Grab Bag for Friday July 28, 2017

Posted by on Jul 28, 2017 in Citadel Forged With Fire, Fortnite, Hardware, Secret World Legends, The Secret World, Yonder

Sometimes when I have nothing specific to talk about, I resort to the blogger’s standby, the grab-bag. I’m sure you’d figure that out upon reading, but I felt I needed a lead in of some sort. Toilet Bacon.

Fortnite, Streaming, and the Forward March

Despite the irritation over Fortnite devs looking to striate their consumers via third party partnerships, I jumped online last night to take on the role of quest-giver by streaming my gameplay for (hopefully) other Fortnite players.

Apparently, connecting your Twitch account to your game account is enough to earn you the streamer-side mission. You need to complete this mission in order to start the process of handing out viewer missions, I assume, based on the quest verbiage (“complete this mission to allow…” or something to that effect).

I would like to know if viewers all get missions, or if there’s a system which hands them out to random people who have connected their accounts; Out of the five viewers I had, the only two who played the game both received missions. Was that because everyone who plays and views were awarded, or was it simply because the viewing population was spare enough that the system just decided to pull an Oprah? Ideally, this could be a good carrot to bring in Fortnite players to smaller streams, since being one of just a few viewers means guaranteed quest assignments if granting said quest is based on percent chance.

We also found that although players are asked to choose an international data center as their home, there are no barriers to playing with people across oceans.

At the end of the stream, I had apparently reached a specific point in the progression that the game just started to vomit progress on me. I now have several missions, several survivor panels, and even some base defenders available to me. I can now be a random drop on other player’s shield defense missions as well. The same confusion still stands, although there are some rays of light peeking through here and there in terms of explanations.

Citadel: Forged with Fire

A few weeks ago a game magically appeared on our doorsteps. Citadel: Forged with Fire is a survivalbox game of the mystical arts which sees you starting out in the ruins of a castle with nothing but some rags on your frame. Like Fortnite, there’s not a lot of guidance as to how to proceed, and while I was given some skill points to use I misspent them and found myself scrounging for things to do in order to gain XP.

I have a love-hate relationship with survival games. On one hand, I think they have a crap-ton of potential simply because the players have nothing, and have to get something, and possibly everything. On the other hand, they are mind-numbingly tedious with their food and drink, and the incessant gathering. Once you unlock all the recipes, what else is there to do? Explore, sure, and take on the most powerful NPCs, but I can do most of that in any bread and butter MMO.

Citadel, for the time being, is more interesting than other survivalbox games I have played for a few reasons. First, no food and water, so you can just roam to your heart’s content. Second, your first weapon is a freakin’ magic wand, not an axe or a knife or spear. You are in 100% “just escaped from Azkaban” Harry Potter mode, and for some reason that just feels bad-ass. Third, the game is stupidly gorgeous. Wandering through the forest is just amazing and feels like a real forest (contrasted to many other games whose forests feel like a careful arrangement of resources resembling a forest). I’ve taken down elk, faeries, and the vampiric rabbit with my magical mana blasts, but I saw orcs and even a giant that I was not going to mess with. In fact, my first death was because I jumped in the water without realizing that it was actually an acid pool. Oopsie!

Gameplay wise, I’m not sure if this will hold up, but for first impressions, it’s knocking things out of the park. The only way this could be better at this point would be if there was a VR mode.

Yonder, Switch, and Other Remains

So I had purchased Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles when it was taking the Internet by storm because it was a combat-less exploration game that looked a lot like The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker with a little bit of Animal Crossing thrown in for flavor. I played for a few hours, but then Fornite arrived and I haven’t returned to Yonder and I feel kinda bad about that.

Not as bad as I feel about not having touched the Switch in a few days, though. I played a good amount of LoZ when it was all I had, but then I bought Splatoon 2 thinking that it would be a cool low consequence team shooter that I could just half-ass my way through and have fun while doing it. Instead, the control options just piss me off no matter which way I configure them, motion control or traditional stick aiming. I hadn’t tried the multiplayer, opting to give the single player a shot to get my squid-legs under me first, but when I got to the first boss I almost threw the Switch to the pavement in frustration. There’s nothing like pissing me off to make me want to never pick up a game again. Problem is, distance between myself and LoZ is getting wider, and the whole “playing while hanging out with the family” thing was nice on paper, but lacks the pull in practice. I’m waiting for a compelling game for the Switch at this point because I’m having pangs of buyer’s remorse…again.

Oh! And Kingsway. I had some Steam wallet funds so I picked up that RPG that looks like you’re playing within a Windows 3.1 desktop. It’s well worth the $9.99 and for something that looks stupidly simplistic, it’s actually a decent game. There’s no parties or online or loot progression. It’s just a straightforward old-school (in many ways, literally) RPG with some funky tongue-in-cheek elements that have made me laugh. It’s something I can play for a while when nothing else grabs me.

