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.

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)

Uncharted 4 – A Perspective

It’s the last installment in the Uncharted series of Nathan Drake’s treasure hunting adventures and gun fights, and this time, Naughty Dog has pushed the gameplay and the graphics beyond imagination. The hype was on a mammoth scale for the final farewell to one of gaming history’s most exciting franchises. By the way, this isn’t a review for Uncharted 4, it’s just my perspective on the gameplay and the graphics for the title. It also made me go for my first PS4 – the Limited Edition Uncharted 4 bundle.

I just finished Chapter 8, and there was plenty of energy, mind-boggling puzzles and enough stress for surviving in a fighting situation, an anticipated feature of the gameplay anyway. Collecting hidden treasures of course (and fretting over the missed ones usually) but I’ve somewhat become a pro at this one. Apart from the intense gun fights Uncharted 4 has added an exciting crouch-movement in stealth mode too. The stealth move was present in previous titles too but has greater significance in Uncharted 4. So when you are surrounded by tall grass you can remain undetected to a group of mercenaries and take them down quietly to avoid a full-fledged gun battle. Watch for the stealth meter as it fills from White (about to be detected) to Yellow (something suspicious and investigating) and finally Orange (you’re screwed, dude!).

Uncharted takes you on a virtual holiday around the world and I absolutely can’t wait to play the next chapters in Uncharted 4 to see how the adventure takes me to other locales — I know the Madagascar map is awesome from the promos. When it’s Uncharted it’s been a norm to play the title more than once to absorb the story and the gameplay.

I just wish that this isn’t the last title in the series but that seems likely. The Internet is talking about Naughty Dog’s willingness about the development of the Uncharted series with a different studio. A serious gamer once told me the series would continue but with a new character. I don’t want to speculate though I wish Sony doesn’t pull the trigger on one of its most successful titles.

Finally, I will post some Uncharted 4 game screen captures. Enjoy the vivid landscapes while it lasts. The graphics quality is just jaw-dropping.

Also, au revoir to Nathan Drake!


Uncharted 4-1

Uncharted 4-3

Uncharted 4-2Uncharted 4-5Uncharted 4-6Uncharted 4-7

 


Further Reading:
Could Uncharted 5 Actually Happen? Here’s What The Director Says
Naughty Dog Creative Director, Neil Druckmann, weighs his opinion on a possible fifth franchise title. Interesting read.
A Brain Dump of What I Worked on for Uncharted 4
Ming-Lun Chou worked on the programming of Uncharted 4 at Naughty Dog. This is a brilliant post on the behind-the-scenes of the game (to avoid any spoilers, I will read this after I complete the game). You can also see some game graphics in his blog post.

The Fun of Building A Lego

It’s been a dream to experiment with Lego. It brings pleasure for me to build something out of pieces of colourful plastic — ‘bricks’ as they are lovingly referred to by enthusiasts. So I picked up my first kit to begin with a majestic 578-bricks Fire Plane from Lego’s ‘Technic’ series.

With great help from my significant other, it took us just a day to complete the construction and by that, we exceeded our own expectations. Truth be told once I started the construction brick by brick there was no stopping. The exercise required time, focus, logic and tons of imagination. The manual was very straightforward with vivid visuals. Although I found a typo on the colour of the pins I was so much into engineering the plane that I figured out the right way.

It’s a fabulous product and you can see the structure details in the picture. The rudder, the flaps, and the elevators tilt up and down when a small lever is pushed (see the upright handle pointing up right in front of the tail-wing). The fan rotates when you move the plane, the engine looks so much real too (behind the fan, you can see the yellow piston). Below the fuselage there’s a small cargo hold for the ‘water’ consisting of blue button-shaped legos and controlled using a lever system again (the pearl head grey button on top of the cockpit). I must appreciate the design team at Lego for imagining the details of this plane, it must have been tedious work. I could see a lot of creativity-meets-architecture with solid product design strategy. This was just a beginning for more Lego adventures to come. So keep watching this space.

Lego Fire Plane

Lego Fire Plane built from 578-pieces.