Book Review – Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton

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I picked up Just A Geek based on the recommendation of various people, and I can say I do not regret doing so.

Just A Geek is the memoirs of Wil Wheaton, of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Stand by me (and Big Bang Theory) fame. It is an honest and brutal look at his rapid rise to fame as a young teen and his subsequent and dramatic fall thereafter. He goes into a great deal of detail describing his love\hate relationship with Wesley Crusher, the character he portrayed on Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as the doubts and self loathing he experienced as a result of him deciding to leave Star Trek.

In the book he writes of his time as a struggling actor who could hardly find work, to him discovering comedy and being part of a successful sketch comedy group and later starting his blog, WilWheaton.net. Starting his blog resulted in him learning HTML and teaching himself Linux and also helped him rediscover his love for writing. The rediscovery of this love helped Wil redefine himself as an author, helping him find balance and success in his life.

Just A Geek is a really enjoyable journey, starting with a young boy on the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation, more interested in Dungeons & Dragons than Star Trek, to a normal guy dealing with the complexities of everyday life, like paying bills and working on the relationship with his wife and step-sons.

Just A Geek is an inspiring and feel good book that I would really recommend. It shows how life hardly works out how we plan, but even so great things can come from the most unexpected places.

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Book Review – Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton

Google Cardboard: V1 vs. V2

In a previous post, I has a look at the original Google Cardboard or the version 1 as it is now known. The version 1 of the Google Cardboard was initially released in 2014. It was very well received with over 5 million units sold. In 2015 a new updated and improved version 2 was released, so how does the Google Cardboard version 2 measure up to the amazing version 1? Let us take a look.

Firstly from a fit and comfort perspective the version 2 has significant improvements compared to the version 1. The nose hole on the version 2 is much larger and has foam padding around the rim, which greatly improves the comfort of using the headset, especially for longer wear times.

The version 2 also comes bundled with head-straps, whereas with the version 1 they had to be ordered separately upon initial release.

Another difference between the version 1 and version 2 is how they interact with VR applications. Both have an action button, but how they function is very different. They version 1 has a magnet which slides up and down and triggers an action on certain android smartphones similar to a screen tap. The problem with this magnet based action button is that it only works with certain android phones and not on iPhones, thus limiting the Cardboards’ functionality on all but fully supported phones.

The version 2 on the other hand utilises a lever based design which presses a conductive pad against the phones screen, fully replicating a finger touching the screen. This works on all touch screen smartphones, including iPhones, and is a great improvement over the version 1, especially for people using non-Android Smartphones.

The version 2 is also designed in a manner that holds a phone more securely, thus reducing the anxiety resulting from the fear of having your phone fall out mid VR experience.

Additionally the version 2 contains much larger and better lenses, which are fitted more securely and flush, than the version 1.

Use is made of protective plastic tape in the version 2 where your forehead comes in contact with the headset. This protects the headset from damage due to sweat, a common complaint in the version 1.

So, up to this point the version 2 has clearly taken the lead. But there are however 2 key areas in  which the version 1 outperforms the version 2.

The first of these key areas is price. The version 1 costs approximately half what the version 2 does.

The second area is the support of Augmented Reality Apps. The version 1 has a cut out where the phone camera is located, whereas the version 2 does not. Without this hole for camera access, Augmented Reality Apps can not function due to their reliance on the phone camera.

Even considering these 2 areas, except if you are extremely price sensitive or dead-set on AR apps, the version 2 is a much better option, especially if you have an iPhone or any other non-Android phone. 

The improvements and design changes made in the version 2 are all vast improvements over its predecessor. Although the price did roughly double it is still not a large amount of money, and in my opinion the version 2 is well worth the extra cost.

As an iPhone user I am very happy with the Google Cardboard Version 2 and how it was enhanced for better support of non-Android phones.

If you have never owned a Google Cardboard, I would definitely recommend picking up the version 2 over the version 1. And even if you already have a version 1 I would still recommend upgrading to the version 2 due to its improvements and better phone support.

