Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Rise of Aggregators : Who Filters your Information Infow?

The increasing use of  highlight aggregators to discover popular content on the internet is on the one hand very convenient and on the other hand a great step backwards towards discrete centralised media  services.

I am talking about Google Play News Stand, I am talking about Feedly, I am talking about Mediagazer and other news aggregators but I am also talking about content streaming services like Spotify, Netflix and Youtube. I am even talking about certain aspects of Facebook. All of these services try to address a problem of information overload by providing users with a filtered list of highlights.

Of course this is an essential trend because there really is too much content out there and we need some assistance at discovery and selection. However I think it is important to realise that the more we come to rely on aggregators the more blinkered we become. We hand over control of our information inflow to a few hopefully trusted  organisations. In many ways we are going back to the pre-internet days when most people relied on one or two mass media services for all of their knowledge about the world at large.

It isn't just a question of trust of course it is also a question of competence. How well does the aggregator do its job? Most of these services try to tailor their rankings to a users profile but the other calculations going on behind the scene are rarely clear. My own experience is that aggregators do a pretty good job of selecting and presenting general news but do a lousy job when it comes to things I am specifically interested in.

One upsetting trend is that even where services do offer personalisation they are increasingly basing it upon a "user profile" rather than on specific user choices that you can make. Taking Netflix as an example the built in search and category functions are practically useless for finding movies or shows to watch. Instead Netflix expects you to help them build a profile of viewing preferences so that Netflix can automatically recommend content to you. Google Play's News Stand takes this to new heights - you can choose from a list of selected list of news sources but no publications from my country (Ireland) are on the list. Nevertheless my "News" tab is almost exclusively populated by Irish journals presumably based on my geographical location. While I appreciate services making intelligent choices on my behalf I really wish I had more control over what was going on behind the scenes. Just because I am a man of a certain age living in a certain country doesn't mean I want to rely exclusively on the same three news sources for ever. Indeed sometimes I deliberately look for unusual sources just to try and broaden my view of things.

TLDR: Aggregators are a necessary evil in an age of information overload but it does feel as if we are moving back to an age of centralised media services. I personally dislike the trend away from explicit user choice towards user profiling in tailoring selections to individual users.



Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Clive Barker's Jericho, Seven years on.

I am playing and enjoying a game that got dismal reviews when it came out in 2007. To be honest I can understand why Clive Barkers Jericho scored so badly in comparison to other AAA shooters that came out that year including Crysis and Call of Duty 4. Jericho is an on rails shooter with hordes of dumb opponents patrolling generic brown corridors and feels like a game from the late 1990s. Painkiller is perhaps the most flattering comparison but Painkiller was itself considered charmingly retro when it came out in 2004.

Happily the passage of time makes Jericho's datedness less relevant and allows one to enjoy the rather clever gameplay. This is squad shooter allowing you to switch on the fly between any one of six warrior mages. Each character wields two conventional weapons mapped to left and right mouse buttons and also has two magic powers. Some of the powers feel a bit redundant but there are gems like the lady who uses blood magic to create a ward which entangles nearby enemies allowing her to run around and chop them up with her sword. Combat against the hordes of enemies is fast and furious and selecting the best characters and powers for the situation makes for challenging and entertaining game-play.

One niggle I have about the game is the inclusion of several annoying quick time events of the "press D now to not die" variety. These crop up with disappointing regularity and never really fit with the rest of the game-play. Perhaps the most incongruous example is a particular mini boss that appears several times in the game and which can only be killed by destroying a number of glowing runes around its large bile spewing mouth. Once you figure this out it seems natural to use your sniper character to shoot these off one by one while peeking out from behind cover. This sniper strategy works perfectly the first few times you meet this monster but then you encounter one who refuses to die because the last rune remains firmly attached despite all your efforts with bomb and bullet. The whole scene is pretty chaotic with shooting and shouting and roaring and bloody bile spewing everywhere so I kept plinking away for quite some time thinking that I was having terrible luck to miss so many shots. Eventually I heard the voice of one of my team mates over the tumult suggesting that "Billy should handle this". Billy is the aforementioned sword wielding lady so it was far from clear what she was supposed to do to dislodge a rune stuck on top of a house sized monster's head but since nothing else was working I switched to Billy and ran directly at the beast.  This triggered a quick time event that saw Billy leap up the creature's face and slice the rune off with her blade, all providing of course I managed to press D at the appropriate instants to not die.

