- Last episode, I promised a return to Animal Crossing this week. I did manage to keep my word, but just barely. Upon opening the front door to my house, my character jumped in shock at the sight of… cockroaches. At least Nintendo made them sorta cute. You have to chase them down and when you step on one, a little ghost cockroach rises up from the ground I shit you not. It’s a little hard getting back in the swing of things on the island, but it was nice and I think I’ll continue.
- One of the bottles of bourbon I got last week is already on its last dregs. Has that joke been made before? It’s been about six years since his name came up on this blog, but Jussi came over for a chat and to suffer some untested drink combinations. There were no side effects or complaints, so we’ll have to try harder next time.
- In 2017, I attended my company’s annual training/alignment/social conference, held in Berlin that year, and posted a short video of the experience. It’s now obviously impossible to do these in person, so they attempted a virtual event over two days. It was better than I expected, helped by the fact that Zoom now supports setting up many parallel “breakout rooms”, with a menu that lets people choose which they want to join. Just like a real conference, we were forced to think hard about which talk or workshop to attend, and weigh popular, oversubscribed events against smaller ones with niche topics but more chance of meaningful interaction. But unlike the old days, you can now access recordings of every event and watch them on your own time afterwards.
- Does anyone remember the singer Katie Melua? One of her new songs popped up on a playlist and I struggled to place the name. Then I looked her up, and of course, she came out back when I was in university and would have been everywhere on TV and on the shelves at HMV (I spent a lot of time there). According to Wikipedia, she was the UK’s best-selling female artist in 2004–2005, and has a comet named after her. Just surprised me that I would completely forget her; I mean, I remember Peter Andre.
- The 2020 Apple Music Awards were also announced, and four out of five recognitions went to hip-hop artists (Taylor Swift won Songwriter of the Year). I gave the Album of the Year a try: Roddy Ricch’s “Please excuse me for being antisocial”, but am unlikely to ever play it again. A lot of contemporary, trappy, woozy American hip-hop just doesn’t do it for me.
- In contrast, I’ve been enjoying UK grime and drill, and discovered Dutchavelli’s Dutch from the 5th album on Apple Music’s great radio program, The Dotty Show.
- My App of the Week has been Guitar Girl (iOS) — It’s an idle clicker where you follow a high schooler who livestreams herself playing the guitar in her free time. You can imagine the rest. Tapping equals likes, and you can add followers who will auto-tap when you’re not around. As her presence grows, a bunch of relationship stories unfold behind the scenes through text messages.
- Time has felt a little broken this week, in that 11.11 feels like it happened long ago. In case you’re wondering, that’s Nov 11, or Singles Day, which is now an official shopping day in these parts after having been imported from China. We never really had a tradition of Black Friday sales, so this is it.
- I bought several bottles of bourbon and yet another pair of headphones: the Sony WH1000XM4s, which, in further evidence of a fault in time’s mechanics, launched back in August at the list price of S$550 and was now purchased by yours truly for just S$385. That’s a full 30% off for a brand new product; perhaps a year ahead of when it would have normally been discounted to such levels. The Sony brand just doesn’t hold value like it used to.
- I bought the Mark 1 model about four years ago, intrigued by its DSEE HX (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) feature which claimed to upsample compressed music and restore “near Hi-Res Audio levels of fidelity”. Great headphones, but the Mark 4 promises a more comfortable design, the best noise canceling tech on the market, and DSEE Extreme which now has AI magic dust all over it. Was it a necessary purchase? No… but I love a good bargain.
- The PS5 also launched this week, but I have no interest in replacing my PS4 Pro just yet. Apart from sentimental value (it was a farewell gift, bearing the signatures of my former colleagues), it’s small and discreet. The PS5 is decidedly not, and seems to be launching with no extraordinary games. Looking back, all my Microsoft and Sony console purchases only happened years into the cycle. Nintendo consoles, I buy the day they come out. I can’t say why.
- Oh yeah and Apple announced the first Macs with their own silicon this week, exceeding everyone’s expectations of what the M1 chip does for performance and battery life. It was an exciting event to watch, until I remembered that there’s no place in my life anymore for a personal Mac.
- Doesn’t this feel like it happened ages ago? How messed up was work this week for it to feel this way?
- In the early days of lockdown and working from home this year, I was hooked on Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I and many others joked about it being like a virtual vacation in lieu of being able to go anywhere. And I think the little controllable/knowable world, gentle soundtrack, and sense of community amongst everyone playing at the same time created to a sense of calm, routine, and positivity that got me through that period with little fatigue or stress. And then after about 200 hours or something, I put it aside and didn’t return even after the Summer and Fall and Halloween updates launched.