The Google Cardboard Version 2 is a great upgrade to an already great product, so pick one up, for the money you won’t regret it.

Google Cardboard: V1 vs. V2

DIY VR – Part 1

In this post we will look at ways to experience VR at home for the lowest cost possible. In Part 1 we will look at using your smartphone and a Google cardboard compatible headset to stream computer games to the phone in stereoscopic 3D. Basic “head tracking” will be achieved by linking the mouse look in the games with the gyroscopic sensors of your phone.

There are many applications available to achieve the above mentioned and we will look at a few options available, comparing features, performance and price. All of the mentioned software have free trial versions available in the event you want to give them a try. All you will need is a smartphone (iPhone or Android), a PC capable of running some Direct X 9 3D games and a Google cardboard compatible headset (one with head-straps will work best).

All my testing was done on an iPhone 6S, a 2012 MacBook Pro Retina (Nvidia GeForce 650M 1GB) running windows 7 using Boot Camp and a SensofinityVR headset.

The games I used to test were Doom (original), QuakeHD, Dear Esther, Subnautica, Minecraft and Fallout New Vegas.

We will be looking at 3 different products (All of which consist of a phone app and a server windows application) that stream computer games to your phone and also link the games mouse input to the phones gyroscopic sensor. They are TrinusVR, KinoVR and IntugameVR.

First let us look at Tridef3D, a software product that will be required for the best results by all the before mentioned VR Streaming software products.It converts the game screen image into stereoscopic 3D before it is streamed to the phone.

Tridef3D

As mentioned above Tridef3D converts any Direct X 9/10/11 game into stereoscopic 3D, and I can say this software works great. Just note that its website states that it does not support VR headsets, but this is not the case if you enable windowed mode using this script. Tridef3D sells for $39.99 directly on the company site, however there is a free trail version available.

Most of the games I tested worked best in windowed mode except for Doom and QuakeHD, which only worked in full-screen mode.

Now let us have a look at the VR streaming software options. Firstly with all the mentioned software products, one of the most important things to configure correctly is mouse sensitivity. This is extremely important as getting this wrong can result in slow or jerky head-tracking which can cause the user to feel sick.

TrinusVR

Of the 3 products looked at TrinusVR was by far the best from an interface and general usage perspective. I also found it to be the most stable with the least amount of issues. At the time of my testing there was however no support for USB tethering in iOS.

I did experience issues connecting the phone to the hotspot created by the TrinusVR server software, and it appears that the phone is not assigned an ip address.

When I connected the phone to my MacBook via my home Wi-Fi network performance was extremely slow and unplayable.

I got around these issues by creating a Wi-Fi hotspot on my phone and connecting my MacBook to it. The server software and client app could then see each other and performance was really good and games highly playable. This configuration delivered the best results of all the tests performed.

Just note that in the TrinusVR server settings, on the Main tab, there is an option called “Capture mode”. For most games the best results are achieved by setting this to “Fast”, except for Minecraft that only works when this is set to “Compatibility Mode”.

TrinusVR sells for $9.99 on the respective App Stores (Apple App store and Google Play Store), but as mentioned earlier trial versions are available and the server software can be downloaded for free from the company website.

KinoVR

KinoVR does claim to support USB tethering in iOS, however in practice the results were far from perfect. The client app continuously disconnects from the server software every 15 seconds or so and then takes approximately 5 seconds to reconnect, thus rendering this feature unusable.

When connecting the phone to my MacBook via my home Wi-Fi network the performance was good, even with a good level of graphic details configured in the games.

KinoVR is however found lacking from a user interface and ease of use perspective.

KinoVR Pro sells for $9.99 on the respective App Stores (Apple App store and Google Play Store), and once again there is a free trail version. The server software is freely available here.

