Featured

Posts for the rotator

Stream Deck; GR Wildlands; Endless Space 2

Posted by on May 22, 2017 in Editorial, Endless Space 2, Featured, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, Hardware

Now that our deck has been completed, we’re spending more time outside than in. For me, this is a blessing and a curse; I am not made for the out-of-doors, but I’ve also not really been “feelin’ it” when I sit down to play something. I need to get back to the PSVR games I have, and also the non-VR PS games I have (including the upcoming Marvel Heroes translation for the PlayStation).

Saturday was spent mostly doing yard work. I have to dismantle the old stairs leading up to the original deck, so I did a bit of that. We also carved out a small garden section at the foot of the new deck stairs, so we had to get plants and mulch for that. I’m never more reminded of my housebound status than when I try and do intense yard work, and this was one of those cases.

Sunday we spent at the in-laws, celebrating a belated Mother’s Day because scheduling conflicts prevented us from doing so on the actual day. There’s really not a lot more to say about that.

Stream Deck

Honestly, this is going to be the last dedicated post on the subject you’ll get from me. I am now officially defeated by the Elgato Stream Deck.

A lot of folks on /r/elgatogaming and elsewhere have said that they’ve been using the ‘Deck in conjunction with a utility called Auto Hotkey. This app is designed to allow users to write scripts that listen for special key combinations, which can then trigger actions such as adjusting your OS volume or taking screenshots and posting them to Dropbox. Because AHK works at a level which allows it to interact with a whole range of applications (when running as Admin), the plan is that Stream Deck can send these scripted hotkeys into the aether where they are picked up by AHK, which can then do what Stream Deck cannot: send keys to the focused apps.

As a developer by day, I’m open to the nuances of whatever scripting language you want to use, and AHK isn’t all that complex. I created a script which checks for Elite Dangerous and if it’s running, execute whatever key combo was sent. I managed to translate a chord into the game command to turn on my ship’s headlights, and that works…but nothing else does. The lights work 100% of the time, but everything else works anywhere between 0% and 2% of the time. That 2% is something that I’d seen people talking about: how the ‘Deck doesn’t always send commands on the first, second, or even 10th press of the button, but might consider doing so somewhere down the line. I had entertained the idea that my script was bad, but I’d tried several variations on the theme and recevied the same non-results every single time.

I made cool keys and everything! 🙁

Right now, I’ve given up on trying to make this thing do what I want it to do. Obviously, all of the OBS stuff works because that has a dedicated pipeline to speak through. I can launch apps like Elite Dangerous and its utilities, and I did manage to wire up the Windows Game Bar commands which is a good thing because it has a screenshot function that works on anything you tell it is “a game”. I also managed to get it to work with Discord so I can mute and deafen audio in the voice channels, although I’d love direct Discord integration so I could switch servers and even rooms using the ‘Deck. I also have buttons that control my OS volume, but that’s about all. Really, the screenshot, Discord, and OS volume buttons are the only regular commands this thing is going to send, making it a very expensive paperweight.

I hope Elgato opts to make it more of a  universal app that does what Logitech and Razer, et al., can do, although given that their wheelhouse is dedicated to streaming, I don’t know if it’s in their interests to update it to do more than what little it’s meant to do: control your live stream.

Ghost Recon: Wildlands

As of right now (May 22, 2017), Humble Bundle has Ghost Recon: Wildlands on sale for 20% off. I saw this deal and sent it out to friends who have been happily subsisting on The Division Underground missions for the past several months.

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.

Read More »

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.

Read More »

Ghosts of Peripherals Past

Posted by on May 9, 2017 in Featured, Hardware, Virtual Reality

Ghosts of Peripherals Past

Now that I’ve committed to the PSVR, it’s time to justify the purchase.

I picked up Job Simulator earlier this week. It’s one of the highest rated commercial VR titles mainly because it showcases the “best case scenario” for presence and input. As a technology it’s great; as a game, it sucks because there are only a few scenarios, and then practically no replay value outside of having something on hand to watch your friends mime their way through when they experience VR for the first time. I’ve been vacillating on EVE Valkyrie because while the demo was pretty amazing, the full game is apparently a short tutorial followed by endless arena multiplayer battles — not something I’m known to gravitate to.