The most surprising thing about the game for me is the lacklustre story. I don't know what the extent of horror writer Clive Barker's involvement was but Jericho has a completely generic video game plot which sees you fight through layers of hell to prevent some terrible demon from escaping into the world. Been there, done that many times from Doom onwards. It has to be said that Clive's previous video game collaboration "Undying" from 2001 has a much richer and more original story. Indeed Undying is a better game all around with more variety of locations and monsters.

Looking at Steam Forums for Jericho suggests that some folk are having difficulty getting it running on modern hardware. I had no such troubles. It installed and ran first time for me on my admittedly not very up to date Windows 7-64 rig sporting an AMD graphics card.

Jericho is available for very little money from Gamergate (installs on Steam) while the older but better Undying can be got from Good Old Games.

Edit: Just finished the game, about 10 hours playing time including reloads and messing around. The ending is pretty much a non event sadly. It feels like a segue to a sequel which was never going to happen.


Friday, April 25, 2014

My First Gaming Mouse: Logitech G300

I bought a gaming mouse yesterday a Logitech G300, here my initial thoughts.

What is a gaming mouse? 
There are a wide variety of devices available classified as gaming mice but a few features  seem common:

1. Wired rather than wireless: Although some high end models are wireless wired connections are just better and faster than wireless so most gaming mice stick with wired. As a bonus wired mice don't need batteries so the mouse is lighter. 

2. High response rate: 1 to 2ms response rate so the mouse immediately responds to input. 

2. High DPI. Gaming mice invariable boast high DPI numbers from 2,000 DPI upwards. This makes the device very responsive to the smallest movements.  

3. Adjustable DPI . High DPI improves responsiveness but reduces precision so gaming mice generally allow you to adjust the DPI down for precise work such as pulling off headshots in sniper mode. Generally the mouse allows dpi to be changed on the fly by pressing a button. 

4. Extra Programmable buttons. There is a bit of a split here - mice designed for FPS games focus on responsiveness and precision and keep the button count fairly low. MMORPG mice on the other hand have dozens of programmable buttons.

5. Ergonomic design. Gaming mice are designed for comfort and control. Higher end models even have adjustable weights. 

6. Embarrassingly Funky Looks: As a middle aged gamer this is perhaps the least attractive feature of gaming mice. Many of them look like rejected props from a 1950's sci fi movie. Happily the G300 that I bought eschews such garishness and at first glance looks just like a regular mouse. 

Why did I get one?
I am not and never will be a twitch fps gamer and I have been happily using general purpose wireless mice for years but my trusty Logitech MX600 began to fall apart after 8 years of service. I wanted a replacement that would give good service as a general purpose mouse as well as supporting my gaming habit but I was struck by the paucity of good general purpose mice available.The advent of touch screen has hit hard at the mouse market. Thankfully innovation has proceeded apace in the gaming mouse arena and it seemed that I was more likely to get a gaming mouse that would work for every day use than get an every day mouse that would work for gaming. 



The Logitech G300 (Cost me €45 from PC World, probably cheaper online) 
The G300 is considered an entry level gaming mouse but it boasts the following features:
9 Programmable Buttons
3 Onboard Profiles
Comfortable Ambidextrous Shape
Adjustable DPI 250-2500 DPI
1 ms response rate
buttons rated for 10 million clicks
low friction feet.

Early Impressions
Fist impressions are very good. This mouse is lightweight and comfortable in the hand. The buttons are light to press and instantly responsive. Precision is noticeably better than my old wireless mouse. There is no skipping as the cursor is dragged across the screen. The wire trailing across my desk is a bit ugly but it is very lightweight and doesn't impede movement at all. I played a bit of COD Black Ops II and I am convinced that the speed and precision of the new mouse is a big improvement. The new mouse has less of an obvious impact in Kings bounty the Legend but the general lightness and responsiveness makes the device a joy to use in all programmes. Overall highly recommended.

