. If you’re going to offer guns and bullets, you need to make them count in the game. Bullets can’t act deadly in some situations and act as mere bee stings to other NPCs. Bullet damage must remain consistent against ALL NPCs under ALL conditions unless you implement a visible character level system.

Because of the boring slow pace, the lame story elements (Really? A tavern brawl is the best you can do?), the absolute crap hand-to-hand combat mechanic, the unkillable-NPC-bounty situation, the lackluster lighting, the game’s meddling interference in my choice of play, the poorly created character models and textures, the lack of photo mode and the broken Social Club site, my 2 out of 10 stars firmly stands for this game.

An Utter Disaster

This game is a disaster for Rockstar. I guess every game studio is entitled to a dud. Most times I can give some creative advice on how to improve a game. I’m at such a loss for improving this game’s disastrous design, I can’t even begin to tell Rockstar how to get this hot mess back on track. I think it needed to go back to the drawing board. Oh well, my high hopes for this game have been utterly dashed. It’d be nice to get my money back. This game is crap. Avoid.


Graphics: 5 out of 10
Sound: 7 out of 10
Voice Acting: 2 out of 10
Brawling: 2 out of 10
Gunfights: 5 out of 10
Pacing and Stories: 1 out of 10
Stability: N/A

Overall Rating: 2 out of 10
Recommendation: Don’t buy. Avoid. If you must try it, rent only.

I’d actually rate it lower, but I’m giving it 2 stars for sheer effort. Let’s just forget all about this game and remember the fun we had with Red Dead Redemption.


Agree or disagree? Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think about Red Dead Redemption 2.

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How to fix Touch ID purchasing after Apple ID unlock

Posted in Apple, botch, california by commorancy on August 14, 2018

Touch ID App store purchasing no longer works after your Apple ID is unlocked? How do you get it working again? Let’s explore.

Apple ID Locked

I’ve recently begun having problems with Apple locking my Apple ID account about every 3 weeks with no explanation. After I’ve unlocked my account, I find that the App store app refuses to use Touch ID and forces entry of my password to download an app. Hey Apple, I set up Touch ID so I don’t have to type in a password.

I’ve called Apple twice about this problem and they are of no help. I had to figure this one out on my own. Thanks Apple… not!

Not only does Apple have no logs to determine why the account is locked, they simply don’t care about this problem. Their login system has become shit in the last few months beginning in June of 2018. I have no explanation for this lockout problem except that Apple needs to get their shit together. I’ve never had this problem before this point. Anyway, once an Apple ID is locked, you’ll need to unlock it to proceed cleaning up the mess Apple leaves behind.

Note, I have no problems unlocking my account. In fact, it takes about 5 minutes or less. However, there’s a bunch of crap to do to clean up Apple’s mess.

Unlocking an Apple ID

To unlock your account, go to appleid.apple.com. Note, I have chosen not to linkify in the address in this article for security reasons. This is why it’s not clickable in this paragraph.

Instead, simply select the text => appleid.apple.com . Then copy and paste it into your browser’s address bar. Or better, type it into your browser’s address bar manually. Next, browse to this destination. Because this is Apple’s security site which manages your Apple ID security settings, I urge you to make sure you type it in exactly and carefully. If you mistype this address, it’s possible that you could land on a malicious web site that looks identical to Apple’s site and which could collect your Apple ID and password. Alway be cautious, alert and careful when visiting sites which manage the security of your account(s). Here are the steps to get you started:

  • Once you’re on the Apple ID site, under the ‘Manage your Apple account’ text, enter your Apple ID username and click the arrow pointing right →
  • Now enter your current password and click the arrow →
  • It will tell you your account is locked
  • At this point, follow the prompts to unlock your account

You’ll need to need to know the following info (as of 2018) to unlock your account:

  • Birthdate
  • Answers to the security questions you set up previously

This section assumes you have not set up two-factor authentication. You can choose to unlock by email or by answering security questions. It’s up to you which path to follow. Whichever path you choose, complete the process to unlock your Apple ID. After unlocking, here’s where the fun begins. /sarc

If you can’t remember your security questions or birthdate, you’ll need to contact Apple Support and request for them to help you with unlocking your Apple ID. If you have set up two-factor authentication (2FA), you will need to know your recovery key. If you’ve lost you recovery key and access to your trusted device after setting up 2FA, you’re out of luck. If you have access to your trusted device, Apple can send you a text to finish the unlocking process. You cannot recover your Apple ID when using 2FA if you have lost the recovery key and lost access to your trusted device. For this reason alone, I cannot recommend setting up 2FA on your Apple ID. Stick with a strong password and avoid 2FA.

