GAME held Xbox One lock-ins across the country this month, and one of them was in Hull. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to play an Xbox One before launch so I reserved a place for me and my friend Danny.
The event itself was quite bad. There was a long wait (an hour) to play, which was expected. They only had a few consoles, two with Ryse and two with Dead Rising 3. However, there was an employee of GAME on a microphone who didn’t really know how to talk to an audience, it was really awkward and sometimes cringeworthy. This tweet may help ‘paint’ a better picture:
Anyway, it was worth it because I got to play Dead Rising 3 for 10 minutes. It was really fun, weapons were great, there were so many zombies to kill and it all ran very smoothly at 30 fps. I did see some disappearing bodies when other people were playing, and it crashed for one person, but this isn’t the final build and they’re using dev consoles so those issues can be excused for now. It was noticeable that the game was running at 720p, but DR3 was good enough for me to not mind after a while.
On to hardware, the console looks smaller than the images you see online. The controller was not what I was expecting. It was fairly different to the Xbox 360′s controller, more so than I thought it was going to be. The texture of the plastic they used is really nice. The shoulder buttons are my biggest complaint. They are too close to the left stick and face buttons, I had to use more of a claw grip than the 360 controller which wasn’t very comfortable. The travel distance on these buttons is also a bit too small, they are quite difficult to press. I much prefer the 360′s bumpers. It seems Microsoft have designed the controller to be more comfortable resting in your hands than when actually playing. The analogue sticks are okay, they’re a bit too small but I’m sure I’d get used to them.
While we were there they also had Call of Duty: Ghosts to play on Xbox 360. I haven’t played CoD 2013 before so I had a go. Very much similar to previous installments. I’m surprised how good the graphics are on current gen hardware. It’s still more of the same though, worth missing or waiting for the One/PS4 versions.
Overall then, a positive experience. I’m still not sure whether it’s a good idea to get an Xbox One at launch, but I know a bit more about what to expect.
As you might have guessed from my Cheap Ass Gamer app, I like to listen to podcasts a lot. Usually when I’m doing something mundane like washing clothes, making food or before bed. I use my iPod touch for podcasts because iTunes is (or was) actually quite good at being a reliable hub for podcasts and the Music app is (or was) quick and simple to use. I’m saying ‘was’ because iOS 7 removed the feature to play podcasts from the Music app, and we now have to put up with the terrible Podcasts app they haphazardly developed and left to die (To be fair, it is better now than when it was first released). There is absolutely no valid reason for this. Everyone had a choice in iOS 6, install the app and it functioned as your place to play podcasts, or don’t install it, and keep using the Music app, no problem. Apple haven’t even been bothered updating the UI of the podcasts app to the new iOS 7 scheme, and it’s not installed by default. It appears they just don’t care.
This annoyed me quite a lot after I found out, and I set about trying to find an alternative. First I tried Instacast. It seemed quite good until adding a new podcast subscription crashed it. And because the app starts where you left off when reopened, it crashed again and again after. I tried re-installing the app several times but bumped into the same bug each time. It’s useless if I loose all my downloaded episodes each time this happens. So I searched for another alternative.
The app I settled on is called Pocket Casts. I had no problems with this app and it works great. It shows iOS 7′s new UI can be quite beautiful when done right, as the new clean look and typography is nice to look at, and is modern and flat, but still contrasts to Microsoft’s
Metro Modern UI. iOS 7 is better in person than in screenshots. Pocket Casts also syncs your podcast subscriptions online; if you have to reset your device or have more than one, it keeps your subscriptions synced. So if you’re stuck on your podcasts in iOS 7, I recommend switching to Pocket Casts. Hey, now I can download direct to my iPod and don’t have to sync with iTunes. If I move my old music library to Spotify, I won’t have to use iTunes at all. Just waiting on Spotify to update its app for iOS 7 then.
Now that Windows 8.1 is in its final form and available on MSDN, I thought I would finally test the water and install it on my laptop. Even though I never installed the preview build, the installation never gave me the option to keep files, apps and settings. This is why I am hesitant putting it on my main desktop computer; it’s got a lot of important data that I don’t want to lose, and some programs and mods that would take a long time getting back to normal.
Anyway, my laptop has none of that so the decision was a lot easier. I have to say, I love Windows 8.1 so far. The new colours and tile sizes, the improved apps, the start button – all great. One annoyance is the Charms bar being off centred when using the corner navigation with the mouse. It’s supposed to make navigation quicker as there is less distance to travel with the cursor. This might be good with a laptop touch pad, but with a regular mouse this is annoying. To open the Charms bar you go to a corner and move the cursor to the middle. By the time the Charms animation has finished my mouse is in the middle of the bar, ready to click on a feature. Now I have to backtrack. It’s also aesthetically less appealing and looks like a visual bug in the OS.
