Andy Laub

Andy Laub is a designer & developer in the Twin Cities.

Published Nov 06

Zuno »

Why did Microsoft go for a hard drive rather than flash in the Zune?

Jon Gruber asks if whether Microsoft copied the wrong iPod, stating that the iPod nano (and its imitators) are where the money’s at.

I don’t disagree with this; the flash-based market is massive right now. But I don’t think Microsoft would’ve been able to pull off any sort of nano-esque form factor while retaining the functionality that they’re hoping will set the Zune apart. Case in point is, well, the Zune. At 30 gigabytes, it’s already larger than the 80 gig video iPod, so trying to cram whatever it is that’s making the Zune that large into something even smaller, even with flash memory, is probably a challenge.

Plus, the nano doesn’t play video, which in and of itself isn’t much of an issue, but that’s currently how Microsoft justifies the need for a larger screen (another Zune selling point). Without video, I just need hear the music and know what I’m listening to. Nothing else matters.

Apple has this figured out, so rather than add unnecessary features, they make the device smaller and smaller. Again, not overly practical once you get past a certain point, but that’s where the ooohs and aaahs come from. I don’t want a nano, but I’m still impressed by them. They are eye candy, and Microsoft, because of their feature-driven agenda, can’t quite measure up.

Sometime in the distant future, there will be a Wii in the household I’m sure, and it will mostly be due to things like this:

Everything beautiful about the Nintendo Wii can be summed up in one embodiment: The Help Cat . Living deep within the Photo Channel, this is my 2007 vote for the greatest, weirdest, most terriblewonderful User Interface Design idea of all time – contextual help you have to catch.

I wish the graphics were better in general, but who doesn’t? That’s Nintendo.

Adobe’s Kuler makes picking a color palette so easy it’s pretty much cheating.

Ars Technica‘s Ben Kuchera reviews the PS3:

The PS3 doesn’t have any grand ideas; Sony wanted something high-tech, so they started from scratch with the processor and GPU, but what does it get them? Very little so far. The controller is a mash-up of ideas from their old systems, the 360′s triggers, and the Wii’s motion-sensing capabilities, but once it has that tech it doesn’t really know what to do with it.

Kudos for summing it up so eloquently. Worth the full read.

Top Five »

What if you could only play five games for the rest of your life?

In honor of the notable releases this week. Witless wants to know what your top five video games of all time are. I had a difficult time choosing, but I eventually narrowed it down.

In no particular order:

  1. Grand Theft Auto / Saints Row
  2. Goldeneye
  3. Super Mario Bros.
  4. Gran Turismo
  5. Super Metroid

But then I thought, what if you could only play the same five (video) games for the rest of your life? Then what would your choices be? After some deliberation, here’s what I concluded:

  1. Considering my voracious appetite for sandbox games (eg Grand Theft Auto or Driver) it’s no surprise that one of these ranks high on the list. In this instance I’ll have to go with Just Cause (Xbox 360), a game I bought back in October and just finally got around to playing. The gameplay isn’t anywhere near up to par with the likes of Saints Row or GTA, but it makes up for it by being massive… 250,000 acres massive. At that rate, I’ll still be exploring a long time from now.
  2. In a similar vein, I also enjoy the mind-numbing domesticity that is a trademark of the The Sims franchise. In this case I’ll opt for The Sims 2 (PC), complete with all the latest expansions. Building houses never gets old.
  3. Cars! I can’t have a game without cars. Forza 2 (Xbox 360) is going to be all the awesomeness that the original Forza was and more. I can wait until 2007 to play.
  4. I think some sort of exploratory adventure game would fit well on here, but I’m not really sure which. Any of the 3D Zelda games (aside from Wind Waker, which I’ve finished) are a good option. At the same time, maybe I’d be happier with something larger, like Oblivion or Final Fantasy XII. For now I’ll go with Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii) because I want to play with the motion sensors.
  5. Hmmm, where to go now? We’ve got fast, creative, adventurous, and Xtreme… What about totally violent? A first person shooter belongs in this list. Half-Life 2 (Xbox 360) isn’t out yet, but I’ll wait. The 360 version promises a larger story (it includes both expansion chapters) and online multiplayer. Perfect.

