Firewatch – My Year Ends On A Good Note!

Firewatch - game banner

It feels slightly awkward, that as I bid goodbye to 2016 I’m taking a journey back into the 80s! Taking a peek through that magical decade, the MTV revolution had forced itself on a 24/7 TV, Hollywood was reinventing itself with sci-fi movies such as ‘E.T.’ and ‘Back To The Future’ series, the VCRs, audio cassettes, boomboxes, had stepped into our homes as the next generation technology and also redefining a long-term alliance between entertainment, youth and pop culture. On the other side, gaming, as it were, became a growing alternative to TV & movie entertainment with titles like Super Mario Bros, Tetris, Donkey Kong, which are today regarded as cult classics. Needless to say, whichever part of the world you were born, you weren’t immune from the razzmatazz of the tech and culture boom in the 80s. Let me come back to 2016 now.

The game which has summoned my inert nostalgia is called Firewatch by Campo Santo, a brilliant indie genre par excellence, of course, set in the 80s, and so reminiscent of that awesome decade. I had read positive reviews on Firewatch so when it became available on the PSN season sale for CAD12.99 I decided to pick it! The other point of writing this post is because I felt this game hasn’t really been discussed a lot, while we continue to endorse some bigger titles this one deserves its rightful place too. (If you are inclined, Firewatch has a Reddit community too.)

The Game (No spoilers, I promise!)
Firewatch is a short, and an enjoyable affair. It could have been a biographical account of some hiker which came alive on screen as an adventure. The best, and perhaps the most vivid characteristic of Firewatch is that it contains no fierce-looking villains, long & stretched boss fights which you need to finish off before progressing the story or even treasure hunts, some qualities which today’s gamers have come to endorse. Basically, a nice break from the complexity of hardcore gaming. It’s a simple story set in the wilderness of the Wyoming jungles in the summer of 1989 (oh, the 80s!) where you play Henry, a volunteer managing a lookout and exploring the vast green landscapes through some help from your colleague (or boss) Delilah, and through a walky-talky which is the prime object of interaction, you seek and sort out the mysteries of this adventurous journey. I’d be honest to say that once I started to play I couldn’t keep the controller down for 5 hours. There are supply caches, and rugged mountain terrains to be explored and mysteries to be unearthed and to dwell upon. The artistic landscapes are rendered from artworks by Olly Moss, (Jane Ng, lead environmental artist at Campo Santo, was tasked with translating Moss’ work into 3D environments while maintaining his stylized artistic vision) making it more interesting & subtle than the peculiar computer-generated graphics, which merges with the storyline so casually. Having said that, I’m wondering how CGI graphics would make a difference if the game was to have a sequel and a much aggressive storyline. (thinking about the jungles from Uncharted 4)

I have shared screenshots of some landscapes which I found interesting and there are more screen grabs at this IMGUR gallery with spoiler alert!

Firewatch

Looking at the graphics this game definitely deserves a VR experience in addition to new plots, and in the absence of a ‘boss fight’ making the climax more intriguing and dramatic.

The Experience
As a hiker, I personally believe that Firewatch is a hiking simulator, if not a substitute for the actual walking undoubtedly, but it’s a great concept to experience nature from the comforts of your home. Also, with the Free Roam mode, the experience comes closer to being on an actual hiking trail. A pro tip – don’t forget to take your axe and flashlight before you leave your cabin if you decide to just roam around. As it happened with me, once the sun sets your visibility becomes next to zero and your map would be virtually impossible to read out in the open dark woods. If you come across a blocked path you’re on your own in the dark with no Delilah to help you in the Free Roam mode. Coming back to the gameplay, the mystery surrounding the forest does build up and keeps you nailed to your seat but the ending lacks a punch and my expectation was completely dashed. For a short 2-5 hour gameplay story, I believe the narrative ended too soon and offered very little solace to my inquisitive mind. There are definitely high expectations from the sequel if the studio has plans for it.

The soundtrack of Firewatch is very evocative of the 80s pop genre. You cannot but listen intently to the “Push Play” song being played on a boombox at the Jonesy Lake (check screen capture above) where two drunk teens are skinny dipping on Day 2, even as you’re in the midst of the game. It sent me on a wild searching spree on Google actually believing that an 80s band called ‘Cheap Talk’ scored the music for the track. There’s a mystery surrounding the track too which is posted by Owen S Good in his insightful article. Least to say it’s a reverberating, melodious track, reminding you just how amazing the 80s’ pop music scene was. Have a listen!

