Twitter Changing Font!

If you’re a Twitter user, you may have noticed a slight change on your Twitter (apparently more obvious on the web browser version), and that is the typography. The article I read screamed the headline, “Twitter abandons one of humanity’s most widely used fonts” which sounds a little dramatic for a change of design. The font has changed from Helvetica to Gotham. I’m not too sure what that means, but looking at it now, I don’t see any change. Maybe it hasn’t been laden out yet? Even if it has, I’m not sure I’ll be able to tell the difference.

But the talk of fonts brings me to something I may have mentioned before on this blog — and that is the mysterious nature of fonts. No ordinary human being can write perfectly like any font type, and yet we are able to recognise instantly what word is being reflected on the screen, even if the letters are sometimes so deviant from our own written way — think, for example, of the small letters “a” and “g”. We can distinguish so easily the words in hundreds of fonts out there, no matter how different they may be. This seems quite fantastic to me. It’s almost like being able to tell instantly what a person is saying despite his accent, which we can’t always do.

Of course, majority of the fonts out there have very subtle differences, and look rather plain and businesslike. As we grow older, we realise that these are the best fonts for looking professional yet chic, and we start to grow out of our Comic Sans MS. To the font experts out there, there are 2 main groups of fonts, “serif” and “sans serif”. Serif fonts are fonts that have a line attached to the end of each stroke in a letter. An example is Garamond, where you see every letter has these little strokes at their ends. The idea is that these strokes distinguish letters in a typeface and make them easier to read (though research shows this isn’t always true).

You will notice the font on this blog is also very vaguely serif. Typewriter fonts are of course also serif. Times New Roman is also serif, even though it’s considered a “transitional serif”, meaning it’s more modern and less pronounced than Garamond.

Some designers prefer sans serif, and indeed these are better to give off a casual, playful feel, and also go better with art. “Sans” means “without”, so sans serif fonts have no stroke at the ends of their letters. Sans serif fonts include Century Gothic and Arial. Just a note, in some olden terms, serif fonts are known as “Roman” and sans serif fonts known as “Gothic” or “Grotesque”, which explains the names of Times New Roman and Century Gothic. Sans serif fonts are typically used amidst serif writing to give emphasis on particular words because they are typically darker (which is why some people really like Arial).

I personally dislike Arial and much prefer serif fonts, which I think seem much more refined. What do you think?

Also, to refer back to the Twitter fonts to compare, here’s the link: http://www.engadget.com/2014/05/30/twitter-switches-from-helvetica-to-gotham/

MMOs: Looks vs Battles

It feels late, but I went on the Phantasy Star Online 2 website just now, and it looks pretty epic. What amused me was that the players were more concerned about splurging on costumes for their characters than what seemed to me to be the main point: fighting. Of course, fighting is still important, and PSO players still deliberated on the best class to get. From the website, I saw the 3 basic classes: Hunter (melee), Ranger (ranged) and Force (support/magic). There’re more to be unlocked later in the game, but they aren’t revealing them on the website! In addition, there’re 3 races to complement them: Human, Newman and Cast. I know what the burning question in your minds is: can I still make a moe woman if I choose Newman or Cast? The answer, luckily, is yes. Everyone can be moe if you want them to!

But my main point in this entry is not to talk about PSO2, but to talk about the increasing importance of looks in the game. My friend was fretting over which costume to purchase in Dragon Nest, because they all looked so cute. The growing trend (or has it been a trend all along?) is that players fight and grind (and by grinding I mean the excruciatingly boring act of fighting the same monster over and over again) to earn gold, and then use the gold to buy beautiful costumes. Sounds like a materialistic lifestyle in reality, but guess what, that’s the lifestyle of most women anyway. Work hard, earn money, buy nice things to wear.

So when they say games propagate a capitalist mindset, I think this is what they mean. In games, saving has no purpose. There’s no bank for you to earn interest. You only save up to buy that one expensive thing. There are no “emergencies” or rainy days. This mindset may permeate the youngsters of society to think that money is meant for spending. And spending on utterly superficial items, no less.

I have a strange feeling when it comes to men who spend too much money or time getting the perfect best costumes for their female characters. I am highly sensitive to gender power issues, and to me the idea of a man who is too preoccupied with how his woman looks cannot be a good thing. Imagine if you’re a woman, and your husband is continually telling you “wear this; it looks much better than whatever you’re wearing now. Don’t want? Come on, it’s not that costly, I’ll pay for it.” Many women may acquiesce, whether to keep their husband contented, or because the money does come to them quite freely, anyway. But I would feel like a doll, looking like how my husband wants me to look, and not having my own individuality.

