Portable Frustration With Bennett Foddy

Getting Over It is Incompatable with all of my devices

I’ve already written about how much I love Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy, but I hadn’t written about the iOS version which has gotten much better over time and today there is an Android version on Google’s app store if you’d like to learn to master your frustration on a portable device. They’re both $5 and highly recommended. Although you might want to have a case on your device if something happens while you’re playing.

Campo Santo Got Valvo’d

I love adventure games. Well, I love modern adventure games. They come in all shapes and sizes, but there’s a type that’s a sub-genre of the Walking Simulator style of adventure in which you get your narrative-focused Gone Home’s and your Tacoma’s and the occasional Firewatch.

The news is that the developer of Firewatch, Campo Santo, is getting acquired by Valve. The good news is that they will continue to work on things they’ve been working on. This news won’t stop Firewatch from coming to Nintendo’s Nintendo Switch sometime this year. They’re also promising improvements to Firewatch on every other platform in the process of optimizing it for Nintendo’s Nintendo Switch.

Campo Santo’s progresso on the new gameo In the Valley of Gods will also continue, that was announced late last year. Except now it’ll be a Valve thing, which is good for Valve because my understanding is that many of Valve’s writers have left.

That C64 Mini

The c64 mini

The miniaturizing nostalgia shrink ray is sprayed at everything now: Cars; entertainment systems both super and conventional Nintendo; iPads; arcade cabinets… There’s also now a The C64 Mini, not a Commodore 64 Mini or Classic Edition, but strictly The C64 Mini. Apparently they couldn’t get the name Commodore 64.

This miniature device that definitely isn’t a Commodore 64 also isn’t out yet in the U.S., but it is out almost everywhere else and I wouldn’t trust an American to review it, so here is Dr. Ashens’ review:

It sounds like this The C64 Mini isn’t going to be beloved like the original unless the firmware is updated in some fundamental way and they also recall and replace every joystick. Still, it is fun to hear someone who is familiar with all of the 64 games it ships with go over each one.

Alec Meer’s review at RPS rakes the makers of this device over the coals about the non-functional keyboard a bit more than Ashens did:

There are two things a miniaturised version of gaming-centric 80s home computer the Commodore 64 needs to do above all else: 1) have a working keyboard 2) have a really good joystick.

Uh-oh.

Google AIY Voice Kit Review

The Dumbest Kid in Smart Speaker Class

AIY Voice Kit box

Google is selling a DIY smart speaker kit in the US through Target stores. They call it an AIY Voice Kit with the sub-heading of a “Do-it-yourself intelligent speaker.” Is it a kit that lives up to what the box promises for only $50? Let’s find out, together.

I’m not super fond of Google, they’re great at search but really make their money today by selling advertising space on websites. In my opinion, their “don’t be evil” motto has shifted as their priorities changed. There’s always the upfront cost of a product ($50) but with any smart speaker device there’s also the intangible cost of allowing a company to listen to, and process, whatever it can hear.

Ideally a smart speaker would only listen after a physical input, or most smart speakers also have a wake word to summon the device to interpret your speech and do something with it.  This kit has an arcade button on top for physical input if that’s your game.

The do-it-yourself aspect is mostly fun, you assemble the included bare speaker, wires, cardboard, arcade button, and a Raspberry Pi Zero WH with Google’s Voice Bonnet add-on board to make the smart speaker. It’s not very difficult to put this kit together, the instructions are clear, but it is missing two things you’ll need, and one critical component of the setup requires other tools or devices.

You’ll need a very small flathead screwdriver to connect the speaker cables to the terminals. I happen to have the right screwdriver, but these terminal screws are incredibly tiny. Your regular household tools aren’t going to work with them.

It only takes about an hour before you’re putting the included Micro SD card in and powering the speaker up, or you would be. If there were a power supply included. You get a USB cable in the box, but no power connection.

Why not include the power supply and the screwdriver in the box? The screwdriver is almost understandable, because you could own one already if you’re into technology. The power supply is just necessary for the device to function, it makes no sense to me that it isn’t included in a general-purpose kit.

Wires

There’s one other small issue with the connections inside the kit. The wires to connect the arcade button are not friendly to the color blind. I am only mildly color blind, so I can’t differentiate between some colors with red and green in them. The arcade button wires are blue, green, grey, black, red, and orange. I had a hard time picking out the green from the grey and the red from the orange.

Okay you’ve got the kit assembled, and you’ve found a power supply to turn it on.

How do you connect to the box so that you can get it on your home WiFi?

The Rapsberry Pi Zero WH included with the kit has USB, it has HDMI, but they’re all mini connectors that need adapters and a hub to connect a keyboard and mouse. The other option, and this is what I chose, is to use an app that is only available for Android devices to get the diy smart speaker onto WiFi and find out the IP address so you can connect to it via SSH.

