Tales Of Computeria

On this last day of November, I’m contemplating the benefits of my under-utilized laptop. Sure, my kids get a lot out of it — we share — for their school work and such, but I’ve yet to really put my RTX-enabled GPU to work (ok, play). That’s because I prefer to stay comfy in Apple Land — my iPad is my computer (is that hipster-ish?). It’s practical, but more than that, I truly like the synergy and ease of use between my iPhone and iPad (and Apple Watch).

My iPad works much like a laptop with a bluetooth keyboard and mouse that I frequently use. And Apple has truly made iPadOS function more like MacOS in recent years with “Desktop-class browsing” in Safari — let me tell you it’s true because it really works great (cursor hover states!) in the WordPress CMS and in Google Drive/Docs.

That said, when it comes to laptop-like functionality (are you sitting down?), my Windows laptop actually works better! I mean, you know, because it’s an actual laptop and all.

I had to download a game from Steam, which can’t be done on the iPad. So to my Windows 11 laptop I turned (Win 11 is super nice BTW, though it’s still Windows). As I used my slick gaming laptop, it impressed me. The Edge browser, Discord App, Twitter, and Steam all looked and worked nicely on a much more expansive display (over 5 inches larger, which can also easily connect to a giant external monitor or TV via its handy built-in HDMI). Suffice to say, it’s a nice laptop.

So as one who typically swings back and forth between computers, it’s not surprising that I’m feeling certain attraction toward my laptop…but I’d never break up with my iPad, right? Of course not…

But here’s the thing. While I was on Steam grabbing a game demo (Rise of the Third Power if your curious), I noticed another game, Tales of Arise. It’s a recently released AAA title from Bandai Namco, and it’s a JRPG. The thing is, it was made for the PS4 and PS5 consoles, so I never considered it available to me. In other words, since it’s not on Switch, I can’t play it, so I had no desire or real interest in it even though it’s generally considered a great RPG. But after seeing it available on Steam, on my laptop, and within my ability to purchase and play it without the need to buy a new console, I was smacked in the face! I can play Tales of Arise since it was ported to PC (as opposed to Switch).

Not only can I play more great games now, I realize, but I can play them very well since my laptop has a new Nvidia RTX GPU; I’ve already enjoyed RTX-enabled Minecraft on it. So my laptop is like a PS5 or Xbox Series X; it can handle big fancy games as if it’s a latest hard-to-find console. This really flipped a switch in my brain.

After widening my eyes to the fact I can play some great games I previously thought I had no access to, my laptop started to seem like a new console to me (I’ve only been a console gamer really, with some handheld on the side, not counting mobile). So I quickly decided to soon buy an Xbox controller for it. But something else then occurred to me: not only can my laptop play AAA games like a console, it can do so much more because it’s not just a console, it’s a computer. While that seems obvious, it’s the kind of no-brainer fact that takes on renewed significance after seeing it from a fresh perspective.

A good gaming laptop can play new and great AAA console-level games, and it can perform many other tasks, run programs, and of course surf the web. Yeah, you don’t need real-time ray-tracing to send out a snarky Tweet, but does it hurt? Not really. Actually, if we move into “the Metaverse,” a strong GPU might be required just to email in virtual reality, who knows? If so, the chip shortage will be lengthened, but I digress.

So all that said, I’ll keep enjoying my iPad as my main computer, and I’ll put my laptop to good use otherwise. I won’t switch machines, and I won’t not switch either. I’ll just use whatever I feel like using or whichever fits my needs at any given moment the most. I’ll leave it at that for now.

Metroid Dread Impression

Metroid 5 Is Like Super Duper Metroid

For my birthday this year, I received a physical copy of Metroid Dread! I’m four hours into the game and have made it to the third region of the planet. So far, it’s been a fun and challenging game full of classic Metroid features.

Physical case featuring cool Samus portrait, with E.M.M.I.s photo-bombing the background.