IntugameVR

Of all the VR streaming software I tested, IntugameVR is the only one I could not get to work properly. It does not support USB tethering in iOS so once again I configured it to connect over Wi-Fi. Irrelevant of what setting configuration I used the image rendered to the phone display was distorted and squashed. I cannot comment on the performance of this product, as I just could not get it working in any way that was even remotely usable.

IntugameVR Premium is also available on the respective App Stores (Apple App store and Google Play Store) for $9.99 with a free trial version also available. The server software is once again available for free from here.

So given all this, what were my findings? And would I recommend this as a low-cost VR solution?

Well, as long as you do not expect an experience on par with the Oculus Rift or HTC Vibe, you might be pleasantly surprised. Given the low cost of giving this a try, assuming that you have either an iPhone or Android smartphone and utilize the trial versions of the software products mentioned, the cost of this experience will add up to $10 for a Google cardboard compatible headset. Although I would recommend splashing out and getting a plastic headset with padding and better head straps, which you should still be able to pick up for under $20. This will greatly improve the experience from a comfort and usability perspective.

Many people have not had the opportunity to try a premium VR product, such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vibe or PlaystationVR, and this solution is a great deal more accessible and affordable.

So my recommendation is to give it a try. Who knows it might even convince you to invest in one of the premium VR products available at the moment.

Watch out for DIY VR Part 2, which will be coming soon. In Part 2 I will show how to construct a custom-built VR headset, but in the meantime a few other posts are lined up for your reading pleasure.

DIY VR – Part 1

Dev Day 2016

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On the Tuesday 27 September 2016 the first Dev Day occurred in Johannesburg South Africa. Dev Day is best described on their twitter page as “A community-owned and driven gathering of technologists, investors, hobbyists, engineers, artists, students and anyone with a strong sense of curiosity”. And I was invited to showcase some of the robots I have been working on. The event was extremely well organised with various people and Maker groups showcasing what they were working on as well as numerous speakers including Uncle Bob (Robert C. Martin). I really enjoyed the event and the experience of showing some of my work and the feedback and questions I received were amazing. It really was a great experience getting to talk and interact with similarly minded people. Many thanks to the organisers for a great event, hopefully one of many to come.

Here are some photos of my stand and the event.

Dev Day 2016

Double Book Review

Today we will have a look at 2 books, both related to video games, so let us get started.

1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die – Updated Edition

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This is a very hefty book, weighing in just shy of 1000 pages. The book is beautifully printed in full colour on high quality glossy paper similar to what you will find in a  high-end magazine.

As indicated by the name 1001 Video games are covered. The Video games  are categorised and  divided into section based on the decade in which they were released, i.e. the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.

There is a detailed description provided for each game as well as a screen shot.

I really like this book as it triggers nostalgic memories of paging through video game magazines as a child, looking at what the next big release will be. I do however believe that this is not the kind of book you will pick up and read from cover to cover, I for example have limited interest in video games released in the 1970s so I skimmed through this section and found the best use of this book is simply picking it up from time to time and looking up a specific game.

Just keep in mind that the game selection is based on the authors’ personal preferences, so there is a chance that your favourite game might not be included in the list. But even considering this, I found this to be a great book and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in video games over the last few decades.

An Illustrated History of 151 Video Games

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The first difference between this book and the previously reviewed one is that this is more of a coffee table book. It is also fully colour printed on high quality glossy paper and is beautifully hardbound. The book also divides the games into the decades they were released in, but also focuses on the systems on which they were released.

This book has a much more artistic feel with screen shots, box art and marketing artwork for each game covered as well as information about the game, its history as well as little factoids relating to the games.

I really enjoyed reading this book and although it covers a lot fewer games, found it to be of a more consumable size.

There is also a few pages dedicated to the leading consoles of each decade along with accompanying artwork and information.

I would recommend this book as it is great simply paging through it and looking at the amazing video game artwork over the past 40 years.

