Sunday, 19 March 2017

Reasons For Not Jumping On Board The Mass Effect Andromeda Wagon

There's more than a few:
  • What are its chances of coming close to Mass Effect 3 (and 2, for that matter)? Why ruin the pleasant flavour left by the old trilogy?
  • It’s been 5 years since Mass Effect 3. I have changed a lot since. Arcady action of the reflexive type and shooting stuff up are no longer my thing.
  • Andromeda was developed by the Montreal branch of BioWare. The same branch that developed a rather meh Omega DLC for Mass Effect 3.
  • The writers that created all the depth in the previous Mass Effect trilogy (e.g., Patrick Weekes) were not part of the Andromeda effort.
  • Who’s got the time for a 40 odd hours game anymore?
  • Who’s got time to sit in front of one’s TV anymore?
  • Dragon Age Inquisition was such a disappointment. It was a good game, but things took so long to happen and with all due apologies, life’s too short.
  • Fire Emblem Heroes
  • Fire Emblem Fates Conquest is already doing an excellent job at providing me with a deep playing experience coupled with a good story and well developed characters.
Will the above be enough to keep me away? Probably not for long, if at all.
Is there a good chance for me to be disappointed of Mass Effect Andromeda? Yes, there is.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Of Nintendo and Privacy

Let me tell you a personal story about me and my adventures with Nintendo’s Fire Emblem Heroes game.

Fire Emblem Heroes is an online only game. That is, it has to be played with your iOS (and, I assume, Android) device connected to the internet. To its credit, Nintendo is not shy of admitting in its iOS app description that it does sell user data it collects [through that always online connection] to third parties. Fact of the matter is, almost all apps and web pages do this; one of the internet’s core problems is this being done behind the scenes without the person whose information is being traded’s awareness and without them having the slightest idea what is then done with this data.
Still, even a corporation such as Nintendo is bound by law. In this particular case, USA law, which demands in one way or another that no details shall be collected from people younger than 13 years. Thus, when I first started Fire Emblem Heroes on my iPad for the first time and the app interrogated me for my personal details, I declared myself a 4 year old. That should give me 8 years plus of unencumbered Fire Emblem heroism…
Problem is, I’ve grown attached to my Fire Emblem Heroes. Having spent much time on the game, I’d hate to lose the heroes I cultivated with time and effort. The solution provided by the game in order to enable the Cloud to store my game progress is to link my Nintendo ID to the game, and thus allow Nintendo to store my game progress against my Nintendo account.
Note the crafty little trick Nintendo is pulling here. Being able to link between one’s [Nintendo] games consoles and one’s mobile devices, be it phone or tablet, raises my value significantly before third party advertisers. It's for what should be obvious reasons, to do with them being able to link several sources of information about me together and acquire a much more accurate as well as detailed image of me. This is exactly why Nintendo offers the path of linking to its account rather than doing what most other iOS apps do, which is to store the app data on Apple’s own iCloud; there is no revenue for Nintendo in using iCloud.

Our story continues.
In order to solve this problem of being able to save my progress online without giving away too much private information to Nintendo, I decided to create a new Nintendo account and state there that I am a 4 year old; then I will link that account to my Fire Emblem Heroes, save my progress, but continue to enjoy the legal privacy protections offered to American children.
So I created such an account. Or rather, tried to; Nintendo would not let me finish the account’s creation without linking it to another account, an adult’s account.
So I went with the flow and created another account, this time an adult account, and then tried to link that account with the child account.
Wait! Said Nintendo. In order to prove you really are an adult and not a child in disguise, I need your credit card details, so I can charge it and therefore confirm you are truly an adult. Given the entire purpose of my personal adventure was the avoidance of providing the too personal and identifiable to Nintendo, I did not give them my credit card info.
I tried another trick instead: I went to the existing Nintendo account we have for our existing Nintendo Wii U console and tried to change the birthday on that account so as to make it a child’s account.
No, said Nintendo yet again: we will not allow you to change the birthday date on an existing account!

Thus ends my story. As in, I do not have the ability to save my Fire Emblem Heroes’ progress online. What I do have, however, is insight on just how far Nintendo is willing to go when it comes to milking its customers for personal data it can then resell.
Think about it:
  1. There is no way for a child to get hold of a Nintendo account without at least one member of the family providing positive ID for online data trackers to use and resell.
  2. There is absolutely nothing to prevent a child from creating a adult’s account and linking it to their game. Yes, it would be illegal for Nintendo to track that user, but its armies of lawyers would be perfectly capable of washing the company’s hands off that.
My experience has made it very clear on which side of the ethical debate at hand Nintendo stands. When it comes to our privacy, companies do not come greedier than Nintendo.


