AppleTV Updated

Finally, Apple decided to update the AppleTV – and promote it to the product menu bar on the main site!  This common, and popular, device had been overlooked for four years!

The changes are exactly what I was wishing for… but somehow not enough.  The main thing I wanted was apps.  It seemed kinda dumb that an iOS device (the previous AppleTV was running iOS 5) couldn’t run apps.

The internals have been improved significantly to support the load that modern apps will certainly give to the hardware.  An A8 processor (mostly the same in the iPad Air 2, with a different GPU), 2GB RAM, and 32-64GB flash storage.  Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi 802.11 ac (along with the other letters).

But Apple has never been strictly about the internals.  You shouldn’t need to know exact RAM numbers to know how the experience will be 1.  Apple has always been about the experience, even if it causes the device to be a little more expensive.

So what is the experience?  Well, the existing AppleTV experience is a gimme.  It was already very good and uniquely seamless… playing iTunes content and receiving AirPlay streams is a very satisfying experience.  The downside?  The doors were closed to anything else.  So now with apps, the experience gets much wider.  Plex is better than iTunes.  2  TuneIn Radio would be nice to have on the same box.  And then there’s games!

<record scratch>. 3

Of course there’s going to be games, when people talk about the App Store for iOS, their first thought is GAMES.  But, the App Store games have been unique beasts until now.  Odd games with ridiculously simple controls and brief (seconds to minutes) of typical game time.  Games like Threes, Angry Birds and Plants Vs. Zombies really worked on a portable, touchscreen, battery-powered handheld that you had with you anyway.  Put it on a screen with three other bored family members watching and it won’t work.

The games have to change nature, obviously.  When you fire up a game in the living room, you do so with hours, not minutes in mind.  Solo games are still fine, of course (they already succeed on the consoles, so that proves that).  But the AppleTV as a gaming device is going into the arena with a handful of potential games worth playing.  I too loved the demo of Crossy Road, it looked great… but I think I would only play it on the big screen for 10 minutes.  The Apple ad highlighted Asphalt 8, and there’s also Real Racing 3, another graphics-beautiful game that lends itself wonderfully to the controller.  And with the In-App Purchases you can…

<record scratch>.  <audience gasp>. <crickets>. 4

I bought Real Racing 2.  It was fun, if a bit unrealistic.  It was self-contained and cost money up front.  Real Racing 3 came out, and was mostly improved except it’s now Freemium… so you can play for free as long as you stop playing every few races to let it recharge.  Stop.  Playing.  Tell me if that’s going to work when you’re on the couch with a cool drink and controller in hand.  I know, there are about 1% of the players that actually pay for cubits or gemoids or coinules or whatever they have 5.

The easy(tm) solution is to charge more for the games.  I’m actually fine with that, as I’d pay $5-$10 for a really good game.  That would be kinda the upper limit, the reason for which will I will explain shortly.  So maybe that will happen.  I’m actually pretty certain(tm) that it will, actually, though I think the prices will balance out at a little more around $10-$20.

Now back to the hardware.  It has the grunt to drive these games, but there are two significant problems that stand out right away.

First, controller support is restricted to MFi controllers, so those awesome and cheap USB controllers you already have (like the ubiquitous Xbox 360 controller) cannot be used.  So you can get an AppleTV for $149 plus a controller for $49 more.  $200 USD for an unknown console with a single controller… now that’s not too bad given new console prices.  Except I could pop out today and get a PS3 with 4 really good games (Lego Batman 3 and the Sly Collection) for $219 CDN.  With 500GB of storage.

Which leads me to my next issue.  There are only two levels of storage differentiating the $149 and $199 models Is 32GB enough, or is 64GB enough?  Right now very few know.  A high-end iOS game at the moment might push 2GB, or possibly more, but recently released developer information explains that apps for the AppleTV can only reserve 200 megabytes of persistent storage each.  They can download and cache a whole lot more than that, apparently, but given memory pressure (i.e. lots of different apps, not just games) using that cache, it will be dumped and you will have to redownload it.  So the snappy performance of the device when you first set it up will probably fade.  In practice, maybe you don’t notice this much, since you’d have to run a lot of different apps to create the memory pressure required to dump the cache of one.  Most people would focus around 4 or 5 apps each.  Unless of course you’re a family.