Of course, I do think I am thinking too much. Whatever you do in games does not always translate into reality (in fact, the point of playing games is to do stuff you wouldn’t do in reality) but if you transpose this “appearance matters” mindset directly into reality, this is what you get. Does it seem pleasant to you? Just some food for thought.

Hearthstone

I don’t think I’ve written about Hearthstone yet, even though it’s become my go-to casual game of the year. Hearthstone is basically an online card game, which means there aren’t any real cards, and works like Magic: The Gathering except with a slightly more RPG element to it. It’s funny how cards have become so synonymous with certain connotations that even in an online game, they are used to represent things that are in your hand that can be played for certain effects. I mean, they could well be tokens, or icons, or commands, but having them look like cards somehow gets one into a particular mindset.

What is this RPG element that Hearthstone has? Well, for one, you get to play as a Hero, and you can even fight with a weapon, or use an ability. Secondly, when your creatures take damage, the damage is permanent. That reminds me of RPG games where creatures chip at each other till one dies. Other than that, it’s mostly like Magic, where the objective is to beat the opposing player by getting him to 0 life.

There’s a lot less flexibility in Hearthstone. For one, certain cards are “class-specific”, meaning only a particular Hero can play them. I’ve long dreamed up great card combos like Innervate + a whole bunch of Rogue combo cards, but nope, impossible. Secondly, you can only have 1 deck of a Hero at one time. You can’t have 2 decks of the same Hero simultaneously. Thirdly, you have a maximum amount of mana. In the early game, you’re relieved that you can play all your cards without worrying about drawing into mana. In the late game, you’re just frustrated that you’ve got to count the mana costs of your cards and the moment they hit 11 it’s just impossible. And fourthly, the most stupid of all, you can’t play with people on a different server without wiping out all your data. I mean, why do they think people will play on a different server if they’ll lose all their cards there?

And compared to Magic, Hearthstone has much fewer win conditions, and by that I mean just 1. You chip away the dude’s life. There’s no way out of it. No alternate win conditions, no X-mana cards (I mean if X is at most 10, there’s not much you can do), no enchantments or artifacts. And of course there aren’t funky cards that say “you don’t lose if you have 0 or less life” though there is a Mage spell that renders you immune for a turn, I believe. That said, I do believe the coolest part of Hearthstone is probably Arena.

Arena banks on the fact that Hearthstone is strictly a computer game. In Arena, you choose a card from 3 randomly generated ones of equal rarity, 30 times till you form a deck. RNG is what Hearthstone boasts that Magic cannot. The most Magic can do about RNG is mandate coin flips like in Pokémon TCG, but it won’t have the same impact as an Arena Draft. Magic Drafting is also rather random, thanks to the randomness of booster packs, but it is totally different from Arena and can never be anything like it.

Of course, another advantage is that you can play Hearthstone anytime, whereas for Magic you’ve got to head down to a physical shop and find a stranger willing to play with you. It’s usually not a problem, but for shy people who would rather hole themselves up at home, Hearthstone is much less social than Magic, and you get to play with people anytime of the day, always completely different (though I do see a few names repeatedly).

What do you like or dislike about Hearthstone? Tell me!

Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire!

Cheers were had around the geek community recently when it was announced that Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, the 3DS remakes of GameBoy Advance games Ruby and Sapphire, would be launching in November of this year. That’s only 6 months away! And like all Pokémon remakes thus far, these games are going to be set in the same world as before with the common third-gen Pokémon, as well as the newer ones that never made it to old Hoenn. The story will also be slightly different, though of course the legendaries remain the same (that said, legendaries from later generations may also appear).

We all know how great Pokémon remakes can be (in fact, HeartGold/SoulSilver is my favourite Pokémon game to date) and Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald were many people’s favourite generation of games (I liked the third generation very much too, myself, including in the anime). It’s a guarantee that people will be swarming to buy them. That said, I will not. Why?

The main reason is that it is still possible to transfer Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald Pokémon to your 3DS. GBA cartridges can fit into a DS, and from the DS you can transfer Pokémon to the 3DS. A bit troublesome, but still possible, so you don’t have to train up those Pokémon from scratch. Currently it is still confusing what new changes will be brought to OR/AS, but I’ll await them with anticipation. After all, my favourite Pokémon Mightyena will be in there, waiting for me!

