Games have been a hobby of mine for as long as I can remember, my earliest memory is playing Mario Bros on the NES on a friends rear projection screen. Not only were the graphics amazing, the screen was nothing short of massive. I held the stubby controller with a death grip and for my shame got into a fight with my brother when it was his turn – ah youth.
Since then I’ve owned a plethora including: NES, Master System, SNES, Megadrive, Mega CD, 32X, Multimega, 3DO, Amiga 500+, Sega Saturn (PAL), Sega Saturn (JPN that played video CDs), Dreamcast (JPN), Dreamcast (PAL), Gamecube (PAL), Gamecube (JPN/NTSC), PS2, Xbox (NTSC) Xbox (PAL), Xbox 360 (x3 due to RROD), Gameboy, Gameboy Pocket, Atari Lynx, Gameboy Advance, DS, 3DS and a brief flirtation with a Barcode battler.
And although my collection is a lot smaller these days and I don’t play nearly as much as I used to, I still love it. I am also fortunate to live near Southend seafront, which has ‘The Golden Mile’ a strip of arcades. Now in the heydays of the late 80s and early 90s, the arcades were the place to be. Cutting edge hardware and cabinet designs drew players from all around, I have many fond memories of playing hydraulically assisted games like Afterburner 2 and Chase HQ.
Big screens, big graphics and big noise, to a youngster this was Mecca.
It was even reasonably priced to keep people coming back, 10/20/50p a go depending on the game, but this was not to last.
The rise of the consoles
The Arcade as a concept was on borrowed time, its main appeal was that it offered a something you simply could not get a home. Like any new technology, it emerged on the market and was so far ahead that people had no choice but to come to the arcade to get access to it. Profits soared. However consoles soon began to catch up and games such as StarFox on the SNES offered a glimpse at what was to come, 3D graphics, once the domain of the arcade, were coming into the home.
With the advent on the PSX (soon to become the Playstation) and the Saturn, things began to change these consoles offered serious graphical power in compact environment. The Saturn handled competent Model 1 arcade conversions, the board that powered such classics as Virtua Racer and Virtual Fighter. Not content with hosting home conversions of arcade boards, System 11 and ST-V offered console hardware as an arcade board. Offering arcade developers a juicy extra revenue stream once their game had run its course in the arcade.
But the consumer began to ask a question, why go to an Arcade when I can play a similar game at home. More importantly why go to the arcade and spend a lot of money each time, when I can buy the game and use it at home forever?
The arcade had become a commoditised technology, consoles had caught up to such a degree that the consumer saw little benefit to arcade games. So arcade manufacturers began to try anything to get consumers attention – Dual Cabs, Quad Cabs, Specialised controllers (basic pistols in Lethal Enforcers to shotguns in House of the Dead and MP5′s in Virtual Cop 3). 18 Wheeler by Sega offered consumers a Deluxe cab decked out as an American haulage truck, replete with massive steering wheel. To cover costs, prices spiked to £1, £2 even as much as £5 for super deluxe cabs, forcing consumers to pay inordinate amounts for a short term hit. Unsurprisingly, this approach did not succeed as it failed to address the underlying issue. Although the “tinsel” was better, the gaming experience was much the same as the cheaper, more convenient and cheaper consoles.
Consumers stayed away and one by one the arcade’s died, to be replaced with gaudy gambling machines surrounded by cabs that quickly fell into disrepair.
Consoles rule the world
In the mid 90s, as the arcades around the world crumbled; we entered what the golden age of gaming with that of the Playstation/Saturn. The reason for this simple, stepping from a SNES or Megadrive to CD based polygon based graphics, with CD quality sound and FMV felt like you had the arcade right at home. Playing arcade conversions of games Ridge Race and Sega Rally simply was not possible until that generation. The world had opened up for gamers, it was an amazing time for gaming as each new release sought to out do the last. Consumers bought them in droves, and continued to do so throughout each subsequent generation, until now.
Consoles now face the same problem that the arcades did so long ago, a new challenger has arrived to disrupt the status quo.
