Audacious Fox

iA, a design and consulting agency, in a ruminative entry on their company website where they hypothesize about a future where A.I. is left unchecked:

As crazy as this may sound, all of this is not Science Fiction. It is happening right now. Machines already filter, sort and choose the information we base our decisions upon. They count our votes. They sort the tasks we spend our time on, they choose the people we talk to and meet. More and more key aspects of our lives are decided by information technology. And things go wrong. Machines are made by humans. As long as we make mistakes, our machines make mistakes.

When things go wrong, both parties—those who use machines and those who build, manage and own information technology—decline responsibility. Users hide behind their lack of power, owners hide behind “the algorithm”. They sell artificial intelligence as Deus ex Machina and when it fails they blame the machine as a mere machine.

The question “Who serves whom?” is not a topic for experts in 2047. It is a key question for all of us, today, right here and now. Whether or not machines can be intelligent is not just technically or scientifically relevant, it is existential.

Imagine if Facebook decided who you could marry, because the network knows more about you and your tastes than you do yourself. What if machines made better politicians? iA raises these and other scenarios, as well as several suggestions for safeguards we can put in place to help keep more distinct lines between human- and machine-generated content.

When most people think of world-ruining A.I., they might think of a robotic uprising. Legions of drones, smart light bulbs, and other sentient machines overthrow their creators. That’s how the movies paint it, at least.

In reality, damaging, world-shaping A.I. will look less exciting, and we’re already getting glimpses of it. Consider the vast influence and reach that A.I. and machine learning have over the algorithms that feed our social networks, populate our search results, and prompt us with contextual lifestyle suggestions. How much of your life is guided by a machine, and to what degree does that influence sway your decisions? Now consider that these same algorithms and neural networks are proprietary code, often being written and improved by engineers who rarely fully understand the complexities of the whole system. At what point does the situation become a problem, dangerous, or irreversible? iA:

We need to know who runs these robots. And we need to know how they work. Bots have no right to anonymity. Algorithms that influence human existence on the deepest level shouldn’t be trade secrets.

I don’t think we have any clear answers yet, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be asking the questions. If anything, these topics need to be more common in our daily lives.

A common example of the dilemma we’re in goes like this: what should happen if a self-driving vehicle suddenly needed to decide between killing a group of pedestrians or swerving off the road and into a ditch, putting the passengers at risk? Should it consider the passengers’ health? What about the pedestrians’ apparent age? Regardless, in either of those outcomes, we should want to know everything we can about the driver. Will we hold machines and their makers to the same standard?

Monday, 15 January

Adam O’Fallon Price:

Periods, commas, colons, semi-colons: in their use or non-use and in their order and placement, can represent elaboration, conjecture, doubt, finality. And in aggregate, over the course of a text, the rhythms of punctuation advance an author’s worldview and personality as surely as any plot or theme. Patterns of punctuation usage are the writerly equivalent of an athlete’s go-to moves, or a singer’s peculiar timbre and range—those little dots and squiggles, in a sense, encode your voice. Anthony Powell’s colon (pardon the inadvertent image) is as signature as Kyrie Irving’s crossover or Rihanna’s throaty cry.

For me, there is no punctuation mark as versatile and appealing as the em dash. I love the em dash in a way that is difficult to explain, which is, probably, the motivation of this essay. And my love for it is emphasized by the fact that many writers never, or rarely, use it—even disdain it. It is not, so to speak, an essential punctuation mark, the same way commas or periods are essential. You can get along without it and most people do.

I wholly, unequivocally love the em dash. Less pretentious than a semicolon, more beautiful than a comma. The perfect punctuation mark—you know?

Monday, 8 January

Start With Words

I start most of my interface designs in TextEdit. Why? Because it forces me to focus on the words. Words are like stock in a delicious stew. If you don’t have good stock, the whole meal feels off.

TextEdit-the-design-tool is surprisingly robust. Let me give you an example.

Say we’ve got to design a rather standard looking confirmation modal with two options for the user. Open TextEdit and start writing:

Are you sure you want to cancel?

Your account will remain active until 2/1/2018.

