Sekani's articles
A Test Drive with CyanogenMod
Jan 19th 2014
A while ago, I decided that I wanted to do a little more with my gracefully aging Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone. I had read much about CyanogenMod, the custom ROM for Android phones, since it claimed to improve the user experience by removing the restrictions and crapware imposed by carriers and manufacturers. Unfortunately, I never had the time to delve hardcore into how to install it. Reading XDA forums about fastboots and recoveries seemed head-spinningly complex. Even rooting my phone ended up with only a few exasperating attempts and no success. So, when I heard about the new CyanogenMod installer that promised to greatly simplify the process, I was more than intrigued.
Despite how simple the process ended up being, it took me months from downloading the installer to actually performing the installation. The whole "reset your phone back to factory settings" thing can give a guy pause when he's extremely reliant on his phone for work. So, I waited until I had some free time to actually go through the process of re-installing all my apps before I went through with it. I also backed up all of my important pictures and a few app settings to my SD card. Thankfully Google automatically backs up my contacts info to the cloud, so I didn't have to worry much about that. Finally, since I have my Google account set up for two-step authentication, I realized that I probably wouldn't be able to sign in again with the Google Authenticator on my phone being rendered useless. Thankfully you can print out a set of backup codes to use for just this kind of occasion, which is what I did. Alright, ready to start from scratch, let's do this.
The CyanogenMod installer comes in two parts, one for your phone and one for a connected PC. The install page is pretty clear on how to install them both and prepare your phone for the installation process. Sideload the app on the phone, download the other thing on your computer, connect your phone to your computer via USB cable, and let it do the rest.
Booth Babes for a Monthly Fee
Jan 11th 2014
A confluence of events over the past few days has had me re-evaluating what I spend my entertainment dollars on when it comes to monthly subscriptions. Up until a couple of days ago, I was subscribed to Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Google Play All-Access, Crunchyroll, and Gamefly. The announcement of the new WWE Network launching next month as well as the expiration of my SiriusXM trial have increased the demand on the limited dollars I care to spend on monthly subscription services. Time to see what can stay and what can go.
Amazon Prime has provided far more value than the $79 a year it costs between free two-day shipping, a decent streaming catalog, and free Kindle stuff, so that stays. Netflix is basically a requirement for any civilized member of the internet age at this point, so it stays too. Despite the ever-shrinking catalog as more and more studios decide that they want to start their own streaming services, it's still the best place to find back catalogs of a lot of popular TV series. Pretty much everything worth watching with the exception of maybe Game of Thrones can still be found on Netflix. Also, it's available on just about everything with an ethernet port or wi-fi adapter these days.
Hulu Plus was something I kept around for two reasons. The first was WWE programming, like NXT, that wasn't available elsewhere. The second was their anime collection. In the case of the WWE stuff, the new network will replace that. As for anime... I'm sort of becoming more and more uninterested in that form of entertainment. The entire industry is in a state of deja vu, where just about everything has been seen before. I'm dropping Crunchyroll for the same reason, though seems to have a similar library in case something really catches my eye. On top of all of that, it should be a criminal offense that even after paying eight bucks a month, Hulu has the nerve to bombard me with ads. LOTS of ads. No thank you.
Jan 4th 2014
As I look back on 2013, I've determined that it was a pretty good year. Met some new people, got some new swag, ended up in a new place, got a new girlfriend. If there was a downside to the year, it definitely was in the field of gaming. Specifically, I didn't get to experience nearly as many titles as I wanted to, and of those I completed even fewer. I think the last game I finished was BioShock Infinite back in May or June or something.
The biggest issues with my lack of gaming proficiency are my tendencies to focus on only one game at a time, and then drop that game as soon as something new and shiny comes along; my love for MMOs that saps away any time I would spend otherwise on more varied titles; and my absolutely abysmal personal-time management skills. The end result has been that I haven't spent a ton of money on games last year, but the backlog has grown to a point where I feel that attempting to slog through it is a hopeless proposition. Having dozens of unplayed games on Steam is nothing new to heavy PC gamers, but I also recently picked up a PS3, and will try to experience the plethora of titles on that system that I missed out on as an Xbox 360 owner during the last generation.
So, if I made new year's resolutions--which I don't, because resolutions are made to be unkept--mine would be to get through as much of my backlog as possible. How big of a challenge is this? Well, let me look at my unplayed games list on Steam:
Why we can't have nice things
Jul 28th 2013
Gamers are jerks. Or, more specifically, the gaming community are jerks. Traditionally we've all comforted ourselves knowing that all of the dregs of the gaming world were somehow magically confined to 12-year-olds on Xbox Live, League of Legends, or the World of Warcraft dungeon finder. Those 12-year-olds have since grown up, spread, and multiplied. With the assistance of social media, they have also spread their venom to a society at large that is ill prepared emotionally to deal with rampant and random vitriol.