The “big news” (as in “what Sony is pushing at the moment”) is Farpoint. Sony apparently hopes that this is the tipping point for VR, getting it beyond the gimmicky hand-waving of Job Simulator and on the mantle alongside more popular AAA titles that the platform is known for. Overview-wise, Farpoint is standard fare: two scientists crash on a planet, and have to find a way home. Echoing Half-Life, these eggheads find themselves battling multi-legged creatures on their journey, something you, the player, accomplish with the help of a specially designed gun-like peripheral that comes with the deluxe version of the game, or which can be purchased seperately.

Yay! Giant alien spiders…in VR…my favorite…

When I’d first learned about Farpoint, I thought that this might be the foot in the door that VR needs to show people that it can do more than just handle endless demos showcasing elements of what the tech is capable of. The graphics look solid, and as a shooter, there’s no ambiguity here: point, shoot, progress. What made me scratch my chin in the universally accepted signal of “I dunno…” was the long and sad history of console peripherals.

Nintendo is probably the most eggregeous offender of creating dead-weight plastic, going all the way back to R.O.B., the Power Glove, and the VitualBoy (natch). Microsoft has Kinect, and until Sony wisely opted to repurpose it, they had the Move. Following closely behind is all of the third party junk that all consoles attract: charging stations, console enclosures, stands, and controller add-ons that will supposedly let you “dominate the competition”.

This history was why I had been hesitant to jump on the PSVR in the first place, although I’m the kind of person that once the idea has been planted and the means secured, no amount of convincing to the contrary is going to stop me from forging head. Farpoint was kind of different, though. I could buy the game digitally, as I am wont to do in my old age, but how necessary to the immersion was this gun peripheral? Th product itself looks like someone glued a bunch of PVC pipes together and then stuck a Move controller in the barrel (something which I’m sure we’ll see happen on YouTube once Farpoint launches, if it hasn’t happened already). Couldn’t I just use the Move controllers I have? Supposedly we can use the gamepad, but where’s the fun in that?

See? Once I convince myself…

It’s difficult to look like a badass when wielding something you made from one trip to Home Depot.

Inevitably I did pre-order the deluxe bundle, even with the specter of starting a new peripheral graveyard hovering just outside my vision. Heck, yesterday I bought a combo PSVR display stand-slash-charging station because the idea of just letting the headset sit on the entertainment center was anathema to me. Of course, Sony has gone on record about wanting/hoping/praying to some dark god that other developers will support the specialized controller, which means if it comes to pass means we’ll be getting a lot more shooters in VR on the PlayStation, I guess. You’re not going to see anyone using this for a fishing simulator, that’s for sure. I’d be OK with having a Battlefield in VR, or maybe another Killzone (though I’d rather have more HZD, as I’m sure most folks reading this would agree).

What might end up being the big question mark though would be this: if Farpoint and this peripheral sell well enough, what other specialized controllers should we expect to see? Ideally, the answer to that would be “none”, because I think there’s a tipping point; maybe this general purpose “gun” controller is a natural fit for a hobby where virtual shooting rampages are prevalent and acceptable, but once we start down a path of Power Glove 2.0 we’ll just be re-treading the paths that lead to dead ends in the past.

Read More »

Oops! And Other Tales from Stellaris

Posted by on Apr 12, 2017 in Featured, Scopique Plays, Stellaris

Oops! And Other Tales from Stellaris

Stellaris is a 4x Game of Unusual Size (4GoUS — F’go-us?) and like a lot of 4x games, no scenario is ever over quickly. I firmly believe that short of treating utter defeat as the first item on your to-do list, a single game will last for several hours whether you like it or not. Considering the point and the attraction of 4x games is the strategy of expansion and neighborly relations, you’d better like it.

Willfulness aside, it is possible to back yourself into a corner where the game becomes painfully difficult to the point where you might wonder if you’re looking down the barrel of an embarrassing defeat. For me, 4x games tend to devolve into an arms race where my neighbors know all the right levers to pull to get ahead, while I’m hanging out in my backyard tossing the football around without a care in the universe. That leads to people showing up on my doorstep with armaments that I can’t hope to defend against, and I inevitably end up losing.

Playing Stellaris last night I found myself behind the 8-ball in terms of resources. My energy budget was at 0 or occasionally in the red. Suddenly, my food supply tanked and we were living off rations. I had more than enough minerals, and while I wasn’t gaining influence, I wasn’t using it either. What all this means is that I had the minerals necessary to expand — to build ships and outposts and such — but I didn’t have the maintenance currency — energy — to keep it all running. That meant I was holding off on doing much of anything. Occasionally I’d get brave and would send construction crews out to other solar systems to construct outposts and mining platforms where I could score some additional energy income, but it was a balancing act: everything I built required upkeep, so I had to do ugh-math to ensure my projects would net more e-credit than they would cost.