Midway through writing this list I started adding games that are still up to a year away. I know they’re going to be great so I’m comfortable including them, but I’m not sure if that constitutes cheating. Because of that, Just Cause is in danger of losing its place to Grand Theft Auto 4 (only 12 more months!). If I wanted to be even more extreme, I’d add the recently-announced Sims 3 due near the end of the decade. But for now, I’m content with these.

Now it’s your turn. Everybody plays some sort of games, so which five are you committing to?

Did you know that it’s Festival Season at Lutsen Mountains? I did, because I had to build this.

This Wednesday (11/22) NBC will be airing Madonna’s Confessions Tour live from Wembley Stadium in London. This is the tour we saw in Vegas back in May, and I’m looking forward to seeing it yet again.

Matt Brett on Viva Pinata:

Underneath the layers upon layers of cuteness is a ridiculously fun and addictive game. It’s super easy for youngsters to pick up with step-by-step walkthroughs for everything accompanied by full voice-over instructions. But it’s not [so simple that] someone like myself, who is normally shooting people’s faces off will tire of it in an instant.

There you go. Viva Pinata is good fun even for people who are more into the “shooting peoples’ faces off” genre of games.

Some updates »

Updates! Get yer updates!

  • Elsewhere posts now get their own permalink pages, including comments. This is joined by new fancy little icons for comments, permalinks, and the “via” link.
  • Following that trend, I made some slight updates to the archive page for the Elsewhere posts.
  • There was also the issue of the too-small comment box. If you haven’t already noticed, clicking the + next to “Speak” will enlarge it so there’s more space (for bitching).
  • And of course, what series of updates would be complete without design changes made when I should be in bed already?

Lasse Gjertsen is somebody you should know. Watch that first vid, then be blown away by this one.

I wasn’t really sure what to make of Line Rider until I saw this and it all became clear. It’s cool and all, but I think I’m going to stick to Sand.

If you haven’t picked up Gears of War yet and you’re also in need of a Live membership, Best Buy has a $20 off deal when you buy both. Plus, you’ll get a $20 off coupon with the Live bundle for use on another game (Call of Duty 3, perhaps)!

Done With Sony »

There are so many reasons that Sony is terrible, and yet it’s still here (like Bush).

In the past 2 rounds of consoles, Sony’s Playstation was always near the top of my list. I chose the Playstation over the Nintendo 64, and last time I had a very difficult choice between the Gamecube and the PS2. Mario and Samus swayed my vote that time, but the PS2 followed soon after.

This time though, everything’s all crazy. the PS3 isn’t even near my list, and I hope it stays that way. Whereas Nintendo and Microsoft (seriously!) both seem to care about putting out a product that makes people happy, Sony seems content to stuff their console full of the newest (unproven) technology and assume we’ll eat it up at any price.

I really, really hope this doesn’t happen. I’m not going to go spouting a bunch of factual and technological jargon; rather, I’m just going to say that Sony has made me feel worthless as a potential customer by putting their interests ahead of my own. All this time they’ve been pushing Blu-Ray and 1080p (the “real” high-def). Blu-Ray is nice because you’re looking at something like 27 gigabytes of storage on the low end, so I can understand the decision at that level.

At the same time, it’s that technology that’s pushing the PS3 into prohibitively expensive territory for some people. Also, remember that this is Sony, king of the proprietary media format (Betamax, MiniDisc, Memory Stick, UMD) and so the new Playstation feels more like a weapon in a format war than a game console.

I also don’t understand their logic for pushing 1080p as hard as they have been. I’m glad the hardware supports it, but that’s about it right now. They can’t even tout this as an advantage over the Xbox anymore since Microsoft added 1080p support with the latest Dashboard update.