A new challenger appears….Smartphones
In the late 90s and early 00s the mobile phone offered little that compete with the power of home consoles (Nokias N-Gage gaming phone gets an honourable mention). Snake or breakout could hardly hope to best the likes of Metal Gear Solid or Panzer Dragoon Saga. However the clock was ticking and by late 2009 we started to see games explode on mobile, some offering “close to console” graphics. Phones and tablets now had the power to offer quick fix gaming anytime, anywhere. You were no longer required to stay in one place to get your fix and it was also a lot cheaper (sound familiar?). For the casual gamer, there is little need to invest in a home Console, when they have everything they need in the palm of their hand.
We are yet to see the long term ramifications of this, but looking at the dismal sales of the Wii U they must worry not just Nintendo but Microsoft and Sony as well. If you look at the Wii U its main selling point is a tablet controller that seems to say “Hey you like tablets? Don’t leave, we got tablets!”, it stinks of a company trying to shoe horn in a competitors feature. It feels like a Hail Mary. Microsoft and Sony are also making ‘innovative controllers’ a big part of their next gen systems with Kinect 2.0 and Move both to be included in the box. Yet for all its initial charm ‘waggle’ has never really held my interest and I feel that due to the amount of shovelware for both the Wii and Kinect plaforms the consumer is also burnt on the concept.
A perfect storm?
With the Xbox 360 generation of consoles one of the main selling points was HD gaming, like the switch from 2d to 3D there was a clear easy to digest benefit to switching. However with this new generation there is not that clear, killer feature – sure the games will look prettier but I am still amazed at what they are pulling out of the current 360 (have you seen Halo 4? That is one damn good looking game!). Rumoured specifications, the consoles themselves are not as powerful as expected compared previous generations you would normally expect a power leap of 10-15 . Compare Ps1>2>3 or SNES > N64 > Gamecube, when comparing them side by side it was instantly obvious which was the more powerful console. So to review, a weaker than expected console, comes to market against a faster, cheaper competitor platform that is already in the hands of millions of consumers and has an consumer upgrade cycle of 18-24 months.
This in itself would present a challenging situation, but not insurmountable but add in the fact of global recession and the situation looks bleak. If consumers finances are under pressure already, spending upwards of £399 on a new console and games is unlikely when the consumer has a decent gaming device for ‘free’ on their phone.
The consumer wins? Not so fast
Free gaming platform, no need to buy another box and a wealth of games to play, this a good thing right? Yes and no. We are at a dangerous transition point and it runs the risk of doing serious damage to games (both mobile and console)
I am talking about Free to play and In App Purchases.
Free to play games offer a low barrier to entry but then ask the player to purchase in game items to progress, in app purchases are the method of acquiring said items. All fine in theory with the occasional game but it now feels that every game (indeed free or paid) is moving to this new model of ’buy now, pay later’. Boy do they pay!
Real Racing 3 is a beautiful game, almost console quality and its free to play. However if you are expecting to get through this game without reaching into your pocket you will be sadly disappointed. 148Apps has looked into how much money it would cost your to complete Real Racing 3:
To earn enough money to buy every car in Real Racing 3, what would it take? Our numbers show that it would take over 472 hours to earn enough money to buy all of the cars in the game. Or to purchase all of the cars with real money via in-app purchase, it would cost $503.22 at the current best rate.
To earn all of the cars in the game rather that buy them with real money, a player would need to finish 6,801 races with an average (per our RR3 stats) of 4:10 per race earning R$3,700 per race. That would equal 472 hours to earn the R$25,163,573 it would cost in the in-game currency to buy all 46 cars. That does not include the cost for repairs, maintenance, or upgrades which can be rather expensive.
If a player wanted to take the shortcut and buy all of the cars in the game with real money, that would cost $503.22 in in-app purchases. That’s assuming the current best rate of R$50,005 per US$1 when buying R$5,000,000 at a time.