Double Book Review

E3: The Games that excite me the most

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With the recent conclusion of E3 I thought this would be a good time to share some of the games announced that I am the most excited for. Here are the 8 games I am looking forward to the most, in no particular order:

The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild

Finally a new Zelda game and not just a HD remake! I am extremely excited for this game and from what I saw it looks fantastic. This game looks amazing with an open world, some form of crafting and resource gathering and a lot of freedom.

Days Gone

I will start out by saying I loved State of Decay on the Xbox 360, an open world survival zombie apocalypse game that I got really into during a time where I was binge watching the Walking Dead. And now finally an  open world survival zombie game for the Playstation 4. I can’t wait. I could not believe my eyes when I saw the hoarding in this game, what appeared to be thousands of zombies flowed like water towards the protagonist. Truly astonishing.

Resident Evil 7 Biohazard

Myself along with many others were extremely disappointed when it was announced that Silent Hills was cancelled. The Playable Teaser had caused huge waves and was truly one of the most scary gaming experiences I have ever experienced. Resident Evil 7 took more than a little inspiration from the Silent Hills Playable Teaser, and this is not a bad thing. I have played and completed the playable demo of Resident Evil 7 and although I found it less scary that the Silent Hills Playable Teaser, but it was still great. I can’t wait to see what the full game will be like.

State of Decay 2

As I mentioned earlier I am a huge fan of the original State of Decay, so I am more than a little excited to see more of its sequel.

God of War 4

God of War 4 appears to be vastly different from its predecessors and that is refreshing. I loved all the God of War games, but while playing God of War 3 Remastered on the PS4 I couldn’t help feeling that the gameplay dynamics started feeling rather outdated. This might breath new life into the series.

The Last Guardian

Ico and Shadow of the Colossus were both masterpieces, showing how games can be far more than most people ever expected, some might even say becoming art. After years of delays and falling silent, finally a release date has been given to one of the most anticipated games.

Death Stranding

After the debacle between Kojima Productions and Konami, which resulted in the cancellation of Silent Hills, no one knew what would be next for Hideo Kojima. Now we know and not surprisingly it weird. As with Silent Hills it stars Norman Reedus of Walking Dead fame.

Detroit: Become Human

I loved Quantic Dreams’ previous two games Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, and I am eagerly awaiting their next endeavor. Once again it appears that choice plays a major role, however from the trailer shown it appears that the choices available have significantly been increased, and the consequences of those choices appear to be  vastly different.

E3 this year was great, and we have a lot to look forward to.

 

E3: The Games that excite me the most

Interview with Largest Retro Video Game Seller in South Africa

In recent years, interest in retro video games has increased significantly. This has created a new marketplace consisting of buyers and sellers who exclusively focus on video games that, until recently, have been considered obsolete. I recently conducted an interview with Kristy Anderson who started a company a few years ago that focuses on selling retro video games and has subsequently grown to be the largest seller of retro video games in South Africa.

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How did you get into the business of selling retro games? 

