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A plate of leftovers and some discarded Easter egg wrappers

For all the times that I marginalise this blog in favour of writing elsewhere, every time I come back to it to write in a little text box somewhere feels like a breath of fresh air. Because I own the platform, it means I can write whatever drivel I want here. It’s an outlet, a place to tell stories, or sometimes, to say a few things about a little box of liquid breakfast.

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I took this picture with my Sony RX100 II during my recent trip to Malaysia. It’s exactly what it looks like: a plate of leftovers after my grandmother’s birthday celebrations. There’s bits of prawn, some strange stringy stuff that I don’t know the name of, and various other bones and other non-edible entities.

I took the photo because at the time, I wondered who was going to tell the story of this plate of leftovers, after the event was done and dusted. It looked kind of lonely, all by itself, in a large dinner hall that had emptied of people long ago. It would get cleaned up later on by staff from the restaurant, of course, but for the time being, it was just sitting there. Overflowing with the leftovers from a fantastic banquet, but just sitting there.

Turns out, I’m the one telling the story of the plate of leftovers. I’m the one saying that, of all the conversations the plate was privy to during the night, perhaps the most interesting of all is the one about food. There are other stories that could be told — the one about how my grandpa stormed out because he wasn’t feeling up to celebrating his wife’s birthday, or the one about how relatives from two separate continents met up for the first time in years — but the story of food is the one that connects all other stories.

Think of the prawns, for example. Where did they come from? Who was the chef that cooked them, and what was his story? Who served them, and what did they eat for lunch that day? I’m thankful that I’m the one that gets to ask these questions, even if no-one else is asking them. I have neither the time or inclination to follow any of the questions up, but asking the questions in the first place is an important step.

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This photo was taken much more recently. Like the one about the plate of leftovers above, it’s exactly what it looks like: a collection of Easter egg wrappers.

Like every other individual at Easter, I eat chocolate eggs. My Easter eggs of choice are usually Cadbury mini eggs, since I find hollow eggs are annoying to eat — first you have to break off pieces, then eat those separately, break off more pieces, then eat that; the repetition gets to you, after a while — but one of the downsides to mini eggs is their individual wrappers. Each egg comes in a thin sheet of aluminium foil, coloured on one side and the normal silvery aluminium on the other.

Normally, I just throw the wrappers away as soon as I unwrap the egg, like any other person. But the question then becomes: what do you do with the wrappers if there’s no a bin nearby? Throwing them back into the packet of eggs isn’t an option; that just creates more mess later on and frustration when you’re trying to find an actual easter egg. Scrunching them up and then throwing them back into the packet is an option, but this time around I decided to keep them around, un-scrunched and building into a little pile on my desk.

No particular reason. Just because.

And like the plate of leftovers, once I was done with the eggs I took a photo, threw the wrappers in the bin, and wondered: who was going to tell the story of the Easter Eggs?

That guy, as it turns out, is me. I’m going to tell the story of a little box of liquid breakfast, a plate of leftovers, and some discarded Easter egg wrappers. And this blog is exactly where I’m going to do it.

Frivolous Internet Purchases, Part II — PlayStation Move

The PlayStation Move SharpShooter accessory.

The PlayStation Move SharpShooter accessory.

My first experience with the PlayStation Eye was at Harvey Norman. There was a store near my old church, and every so often I, along with a childhood friend, would run down after a church service and spend Sunday afternoon there, playing on the demo consoles they had. You know, back when demo consoles in brick and mortar stores were actually a thing.

This one time there was a PlayStation Eye demo setup, running some kind of demo content that showcased how input from the camera could be used in actual games. As I cleaned the screen of fog by wildly waving my arms around like a lunatic, I marvelled at how my crude body movements were being translated and having a real impact on the game, something that wasn’t possible before with a simple controller, but now was thanks to the addition of a camera.

Fast forward a couple of years, and now people are so sick of cameras being included with their consoles that a console coming without a camera is enough to make news. The Xbox One has Kinect, and the PlayStation 4 has the PlayStation Camera. We’ve come a long way since the silly hand-waving of the PlayStation Eye demo I played back in 2007, to the point where people are creating entirely new genres of gaming around motion-tracking — Johann Sebastian Joust and Zero Latency being two examples.

Ever since I saw the PlayStation Move ad where there’s a girl using two Move units to do some archery, I kind of wanted to see what the Move was like. Unfortunately, Move has always been prohibitively expensive, making my Move experimentation a little far-fetched for something I was likely going to play a handful of times and then never again.