Let’s compare the cost for Real Racing 3 to modern day console games, what could be purchased for that $503.22. For one example, a player could get a 4GB XBox 360, Forza Horizon (one of the newest racing sims on the 360), all of it’s DLC including over 127 cars, and a 22″ Vizio flatscreen LED TV. And still have $17.22 left over.
$503.22, granted most players will never pay that but the fact that its even possible worries me and the F2P model is already having negative consequences. Elmo from Joypod mentioned on this weeks podcast that when playing a free to play game he is instantly suspicious of when and where the game will tell him “no that’s enough gaming for you!” and ask you to pay up. F2P gaming is beginning to make the player suspicious about where they will get screwed, no matter how well its handled a pay wall (you may call it something else, but lets not kid ourselves) is a game breaking experience and that is a universally a bad idea. I’m sure that games companies will shout “but people don’t want to buy games anymore! What can we do?” well who’s fault is that? By flooding the market with free games consumers are now conditioned to think that games are a commodity or to use another word – worthless.
This is a hell of their own making.
In app purchases may offer a way out to beleaguered developers keen to generate revenue in difficult times. If that’s the case I have a question for you: when a gamer spends time thinking about when or where they will have to pay up instead of enjoying your creation, does that create a relationship based on trust? I think that, in desperation games developers are trying to make money at all costs, even if it burns the user because they have no where else to go.
Want to play one more time? Insert coin to continue – after all it worked for arcades right?
As you probably know, the Surface RT and Pro have integrated kick stands that prop the tablet at a 26 degree angle, this has proved to be a controversial addition. The case made out in many reviews is that the kick stand is fine and dandy when you are using it on a table but makes the Surface impossible to use on your lap.
Now, call me crazy but I like to make fair comparisons, and so in the interest of fairness I tried using my HP Touchpad without a case in the same circumstances:
- Seated: worked fine, slides about a tad
- Knees up: worked fine
Amazing insight right? Now I tried doing those again with but this time using a bluetooth keyboard and it was a major PITA. This should not shock you, just because its possible to use a bluetooth or external keyboard on your knees, does not mean you should. Just as you might be able to use the Surface Kickstand and touch cover on your knees (or not as the case may be), doesn’t make it a good idea.
In fact, I would argue that most people would know this, so why is it being used to bash the Surface?
Surface at its core is a convergence device – full power pc when you need it, tablet when you don’t, so it begs the question – why use it like a laptop all the time? It seems to me that people are stuck in the mindset that you can only use Surface with the touch cover and kickstand, but Windows Store apps can be used with the on screen keyboard. Sure if you want to use desktop apps on the go, then you will most likely need to use the touch cover but think about the use case for a second: what are you doing and do you really need to use the desktop app?
I would argue in most cases that you could use Windows Store apps for the majority of mobile situations, unless you need to spend serious time typing.
My typical usage of a laptop covers these sorts of apps:
- Some form of IDE (Visual Studio etc)
Now, apart from IDE’s everything else is covered by Windows Store apps and if I was on the train, tube or in a cab I would default to metro apps first. If want to spend time writing long form entries or messing around with APIs I would do it somewhere more comfortable i.e. a table and chair. Everyone makes a like for like comparison with the iPad but they seem to be forgetting that typing on a naked iPad is fine for around the house, but on the go it can slip and sometimes fall off. Which is why 99% of people have invested in some form of smart cover as it stops the iPad slipping around and gives you angled typing position.
Which, funnily enough are starting to become available for the Surface:
It’s “worth to have apparently” but offers a decent solution to on the go usage i.e. RT Apps and on screen keyboard on the move and then keyboard goodness when you have a table.
Or to put it another way, exactly how you would use an iPad with a bluetooth keyboard.
This week Microsoft confirmed that the Surface Pro would have just 23GB free space on the 64GB model and 83GB on the 128GB variant.
