Week 45.21

  • On Monday we had the day off, so it was off to IKEA for some shopping (reasonably crowded for a weekday) and then the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands (not very crowded) to check out two exhibitions. One was kinda video gamey, curated by Tetsuya Mizuguchi of Lumines and Rez fame, and the other was about Sound: artworks visualizing it, historical inventions, and novel ways of experiencing it.
  • The most powerful bit was probably at the end of the above mentioned Orchestral Maneuvers attraction. 40 loudspeakers, each one playing a discrete recording of a single vocalist, working together to literally surround you with a choral musical work. You know what stereo separation sounds like, and even what spatial audio with Dolby Atmos sounds like, but this was on another level for recorded sound. You could walk around and change the mix, as it were.
  • Thursday was another day off, with the Diwali/Deepavali public holiday here. We didn’t do anything of note apart from going out to eat way too much Chinese hotpot. I still think of our visit to Taiwan just before Covid-19 hit, and how we ate at this Wulao hotpot restaurant multiple times. If there was stomach space left at the end of a night after cocktails, Wulao. No plans for lunch the day after, Wulao. I’d previously never gotten into that sort of food before, so it was making up a lifetime of ignoring hot tofu skin, coagulated duck blood, and other things that don’t sound so nice when typed out.
  • We saw the new Apple TV+ movie, Finch, starring Tom Hanks. Two of the biggest films on the service star the same guy, which is slightly odd. Anyway, I enjoyed it just fine. They also did good work on the CGI because I often forgot that a certain element wasn’t actually there in real life. 3.5 stars.
  • Someone mentioned a mutual acquaintance had gotten a job at Facebook, and a quick look on LinkedIn indicated that they are hiring aggressively for the local office, which led to a discussion (okay maybe more of a rant on my part) about people who make the Faustian bargain of working there. Then I came across this piece in The Atlantic saying perhaps it’s time we regard the company as a hostile foreign power rather than just a corporation. Still, calls like these have been made for years, and I think the simple fact is that Facebook has reached a state of untouchability. Money breaks down enough resistance to ensure that they’ll always be able to hire; hell, we all have a price. I see little hope of them being dismantled by either customer outrage or legal process. We can only hope for an unforced error. May the Meta era push for ecosystem ownership be full of them.
  • Radiohead’s newly rereleased KID A MNESIA albums have been on rotation. It was an amazing period for their music, although I’d still have to give the crown to OK Computer. I remember having a copy of Amnesiac that came in a little red hardcover art book. I wonder where that went.

Week 39.21

  • For the first time since it stopped being necessary to line up for hours outside a telco HQ or Apple Store to get one, New iPhone Day (Sep 24) came and went without a DHL employee appearing at my doorstep. Dear reader, I was late to the finish line this year and my unit only arrives in early October. I begin each day by wondering if I should do the right thing and cancel it. We know I won’t.
  • Adding weight to that argument is the fact that the iPhone 13 Pro has a camera bump so comically large that it interferes with accessories such as Apple’s own MagSafe Duo Charger, and my beloved Backbone One game controller. For the latter, the company has quickly designed a spacer/adapter, which customers can fabricate on their own. I’m hoping to be able to buy one since I don’t have access to a 3D printer. Even without accessories, the bump is enough to cause substantial see-sawing when the phone (with or without a case) is placed on a table and the corners are tapped. I know because my wife has her iPhone 13 Pro already and this power imbalance does not feel comfy.
  • I neglected to mention in a previous week’s post that we did get around to seeing The Matrix Revolutions, and it was just as disappointing as I’d recalled. My disappointment at the time was so strong that it effectively wiped all details from my memory (while I vividly remembered the first two). I think it can be blamed on an overall lack of fun, visual craft, and other core ingredients that made the first movies so loved: well-choreographed wire-fu, novel special effects, a mystery that we are made to care about seeing solved, and big action set pieces where incredible, iconic things happen — a bunch of flying tentacled robots drilling into an underground city doesn’t count.
  • I came across this still image from the film that looked like something right out of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and decided to google the two franchises together to see if there were any links. That’s when I found this cool “trailer” that someone made for Evangelion 3.0+1.0 (warning: lots of spoilery scenes used) cut to the music from the The Matrix Resurrections’ trailer. Damn, the new EVA looks so epic.