Once you get that IP address, and learn SSH and the Linux shell, you’re in business with a shell prompt at a Linux terminal running a variant of Raspian that Google’s engineers modified to support their Voice Bonnet.

Finally, you’ve got a smart speaker, right?

This is the real thing that kills this project, it doesn’t include any kind of hot-word, or wake-word, detection. Just like hotkeys, hotwords like “Hey, Siri,” and “Okay, Google” tell our phones and other smart speakers to start listening. Ideally the processing for these prompts happens on the device so they’re not just uploading everything you say to Apple’s, Google’s, or Amazon’s, servers.

This AIY smart speaker box promises, on the back, a “…smart device that understands and responds when you speak.” I don’t think that is truthful. It is not at all a smart speaker that listens when you speak, you have to press the arcade button before the included Python code will fetch Google’s assistant to start listening and interpreting your words into a reply. It’s an infuriating experience to have to press that button, especially whenever Google’s assistant demands interaction.

Google’s assistant can play a MadLibs game with you. Just like the real game, you supply the nouns, verbs, and adjectives and the assistant fills in a virtual MadLibs sheet to make a silly story. Unlike the real game, you have to press the stupid button each time the assistant needs the next word.

The times when I’d press the button there was no guarantee the assistant would listen. Many times it would just ignore me and I’d have to press the button again. I ended up pressing the button about 25 times to get 18 words into the MadLibs game. I don’t think I will ever do that again.

This built-in python-based assistant code was just slow to react and frustrating to interact with.

It was also incredibly limited compared to other assistants and even the iOS version of Google’s assistant is easier to use. This smart speaker version of Google’s assistant can’t even access your calendar or other information tied to your Google account.

So, overall it’s a pretty disappointing device as shipped by Google. But this is a DIY thing, right? Well, I haven’t found much of an active development community around it. The forums for Google’s “AIY” projects are sparsely populated and the best use I’ve gotten out of the device was to load free software onto it that made the assembled device into a genuinely useful AirPlay speaker.

Some of the replies from Google engineers on these forums indicate that more functionality could come to the device soon, but I don’t think they have any plans to add hot-word detection.

The most surprising thing I’ve found on that forum is that there was an older version of this project that included hot-word detection. This was possible when version 1 was based on the more capable Raspberry Pi 3 single-board computer. Apparently this is version 2 of their voice kit.

I don’t understand a lot of the choices Google made here, but the most important question is: Why did they drop the hot-word detection? Why don’t they mention anywhere on the box that you need an Android device or a bunch of adapters so that you can get this device on the network?

Maybe parents buying this kit for teenagers (the box lists it as appropriate for ages 14 and up) were concerned about it listening to them all the time. That’s the only reason I can think of as to why Google decided to drop the smartest feature of a smart speaker, otherwise it’d just be down to cost. The Raspberry Pi Zero WH is about $10, the Raspberry Pi 3 is about $35.

When I first saw this project in the store I knew there had to be some limitations to hit that $50 price point, and it went lower than even my wildly low expectations. I don’t think most people would be happy with the device as a “smart speaker.” Years ago, when you assembled a transistor radio kit, you ended up with a radio. What you end up with here is a very versatile Linux computer kit with microphones and a speaker that could be incredibly useful in the right hands. I turned it into an AirPlay speaker without having to write any code at all, and I haven’t even remarked about the quality of the sound yet — it’s fine in general, but turn it up loud and you’re gonna get distortion — but without hot-word detection this kit is just too dumb to be called smart.

1 out of 5 HomePods for the Google AIY Voice Kit

God of War (2018) Out Soon, Sounds Awesome

The 2018 God of War game without a subtitle isn’t a reboot of the series, but it does sound like a great starting point for anyone who dropped off after the earlier games or who wasn’t interested in them at all.

The review embargo lifted a few days ago, to almost universal acclaim, here’s part of Keza MacDonald’s take:

This God of War wants us to see Kratos as a person, rather than an instrument of extraordinary violence. The game not only pulls this off, but turns Kratos and his son’s journey into one of the best games of recent years: a deft intertwining of relatable familial drama and awe-inspiring mythological epic.

There are probably a huge number of takes on this game from other parents, but mine is short: I probably won’t get to play this God of War for a while. As appealing as it is, and I loved the PSP games in the series, I have a very limited amount of time to play anything when my son is sleeping and I try to avoid any kind of violent games when he’s awake.

For everyone else who doesn’t have children, or whose kids are older, God of War is out this Friday the 20th on the PlayStation 4.

