Stream Deck; GR Wildlands; Endless Space 2

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Ghost Recon: Wildlands

I received GR:W for free with my video card, and aside from using it to put the card through its paces, I’ve not played it much. It’s not a soloist game, despite having a squad of NPC soldiers backing you up. GR differs from The Division in that GR games tend to be way less forgiving when you’re getting shot. When you finally make it to cover, then, the system is calling in wave after wave of reinforcements.

Teabagging Unidad corpses

I played it last night with my brother, and Mindstrike, and we learned a few things. First, you die quickly and often. Second, if you’re attacking a cartel-held property, kill everyone quickly or else you’ll be there forever and will probably find yourself back at point one. Third, there’s no coherent line-of-sight between where you start and where you need to go. We tried to figure out our next step in the narrative but ended up picking some of the worst random locations for new players to take on.

Still, it was fun. More fun with real people. I’m hoping more people snag the game before the sale ends, because I burnt out on The Division a long time ago, and would like to play something with people again.

This is my role in the team.

Endless Space 2

Endless Space is one of my favorite 4x games. Like all of them, however, I have never actually completed a scenario. Still, it served as inspiration for several features of my ill-fated “Project Universe” because I really like the way Amplitude approached the game.

Wandering through the stacks at Steam storefront, I literally stumbled across Endless Space 2. I think I knew this was A Thing, but like many things these days it fell off my radar.

I watched the videos on the store page and decided that ES2 was a solid follow up game. It seems that Amplitude has included a lot of cool new features, not the least of which are the addition of probes instead of scouts, a need to to research FTL technology to get beyond your meager local neighborhood, and a galactic “auction house” which allows you to buy and sell technology and ships for Dust, the game’s mysteriously magical currency.

4X NSFW

I haven’t yet fired it up, but I’m looking forward to it. Amplitude is really an under-the-radar strategy developer (Endless Space, Dungeon of the Endless, Endless Legend, and other Endless universe games) that does consistently good work that I enjoy.

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The Elgato Streamdeck

Posted by on May 19, 2017 in Editorial, Featured, Hardware, Other Geeks

Following on the heels of Wednesday’s post on the Elgato Streamdeck, I managed to get some time with it this Thursday and wanted to offer some initial impressions.

Nicely packaged: cradle, stand, and manual.

First, the device is solidly made. It’s basically a block with overly-glossy keys, none of which feels flimsy in the least. When not plugged in, it doesn’t look like much, but when it’s receiving power the keys are backlit with the Elgato logo spread out across the center buttons. The keys are nice and bright, but unfortunately not bright enough to overcome a harsh glare at certain angles, depending on where your local light sources are at. The deck itself can be removed from the desktop stand which may have some uses for enterprising modders out there. The stand itself, though, gets some props for innovation: it’s sporting a two-stage support system. The cradle portion lifts up on a front hinge, and you can extend either the back of the cradle to sit in the base for a more upright position or use two smaller side supports to raise the cradle up to a lesser angle, making it more keyboard-esque. However, the pins used to keep the supports in place are small and I can see them snapping off at some point in the future. I have found that in my setup, the more acute angle works best to avoid key glare, but also put the keys at an angle such that each key is slightly more difficult to see.

The removable deck and cradle

 

Setup was super easy: install the software (Windows 10 and Mac Whatever only) and plug in the device. Hopefully, you have a nearby USB port because the cable is shorter than what you’d expect from a lot of desktop peripherals and is non-detachable (i.e. can’t swap it with a longer cable).

I’m a software guy, and I love playing around with configuration software so the management utility for the Streamdeck might be one of the easiest I’ve used. The main window features 15 slots representing each of the buttons. On the right side, you have a series of commands that you can assign. Simply drag a command to a button, and you’re about 90% of the way done. Depending on the button, you’ll have some settings you can mess around with. For example, the OBS integration allows you to drag a “Scene” action. In the button properties, you select which Scene in your running copy of OBS you want that button to trigger. The updates are in real time, so as soon as you place the button in the software, it shows up on the physical device. You can also change the icon (some of which have lit and faded states to show which one is active among those it recognizes as being mutually exclusive, like OBS scenes) and layer mutli-line text on the button. I learned that Elgato has a quick key icon creator on their website if you have images but no Photoshop or graphics experience. Like the settings app, this is really easy to use and I had a lot of fun making icons that I needed.