Then we get to the SIXAXIS – Sony’s moniker for the new controller. It looks almost exactly like a PS2 controller, except this time it has less cords and more lights. Also, it has motion sensing, at the expense of the rumble feature. To me Sony’s motion sensing seems tacked on (as a response to the Wii), and the loss of rumble for whatever reason pretty much kills it. Well, that and the price. And the fact that it’s the same controller I bought in 1998.

But let’s forget the hardware side of things; all points above notwithstanding, the PS3 still has the potential to be a very good machine. That’s where Sony’s attitude comes in! Some choice quotes:

Sony has “built up a certain brand equity over time since the launch of PlayStation in 1995 and PS2 in 2000 that the first five million are going to buy it, whatever it is, even it didn’t have games.” (Source)

(on Microsoft) Every time we go down a path, we look behind and they’re right there – we just can’t shake these guys. I wish that they would come up with some strategies of their own, but they seem to be going down the path of everything we do. If you look at their strategy in other business areas as well, they tend to do that. (Source)

Oh, like Xbox Live? It’s a good thing Sony doesn’t copy others’ ideas! You know, except for the portable gaming thing or the motion sensing controllers thing or the rumble thing. Wait; didn’t Nintendo do all of those first? Finally:

So are you saying that not having an exclusive on Grand Theft Auto doesn’t hurt you at all?

No, I don’t think it hurts us. No, I really don’t. (Source)

Let’s step back and look at that last one. That nugget of wisdom was courtesy of Jack Tretton, o-chief operating officer of Sony Computer Entertainment America. Given his position, it’s only natural to take everything he says with a grain of salt, but it does bring me back to one important factor: the games.

First, let’s take a look at the list of franchises that made me buy a PS2 in the first place:

  • Grand Theft Auto
  • Gran Turismo

I can imagine that a lot of people had lists that looked like that. I’m not saying those were the only games I ever played, but those were the clinchers for me; that was why I bought the PS2. Now, one of those is no longer a Playstation exclusive. The other is being re-released in “HD” for the PS3, possibly without any cars or tracks. Furthermore, Forza 2 is coming next year and that’s more game than GT could ever be, which brings my list of must-have franchises for the PS3 to zero.

And finally, as if Sony hadn’t irritated enough gamers already, there’s this.

Hellbox on the Zune:

…the Zune counts a song as played when you begin to play it … Why? Because if it were at the end [like the iPod/iTunes], then I could listen to a whole song nearly to the end, and then skip to the next song, thus finding an easy workaround to the “3 plays or 3 days” limitation.

That’s not shady at all!

Ice cream sandwiches are the new cookies. No link, just saying.

No. Absolutely not.

The (Product)Red MOTORAZR V3m is now available through Sprint for the bargain price of $64.99 (a $15.00 premium over the standard gunmetal model). My next phone? We’ll see.

I voted today, for what that’s worth. But my ticket number was 1337, so maybe that’s a sign of (good) things to come.

Another chance »

Oh Xbox Live, you know I want to be one of the cool kids. Why do you torment me so?

When I bought the 360, it came with a free month of Xbox Live Gold (a $7.99 value!), the tier of the Xbox Live service that lets you play online with other people. I didn’t make much use of it, quitting after a crappy round of Saints Row in which 2 on 2 became 2 on 1 when my teammate dropped out before the game started.

With that said, I decided to give it another shot with the supposed Gold exclusives coming up (demos that Silver members would get either later or not at all) and with my recent borrowing of Call of Duty 2. So far the single player in COD 2 is great; I’ve played all the way through the Russian campaign already. There are frustrating parts, yes, but they’re overshadowed by how good the game is.