People say the reason Ruby and Sapphire are Omega and Alpha respectively, is because Groudon and Kyogre do have the omega and alpha signs if one looks closely. I have looked closely but seen nothing resembling them. They have marks, sure, but were they really intended to be omega and alpha? And what would Rayquaza be then?

Speaking of which, I do believe Rayquaza’s my favourite legendary too. It’s so… green.

There hasn’t been much speculation or clues yet over what will appear. It will most likely not be a devolution from X/Y, so we should still expect epic 3-D battles. I really really hope we get to have a Pokémon follow us around too, because that was one of the perks of HG/SS. Maybe there’ll be more voice recognition features. I feel like X/Y had so many features that I can’t even imagine what breakthrough will be afoot in the new games. But the Japanese are known for their creativity. Something will happen, I’m sure, to blow my mind to new heights.

TwitMyFace

Some of you may recognise what this title represents — the merger of the names Twitter, MySpace and Facebook, some popular social media sites of today (or rather, yesterday, because Tumblr and Instagram have joined forces to render MySpace obsolete). It’s no secret that the 21st century is filled with the inerasable residues of technology — the words “email”, “blog”, “Google” etcetera in our lexicon, for example. However, there are always the people who don’t think that the path society is moving can be regarded as progress. For instance, this person.

http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2014/05/the-language-of-silicon-valley-is-slowly-poisoning-our-brains/

Such people are what is commonly known as Luddites (that one is something I’m still not so familiar with yet) or technophobes. Evidently the word “technophobe” brings a negative connotation — it implies that technology is good and people who hate it are just being old fogeys, reluctant to march with the times.

The article in particular doesn’t bring a very good case against technology, though, in my opinion. The writer just seems to be ranting angrily that he understands what all those technical terms are talking about, without giving much reason why we should care. Even Wall.E was more persuasive than this.

That aside, I don’t really see anything particularly great or bad about this era we live in. Granted, I am a digital native, and people rarely find anything wrong with the culture they were brought up in. I agree that things are different now, but I don’t see it as anything inherently good or bad.

Sure, there are now people who can live their lives with nothing but a computer and handphone — they don’t even need a roof over their heads. There are counselling helplines specially for people whose computers just crashed. Is it bad that there are such counselling helplines? I don’t think so. Sure, we depend a lot on our computers now, and someday if we ever lose our machines we won’t be able to live. But isn’t it the same for many other entities, like money, for instance? Think about it. Ever since we invented money, our lives have also changed. We use money for everything now, and we’ve started keeping money for the sake of money, and using money to make even more money. We commit crimes for the sake of money. If you want to argue, the concept of money that was created centuries ago and which runs our lives much more efficiently than any technology can do, is still the root of all evil. Without money, our society will be thrown into chaos much more quickly than the case of technology.

A strange comparison, to be sure, but there are many things in life that will be invented that will drastically change our lives — they have to happen, because if society stays stagnant and doesn’t evolve, it’s yet another bad thing. Technology has done some great stuff. It’s connected the world more tightly than ever before, and provided opportunities for all people regardless of social status. You can say that you dislike “Dropbox meets storage unit”, but think about it. Dropbox itself can be described as “storage unit, minus distance”. It’s the product of someone sitting down and wondering “if I could put out a box for everyone to drop things into, regardless of where they are right now, so that everyone can take and use it anytime, what would it be like?”

Don’t think about reality mimicking technology. Think about how well technology has mimicked reality, and even improved on it by removing all its inconveniences.

Blowing Things Up, Legally

They say that boys like destruction and girls like creation, and this is embodied in their choice of toys. Well it seems that boys, even after they’re full grown, still like seeing things shattering to bits, even buildings. I’ve just come across an article listing the top 10 Building Implosion Videos on YouTube, which are basically videos of buildings being demolished by various explosives, such as the Metrodome in Minneapolis, which was imploded last week with 80 000 tons of material left over. Apparently it was rated as the worst stadium in the USA by Time magazine, so it was probably about time.

There are really all kinds of “top 10 YouTube video” lists around, aren’t there? Also, I didn’t realise Time magazine goes around doing things like rating stadiums.

I haven’t seen any of the videos yet, because as a representative of the fairer sex I don’t particularly fancy seeing buildings blow up. However, do tell me if any of the videos are particularly good!

I do wonder, though, why people get all psyched over demolitions and large explosions in general, and also gunshots. They’re probably loud and smoky, and don’t often result in a beautiful sight. And yet so many video games and movies feature these violent elements. And the bigger the target is, the better it is to blow up.