- If you resubscribe by 3/10/2018 you will retain your data.
- If you resubscribe after 3/10/2018 you'll have create a new account.
- You may download your data until 3/10/2018.

[ No ] [ Yes ] 

You can almost see the modal, can’t you? You can tell that “Are you sure you want to cancel?” is some sort of header. You also know that [ No ] and [ Yes ] are buttons. If you’re feeling fancy, you can even bump up the border radius:

( No ) ( Yes )


Now here’s where the real magic happens — the editing. Before opening Sketch or a new HTML document, continue to iterate on the language. Sometimes it helps to pretend like I have to actually speak these words to someone who’s sitting right in front of me. How would I write this for another human to read?

Are you sure you want to cancel?

Your account will remain active until 2/1/2018.

Come back anytime before 3/15/2018 to reactivate your account or request a copy of your data. After 3/15, your account and data will be permanently deleted.

[ Nevermind ] [ Cancel my account ]

Better. Fewer bullets, more readable.

Constraints help create better designs. TextEdit forces me to focus on the smallest (yet arguably most important) part of any design: the words. Because there’s no functional UI yet, my copy can’t hide behind appealing aesthetic, and I’m less prone to overwriting.

TextEdit (plain text mode, or CMD + Shift + T) is what I use, but pen and paper, Google Docs, or — yes — Sketch work equally as well. Whatever you use, start with words, and then build your design from there.

Thursday, 4 January

Remember how AlphaGo — Google’s Go-playing AI — went 5-0 against the reigning, 3-time European Go champion? Well, Google’s DeepMind team is back with AlphaZero, and it’s just crushed the game of chess. Mike Klein, writing for the company blog:

A little more than a year after AlphaGo sensationally won against the top Go player, the artificial-intelligence program AlphaZero has obliterated the highest-rated chess engine.

Stockfish, which for most top players is their go-to preparation tool, and which won the 2016 TCEC Championship and the 2017 Computer Chess Championship, didn’t stand a chance. AlphaZero won the closed-door, 100-game match with 28 wins, 72 draws, and zero losses.

Oh, and it took AlphaZero only four hours to “learn” chess. Sorry humans, you had a good run.

Take a minute to notice what’s interesting about this narrative. It’s not that a computer defeated a human, like with AlphaGo, it’s that one computer defeated another computer. At what point will it be more entertaining to watch two AIs compete instead of two humans? While you’re chewing on that future scenario, let me point out why AlphaZero’s accomplishment is being seen as more impressive than AlphaGo’s, despite Go being significantly more complex than chess.

With AlphaGo, Google’s researches, “trained the policy network on 30 million moves from games played by human experts”; essentially, “watch how the best do it, and use that information to choose your moves”. However, AlphaZero wasn’t trained on some huge dataset of chess matches. In fact, AlphaZero wasn’t “trained” at all. Back to Mr. Klein:

This would be akin to a robot being given access to thousands of metal bits and parts, but no knowledge of a combustion engine, then it experiments numerous times with every combination possible until it builds a Ferrari.

At least we still have physical sports. For now.

Sunday, 17 December

The style guide itself is good, but what drew my attention was the visual representation of tone ranges. Personally, I find the visual a far more clear example of what the Firefox UI copy should read like than a bullet list of examples would have conveyed. I also appreciate how a range implies flexibility for the writer to approach the language from a few different angles. A good reminder that product design writing isn’t about how it’s written, it’s about how it reads.

Wednesday, 6 December

This announcement will make two groups of people sad. One group will be the millions who’ve devoured every single one of Tony and Taylor’s brilliantly done video essays, and the other group will be those who’ve just discover them today.

Sunday, 3 December

PR to English Translation For Selected Portions of EA's Response to Backlash Over ‘Star Wars Battlefront II’ Microtransactions

An Update on Star Wars Battlefront II”, from the desk of Oskar Gabrielson, GM, DICE.

Thank you to everyone in our community for being the passionate fans that you are.

And a special thank you to Twitter, who last week decided to let you dweebs have twice the number of characters to yell at us with.

Our goal has always been to create the best possible game for all of you – devoted Star Wars fans and game players alike.

