Category Archives: Observations

Notes, finds, or otherwise identified.

About The Mike Daisey Thing

I have not seen Mike Daisey’s show, nor have I listened to the This American Life episode that featured him before it was retracted. But even without having directly heard the monologue, it’s been impossible to avoid in the drumbeat about Apple over the last quarter.

The coverage following the retraction has been fascinating. Clayton Lord’s apology to audiences shows the conflict in the theatre community over what Daisey hath wrought. Brendan Kiley said “I told you so“, pointing back to his review. Adrian Chen explained how the press was taken for a ride.

But it is perhaps John Gruber’s breakdown of the non-apology this afternoon that nails why lying in the service of a greater truth doesn’t work in this case:

Daisey told an entirely different story. Daisey’s story was this: Not only did those things happen, but they are all ongoing problems, right now, today, and they are so rampant, so commonplace, that a big white American wearing a Hawaiian shirt — a man who’s never before been to China and speaks neither Mandarin nor Cantonese — can simply travel to Shenzhen China and stand outside the Foxconn gates with a translator for a few shifts and he will find workers as young as 12, 13, 14 walking out. Any day, every day. That in the course of a single six-day trip, that same man could encounter a man who lost the use of a hand while assembling iPads, a group of workers poisoned by n-hexane, and that a man would drop dead after working a 34-hour shift. Just another week at Foxconn. That was Mike Daisey’s story — and it bears no resemblance to anything anyone else has reported.

Games of 2011: Saints Row The Third

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2011 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. Instead of my usual end-of-year game recommendations, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games 2011 posts.

Saints Row 2 was one of my favorite sleeper hits of 2008 – an energetic blast of a sandbox game. When I first caught wind that a sequel would be emerging this year, I celebrated quietly, knowing that I would be raising hell again soon. When the game appeared on Steam, I preordered it without hesitation, even though that is taboo among those who believe in finding the best deal or waiting until there’s a pre-order incentive. When the game came out, I pulled it open, crafted a blue-haired asian business woman with a male cockney voice, and began tearing through the game without hesitation.

Twenty hours of play over a week later, I found myself on the other side:

All missions completed. All activities completed. All neighborhoods taken over. All 80 collectables found. Maximum respect level. It was the first game I could recall 100%ing in years, and the first crime sandbox game I ever believe I have completed to that degree.

Yet, I felt unsatisfied, even a little empty. Why? (And no, it wasn’t the endless levels of violence.) I think it comes down to three things that worked against the game.

The first is that the land of Steelport doesn’t become a character the way Stillwater did. This isn’t to say there aren’t pedestrians everywhere waiting for your abuse, but more that the neighborhoods of town feels less distinct than they did in the previous game. So much of the town feels run down, you don’t get a sense of location. For most of the islands of the game, I didn’t get a sense for which gang was where until I started scouring the map during my quest to complete every last thing.

It’s not just the decor, though. SR3 feature the ability to buy stores or properties, which help generates a revenue which goes directly into your pocket. (This isn’t a new concept, but I appreciated that SR3 didn’t force you back into your hideout to collect – it’s just a button on the game’s cellphone menu.) But the locations you could buy were underwhelming. There’s functional stores – weapon stores and car modification garages. There’s decorative stores – plastic surgery to change your appearance, tattoo parlors for ink, and about five different clothing store chains to play dress-up with. But that is shockingly it when it comes to interactive locations – no restaurants, no music stores, no arcades full of mini-games. And the “properties” you can buy aren’t interactive, save for a small handful of cribs. They sit on the map, reminding you that they’re there but providing you no function.

Without that ephemera to connect you to a city, a sandbox can become just a place where carnage happens, rather than a city you want to take over.

The second issue is that THQ made a point of pre-announcing that the game will have a tremendous amount of downloadable content. Now, don’t get me wrong – I am a fan of DLC. I appreciate that games can be enhanced and continue to provide gameplay long after release. But pre-announcing it – and selling it at a discount if you buy it all early – triggers the thought that there could have been more in the core game. There have been whispers that THQ is putting so much effort into this Saints Row release because if it tanks, there’s a strong chance they may go bankrupt. So it’s doubly sad that it has come to this – damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

The final issue I had is that when you sell a game on a campaign of insanity, the game better be insane. There’s a risk versus reward as you edge your ad campaigns out farther, and I feel like there are some areas of the game that are actually playing it safe.

Take for example, the in-game concept of Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax. The base concept seemed ripe enough: there’s some guy in an odd cat-suit and he has some sort of bizarre, deadly game show. But then, the game’s marketing team hired much beloved comedians Tim & Eric to produce a 12 minute episode of PGSERC, and it gave us a glimpse of truly insane possibilities:

When I first saw a Genki icon appear on my map, I raced to it, ready to have my mind blown. But what I got inside was a pretty standard arena setting. I had to shoot mascots, avoid fire traps, and occasionally shoot signs that popped up to get bonuses. There was some amusing commentary, but I strolled calmly through the level picking off people shooting at me. I waited for something bizarre to happen, but instead I entered a room full of prizes, the audience shouted something, and I got the ACTIVITY COMPLETE screen. For something that could have been completely insane, it felt surprisingly safe, and not dissimilar from Sega’s The Club from a few years back. (Some of the pre-announced DLC deals with Professor Genki, so perhaps the insanity is forthcoming.)

None of this is to say that Saints Row: The Third is a bad game. It’s quite good. I had fun playing it, I enjoyed many of the jokes, and it was a tremendous way to blow off steam. I will probably jump back into it as my friends pick it up and want to co-op through the storyline.

But for a game that could’ve easily blown me away and become an instant classic, I feel only slightly blasted.