Live updating with default config

Unfortunately, this is where my enthusiasm starts to wind down, but I need to remind you that I didn’t buy this device for its intended purpose of augmenting my live stream control. I bought it to send commands to my games — something that I couldn’t get to work anywhere often enough.

It seems that Elgato has designed the software to be extremely specific in what it does and how it operates. Since the company focuses on streaming technology, their software heavily favors streaming tasks. It has support for Elgato’s own streaming software, OBS, Twitch, and only a few other services like Twitter. For local hooks, there are media control commands, app and website launchers, and hot key broadcasters. Even then, OBS requires a plugin so that the Elgato command software can communicate with it when another app has focus.

For use with OBS

I was mainly focused on using the hotkeys. I tried Elite Dangerous because that’s a game where having access to a lot of keys is something that will enhance the experience. For testing, though, I only created a new button and assigned it the Hotkey “1”. In Elite, this opens the left-side control panel for mapping, local targets, etc. It works when docked so I knew it would be something that I could do without having to leave my current station. Unfortunately, the game refused to acknowledge the key press. I know that the key was working, however, because I could open the chat entry box and see a string of “1”s whenever I tapped the button on the Streamdeck. I tried full-screen window mode, and full-screen mode (since some games are picky about that kind of thing) but nothing changed. I even tried the 32bit non-Horizons enabled version to no avail.

Ideally, for use with Elite Dangerous, but with fewer assignments.

Figuring I’d try something else, I booted up Guild Wars 2 and rebound my “1” key to the “B” key which would open the RvRvR standings window. Again, no luck. Again, I tried adjusting the window mode and verified that the key was working by activating the chat box and hitting the button.

Since the Streamdeck is brand-spankin’ new at this point, and since Elgato doesn’t maintain a community forum, I had to descend into the depths of *shudder* Reddit to find the /r/elgatogaming subreddit. Thankfully there was a Streamdeck “megathread” where people were talking about it, and I saw at least two people claiming that they had done exactly what I was trying to do. I asked one poster if he/she did anything specific to get it to work, but haven’t seen any replies.

On a whim, I loaded up The Elder Scrolls Online to test with the original GW2 “B” key button, and amazingly, it worked. At this point, I don’t think I’d done anything differently between the GW2 test and the ESO test. At an earlier point, I suspected that there might be something running on my system that was hijacking the input from the Streamdeck software since I’d experienced something like this in the past with audio. I shut down anything that I thought might handle key input like Plays.tv, my Logitech keyboard and mouse software, and even Steam and it’s overlay, but the results had been the same. I read that the Streamdeck software should be run as Administrator in order to be able to send keys to another app, but that didn’t seem to help either.

As it stands, the Elgato Streamdeck is at the “confounding” level on the “love it or leave it” scale. I’m not going to say “disappointing” because I suspect that there’s something standing in the way of what I am doing and what I want it to do that may or may not have anything to do with the Streamdeck or software themselves. I can tell you, though, if I can get it to work then I’ll quickly upgrade my assessment to “spectacular” because it’s an excellent piece of hardware. If they release an SDK or expand their software beyond the narrow focus on streaming (which may never happen due to Elgato’s market segment), or if more apps adopted the input hooks for it (Hey, Discord!), then its value would skyrocket. I don’t know that I’d suggest that everyone go out and buy one and experience an input Nirvana because unless you’re a moderate to hardcore streamer or use apps like Photoshop that have a lot of keyboard shortcuts, it seems that the Streamdeck’s operations are limited and pretty “fragile” in that they’re easy to interrupt.

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Multiple Audio Stream Recording

Posted by on May 18, 2017 in Hardware, Other Geeks

Don’t let the title fool you: this is a topic I’ve been chasing for some time because it’s not as simple as it sounds. In fact, what I’m talking about here was only discovered by me due to random happenstance.