But then, something strange happened. Move got cheap. Starting around September/October last year, you could pick up a PlayStation Move Starter Kit (one Motion controller, one PlayStation Eye camera) for $46. I did so, then grabbed an extra Motion controller for $18, a Motion Controller for $22, and a few other accessories: the PlayStation Move SharpShooter and a few Move-enabled games (more on these two in a bit). Oh, and a Move Charging Station for an entire dollar, for good measure.

I spent the good part of a day playing Move Sports Champions 2, doing some archery, golf, and other fun games. They say the best thing about the Wii is the motion controller, and the funny thing is, the PlayStation Move gives you a very similar experience with a (in my opinion) vastly superior console for actual games. I practised some foolish wand waving with Wonderbook: Book of Spells, but the part I was really looking forward to was Time Crisis.

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Writings Elsewhere

I always feel a certain sense of guilt when I don’t write on my personal blog (i.e. here), even when I’m doing daily news write-ups of Apple news for AppleTalk. It’s not that I have a shortage of stuff to write about, but finding time in between part time work and Dota 2 just doesn’t happen, most of the time. Anyway, I have been writing, just not here, which I have summarised below.

AppleTalk has been up for about a month now, and already we’ve had some great content up. Some of the highlights, written by yours truly:

  • I think I Just Became OK With In-App Purchases — my look at the world of in-app purchases on both mobile and desktop platforms, and how I’m totally OK with paying for stuff in free-to-play games, so long as the game itself isn’t a shameless money-grab.

Ask any game developer, and they’ll tell you that in-app purchases are the new “in” thing. Big publishers like EA, as well as smaller indie developers like Halfbrick, are using it as a new way to make money. The thinking goes that instead of offering titles for a set fee up front like traditional software, developers and publishers can make more money over time, which more closely aligns with the subscription payment model. Whether it’s working out for them is another story entirely, but judging from the continued adoption and uptake of in-app purchases in many new apps, I’d say the results speak for themselves.

Of course, Birdbrain gives you basic information like your following and follower counts, tweets, mentions, retweets, and how many users you’ve blocked. But the real power of Birdbrain lies in its ability to give you those numbers over time — as you use the app, it updates those numbers so you can get a feel for how your numbers change over weeks or months.

Captured has a few things going for it: for one, it’s super easy to use. Take a screenshot and it’ll automatically upload it and copy the URL to your clipboard, meaning all you have to do is paste the image somewhere for people to see it. Imgur is the default location for uploaded images, but you also have the choice of your own storage in way of Dropbox, Amazon S3, or SFTP, all configurable via the the Preferences window in Captured.

  • And more recently, a wrap-up of Apple’s WWDC 2014 keynote. It wasn’t any longer, running-time wise, than any previous Apple event. But Apple announced so much stuff — both for consumers and developers — that the potential ramifications will be felt years from now.

The keynote from this year’s WWDC has just wrapped, and Viticci is right when he says this isn’t just Apple skating to where the puck is, this is Apple creating an entirely new ball game. Apple kicked things off by saying it was an event with three main focuses — OS X, iOS, and developers — and then they went on to deliver one of the biggest Apple events in recent history. Let’s dance.

Spectator Sport

dota 2014-05-15 08-39-44-58I’ve never really been into actual sport, least of all the AFL or NHL or whatever three-letter acronym people watch on TV these days. Incredibly un-Australian of me, I know, but the appeal just hasn’t been there. There are two exceptions to this rule, the first being international soccer and infrequently, cricket, both domestic and international — but for the most part, I just don’t watch sport, at least not in the traditional sense.

But ever since I can remember, I’ve liked watching people other play video games. Even if I wasn’t playing myself, I liked watching to see how they approached the same problem I came across earlier, or seeing how much faster they progressed through the game than I did. From other people’s battle strategies in Pokémon to seeing what kind of mischief they could get up to in the earlier Grand Theft Autos, I’ve always enjoyed watching other people play games.

Which is weird, because I didn’t think I’d be that into watching other people play Dota 2. I like playing the game, for sure, but I didn’t think watching games would be that great; somehow boring, having to watch people last hit, gank, and move around the map.

In this thread: someone gets mad before he realises that he's looking at the other team's picks in Captain's Mode. We ended up losing that match, but in another CM game I wanted the Mirana, another guy stole it and I ended up with Tiny. I've only played him a handful of times, but I bought a Midas and went to town.

