Love Is Strange

On the week of Valentine’s Day, I started to play the new prequel to Life Is Strange. I was completely blown away at what they’ve done with the old characters while introducing new characters.

As someone who played the first game, there are a bunch of references. While I know what happens in the first game, I did my best to think about this as the “first” game in the series. I’m not completely done but it is so far really entertaining. There are a lot twists and lots of moments where it’s fun and sad. Life Is Strange played with my heart but Before The Storm really feels like a heartbreaking game.

Chloe and Max are probably the two characters in any video game yet that reflects how I perceive the concept of love. It’s a difficult subject to grasp and no one would every get it right, but we all understand it in out own way. What it means to us and what it matters to be with and without.

The game feels so much shorter than the first but I can’t wait to finish the 3rd episode and wait for the bonus episode.

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Life is…Strange. Ohhhhhhhh!

I thought it would merit a blog post in itself since I’ve played the entire episodic narrative, Life is Strange. After a long 6 months since I bought episodes 1-5 on Steam, recently I finally put aside some time from work to play. All this time avoiding spoilers I can put in a review down without ruining any plot lines and there are a bunch of plot lines.

Developed by DONTNOD and published by Square Enix, you play as Maxine Caulfield who has travelled to Oregon to attend Blackwell Academy in hopes of being a photographer. Within the first month of settling in, you have premonitions of a tornado. You have 5 days to prevent it happening. Along the way of trying to save the seaside town of Arcadia Bay, you make friends both old and new.

You play in the third person in a narrative where each episode is a day until the end. As you play choices from the previous episodes can effect the story and how it will culminate. The art for the game does exude something resembling of water colours which exemplifies focus on the story while delivering a detailed (but not too detailed) atmosphere. The entire game is littered with story devices which opens the player to character development outside of Max’s journal. If you are an empathic gamer, you will find yourself thinking about these little bits of information as you interact with other characters and help make decisions throughout the game. The voice acting in itself is very professional and does feel very natural and fluid with each choice. The character animation is nothing impressive, there are parts where characters would just talk and wouldn’t necessarily interact with each other. Felt more like talking heads on the news than a theatrical performance. Definitely something work improving is the motion capture to let these characters interact with the space around than standing there and have it be consistent. Max’s time travelling provides a good plot device to allow the player to change their answer if they think their choice is undesirable considering most choices aren’t described fully. Usually the game will give your an explicit choice of actions or a vague noun like “Nathan” or “Joyce” and hope that choice is what you are thinking it would be what is summed in a few words. It makes a logical choice to have the choices concise but a bit more description would be helpful. Then again the time travelling ability really solves all that.

Thematically, the game is about choices. Choices everywhere and if you aren’t tainted by spoilers, these choices are interesting because they carry weight through the game and changes up what you can say and do. The developers seemed to explore the idea of choice in terms of a social sense with moral implications. Choices which challenge vices and virtues, needs and wants, truth and the perception of truth; the does give some good examples of philosophical dilemmas which defines our humanity. Who said video games can’t teach your anything?

If you haven’t decided to get Life is Strange yet and you want to play it, I would recommend getting all the episodes in one package. For the value of a movie ticket and popcorn (like 25 dollars-ish),  you get about 22 hours of content (That’s on my count, experience may vary). As much as the first episode is thorough in giving you a preview of things to come, the main attraction is a story which a game can only deliver. There are some faults in quality such as some bugs and some dialogue which fell flat because of the animation. It’s a good play with achievements which can be completed (for you perfectionists out there). In the end after I made all the choices and comparing similarities with my personal life, the title is indeed exclaims a truth. Life is strange, so very strange.

First 12 hours Windows 10

Yesterday, I finally dipped my toe in the most recent develop with Windows. I decided to install Windows 10 to give it shot. Since my desktop is still my gaming and recording PC, I’m not willing to lose data over something I’m not certain of; so I chose my laptop that’s good for nothing but the Internet and doing blogs.