Following polished and succinct opening cut-scenes with backstory, players quickly find themselves somewhere deep inside the planet, ready to explore with urgent caution. Like the world in Super Metroid (Metroid 3 for SNES), Planet ZDR is a huge labyrinth of corridors and passageways. Exploration is a constant room-to-room question of “Which way is next?” There are innumerable door types with different locking/unlocking requirements. Early in the game, there is a mostly linear path — yet it doesn’t feel linear — through the planet’s regions despite there being multiple ways to go between each room. Backtracking is present from the start, plus there are a few tricky-to-reach places for the random energy tank or missile expansion. After a few hours, though, Metroid Dread opens up slightly.

As in other Metroid titles, there are many places where players see a room or item that can’t yet be accessed or obtained — teasing. Sometimes these areas clue players into what might be needed before access is available — it’s pretty obvious where the Morph Ball is required — but other times the game surprises players with a special “switch,” such as reversing the flow of magma to open thermal gates, which unblocks a path somewhere.

Running-and-gunning action is the name of the gameplay loop on top of constant exploration for key items, which gain access to vital upgrades and new areas.

Due to numerous complex passageways, entrances, exits, doors, locks, and the like, level design is excellent, suggesting countless hours of thorough gameplay testing. Though rooms share a common theme in a particular region, there are enough details and differences to avoid gross monotony. The pristine 2D platforms with 3D-ish backgrounds look gorgeous in both handheld and docked mode, with gameplay on a big TV revealing more fine detail, like motes of dust floating through light shafts. Special effects fit the game engine perfectly: an aura like transparency in the cloaked suit, the subtle pulsating light of Samus’ laser sight, or the electric bolts of the spider magnet.

Music is adequately atmospheric and changes slightly, for example when sneaking or all-out running through an E.M.M.I. area. As in Super Metroid, music also changes for each region. Sound effects are perfectly suited to everything. What’s most fun for veteran players is the nostalgia of music tracks and sound effects slightly revised from Super Metroid.

Maps are indispensable for exploring planet ZDR’s massive maze of interconnected corridors.

Looking for the right items at the right time while searching for the right way through each area is a test of patience, a mental puzzle to solve. The E.M.M.I. areas are fun to blitz through, hoping to get lucky and find the next door to race out of before being caught. It doesn’t feel gimmicky at all; there’s fun in being chased. Afterwards, with a quickened pulse, players must consciously slow their pace in regular areas so as to not miss possible entrances, exits, or items. They also must slow down to properly engage each enemy as creatures are very well designed to require slightly different moves for defense or offense. For example, a certain flying creature charges players, then suddenly pauses in a sort of head fake, then rushes in again. Timing is everything, and players must use the parry move before shooting. Other alien-like insects simply require that Samus duck to shoot. However, these change a bit with weapon upgrades.

Metroid Dread’s atmosphere, size, and setting all contribute to a feeling of isolation, except for a handful of initial mission briefings from the in-game A.I. As for dread, players will feel more hesitant caution and sudden urgency. While E.M.M.I.s add appreciable value with their new gameplay element — viscerally annihilate when possible, otherwise avoid like the plague — the classic problem of quickly losing energy when entering a high-heat area without protective armor stokes panic, which then instills apprehension later upon seeing heatwaves emanate from an adjacent area.

An E.M.M.I. (All image credits to Nintendo.)

The game is quite challenging; I’ve seen the game over screen many times. The first major boss I fought began to frustrate and discourage me after several attempts because it seemed there wasn’t a way to effectively maneuver and fight. Finally, after much trial and error, and with my son’s helpful observation, I figured it out and was able to easily win at that point; it felt really good. Metroid Dread is also difficult to grasp because there are many moves mapped to many buttons; I often press the wrong shoulder button. It takes a lot of practice, but I find that once a bit of proficiency sets in with muscle memory, the game’s control scheme really flows. I have enjoyed several moments of rushing into a room, getting ambushed, but then being able to quickly react, defend, target, and neutralize threats like a pro bounty hunter should. It’s very satisfying.

Overall, Samus’ latest mission is filled with classic Metroid gameplay, and it might be one of the best titles in the series; it’s near the top with Super Metroid. The triple-A game appears to be a highly respectable addition to Nintendo’s trophy case. With several hours left to play, I may have a final verdict when I finish. For those who want a fun Switch game to play, Metroid Dread should be on top of the must-play list.

