The Echo and Google Home are a Dead End

There has been a lot of hype around ‘home hub’ devices such at the Amazon Echo and the Google Home in 2016. At first glance these devices make perfect sense, a simple speaker that allows you to access intelligent assistants from wherever you happen to be around your home. Just speak a command and stuff happens. However, they are a technology dead end. They only make sense now, in the brief period before wearable computing takes over the world.

Even now, as soon as you have an Apple Watch or the AirPods, and get used to having Siri right there on your wrist, or in your ear, the little box stuck in a room in your home becomes irrelevant. The people clamouring for Apple to enter this market are wrong, Apple is already past the ‘box at home’ phase and onto stage two. The AirPods are a future that makes far more sense that a limited box in the home. Having worn the AirPods for a few weeks now, I can see a very near future, where everyone just has a set of AirPod like devices in their ears permanently, giving them instant access to whichever AI assistant they are used to using.

These hubs are a stepping stone on this road, but they have already been superseded.

Rogue One

There is something wonderful about knowing that we will be getting a new Star Wars movie every year. It takes a lot of the pressure of each individual movie, and also allows space for movies that are a bit different from the typical Star Wars saga movies. Rouge One went this route. It’s unequivocally a Star Wars movie, but the tone and story are a departure from the main saga movies. I really liked Rouge One, for its great story, the way it beautifully ties into the original movies and fleshes out some of their interactions, and for the incredible fan service that the movie was packed with.

I really want to avoid any spoilers at the moment, so this will be just a quick overview. I’ll go way more in-depth once the Blu-ray is out and everyone has had a chance to watch.

This was a movie firmly rooted in the Star Wars universe. Everything looks and feels gritty and real in a way that the original trilogy and the Force Awakens achieved (and the prequels really didn’t). The movie is also chock full of fan service, cameos and references to really drill home the fact. It was delightful picking out . The movie is also full of beautiful shots. From X-wings blasting through stormy canyons to the huge space and land battle that ends the movie, everything is gorgeous.

Story wise, Rogue One tells an important story that sets up for A New Hope and fleshes out some of the story in the original trilogy. Darth Vader in particular is a much more menacing figure aft the subtler references, especially the references to Rebels.

The story struggles a bit with the work it has to do in such a short time. There are a lot of characters in Rouge One, very few of which we have met before. That means there are a lot of rapid fire introductions while also establishing the story. It works, but it is hard work to follow and at times the first third of the movie feels likes its jumping around far too much. Happily, once we have the team together and introduced, the moves settles down and climaxes with a final third that goes down as one of the best Star Wars sequences to date. It’s awesome, awe inshrining, and makes a really complex set of events, with multiple groups doing different things its different places easy to follow and cohesive. You also get treated to Darth Vader reaching his potential.

If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do. It’s a great movie in its own right, and if you are a Star Wars fan this is a worth addition to the universe and one you shouldn’t miss.

The Best Games of 2016

It seems appropriate to start 2017 having a look back at some of the best games I played in 2016. It was a great year for gaming, even though I didn’t get to everything I wanted to play. Anyway, here’s a quick list of what I had the most fun with in 2016.

Civ 6

I have always loved the civilisation games and Civ 6 polishes up the series and adds a great new mechanic with city districts. The games I have played so far have all been interesting and varied, with different win conditions coming into play, and I still want to go back and try out more of the different Civs and different strategies.


While not new in 2016, Hearthstone continues to improve, with more cards, fun new story adventures, and tavern brawls to keep the game interesting. It’s just a fun and engaging game to play on the iPad when you have a few moments to spare.

Uncharted 4

The ending to the Uncharted series was suitably brilliant. A big engaging romp that really realise the series vision for a ‘playable movie’. It also had a great story payoff for long time series fans.

EVE: Valkyrie

PSVR was an awesome release in 2016, making VR simple, cheap and accessible, without sacrificing on the experience. While there were quite a few great games to play on PSVR, EVE is the one that really lives up to the promise of VR. You actually feel like you are dogfighting in space and I find myself regularly going back to it for one more game.

