Ingress invite received. Now what?

Posted by & filed under Reviews.

IngressAh, the sweet scent of exclusivity… Do you remember when Google was giving away invites to GMail? How about Google Wave? Now it’s Ingress, the New Hot Game that everyone wants.

Of course I wanted an invite too, given how everyone was excited about hacking the portals, establishing the fields, capturing minds (or freeing people’s minds, depending on if you’re on the Enlightened or Resistance’s side). Slick commercials warm up the interest even more, so yes, I did send a request for an invite.
It took more than a month, which, judging by reports from other users, is about right. Unfortunately I got a bit jaded during that time. I’ve read a bunch of articles, I’ve browsed Ingress communities (there are many of them on Google Plus) and it all gave me a rather large expectation of actively playing here and there. But when activation finally came…

Well, I’d say it’s a great game if you live downtown. And totally empty ghost-town with a few crickets chirping here and there if you are in the boonies in suburbs. When the whole point is to interact with “portals” and, essentially, do the “capture the flag in the area” type of activities, but there are no portals nearby, interest wanes pretty fast.

I mean yes, if I drive for half an hour to the northern part of town, people say there’s a portal there. And many more downtown (they have statues there in addition to restricted parking and one-way streets, McDonald’s doesn’t qualify for the Enlightened’s interest) but instead of a casual game that you might flick on while waiting for your food at a restaurant, this becomes “go there to play” activity type of thing, which is not what I want at this time. I already have a game that has “portals” everywhere — it’s called Foursquare :)

Application-wise, the Ingress is alright, but a bit awkward. Menus are not standard, and application doesn’t like hardware menu button on my Galaxy S II. Rendering is pretty fast. No, you don’t get Virtual Reality view with half-transparent windows overlaying view of the street (that would be cool though). It’s a map with dots and portal icons. But you can’t zoom out beyond a certain point (or at least I couldn’t do it, it allowed to zoom out a bit and then to rotate the map) so I don’t know where exactly other portals might be. Driving through the town while staring at the screen to try to find a portal? That’s a recipe for disaster, no thanks.

Beyond original training missions, which I completed on the first day, nothing new has popped up yet. So, I guess, it’s time to uninstall it and, perhaps, come back later, when some more content appears.

I wish there was a way to pass along my invite to somebody else, who would be more actively hunting down portals and feel a bit more emotionally envolved with Resistance or Enlightened…

Google is now officially Apple as Nexus 4 sells out in 20 minutes

Posted by & filed under Technology.

Soo… Yes, I stayed up late to try to order Nexus 4 for a friend (I’ll probably buy one for me too, but perhaps later). Supposed debut in store should have happened with a stroke of midnight Eastern Time. But… midnight comes and goes and store is still an empty pumpkin.

Except Nexus 4/10 went on sale in Australia. Until it sold out under an hour. And UK seems to be too — on Google Plus there’s a bunch of people complaining about checkout being broken, system timing out, shopping carts being wiped.

I guess Google is now officially Apple, where launch is a giant cluster fark with people hunting for the new hot tech toy, everything being sold out ASAP and tons of customers howling because shopping card crashed this close to checkout. And when will the next batch be for sale? (or the first one, for US) — nobody knows!

Oh well. Time to go to sleep.

Oh, and “US Launch per Google Support” is now 9AM Eastern time on Nov 13. Unless, of course, it happens earlier, and sells out in 20 minutes. Come on, Google, you have enough servers to handle the load, right? Or your design is totally non-scalable and your Wallet systems are …well… empty pumpkins at midnight. Unless, of course, there were just, say, 200 phones per country :)

Review: Guild Wars 2 – 4 stars (though I am a newb)

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Guild Wars 2

A little while ago I decided to try Guild Wars 2. I’ve never tried to play the first game, and generally not that much into the whole “massive” and “online” multiplay thing. Primarily because my schedule is rather hectic, and trying to re-arrange the day around some “raid” (or whatever other activities some players have) seemed rather silly, so I wanted something I could play alone. And, to my surprise, GW2 really is good enough for a single play.

Pluses:

– There is a story. It’s full of things you’d expect from a fantasy title, dragons, evil, attempts to fight it, that kind of thing. You progress from one area to the other and story is being told along the way. As character gains the level, new abilities appear, and new things keep happening in a story mode. Your choices change the story, though I haven’t tried to read up in terms of how much of a difference does it made. As a human elementalist I was given a choice between, say, “sneak around and do something” versus “brute force mode”.

– It’s all rather pretty. Wonderful landscapes, plenty of variety, all sorts of creatures. Some customization is possible (though somewhat limited, not sure why). Traveling from area to area gives enough of different kinds of environments to enjoy them. Mountains, farms, underwater areas…

– Special events. There was a whole series of fun and interesting things for Halloween — you get to kill skeletons, turn yourself into monster and have some mock costume fights.

– Mastering a trade (two, actually). I chose cooking and leather-working. Both follow the same idea — you gather some resources while you travel, and then can figure out recipes and make things. Food allows you to gain special advantages (faster healing, or inflicting longer damage). Other kinds of craftsmen can make items. So far cooking is my favorite, mostly because it’s easier to progress.

– Map is huge. Zooming out tells you that it’ll take a while to explore it all! Also most areas include scenic “vistas” that give you experience point and show something extra pretty (though sometimes you have to think hard to get to a particular one). Along the way you get to join a number of “events” where you alone or a bunch of players get to help some characters, hunt down something, fix some broken things, etc.

Minuses
– Controls. Oh! My! God! How annoying it is, I can’t tell you. No, you can’t do regular “point and click to move”. Noooo, you have to mash keyboard for that. Oh and walking backwards is very slow. Turning around is rather inconvenient. I played for a while and still sometimes I get killed because I mess up movements. I don’t understand the logic behind this dumbheaded move. If you think many people will prefer keyboard-only mode, just make it an option. For everyone else — do the mouse clicky thing.