Note, I strongly recommend unlocking your account via this web browser method only. Even if your iPhone or iPad prompts to unlock your account directly on your device, don’t. Do not rely on the methods built into iOS devices as I have found them to be problematic and unreliable. Using the browser method, you will have no troubles.

Account Unlocked / Touch ID problems

Once your account is unlocked, you’ll find that all devices that were formerly logged into this account will have been force logged out. This force logout method is different than the method you would use to logout on the device. If you log out of the device, you will be prompted for both the account name and the password. With Apple’s force logout due to a lock, you are only required to reenter your password. Your login ID will be remembered and cached.

An account lockout wreaks havoc on certain features in iOS like Touch ID. Because the account was force logged out, then unlocked, Touch ID will fail to work on both the Music and the App store app. As I said above, you’ll find that the App store now prompts you to enter your password rather than using Touch ID.

Worse, you can go to settings and clearly see that Touch ID is still enabled for the App store app, but it is not working. This is demonstrably a bug that Apple simply won’t fix. How do we resolve this? Let’s continue.

Fixing Touch ID in the iTunes and App store app after a lockout

Here are the steps to fix this problem:

  • Kill the Music and App store apps on your iOS device. DON’T SKIP THIS STEP. You do this by double clicking the home button. Then scroll through the apps running, then drag the app up to the top of the screen with your finger until it disappears from the list. This will kill that app. It’s always a good idea to periodically kill all running apps on your phone to improve performance. Be sure to kill the App store app before proceeding. If you have many apps in the list to scroll through, you can bring the app to the front of the list easily by launching the app before trying to kill it.
  • Once the apps are killed, proceed to the Home screen and touch the Settings app
  • Scroll down to Touch ID & Passcode and touch it
  • Enter your pincode (if requested)
  • This is the screen you’ll see next
  • On this screen, you’ll see the iTunes & App store is already enabled (green). This setting is a lie. After a force lock and unlock, Apple automatically disables this feature internally even though the button shows green and enabled. That this button remains enabled is a bug and is the reason Touch ID doesn’t work.
  • Click the green slider button next to iTunes & App Store to disable this setting.
  • Wait for a moment for this to register and turn grey, like so 
  • Now, click it a second time to re-enable it. This time, it will prompt you for your Apple ID password.
  • Enter your current Apple ID password in the password prompt
  • Wait for the button to do a little jig before leaving this screen. The jig is described like so: the button starts off green, then turns grey for a moment, then slides back to green. This jig confirms that Touch ID for the App store is now truly enabled
  • Exit to the home screen and launch the App store app
  • Browse to any free app in the store and click ‘Get’. Touch ID should now prompt you for your fingerprint instead of prompting for your password.

If you skip killing the apps where I asked you to do that, you’ll find that the App store app still prompts for a password. The reason for this is that the App has cached the forced logout. To break that cache, you perform all of the steps described above. Following the order of these steps is important.

If you leave the App store app running when you reset the Touch ID settings, you’ll find that the password prompt problem remains. You may find that killing and relaunching the app even after resetting the Touch ID after-the-fact also won’t work. That’s why the order the steps is important.

Stupid Problems, Debugging and Network Settings

Problems this stupid shouldn’t exist on iOS devices, but here we are. I’ve already discussed this issue with Apple Support, but they simply won’t do anything about it. In fact, because this problem was formerly a rare occurrence, Apple Support isn’t even aware of this workaround.

In fact, while on the phone, Apple Support “recommended” that I reset my network settings. Never reset network settings as a first step. Resetting network settings should be the absolute last step and only when nothing else resolves a problem. The difficulty with resetting network settings is that it wipes all iCloud stored network passwords and access point information, like WiFi passwords. Not only does it wipe all WiFi networks and passwords on iCloud for the device where you wiped network settings, it wipes it for every device also using iCloud. This means if your Apple ID is being used on a MacBook, an iPhone, an iPad, an iPod or any combination of several of these devices, you’ll have to reinter the password on every device manually. It will also have forgotten all of the access points that iCloud formerly knew. Each new device will need to relearn them all.

You can somewhat solve this problem by first signing your device out of iCloud before wiping network settings. However, when you log your device back into iCloud, it might still wipe some settings from iCloud once logged back in and synced with iCloud. Be cautious with doing this.

I’ve been there and done that. This is a pain-in-the-ass. If Apple Support ever requests you to wipe network settings, tell them politely but firmly, “No.” Then state, “I only wipe network settings as a last ditch effort. Let’s exhaust all other workarounds and possibilities first.”

Wiping network settings usually only resolves actual networking problems, such as the phone refusing to connect to a WiFi access point. Touch ID has nothing to do with networking. Be wary of Support Team members requesting you to wipe network settings to help resolve non-network problems. The last thing you want to do is spend hours fixing all of your other devices in addition to not resolving the original problem. The Apple Support team is very good at causing more problems without actually solving the original problem. It is up to you to always exercise your best judgement to prevent Apple Support slip ups.