Like with Windows 7 when I upgraded from XP, the installation of fairly straightforward with little input from me. Then the one and continuing obstacle comes to me; upon being asked to create an account, the system allows me to connect online using my Microsoft account. Innocuous at first, I hesitantly put in my log in information. Definitely the first time looking at the innovations from Windows 8 and 8.1 and coming from Windows 7, Win 10 looks very impressive and fresh. The desktop design remains very familiar, much like a signature of the brand. Along with the translucent and bold contemporary design, it feels very new as if the developers want to be away from their predecessors while maintaining functionality. Opening up the Start menu, I encountered the same layout with a small added addition; tiles that was previous implemented in the Windows 8 series. Tiles that worked more like a glorified icon which can stream a service, such as the current weather conditions and who is sending you tweets on their Twitter app. Much like mobile phones, I was surprised Windows now has an app store where I can purchase applications. I’ll talk more later after this, but overall it looks very vacant in terms of actual apps. For me as a transitioning Windows user, I can see some similarities to other operating systems.

Of all the features I have a problem with, I’ll start with the user friendliness of the entire interface. Yes, the entire interface. The problem I have is I’m well use to using scrolling to move up and down lists. At the moment, I have to use arrow keys to move through these lists as well as options. I do like I don’t necessarily need to use my trackpad to navigate, as a internet laptop I’m use to scrolling and tapping with my pad. Next is the difficulty to find settings and options through its supposed straightforward interface. Every is so simplified to the point where there are some things I want to turn off but would turn off other things. Aside from a “settings” visible at the Start button, it took me some doing to produce the old Control Panel which I’m well versed in using. If anything, this Settings button is superfluous to what the Control Panel can do. Onto the apps and the app store, the system will automatically install some applications like Skype, a mail client and other proprietaries from Microsoft. After peaking through these apps, there are many others I can download which surpass the usefulness. The applications I would like on there is not even on there. At the time of this post, I use Tweetdeck while there is an application to display it’s streaming capabilities. Though nifty as this Twitter application is, it’s space in my hard drive to load the interface while Tweetdeck is done all online. Meaning I don’t have to load it and I can do much more than just view and write tweets. We’re not even in the store yet, but it’s more frustrating than you think.

The store does contain a lot of games and applications at my finger tips; but as I browse through the catalog, I started to look into the sizes of these “apps”. Most of the applications are about 14KB to about 10MB which in this day in age seems small for apps. The largest are the games but for the most I’ve seen, most hover around 20 KB. From what I remember, a shortcut on your desktop is somewhere around the same size as well which makes me wonder if this should even be called an “app store”. Along with these, some of the titles do give away what they’re intended for; mostly to promote a website or periodical. Which makes me wonder if these are just glorified bookmarks; in which case, it’s not innovated but more of a waste of space. Perhaps in time, they would moderate and regulate the store but it does seem more of a grab for an audience and competing with these false bits of hope.

Performance is another problem I have with it. I understand my laptop is aging and it could be edging off the minimum requirements. Compared to old reliable Windows 7, she’s a bit hefty and slow. Loading and shutting down is slow as well as initializing a program. It could be the fact it’s new so it’s creating temporary files for indexing. It could be the fact some of the apps are continually requesting updates. In which case, it’s a poor excuse to trade off performance for convenience. The app store is also nothing new to desktop PC as some Linux distributions do have their own stores where actual programs are placed to download. Which makes Windows 10’s store worse than Blackberry’s app store in my opinion even though not many user use their products by comparison.

As a technological society, we are pushing towards a more mobile world. It doesn’t really mean we are readily connected, just means we want to carry a silicon and plastic brick everywhere we go. Agreeable some places have cheaper internet, but the majority of the world is still catching up. In an operating system, it’s not about being cutting edge and well known; to me, I need something light and fast that supports my needs and not the needs of the company. Even at a $100 and over price tag, it should offer piece of mind as well as in-depth customization. Though simplicity can help a beginner; I feel a bit outed by the next generation of Windows users because they want everything at a click of an icon.

Formality v. Functionality–Big Twitter apps

[Starts 3 paragraphs in for those who want my review, thought you liked a good story…]

It’s not a surprised I use Twitter more often now to promote my blog and YouTube channel. I’m usually on there to just find something to read or have something short to get off my chest rather than posting it on my blog with under 140 characters. For a awhile when I started my blog, I wanted to be able to spread my message out there in the simplest form. Mainstream or some way to broadcast to the world, “I wrote something, might be nice to give it a read.” I started using Twitter as a media prerequisite to learn about the world and the culture I live in, over time the account went into disuse until I started my blog. First impressions, Twitter wasn’t the best place for a 19 year old. I was on it because my teacher wanted me to be on it so classroom censorship was a tough deal breaker when you have something to say but your account is restricted for media studies only. The turn around when I started this blog a few years ago a way to document my thoughts and activities. As I began to grew a skin around blogging and microblogging, I decided to use an application to be a hub for all my Twitter needs. At the time, I just read up on applications and reviews; most of it in jargon. So rather than just reading a review for the pick, I just observed what everyone was using. Most of the time, it was TweetDeck and HootSuite.