Our goal has always been to cash in hard on “Star Wars” before it inevitably becomes so diluted with spinoffs that you find yourself with reservations about buying that second BB-8 coffee mug.

But as we approach the worldwide launch, it’s clear that many of you feel there are still challenges in the design.

It’s clear to us that many of you are having trouble finding your wallets. Maybe you left them by your $800 phone or next to your monthly meal kit subscription box. Did you check by the TV, where I can clearly see you pay for Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube Red. Seriously, why do you need all three?

We’ve heard the concerns about potentially giving players unfair advantages. And we’ve heard that this is overshadowing an otherwise great game. This was never our intention. Sorry we didn’t get this right.

We can’t believe our Reddit comments didn’t calm the storm. We never wanted microtransactions to overshadow; we wanted them to be in the shadows. We’re all upset we didn’t get this right.

We hear you loud and clear, so we’re turning off all in-game purchases. We will now spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning. This means that the option to purchase crystals in the game is now offline, and all progression will be earned through gameplay.

Microtransactions are gone until we can figure out where that magic price point is to avoid public backlash while still selling you an Ewok.

The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we’ve made changes to the game.

The ability to purchase crystals will be back immediately following the mass amnesia you’ll all experience five minutes into piloting the Millennium Falcon over Hoth.

We’ll share more details as we work through this.

I can’t believe we had to write this post.

Star Wars Battlefront II is three times the size of the previous game, bringing to life a brand new Star Wars story, space battles, epic new multiplayer experiences across all three Star Wars eras, with more free content to come.

Star Wars Battlefront II is three times the size of the previous game, which was one fourth the size of a reasonable game, which means Star Wars Battlefront II is now point seven five hundredths of what you’d expect in a game this price. Plus, space battles.

We want you to enjoy it, so please keep your thoughts coming. And we will keep you updated on our progress.

We want to enjoy our holidays, and you want to maniacally wave around Darth Vader’s lightsaber. Fair enough. Enjoy our stopgap, shut-you-up solution while it lasts — nobody escapes the Empire forever.

Thursday, 16 November

Exciting bit of local news. For this story, we turn it over to Bob Jones at News 5 Cleveland to tell us about some pioneering research from the Polymer Science group at the University of Akron. Take it away, Bob:

Scientists, led by Polymer Science Professor Dr. Matt Becker, have developed a polymer film that could be implanted after knee, hip, shoulder and hernia surgeries.

A non-opiate pain reliever on the film would dissolve over a few days into the body and the polymer would degrade in the body over a few weeks.

“If you take half of all laparoscopic procedures and avoid opioid use, you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of patients per year,” Becker said.

Becker believes the polymer product will attack the opioid crisis, because the need for pain pills after procedures would be reduced, as would the number of people who could get hooked.

The opioid crisis is not only a public health emergency, but also the deadliest drug crisis in America’s history. We need innovation from all areas to combat this, and seeing such a simple, practical approach from a local institution is heartening.

Wednesday, 15 November

Firefox—you know, that web browser you used to use—is fast again. Mark Mayo for the Mozilla Blog:

The first thing you’ll notice is the speed. Go on, open some tabs and have some fun. The second thing you’ll notice is the new User Interface (UI). We call this initiative Photon, and its goal is to modernize and unify anything that we call Firefox while taking advantage of the speedy new engine. You guessed it: the Photon UI itself is incredibly fast and smooth. To create Photon, our user research team studied how people browsed the web. We looked at real world hardware to make Firefox look great on any display, and we made sure that Firefox looks and works like Firefox regardless of the device you’re using. Our designers created a system that scales to more than just current hardware but lets us expand in the future.

Along with switching between Safari and Chrome, I’ve been running the beta of Firefox Quantum for a few weeks. Here are a few notes on my experience:

  • Firefox really does feel faster than Chrome or Safari. Noticeably faster.
  • The new UI is good. It gets out of the way, especially if you set the density to “compact”.
  • It’s from Mozilla, who I trust.
  • You can see a site’s favicon in the tab. C’mon, Safari.
  • The web inspector is, bar none, the best out of the three major browsers.

If you haven’t tried Firefox since Chrome came out, or you’ve always used your operating system’s default browser, I’d encourage you give the new Firefox a shot. It’s free and I was left genuinely surprised.