In large part, this is what has led to the cancellation of Fez II, the sequel to the critically acclaimed indie platformer that debuted on Xbox Live last year. Developer Phil Fish decided that he couldn't deal with the constant negativity gamers were throwing at him, so he decided to call it quits not just from Fez II, but from game development as a whole. Even the gaming media has put something of a negative spin on the whole thing, saying that he exploded in rage or threw a Twitter tantrum. Even when Fish waves the white flag in surrender, the gaming community just senses more blood and goes for the overkill. Seriously, check the comments in any of those news articles to see why I hate being associated with this crowd sometimes.
That's not to say that Phil Fish is a completely innocent victim. After his appearance in Indie Game: The Movie, Fish has gone on to make some abrasive comments of his own. After claiming that Fez originally would never appear on Steam because "PCs are for spreadsheets", the eventual Steam version of Fez was hit with an unsuccessful boycott, and Fish took a little too much glee in celebrating his success on Valve's store. During a Q&A panel at GDC he also bluntly said that Japanese games suck. More recently, his negative experiences with Microsoft have prompted him to openly criticize the Xbox One's original indie games policy.
Spectator Mode
Jul 20th 2013
I decided to amuse myself last weekend by watching the 2013 EVO tournament. EVO, for those who may be unfamiliar with it, is short for the Evolution Championship Series, the premier fighting game tournament held yearly in Las Vegas. While watching, two of my sisters walked in the room (for what I can't remember, probably something dumb) and almost instantly got caught up in the action. Neither of them had played a fighting game before--actually, I think one of them did some button mashing in Soul Calibur 2, but I'm not sure if that counts--yet they were instantly caught up in the action and were cheering for LordKnight to defeat Yume in the Persona 4 Arena finals. When you can get people who don't even play video games (beyond the occasional Android app) hooked on your hardcore gaming event, you're doing something very right. I personally believe that EVO is the example that pro gaming companies should aspire to emulate.
The biggest issue with pro gaming coverage is that it only appeals to one demographic: gamers. More specifically, it only appeals to the gamers who play the particular game being covered. Good luck trying follow the action in StarCraft 2 or League of Legends if you're not familiar with that gameplay style. On the other hand, fighting games are generally pretty simple. Two dudes hit each other with fists, feet, or guided missiles until one of their life bars has been depleted. Unless it's a particularly flashy game like Marvel vs. Capcom 3, the action is easy to follow.
The commentators at the EVO events also add a lot of context to the matches. They know who the players are, and do a great job of telling their stories, trials, and tribulations. Instead of just watching two generic nerds battle it out, I was feeling a little "salty" myself when Infiltration eliminated his training partner Laugh in the Street Fighter IV tournament, and I was cheering when Reynald came from behind to take the crown in King of Fighters XIII. It also helps that when describing the action, they do as good a job as they can of breaking down the fights in simple terms. You won't understand everything, but you won't need a Wikipedia article to follow along either.
Still the Greatest?
Jul 14th 2013
Final Fantasy VII is considered by many to be one of the greatest RPGs of all time, and the crowning jewel of the Final Fantasy series. Making this statement in any public forum however will inevitably invite a chorus of voices to loudly and proudly proclaim otherwise. Final Fantasy VI is the greatest, you new kids don't know anything about a good story. Final Fantasy X is the greatest, it has a better narrative and better gameplay. I could continue on with some kind of comments about what make every game in the series better than FFVII, but the reality is that no other game, not in the Final Fantasy series, not even from Squaresoft (or Square Enix) as a whole, is more embedded in the public consciousness. Cloud and Sephiroth are iconic characters nearly on the level of Mario or Sonic as far as popularity and recognizability, while half the people reading this will have to ask Google who Terra and Locke are.
The debate over whether or not Final Fantasy VII is really the best of the series got kicked up a bit recently with the release of said game on Steam last week. This is pretty much a straight port of the PC version released fifteen years ago, so there aren't any visual or audio upgrades, but the news was still big enough to make "Final Fantasy 7" a trending topic on Twitter, and few seemed to really care about the twelve-dollar price of admission. Unsurprisingly, the game has not aged well since it was originally released way back in 1997. The 3D character models are primitive, and the rendered 2D backgrounds are painful to look at on high-definition monitors. The turn-based combat, which uses Square's old Active Time Battle system, is definitely dated by the standards of today's more action-oriented RPGs. Random encounters, another relic of the past, are abundant in this game as well. When you're not fighting, there are more mini-games here than you'll find in some versions of Mario Party. You'll have to do everything from snowboarding to tower defense to progress through some parts of the story. Speaking of the story, the main plot line is easy enough to follow (Cloud needs to kill Sephiroth to save the world), but a lot of the more interesting details presented so poorly that they're about as hard to understand as a Metal Gear Solid cutscene. After fifteen years of gaming evolution, it's difficult to laud the high praises on this title that people say it deserves.
To really find out why Final Fantasy VII is so beloved, you actually have to mentally time travel a bit, and take away those fifteen years of progress. While gaming had begun to "grow up" in 1997 with the debuts of titles like Tomb Raider, Gran Turismo, and Resident Evil, the RPG was still mired in traditional fantasy conventions, not to mention being considered a nerdy genre, even by gamers. So with that in mind, imagine seeing something like this on TV:
Jun 21st 2013
And you all thought the console war was over before it even started.