  • Unfortunately, this week’s viewing time was effectively squandered by the mysterious decision in our household to watch Love Island Australia, which is absolutely stupid and 30 episodes long. I think we’re into the final third now but I’ve long stopped paying it most of my attention, and use the time to rack up progress in the Temple Run match-3 game from Apple Arcade. Why melt your brain in only one way at a time?
  • We did see the first two episodes of the Foundation series on Apple TV+ though, and it looks very promising albeit still clearly a television thing. I can’t stop thinking about some of the gobsmackingly beautiful/chilling frames in the Dune film we saw last week, and I wish someone would make a TV show that strives to that level of abstraction and perfection.
  • I finished two books: Unity by Elly Bangs, and The Test by Sylvain Neuvel. Both are worth reading. Unity is a better dystopian SF adventure novel than Firebreak which I read recently — the comparison comes to mind because both contain a program to turn orphans into super soldiers — and blends some fun concepts like hive minds and body snatching, with a dash of Ted Chiang’s short story Understand. Meanwhile The Test is a very short novella you could read on a Sunday morning, and the less it’s described, the better.
  • I’m still a habitual Goodreads user, but signed up to check out its sexy new competitor, Literal.Club. It’s already a faster and nicer experience, but since it’s still in invite-only mode, lacks the friends and years of book review data that will keep Goodreads around as long as Amazon wills it. Add me at @sangsara if you’re on!
  • Oh, and thanks to the announcement of a new Kirby game coming next year on the Switch, I chanced upon the depths of the series’ dark and complex lore. At first, it seemed like a hoax: what, this cute and cuddly Nintendo thing for kids is actually a horrific end-of-times apocalyptic tale with gene splicing and satanic worship and the death of countless civilizations, except the protagonist is so innocent and pure that everything rendered through his eyes looks like how the games end up looking to us? That’s sort of the gist, and there are a bunch of explainer videos on YouTube. I won’t recommend the ones I’ve seen, as they’re kinda incomplete, but here’s a popular one I intend to watch soon.

  • Covid cases here have gone kinda nuclear, from a couple hundred a day just weeks ago to nearly two thousand cases yesterday. So we’re back to two-person groups (you can still eat out in a pair if you want; life’s not completely shut down) for the next month, and more working from home for those who still have jobs. Stay safe out there.

Week 25.21: Spacing out

  • I noticed once again that my AirPods Max battery was draining faster than normal while not in use. Coupled with intermittent stuttering/connections issues, I decided to call it a hardware fault and contact Apple support for a replacement. One came via courier within two days and I am now listening problem free.
  • After several months of distracted 10-minute reading sessions, I finally finished Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age in one concerted go. I read Snow Crash in 2019, Cryptonomicon in 2020, and this makes three. I’d really like to just chain them and keep going but/because the density and brilliance of ideas in his work is staggering. If the stuff he was writing 15 years ago is just beginning to look like our future at present, I can’t imagine what he’s thinking about today. I could read one of his newer books and find out, but first, a break.
  • I decided to pick up Andy Weir’s new book, Project Hail Mary, after seeing some positive reviews, and it’s a return to the formula of a science-based, plausible, AND interesting life-threatening problem solved in the first person that worked so well in The Martian. I barely enjoyed his last book, Artemis, but I’m halfway through this now and can’t put it down. It’s about another guy in space, slightly adrift, needing to ‘science the shit out’ of a crisis.
  • I finished the Eizouken anime series on Netflix and can recommend it although it’s not so bingeable. It works well as an episode or two a week. What’s it about? A trio of high schoolers learning to produce anime. I thought it would be like Shirobako, but that one’s set in the real world of running a business, whereas this one is not grounded in reality and just works as a deconstruction cum demonstration of animation and filmmaking techniques you may not normally notice. It must have been so gratifying to work on this as an animation artist; it literally screams ‘appreciate me!’
  • Videogames: Played a bit more Persona 5 Strikers but am not really feeling it. It’s an example of the game getting in the way of the story. As a beat-em-up, it’s just not much fun especially after coming from Yakuza and Judgment. Started and finished Coffee Talk which is an indie game where you act as barista to a cast of cafe regulars and see their stories and relationships unfold. That’s it, you just make coffee and click through dialogue. A nice little afternoon killer. Went back to the Doom reboot on PS4 for a bit of mindless FPS action. That one’s an example of story getting in the way of the game.
  • Speaking of backstory in games, Mythic Quest’s second season is coming to an end on Apple TV+, and it’s a half-hour sitcom I’ve really enjoyed as a person who hates half-hour sitcoms. Both seasons play with a single flashback/world-building episode in the middle, which sounds like a bloody annoyance but the resulting achievement is art.
  • I also finished watching The Falcon and the Winter Soldier which looks like a lot of tight movie money but plays out like a lump of TV fat. It’s often corny and disrespectful of the viewer’s time. But it does raise the bar for action sequences and production design. I haven’t seen Loki yet, but if it doesn’t deliver then I may just burn through the rest of The Mandalorian in fast forward and cancel our Disney+ subscription.