One final note: I would have loved, and I repeat - loved, to give Nintendo some and even many of my hard earned Shekels in return for a private Fire Emblem experience. Evidence indicates I have already done so several times on the 3DS incarnations.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Change of Direction

One question that begs the mind of a blogger who has been blogging for as long as I have is the classic “where to from here”.
Once upon a time, when this blog started, it took the form of an open diary. Me telling the world all sorts of things about myself that I had on my mind.
Times change, though, and now - and for all sorts of different reasons - I am much more reserved when it comes to openly sharing my life with the world. In this world of trolls, Gamergate and Trumps it does not take much effort to see where things can go wrong with such an approach.
Fact of the matter is, this blog has never been about money making or fame seeking. I did it to satisfy my own needs, period. And now my needs are different.
Which brings me to state a few things about the future of this blog that should have already been quite obvious. I foresee two things happening here: Firstly, the frequency of posting - which has severely deteriorated over the last couple of years - will continue to do so. The itch that I need scratching through a quick post is served much faster through Twitter, for a start.
Secondly, the trend away from the personal to the more technical will continue. This blog has always been about serving my personal needs, and right now my personal needs involve experimenting with stuff that could serve my professional aspirations.
C’est la vie.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Fire Emblem Heroes

Have you ever tried a Fire Emblem video game?
I will admit general ignorance when it comes to games coming from Japan. However, I did brush myself against Fire Emblem a couple of times, falling in love with its character driven tactical, D&D like, battles.
The story is linear; you flow through it, basically narrowing down your role into pure battle management. The battles, too, seem simple: you can only move your character on the square grid and choose your attacks. The battle system is a simple RGB coded affair: red beats green, green beats blue, and blue beats red.
But that is not the point; the point is the attachment you have to your characters, who are full of character, as you develop them through battle. The point is to care for them in battle, because most Fire Emblem games pivot around a permanent death system; do wrong and that character you nourished since it was a baby is gone for good.
On the Nintendo 3DS, battles range across large scrolling maps and numerous characters on both sides. Often a good fight lasts close to an hour, especially if permanent death is a threat. Which, as usual, means that I simply do not have time for Fire Emblem no matter how much I like the game.


That has changed since this past weekend, when Nintendo released Fire Emblem Heroes on mobile (both iOS and Android).
Things are much simpler now: the maps are much smaller, battles are limited with up to four characters per side. Both of which mean that I can pick my iPad up in the five minutes I get in between breathes and pick up a good fight.
Alas, Fire Emblem Heores suffers from that bane of mobile gaming: it’s a freemium game. Yes, you can play for free, but if you really want to go places [fast], you will need to open your wallet. In Heores’ particular case, you can spend money to get the more exotic/powerful heroes so that they can fight on your side.
Thus far into the game I see no reason to deviate from my policy of no in app purchases, period. Heroes does let you win game currency through battle, for a start; on the other hand, I did reach a wall where I can no longer win such currency without a lot of grind. Thing is, I don’t mind the grind at all; if anything, it gives me an opportunity to practice my lesser heroes and see if the tactician that is yours truly can manage to beat superior odds with two hands behind my back. As far as I am concerned, this is where the bulk of the fun is to be had.
That's probably because one cannot attach much to the characters, the Heroes. The characters the core story revolves around are those you start the game with, which - due to battle inferiority - will not be the heroes you will fight with. And, unlike the console default, there is no permanent death in Heroes. I guess even Nintendo will only go that far under the dreaded in app purchase regime…
You will also be unable to go to far with this game because, like most other Nintendo mobile games (Super Mario Run and various Pokemon stuff), Heroes requires permanent internet connection. Nintendo has all sorts of excuses to justify this; I suspect it has more to do with Nintendo seeking to make money on the side through user tracking (to its credit, the iOS app description openly says so - unlike the bulk of other apps, that do so behind the scenes). Still, fact is I cannot play Fire Emblem Heroes on the train. Also, proceedings are slower than they could be. Boo!
Technical complaints aside (no matter how important they are; your mileage will vary), Fire Emblem Heroes is one of the better mobile games I got to know. A serious and deep game that manages to transition into the mobile platform without losing character almost perfectly. But yeah, if only Nintendo could stop being Nintendo and do things properly! I would have loved to open my wallet once and get to play a proper game of Fire Emblem on my iPad.

You may have noticed I did not post this under my reviews blog. There is a reason for that, and that reason is I cannot offer a qualified review for a product that Nintendo is clearly able to steer this way and that on a whim. Through simple changes in game currency pricing and heroes availability, the game can quickly vary from quick and easy fun to a frustrating money grub affair.
Currently, things are good. But who knows when and if Nintendo will pull a Trump on us?


Fire Emblem Heroes image used under fair use.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Back to Stupidity

The final death throes of my Pebble watch proved too much, even for me. I'm back to my good old Casio for now.
The real question is, where to from here, smartwatch wise?