Now that Microsoft has done a complete 180 on the nerd-rage-inducing used game and internet connection policies, the decision doesn't seem as cut-and-dry anymore. If you ask me, the original policies were announced just to test the waters, with the decision to drop them being the backup plan all along. I mean sure, a few of you will keep yelling about Microsoft's condescending PR gaffes during that time, but in four months it'll be all about Killer Instinct.
In the last generation, the Xbox 360 was the obvious choice for gamers out of the gate. While the PS3's earliest claim to fame was being the best blu-ray player on the market, the 360 sported a superior game library across multiple genres. Tales of Vesperia, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Saints Row, Lost Odyssey, Gears of War, Dead or Alive 4, and BioShock were among the big exclusive titles for said console. In addition, Xbox Live was a vastly superior service to the PlayStation Network. Despite the additional cost, it provided an easier to use and more stable experience. It basically became the first social network for gamers.
The Forgotten Core
Jun 3rd 2013
I'm withholding my final judgment on the Xbox One (and also the PlayStation 4) until closer to release. A lot can change in four to five months. Still, I have to admit that what Microsoft demoed two weeks ago is not really making me rush to part with my money. Predictably, most gamers around the internet have gone into full rage mode over a couple of features which I really don't need to revisit. What's more notable to me is that Microsoft has joined a growing list of gaming titans (Electronic Arts, Capcom, Nintendo, Activision, Ubisoft, etc.) who don't seem to care about giving the gaming audience what they want: a quality gaming experience without tons of excessive (or expensive) strings attached.
However, a popular and controversial article that's been making the rounds suggests that what gamers want may not be financially feasible. The sales numbers paint the picture that the money isn't in gaming machines, it's in entertainment devices that just happen to play a few games too. More people are playing mobile games on their smartphones than on devices like the Nintendo 3DS and the PlayStation Vita (which has all but flopped). The leading console of this generation, the Xbox 360, is now used more for watching movies than playing games. The PlayStation 3 is currently the most popular way to watch movies on Netflix.
The message we're getting is pretty clear: entertainment pays, games don't. Is this really the case? Is all hope lost?
Digital Overlord
Jun 1st 2013
Originally, Facebook provided a valuable service to me. As someone who came of age in the internet generation, I made a lot of friends in all parts of the world. Facebook provided a convenient way for me to keep in touch with all of them, as well people in other circles of my life. Also, there was the added entertainment of watching them interact with each other. Seriously, the unintentional comedy of someone who's best known as a forum troll having a "discussion" with one of my hapless co-workers is something that has to be seen to be appreciated.
In recent months however, the value of a Facebook membership has declined to the point where it's more of a hassle than a convenience. Instead of updates on people I'm interested in, there's just a bunch of "share" bait, "like" bait, quotations disguised as pictures so they'll get more attention, barely intelligent political spam... oh, and rampant advertising. Basically, pages and pages of noise with a few interesting pictures mixed in. There's not enough there for me to bother with the site on a regular basis anymore, and currently I only log in if someone is telling me about some picture or status update that I just have to see.
So, around the same time that I more or less swore off Facebook, I decided to check out Google Plus again. Yeah yeah, go ahead and laugh about how no one uses it. That relative emptiness is turning out to be a blessing. There are no ads and far less fluff, so I'm constantly presented with content that I want to check out, not just garbage. The few people that populate the site also seem far more interested in sharing and discussing interesting topics instead of just linking more of those damned Someecards. While not quite on the level of "I'll go to this website every minute of every day" I'm finding Google Plus to be far more engaging than Facebook has been in quite some time.
Climate Change
May 15th 2013
I was originally going to comment on the news about how all the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is killing us faster then we were being killed before (or something like that). Look, I'm not one of those... what do you call them... climate deniers or anything, but the sensationalist bullshit that's being passed off as science in this discussion quite frankly insults my intelligence. Thankfully, the gaming industry in recent days has been undergoing its own climate change. None of the news is really good, but it's a more fun discussion compared to the stupidity of the global warming debate. It also requires me to do far less research.
So, first on the list, the news that World of Warcraft has suffered a fourteen percent drop in subscribers. The pundits, naturally, are all over this story, blowing their I-told-you-so trumpets in a triumphant orchestra. I can imagine them blaming everything from catering to the lowest-common denominator to the Will of the Forsaken nerf for the drop, but the more likely reasons are pretty much out of Blizzard's control. First of all, the game is old. Nearly a decade old, in fact. We're well past the stage where growth is to be expected as the natural state of affairs. The suits are aware of this, saying that they're expecting the numbers to drop even more before the year is out.
The second, and probably more significant reason, is that the subscription MMO is dead. The collapse of Star Wars: The Old Republic pretty much signaled the end of the line, and with Rift going free-to-play next month, WoW will soon be the only major MMO left that still uses the subscription-based model. (Well, there's EVE Online, but I'm not sure if that counts as "major.") Inevitably WoW will join the ranks of the no-sub MMOs, but in the meantime they still boast at least twice as many players as their nearest competitor, Guild Wars 2. Hate Blizzard all you want, they're still gonna be cashing checks.