Edit: In the interest of balance I should mention the one niggle I have with the G300 so far which is that the wheel click (middle mouse button) is fairly stiff. It still works fine and it is not so stiff that there is a danger of accidental scrolling the wheel while clicking but it does seem out of line with all the other button presses which are so gentle. Middle mouse button is surprisingly useful. It is a quick way to open a web link in a new tab and shooter games often use it for special attacks. 



Thursday, April 24, 2014

Kings Bounty the Legend Again

For the last few weeks I have spent most of my gaming time in Kings Bounty the Legend. I started playing the game back in 2009 and loved it but I managed to burn out fairly quickly. This time I have stuck with it and I have over 70 hours clocked up. I play very slowly so even with this I am only half way through the campaign.

The game is wonderful for its art, its humour, its challenging implementation of turn based strategy and for it's ability to keep things varied with a variety of locations, enemies and troops. If you have never tried it I strongly recommend it particularly now that it can be bought for a few euros and is regularly on sale.

One feature of the game that has provoked much comment both good and bad from players is the limited availability of troops and the constant need to travel the lands in search of replacements.  I myself have noticed that this one feature has a huge influence on how I play the game and I am not convinced that the benefits outweigh the advantages.

Most locations in the game sell a few troops but the number a available are strictly limited and rarely if ever replenished. In addition each location only offers a few different types of unit out of the dozens available in the game. In order to replenish troops after a battle you need  to travel back to the locations that hopefully still have reserves of that kind of troop for sale. You need you do the same every time you increase the leadership stat which increases the allowable size of  armies.  This constant travelling back and forth to restock gets very tedious which is one of the biggest complaints about the game.

One argument in favour of the limited availability of replacements is that it gives an incentive to play more carefully in order to reduce losses. Another is that it encourages players to experiment with different troop types using whatever is locally available.

Unfortunately the replacement difficulty has led to experienced players almost always recommending a "zero losses" playstyle. This is achieved by selecting battles carefully, prioritising defensive tactics and using spells to resurrect any fallen troops. I think it is a pity that such a cautious approach is required and it definitely slows down the game.

A much more positive feature of Kings Bounty is the way that low level units are balanced to remain useful throughout the game. Even though an individual level 1 unit is much weaker and does less damage than a level 5 unit the leadership stat allows a player to control much larger numbers of them so they remain a threat. In fact as a rule a stack of low level units does more damage than a stack of high level units but has less survivability. Low level units have fewer special abilities and are more at risk of hostile magic so you cannot use them exclusively but often one large stack of low level damage dealers can be used to quickly take out enemies.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Android: The Enchanted Cave thoughts and tips

The rogue-like Enchanted Cave is one of the rare mobile games that caught my attention for more than a few minutes. I liked it because my understanding of the game game organically evolved through several phases each lasting just long enough to keep me from getting boredt::
Stage 1. WTF this game is hard I can't even make it beyond the first few levels without dying.
Stage 2. Ah now I see how to make permanent improvements to my character. I can finally begin to make some some progress.
Stage 3. I'll grind for a bit now to prepare my character for later levels.
Stage 4. Ah, Now I have figured out the the combat model. I see how the numbers work and I can prepare carefully for every battle. The game becomes less random and more puzzle like.
Stage 5. Now we are rolling. I am going to make a run for it and see can I get to the final boss and take them down.

It is worth noting that the author of the Enchanted Cave has just run a successful Kickstarter campaign for "The Enchanted Cave II" so it looks like we will be getting a sequel.

I am going to write a short strategy guide below but you can probably figure out most of this stuff yourself just by playing so  ...