I really wish that Apple would just fix these stupid bugs. I also wish that they would tell me why my account keeps getting locked out.

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Biggest Failed Kickstarter Projects

Posted in botch, business by commorancy on March 7, 2018

Even though there have been successful projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, projects have also failed for a variety of reasons. Some projects are outright scams solely designed to part you from your money. Let’s explore 11 of these extreme failures.

Don’t Believe The Hype

There are many, many hucksters out there. They can be anywhere in the world from China to Silicon Valley. When you see something that seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you choose to back any projects on Kickstarter or Indiegogo, you need to be 100% prepared to lose all money you offer to back a project. Not all projects succeed and this article aptly proves that not everyone in this world is out to make good on their promises. Without further adieu, let’s dig right into the first failure…


11. Holo Cow, Batman!

The product creator H+ purported its Kickstarter Holus 3D display idea to be a unique new 3D holographic display technology. The Holus was a Kickstarter campaign in 2015 that touted lots of false claims. The idea is that the images would appear in 3D in real-time as a holograph. Unfortunately, that’s not what the pitch video shows. This Kickstarter campaign amassed CA $297,790 from 496 backers.

Let’s watch this professionally produced pitch:

What went wrong?

Note the still image on the video above. You can see the image passes beyond the edge of the pyramid corner seamlessly. This is not possible. The video uses 3D rendered imagery as an effect, not a physical working prototype which lead to false and misleading information. This is not, in any way, a holographic display. Instead, on the top of this device, there’s a flat panel LCD screen (probably cheap one) that reflects one of 4 different flat images into each side of the glass pyramid. This makes it look like the image is ‘floating in space’, but it is not in any way a 3D holographic experience. This is an entirely scammy device for how it was sold to the backers. People were roped by the hyperbole and backed this project. Suffice it to say, not everything is always as it seems on Kickstarter.

This device is not even an original idea, nor does it offer holographic imagery. Let’s also consider that you can go to Amazon and buy this less than $10 device for your phone which essentially does exactly the same thing as The Holus. There are even models of this device for less than $4 if you really want to go cheap. These display enhancing devices existed long before H+’s idea. This is definitely one that attempted to pull the wool over the eyes of the backers with false claims. There’s now even an arcade game named Crazy Tower that uses this “pseudo-holographic” technology for its display. It’s not 3D either.

Apparently, H+ is still in business trying to hawk this thing. You can visit their web site at hplustech.com. Holo promises seem to be all the rage, let’s scam on.


10. Backpackin’ To The Bank

This next failure, Backzips, was a Kickstarter project that used the take-the-money-and-run approach. This project raked in all told, over $168,000 between Kickstarter and Indiegogo backers. The idea was allegedly to create a backpack that was made of Kevlar, had USB ports, sported an up to 12,000 mAh battery pack and a zipper located in such a way so as to secure your belongings inside from prying hands behind you.

What went wrong?

Suffice it to say, the delivery date(s) came and went, then came and went again over and over. There are 1,495 backers who’ve left over 1012 backer comments on Kickstarter with no answers. November, 16, 2016 was the last time backers heard from the project’s creators. Suffice it to say, that money is not coming back.

After one KS backer later found what appeared to be the same exact bag on sale at Aliexpress, he contacted the seller to get the story. Here’s what the seller had to say:

I am a backpack distributor in China. I suffered the same situation with you. I ordered 100pcs from KS, but I still didn’t receive it. Unfortunately I did pre-sale in domestic market, my customers pushed me from Nov, I don’t want to lose my reputation in China, It is very important for us to do business. so I tried to contact the manufacturer of this bag per the info on KS “same manufacturer with samsonite”, I know that factory, it is famous in China, so I contacted them, I was told that they did have 2000 stocks in warehouse, waiting for their customer to pick them up. They can’t sell to us directly, they have signed contract, but if we need, they can make as they have material stock, so I negotiated with them, placed 500pcs order with them directly. they don’t accept order less than 1000pcs of each color, I am lucky because there is rest material. now I can hold my Chinese customers, but i am waiting my products from KS also.

Apparently, the Backzips Kickstarter project creator even appears to have stiffed the manufacturer. They apparently sent a deposit to create 2000 pieces and then never showed back up to pay for the finished bags, leaving the manufacturer holding the bag (2000 to be exact). Looks like the project creator screwed over everyone all around.

Let’s watch the Pitch video:

Don’t go digging out your wallet for this one, lest you become like the 1,495 other Kickstarter backers who got ripped off backing this project. Just keep your wallet firmly closed and your eyes open as we continue to the next beefy failure.