So naturally I ventured into the online arena with my newly reacquired Gold status, and played a couple of quick games. The verdict? So far, I have yet to enjoy any of the online play that Live has to offer. My first game started poorly, with me getting sniped about 10 times in a row by the same person. Okay, chalk that up to my newness to this kind of play, but that still kind of seems like cheating. Continuing, our team ended up losing the match. Fine, whatever. Tried one more; this time it was Capture the Flag. Not my favorite, but I’ll give it a shot. 10 minutes go by and the final score is Allies 5, Axis (us) 0. Frustrating, but we put up a good fight, I suppose. Only it was futile; the final board showed that the Allies had 4 players to our 2… that explains a lot. After that I pretty much gave up. I really wanted to enjoy myself, but it’s not easy when you’re always, always outmatched.

Part of it probably owes to the fact that I’m really, really new to a game that has been out since the 360 launched a year ago. Maybe there’s an issue with the way Live sets up matches, but a lot of people seem to be happy with it. I think the heart of the problem lies in the fact that I end up playing with a bunch of strangers, which makes it hard to even enjoy being there. If this had been a game with a bunch of people I know, I don’t think it would’ve been nearly as frustrating.

The big drawback to that most of my friends are not gamers. I know one person with a 360 (it’s a start) but we don’t have any common games (yet – that could change with Call of Duty 3 and Gears of War). I guess when looking at Live as a socially-oriented gaming platform it would help to have gamers that I’m comfortable socializing with.

A couple other things popped into my head as I was writing this as well. I think I may just be frustrated by this genre of game; shooters and I don’t have a great history. Racing or something less intense may be a better fit for now. What I think I’d enjoy even more is more of a co-op, non-versus type of situation (like Halo‘s campaign mode.

So I have another 3 months to figure this out, otherwise I guess I’ll revert back to a Silver membership.

I love graph paper. Fortunately, quad-ruled notebooks are easy to come by. Isometric graph paper (for 3-dimensional projects) isn’t so accessible. The solution? Print your own!

Got an Xbox 360? Got $4? You may be interested in Sneak King, “in which the King must use cunning stealth to sneak up behind unsuspecting people and bestow them with a delicious meal before they pass out from hunger.”

You guys can have your Wii launch. I’ll be waiting at Burger King.

Brand New, Brand New, Brand New, Brand New!

Rhymefest is awesome and Kanye’s still got it. A perfect hip-hop video.

Logo a Gogo »

My previous logo was a result of about five minutes of Illustrator work slapped inside of a box back in summer of 2004. In spite of this, it worked surprisingly well. Still, it suffered from a couple issues. Most importantly the A could get mistaken for an F, leading one to wonder why there was an icon for Florida. But the trait that bothered me the most was the utter lack of artistic quality. With that, I set out to fix that:

These marked an acceptable start, but didn’t quite get where I wanted to go. I still like the slab serif one, but it still struck me as too straight-edged. The one the right reminds me of RocaWear. I knew that I wanted the A and L to be paired up again, so I continued:

A little closer. The far left doesn’t convey AL so much as AI, but at the end of the row you can see it starting to look familiar. Onward:

I was happy enough with the first one that I started working it out in Illustrator, but as I finished I realized it just wasn’t there. Furthermore, it just didn’t seem quite tight enough, and I can’t believe I liked it that much now that I look at it again. The next two show definite progress toward the final, with a return to the more italicized serifs of the previous row without feeling like a Jon Hicks ripoff.

With that settled, the logo was redone in Illustrator, and finally stylized for icon applications. The one with the stars is used for Flickr, Technorati, iStockPhoto, etc, and the other two find themselves in use on Yahoo! and AOL messengers.

I really like what this new logo has evolved into. It retains the good qualities of the old logo – clean lines and a nearly square proportion – while adding that dash of extra interest that I was looking for.

What’s great is that Alfa Romeo is saying the 8C is being produced and is heading for the US. What sucks is the $200K cost of entry.

Gears of War, arguably the biggest game yet for the Xbox 360, hits soon. Considering the content (think Halo), I wasn’t really expecting much as far as advertising. Boy was I wrong.