[Spoilers Below]



1. Basics.
- If you are killed in combat you lose everything you accumulated in that run.
- If you find the escape wings and use them then your current run ends but you keep all gem upgrades, cash,  and special artefacts (yellow items) that you got during the run.
- Red chests generally have disposable stuff that is lost after a run ends (except for spells). Yellow chests have special permanent artefacts.
- Escape wings are found in red chests from level 4 onwards. You can usually find escape wings somewhere on the first level after a shop but late in the game they get harder to find.
- There is a shop at every level ending in a 9 (19, 29 etc). You can buy and sell stuff in the shop. Once you get to a shop and save your game using the wings then you are able to restart from that shop on the next game.
- All of the mobs in the game are passive they will not attack you until you attack them first.
- Potions and spells can be accessed by pressing the respective tabs.
- If you press a spell button it will take the place of your next  attack.
-Potions can be used in or out of combat. Healing spells can be used in or out of combat. Attack spells can only be used in combat but after you start a fight you get a short time to press a spell button if you want to replace your first attack with a spell.
-Spells start appearing in red chests from about level 30 on but they act like permanent upgrades  (once you save with wings).
- "Eyes" are found in yellow chests and they are very useful because they reveal things by pressing and holding your finger over an enemy or a treasure. There is an eye that reveals the contents of a chest. There are multiple eyes that reveal different specifications of enemies. Once you get an eye (and save with wings) then it is yours permanently.
-Don't use the "Quick Sell Junk" button in shops. It interprets all non worn non artefact items as junk. Often you will need to use some of this stuff later.

2. Early Game Hints

- It is hard and expensive to replace lost health so always try to minimise the damage you take.
- Do not take chances. Get to know how much health you will lose fighting each type of enemy and when you get to the point where you have  no option but to fight an enemy that is likely to kill you - use the wings and get out with your stuff.
- You do not have to kill every enemy. Enemies give a small amount of cash and one point of mana when they are killed. Early in the game the health you lose is generally more valuable than what you can earn from killing a mob.
- It is almost always worth attacking a mob that guards the way to a yellow chest, a gem or the exit stairs.
- Early in the game attacking mobs for red chests is optional. Only do it on enemies you know you can beat without taking a lot of damage. Once you get the eye which reveals chest contents you can make a more informed decision on whether or not to attack a mob for a red chest. If you haven't found the escape wings yet then it is worth fighting for red chests because one of them will have the wings.
- Cash is less valuable than red chests. Again only consider it if it is a mob you know to be easy.
- Amulets and rings are essential at end game to counteract elemental damage but until you build up a collection of eyes you will not know what elements to guard against. However water damage is surprisingly common in the first half of the game.
- Health and Mana potions are rare and expensive. I recommend spending cash on gear upgrades before potions.
- Attack spells, once you get them are powerful against tough mobs but mana replenishes very slowly (1 point per kill). Therefore I recommend being very selective with spell use.

3. Combat Details (includes much guesswork)
Combat runs automatically once you click on mob but it takes place in turns (you hit , they hit). the first hit is taken by whoever has the highest AGI (I guess).
Physical Damage: Each hit does damage = ATK of the attacker- DEF of the victim. There is a random variation of a few points plus or minus but it averages out and there are no catastrophic critical hits.
Elemental Damage: Each hit does damage for each type of element (Fire, Water, Earth, Air) =sum of (Attack type X - Defence type X) */+ Some other factor. The missing factor may depend on intelligence but I cannot be sure. I do know that if defence is greater than attack you take no damage from that element.
Spell Damage: Only the player can cast spells and I do not know the formula. I know spells do heavy damage of one element type and I suspect it is related to intelligence (At a guess 5x intelligence). Mobs don't cast spells so I don't know what the mob intelligence stat does.
Every hit will always do a minimum of 1 damage no matter how strongly it is resisted.
AGI is important because it allows you to get in the first hit and in extreme cases allows you to kill a mob without taking any damage however all mobs seems to have low initiative and I always got first hit without consciously trying to boost it.

3. Advanced hints
- In order to make sustainable progress you need to completely negate the damage from most of the mobs you fight. If you do this you will only take 2 or 3 points of damage from the mobs and you will be able to keep yourself healed with the mana generated from fighting.
- In order to negate damage you need to build up a collection of eyes and use the information gleaned from examining mobs to select armour and jewellery to negate all the mobs physical and elemental damage.
- You will need to swap gear to tackle different types of mob. I recommend equipping for a given mob type and then killing all of that type you can reach. Then swap to the next type and repeat.
- When farming lower level mobs you can max your damage and just kill them in one hit for no damage taken. Beware though some low level mob can do surprising damage if not properly resisted.
- When you encounter a mob that you cannot fully resist against then try to avoid fighting it. If you really must then use attack spells to get it down as quickly as possible.
- Farming low levels is a great way to build up a stock of spells, gems, eyes and the all important jewellery.
- At higher levels the disposable weapons and armour from red chests is often better than permanent artefact loot. This means that "going for it" in one run may be a better strategy than trying to gradually grind your way to the finish.  