In this thread: someone gets mad before he realises that he’s looking at the other team’s picks in Captain’s Mode. We ended up losing that match, but in another CM game I wanted the Mirana, another guy stole it and I ended up with Tiny. I’ve only played him a handful of times, but I bought a Midas and went to town.

The International 2014 is coming up, and after spectating umpteen games from the qualifiers, I can safely say it’s far more enjoyable than I ever predicted. I didn’t think I’d be into it because of the reasons listed above, because I thought it would be boring, but the combination of broadcasters and professional, high-level Dota 2 play, turns something I thought would have been boring into something interesting.

The broadcasters add a lot to the overall experience, to be honest. Having former pro-players cast the pro-level games gives real insight into all aspects of the game, from the picks and bans in Captains Mode to the various strategies employed during ganks, roshan kills, or what the teams need to do to win the game at any given point. I guess they’re kind of similar to normal commentators in that regard, in that they’re always adding commentary into the mix so that watching fantasy avatars kill each other doesn’t ever become boring.

The best casters don’t have to be funny, but they do have to know the game, and, perhaps more importantly, their audience. Watching Beyond the Summit is fine if you’re comfortable with the meta (or just like EG.Fear’s insights into pro-level play), but watching someone like joinDOTA cast a game is great if you’re looking to pick up a few tips. There was a recent game I watched where the joinDOTA casters were discussing the difference between blink and semi-blink, and the difference between them in terms of disjointing targeted spells, and that was useful stuff for someone who doesn’t play a lot of Anti-mage or Queen of Pain.

In this thread: dude picks the exact time, down to the second, when the Mouz vs VP match ends. Full size here: 1, 2, 3

In this thread: dude picks the exact time, down to the second, when the Mouz vs VP match ends. Full size here: 1, 2, 3

The other thing I like watching about higher-level Dota is the sheer skill of the players. Some of it’s because they’ve got great coordination and teamwork — rarely seen in the pub matches I play in — but seeing someone get disrupted into a Mirana arrow stun or someone get avalanched, tossed, only to then land in the avalanche again is impressive every time I see it. Granted, some of that comes with playing the game a tonne, but being able to do it consistently never ceases to amaze. In terms of my own improvement in the game, watching games has let me pick up a wealth of knowledge I (probably) wouldn’t have gotten just by playing. The International Qualifiers have inspired me to play better, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

It’s kind of funny — when I first started out with Dota 2 I wasn’t sure what Valve were going for. I didn’t really understand why the game had such a large focus on spectating games as much as it did actually playing them — but now I know. The prize pool for The International 2014 is something insane like $6.75 million so far — which is only 25% of all Compendium and in-game purchases since the beginning of this month. Valve were making so much money they even had to put some updated stretch goals.

I didn’t really think I’d be into watching long-ish games of Dota 2, but when it’s casted by current and former pros, those that know the game inside out, and when I’m seeing some impressive carries, it kind of becomes exciting. Perhaps this is what being a sportsfan is all about, but then again, I wouldn’t know :)

The Evolution of Lara Croft

via The Evolution of Lara Croft. Love these. | hexington.

Interesting not only from a how-far-game-development-has-progressed-since-1996 perspective, but also the evolution of Lara Croft as a character (the new Tomb Raider takes this and runs with it to the end of the earth).

Wasn’t really planning to write anything about the Tomb Raider game, but seeing these GIFs makes me kind of want to. Hmm.

Crocodile Chop

Greatest mashup ever, or Greatest. Mashup. Ever?

I’ll agree with the comment on YouTube who said pitch-shifting the vocals made it seem a little like cheating. But it’s so great, I’m prepared to look past that.

Welcome to AppleTalk →

Last week, I quit MacTalk. Yesterday, I, along with a number of other co-conspirators, launched AppleTalk Australia, a new site for Apple enthusiasts to chat about anything related to Apple.

Yours truly on the welcome post:

So, this is us. A new name, a new front page, a new discussion platform. A fresh start in many respects, and a clean slate in every other. We’ll still be covering all things Apple, Mac, and iOS, and we’ll do so from that unique Australian perspective you’ve come to know and enjoy. For starters, we’ll be taking it slow with a daily news summary from the world of Apple from yours truly. Over time, we’ll add reviews, how-tos, and editorials into the mix, and we’ll see where things go from there.