Saints Row: The Third is available for PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.

3,653 Days Later

Ten years ago, I couldn’t find any words. I’ve found a few for today.

Here’s what I remember of that day during my senior year of college: I remember our house being firmly wrapped up in the third day of party drama fallout, which quickly fell to the side. I remember waking up to ten breaking news alerts from CNN in my inbox and only being able to think “This isn’t good”. I remember ringing the doorbell to the house repeatedly after I had turned on the news in an attempt to wake everyone up. And I remember contact the Freeverse office to make sure everyone was okay.

The timing of the day – not long after I had turned 21, not long before I would graduate and get married – makes it a pretty natural chapter break between college and adulthood.

I suppose the thing that strikes me now is that I’ve had the chance to spent eight years in the city that was born out of that tragedy. It’s hard for me to fathom the ways that the city has changed before and after September 11th. I will only ever know the after, as will many of my friends who moved here long after the towers fell. This doesn’t bother me – it’s not some sort of badge or achievement I long for.

This New York is where I found myself, made my career, built up an incredible circle of friends and peers, and launched adventures I couldn’t have dreamed of while I was toiling away in college.

This New York is *my* New York. And I love it completely.

From The Heart Of The Village

So, About That Portland/RBNY Tilt

Out of the twenty MLS matches I have attended to date, that was by far the most interesting. It is also the first time I have stood with the Empire Supporters Club for the game, which involved 90 minutes of chanting, standing, and clapping.

Inside: thoughts about the officiating, the experience at JELD-WEN Field, and the inevitable hilarity that came from staying in the same hotel as the team.

Continue reading So, About That Portland/RBNY Tilt

Some Quick WWDC 2011 Keynote Thoughts

As you may have gathered, I’m not at WWDC this year – the recent job change made the timing difficult, as I’m still trying to get through the first 90 days. Not only that, this was the first year in quite a while where I made no effort to follow the keynote as it happened – if only because it again fell on my birthday, and I had more important things to obsess over.

But, as the sort of typical post that comes out of me around this time of year, here are my fractured impressions of what Apple laid out at the keynote.

# OS X Lion

The most fascinating part of Lion for me is the new licensing model, which does a pretty good job at derailing what has been standard practice since the dawn of the PC. Most OSes are licensed on the basis of a single computer; Lion appears to be licensed per person. On the full feature list, Apple writes:

When you purchase Lion from the Mac App Store, you can install it on all your authorized Mac computers. Just sign in to the Mac App Store from each Mac and download Lion from the Purchases list.

This is great for consumers – given the five computer authorization limit, you are now potentially paying $6 a machine for a full OS upgrade. That’s pretty huge.

Of course, for IT organizations or anyone that has to worry about corporate licensing, this is a giant unknown at the moment – and there’s nothing IT fears more than the unknown. Details will undoubtedly appear soon, but for now this is a giant question mark.

The cost worth observing on its own, both for the client version ($30) and the server version ($50). OS X sales were always a big revenue generator for Apple, so I’m not sure what the driver is in bring the cost down this much (typical OS X point upgrades are $130; OS X server previously retailed for $499 or $999 depending on the user count.)

As for the rest of the bullet points in Lion itself – it seems like a pretty thoughtful upgrade across the board, perhaps lacking any particularly sexy features for the power users. I’m personally most looking forward to the auto saving, versioning, and the resume on restart (seeing as I frequently bounce between Windows and OS X for gaming).

# iOS 5

“Fall” is a very nebulous release date, but since most major iOS releases have gone through about 3 months of developer testing (usually April-June), my expectation is a September-ish release for this, hopefully with accompanying new hardware. (My 3GS is long in the tooth.)

Like Lion, I’m not feeling anything groundbreaking here, but there are features that knock out pain points for me. The notifications tray will end the parade of modal popups that make me dread Foursquare. WiFi Sync will allow me to set up a charging station that isn’t in the middle of my desk. Tabbed browsing on the iPad is welcome, as is iMessage as a way to cut down on SMS fees. And having just played around with a recent Apple TV at my parents’ house two weekends ago, AirPlay is a point of interest for me.

I think the Twitter integration is an odd piece, given Twitter’s recent spats with third party client developers – but we’ll see what it turns into and enables developers for.

# iCloud

A little over a year ago, I wrote off MobileMe:

if you’re going to provide core internet services, consider the price differential between you and your strongest competitor. If it’s a little, you only need to be a little better…$100 a year for what feels like a worse product than what’s available for free? Your business model is screwed. Start over, do better.

With that in mind, iCloud leaves me in a state that I can only describe as *meh*.

Undoubtedly Apple has nailed the price point – the majority of the service is free, and the things that do cost extra, like iTunes Match, appear reasonable in cost (without full details). MobileMe users, especially those that just renewed, may be taking a hit but I’m guessing they won’t complain about free going forward.

But the “service” itself is an amalgamation, just like most every version of MobileMe was. The iTunes version of iCloud is that you can redownload your music now, and auto-push it to your devices. That’s neat, but that’s not any particular cloud implementation for the redownloads – that’s just a licensing renegotiation that Apple finally got around to. The app re-downloads piece is even less than that – it’s just an extra screen within the App Store that they turned on as the keynote was ending.

Photo Stream seems suspiciously like the way my Sidekick used to automatically float photos up to T-Mobile’s servers. iCloud Mail is just rebranded MobileMe Mail. And so on. What’s missing is something that, like a good rug, ties the whole thing together. Maybe there are some great overlaps between the services, ones that will become more obvious as the thing grows closer to production. But from here, it just looks like nine services that happen to all be branded together – and that doesn’t strike me as very “Apple”.