About 15 minutes before I knew I had to shut down, lest I find myself unable to wake in the morning (I am immune to the dreaded “one more round” disease), I was looking into my food shortage. In Stellaris, planets are divided into tiles. Each tile is either empty, a natural producer of food, energy, minerals, or other resources, or is blocked. Your people (called “pops”) will be “born” or will migrate into open tiles. You can drag pops around to put them into tiles that you want them to work. My focus was on ensuring that all my food tiles were populated and that the farms in those tiles were sufficiently upgraded to the best produce-enhancer I could build.

Wait…

Something wasn’t right. I was upgrading hydroponics labs in food tiles, but…there were tiles producing natural food which didn’t have hydroponics labs in them. Placing a machine in a tile with a matching resource type increases the output of that resource type. Here I was, starving and every-deficient because I hadn’t been placing even the most basic producer buildings on my natural resource tiles. I had been spending pretty much the entire game operating a growing empire with no more resource production than what I found laying around on the ground. That’s like operating a government funded only by the loose change found under seat cushions or in the street gutters.

Now, however, I have two other colonies which I need to start upgrading, but I have reached the food storage ceiling despite cranking out more crops. My neighbors have become belligerent and the diplomacy screen shows them as being technologically superior to me. I fear that my remembrance on how to play this game has come too late to save my ass, which wouldn’t be a bad thing necessarily as a looming defeat would allow me to start up a new game where I could do things correctly from the start.

Read More »

Cutting the Cord

Posted by on Apr 6, 2017 in Editorial, Featured, Hardware, Other Geeks

Cutting the Cord

Yes, it’s 2017, and I am just now getting around to seriously considering getting rid of cable.

Since we switched to Fi and reduced our cellular bill by 3/4* I’m feeling how good it is to make a change that returns money to me. Cellular was easy, as these services are an anti-consumer racket. What’s less easy for my household is wiggling out from under the thumb of Big Cable.

While providers like Comcast will tell us that we have options in our area — like satellite — the honest truth is that it’s not really an option. We have three technology minded people in our house, so we need fast, reliable internet access. I’m sure DSL has come a long way since I’ve used it almost 15 years ago, but it’s built on top of an aging infrastructure and can’t possibly match what we get from coax and fiber. We also really don’t need a home phone line. The bogeyman regarding home phones is that without a landline, we lose E-911 service, although I would hope I’d have the presence of mind in a crisis to do everything in my power to ensure that emergency services find me at an address I verbally provide to them. What has actually been impeding our investigation into cutting the cable has been TV, though.

My hobby is PC based; my wife’s hobby is TV based. Thankfully, I can get to any website using any internet connection, but getting the TV channels that my wife wants to watch isn’t so simple. Every network and broadcast concern seems to want to have their own walled garden (lookin’ at we, CBS!) for a fee. Considering how many channels we might want from an a la carte package and the sum of the prices of each walled garden, our spend would probably add up to as much or even more than what we might pay for cable right now.

Of course, there are services which bundle the channels that make themselves available for such bundling. Sling, Playstation VUE, and now YouTube TV provide a wide selection of familiar faces — but none of them offer everything. For example, local affiliate stations are going to be difficult to come by since these streaming services source from the national feeds. A few of these services offer tiers; the higher the tier, the more channels we get, but we might also end up paying more for a single channel we really want, in addition to getting 10 more channels we’ll never watch (for us, that would be the bazillionty sports channels that seem to be the foundation of all of these services). Since no single service offers everything we might want, the decision needs to be made: suffer without, or subscribe to multiple services?

Subscribing to different services means that we’re looking at platform availability. Most everything is available for Android, iOS, and PC, which is nice but is hardly a set-it-and-forget-it solution that competes with the eggs-in-one-basket cable box. The second best option is a device like the Roku or (*shudder*) Apple or Fire TV. A lot of the services are available through gaming consoles, but there’s a lot of overhead in navigating a console, and as much as I’d be thrilled to do so, I don’t think my wife will agree to buy another Playstation or Xbox for each of the TVs we need to broadcast to. Finally, a Chromecast would work in a lot of situations, but when all  you want to do is sit down and throw something on the TV, it’s not as convenient as a cable box when you need to bring out your phone, wait for it to connect, and then choose the supplier who has the content you want to watch.