- Prompted by the fact that some friends have picked it up again, I think I could use a return to my island now. Hopefully there’ll be time for that this week. In other gaming news, I’ve graduated to that next level of Call of Duty Mobile addiction: buying a “Battle Pass” for USD$4.99. It’s completely unnecessary, but gives you cosmetic upgrades and more of a reason to play in the form of a ladder of rewards to unlock. Play enough, and you’ll earn enough currency to buy the next season’s Battle Pass without any real world money. It’s a trap? I’m bored? But I also want to understand the mobile gaming economy better?
As mentioned yesterday, I’ve been waiting for the arrival of my Backbone One controller. It was dispatched at the end of October but took ages to leave the USPS, probably because they had some important envelopes to deliver at the same time. It arrived last night after about 10 days, and I’ve gotta say, first impressions are good.
It’s a good size and feels very nice in the hands, with my only concern being that the er… spine of it cuts directly across the lowest of the camera lenses on my iPhone 12 Pro, and it looks like the lens rests against that bit of plastic. I doubt it’ll cause any damage; those lens covers are sapphire crystal, but it looks a little odd. I’m not sure that it will fit an iPhone 12 Pro Max, but their site claims that it will.
It beggars belief that I could kill 16 people in CoD Mobile without dying once, but that’s just what happened the first time I snapped this thing on. It’s also transformed GRID Autosport from a game that I bought once and regretted immediately into something that feels truly console-like, and I don’t mean a Nintendo Switch. The graphics and haptics on this thing are way ahead of any racing game I’ve seen on that system.
- I’m writing this bit in advance. We are still awaiting a definitive result from the US election and yes, full acknowledgment of the absurdity and the “how is this even happening” of it all. I just read an emotional Joe Biden story on Twitter and it killed me. Someone also posted this chat conversation with her mom, a Trump supporter, and it’s truly depressing how easy it now seems to bamboozle people until they’re out of touch with reality. Hopefully by the time I post this, some semblance of the right outcome would have materialized.
- Narrator: It has.
- Maybe I’m feeling so emotional about it because I’ve just had a 9% alcohol Strong Zero clone from our local 7-Eleven, imported from Japan no less. It might be the same as their house brand chuhai drinks over there, sold here for much more money given that our alcohol tax is so high. The promotion price was two cans for S$11.
- Check out this photo, taken with my iPhone 12 Pro. I didn’t have a black backdrop or any other kind of product photography apparatus. I discovered that you can simply do this with Portrait Mode and a kitchen countertop. Miraculous! The quality of the effect is much better than I recall it being before, so maybe this is something the new iPhones’ ISPs have enabled?
- I’m still waiting on my Backbone One, which has been in the US Postal Service’s care for nearly 10 days now, with no indication of whether it’s even left the US yet. I get it, they’ve been busy, but I really want to kick more butt in Call of Duty Mobile.
- For reasons unknown, I’ve been doing quite well in online CODM matches. My past experiences on console have been the same as any old guy’s: instant death at the hands of children. But for some reason I’m consistently ending games as the MVP and killing at a higher rate than others. Is it fake? Do they put you up against bots that look like real people? Or have I achieved some kind of middle-aged gamer renaissance?
- The Playstation store is having one of those sales again, and I managed to pick up Shadow of the Tomb Raider — Definitive Edition for just S$20. It’s the third installment of the reboot trilogy, and I’ve been waiting for it to go on sale for ages. I think it first came out as an Xbox exclusive and didn’t come to PS4 until a year had passed. Alas, my plans to play it over the weekend failed.
- Instead, I found a little time to speed through the endgame of Ghost of Tsushima, just to get the end of the story. A really pretty game, but I think I’m mostly tired of open-world action games. In terms of time over value extracted, I’d rather play a linear beat-em-up if the combat is going to be the main point of it. The rest of it is just getting from A to B, and exploration never felt that rewarding. An open-world game should let you feel like you live in it, and just chill or do nothing but in a meaningful way? Maybe that’s why Breath of the Wild felt so different and resonated with many people; just living and surviving in the outdoors was a complete game unto itself, separate from the narrative.
- We watched Netflix’s popular new series The Queen’s Gambit over the weekend. I don’t like horror films so I missed her in The VVitch, but from the first moment I saw Anya Taylor-Joy’s wide-set eyes in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, I’ve been wondering how everyone could just play it so cool while such a face exists in nature. I don’t know that the show could work with another actress; all its scenes of intense concentration and psychological battle hinge on her staring directly into the camera/your soul.
- This is the 14th consecutive week of doing this “new” regular blog update rhythm. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to keep going, although it’s getting harder to think of things worth mentioning since so much of what happens is now a thematic repeat. But I’ve decided to give myself a break. So what if I do the same things? So what if I’m negative? So what if this bores you/me/anyone? At least I’m still here.