It’s our own foray into the big, bad world of online publishing. We’re funding the entire thing ourselves for the time being, and once we get something resembling a readership, we’ll look into sponsorships, running ads, or other alternatives for revenue. We’ve put a bunch of effort into it, and it’s turned out pretty well so far — I can only hope it lives up to our readers’, and our own, lofty expectations.

If you’re wondering whether I knew about it before I left MacTalk, the answer is: yes, of course I did. After a number of years writing the daily news, I just wanted something of my own — a property (besides this blog) I could be proud of, one that I could look back on and pat myself on the back about.

The front-end is powered by WordPress, and the forums are powered by Discourse. I’ve been using WordPress for years, but Discourse is an entirely new thing.

Ever since it was introduced, I’ve wanted to work with Discourse. Something about it just seemed like the future of online discussion platforms — and from everything that I’ve seen of it so far, I’m wondering why people are even bothering with the alternatives, the established players in the forum space (phpBB, vBulletin, etc). There’s just so much to love about it that everything else seems outdated by comparison. It’s modern. It’s open-source. I have no experience with Ruby, the language that it’s built with, but thankfully I haven’t had to dive into any code thus far — the admin panel is well-organised and fully featured enough so that hasn’t had to happen.

There are those that think Discourse looks “samey”, and like any default theme, I agree wholeheartedly. We’ve customised the AppleTalk install a little, and it’s amazing what you can do with a splash of colour and a few custom avatars.

As Mr Wells said on the Reckoner podcast (where I spilled the beans about AppleTalk before it was actually live), it’s been a long time since there was a good Apple forum for Australians, by Australians. It’s my fervent hope that AppleTalk becomes that new forum, and I, along with my partners in crime Toby and Bart, am prepared to commit as much as it takes to make that happen.

As they used to say, “this is my next”.

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Hello, Hi, Goodbye

Today, I left MacTalk Australia. In doing so, I put an end to almost six years of daily news posts on all things Apple, along with countless of reviews and editorials. It’s the end of an era.

I posted up the news this morning, but that all ends today. I’m leaving MacTalk — it’s time to close this particular tab, nay, entire window, in my web browser, and that means putting an end to the daily news. It’s not a decision I’ve taken lightly, seeing how much I’ve contributed here, or how long I’ve been around. And it has nothing to do with you; I’ve immensely enjoyed writing the news (and your continued readership) over the years. It’s just that this is the part where I disembark the MacTalk train, so to speak.

When editor Peter Wells left almost a year ago, I was given the choice: did I want to stay, or did I want to go? While that would have been a nice, neat, ending right there, I stayed. Even thought I knew there weren’t going to be anymore podcasts, opinion pieces, or reviews from some of the smartest people I know, I stayed because it was no different to what we’d been through before. You know, when Anthony sold to Niche halfway through 2011 and basically everyone complained about excessive advertising. I was a little disheartened by the community at that point, and said so in the piece that I wrote back then.

Tumbleweeds on the front page weren’t anything new, and I’ll even admit I got used to sharing airtime with the infamous sponsored posts of 2011.

So, I stayed. After all, someone had to, and I wasn’t ready to give up on the community just yet.

But after Mr Wells left, little by little, I wondered how much longer I could stay and write the news with little to no input from MacTalk’s parent company, with no map for the future, and no plans or goals to speak of (at least, none disclosed to me). Probably forever, if I really wanted to — but that was the question — did I really want to?

And when it came down to it, I didn’t really want to. Like I said in the last paragraph of my post above, I’ve more or less done as much as I can. MacTalk is now in that strange position where a website built around a community, not eyeballs, is expected to somehow make money while spending at little as possible — that’s not an equation for success, no matter how far you stretch the dollars.

I stayed because it was no skin off my back. And I left because there was nothing left for me to do — if Niche still have no idea where things are going a year after they re-oriented by killing off the daily articles and weekly podcasts, then I’m not sure when they will. But I guess I won’t be part of the team that finds out.

Lastly: I’m not completely ignorant. I’ve read the threads in the forums surrounding MacTalk discussions, and even participated in a few private discussions of my own. If my leaving kicks Niche and MacTalk into gear like it seems to have done, then all the best to them. I wish them the very best with their future endeavours, but at the same time, I have to ask myself what else there is to be done. The question is not what people can do to restore MacTalk to its former glories, or even whether MacTalk can be restored to its former glories at all, but what people can do to prevent it becoming a complete ghost town, any more than it currently is.

That’s not saying I don’t think it’s possible. I’m just… sceptical.