And shout outs to Master X Master and Secret World Legends. I haven’t forgotten you, so stop glaring at me from the desktop!

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LTTP: Nintendo Switch

Posted by on Jul 10, 2017 in Consoles, Hardware

The Nintendo Switch continues to be the most elusive piece of gaming hardware on the market these days, which is why when Amazon had some available on Friday, I panicked and slammed the BUY NOW button as quickly as possible without even considering the ramifications. Like, spending $300 on a system from a company I like OK but have no overwhelming desire to concern myself with.

Thing is, when it arrived the next day (All hail Amazon), I was shocked by the quality of the thing. Not that Nintendo makes crap — I’ve had my 3DS for many, many years now without any issues — but after the relative debacle of the WiiU and the fact that Nintendo’s market strategy is “flip MS and Sony the bird, and throw themselves down the hill with reckless abandon while giggling all the way”, it’s apparent that Nin’s either pulling an Apple and eating their own dog food when designing and developing, or they are from the future and know exactly what’s coming next in terms of exciting things*. tl;dr: Nintendo’s stuff is usually either really awesome or just shy of being lukewarm.

The dock is…a piece of plastic. I know there was some disappointment in that the dock doesn’t help the output to the TV any, but I suppose that decision helps keep the price down. It has an HDMI output, a power input, and a USB jack for reasons (I’m guessing for charging something). Originally there were reports that the dock could scratch the screen of the tablet, but my dock seems OK thus far.

Also included were two peripherals. The first was a traditional controller grip that accepted the 2 wireless “joy-con” controllers, and the second was a sliver of plastic with a wrist strap that is intended to complete a single joy-con into a stand-alone controller. Why there’s only one of these slivers for 2 joy-cons is beyond me, except to provide another up-sell opportunity.

The wireless controllers are smaller than I expected and light enough that I have concerns about using them without the tablet or docked with the controller grip. As widgets that contain gyroscopes and sensors and all that, you can close your fist around each of them for games like A.R.M.S. I suppose. Sadly, I got a unit which suffers from the dreaded “left con desync” issue which means the left controller looses connection to the console if it gets too far away. I’m told that a piece of conductive foam added to the innards is Nintendo’s fix, but I have contact customer support to get a replacement sent to me (saddling me with possible downtime during the turn-around).

The “console” itself is actually larger than expected, at least lengthwise. And lighter. And snappier. Also, shinier, which makes using it outside next to impossible (I tried!). Actually, I guess I had some pretty low expectations for the Switch, but the overall package is better than the sum of its parts. I hadn’t bought a game when I made the purchase of the console (No time! Must beat the rush!) so we stopped at Target on Saturday to pick up Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Having really only played tablet-focused games on tablet-sized devices which tend to be on the underpowered side, the game was visually stunning. It ran perfectly, and even holding the thing with the 2 controllers docked on either side was comfortable for the most part (the tablet did slip from my grasp a few times when reaching for certain occasional buttons).

I am pleased with the Switch thus far. LoZ is the only game I have, and I’m content with that. I can’t really use it with the TV right now due to the desync issue, but I had always anticipated that most of its use would be in portable mode anyway, sitting in the living room while my wife watches TV. I now have to immerse myself in the Nintendo ecosystem, because aside from LoZ and Mario Kart 8, I have no real idea what the Switch offers or what’s forthcoming for the system.

 

*Some might discount the “from the future” notion by saying that if they were, then they would have known the WiiU would bomb, to which I say of course! But if they were wildly successful all the time, people would get suspicious and want a closer investigation into how Nintendo can be so damn effective while constantly producing products that go against the grain of what the games industry is always telling us is the most important: horsepower, speed, graphics, online, etc. By stumbling on occasion, Nintendo can shrug it off once in a while and keep their time-traveling shenanigans a secret.

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Amazon Echo

Posted by on Jun 28, 2017 in Hardware, Other Geeks

Amazon Echo

Any nerd who’s seen Star Trek knows that no one bothers to use a keyboard (despite being all over the Enterprise anyway) when they want to send an email or correspond with sexy single Klingons in their area. As technology has moved forward into the 24th century, the preferred method of human-computer interface is shouting into thin air and totally expecting something to come of it.

Here in the backwaters of the 21st century, we’re still pecking out text messages on our tiny smartphones like cavepeople. We can’t even send dick pics without some manual intervention (allusion intentional). The use of voice commands isn’t quite there yet for controlling our devices, but things do seem to be trending in that direction. We can commune with Siri or settle in with OK Google or interact with Cortana, sadly without the sexy blue hologram. Our efforts sometimes pay off, but more often than not I expect that voice interaction with our tech is accidentally ordering 20 lobsters for shipment to Mozambique than it is setting a reminder to pick up a loaf of bread on the way home from work.