4. Details of how I completed the game.
When I started playing I grinded my way up to level 49, using wings repeatedly to build up a reserve of permanent upgrades and crawl from store to store. Then I restarted at level 29 and did a single complete run to the end of the game. The low levels allowed me to amass cash and equipment. I never used the wings again. By the time I got to the upper levels I was able to successfully resist most of the mobs I came across. Even the final boss could only do 5 points of damage to me per hit.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Why do games end up being sold for a song in bundles?

There is always a reason why any given game appears in a cheap bundle.

1. Sometimes it is just a terrible game that no wants to pay money for.
2. Other times the game is not terrible but has flaws that limit its sales in the crowded gaming market. Although these games are released at full price they quickly drop off the charts and end up in sales and bundles.
3.Sometimes you can find excellent games that are fairly recent but didn't fulfil their sales expectations and the distributor is trying to get extra revenue from the game and perhaps renew interest in it.
4. Sometime you get new games, particularly from indie developers who see a bundle as a way of getting exposure and publicity.
5. Sometimes the game is just very old. Such games may be excellent but no one buys them at full price any more.
6. Occasionally a very good game is deliberately released to a bundle just before it's sequel is launched in order to generate publicity for the sequel.
7. On occasion publishers release a bunch of games from their catalog in a bundle either to generate a quick influx of cash (eg THQ) or to generate publicity (eg EA/Origin).

Of course individual tastes vary but every category other than category 1 is worth a look and categories 3,4,5 and 6 and 7 can throw up tremendous gaming bargains. In my experience all of the bundle providers throw in some category 1 lemons but some bundles are definitely better than others. I am not going to badmouth any providers but I will say that my current favourite bundlers are the original Humble Bundle and Bundle Stars. Humble have excellent quality control and in my experience their bundles are generally reliable all round. Bundles stars is more of a mixed bag with plenty of category 1 filler in their offerings but each of their bundles also has one or two choice games which merit the price. In addition Bundle Stars have multiple bundles on offer at any time so I can usually find something that interests me.

Given the plethora of bundles now on offer some purchasing guideline is required to rein in the impulse to buy everything in sight just because stuff is cheap. My own yardstick is to ask whether or not there is at least one game in the bundle that I would buy on its own for the price of the bundle. If the answer is yes then the purchase is easy to justify and the other games are a bonus. If the answer is no then I leave the bundle alone. Often enough I have bought a bundle and only actually played that one game. On other occasions though some of the other titles have turned out to be delights in themselves.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Google Please Bring Back Custom Labels for Map Locations.

There doesn't appear to be any way to add  custom location labels to the current incarnation of Google Maps (Android and Desktop) and it is driving me nuts. It is not just that I miss being able to give saved locations friendly names like "Uncle John's place" or "My Golf Club". It is also that there are loads of places which the current version of maps doesn't seem to be able to provide any address for at all. These include the tennis club I bring my daughter to and the headquarters of a major company that I visited this morning. Not only does Google not know where these places are. It has no mechanism of addressing them because they do not appear on a standard road with a standard building number. I live in a major city in which Google employs several thousand people and this is still an issue here. I can only imagine it is a complete deal breaker for those living in rural locations where every address is something like "The cottage beside Murphy's farm in Hackett's Town".

It is possible to drop a pin on an arbitrary location and save it but you cannot put labels on saved pins which makes them effectively useless. Good luck trying to sort through your saved locations when all you have to go on  is a list of 32 digit grid references.

Bizarrely these locations appear in my Google Chrome bookmarks and it is possible to put a label on them in Chrome. That label doesn't appear to transfer across to Google maps though so it is a kludgey work around at best.

The most annoying thing about all of this is that Google Maps used to allow you store your own places. I am sure that Google had their own inscrutable reasons for removing this feature. It might be something to do with their grand plan to move everyone towards Google+ but even though I have completely immersed myself in the Google eco-system I cannot find a way to restore this basic functionality.