Well, it’s a bit of a long story! I was big into pc gaming as a child, but the only retro console that I can vaguely remember playing was a golden china type with Mario bros and Circus on it. So I didn’t really have any retro consoles that were familiar to me, unlike many other South African children from the 80s and 90s. I also went to boarding school in my high school years and as a result, I stopped gaming for a very long time. It was only in 2008 when my husband and I went to Australia and stayed with a friend, that I discovered console gaming again. This friend had a Wii console and I was fascinated with the technology and played Wii sports for ages, getting really into my tennis game and nearly taking out the light fitting at the same time. We enjoyed the console so much that we decided to invest in one ourselves. Suddenly my love for gaming was re-ignited and I found myself taking a greater interest in all things gaming. The pivotal point was when I was looking for some hard to find Wii titles and the only place I could find them was online in East London. The only catch was that I had to buy the Wii console and all the games as one bundle and obviously, I had to find a way to get it to Durban. Taking a big leap of faith, I paid this random dude via EFT and then organized for a courier to collect. I then sold off the rest of the items and kept some of the games for myself. I ended up making a bit of money on the stuff I sold and a fledgling idea seemed to take hold. I found myself searching online for other gaming bundles and then began buying some of them. Soon I was hooked and spent all my free time bargain hunting and discovering more about the gaming world. I slowly diversified into Xbox 360 (had a learning curve with an ROD console along the way) and then started buying other consoles like PS2 and PS3. In early 2009 it started to become a regular thing and I was trying to juggle this sideline business with my full-time job working at a local vet. This became more and more difficult to do and I started to get very stressed out, as there was simply not enough time in the day to commit to both jobs. So I had to make a difficult decision – was this fledgling business viable enough to leave my full-time employment? It was a hard choice to make but I convinced my boss to let me work half-day for a few months so I could train my replacement and then in early 2010, I left the vet and committed to my business full-time. Around that time I also discovered a box with my husband’s old PS1 console in it and a ton of PS1 games. I sold these off for him and discovered they were quite popular. My sister also unearthed her old Dreamcast console (she used to work for Dreamcast in the UK) and I bought that off her too. It turned out that she had some limited release white label games (only given to staff and advertisers), which were very rare on eBay, and this prompted me to start selling internationally as well. Since then, my business has been growing considerably every year (especially the retro section) and we are always diversifying into new areas. Several years ago we started importing retro items from the UK due to the high demand for them and now we get regular shipments in. There has been a lot to learn, as we stock a lot of diverse gaming products, but it has definitely been worth it! I get to work from home doing something I’m passionate about and really enjoy, and I have the most amazing customers too 🙂

Have you seen an increase in interest in Retro gaming as of late?

Yes definitely. It used to be a slow progression over the last few years, where I would occasionally get customers enquiring about certain retro consoles and wanting advice on them. Suddenly though, last year, retro seemed to become the “in” thing. LPs were being released again and certain retro items seemed to be making a comeback. This has taken off to such an extent in the last 6 months or so, that demand is starting to outstrip supply. Prices have skyrocketed and it is becoming harder to find items at reasonable prices. We are constantly searching for new suppliers in order to try and keep up with the demand.

What are the most popular systems people are collecting for?

Considering that retro has become so popular of late, I have noticed a large increase in purchases of specific retro consoles. These are mainly consoles that were predominant in South Africa in the 80s and 90s, namely PS1 and 8 bit consoles like the Golden China or Nintendo Famicom. There is a huge nostalgic element associated with these consoles and as a result, I seem to get many requests for them. Also popular is anything retro Nintendo, especially all types of Game Boy consoles.

Where do you get your stock? From local sources or more imported items?

I get my stock from all over – both locally and internationally. That’s the reason I’m called “The Source” as I spend a lot of time trying to source rare items, good deals and new suppliers for my stock. A lot of my customers also like to do “trade-ins” on their old consoles/games and duplicate items.  I have managed to locate some suppliers in other countries like Japan and I just received my first Japanese shipment last week. This will become a regular thing along with my UK imports. However, imported items are constantly being affected by the exchange rate, which seems to be doing worse every year.

Do you collect retro video games?

I have never been much of a collector as I’m a very practical person and don’t like having too much stuff around me that I don’t use. I do have a few first edition books that are especially important to me (one is signed by the author), but I’m not sure if you could call it a collection. In saying that, I do enjoy the process of finding new and exciting items and having them on display to show others. In that respect, my stock serves as a collection in itself, as I can fulfill my need to discover new and unknown elements of the gaming world and teach others about them, and yet they don’t go unused and will eventually land up in a good home. I am actually strangely protective over my retro items. I feel like finding them and making sure they go to someone who appreciates them is sort of like preserving history. I once had a photographer who wanted to buy a Gameboy console for a shoot and I didn’t want to sell it to him as I was concerned it wouldn’t be used and loved (weird, I know). Anyway, after being in this industry for over 7 years and seeing the passion that my collectors have for gaming, I fear it has rubbed off on me a bit. I have recently acquired a few collectible items like the Fallout 4 pipboy, vault boy bobble head and fallout fridge and I also have a fairly large selection of “special” mugs which include Mario, batman, superman and other geeky and gaming themes. I use a different one of these mugs every day so they do serve a practical purpose as well. I also own a Halo 4 edition Xbox 360 console and a Forza 6 edition Xbox one console which I use on a regular basis.