Meta-sabbatical observation: This was the first week where I’ve felt the days start to blend together. When we went to meet some friends on Saturday evening and someone said they’d come from somewhere other than the office, I asked, “oh did you have the day off?” thinking it was Friday. That wasn’t the first time I’d lost track of time. Perhaps I need more milestones and structure for the weekdays. I’ve started a to-do list of things to get done or try out.

Week 22.21: The metagame is tying up loose ends that are other games

  • It was a good week in playing video games. I finished a bunch I’ve had in various states of completion, some for years. A much neater base (mentally) from which to start attacking the backlog of unplaced games in the weeks to come.
  • First up was Yakuza Kiwami (2016), a remake of the first Yakuza game on PS2, built ground-up in the same engine as Yakuza 0 (2015). I started this over a year ago, which sounds like a long time but when it comes to video games my memory just… saves them, and I was able to get right back into the story. Finishing this has put Yakuza 0 much lower in my queue… it’s just not as polished as Yakuza 6, whose Dragon Engine powers Yakuza Kiwami 2 and Judgment.
  • After finishing Kiwami, I immediately bought Yakuza Kiwami 2 on sale to be played later on. Since I got Judgment a few weeks ago, I decided to get right into it, and found that it’s hilariously a straight-up redeployment of all the Yakuza series’ assets into a “new” game by the same team. It’s set in the same part of Shinjuku, and all the shops and items are exactly the same. It feels great to be able to navigate by feel, and know the space. But yeah it looks tons better than it did in Kiwami 1.
  • The second game to be finished was The World Ends With You (TWEWY) which I mentioned awhile back. I’m now all set for the sequel in July. After that, I blazed through Shadow of the Tomb Raider which I bought last November in anticipation of having time to play around Christmas. I only got halfway through, and it was nice to finally put a pin in this reboot trilogy. IMO, the first game was great. I liked the isolated survival vibes of Lara being lost on a single island, outsmarting her captors. The next two games went for globetrotting and doubled down on supernatural elements. Impressive to play and look at, but not as “fun”.
  • On the Switch, I’ve returned to Persona 5 Strikers which was put aside two hours after being bought and started back in February. Also very satisfying, because I really hate the feeling of having stuff half done and lying all about.
  • Went out twice this week for evening walks. The second time was also to go somewhere and use up excess fuel in our car before sending it off to be scrapped this weekend. It’s reached the end of its legally usable lifespan, and so we’re required to turn it over. Instead of immediately going on the (used) market for another vehicle, we’re going to try and see how long we can do without one and use public transport instead. Our needs have changed now, and it’s also saving a lot of money.
  • I watched Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead on Netflix, which I was led to believe would be the worst film of all time. Thanks perhaps to lowered expectations, plus my recent enduring of his 4-hour Justice League cut, it turned out to be a fine and gory use of time.
  • We continued watching season 1 of Servant on Apple TV+, which I expected would be mostly horror. Instead it’s only a little creepy and occasionally funny, with lots of effective mystery/question dangling to keep you trying to find out what the hell is going on. I stayed an M. Night Shyamalan fan even through those years his stock was falling, so I may be biased.
  • Speaking of holding things as they fall: the markets these few weeks, eh?
  • In COVID news, the cases have “stabilized”, which is a way of saying we’re still getting 20+ cases a day in the community but that number isn’t growing. The Prime Minister is set to address the nation live on Monday afternoon (tomorrow), so let’s see what that’s about.
  • Elsewhere, it’s looking a little bleaker. Cases are rising in some countries, Vietnam has discovered a new variant that is more transmissible, and I just read that the vaccines are less effective on women than on men. My wife is planning a visit to the UK soon for familial reasons, which is probably unwise today and hopefully does not become unwiser still.