Even if you factor in the ability to use external storage and memory cards, having 41GB of storage taken up by the operating system, recovery and default applications is poor. Windows 8 comes preinstalled with a range of default applications and you can view the size of them in metro settings but to save time I’ve collated a list of apps and their size in MB:
Bing Weather – 62.7
Bing Travel – 372
Bing Sports – 90.6
Bing News – 68.9
Bing Maps – 18.4
Bing Finance – 104
Bing – 10mb
Mail, People, Calendar, Messenger – 247
Sky Drive – 14.7
Zune Music – 40.04
Xbox Live games – 73.6
Xbox Companion – 61.6
Photos – 19.3
For a total of 1195.44mb (or 1.16GB)
Apps stay around longer than you want
If you navigate to the Windows Apps folder, which contains the metro apps (Its hidden by default and you will need to add your user to the admin group to view its contents) it appears that by default Windows 8 seems to retain all versions of the application. This means that for each update, the previous version of the app is kept, for example I have four versions of Zune Music, three versions of the Music, it’s not clear if they will ever get deleted or if the user has to do something to make that happen. Either way they all take up space unnecessarily and could easily be avoided when the app updates.
1.16GB is not exactly a lot of space, 5GB is taken up by recovery partition, the question is what else is taking up the remaining 34.84GB and more importantly, is there a way to remove it?
My unibody MacBook (late 2008), my companion of two years on the road is getting a little tired, slightly unstable and if I’m honest a little heavy to carry around every day. However, it not dead yet which means I have a while to make my decision on its replacement.
For the first time in a while I can probably justify spending up to £1200 on a replacement, as I want it to last for 3-5 years on the road. Obviously I am more than happy to pay vastly less than this, in fact I tend to buy second hand equipment more often than not so if I am going to spend a huge chunk of cash I want it to be for a product that exceeds my needs.
I spend a lot of time humping my laptop around, developer relations and event management is truly a mobile occupation, with co working spaces often replacing offices. The nomadic lifestyle also means that I need to carry a whole bunch of stuff in addition to a laptop and charger. In fact a response to a question on what makes a great developer evangelist in this post on developer evangelism I detail the contents of my bag excluding my laptop:
- Decent messenger bag or backpack that is waterproof (or at least water resistant) - I recommend Crumpler, you can’t risk your laptop getting wet.
- Pens & paper – quick notes or for sketching out hack ideas (YMMV)
- Charging cables for major phones – you will be using your phone a hell of a lot, so have these hand, having other cables is useful if someone you are demoing to is running low on charge.
- Screen wipes – no one wants to view your demo on a greasy screen
- Travel sized toothbrush, toothpaste – a godsend at overnight hacks
- Sleep mask – sleep where and when you can, I grabbed two of these from an overnight flight and never leave home without them
- Business cards – I use Moo Mini cards as they take up less space
- Swag – stickers, badges etc
All that stuff means that the total weight of my bag is probably about four to five kilograms, which by no means excessive – after all I see some people happily carrying 15 and 17 inch laptops and kit, but after a day on the run it can get wearing. Clearly, I need a lighter device but it still needs to have decent specifications, oh and a battery life of over two hours would be super.
Easily solved, get a MacBook Air – 13 Inch, i7 cpu and 7 hours battery life!
Whilst that is pretty much the defacto choice (and a good one), there are two things holding me back:
1) Its just so boring, OSX does not seem to be the major focus for Apple anymore (the hamfisted iCloud integration into core applications is one example) but with OSX making such a small part of Apple’s revenue can you really blame them for taking their foot off the gas?
Don’t get me wrong, OSX is still a great operating system (even in its slightly buggy Mountain Lion form) but it just feels like its missing something. I think its to do with Apples design philosophy, that in making these beautifully created devices Apple has hit upon what it probably feels the perfect interface for both desktop and mobile platforms and now seeks to refine those designs, the epitome of evolution rather than revolution. Which is fine, but give a person the same thing every time and eventually, no matter how good it is they will probably tire of it.