9. Where’s the Beef?

The Kobe Red Kickstarter campaign led by creators Magnus Fun actually had its plug pulled just before the campaign closed and before the project creator(s) got their money. Kobe Red was project to offer Kobe beef jerky that’s so tasty, “omg im licking my fingers in public” or so the text testimonial goes. The product was supposed to be the world’s first “100% Japanese Beer Fed Beef Jerky.”  Yeah, right. The project amassed over $120,000 in pledges from 3,252 backers.

The project creators never put up any substantial backing material to support the claims that they could, in fact, make this beef jerky, but they apparently did put up excited videos about how great it would all be. Unfortunately, I am unable to find a video for this particular almost-scam. The creators “Magnus Fun” deleted their Kickstarter account and along with it, their videos (which didn’t seem to make it to YouTube).

What went wrong?

It would ironically be another Kickstarter funded project that got the plug pulled on Kobe Red. That other project was Kickstarted. It was a documentary film crew investigating Kickstarter projects and just so happened to investigate this project at the time Kickstarted was being filmed. As a result of the fishy problems surrounding the Kobe Red campaign, these documentary filmmakers brought their information to the attention of Kickstarter staff, who summarily pulled the plug just before that $120,000 ended up in the bank account of Magnus Fun.

In this case, the backers didn’t get screwed and the would-be scammer got nothing…  lucky Kickstarter backers. Sometimes justice is best served with a side of 100% Japanese Beer Fed Beef Jerky. Let’s jerky on over to the next failure.


8. Burn me Once, Burn me Twice

The Laser Razor is a now-suspended Kickstarter campaign that managed to amass over $4 million in backing from over 20,000 backers, but couldn’t come close to delivering a working prototype. While the razor does have a cool look, I’d personally have been skeptical of this project (and the device), particularly after having watched that semi-amateur video. Just look at the quality of this video and tell me if you trust any of the people shown in it?

Let’s Watch:

While the video shows off a prototype of sorts, notice that it has a wire. That wire apparently is a small fiber transmitting the laser and may be enough to ‘cut’ the hair. Unfortunately, that fiber is incredibly fragile. The razor also can’t be used against the skin. It must precariously balance above the skin. If you go too fast or try to cut too many, the fiber breaks. If they had managed to actually make this thing work in a reliable way, it would ultimately be similar to a laser hair removal device. However, it wouldn’t be bright enough or go deep enough to affect the follicle in the pore. Instead, it would just lase the hair shaft from the surface of the skin. Unfortunately, this laser would likely be strong enough to burn the skin. Additionally, such a laser would likely be just dangerous enough to need eye protection while using it. Not something you’d really want to don every morning just after getting out of bed.

As a result of the lack of producing a functional and necessary Laser Razor prototype to satisify Kickstarter rules, the Kickstarter staff suspended the project before the creators received any money. Yet again, the backers were lucky. This is a bit unusual considering that the project had over 20,000 backers with over $4 million in funding. With $4 million on the table, you’d think that the creators should have been able to hire an engineer capable of pulling off a truly functional prototype. Nope.

After the project was suspended by Kickstarter, Skarp moved this campaign over to Indiegogo for a second campaign where it raised over $500,000 from over 2,700 backers (a far cry from what they raised on Kickstarter), but still not a slouchy number.

What went wrong?

In 2016, CNET visited Skarp to see if the prototype that Skarp had created actually worked. According to CNET, while it did cut individual hairs, it also broke during the demonstration. So, there’s that. Skarp did receive its funds from Indiegogo, but apparently Skarp is not willing to refund anyone. They have also, so far, not delivered anything functional.

Let’s watch this CNET report:

Skarp was apparently to deliver its first product in 2016, it is now 2018 and Skarp still hasn’t delivered anything. Skarp could have engineered a better standard razor in all that time while still working on their flagship product. At least release something. Skarp’s web site is still active at www.skarptechnologies.com, so someone’s still paying the bills on that. I guess it’s all of those Indiegogo suckers.. er… backers. Let’s try not to get razor burned again, m’kay?


7. Kanoa Borrow A Light?

When it comes to earbuds, Apple pretty much has it sewn up for the wireless category. There are few headphones that beat the functionality and quality of the Airpods (even as stupid as they look while wearing them). The Bluetooth connection to the phone or whatever, for the most part, is rock solid. There is the occasional drop out, but nothing too bad. They charge fast and they usually connect pretty fast.

However, Kanoa tried to create a set of wireless earbuds to compete with Apple’s Airpods via an Indiegogo campaign. They thought they could do better. Unfortunately, the Indiegogo campaign page is not available due to ‘pending review’, so I will have to write out the details about what it is rather than showing you the pitch video. The Earbuds touted a charging case, a small design, supposedly rock stable connectivity and app-controllable noise cancelling.