Week 41.20

  • Some weeks don’t feel like very much at all, even if they kept you busy at time. Taking stock on a Sunday and realizing this is a bit like how your brain sorts experiences into Keep/Forget piles while you sleep, I think. Many things happened, few of them really mattered. Forward, onward.
  • I’ve now twice experienced cocktail bars that are taking reservations and then telling you you’ve got between 90–120 mins before they turn your table over to the next group. This is definitely new to pandemic times and odd to me. If you’re sitting down at 8pm with some friends, you’re just getting started at 90 mins, and very likely to spend a lot more in the 90 minutes after that.
  • I think it’s related to the current regulation that says they have to stop serving alcohol at 10:30pm. I thought restaurants had to stop serving in general, so we can all go home and drive the chances of spreading infections down just that little bit more, but no! They can keep on serving you food and dessert into the night; it’s just alcohol that has to stop at 10:30pm. Don’t get it. On the other hand, there’s a business opportunity here to just run very nice pop-up mocktail bars that feel like proper nice bars to have a chat, for people who are already well buzzed and ahead by the time 10:30 comes about.
  • I just bought Cocktail Party, an iPhone cocktail recipe app that hooked me by having a generous attitude. I was searching for some info and came across their website, which has all the recipes out there in the open. If you want the convenience of an app, and the ability to enter what ingredients you have so they can tell you what drinks you might make next, you drop $4 USD. I did it without a second thought, which I RARELY do. I just really liked their business model and approach.
  • I think this may be related to a certain emotional state I’m in after having watched all 10 episodes in the first season of Ted Lasso (Apple TV+). Everything about this show repelled me when I scrolled by it in the catalog: the fact that it’s an American comedy sitcom, that it involves football (soccer), the name that says nothing, his mustache, the promise of being a feel-good something. But @hondanhon rated it on Twitter a few days ago, calling it “a hundred thousand dollars of therapy that every person needs” and “a striking show for our time”. Now after bingeing the whole thing in a night and a morning, I concur. They’ve succeeded in crafting an uplifting show that doesn’t make you want to gag, around a positive hero who tries harder than anyone possibly could — but inspiringly so.
  • I must mention the release of Gimme Some Truth, a new compilation of John Lennon’s “greatest hits” on the occasion of his 80th birthday. I spent the weekend playing it any time music was desired, and they simultaneously don’t make them like this anymore and didn’t back then either. The whole affair has been completely remixed and remastered from the original tapes, on all-analog equipment to boot. It sounds impeccable: so much cleaner than the recordings we already had, and some people will have the pleasure of playing Blu-Ray audio discs with Dolby Atmos. I don’t know why Apple Music doesn’t provide surround mixes of select albums that work with the new spatial audio feature of the AirPods Pro. Anyway, read about the album (JohnLennon.com) and give it a listen (Apple Music).

Mobile or Console, the Name of the Game is the Same

Playing Oceanhorn on the new Apple TV, with a Bluetooth game controller like the SteelSeries Nimbus, feels distinctly like a traditional console gaming experience. It’s been compared to a modern Zelda title, and if you’re in the mood to explore, its large world lends itself to leaning back on the couch for a good hour or more.

What’s interesting is that you can pick up your iPhone later and continue your savegame synced over iCloud, at which point its modified-for-touch controls and mini quest structure actually turn it into a modern mobile gaming experience.

What might be undersold by a simple bullet point — “Cloud Saves” — is really significant: one game that can be played in very different contexts, made possible by having the same OS in your pocket and living room (and car, one day). It’s probably the future of gaming.

Much like how we now commonly design for the web, going mobile-first in gaming makes sense for companies looking to the players to come. That means not making the mobile bit just a simplified companion app with minigames connecting back to the “proper” console version. The level of control complexity and engagement can and should scale to the device, all within the same game.

Geometry Wars 3

Many of the guidelines for apps on the new Apple TV force developers to adapt the experience to the available controller. Geometry Wars goes from a dual-analog stick shooter on a regular gamepad to an auto-shooter when on Siri Remote, where the player only has to steer. You get what fits, but never less than the whole story.

The experience of seamlessly jumping from a phone to a 60” TV reminds me of how it felt to play the first iPhone games. I remember Crash Bandicoot, in particular, as a sign of things to come. You could get games like it on the Nintendo DS, but they weren’t downloaded over Wi-Fi in seconds, for mere dollars, or paid for electronically. It made the portable gaming systems of 2008 feel dated. And as Apple added more power, multitasking, social features, and cloud saves to iOS, the iPhone overtook them completely.

Games on the new Apple TV have more than a whiff of that to them. Even if the platform doesn’t come to dominate gaming a decade from now, I believe the winner will work and feel like it.

In a sea of diminished companies out-innovated from changes they didn’t see coming, it’s gratifying to think that Nintendo may have played their cards right with the upcoming NX. It’s rumored to be a home console with a detachable mobile device, playing games that also work with smartphones and networks from its rivals. God knows how they’ll do it, but that describes the right shape to survive: experiences designed to shift context, open to different forms of interaction (hey, even VR), ready to fill varied slices of time, long or short, in a busy user’s day.