– Limitations and “unfair” fights. It’s only you that seems to be limited to two bars of “energy” to roll over to evade an enemy attack. Elementalist doesn’t move very fast and for situation when you’re facing a number of thralls it’s pretty much a death sentence. They run five-six times faster, 90% chance that they will attack you, even if you have other members in your party. Because, ha-ha, it’s not as much fun in killing some story-based character as the player.

Which brings the other problem — secondary characters are very often useless. Maybe I’m missing something, but frequently you and the second character are given some sort of a task and you have to do 90% of it. For example, in one “dream” sequence your companion is given a sword with “test it on a guardian” instruction. Guess what? Guardian whacks you. Ignores the companion, which leisurely throws one or two globs of energy with a sword at that thing. The rest of the time you have to run around and try to kill it. It’s infuriating.

– Impossible areas. There are a number of areas that are simply impossible to get through if you are alone. Avalon fighters that re-spawn extremely quickly, thralls that also do so. If you are alone, there’s zero chance to pass that area. Population of servers seems to be uneven, so I frequently ran into situation where I need to travel through the place where enemies get respawn so quickly, I get killed again and again. I just give up.

– “WTF do I do now” moments also happen from time to time. Some dungeons are just unclear as to what to do with particular item. One of the major island episodes was like that too — 40 minutes of being killed by thralls that swarmed everything until it turns out that you don’t actually have to kill all of them. Or when you try to protect the queen — trying to kill off the main evil guy is actually also pointless, you only need to kill his companions. It’s not clear. And frustrating.

Another slightly annoying part is that once you reach a certain level (in my case it was 50) story takes you to the other areas which, I guess, are used for other classes of characters. If your level is too high, you get downgraded. So you can’t wipe everything with a single sneeze in beginner’s areas. But you get to go through them while your normal skills are severely downgraded, which is annoying. Novelty somewhat compensates for it, but still…

Some people were complaining about bots running around the world, and I’ve finally seen some in last few days — a group of similar characters running a tight loop, attacking everything in its way, gathering experience and some loot. It didn’t bother me that much, though it took me a minute to realize these are not real users :)

Overall it’s a nice game. You only pay once, and the amount of enjoyable time you get out of it certainly is worth the price of admission. Plus, there are even more events coming, so new content is coming up! I’m not sure what I will do if population of the server falls so much the “impossible” areas will have zero chance of being defeated though. But I’ll wait and see.

p.s. Different classes of characters also get different story branches, so even if you have completed all of the story using, say, Charr, there’s another “branch” available for you, though, of course, you might get through the same areas but with different “tasks” to complete

Google Wallet Card: Circular logic is circular

Posted by & filed under Misc, Technology.

There are new rumors that soon Google Wallet will have a new credit card for those cases where you can’t “tap and pay”. Well, not really a “credit” card, it’s more like a debit “interface” card — similar to debit Paypal card. Which means you’re supposed to keep a balance there too.

I’m not sure if it’s such a good idea. I mean, it’s not going to harm anything, but it doesn’t make any sense either. For most users, Google Wallet is a way to pay for Android apps (via Play) and for some purchases from small merchants. For those cases new card doesn’t make sense. If you’re trying to pay in a physical store you may as well pull out the real card, especially as it’s not clear if any standard consumer protections will work for purchase by Google Wallet Proxy. Now, they could offer some discounts (say, coupons, automatically applied when you pay by this new card), then it could, theoretically, be useful.

Another oddity is that they have just eliminated “virtual” cards that you could get in the Wallet app. And now switching into physical ones? Odd.

And last worry — Google’s support is awful. It’s nonexistent unless you’re big and important enough to have an individual representative. Would you like to have your questions answered within a few business day after you sent them via email? When the balance is tied up and your card doesn’t work? Yeah, I didn’t think so…

The best case scenario would be cheap person-to-person payments. Now that could be the real deal. Eliminate PayPal’s fees, allow withdrawal of balance without additional fees, and that could be a good product (so far only American Express does something similar with their pre-paid cards — you can reload it without fees, and no other fees are charged to the prepaid card). It won’t eliminate support worry, but for some people it could be “acceptable risk”.

Hopefully these rumors will be confirmed/denied soon.

Did Verizon sneak up and bit EE? Extremely Expensive!

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When I was visiting London last Summer, I was quite surprised with prices for prepaid and even some post-paid cell phone plans (or, as they’re called “Pay and Go” and “Pay Monthly”). 15 pounds buys you either a gig and a half of data on O2 (as prepaid, with some minutes and texts) or unlimited data with some minutes (on Three). So, I figured when T-Mobile and Orange UK have merged into EE company (Everything Everywhere), their new LTE price plans would be pretty much on the level with competition.

But it looks like Verizon sneaked up and bit them in their butt or something, cause freshly announced plans are as bad as Verizon’s in USA. It’s not only that you have to sign 24 month contract, their minimum plans are 500Mb with free BT WiFi. That’s what, less than 10 minutes of full-speed data download. What’s the point of having “super-fast” LTE, if your data cap vanishes so quickly? And that, with unlimited minutes and texts cost *36 pounds*.
Un-freaking-believable.
You want a contract? Go with O2: 26 pounds for a gig of data + unlimited voice/text. Heck, EE’s SIM-only plans will “start” from 21 pounds. With O2 you’ve got a deal… Plus some options also allow you to use O2 WiFi hotspots (and some roaming). And with Three you’ve got completely unlimited internet for less.

EE is named that for being Extremely Expensive, not Everything Everywhere. I hope customers will see it for what it’s worth — not much in terms of being a deal.