In The End
If you are looking to just have an easy time playing a game on a lazy afternoon (or night, whatever), or maybe if you’re a beginner in gaming and not feeling too motivated to compete with villains, then Firewatch is the title for you. It’s a journey of its characters in the frontline wilderness conveying a story through their personal experiences. If you’re a trophy hunter it’s an easy one but there’s no Platinum trophy to win, which is a bummer. It’s enjoyable also because you wouldn’t have to hunt the Internet to complete a level and all the accessories come as part of your walkthrough in the game. Firewatch is like a book which you can’t put down, that you not only visualize through the minds of the characters but also experience because, in the end, it’s a game. I’m glad, it gave the perfect ending to my 2016 gaming life!


Game Details:
Title: Firewatch
Developer: Campo Santo
Platform: PC, PS4, Linux, Windows, OS X, Xbox One
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Panic

Apple Is Changing User Behaviour, Not Just User Experience

The iPhone 7/Plus launched without the standard 3.5mm audio jack creating a storm on the Internet. The problem isn’t about the missing elements from a traditional user interaction perspective with a device such as the iPhone as it is about changing a user’s perception. It’s indeed very courageous of Apple to remove the audio jack completely replacing it with the lightning connector which means you cannot listen to music while charging (it’ll require a new $40 accessory). Simply put, we can’t charge AND listen to music or take calls simultaneously and we have to keep the iPhones charged. Suggesting that Apple wants the AirPods as your default hearing device regardless. Apple’s users have often had to reluctantly change the way they interact with devices based purely on how Apple defined its product line so ‘courageously’ and regardless of how frustrating it was. The astonished fans complained but eventually caved in. Now, this isn’t the first time that Apple has done something ‘courageous’ with its product line by removing a standard feature or software – the iPads didn’t support Adobe Flash (they still don’t even today), and yet if the sales numbers are correct the audience seems to have loved the iPad! From a product design standpoint with its power to innovate Apple really at the helm of changing user behaviour of this generation unquestionably. Perhaps Apple did contemplate the backlash of its decision to remove the 3.5mm audio jack from the iPhones and the ‘courageous’ comment from Phil Schiller is proof of defending itself from its perched place. So if there’s one product company which is going to affect our lives within the realm of technology and design innovation it’d be Apple.

Here’s Steve Jobs explaining ‘courage’ perfectly with Apple’s products.

The Last of Us – A Late Review

I’ve never been so stressed and nervous playing games ever, as I have been with The Last of Us – Remastered on PS4 lately. This has drastically changed my perspective on gaming and so I decided to share my thoughts through this blog post. The Last of Us (TLOU) released on the PS3 by Naughty Dog in 2013 and the PS4 in 2014, I couldn’t play it on the PS3 for reasons that I will describe later in this post but I’m so glad that I picked it up for the PS4.

Naughty Dog launched the mind-blowing and one of my favourites Uncharted 4 in 2016, which is an open world thriller and action-adventure title. In contrast, when I played TLOU I couldn’t bear the thought that it required me to work in stealth to progress in the game. The semantics for Uncharted were quite simple and linear but not with TLOU and that left me disappointed on the PS3. When I started playing the Remastered version (that’s what they call it for the PS4) I looked at it from a new perspective with no comparison with Uncharted, and that’s how it became more enjoyable for me.

The Runners, Clickers, Bloaters are without a doubt the worst characters to face in The Last of Us. Runners are still fine as mêlée attacks will overpower them but I have problems with the Clickers who can overrun you at the slightest noise. The Bloaters are the worst looking and the toughest of the group of infected creatures and I realised very late (after several ‘deaths’) how to defeat them. There’s a specific strategy to defeat these guys individually, or you may just use stealth tactics to go ahead further in the game. But at some point eventually, I’m left with no choice but to face their grunts and horrible attacks. It’s the worst situation in this game, one which I couldn’t come to terms with on the PS3 version.

One of my favourite features in the game is ‘crafting’. You could be creating medicines for yourself (Joel) or mêlée weapons or Shivs (sort of dagger to kill Clickers). To craft any of the items I must constantly scan the surroundings for items like scissors or adhesive tapes or antiseptic and so on. It’s wonderful to note how the game will change for better or worse if you continuously engage or fail to engage in exploring the vicinity for items. I have kept searching for Firefly pendants as well with zero luck. There are Artefacts and Manuals too which will help you to upgrade your weapons and skills, it’s a narrative relevant to a post-apocalyptic world and one which hits you hard when you consider the devastating effects of climate change on the environment. The game’s AI engine is also very sensitive to your moves and will change the gameplay often and keep you immersed.