tweekdeck

For the past couple years, I’ve used TweetDeck on the basis of popularity. It was most commonly used when I was lurking at hashtag threads. When I first got it on Chrome, the interface was simple to master. One simple login screen later, the application went to work by sending me feeds from my own Twitter. Soon after, found the Search button to find other hastags to follow and after that was able to organize to what I wanted to see and not see certain posts. But that’s just one camp out of many to simplify the experience.

The other large one I seen and heard about was HootSuite. Only largely came to me from large app review sites and users from organizations. I was really hesitant at first to ever try it. Today, let hesitation be damned! Setting into a new application isn’t always easy if you’re like me, why move on to something else when one works perfectly? After creating an account through HootSuite, I was greeted with a stark dashboard similar to the TweetDeck app. Along with an approximate sidebar for your options. So how do they fare against each other?

hotsuite

After spending a few hours on HootSuite, the similarities begin to fade away. Both platforms offer multi-account support, so you can monitor each Twitter profile simultaneously. Each can create tabs based on criteria such as retweets, favourites, and hashtags you wanted pinned as a tab for easy reference. TweetDeck and HootSuite provide a simplified interface to ensure ease of use, so you know where to go and how to do certain Twitter-y tasks. Unfortunately this is where TweetDeck ends it’s list of goodies.

HootSuite offers more than just connectivity to Twitter. It provides a way to be connected to other blogging and social media websites like LinkedIn, WordPress, Facebook and mixi (Hell if I know what is mixi). Along with account aggregation, it has an array of enterprising features such Assignments to help business consolidate their media efforts. As a Pro and Enterprise user, you have access to team organizations to help with assignments. With organization, you would want to see the team’s or your brand’s performance in media; so they have analytics to help form a report on your media involvement through all your accounts or just particulars. Along with it’s organizational faire; it boosts a range of in-app applications such as a YouTube app to view and share through your HootSuite, which most apps are trying to advertise the same view and share feature if not trying to enhance the in-app experience.

As a Personal user, I found the program fairly restrictive. Most of the features your listed as Pro feature which required a $8.99 (assuming US currency) per month payment for use. The only things I can really necessarily do is add apps within an app and just view counters of my tweets and followings with analytics. As a personal user, the only redeeming quality is a list of followers and a list of people I followed; which is easily accessible but really unnecessary at times. Like this feature already available on TweetDeck and on Twitter itself, it’s analytics is par if not worst to the online solution already provided by Twitter. I’m a free user on both, but getting additional data from Twitter for free. Though if I was a business, I would agree HootSuite might contain some insight through it’s own analytics but would not necessarily change my behaviour within social media. The auto-scheduler is a nifty touch if you want to send out tweets at a particular time. However this feature is best removed to prevent people with spam accounts from filling threads with their wares. Unlike Tweetdeck, it feels more geared towards businesses than it is for individual users. With it’s suite of analytics and in-depth monitoring, it’s a improbable choice for a single user like me.

What I found interesting is the load times and the refresh rates. Upon loading up each application, I found TweetDeck to be much faster. Though if you have a speedy connection, you won’t feel it. As a person who uploads video to YouTube, it’s noticeable. I can only speculate what is going behind the scenes, but this slowdown makes it very regrettable since it feels not optimized for lower connection speeds. On HootSuite, you can set refresh rates to as close to 2 minutes for each tab within the application. On TweetDeck, you can set it to almost real time in a margin of a few seconds if you have a slow connection. While TweetDeck can update in the background, Hootsuite seems to stop updating when you’re not in the Chrome browser tab. Along with update angst, the way it personally handles hashtags does make it easier to read since it gives you a brief amount of time before the dashboard tab refreshes. Good thing if you are watching a keyword or tag with a lot of frequent users.

Each application has features gear towards a niche user. Enterprising and business prefer to see things by the numbers while your average Jane and Joe want to just post and share. As a personal user with very little social outreach, it would be preferable to stick with TweetDeck by Twitter for it’s simplicity. Simple doesn’t always mean better, simple means in this case I get what I need and I don’t really need it to be any better. If I was a social media specialist or a community manager for a large organization with multiple accounts, I would say HootSuite is the way to go to provide the means of easy consolidation; but would not jump on board too quickly on analytics.