My goal has been to find a way to get myself and at least one other person to converse, to record that conversation, and then to split each person into their own audio track. You might recognize this as something relevant to podcasting, and you’d be right: that is the ultimate goal.

The problem, then, is that when talking about audio on a Windows PC, there’s the local user — the person on the mic who is controlling the recording software — and there is literally everyone else. Whether it’s using Skype or Discord or Teamspeak, Mumble, Ventrillo, or whatever, all of the rest of the participants are jumbled together into a single audio stream received by the person doing the recording.

In the worst case scenario, the remote participant(s) audio is merged with the local audio into a single track, meaning that when it comes time to edit, any cuts or filters are applied to everyone, no exceptions. That’s certainly passable, but really not optimal because having each person on his or her own track would allow for discreet person-by-person editing for volume, noise reduction, and dead-space filtering (et al).

So the other day I was trawling YouTube for videos on the Elgato Streamdeck setup when I came across a series by the silken-voiced EposVox who not only spoke about the Streamdeck, but also about OBS setup. In one video, he mentioned multiple audio sources which, if you’ve used OBS, is not something exciting. OBS allows for (at minimum) mic audio and desktop audio to be recorded alongside the video. While OBS is primarily used for streaming to Twitch/Beam/YouTube/etc., it can also be used to record local video and audio.

Now, I don’t know how some people do it. I suspect that a lof of folks might record video using OBS or something, muting the mic so that they can record their voice over using another app, like Audacity. That works to separate the video from the voice over but then requires the user to sync the voice with the video which can be unnerving if it’s even slightly out of sync. But thanks to EposVox, I know now that there’s a better way using OBS, an alternative audio output, a mic, and Audacity.

I’ll refer you to this video.

In a nutshell (if you skipped the video), OBS allows you to add additional audio inputs. You can then send each input to a different track, assuming you’re recording in anything other than FLV (so MOV, MKV, MP4, etc). What you get in the end is a file with multiple audio tracks, and depending on how you set it up, you might have a track with all audio, and then each input on a different track, or just each audio source on a different track. What you’re seeing is the same tech that allows DVDs to have different language tracks.

Of course, as you know, you can’t watch a DVD with several audio tracks playing at once, so it is with trying to get a hold of these multiple audio tracks. This threw me for a while because my video editing app doesn’t display all audio tracks, only the first one it encounters. Since I only want the audio anyway I learned that Audacity with the FFMPG codec can import the audio from a video file using the IMPORT > AUDIO option which allows me to then select the audio tracks from the file that I want to edit.

I ran some tests with the Esteemed Mindstrike as my guinea pig on the other side of Discord. For my set-up, I had OBS recording my Yeti mic for my voice, but I had to set Discord to output to the Yeti Headphone output. That my mic has it’s own audio output is the aforementioned happenstance, because otherwise, I’d need to go down the dark road of virtual audio cables to create a fake output and send Discord output to that. In OBS, I set up an audio source for the mic (which was already there), and an additional audio source for the Yei Headphone output. The benefit of this was that I could hook up the headset to the Yeti mic (duh) and listen and converse with Mindstrike like there was nothing weird going on. When OBS recorded, my mic audio recorded on one track, the Discord output on another, and had there been any desktop audio at the time, it would have recorded that on a third track (I turned off the multi-source channels for this test, just to be sure).

When I managed to get FFMPG installed with Audacity, I imported my test file audio and got this:

The top two waveforms are my mic, and the bottom two sourced from Discord. Magical! For an actual production run, I’d probably want to have OBS “downmix to mono” because there wouldn’t need to be a left and right channel for single-position voice; both the left and right output would simply source from the mono channel, leaving me with one waveform per track in Audacity, to keep things clean.

Now, the obvious problem is that in a multi-multi user situation — me at the desk, a bunch of people in a channel in Discord — I’m still only going to get two tracks: me, and everyone else. For my “intended purpose” though, this is exactly what I needed. I don’t know if it’s possible for apps like Discord to pick up, send, and deliver individual voices on individual tracks; I suspect that would be horribly bandwidth and CPU intensive, so, for now, I’m glad I stumbled across this, and that I have the hardware that just happens to support the exact situation that I wanted to enable.

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