To prove their worth, Kanoa sent a pair of Truly Wireless Earbuds to a YouTuber to give an honest (ahem) review about them. When the YouTuber tried to use them, they failed in pretty much every conceivable way.

Here’s a 30 minute video Cody Crouch from iTwe4kz channel telling story about these headphones:

TL;DW — I’ll cut to the chase for you, you can come back and watch the whole thing later.

What went wrong?

Cody found that pretty much every feature that he tried to use had some kind of problem. The headphones paired to the phone fine. But, the earbuds wouldn’t pair to the app so he couldn’t control the noise cancelling feature. After several hours of screwing with them and a call to the company, he got it working. Then, when he tried to use the noise canceling feature, it failed with constant loud feedback when he turned the outside noise level up to above 60%. After that, the earbuds wouldn’t charge in the charging case properly and needed to be reset, but there was a complication because the charging case was itself charging. He had to unplug the charging case to charge the earbuds. When he went outside to to film part of the review, he tried to use them with the phone in his back pocket while on a skateboard. The earbuds wouldn’t work when he turned his head. They would disconnect. While he was on the phone with Kanoa working out these problems, the earbuds produced static.

He ultimately had conversations with the company about all of these problems and Kanoa eventually conceded to these problems by attempting to pay him $500 to create a good review of these earbuds. That’s when Cody gets really triggered. He then posts the above video stating what garbage the headphones really are.

After his video posted, the company shutdown and closed stating:

Capital funding is essential for ramping up production. Unlike on typical crowdfunding platforms we allowed backers to ask for refunds at any time. This policy kept us honest, but also added vulnerability once we had made major financial commitments. Setbacks and some bad publicity, like reviews of non-shippable beta units, stirred our audience. Most significantly and to our unpleasant surprise, our investors recently backed out of our funding round. We do not blame them, but this was a pivotal setback since capital was essential for ramping up production …Unfortunately, without that investment, we do not have enough capital to stay operational while we find a solution.

This carefully crafted statement basically sums it all up. Cody’s YouTube review caused, at least according to this statement, their financial backers to pull any further support and they had to close their doors. In 2018, their web site is down.

The moral here is not to request YouTube folks review your product, particularly if your product is not ready for general consumption. Just put the item onto the market and let the chips fall where they may. In this case, it’s probably best that Kanoa folded based on how junky and janky these earbuds were. Kanoa move to the next one now?


6. Fly Me to the Moon

Another failed Kickstarter project named Zano by its creator Torquing wanted to build a tiny drone that claims to be an autonomous, intelligent, swarming, nano drone. After all, drones have been around for quite a while, even super tiny ones. The drone would also contain lots of bells and whistles including a camera. Basically, instead of a bunch of cumbersome controls, the drone would follow your phone around taking pictures for about 15 minutes at a time. So, what’s wrong with this drone? That’s what the Kickstarter team wanted to find out after the drones sucked so badly they couldn’t fly properly. This Kickstarter project amassed $3.4 million in pledges from more than 12,000 backers.

Let’s watch their original pitch:

What went wrong?

In addition to various supplier problems, once Zano began shipping in Septemer of 2016, the company decided to ship the drones to pre-order customers rather than backers, which angered many. The few drones that did end up in the wild angered their owners for entirely different reasons. They didn’t work well. Sometimes the units would take off and land immediately. When they did stay in the air, they would randomly veer off course crashing into something. The drones also appeared to have no obstacle avoidance system as promised. Basically, all of the diatribe promised in the video never became reality. It was a bunch of smoke and mirrors.

According to Gizmodo, by November 2016 and as a result of all of the drone problems, Torquing declared bankruptcy. Along with that bankruptcy, so dried up the $3.4 million from all of the pledges. So ends the saga of the Zano and all of the money they raked in. Let’s drone on.


5. Deal Me Out

How hard is it to create a deck of cards? In 2012, Altius Management put up a Kickstarter campaign to produce ‘horrific’ playing cards on Bicycle playing card paper. This project amassed just over $25,000 from 810 backers. What happened? Altius Management couldn’t deliver on decks of simple playing cards. By 2015, this project was part of a lawsuit which a judge ordered the company to repay a portion of the money it had collected from Kickstarter.

Let’s watch their pitch video:

What went wrong?

Not sure entirely, but Ed Nash of Altius Management failed to deliver on the decks of cards for over 3 years. By 2015, a court had issued a judgement against Mr. Nash to repay the damages. Though, at the same time, Mr. Nash began making good on the orders and backers began receiving their decks. It was too little, too late for Mr. Nash. The court judgement still stood regardless of the decks being delivered.