- I tend to mention Apple Music a lot in these posts, and this week I noticed that my “New Music For You” playlist hasn’t updated in several weeks. It’s supposed to refresh every Friday, based on your listening habits. All the other algorithmic personalized playlists are fine. I guess as long as they find new ways to break things, I’ll mention them. Do I want to get on another hour-long support call to complain about this? Not really. I might spend more time with the music I’ve already discovered instead.
- One of my favorite songs of last year was Charli XCX’s White Mercedes, and it popped back in my head this week and stayed for days. I was even motivated to go on YouTube and look for interesting covers — there was just one: a rough take by Alec Primavera that shows what a strong ballad it is. I kinda want Ryan Adams to come out of exile and cover it.
- While we’re on YouTube, the Auralnauts team is still obsessed with making Star Wars videos, and this new one is pretty clever: it uses footage from the prequels and their spot-on overdubs to realize a story about Anakin and Obi-Wan on a weekend-long clubbing bender. Turning a giant Jedi battle scene into a glowstick rave is just inspired. Weekend at Obi’s.
- I watched the US presidential debates like everyone else, and all that noisy talking over each other just gave me anxiety like Uncut Gems. I then went on Twitter and saw other people making the same reference. Did Uncut Gems come out in 2020? I’m lost in time.
- I’ll come back to Apple for a second: it’s weird that no Western media seems to have gotten the new iPad Air for a hands-on demo; at least, I can’t find anything on YouTube. But a quick search shows that quite a few Chinese media/bloggers were invited to handle and shoot footage with the new devices, in what looks like an Apple Store. My guess is that the out-of-hand COVID situation in the US is preventing similar events, and they can’t mail the iPads to journalists until the products are ready to come out (lest the A14 chip be officially benchmarked before the iPhone 12 event). China being relatively safe at the moment has given them the First Look video advantage.
- I’ve been playing the new mobile game from the Chinese developer miHoYo (their tagline: Tech otakus save the world), previously known for the impressive looking but not-my-cup-of-tea anime action game, Honkai Impact. This new one is an open-world RPG called Genshin Impact, and it liberally borrows all the good bits of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, while leaving out all the annoying parts like weapons that break after you use them too much. It’s a breakthrough in free-to-play game design, art direction, and mobile game engineering. Most F2P RPGs are absolutely awful and quite transparent about the fact that they’re not about fun or gameplay mechanics, just completionist character collecting gacha loops that whales get hooked onto. You can actually play Genshin Impact without thinking much about paying for anything, and there are no ads — those inclined to pay for rare items and characters can do that, but it’s not pushed in your face, nor does it seem necessary (at least several hours in, where I am).
- A late discovery: Okinawan brown sugar, or kokuto. I’m drinking an old fashioned right now that I threw together with vanilla bitters, Gentleman Jack, and a dash of dark syrup made with this complex, earthy, salty sweet stuff. I found a good article on the “Art of Eating” site, if sugar as a fancy healthy food sounds like your kinda thing.
- After watching S2E6 of Midnight Diner (the original series), I had the sudden urge to make a pot of Japanese cream stew, so that’s what we did for Sunday’s dinner. If you could go into a restaurant here and find that, I probably wouldn’t have; it’s one of those things you just have to do for yourself.
It was with some dismay that I read Apple Arcade is looking to change up their curatorial strategy, and cancelled some games in the process. Hopefully the affected developers will be able to fund and continue their projects via Kickstarter or something.
What made the service so refreshing at the start was its dedication to art and quality, stickiness and engagement metrics be damned. You paid a subscription fee, and got access to a peaceful library of games that didn’t try to milk wallet-attached endorphins out of your brain. We got delightful little experiences like Assemble with Care and WHAT THE GOLF?, and I stuck around on the promise that we’d get a steady stream of those. Well, it seems that train has stopped because somebody upstairs wants more addictive games that will keep people subscribed past the free trial.
One example of what Apple wants, according to Bloomberg, is Grindstone. I personally love it; a fun pick-up-and-play puzzler, and an evergreen game you could easily be playing years from now. But not every game needs to be a Grindstone, and there’s only room for one or two Grindstones in my life at any time. These are games you use to soak up free time, go-to icons for when a moment appears while in line for something, or on the bus. There are plenty of them already on the App Store, so Apple Arcade should supply a breadth of other experiences.
I see the potential of Apple Arcade as analogous to the Apple TV+ strategy : quality over quantity, unique visions only. A change of course so soon comes across as a lack of courage. It’s a long game, so to speak. If people aren’t staying past the trial, maybe they’re not reaching enough of the right people who’ll be their early adopters. Even Airpods didn’t take off immediately.