This annoys me so much that I have started to look for an alternative mapping solution, hopefully still a free one. There are several out there although some of them seem to be no more than crude overlays on top of Google maps. The best of the bunch seems to be Open Street Map which has desktop and Mobile incarnations. It does have the slightly unfinished "hacker" feel of many open source projects but the navigation tool works very well and their map database seems very complete. I have to spend a bit longer with it to decide whether the added flexibility makes up for the lack of polish.

Monday, April 07, 2014

The unstoppable march of innovation. A Kettle Retrospective

I grew up in a house with a basic aluminium kettle designed to be used on an externally heated hob. http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-very-old-kettle-isolated-image16622230

Although we did not possess one ourselves the height of kettle technology at the time was a similar externally heated vessel with a whistle attached to the spot which made an audible noise when the water was boiling vigorously.http://www.ecvv.com/product/459875.html

I was still quite young when we purchased our first electric kettle. This object of wonder was made of stainless steel rather than aluminium but it had a similar shape to the kettle it replaced. An internal electric heating element meant water could be boiled without the aid of a stove. It also boiled its load of water a good deal more quickly probably because the heating element is fully immersed in the water.  http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/VINTAGE-RETRO-RUSSELL-HOBBS-ELECTRIC-KETTLE-/291114219730?pt=UK_Homes_Garden_Kitchen_Kettles&hash=item43c7c278d2

(Note: I should point out that electric kettles had been around since the early 20th century but they did not become commonplace in Ireland until the 1970's).

The whistling spout innovation did not survive the transition to electric kettles because a much more ground breaking development made it obsolete. Although the first electric kettles were dumb heating devices later models included a thermal switch above the level of the water which switched off the kettle once it was boiling sufficiently to generate a lot of steam. This truly was a wonderful innovation as it freed you from the need for constant vigilance while the kettle was plugged in.

The next significant innovation was the plastic jug kettle. I can still remember general scepticism that a plastic container could withstand the heat of boiling. Nevertheless they worked and soon became quite dominant in the market. The characteristic jug shape of plastic kettles required filling through the spout.

A minor innovation that plastic kettles allowed was the inclusion of a transparent panel allowing you to easily see the water level.

The next significant innovation was the powered base and detachable kettle. Early examples used a rigid joint so the kettle could only be put back in one position but it was nevertheless a significant advance in convenience and safety allowing the kettle to be removed from the base for filing and pouring without the incuberance of a trailing lead.  http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/1-LITRE-WHITE-ELECTRIC-CORDLESS-TRAVEL-KETTLE-SMALL-JUG-SUITABLE-FOR-HOLIDAYS-/350722664826 (Picture is a travel kettle but the original plastic kettles looked just like this).

A minor enhancement was the replacement of the rigid base with swivelling base. This allowed the kettle to be placed on the base from any direction.

Also around this time the traditional immersed heating element was replaced with a flat heated baseplate. The older heating elements required a substantial minimum volume of water to cover the element but the flat heating plate could be safe with as little as one cup of water.

Stainless steel came back in a big way with the development of the composite steel / plastic kettles. These combine the attractive robust finish of stainless steel with the features of the plastic jug kettle specifically the detachable base and the water level window. There have always been variations in aesthetic design and various metal, plastic, glass and ceramic finishes have been used for kettles over the years but the composite stainless steel / plastic jug kettle remains very popular to this day. http://www.jarrold.co.uk/departments/house-and-home/kitchen/kitchen-electrical/russell-hobbs-compact-kettle

That pretty much brings us to the present day. During a recent kettle shopping expedition I was somewhat disappointed to note that internet connected "smart kettles" are not yet a reality but temperature control is the new must have feature with various settings from a lukewarm 40° all the way up to boiling 100°C.http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cuisinart-CPK17U-Kettle-Brushed-Stainless/dp/B003UFQTYI/ref=sr_1_4?s=kitchen&ie=UTF8&qid=1396890377&sr=1-4&keywords=temperature+control+kettles

Please note that this article relies on no greater scholarship than my own hazy memory so I claim no authority on the subject and none of the images are my own. Copyrights belong to the respective authors

Friday, April 04, 2014

How would you describe a Google Chromecast to someone?