No Man’s Sky

I had a huge amount of fun exploring the universe of NMS with the original game. Sure it was thin on gameplay, but that was easily countered by the ability to just wander around a giant, incredible universe. The patch late this year only made the game better. Planets look nicer and there is now more to do. It’s my go-to game when I just want to kick back and relax.


A few other honourable motions:

Destiny continued to remain fun, although the Iron Lords expansion was a little thin on content.

Stardew Valley is great. It’s Harvest Moon for 2016.

The Witness was both gorgeous and engaging, with its simple looking, yet surprisingly complicated puzzle system.

I’m looking forward to quite a few games in 2017, as well as hopefully finding time to go back and play some of the games I missed in 2016. I’m hopeful 2017 will be another bumper year for gaming.

13 Dec 2016 - Decisions (1)

I noted yesterday, almost offhand, that I was using Unity as my development engine. Obviously, that is a rather big decision, so I ‘ll step through some of my thinking.

While there are myriad game development engines out there at the moment, the main two  contenders are Unreal Engine and Unity, so they are the two that I spent some time testing.

I briefly looked into Stingray and Lumberyard, but both appear to have a rather limited community and less general support than Unity or Unreal.

The decisions in the end was really rather simple and boiled down to three things.


I love the Mac, most of my workflows rely on it, and (at least for the moment) I’m not willing to switch to Windows, even for more power. In my testing, Unity’s editor runs far better on the Mac than the Unreal’s does.


The Unity community is just larger and more vibrant than the Unreal community. I spent some time on there forums and reddit communities for both engines, and Unity has more activity and questions tend to get answer faster. That means it’s easier to get help and there are more guides and tutorials about.

The Unity Asset Store also has heaps more stuff the Unreal. The makes it up asset to find examples of things you want to make, or just outright use something that saves you doing it yourself. I also looked into specific assets that would help with what I had in mind, and Unity has a better selection.

Ease of Use

Obviously this one is subjective, but, Unity is just easier to use. I completed a small project in both engines and Unity just make more sense to me. It also uses C# instead of C++, a language that I’m more comfortable with and I find easier to write.

Unreal does have some high points. The blueprints are nice and a good shortcut. It also does look a bit better out of the box. From what I can find, Unity can look pretty much as good, it just takes a bit more work.

I don’t think it’s incredibly important which engine you use, the important step is to pick one, learn it, and stick with it till the job is done. SO now I have one, it’s onto the getting the job done part.

I’m experimenting with asset pipelines are the moment as my next part of the tool chain to nail down.



12 Dec 2016 - The Plan

I had a nice quiet weekend getting the company books up to date, bug hunting in our practice management software, and generally taking it easy. I can’t do that all the time though, or things would never move forward. It’s time for a plan!

The goal is to create a decent quality game that can be sold on Steam for PC and Mac. I have no idea how console development works, so I will just leave that for now. I do intend to make a small nod in that direction (just in case) by ensuring that the control scheme I go with works with a controller.

I’m making a 2.5D game, in the vein of Shadow Complex, or the classic Another World. I’ve always loved these 2D style adventures, and they just don’t get made that often any more. It also seems to be that the limited perspective and options for movement will make it a bit easier than making a full 3D game.

I plan to start by constructing three or four postcards in Unity. Capturing a few scenes from the game and helping firm up both the style, and my asset pipeline and workflow. At the same time I’ll continue working on tightening up the story.

At this stage, I don’t really know how long getting stage one done will take. I haven’t yet got a good handle on how long making good assets will take and I’m still experimenting with a few different programs and options. (Knowing me, 0 that is going to be a large time sink for a while).

Rather than dwell on it though, the best things to do is just get creating. If things are taking far longer than expected, I can adjust the plan as I go.

8 Dec 2016 - The Last Guardian

My copy of The Last Guardian arrived today, and I am rather excited about it. I’ve been waiting for this game for six odd years now. Ico and Shadow of the Colossus were both near perfect games, and another games from the dev is excisting.