So what’s the verdict so far? Apparently, PSVue seems to have the most channels we’re looking for, followed by YouTube TV. PSVue seems to work on Android, iOS, and PC, and of course, the Playstation, but also through the Roku, Amazon Fire, and Chromecast. YTTV works through Android, iOS, and PC, but beyond that, it only seems to work through Chromecast for TV broadcasting. Hopefully, that will change over time.

Then there’s the gravy. A lot of the broadcast services offer cloud-based DVR which is great as it allows you to record whatever, whenever, and watch it whereever you can access the service. This mean that when traveling in the US, we can take a Chromecast or Roku stick with us and have our familiar TV with us even in different broadcast markets. YouTube TV even offers Netflix-like sub-accounts so I could keep my DVR and favorites apart from my wife’s or my daughter’s.

At this stage, I’ve only been collecting information and haven’t yet actually tried any of these services. YouTube and PSVue have free trials, so I might take them up on those offers to see if we can live a month using those services — assuming we can find devices which work on the TVs we have. The kicker will be getting the family to remember to pick up the specific remote for the specific device to access the specific package which has the specific channels we want to watch when we want to watch them. It’s this scatter-shot distribution that is the biggest hurdle for cutting the cord for me, personally because while we might be able to replicate our preferred lineup, we have to span several services and possibly several devices in order to find what it is that we want in order to do it.

 

* At least for my wife and I. We still have to pay for our daughter’s line which is on the legacy carrier, but once the in-laws move off our legacy plan, our monthly bill will still be drastically reduced.

Read More »

Infiniscene Is My New Best Friend

Posted by on Mar 22, 2017 in Featured, Software

Infiniscene Is My New Best Friend

I don’t do a lot of streaming; I’m a 43-year-old male who doesn’t play MOBA or Overwatch and therefore I am in no one’s demographic, but there are some circumstances where I think streaming would be a cool idea — I would have really liked to have streamed our Dungeons & Dragons gameplay, for example — but only if certain criteria could be met. Namely, I really want a streaming service to support multiple remote video sources, both webcam and desktop. For some ding dang diddly reason, none of the big streaming players support this, and none of the major broadcast software providers do either.

Thanks to the fact that I sign up for everything and therefore get on all kinds of mailing lists, I got an email from a service called Infiniscene about their impending name change to Lightstream. Nice, good for them, but in investigating their feature page further I noticed this gem:

Holy hand grenades! This is 100% exactly what I’d always wanted from a streaming service because I’m progressive like that.

Now, I get why services like Twitch or Beam have never gone down this road: they cater to the individual personality and promotion schtick. It’s easier to partner and build their services on the back of a handful of individuals that they can work with, whereas having to deal with people as a group can get complicated and messy.

But I really think we’re getting to the point where the field of the Internet Personality is pretty saturated. You can find anyone streaming almost anything, and like an iceberg, the little bit you see at the top belies the fact that the bulk of the structure lies deep, deep underwater; there’s a crapload of people streaming these days, but most go unwatched while the market favors select individuals with select…traits, we’ll call them. What the streaming market needs now is gimmicks beyond the “hey what’s up guys” beanie and cleavage offerings…like collaboration!

I sent this notification to my friends who aren’t known to be the most “service-progressive” group with the notion of how cool it would be to play something like The Division with a four person perspective, and someone mentioned that it would be awesome to set up a game like Ghost Recon: Wildlands which does require players to spread out more and would provide a more exciting multi-person view of the same action. They seemed amazingly open to the idea, which is awesome! We just need to remember to set it up one night when we’re all online in order to try it.

Truth be told, I could have always done this. I had once (or twice, actually) set up a custom RTMP server that I could have several users ‘cast to, which would allow me to set up their end points as different sources in OBS or Xsplit, but then I’d have to broadcast that out to Twitch or Beam which meant a crapload of traffic on my side, and this is before we’ve even gotten to the bandwidth required for whatever game I was playing. Infiniscene apparently runs everything from their side, meaning that their tray app takes my input only — game and/or webcam — and munges it together on their server and sends the resulting signal to the service of my choice. This is unlike apps such as OBS and XSplit which send my signal directly to Twitch or Beam or YouTube in isolation.

Seriously, I can’t believe none of the other services have done this, although I suspect that it’ll only be a matter of time before they do.

Read More »