It's a device that plugs into your TV and connects with a phone, tablet or computer to stream audio and video to your TV. 
Ah ... I see so is it a stand alone receiver then that just needs a phone or table to act as a remote?
Well, not exactly - you see the phone or tablet needs to be connected to the internet itself and you must first run an app on that device in order to stream it to the Chromecast. 
Ah ... so the Chromecast is just acting like a remote display for your phone? 
Well, not exactly because only certain apps support the Chromecast (notably Netflix and Youtube). Most apps don't support it. 
OK, I am beginning to understand, but for those apps that do support it the content is coming from your phone and being sent to the Chromecast right? 
Well, not exactly, Once you initiate the app on your phone and send it to Chromecast then the Chromecast seems to get its own copy directly from the internet. You can put the phone to sleep and the Chromecast will keep streaming away. 
Ahh ... I see so the Chromecast really is an independent receiver then. It doesn't mirror what is on the screen of your phone or computer.  
Well not exactly because you can stream anything you see in a Chrome browser to the Chromecast and view it on your TV and in this case the content seems to come locally from your computer to the Chromecast.
Ahh... so I can browse the internet using the Chrome browser on my phone and view it in big screen on the TV?
Well .. not exactly because the mobile version of Chrome doesn't seem to support Chromecast streaming yet (may come later though - there is a beta version).
Now I am confused. What exactly does Chromecast let me do again. 
You can watch Netflix and Youtube on your TV. 
Oh .. right. But I already have several devices that let me do that? Why do I want a Chromecast?  
Well ....
Chromecast is now available in Europe and my curiosity prompted me to spend €40 to get one and try it out. It does work and provides us with yet another way to watch Netflix but I am having a hard time explaining to my family exactly what Chromecast does. The relationship between Chromecast and the connected phone or computer is muddy and the functionality of Chromecast varies depending on which device you use to control it. I cannot help feeling that Chromecast would be a much easier gadget to explain and promote if it was just a plug in Android device using the TV as a display and a phone or tablet as a remote. I have no doubt Google have their own inscrutable reasons for making Chromecast the way it is but this uncertainty over what exactly it does is standing in the way of it becoming a default media device in our household.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Revisiting the ethics of cheating in single player games.

The rise of F2P games with in app purchases has introduced a new twist to the ethics of cheating in single player games.

Life used to be simpler. Pretty much everyone agreed that cheating in multi-player games was  despicable, interfering as it does with the enjoyment and achievements of others. There was no ethical issue however about using cheats in a single player game. The only person affected was yourself and while many might contend that cheating diminishes the pleasure of a game by removing challenge plenty of others felt that cheats or god modes gave them more control over their gaming experience. The point was that no one else was affected but the player who choose to use cheats.

Today however a huge number of single player games especially in the mobile space use a free to play business model with in app purchases. Surprise, surprise, cheating has become a thing in such games and tools have become available for many popular titles that will allow you to progress without spending real money (no I am not going to provide links).

Yes these are single player games and one player cheating privately does not interfere with others enjoyment (I am assuming here that the cheats have the good sense not to post evidence of their crimes to global leader boards). Nevertheless the ethical situation has changed. When you cheat in an F2P game you are depriving the developer of income. I am a not a lawyer but I imagine the legal system would  treat the acquisition of a digital sword or suit of armour without paying for it  exactly the same way it treats the illegal acquisition of digital games, movies and music. Now the law can sometimes be an ass particularly when it comes to copyright but the ethical issue here seems clear cut to me. Someone developed a game and let you play it for free in the hope that you would pay them real money later for upgrades. Taking those upgrades without paying for them clearly hurts the developer and is theft.

I have seen promoters of such cheating justify their actions in on-line discussions. Usually they complain about the greediness of the developers and point out the ridiculous prices of items needed to progress in the game. Now I also baulk at the ridiculous amount of money that committed players have to spend in many of these games and I have grave misgivings about the freemium model in general but the remedy here is clear. If you do not like a games monetisation model then do not play the game.