Oh… yeah, that 6.

It would be easy to compare this to the Xbox One, because it does much of what the Apple TV promises, without the Apple integration, of course… but it’s expensive, so I won’t do that.

Let’s go back briefly to the pricing of games…  It seems to me the big competitor they’ve just walked into the ring with is Valve.  Steam sales are ridiculous.  It’s not unusual to get a significant and excellent game on Steam for under $5.  Steam games are often cheaper than their iOS ports.  But, PC games and consoles are very different things.  The other key is the Steam Link hardware that is coming out next month.  A $59 CDN box will stream your PC/Mac games to your big screen.  It supports Xbox 360 controllers as well as a few others, and they are releasing a new $59 (CDN) controller as well, that is looking promising.  So for games, it’s $119 for a game plus controller, and a TON of cheap, high-quality games.  And an online store that works really well.  It will also stream your music if you really need to (MP3 only).  Maybe movies will come soon, who knows.  While it’s true it’s a streaming-only device, and you need your computer on… AppleTV is mostly the same for movies and music.  (Yes I know about iCloud)

I think the real potential competitor to the new AppleTV is the old AppleTV + Steam Link.  $89 + $59 = $148 CDN beats $149 US by a fair margin.  Enough to throw in a controller, if you really really don’t have one.

Comparing unreleased, unknown products is often an exercise in madness.  But at least my madness is well exercised.  I think we’ll know how this all shakes out in about a year.  Mark this down.

  1.  Quick, tell me how much RAM a PS3 has!  Whether you know that number or not, you realize it doesn’t matter as much as it would on a desktop
  2. There.  I said it.
  3. For the younger set, you might have to Google this
  4. You have to add your own sound effects here.  Work with me, people.
  5. For the older set, don’t bother Googling these
  6. Won’t someone think of the poor RECORDS?

Freemium Free

It began with an outright refusal to pay extra to play more of a game. Freemium games are now dead to me.

I should define more early what I mean. In this context I don’t mean a full game or app with add-ins, like extra levels or “pro” functionality. I figure each level is very usable and enjoyable, and you get to what you pay for, many times if you so choose.

What I have come to loathe is the “gems”, “crystals” (or its analog) idea, where you have to pay in virtual and also real currency continuously to enjoy the game.

Related to this are repeated notifications that draw you back into the game – clearly to maintain their revenue stream.

I kinda find the fun game experience should do that, don’t you think? For example, PvZ was really fun. I bought it on three platforms and replayed it twice on each. PvZ 2 was really, well, not fun. It was all about maintaining an economy of premium features. You could only enjoy what you could afford in the game. It has thus been deleted.

IMG_0105.JPG

The final hanger-on was Real Racing 3. I actually did enjoy this game (when I wasn’t cursing its knife-edged grip modeling). It gave you quite a lot for free, but it still bugged me. I couldn’t repeatedly race my favorite car, because they all have an artificially imposed limit… unless, of course, you pay. Secondly, I grew annoyed at the regular (daily) notifications that “you really should be playing”. Yes I know I can turn these off, but why are they there in the first place? When I needed a few extra gig to upgrade iOS the other day, I finally unloaded it. I hadn’t played it for months anyway.

So with that, I no longer have any freemium games at all on any of my devices. When I see one on the App Store I first look at the in app purchase list and if it has a satchel or truckload or baggie of gems or crystals or whatever, I know it will not add to my fun. Instead, I will play a fantastic game like Minecraft PE or True Skate, or, who knows, maybe I’ll even start PvZ again.

Another Running Game…

Or so I thought. Rayman Jungle Run (Canadian store, YMMV) was made free over the year-end holiday season. I grabbed it, though my iOS game collection is a little too bloated at the moment… And I am so glad I did. It has all of the zany atmosphere and inventive puzzle-solving aspects of the newer Rayman games in a nonstop running game. The music is awesome. I seriously replayed a level to get the “wacka-doo” song again. 🙂

It’s 2D, it has one button for control, but so far it’s perfect.