Another problem I have is the new search function. It doesn’t seem as fast as it used to as it has to load results from the internet. I used to use it loads to find an app quick. For example, to get the calculator I would just type ‘cal’ quick into the Start menu and press enter. Now it tries to autocomplete my search term. For example, I want to get to the power settings. I type ‘power’ and it auto-completed to ‘powershell’. I’ll just have to get used to it.
One of the things I really like in 8.1 is that desktop apps pinned to the Start menu are coloured depending on their icon. It works similarly to the task bar hover colour in Windows 7. It makes the Start menu much more colourful and colour coded apps are easier to pick out.
I’m really tempted to install 8.1 on my desktop now. We’ll see what happens. I’m going to install Visual Studio 2013, check out the new XAML controls and perhaps update my apps to 8.1 in time for public release on October 17th.
It passed certification last night and is now available for everyone to download. This is what’s new in the 1.3 update:
- App is now compliant with Twitter REST API v1.1, user login is now mandatory for Twitter use.
- Rewritten how links and mentions are retrieved, making it much more accurate.
- Bug fixes, including a crash issue and touch behaviour.
- The current podcast and your Twitter credentials are roaming so they sync to your Windows 8 devices.
As you may have read before, my Cheap Ass Gamer app for Windows 8 broke a little while back, due to Twitter dropping support for their v1 API. Version v1.1 carries tighter restrictions that make downloading Twitter like an RSS feed basically impossible. Here are the main changes that make my implementation in the CAG app useless:
- Twitter requires all requests are authenticated. This means the user has to log in and give permission to use your app. It also means I need to now use OAuth which can be quite complicated for a newcomer.
- Support for JSON only. I used the XML file type as I was familiar with it, works great with LINQ and serialisation is easy. I’ve never used JSON before. Luckily I discovered JSON.NET which is fantastic and very helpful. Because of this change, I have to completely rewrite the way the app downloads tweets and saves then in the cache.
I’ve done some research and its been fun learning new ways to solve these problems. I’ve spent most of today writing new code for the app and hopefully version 1.3 will be ready soon. This version should improve the app’s experience as I’ve also squashed some bugs and will probably add roaming features so your credentials and current podcast info will be available across all your Windows 8 devices.
Check the blog for more updates soon.
UPDATE: If you’re interested in doing Twitter in your own app, this example is really, really useful.
Microsoft’s Build conference happened on Wednesday. I watched it, and it was great to see all the new features of Windows 8.1. I have yet to install the preview update as I am unsure of how stable it is or what it will delete. I’ve had a play around with it on a friend’s computer and I like what I see so far.
Currently (and very annoyingly), both of my apps (Kuler Touch and Cheap Ass Gamer) are not functioning properly due to Adobe and Twitter’s APIs changing. Adobe Kuler’s API is being rebuilt as their website has been updated a lot. I haven’t been able to debug the CAG app yet but currently the Twitter features are throwing errors.
I want to update the apps over the summer to fix these issues and add new Windows 8.1 features, such as:
- Tiles will need to be updated
- The search function is no longer accessed via the Charms bar, it will need to be in-app
- More responsive layouts for the new dynamic window sizes
I have no idea when this will be done as I have work and the third year project to get on with. Both apps are currently fairly useless without the APIs working.
There are quite a few bits of news about 8.1 app development that I haven’t seen being reported on. I suggest all developers check out the documentation on Microsoft’s website on what has changed and been added. There are new controls like the search box, menu flyouts, hubs, and app bar additions. Also the hyperlink element is back! That could be very useful for the Cheap Ass Gamer app. Take a look here and here.
Microsoft just announced they are completely revising their take on Xbox One DRM and used games. Basically, the system will be very similar to the current gen and PS4′s model. An internet connection will not be required to play offline Xbox One games and trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today. This is great news, it goes to show how much weight the consumers and competition from Sony have in these decisions. It’s kind of a relief to see Microsoft change their policies before they released the console and witnessed low sales.
On the other hand, I’m a bit sad. As disc-based game licenses can no longer be attached to accounts (discs can be shared the same way we do it now) it means the disc now has to be in the tray while you are playing. Disc swapping is back, and so is bringing your discs to other people’s houses. No more sharing games with your friends just by signing in. No more fast game swapping. The good news is digital versions of games will still be released day one, however I suspect these will be at high R.R.P. Keeping the system we have now for 360 and PS3 just means publishers can use their own rubbish DRM techniques. That will now continue into the next generation.