Do you play video games?

Of course I do 🙂 It would be a travesty to be in this industry and not enjoy video games or play them. Obviously we have to test a lot of our games to make sure they are working, so I do play a large selection of games for work, but I also like to play my own games on the weekends and evenings. I am currently playing Fallout 4 (I believe I’m on level 38 at the moment) and its been very absorbing. I have found myself playing quite late into the evenings sometimes as I “just want to finish this one quest” which turns into another hour of gameplay before you know it. You may have gathered from my previous comments that the Fallout series is a favorite of mine. I love the concept and enjoy exploring and interacting with this post-apocalyptic world.

What is your favorite video game of all time?

That is a tough one. I don’t know if many people have an outright favorite. I will break it into different years of my life:
Childhood: Kings Quest series and most specifically Kings Quest 6. Also played a lot of Mario bros, and enjoyed Resident evil 2 and the crash bandicoot series on PS1.
2008: The Legend of Zelda Twilight princess and resident evil 4
2009 to 2010: Fallout 3 and Red dead redemption
2010 to 2011: Fallout new Vegas
2011 to 2012: The Witcher 2 and Skyrim
2013 to 2014: Tomb Raider (2013) and The last of us
2015: The Witcher 3
2016: Fallout 4
I’m sure I’m probably forgetting some but these are the ones that stand out most in my mind.

Have you ever considered opening a brick and mortar shop? 

Yes, briefly. Truth be known, I enjoy having an online store. Some of my best and favorite customers live in other provinces and I also enjoy being able to work from home. If I had a physical store I wouldn’t be able to have the luxury of rolling out of bed and being at work 5 minutes later, being able to sit outside in my garden on a rare lunch break, having a swim in my pool when it gets hot or having a cat sitting on my lap or watching them hide and play in my empty boxes. Most importantly, I don’t know if I would have developed the friendships that I have with some of my customers in other provinces. Brick and mortar stores limit your customers to one area whereas online stores allow you to sell to anywhere in the world (I do sell internationally as well). Most importantly, you are constantly being introduced to new and different people and relating to them on an intellectual level without knowing what they look like or what their background is. We are all equals online and are judged by our opinions, how we act and what we say, as opposed to what we look like. Many people think it’s strange and dangerous to deal with so many people you don’t really know, but I like the possibilities it creates. I also love the way that gaming transcends all barriers and brings different people together.

Are you planning on having a stand at any of the local expos? (Like Rage or GeekFest?)

I have strongly considered this and I’m sure it will happen in the near future. There are a lot of weekend markets in my area and I have thought about having a stand at one of them occasionally. Rage is also a massive platform to market a business and I definitely aim to be there one day soon. The practicalities are preventing me at the moment, as obviously I can’t bring all my stock with me so would have to limit the stock I transport. Not to mention the costs involved with travelling to Joburg for Rage and accommodation while we are there. Also, a lot of our items are pre-owned and I usually like to polish discs and test games before sending them, to ensure they are working properly. So I have to figure out a way around this and also overcome my crowd phobia when it comes to Rage. I did visit it a few years ago, but the amount of people there was very intimidating for me. I am actually quite a shy person when it comes down to it but have become a lot more confident since starting my own business.

How would you describe www.thegamingsource.co.za

An eCommerce business that supplies a large selection of pre-owned games and consoles for all platforms at reasonable prices. We are also one of the biggest retro gaming suppliers in South Africa and are able to source and/or import almost any gaming item required.

If anyone is interested in buying anything related to retro gaming, you can visit The Source website at www.thegamingsource.co.za or contact Kristy directly at thesource100@gmail.com.

Interview with Largest Retro Video Game Seller in South Africa