Overall experience for both, restrictive on HootSuite where features are blocked and load times are slower when connection is slow. However it does provide a sense of additional control through analytics and aggregation. Where are TweetDeck is simplistic with little to no load times. However remains to be seen if it can handle business.

Don’t believe me? Give them a try on Chrome:

TweetDeck

HootSuite

Until next time, follow me on Twitter?

Into Indies

At the moment on my YouTube channel, I have played a couple indie games but I never really just picked something up to just display it. Recently, I thought I would use IndieDB to help me find some games to make short playthroughs. As a starter, I have downloaded TubeStar.

TubeStar is a parody to making videos on YouTube and “simulates” being a YouTuber. I wouldn’t be so sure what that would actually be like but I thought I would give it a shot. Though there is a bunch of games out there so why would I pick something so obscure? Simply, I picked one at random I can download and gave it a shot. From the recorded gameplay footage, I somewhat regret my decision. It was very dull to say the least and the gameplay was not compelling.

Lessons learned from this little let’s play recording session? First would be to read about the game, then download it to play a bit to see if it’s compelling or has something worth showing. Secondly, compelling gameplay; honestly I got kind fo bored halfway through the game. Most definitely trust my ADHD-meter for interesting games. Last point to make would be pick from genres I would enjoy and not through a mystery bag system.  

So the first indie lets play on my channel is a semi-success, but I’ll let the viewer make that count. Until then, I’m sticking to my laggy playthrough of The Dead Linger. 

“It’s going somewhere…” – Star Trek Online, Season 9

The last week, season 9 for Star Trek Online has come out on its Holodeck server. This means I get to check out what’s new and the challenge to unfold for a Starfleet captain. To start it off the developers have provided a review of what the universe has been through since the game’s conception.

Story in short so far, Klingon’s are suspicious of everyone and started to wage war against the Federation. Romulus is destroyed by it’s own supernova star, thus ending the Romulan Star Empire. The Borg returned in their attempt to take the Alpha Quadrant. The Jem’Hadar provide a friendly reminder the Gamma Quadrant is still dominated by the Dominion. The Undine have been undermining the superpowers to dismantle them. Within the conflicts from the past, the Federation and Klingon look forward to the future. The Federation and the Klingon Empire forge a “no touching” alliance to hold off the Borg and assist in the resettlement of the former inhabitants of the Hobus star. In the Tau Dewa sector in the former Romulan territory, Romulans and Remans have created the New Romulan Republic. Learning from past mistakes of the clandestine Tal Shiar, the Republic work toward establishing a new homeworld and to create a future for the Romulan people based on unity and cooperation. Recently, the Romulan, Federation and Klingon alliance has found an Iconian gateway which lead to the discovery of a another gateway which lead to a Dyson Sphere in the Delta Quadrant. At the same moment, the Voth have taken interest with the Sphere, specifically the Sphere’s Omega particle technology. Old enemies are united to enter the year of 2410. And yes, it took 8 seasons for the year to change once unlike the TV series.

The dubbed features for this content update is mostly visual changes to Starfleet’s Earth Spacedock and character customization additions, introduction of the Undine as the main protagonist for this season and instances and missions associated with it. First thing I did once the patch was install was examine the visuals. At first the patch pushed the graphics up to display the new aesthetics of the characters. Once I was loaded in the game, I set a course right for Spacedock. Coming out of warp above Earth, it was indeed different. The ships moving to and form the drydocks and the station seems to be lively. Upon docking, it was definitely a new sight and definitive change in the colour palette. In short, I’ve spent a long play session just looking at every decal, object and NPC in the changed social zone. Apparently they have added a reason why the zone layout has changed. To avoid spoilers, please play it for yourself. In short, we the players lose a little to gain some different. Like the exteriors, the zone is lively with NPC’s and have much of a shopping mall feel when it comes to the item NPC’s. If the item and exchange area feels like a mall, then the ship interaction NPC’s is the information desk. Aside from the tall ceiling and open space, it’s easier to navigate and feels less crowded unless you walk into the high traffic area.

To the story content, the Borg missions have changed to include a prelude to the Undine storyline. The missions feel long which can be good and bad. Good being it feels like an episode, the bad is the voiceover gets interrupted by accident in certain areas. Double upside, the Borg storyline no longer feels out of place and supplemental. Now the bulk, the Undine story.