In an ideal world, I reckon there is still room for compromise. A sign in check every week instead of 24 hours. Installing the game from the disc could give the licence to you until that same disc is used in another console. Account attached games and your library on any console was what I was really looking forward to with Xbox One. Oh well. Maybe next-next generation, eh?
So here’s the thing; Xbox One can play games without the disc. Pop it in first time, install it and forget about it. What comes with this then, is basically the Law of Conservation of Energy. You can’t use the same disc on multiple consoles and make copies of the game; it’s used once. This makes sense, and it’s fair. It’s the system the PC has used for a long time. It seems to me that PlayStation 4 cannot play games without the disc unless it adds this.
A great benefit that comes out of this is that Microsoft is adding a “family” feature, where up to 10 accounts can be added as your family members and share your games with them. I’m not sure how this works yet, but it sounds like you could buy the game once and share it with your friends this way. “Anyone can play your games on your console – regardless of whether you are logged in or their relationship to you.” – Xbox Wire
To me, this sounds like a better system than the one we have now. The only issue is used games. It’s a big one. Microsoft and publishers control how games can be traded and sold. This is a huge issue that is holding back the Xbox One. Money is blatantly put before customers here. Now this works on PC, but it works because of how cheap games are. I picked up Alan Wake for £2.30 on Steam earlier this month. That would never happen on a current-gen console, but the balance needs to be there. You either allow used game sales freely, or you offer your own games at discount once they become old enough. The trust needs to be there, and something needs to happen.
UPDATE: Read this post about a Microsoft Engineer giving his opinion on the subject. He makes some great points to why the Xbox One’s system will work. It’s what Microsoft’s stance should have been lik from when they announced the changes. It’s also why you should let he people who are passionate and make the products help sell them too, not just the marketing guys.
Monday was a big day in the gaming industry. The Electronic Entertainment Expo started and conferences from big companies like Microsoft, Sony, Ubisoft and EA took place. Here are my thoughts on what was shown.
First of the day was Xbox. As promised they brought out all the games. A really great showing too. I’m really looking forward to Dead Rising 3, the next Halo, and Titanfall. I really hope they change the save system in Dead Rising 3; it looks really fun but I hate having to retread progress I have already made if you start at an old save point.
The Halo reveal was surprising as it looked like a new IP or a Star Wars game at first. It was sad to see Master Chief mourn Cortana and looking quite broken. It will be interesting to see where they take the story from H4. I was disappointed to find out Halo: Spartan Assault is a mobile/Windows 8 game. What I wanted to see was an Xbox 360 and ported Xbox One FPS that took place before Reach, and you get to see loads of Spartan IIs do their thing back when they were still in large numbers. Oh well. Titanfall, the new game from the original members of Infinity Ward, also looks really cool.
Now, the Playstation 4. I’m a bit annoyed everyone thinks they have already won the console war. There is so much hate for the Xbox One, every comment on posts I see on gaming sites is about how screwed it is. To be honest, I’m just jealous that the console I would far prefer getting, the Xbox One, is the one getting trash talked, and has DRM and greedy used games policies. Microsoft has the games, but Sony have the morals. I really hope Microsoft change their tune before launch. Their used games and DRM ideas are ridiculous, I agree with most people on that. Sony have made a choice that is good for the industry, I hope it forces Microsoft to change. Apart from the business side, I found the exclusives Sony showed weren’t very good. Microsoft still have the upper hand there. I would like to play Killzone, but it’s not worth missing out on Halo 5.
EA had a good showing. I can’t wait for Mirror’s Edge 2! I was a bit disappointed to find out all their new games would be made in either the Ignite engine for sports, or the Frostbite engine for everything else. It’s a clever move, it means a lot less development costs and it makes games look a lot prettier. But it doesn’t encourage diversity. It makes a range of games look very similar which in turn makes them less stimulating. You need different engines to give games different feels and visual styles. It is obvious EA are cutting corners. I hope this is simply to reach the launch of the new generation, and not something that will be carried into it.
I suppose that’s about it. Time will tell on whether the dislike for Xbox One will actually eat into sales. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.
A quick update. You may have noticed I’ve changed the link on my website’s menu from ‘Apps’ to ‘Portfolio’. This is because I’ve moved over to Behance. The previous set-up I had was just a WordPress page. You would have to scroll a long way to see everything. It’s not a very maintainable way of displaying my works, and I had limited it to just apps so I couldn’t put other things on there. I found Behance because there are some amazing works from other people on there, I suggest you check it out if you like art and design.
So yeah, please take a look at my new portfolio at: http://be.net/robcrocombe