Instagram Challenger Bokeh Canceled

Around early Summer 2019, a new photo social network was kickstarted. Bokeh was to be like Instagram before Facebook ruined it. With promise and potential built-in, being based upon solid core principles, I was interested and supportive, backing the endeavor on Kickstarter. Sadly, after two years in development, the project has been canceled.

I was enthusiastic about Bokeh and the idea that something like the original Instagram could reappear. I wanted a social media platform more focused on the photo aspect rather than the social aspect. I guess that would have been like Flickr is now, which when I last checked was still pretty nice.

While a bit disappointing to see the project not meet its goals, I understand not all dreams become reality. Still, it was worth a shot; I believed in it.

Now that we’re at this point, though, I’m wondering if maybe it’s best to not have any new social media sites. They simply tend to degrade over time for various reasons. However, there is another new photo/social site up and coming called Glass.

Glass seems to embody similar core principles as did Bokeh, one being that it’s a paid service, so it’s not based on the scammy ad model that sucks up all your private/personal data (meta or otherwise), using it to target ads at you, and possibly using it for other nefarious purposes. The other Bokeh-like feature is no algorithms, just a chronological feed. How quaint! Also no metrics, no likes, and only commenting; I’d like to try that.

So we have Flickr and Glass available for photo/social and maybe others I’m not aware of. Good options exist for something like Instagram circa 2011, but I don’t have the same interest in all that anymore. When the photo bug bites me again, I’ll probably just use SmugMug owned Flickr. But Glass remains on my radar.

Facebook Now Meta Still Problematic

Last week, while reaping a negative PR blitz, Facebook the company announced its new name, “Meta.” Maybe they should have added a “The,” you know, to make it messier. ”The Meta.”

From what I’ve read, people will be able to make a new account on Meta, separate from the Facebook site. If that’s the case, then I look forward to NOT creating a Meta account. Ever.

If Mark Zuckerberg creates a unifying and all-encompassing interface/platform to access the ever-present nebulous metaverse — isn’t that really just cyberspace? — that billions of people are to rely upon, then he will be an ever more powerful gatekeeper, more than he already is for the current set of apps/services: Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus.

If Meta finds success, then will the CEO’s increased power be matched with an increase in responsibility with accountability? And if Zuckerberg’s legion of employees already cannot adequately moderate the company’s current social sites, then how can they be the watchmen for the larger metaverse? Finally, after 17 years of existence, the US government is just now starting to regulate social media. How long will it take to regulate the metaverse, let alone understand what it even is? These and related questions deserve careful consideration.

At the same time, I doubt the overall idea of accessing the metaverse via a unified augmented reality interface through multiple advanced tech devices. Such lofty and ambitious sci-fi claims are somewhat confounding and dubious. While certain niche applications may find utility in a hi-tech conceit like the metaverse, I don’t think that paradigm will become ubiquitous.

One reason is the simple fact that, no matter how affordable devices become, most people who don’t already wear glasses, for example, will not want to suddenly wear glasses — no matter how “smart” they are — just to use a “computer.” Expecting billions of people to submit to the daily wearing of specialized gear other than maybe a watch on their wrist — which is already a relative sign of privilege or luxury — is naive and overly optimistic. If the brand was known for quality software and hardware and had a good reputation — like Apple — then maybe this would be plausible, but it’s the privacy-challenged Meta/Facebook company, which continues to erode what little trust it has, if any.

“Meta” may expand the scope of Zuckerberg’s reach and influence, for better or worse, and it might be, for the sake of argument, a positive step forward. That said, instead of fully accounting for social media’s extant data privacy issues, among other business ethics concerns and global-scale controversies, Zuckerberg is charging ahead with bigger ideas. This seems reckless, akin to his former mantra, “Move fast and break things.” Must society suffer repeating the broken record? Not wanting to sound alarmist, I mean to err on the side of caution — not warning — which is warranted given the years of scandals and now hard evidence from the Facebook Papers; social media needs correction rather than expansion.

I’d like to think I’m overreacting and that “Meta” is just a new name for Zuckerberg’s existing company, nothing more than a re-branding, so there’s no real change to see here; move along. However, the metaverse idea reflected in ”Meta” shows that the Facebook CEO remains as ambitious as ever, and it suggests a greater unification of Meta’s family of apps and services, a refocusing to bolster whatever Zuckerberg wants to build. It’s like adding more reinforcement to the foundation of social media while the underlying ground remains unstable, causing constant upheaval.