Here’s one case where the backers were able to get at least something for the lack of delivery. Nope, no Aces up my sleeve, but there might be a Joker in this next failure.


4. Tripping the Light Fantastic

Here’s another Kickstarter campaign that started with grand plans. This time the creators Central Standard Timing promised to produce the thinnest watch in the world. It is called the CST-01. This watch is … well, let’s watch the video:

I know this one looks cool, but don’t pull your wallet out lest you become another of this project’s victims. This Kickstarter campaign amassed over $1 million dollars from over 7,600 backers.

What went wrong?

Apparently, the manufacturing process for this watch was a whole lot more complicated than anticipated. In 2015 after a whole lot of silence from the creators, the watch’s team posted a comment stating that the watch would be delayed due to losing their manufacturer. Not long after that notification, the company filed for bankruptcy.

$1 million dollars up in smoke. Some reporters claim it wasn’t malice, but that the company was in over its head. I don’t buy that. These companies know what it’s going to take to manufacture the product before they ever get to Kickstarter. If they don’t, they shouldn’t even be there. This should be question #1 from Kickstarter staff before ever listing a project of this nature. Time marches on.


3. Oh yeah? Oh, No!

Let’s now examine what might be considered one of the biggest crowdfunding successes that also became one of the biggest failures: Ouya. Though, the biggest failure award would actually go to #1 on this list. This console, conceived by Julie Uhrman, was touted to be the next best thing since sliced bread. Yet, what it turned out to be is a sluggish disaster worse than a generic $40 Android tablet. The Ouya began its dream as a Kickstarter campaign and ended as one of the biggest crapfests to come out of a Kickstarter.

Let’s watch their pitch video (note the mix of professional and amateur content):

The Ouya Kickstarter campaign amassed over $8.6 million dollars from 63,416 backers. That’s a lotta coin to rake in, but it’s not the largest Kickstarter funded project. Stay tuned, that’s yet to come.

What went wrong?

The Ouya is cheaply designed and built both inside and out. According to some buyers, the controller buttons would stick. Some buyers had their controller wear out within a week’s worth of use. The innards consisted of an Android based computer. But, it was a computer with far less power than your average Android smart phone or tablet. It could barely play games, according to many. Indie games were present on the console, but only when the Ouya had enough power to sufficiently play them. Most times, it didn’t.

The primary problem with any new console is adoption. Without getting developers to adopt the platform and begin writing or porting games over, it’s all done and your platform is dead. The Ouya never got the developer momentum going. It just floundered for too long. Worse, at a time when Ouya was still trying to fulfill orders to the backers, they decided to sell the console in stores. This is when the Ouya appeared in the likes of Amazon and Best Buy, and later Target. This made many backers angry who had yet to receive their console. Ouya ended up being acquired by Razer in 2015. As the TechCrunch article states:

Notably, Razer is not acquiring the hardware part of Ouya’s business, specifically the microconsole and controller …

Yes, best dump all of that Kickstarter baggage as quickly as possible. So, what happened to Julie Uhrman? After the acquisition, she ended up writing off the Ouya with her apropos closing tweet:

If you really want a high powered Android gaming console, you should check out the NVIDIA Shield TV on Amazon. I can personally vouch for the quality of NVIDIA’s consoles and controllers. These things are rugged, durable and the gaming system is a powerhouse (at least as far as Android gaming is concerned). Ouya on over to this next failure.


2. Dump that Ice, Party’s Over

Even though this Kickstarter product is still shipping on Amazon, this next one is considered by many to be a very big failure. This is the Cooler Master by Ryan Grepper. To some, this one is also considered as the second biggest failure in the history of Kickstarter. Some backers got what they were promised, but many are still waiting (even in 2018) for their cooler to arrive. It’s also not like this cooler is inexpensive at $450. As many as 20,000 backers had been waiting for two years for their product to arrive as recently as June of 2017 (more on this below). In fact, this was Ryan’s second attempt to create a Kickstarter campaign for the Coolest Cooler. The first campaign was considered a spectacular failure.

Grepper writes of his first Kickstarter attempt via this 2014 Mashable article:

that campaign was riddled with mistakes: the target funding goal was relatively high ($125,000), the design for the product wasn’t far enough along and the campaign launched over the winter when the last thing people were thinking about were coolers. Sure enough, the campaign fell more than $20,000 short of its goal.

After the failure of his first Coolest Cooler Kickstarter project, Grepper tried again seven months later. Grepper’s second Kickstarter project amassed a whopping $13,285,226 in pledges among 62,642 backers. This is one of the biggest Kickstarter fundraising campaigns ever. Though, not the biggest. That accomplishment (and subsequent failure) is coming up next. Before that…

Let’s watch the Coolest Cooler backer pitch:

What went wrong?