2) I want more out my laptop, or more to the point I want a tablet but I don’t want a consumption device or another piece of technology in my bag. I hate having to carry multiple devices, they add weight and they need charging, two things that I either want to remove or not have to worry about. My perfect setup would be to have a larger smartphone (e.g. a Galaxy Note II) and a hybrid laptop. That way I would have a decent sized phone in situations where a laptop/tablet were not suitable, and a tablet/hardware keyboard when I needed to do long form stuff. However until recently that hasn’t been possible due to the fact that most hybrids run Android and that does not meet my needs as of yet.
Which is why I’ve stuck with laptops for now.
However, the Surface Pro has been sticking in my mind a lot recently and I think its because I think it may offer a chance at my ideal setup. Lets look at the specifications:
- i5 processor
- 4GB ram
- 128GB flash storage (with a further 64GB possible via memory cards
- 10.6 inch screen
- 1kg weight
- Wacom Stylus
- 5 hour battery life
- Usb 3.0
All fairly standard Ultrabook/Macbook Air specifications, housed within a tablet body, albeit with a battery life closer to the 11 inch MacBook air than the 13, but longer than my current steed by a good margin.
Which is why its so damn tempting, because it can run desktop apps like steam, or visual studio as well as your standard consumption/light creation apps as any other tablet. The question you might ask is, “even though you can run heavy weight apps on the Surface Pro, would you want to?”.
Its a good question and not easy to answer as I’ve never had a tablet with the features of the Surface Pro. If I’m on the train or the tube, I’m not likely to be editing files in photoshop but connect that tablet to a bigger screen and you have yourself a full fat pc. Need a mouse? Plug it in. Its the same with my other accessories like a full sized keyboard or external hardrive, it all works because its running Windows 8.
The concept behind the Surface Pro is compelling, it appears to offers a glimpse at a alternative mobile future, one where the only computing device is a tablet that’s offers a wider feature set than others - time will tell if its the right call.
I will be looking forward to the reviews, but as I said, my MacBook still has some life in it.
A new year and an old rumour once again rears its head, no not that 2013 is the year of Linux on the desktop, that Apple will finally release a low cost iPhone. Its a risky move for Apple, as they rarely (if ever) attack the low end markets with their products.
But I wonder, what if?
From my point of view, if they release a iPhone mini/nano in the $150-300 price point in all iPhone regions, then its game over for most manufacturers as we know them. LG, HTC, Sony, et al all have mobile products that haven’t found traction with the consumer and have no real answer to a low cost iPhone.
The question is, would they cede the mobile market to Apple and go elsewhere? If the main market is no longer accessible would we see them return with targeted niche products?
FirefoxOS is a new mobile platform, one with the aim to connect the next billion users and give them a great mobile experience.
But you don’t have to wait until a product is launched to try it out or start to develop for it, you can do that right now!
R2D2B2G (catchy name right?) is a Firefox add on that makes getting FirefoxOS up and running on your Mac, Linux or Windows machine really easy!
All you have to do is download the latest version of the simulator from here then install it via the Add Ons menu in Firefox!
Once you’ve installed the add on, navigate to Tools> Developer Tools > FirefoxOS Simulator
Click the Simulator button and congratulations you have a working FirefoxOS simulator!
If you want to find out more, I’m running a meetup at the end of the month where we’ll have FirefoxOS experts on hand to help out and show you how to create apps for FirefoxOS!
There’s been a lot of talk about Social media week and it looks to host a great series of talks and workshops on Social media and how to get the best out it.
However, I’m more interested in the HTML5 events taking place this week!
We kick things off at tonights Mobile Monday London which is discussing the age old topic of HTML5 VS Native, which has been done to death – so for it raise its head once again must mean that we have something new to talk about.
Although that may be covering old ground, Wednesdays event is all new as it the first ever FirefoxOS meetup! It will introduce developers to this new exciting platform, how to create content for it and have a chat with likeminded individuals.
Last but not least, we have Bruce Lawson talking about how to better design mobile web, having seen Bruce talk before, I have no doubt that it should be good fun
So, one week three events and a lot of stuff to talk about! Busy times!