What can or should people do? If not delete Instagram or delete Facebook — and if nothing else — then this: do not create an account on Meta. Don’t join Meta. Resist ongoing years of controversy from Zuckerberg’s productions and avoid cycles of #DeleteMeta. Cut it off before it starts.

October Unfriends Facebook

This month has been one bad report after another for Facebook, coming to a crescendo this week with an onslaught of unfriendly news for Facebook and its Newsfeed. The clarion call to #DeleteFacebook may be at its loudest ever. Yet shareholders seem content, billions of dollars keep piling up, and billions of people seem stuck on the social media service — myself included.

Mark Zuckerberg may never step down or be ousted, but new regulation from the US, England, and maybe more countries, seems inevitable at this point. If that ultimately is good or bad remains to be seen. Hopefully it’s enough to mitigate the deleterious effects of Facebook and also prevent any other company from reaching similar dubious status.

I’m sure you’ve heard something of the above in the news already. Maybe you’ve deleted your Facebook account. As for me, well yeah, I’ve deleted my Facebook account…many times; I always end up returning to the love/hate relationship. I’ve tried to document that on my blog. Also for the record, I remain active on Twitter, a social media site.

For a long time, amidst whatever Facebook PR crisis, I wasn’t moved. But this month, especially this week, I am seriously considering giving the social network a thumbs down and deleting it again. Unfortunately, I would likely end up creating a new account within a year because that’s been my pattern. The pull of close family and friends who remain on Facebook wears me down until, eventually, I’ve forgotten the ills and miss the “thrills” of cat pix, silly memes, and birthday wishes.

There are a few things I find useful on Facebook, like certain Groups for coordinating events . Marketplace also has utility, though it has degraded in recent years. Otherwise, my use of Facebook is infrequent at best. I do not have the app on my phone or tablet, and I only occasionally check the site for new messages, which are few. So for me, Facebook isn’t an addiction; I actively avoid the Newsfeed. That’s why, despite the site’s general woes, I have not been driven to nuke it from orbit like in times past.

That is, of course, until recently. I think there is a good case on principle to delete Facebook; I’ve stated similar thoughts on my blog before. That the company is, on some level, a threat to US democracy, foreign governments, and other societies, seems more than plausible. It appears to be fact at this point, given all the smoking hints since 2017 and now fiery hard evidence with the Facebook Papers. There’s a lot to be said against Facebook and global-scale social media in general, though I don’t wish to dredge it all up now.

Instead of reiterating Facebook’s problems, here’s a potential solution: one form of government regulation should enact a user count cap. Simply make a rule that says any social media site may not have more than 1 billion registered user accounts, and any social media company may not have more than 1 billion registered users. So in the case of Facebook with its three big apps: Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp, all three apps combined cannot have more than 1 billion users. This simple rule would help contain global-scale reach, whether positive or negative. Given the amount of adverse effects worldwide as evidenced from Facebook, a user cap would mititage against such problems.

Surely there are other ideas to help; if you have some, please comment below. In any case, a question I ask is: are the net effects of Facebook more good or more bad? That is tough to answer. When the news media is in an uproar against Facebook’s latest misdeeds, it’s easy to think the company’s net effects are indeed negative; so delete it! When the calm follows the storm — and no elections, riots, coups, insurrections, or pandemics are taking place — the Newsfeed can seem like a happy bit of escapism from the daily grind, full of relevant ads for my favorite coffee and also funny animal videos. Yeah.

Bottom line: for now, I’m keeping my Facebook account, for better or worse, but am very close to deleting it again. Because of the years of repeated privacy problems fueling lack of trust in Facebook and seeing its ill affect on my own family and society in general, I really do think we would all be better off without Facebook. I wish the platform would crumble, not for glee over witnessing the mighty fall, but for the safety and sanity of billions of people, like myself, who can’t seem to escape its reach.

Facebook the company is too big and too powerful, and it still rests in the total control of one man. How does that not sound off more alarms? And where is the US government’s new regulations to rein in Zuckerberg’s reign? Isn’t it time to constrain and restrain social media?