Extremely slow delivery of the product. Even as late as the middle of 2017, there were as many as 20,000 backers still waiting for their coolers to arrive. These 20,000 also found out, after a Department of Justice investigation, that they may have 3 more years to wait before it arrives. That’s over 6 years waiting for a product. That means some coolers may not arrive until 2020 for many backers of this project. This would burn me up. By then, as with many other of these Kickstarter project owners, Ryan’s company could be bankrupt. We’ll have to wait and see on this one. Nothing cool about this.

These two Amazon answers sum up all that went wrong with this product:

‘Nuff said.


1. I’ve Got Something In My Shoe

“What is the biggest failure in the history of Kickstarter”, you ask? Pebble. This e-paper based watch was touted by Pebble founder Eric Migicovsky to be such a great wearable, after all, just watch the positive upbeat videos below! In fact, the company thought it was so great that it warranted three Kickstarter campaigns. Yes, you read that right, three! Though, the third campaign was, in fact, a last ditch effort to save the Pebble company. It didn’t work.

The campaigns included the original Pebble, the Pebble Time and the Pebble 2 / Pebble Time 2 / Pebble Core. Between these three campaigns alone, the Pebble company received $10,266,845 for the Pebble campaign (68,929 backers), $20,338,986 for the Pebble Time campaign (78,471 backers) and $12,779,843 for the Pebble 2 campaign (66,673 backers) which totals an astonishing USD $43,385,674 from 214,073 backers! That’s an average of $202.67 per backer. So, what happened?

Let’s watch the pitches (fullscreen available):

Pebble Pebble Time
Pebble 2, Pebble Time 2 and Pebble Core

What went wrong?

The wearables market crashed and took Pebble with it. This Wired article tells all that you need to know about Pebble’s financial mess and the story behind the third, and ultimately failed, Kickstarter Pebble 2 campaign. Suffice it to say, Pebble’s sales took a nosedive in 2016 and Eric Migicovsky couldn’t find any further funding… so the company turned back to Kickstarter. In fact, of the Pebble 2 / Pebble Core Kickstarter campaign, Wired states:

The Core is destined be become a ghost product, a brilliant prototype that will never be delivered to the 24,000 people who ordered it on Kickstarter. (They will get refunds through the Kickstarter system.)

As of December 2016, Pebble closed its doors and obviously stopped making its wearables. According to TechCrunch, FitBit acquired what was left of Pebble for an estimated $40 million, apparently barely enough to pay off Pebble’s debts. However, in 2017, it was revealed by TechCrunch that Fitbit paid $23 million to acquire Pebble. That’s probably just barely the amount needed to cover Pebble’s debts. This, after Pebble had amassed nearly $44 million in Kickstarter campaigns. I’m quite sure the founders felt bad all the way to the bank. And with this failure, I’m so glad this pebble is finally out of my shoe.


Final Thoughts – Crowdfunding as a Platform

What do all of these failures say about crowdfunded projects? Think, people, think. If the project seems to good to be true, it is. Don’t invest money into crowdfunded projects unless you are entirely prepared to lose every last cent. And yes, it is investing. Kickstarter is not a store, even though it looks like one. Even when you do manage to get a product that works, you can see how quickly these companies that seemed successful can fail. Then what are you left with? In Pebble’s case, you’re left with an unsupported device. In Ouya’s case, a crappy console. Invest your money in companies that have a solid reputation for building high quality products and that have a history of remaining in business.

Investing in these startup crowdfunded companies is a recipe for failure. Kickstarter is a great platform to raise $50k to write a book, create a film, or even perhaps write an indie video game. But, don’t go into Kickstarter with projects that are at the $500,000 to $5 million dollar level. These levels of funding, while immense, have a high probability for failure. It seems that many project creators have little to no knowledge of either how to run a business or how to manage finances, let alone create a product. Some of them may even be hucksters simply out to part you from your money without providing anything. Stay away from these high dollar funded projects and put your money into established businesses with established products. You’ll thank me later for this advice.

Note, this is not an exhaustive list of all of the failures between Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Oh, no no no. There are have been a whole lot more than this list. It seems that there have been so many, I’d have to create a blog series to document these failures (and to document them as they continue to fail… and they will).

If you’re interested in such an ongoing series, please let me know by leaving a comment below AND by following this blog by clicking the blue Follow button in the upper right of this page. If you’ve been scammed by a crowdfunded project, please leave a comment and I’ll consider featuring it in a future article.

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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.

Why Serial ATA will ultimately fail

Posted in computers by commorancy on July 17, 2009

Serial ATA is the replacement for Parallel ATA hard drives in computers.   Serial ATA offers faster speeds, yes, but is still immensely inconvenient in the Windows world (and probably with Linux and Mac as well).