My blog entries lately are getting shorter and shorter. Perhaps you can replace your blog reading time today with watching those videos.

http://architizer.com/blog/top-10-building-implosion-videos-on-youtube/

Facebook Bank Accounts

Some of you may like using things like PayPal, where you set up an internet account and pay over the internet using money in there. No credit cards are at risk, and you can control the amount of money you put into your account. Just be sure not to leave too much in there, and even if you’re hacked your finances will still be very safe.

That may not be an accurate depiction of what PayPal does, since I don’t use it much, but it sounds similar to what Facebook is planning with its new venture, the e-money service.

The gist of this service is that users of Facebook can store money in their accounts and use it to pay others, turning Facebook into a kind of eBay (though who says it isn’t already right now?). You can sell your merchandise on FB, get Friends to buy it from you, and the transaction is done without the need to meet face to face or know sensitive information. Businesses with Pages on Facebook can make use of this service too.

A lot of people reading this right now may think that Facebook has just gone one step further into excess. It’s interfering with our money matters now? This is especially in light of many youngsters in the West boycotting it. However, the article argues that it will take much better in Asia, where people are still pretty accepting and trusting of Facebook and technology in general. I’m not too sure if this means Singapore, but it’s true that I do use Facebook a lot, as do my friends. However, in Japan, they don’t use Facebook very much, and Twitter is their preferred medium. And of course China has banned Facebook in its country.

Speaking of China, much of the basis of the article’s optimism is that China has a similar system that is working. China has a Weixin app by Tencent that can be used to purchase goods using a smartphone, and it’s taking the nation by storm. Generally, though, I would say that China’s initiatives face a lot more support than can be said for other initiatives in the rest of the world. For one, China is a large united market that is loyal and open-minded towards national ventures.

In any case, the article also included a graph that showed credit card and banking penetration in some Asian countries. Singapore registered 37% in credit card and a whopping 98% banking penetration, making it the most financially savvy country, whereas Malaysia only has 12% credit card and 66% banking penetration. And it’s already second in credit card penetration and third in banking among the group of countries. So does this mean Singaporeans will be less enthusiastic towards the scheme? Or will owning credit cards and bank accounts actually make us more receptive towards the idea of keeping money in different accounts for payment purposes?

By the way, I got really distracted by the header image. The person in the photograph has got to be a woman, right?

Food for thought, coming from here: http://thenextweb.com/facebook/2014/04/18/a-facebook-e-money-service-could-be-a-big-hit-in-asia/

A World on Your Mobile

What kind of games do you think of now when you see “mobile phone/tablet games”? Casual, social games? Simpler versions of existing PC games? Gradually, more and more game developers are working on more complex games, comparable to or even exceeding the quality of traditional PC and other console games, on the mobile platform. One Victoria-based studio, TinyMob, is doing just that.

TinyMob is a company featuring talents from EA, Zynga and Microsoft Studios, and they recently made a game named Tiny Realms which is a real-time strategy game for the iPhone and iPad that has elements of resource gathering and kingdom management, so it’s not very different from Farmville. Yeah, I know, not a good example of quality games.

However, the game developers have bragged that this game encourages strategic, unique thinking, and that they will continually launch updates to keep the game fresh. Aside from that, players can do things to leave indelible marks to the game that other players can experience.

Examples of features you get? Well how about being able to control individual units during battle segments, and also form alliances and affect the plot of the world through your own choices? I know I like being able to control and change my game environment.

There’s a video that’s probably the trailer of the game. I haven’t seen it yet, but from what I see of the freeze shot, the art isn’t great but shouldn’t be too bad either. The only human I see in there seems a little puny though, reminding me of Lego. There’s a gallery of other pictures too. The art is certainly American, and a little crude, but it should suffice for something that is made for mobile.

The idea of something that sounds like it marries Fire Emblem, World of Warcraft and the Elder Scrolls (this is of course a pretty exaggerated hope) is a thrilling concept. Most of the time, of course, the game will turn out to have some loophole that prevents you from acting perfectly autonomously, but the ability to interact with other players always adds a degree of unpredictability to the gaming environment. I mean, as long as the other players are not trolls or illiterates. Which sometimes happens, quite uncontrollably.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to this game! If you are too, check out the announcement!

http://techcrunch.com/2014/04/11/mobile-game-developer-tinymob-hopes-tiny-realms-is-the-next-clash-of-clans/

Google and Privacy

We all know that Google is controversial. It’s one of those jokes we crack over the dinner table “hey, you know who knows everything about us? Google. Yeah, hahaha!” and then continue using it, because it’s so ingrained in our lives, whether in the form of a search engine or email or a tool for us to study, communicate or find our way around (think Google Drive, Google Hangouts and Google Maps). Google does everything, almost like Apple, and in its zeal to become like a nanny to all, giving us everything we need so that we never have to fend for ourselves, it sometimes runs a close risk of being overzealous.