To avoid spoilers in short, the action is intense and the story is an obvious changer.  It takes away from classic games concepts and maintains the feel of the Trek intensity once enveloped in the series. This is the season where there are no exclusive additions in fleets but a lot of additions to hold people over until new episodes are released such as the Voth Zone in the Solanae Sphere being overrun with Undine.

Change in the reputation mechanics does make it way easier and less of a grind. First off, main rep projects are separated in two; 20 hour dailies and 1 hour hourly projects. Each of the projects reward a box containing a random object from the project’s store. Also it seems, the project item sets are more linear to be easier to find and redeem which results in making missing set pieces a bit impossible to receive unless you have the project queued prior to the update. Overall, it allows the content to be easier to experience and less of a time gate.

Lastly the Undine STF of two space and one ground 5-man instance. The ground mission is part combat and part detective work. You figure out who on Bajor is an Undine spy and rid the city of Hathon from the Undine spy network. One of the space instances is assault against the planet killer shipyards in fluidic space. The other instance is a counter-offensive above some of major species’ homeworlds. This instance requires attacking on 3 lanes and destroy 2 fluidic rifts. If this idea sounds similar then yup, it’s that kind of game; great way to suck the DOTA crowd.

It’s a balance in art and content changes which slowly advances the storyline. There are small bugs at the moment of this post but negligible. Of the start, season 9 of STO is a good start; the only surprise would be fulfilling season unlike the last few seasons which were devoid of episodic content.

Sphere of Influence – Prelude to Season 8

Hopefully not just one episode to open up this can of worms, Star Trek Online this past week has been revving up for their 8th season instalment continuing the franchise’s epic. This prelude covering the introduction to a new enemy as well as introduction of a new ship available through the fleet system mechanic.

The mission is available to players from level 10 and onward, which takes you in the depths of New Romulus to bring you to speed with the reactivation of an ancient Iconian gateway designed to take people from one place to another. As the ambassador of your faction’s delegation; the Romulan Republic, Klingon Defence Force or Starfleet, you are tasked to oversee the researcher’s work to reactivate the gateway. As power begins to breathe life back into this ancient device, something goes terribly wrong forcing the only escape through the gateway. You find yourself stranded in a room with survivors of the disaster to only find a dastardly plot be afoot. Along with you for the ride is Ambassador Worf voiced by Michael Dorn as you find out who might be behind this facility and its purpose.

Highly attentive to detail, I found a few errors in the script writing; just spelling errors. However very little can diminish the plot in bridging the story to the new content. At first I must admit, there wasn’t much in terms of new mechanics or graphics excluding new textures and Iconian technology in the form of hostile drones. Upon exiting the second map, leads you into a large surveillance room which I found to be very eerie yet spectacular. As you move platform to platform, the scenery changes depicting the worlds each platform describes. The last platform provides a “Simon says” like prompt in the mission does give some sense of urgency even though there were no necessary threats. Aside from the necessary pathway to take to the final platform, the side platforms provide additional information, if not cryptic, about the Iconians. The last transition before the space combat begins seems to be really rushed piece since it so happens to be identified as a bridge and the game puts you in command of an old carrier  loaded out with some heavy weapons and unique skills. Though it doesn’t necessary connect the episode to the main content of the Dyson Sphere, perhaps it is an indicator of the constructors of the structure and perhaps the reason why the Voth are occupying it. Without much context, I must say Sphere of Influence is much of a cliff hanger as you step into the last gateway at the end of the surveillance room.

For extra goodies, here’s some easter eggs I found:

  1. By walking off the main path, you can obtain very rare Swarmer hangar pets. Just go through every console off of every branch. Once you got the 4th auxiliary console, head back to the previous. You get 2 per console and 6 in total. Note: this item can be equipped on the new Obelisk class carriers only.
  2. In in gateway chamber when the researcher asks for the power variances, there are two number references significant to the entire franchise. One of the variances is “47” while the last two numbers when added is also 47.
  3. The commander that dies on the examination table is a red shirt. Reference to the original series.
  4. When Captain Shon is attacked, he’s wearing a yellow shirt. Possible reference to Voyager in which the Voth are introduced.

Overall the episode provides a diverse mix of in depth story and ever evolving gameplay to entice the generational demographic, either new to the franchise or veterans of the saga. For the moment it breathes new life to the game regardless of the upcoming gameplay problems when introducing new items or mechanics to the game. Where there’s new content, there’s always bugs.