Problematic design / brittle plastic

First, the thing you’ll notice different between a PATA drive and SATA drive is the connectors.  Gone are the bigger multipin data connector and the 4 pin power connector.  Instead, now we have a multipin power and multipin data connector that has a slim/thin form factor.  At first glance, you might think this is cool looking replacement connector.  We’ll I’m here to tell you it’s not.  The plastic used to hold the flat pins in place is weak and brittle.  If you’re not absolutely light touch careful with how the drive fits in place, you’re likely to break one or both of the connectors off.  Once that happens, the drive is toast.

In the 18 years I’ve been a systems administrator, I’ve changed many a hard drive and never once broken an IDE’s data connector.  I’ve torn a few cables and I’ve bent a few pins, but this is nothing that can’t be corrected easily leaving the drive fully functional.  With the brittle plastic SATA connectors on the drive itself, it’s extremely easy to break them off.   For this poor design choice alone, this is one reason why SATA manufacturers must eventually redesign this connector or the drive acceptance will fail.

Out with the old, in with the new

Hard drive manufacturers and motherboard manufacturers have been steadily pushing EIDE (IDE) out the door in replacement for SATA drives.  That’s great if everyone was on board at the same time.  Unfortunately, Microsoft still isn’t on board with this change over.  There are still limited native SATA drivers even in Windows Server 2008 (which is an offshoot of Vista).  This means, you must still load drivers for certain popular SATA controllers.  For example, one of the most common controllers used on motherboards is the SI3114 (Silicon Image) controller.  Yet, you still must load drivers to get Windows to recognize a drive connected to it before Windows will install.  If you forgot the driver or don’t realize you need it, you’ll easily spend 30 minutes chasing it down from your controller or motherboard manufacturer.

I realize the hard drive and motherboard manufacturers are trying to affect change, but you can’t do it when Microsoft still isn’t on board.  I guess these businesses haven’t really figured this out yet.

Road to failure

I don’t mean hard drive failure either.  I mean failure of the standard to be accepted in the long term.  For poor design choices and the lack of giving Microsoft time to embed the most common SATA drivers into Windows installation media, SATA drives are likely to eventually fail to be the defacto data storage device of choice.  Connectors on the back of drives need to be rugged (or at least more rugged than the brittle plastic they are using).  The connectors could have been both bigger and more thoughtfully designed than what is on the back of SATA drives.  For hot plugable configs, these connectors seem to work reasonably well, but they are still not perfect (as you have to play with alignment to ensure proper connectivity, hoping you don’t break parts off).  The SCA connector was a much better standard as far as hot plug standards go:  one single connector, big enough to be functional, easy to hotplug and rugged enough to keep from breaking parts off.

SATA drive manufacturers need to work on a design spec for better more rugged connectors on the back of SATA drives.  Motherboard manufacturers need to ensure their SATA controller has a built-in driver in Windows installation packages so no specialty setups are necessary.   Without these two steps, SATA drives will eventually fail to gain the acceptance and the momentum to keep these products going.  Manufacturers seem to think that there is no other choice for data storage in the computer.  When you think of hard drives, ATA drives are the first that come to mind.  But, we are fast approaching solid state technologies.   These solid state storage technologies don’t need the hoggy space of a hard drive chassis, the spinning noise and the eventual failure.  With solid state drives, instead of 1U machines, we may even begin seeing 1/2U machines or less.

Fix it or fail

Hard drive manufacturers need to rethink SATA.  They need to design both a better connector and faster data rates.  3Gbps speeds is reasonably fast, but we need to be about 10Gbps before vast improvements in transfer rates are actually noticed at a storage level.

Without the necessary support, which by now we should have had in the SATA world, it doesn’t make sense for HD manufacturers to push IDE out the door.  There are still far too many times where IDE devices are necessary to get a system to a workable state.  Motherboard manufacturers need to be doubly careful.  SATA-only motherboards lead to challenges during installation of Windows due to lack of drivers.  These installation challenges can lead to frustration and eventually a return of the motherboard to the store.

For all of these reasons, the SATA specification and design needs to be rethought.  The brittle plastic connectors are no where near rugged enough and need to be made much more sturdy.   The lack of driver support makes installation and repairs extremely frustrating.  Chasing down SATA drivers to place on floppy disks can be a challenge even for the most knowledgeable.

For now, this is the state of SATA.  It was a promising standard, but for now it’s become a problem because the hard drive industry is trying to push for change far too rapidly without adequately testing the design of the drive.  For anyone reading who may work with SATA designs or manufacturing, please feel free to take this to your bosses for review.

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