Amazon — all hail Amazon — continues to find ways to shoehorn itself into our lives with the Echo line of voice (and now video) enabled devices. Of course, Amazon — all hail Amazon — wants us to use their services for everything: to buy books, to buy clothing, toys, electronics, movies, music, and (in the three metro places where they offer it) groceries. It’s stupidly convenient to get a shipment from Amazon like it ain’t no thing: Prime shipping with One Click ordering means we might not even realize that we ordered something until it arrives on our doorstep. The Echo is Amazon’s — all hail Amazon — attempt to bring a little Star Trek into our lives.

The flagship Echo is a $180USD tower that comes with a built-in speaker, but for those on a budget there’s the Echo Dot, a smaller puck sized device sans speaker that can be had for as low as $35USD. These deco-enabled devices can sit on the sidelines until someone randomly says “Alexa” — one of the device’s activation words — too loudly, at which point the device springs to action in the way you wish your S.O. would: waiting patiently to listen to anything you want to tell it. You can tell the Echo to put a shopping item on a list, play songs from Pandora, Spotify, or (of course) Amazon Music, get a weather forecast, control your smart home, tell you a joke, or do something else enabled through one of the myriad of “skills” you can activate on your account like it was downloading from The Matrix.

Does that sound awesome to you? Possibly not. Unlike the 24th century where society has evolved to a point where voice interface is the prevalent and most convenient way to work with technology in their fast paced environment, we’re still not quite at the point where shouting at the aether is more efficient or more accurate than any other method we have at our disposal. I can OK Google a timer as quickly as I can get the Echo to start one. I can open an app on my phone and add an item to a shopping list as fast as I can by ordering the Echo to do the same. I can also play my songs from my tablet through my Bluetooth speakers just as easily as I could through the Echo, with the added bonus of being able to take the music with me as I move through the house or to plug in some earbuds if I want some privacy.

The Echo technology is getting there, though. This morning I found that the new “Drop In” functionality had been enabled on my devices (I have three Echo Dots, one on each floor of my house). This feature allows my family and me to use the Echo as an intercom system, a feature that was forehead-smackingly absent from the original product. At $35 each, it’s easy to buy multiple Dots for whenever and wherever you feel the need to talk to someone elsewhere in the house without shouting, and being able to talk to another Dot or Echo on your network seems like a feature worth the price of admission. I tried it out with my wife this morning, communicating from the kitchen to the bedroom, and aside from the acoustics reaching me through good old vibrating air a few seconds before the Dot transmitted the same, it worked flawlessly. Of course, this is only good for when you have multiple Echo devices throughout your home or want to use the smartphone app to remotely intercom with someone at home, or want to monitor what’s going on in your house or apartment through the new Echo Show, which is the realization of the dreams of many futurists from the 1990’s who wanted a viable video phone in their lifetime.

Like dick pics

The Echo is, at best, a magnetic notepad with tethered pen that you can stick to your fridge so you don’t have to root around in a junk drawer for the same when you need to make a list or leave a note, but at $35 it improves on that notepad in a technology-forward way for those who are into that. Considering we only have about a decade until Amazon — all hail Amazon — has at least five different vectors into each of our lives, I can only expect the technology to get better and possibly more useful. Right now, though, it’s a fun novelty that can be made to fit into a niche in our lives that gives us a “summer stock” vision of a Star Trek future.

 

Footnote: I know a lot of people are going to scrunch up their faces and wonder why I didn’t address things like privacy concerns or the possibility of cyber attacks turning the devices against us. I am not an analyst, despite the fact that I have a blog and write a whole lot of words without saying a damn thing worth noting. There are people who are much better at talking about these things than I am — take Mr. Koster’s post above as an example.

The Echo — and the Internet, and the things on the Internet — will always only be as safe as the infrastructure that supports them, and as secure as the people and business that support that infrastructure are willing and able to make them. As a consumer, my job isn’t to harden my node against any and all attacks, because there’s only so much I can do at what they refer to as “the last mile”; instead, I need to decide where to place my trust, if I am placing any trust at all, among those who control the lion’s share of pathways and services that are available to me. This is not a question of tech, but a question we all have to face, every day, as a species. Who we trust and how much we trust them has always been a part of the human condition. We need to trust our banks, our employers and employees, our neighbors, our families, and even total strangers. We need to decide who to trust with our money and our health and our futures every single day, tech or no tech. Technology is neutral; the Echo itself isn’t maliciously haunting you out of the box.

So it’s really up to the individual how far each of us wants to allow tech into our lives. We can arm ourselves with truth — not speculation, or even panicked what-if’s — and then…we have to decide who among those upstream of us deserve our trust. Considering Amazon knows as much about me as any other service I use these days, and chances are they know just about as much about you, then I think the Echo is about as safe as the PCs, consoles, tablets, and smartphones that we have come to rely on.

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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.

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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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