It’s a great game, and if you own a PS4 you must own a copy. Moving on, let’s see how I can settle my score with the Hunters now.

UX Design

The Best UX Design Articles of May 2016

A catalogue of some of my favourite and insightful UX design articles published in May 2016.

How to Turn User Research into Usable Data
User research is an important component in a design process to collect valuable data. This article looks at various research methods and how to make the right choice.

Basic steps on how to remove complexity out of UI Design
Jin Su Park, Head of Design at ThisData speaks about removing the complexity in the designing of the user-interfaces.

The absolute minimum Android developers need to know about UX — Part 3 of 5
The title has the description of the article. Also, Part 1 covers ‘Visibility’ and Part 2 includes ‘Affordances/Signifiers’.

UX Maturity: Where Does Your Company Fit?
Usabilla offers a FREE ebook explaining the concepts, and the reason to invest in UX design. Go for it!

Designing for Content-Heavy Websites
It’s not easy to encapsulate content in a good minimalist UI. If you share that opinion as well, this article is for you.

A Guide To Building a Successful Startup Design Team
Jennifer Aldrich from InVision writes about working for a startup on UX roles and building a successful design team. You can follow her tweets (@jma245).

The Organization’s Design Research Maturity Model
Chris Avore shares his template of a model for measuring your organization’s design research maturity.

Privacy Laws and Bad UX
Alex Schmidt (UX strategist and researcher) speaks about why digital privacy matters with some examples, and how you should approach it.

Applying UX Design Methods to Organizational Design and Teamwork
UX designers are no longer limited to imagining or executing ideas but they are also engaging with all sorts of professionals in a co-creation process.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? The Biggest Mistakes in Usability Testing
Although usability testing seems simple and routine there are several problems which may occur. Infragistics’ Principal User Experience Architect Jim Ross shares his experience in this insightful article.

The Design-Thinking Superpower You Might Suspect You Have
Designers can take the design-thinking approach on a range of projects, going beyond the UI, and help the organization’s internal processes to gain optimization.

Introducing the User-Centered Design Canvas
The UCD Canvas is a great way to capture user-research and business value all in one place. A downloadable PDF with some more information is also available on The Rectangles website.

 

Featured Image – by courtesy of Duane Storey / Computers (Some Rights Reserved)

The Jungle Book (2016)

The Jungle Book movie was an enchanting showcase of technology-meets-human experience. The live action/CGI depiction of the characters is a daunting task for a 105 minute movie when you are bringing an animated version alive on the big screen for the first time. Apart from the brilliant storytelling, there was some degree of fear and discomfort felt while watching The Jungle Book on the big screen versus a TV.

As I mentioned, since I was coming to the cinema from a TV experience of the animated version I was expecting to be enthralled by the cuteness of the characters. Shere Khan wasn’t looking so horrible in the animated version. Kaa was not so fearful and scary, in fact, she was Mowgli’s friend and mentor from reading the books. The beauty of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book is that despite the inherent qualities of the ferocious animals they are still believable and adorable. No matter how beastly the behavior you could still love them with all your heart.

The only way in which Shere Khan could instill fear and dominate the animal kingdom was through his roaring voice. His horrid appearance went overboard in the movie. Or maybe it’s the traditional movie stereotype of making a bad person look monstrous too. Kaa’s entry was the scariest moment as she almost strangulates Mowgli with her coil. You know how it feels in 3D to have a snake look into your eyes that closely. Snakes are awful in appearance but not Kaa from the book and Disney’s cartoons.

In short – Bagheera was the hero of the movie, Baloo was cute, Raksha was amazing, the jungle was depicted quite nicely, King Louie was funny, and the bee stings on Mowgli disappeared sooner than I had expected in the next scene. Was that a blooper? Anyway, the movie has reignited my interest in the animated version and that’s what I’m looking forward to. Art is immortal.


Further Reading:
The Jungle Book (2016 film) – Wikipedia
The Jungle Book (2016) – Rotten Tomatoes
The Jungle Book (1894) collection of stories by Rudyard Kipling – Wikipedia
The Jungle Book (2016) official SuperBowl movie trailer – YouTube
Information on the Tiger species – WWF