And the answer to that question is a truly sad one. There is no answer.
On one hand, one can choose between the Apple Watch and Android watches. Me, I won't touch an Android watch due to my views on Google's snooping; regardless, all members of both Apple and Google camps are compromised. They are, generally speaking, vastly expensive for what they offer, while their functionality is rather limited when compared to their cost. Yes, I know I'm saying the same thing twice, but it's important to recognise both deficiencies. And, very importantly, both require one to carry a power station along for the ride because they need charging at least once a day.
Nah.
On the other hand we have the activity trackers (read: smartwatches of inferior operating systems). You know, your Fitbits, the gadgets that track people activities and enable their makers to sell their customers most private data to third parties. Well, as long as those customers actually use the gadget, because the average Joe gets the point and dumps the Fitbit after a month or so.
Yeah, nah.

I am very much baffled by the lack of a company out there that will deliver me with a smartwatch that does one thing, pretty much, but does it well: alert me of incoming notifications on my smartphone. Sure, if that smartwatch can also last a week or so on a single charge, and if that smartwatch is waterproof as well, that would be great.
All I'm asking for is a company that gives me a Pebble.


Added on 06/02/2017:
Another vector of privacy loss involving smartwatches is wifi tracking. To sum the problem up quickly, every time your wifi enabled gadget gets in touch with any wifi network, it tells that network about all the other wifi networks it knows. Thus, you walking around a shopping mall with wifi enabled on your phone allows the shopping mall to know where you live and work as it tracks your movements around the mall (and I'm invoking the shopping mall example because in Australia this is exactly what they do).
Apple showed some weak signs of dealing with this vulnerability since iOS 8. However, it does not seem to have said a word about using similar strategies on its Apple Watch (where, it has to be said, one cannot simply switch wifi off and keep the phone "alive" through Bluetooth; it's both or nothing). I asked that very question at an Apple shop, but even after several escalations they were unable to provide me with an answer.
So there you go.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Immigrant Song

There is something to people’s personal immigration stories I find myself easily able to identify with. Not that this should surprise anyone, being I am an immigrant myself. Nevertheless, the feeling that one belongs neither where one came from nor where one currently is is not a comfortable feeling to live with. Hence reading the personal story of a woman who migrated from China to the UK and went through a lot of the experiences I did while feeling a lot of the things I had felt certainly brings such recollections back to one’s consciousness.
Xiaolu Guo is not alone in feeling the need to tell of her experience. My close friend Ike Aramba has been toying with the idea of trying out podcasting with his insights on the Australian migration story. Apparently, he is seeking to use podcasting as a promotion tool for his business, and wonders aloud whether a hobby/fun first go at it would be a good way to test the water with.
I don’t know how serious Ike is with this initiative of his. It sounds to me as if podcasting can be quite an effort to produce properly, and I know Ike well enough to appreciate how little spare time he has. He can be big on ambitious plans but small on actual execution. But I also know I would like to hear his tale and, almost certainly, identify with it too.


P.S. This blogger always seeks out opportunities to plug a Led Zeppelin song.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Looking Back

Looking back at the history of humanity since the invention of agriculture, we tend to feel sorry for the suffering of all those peasants and vassals that laboured day and night just so they could bring food to the table (if they had any) or have something they can put on to protect them from the elements. Yet this was the way of life for the bulk of humans during the past 10,000 years.
We look back a century or two ago, at the days of the industrial revolution, and wonder how people managed to work under horrid conditions at those steam powered factories. With little in the way of rights or breaks, they suffered through coal and smog to make a living.

In a century or two, the people of the future will look back at us and wonder how - during such an era of affluence as ours - we all agreed to waste the better parts of our lives at our 9 to 5 (and then overtime) work. All this meaningless suffering.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Tislam

It is school holidays in Australia. This kid can remember school holidays when he was a kid, too. For this post, I shall reminisce on one particular childhood summer holiday.
During that year, the hottest rock band in Israel was Tislam. Vinyl was at its peak popularity, but for me the only affordable way of listening to what used to be my favourite band was to listen to the Israeli army radio. There, in his weekday program airing between 11:00 and 13:00, an anchor guy called Eli Israeli* would almost always play a Tislam song.
On the days he did it felt like winning the lottery. On days he didn’t it felt like I’ve just wasted two hours of my life. Two hours of precious, distilled, school holidays life. But that was my best bet at a slice of Tislam.



As I am typing this, I am listening to Tislam on my headphones, streaming through Spotify. Some of their songs still stand the test of time, others have aged very poorly, and with others I am made well aware of the fact I would have never paid them the slightest attention if it wasn’t for the nostalgia factor.
I will say this, though. All of those people that complain about online streaming while longing for their precious vinyl can go and stuff themselves up their you-know-what. You can keep your needles and scratches, if that’s what makes you feel good. Me, I am ecstatic about the fact that all the music I could ever want to listen to is but a simple search away.


* To Mr Israeli's credit I will add that, several years later, he acquainted me with a band called Guns N' Roses