Shenmue I & II, Headed for Xbox One, PS4, Steam & Sunshine, Sento-Sake

Their crowd-funded sequel, Shenmue III, is still on its way, but how should someone new to the series get up-to-date with the premier picking-up-objects-and-turning-them-over-in-your-hand sim? It turns out that Sega is publishing the first two game on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam for Windows.

The updated versions of the game promise a better user interface, more modern controls with the original as an option, higher resolution choices, and a subtitled Japanese audio experience if you’d prefer that over the English voice acting. There aren’t any pre-order bonuses, and no price is up yet, so it’ll be good to wait for the games to be released this year and read how the ports turned out.

It doesn’t sound like they’re changing much at all, but it’s good to see the original Shenmue games available off of the Dreamcast and the original Xbox. I’d like to take a crack at playing II, which I’ve got somewhere but never got it going on my old Xbox.

This is mostly unrelated but I’ve been watching the completely ridiculous Japanese television series Sunshine, Sento-Sake, and it is a complete trip. Unfortunately the show is only available via Amazon’s Prime Video service.

Here’s how I would describe it: A guy working as a business-to-business ad salesman is extremely mediocre at his job, but always finds a way to relax in the middle of the day at a public bath, and then gets some beer and good food. I heartily recommend it for anyone interested in seeing someone appreciate the joy of relaxing and savoring food and drink, but be prepared for lots of old butts in those Sentos.

Dan and Bianca Ryckert recommended Sunshine on their new podcast, and I feel like they’re the best at explaining the fun in the show if you’re put-off by the butt warning. Check out that episode of their podcast here.

Homebrew Users: Run brew cleanup & Get Your Gigs Back

If you use a macOS machine for development, or even just to get some bonus commands that you wish the system came with, then you probably use Homebrew as your command-line package manager.

Perhaps you’re like me, you’ve been using it for years and didn’t realize that it has left gigabytes of detritus on your local drive, I certainly didn’t until someone in the homebrew IRC channel mentioned the brew cleanup command, and now I have 21.3 gigs of disk back.

Meet Brazil’s Gaming Scene With Cloth Map

Drew met Brazil’s game players, developers, and the people who sell them.

Cloth Map’s Drew Scanlon tours the world with a video gaming bent. He’s been to a Ukrainian nuclear missile base, Chernobyl and Eurovision, and now, Brazil.

Touring Brazil’s graymarket game stores:

Meeting the people who play games:

As well as people who make them:

Cloth Map is viewer supported and if you’d like to kick in a few bucks you can check out the Cloth Map Patreon here.

Space Asshole Getting Remastered

There’s an updated version of Red Faction: Guerrilla on the way.

Unfortunately they aren’t licensing this incredible song by the Idle Thumbs, but the re-animated husk of THQ Nordic is continuing this fine year of remasters by releasing a “re-Mars-tered” edition (ugh) of Volition’s classic, Red Faction: Guerrilla.

This is one of my favorite games, and I’m glad that anyone who hasn’t played it before will get a new chance to experience Guerrilla, although I’m not sure what is going on with the protagonist’s legs in this screenshot they’ve provided:

Red Faction Guerilla ReMarstered Edition 8

Red Faction Guerilla ReMarstered Edition legs

The press release only mentions graphical enhancements to this version of the game, and it’s a free upgrade for Steam users on Windows who already have the game. Otherwise, it’ll be $30 when Red Faction Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered is released in “Q2 2018” on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows via Steam.

Here’s an excerpt from the draft to an unfinished review I wrote of the game in 2009:

It is an open-world kind of game, with missions given to you by the Red Faction, a terrorist insurgency on Mars.

Developed by the same folks who’ve brought you Saints Row, the Freespace series, and a variety of other critically acclaimed titles they’ve titled Guerrilla accurately as well; the protagonist is a thoughtfully armed and excitable guerrilla.

Some hostages have been taken by the fascist group running Mars?
BLOW UP THE EDF!
Afterwards, give the hostages a ride home.

There is a side-mission where they want you to a destroy some industrial equipment with only a running start, a sledgehammer, and some exploding barrels?
Swing at the barrels, realize you can’t hit them easily, then get frustrated so you can RUN UP AND BEAT THE SHIT OUTTA THAT INDUSTRIAL EQUIPMENT WITH YOUR SLEDGEHAMMER!

Your buddy wants to hang out with his new 70s popular-mechanics sci-fi car and you don’t know what to do?
Sure you do!
Strap a turret on to it, and start BLOWING UP THE EDF!

All of this is possible due to the work Volition has put into the destructible buildings. Without that, this game would just be another mundane third-person open-world clusterfuck.

Congratulations to them for their incredible achievement, not since Crackdown have I been this entertained by an open-world game. Guerrilla takes everything that is fun for casual GTA players – getting as high a wanted level as possible and killing the local authority figures – and ramps it up to a whole new level of destruction.