So Google has recently been fined, yet again, this time by Italy, because its Street View cars (you know, the cars with cameras on top of them, capturing everything they see) are picking up people without their consent, and also communication data, by accident. The article I saw was interestingly keen on impressing upon us that all these fines levied on Google are but a small drop in its ocean of funds. Which isn’t false, of course, but they say it so explicitly. Google has now vowed to follow the instructions of the countries which fined it, such as by pasting stickers on its Street View cars letting people know what they’re doing, and informing their route ahead of time so that people can choose to avoid it. And of course, dutifully paying its fine of 1 million Euros — which as the article stresses, “pale into significance for a company of Google’s size”.

I would say that Google has good intentions, personally, and I would continue to support it because it really has made our lives much better, unchangeably so. However, at the same time, it also wouldn’t do to be completely oblivious to the opportunities that it has with the knowledge we inadvertently give to it. I trust that they wouldn’t use them to wreak global harm, but if the chance arises for them to turn our info over for certain lucrative, or even beneficial purposes (for our own good, say), I’m very sure it would not refuse. So, it’s just something to keep in mind.

Tech companies are the largest controllers of our lives in the 21st century. Look at Google, Apple, Microsoft, even Nintendo. The layman on the street is probably better-versed at tech jargon and news than, say, economics or politics, which goes to show how much tech has infused itself into our pop culture, perhaps even overshadowing entertainment and music. Because, yeah, a sizable number of people still don’t listen to music. Even youngsters.

Do you use every feature in Google, such as Street View? There are probably some lesser-known ones, such as Google Groups. And Google+ really hasn’t quite gotten off the ground, has it?

The link to the article is here: http://techcrunch.com/2014/04/04/google-street-view-fine/

2048

I recently (and by that I mean yesterday) chanced upon a simple but surprisingly addictive game named 2048. It is apparently a spin-off of Threes!, which I haven’t heard of. This game can be played on the computer and on the phone, and one can easily spend minutes or hours figuring out the solution to this game.

The game is in the form of a 4×4 grid, and I consider it akin to the idea of pinball. It starts off with 2 random grids taken up by the number “2”. By pressing the left, right, up and down keys, you get to move the numbers (sorta like blocks) to move them around. If 1 number hits an identical number, they fuse to form the sum of the 2 numbers. So if 2 “2” blocks are side by side and you press the left or right key, they’ll form a single block, “4”, on either the space taken by the left or right number, depending. And you will try to hit this “4” with another “4” to form “8”. Of course, as with pinball, note that moving 1 pair of numbers ends up moving all other numbers as well, so a lot of foresight is required.

With every move, a new random number will pop up on one of the blank spaces. Most of the time it is a “2”, but I have seen “4” pop up before as well. The objective of this game is to have a 2048 block appear on the screen. This means hitting all the 2’s, 4’s, 8’s etcetera accordingly till you get 2048. Needless to say, this is a challenge!

This game is one of the milestones of good game design. It’s simple, but challenges a lot of skills, such as spatial ability, and each number has a colour which makes it easy to differentiate. There is a scoreboard at the top and my highest score is “6948”, though this is really only my second game. I’m not really sure how the score was derived, but I believe it has something to do with how high the numbers are?

In any case, this game is a good mix of skill and randomness, and I’m sure a lot of gamers will revel in discovering the “correct” way to play to get to the result. I must say that having played things like Magic and Hearthstone, I’ve figured out how to calculate moves 1 or 2 steps ahead, but I probably must think even further than that to achieve the elusive objective! It’s like a Rubik’s cube, which I’m even worse at for the simple reason that I don’t have enough strength to turn the things.

Would you play such a game for a long time? How does this compare to other number-related games like Sudoku? I probably wouldn’t really get addicted to this game, because I’ll likely be stuck at the same level for a long time, not knowing the formula to victory. It’s still a good way to pass the time, though. Try it and tell me what you think!

http://gabrielecirulli.github.io/2048/