RealRacing 3

I, like many other racing fans, eagerly awaited Firemint’s latest offering in the mobile offering, RealRacing 3. I bought both previous games in the series (even got RR2 for two different devices). I was excited when I saw the videos, and excited to know it would be free! So when it was released, I kept checking my iTunes Store to grab it as soon as I could. I got it!

Then I read the backlash. I checked the IAP prices… Yowza, that’s ridiculous. Should I just forgo the game and play the still-great RealRacing 2? Well, let me try it a bit.

Man, it looks good. The controls are as good as I’d expect. The physics is fun, and the grip model is not “all or nothing” like RR1. It’s good.

The issues come when you have to repair your car and they put their hand out – either to get you to pay actual cash or wait a few minutes for basic repairs, for example, oil changes are necessary and take about 3 minutes. Tires take a little longer, and so on.  Really, it’s not that bad.  I just queued up oil, brakes, and tires (about 10 minutes) and took a little break. I wrote a blog post. I’m not sure how the game will progress, of course. Will it be ‘pay to win’? But there’s one thing I’m very certain of right now.

I will not pay a thin dime in IAP.

I’m insufferably cheap with these things. I would have dropped a few bucks for this game, so I guess I have my profligate moments. But if I can merely grind to get farther in the game, I will.

So far, this looks like a reachable and reasonably fun goal.

PSN Plus

I got a 50% off deal on a 3-month subscription to Playstation Plus the other day. There was one or two freebies that I was interested in (Quantum Conundrum!). I discovered that I again have access to games I downloaded when I had a free trial a year ago or so. That tells me if I let a subscription lapse and pick it up again, I get my freebies back! Very nice.

It was hard to find this information out, now I know first-hand.

MacHeist has an iOS app

MacHeist, notably using “The HEIST” as their new tagline, has just today released an iOS app.  I was at first put off that it was 99 cents, and not free, but I realized it almost certainly leads to some serious savings in something else.  If only I knew what that something else was, to know if it was worth it to me!

Apart from that, how is it for the game itself?  The puzzles in the game are pretty common, and not too difficult (so far).  There’s a 15-type game where you have to connect the wires, a “free parking” kind of game, a tile based “place the pebble” type game which isn’t as hard as it looks (and the hints are there), and a Sokoban kind of game with a really cool looking little robot.  So far I got a couple of the locks unlocked, but I need to put it aside for the moment and get some other things done, too!

The art is really well done and the app simulates a phone call from Sophia, which is a really nice touch, too.

I know a few are going to be annoyed at the barrier to entry for this year’s heist – and I don’t mean the 99 cents, I mean that you *have to* have an iOS device now.  The opening of the first scene on the web page could have been done with a store’s display model but since you have to buy an app now, I think that might cause some complaints.  I do sympathize, but I like the “hands on” nature of the new heist.

I finished “cracking the safe” which happens about 75% of the way through the puzzles, and unlocked a copy of Eets, a Steam game.  It’s OK, I could have done without it, and may not end up playing it with all the other games I have.  However, there are achievements, and that means I gotta finish them all!  I finally finished not only all of the puzzles but all of the achievements too… finishing the puzzles wins you a certificate and a buck off the upcoming MacHeist bundle, and finishing the achievements only gets you a happy happy feeling.

It was definitely a fun game, worth the 99 cents, but not much replayability in it.  They could easily add puzzles later, and might just do so.  I don’t regret getting it though.

SimCity 4

I picked up SimCity 4 Deluxe for $5 the other day. What a bargain! This is a really cool and deep game. Of course I started out with a city called “Tinatown”.

The Road Rage expansion is cool too, you can drive around in your city on a few various missions, though they are a little repetitive.

I found and installed a mod/plugin called NAM that adds a ton of cool traffic and road options that make the game much more intelligent. There are a whole bunch of highway and overpass options I haven’t even glanced at yet.