But enough about that. Onwards and upwards, as they say.

I can’t wait for you to see what’s next.

DotA for Recreation, Not Profit

Dat courier, though. Phwoar.

Dat courier, though. Phwoar.

Alternate title: remember when online gaming was fun?

As part of my ongoing adventures in DotA 2, I’ve stopped playing ranked matches altogether. After experiencing how much they brought out the worst in people (and I include myself in that), I decided they were making gaming less fun, so I gave them the flick. Of the online games I am playing, I stopped choosing “All Pick” as a game mode and starting choosing basically everything else: Single Draft, Random Draft, All Random, Least Played, Captain’s Mode, and Captain’s Draft. The other game modes change things up a little by not offering the full hero roster, and do a decent job of teaching me to be a better player by playing with hero and team combinations I’m not necessarily familiar with. Ability Draft, on the other hand, is just… weird, and almost seems like an arcade version of DotA.

The thing I enjoy the most isn’t sledging my teammates when the carries can’t actually carry, despite what you may hear or read. No, it’s playing DotA with friends, either in friendly 5-on-5 matches, against bots in coop, or even online, when it takes our fancy. Work and other commitments mean we hardly get to see each other and catch up as often as we’d like, but playing DotA together means we can jump in Mumble or TeamSpeak and catch up with other while participating in some truly epic teamfights.

And at the heart of it, isn’t that what online gaming is all about? Having fun with people you know in real life, online? I’m no stranger to playing single-player games, but every now and again, I enjoy playing with friends. Multiplayer games like DayZ, Wasteland, DotA, and so many others just aren’t the same when you play by yourself. You could argue that there’s a time and a place for playing single-player games by yourself, but at the end of the day, there’s no denying that online gaming is infinitely better with friends.

But you know what isn’t fun? When friends get too serious about a game. I’ll admit straight up that I’m guilty of this, but aren’t we all? Our naturally competitive nature means that a disappointing loss hits harder than any elation from a convincing victory, which leads to blaming people we’re usually on very good terms with.

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Point and Click Adventure Game

Casual readers of this blog might think that this will be another post on the latest title from Telltale Games, purveyors of the finest point-and-click adventure games around. I’ve previously reviewed The Walking Dead: Season One (the video game), and plan to dive into The Walking Dead: Season Two and The Wolf Among Us very soon, but no, these aren’t about those kinds of point and click adventure games per se. At least, not the ones you might be thinking about.

I’ve played a lot of ARMA 2. Along with DotA 2, it’s pretty much all I play these days. (According to my Steam stats, DotA 2 has the lead in terms of gameplay time.) It all started with the DayZ mod a few years ago, but since then a few of us have moved on to Wasteland, which is less about scavenging for survival items as it is about simply hunting down and killing others, building bases, that kind of thing. Kind of like a realistic version of Battlefield or Counterstrike, if you will.

Anyway, we’ve been spending a lot of time on a server that doesn’t have that many powerful guns. Perhaps less than ten are are one-hit one kill, and of those, only a handful can do so at range. The M110 with NV Scope is my current favourite weapon, purely because it’s so easy to get kills with it. Provided you’ve calculated the range properly (something that comes with experience, a few map waypoints, or if all else fails, a rangefinder), it’s ridiculously easy to get kills; you can hit someone anywhere and kill them. It also has very little recoil, meaning you can fire off a number of shots in quick succession without having to re-adjust for every shot. All this means it’s a veritable killing machine, in the hands of the right operator (in ARMA 2, anyway).

Short explanation of the video below: it all starts by us hearing about a base to the West of Kamenka. Armed to the teeth, we head over to see if the rumours are true. On the way, an immobile tank objective pops up, and a short while later, we spot an SUV driving along the main road. Things happen rather fast from that point: Janson takes out a tyre with a well-timed and well-aimed shot, which causes the SUV to skid to a halt. One guy doesn’t get out of the (now on fire) SUV fast enough and dies. Strike dies as five others pour out of the vehicle, guns up. I pop up momentarily, manage to kill one with a lucky shot, and get back down. I notice they’re all gathered on the opposite side of the road, next to a wooden house, so I put my eye to the scope, pop up, and take aim. I fire a round just as the first starts to run, and he’s down. I move across to the right, and fire off five more shots. One, hit. Two, hit. Three, hit. Four, miss — I quickly compensate and fire off the last shot. Five, hit. And like any good point and click adventure game, that’s the end of that.