Given all the waiting, I obviously got the collectors edition, which comes with a really great statue of the main characters.

img_2499I only had time for a very brief play, but the first half our of the game is as incredible and enchanting as I had hoped. I’m really looking forward to playing through the whole game.

7 Dec 2016 - Cold Brew

I love coffee, it is one of my favourite foods and I would most definitely not want to live without it.

My preference is cold brew coffee, which is simple to make, and provides you with enough raw coffee concentrate to last you half a week or so (depending on how much coffee you drink.

Cold brewing leeches less of the acid out of the coffee bean,so you end up with a coffee that is a bit less bitter and has a smoother taste to in than a hot brew. Cold brewing also leeches more caffeine out of the coffee than a hot brew, so if you are sensitive to caffeine, take it easy to begin with.

My process is:

Grind about 250g of fresh roasted coffee beans. A fresh grind is super important, you just don’t get the same depth of flavour if you use pre-ground beans. I use a good quality Japanese ceramic hand grinder and go for a fairly course grind, it makes straining later a lot less painful later on. Grinding doesn’t take long, only 10 or 15 minutes.

Add your grinds to a nice big jar, pour in 1.5L of water and then just leave it to sit on your bench for 18 to 20 hours. The longer you leave it the more flavour you will get, but after about 20 hours I don’t notice much of a difference.

Finally, you simply strain off your grinds and bottle up for storage. I strain three times. First through a simple wire strainer to catch all the larger grinds (be sure to give it plenty of time to drain), then through muslin, and finally through muslin again when it goes into the bottles for storage.

I store in simple glass bottles in the fridge and have a supply of awesome coffee on hand whenever I need it. I get about 1.2L out of each batch.

To drink just pour out about 70ml of concentrate and add hot water, or milk if you feel like an ice coffee.

6 Dec 2016 - Disorganised

I have been a little too busy for a little too long now and things are starting to unravel a bit.

I usually use OmniFocus as my main organisation tool, using a slightly modified ‘Getting Things Done’ method. But as things have gotten busier some of my discipline has slipped. I haven’t been doing daily reviews consistently or checking in with what I need to be doing. I’ve fallen into the trap of doing the urgent thing that is right in front of me instead.

This isn’t ideal and now I am unfortunately rather disorganised. At least I have maintained my capture discipline, so things at least I have a list of all the stuff that needs to get done.

I started sorting it again last night, there is quite a backlog though. It’s worth doing though. It takes a lot of background stress away when you know that you can rely on your task list to make sure you are doing the right things at the right time for you. When you don’t have your tasks organised and sorted, and just do whatever is in front of you, there is a constant, low level background stress that you might be missing something really important.

Keeping a task management system does take time, but it’s time well spent.

5 Dec 2016 - Annoyance

I have had a rather annoying couple of days. I somehow managed to injure my right wrist, which has left it a bit aggravated, which is making typing, and especially mousing, quite painful. Given that almost everything I do, at work, and at home, is on a computer, that isn’t ideal. So getting it sorted asap is a high priority.

That meant spending the day visits physios rather than getting any work done. The verdict is the whole area needs a bit of a break so it can recover. That isn’t ideal, I have stuff to get down. Happily, I have found that using the Wacom pen tablet seems to aggravate things less, and while a little strange using it for general navigation, it works well enough. The Apple Pencil on the iPad works perfectly.

Thankfully, typing on my excellent Microsoft Sculpt keyboard is reasonably fine.

Bluey was happy to have me home for the day though :)



































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































2 Dec 2016 - Game Dev

I have played games for as long as I can remember and for years now I have toyed with he idea of making one. With tools like Unity now mature, making a game is easier than ever, so I have taken the plunge and dived right into some development.

Currently I am gettin reacquainted with zBrush, which is my preferred 3D graphics tool. When paired with Maya, it gives you a powerful toolset for making assets.