Tuesday, 14 November

John Patrick Pullen, Time:

There’s this photo of my kids in the bath that, well, I’d rather not tell you about. I mean, it’s incredibly cute and I’d love to show it to you, but I’m also a private person, so it wouldn’t be right to go into details. But I will say this: though it’s one of my favorite possessions, this picture doesn’t physically exist. […]

As precious as this image is, I don’t have it stored on a flash drive attached to my keychain, or in some other ultra-safe place. Instead, it’s housed on a server in some unknown probably dank and sunless location. That’s no casual decision. I’ve put considerable time and thought into how I store my photos in general, as well as how I back up my information overall. Despite all the bottomless storage features offered by tech giants like Google and Amazon, I default to keeping my most valuable data with Apple. Why I chose this matters, so let’s talk about it.

Tuesday, 14 November

David Munns, in an excellent piece for Aeon:

As a teenager, I was witness to the last gasps of a 20th-century lexical leitmotif. The suffix ‘-tron’, along with ‘-matic’ and ‘-stat’, are what the historian Robert Proctor at Stanford University calls embodied symbols. Like the heraldic shields of ancient knights, these morphemes were painted onto the names of scientific technologies to proclaim one’s history and achievements to friends and enemies alike. ‘Stat’ signalled something measurable, while ‘matic’ advertised free labour; but ‘tron’, above all, indicated control. To gain the suffix was to acquire a proud and optimistic emblem of the electronic and atomic age. It was a totem of high modernism, the intellectual and cultural mode that decreed no process or phenomenon was too complex to be grasped, managed and optimised. The suffix emblazoned the banners of nuclear physics’ Cosmotron, modern biology’s Climatron, and early AI’s Perceptron – displaying to all our mastery over matter, life and information.

By the turn of the millennium, though, most of that was gone.

And here’s Nick Heer (hat tip for the link, by the way), writing for Pixel Envy, commenting on Mr. Munns’ piece:

There’s something about the “tron” suffix that connotes a specific time and place in history, and Munns captures that story well in this piece. Munns asks what the equivalent today is, and I’m not sure that’s possible to answer yet. Missing vowels reference a specific period on the web — ahem — as does “CamelCase”, but it’s hard to know what today’s identifying language characteristics are without the benefit of hindsight.

As for Mr. Heer’s closing, pseudo-rhetorical question of what language characteristic of today will define us in the future, I have a guess: emoji.

As it relates to culture and technology, emoji will probably become as synonymous with this generation’s language as hieroglyphics are with the ancient Egyptians. Need examples? The 2015 Oxford Dictionaries Word—yes, word—of the Year was the ‘Face with Tears of Jory’ emoji (😂); Apple’s decision to change their handgun emoji to a water pistol contributed to the conversation around national gun laws in America; and the colorful pictograms’ popularity even landed them a starring role in this flop of a motion picture. I use emoji, my friends use emoji, my grandmother uses emoji; their near universal use unquestionably defines part of the 2000s and the way we chose to communicate.

Monday, 30 October

Runa Sandvik, Director of Information Security at The New York Times:

The New York Times’ Onion Service is both experimental and under development. This means that certain features, such as logins and comments, are disabled until the next phase of our implementation. We will be fine-tuning site performance, so there may be occasional outages while we make improvements to the service. Our goal is to match the features currently available on the main New York Times website.

As pointed out by Ms. Sandvik, the Times joins—among others—Facebook and ProPublic, each of which provide their own Onion Services. For background on why this matters, here’s this 2014 post from the Tor Project’s blog (emphasis mine):

Hidden services provide a variety of useful security properties. First - and the one that most people think of - because the design uses Tor circuits, it’s hard to discover where the service is located in the world. But second, because the address of the service is the hash of its key, they are self-authenticating: if you type in a given .onion address, your Tor client guarantees that it really is talking to the service that knows the private key that corresponds to the address. A third nice feature is that the rendezvous process provides end-to-end encryption, even when the application-level traffic is unencrypted.

Essentially, you can now be reasonably sure that when you access nytimes3xbfgragh.onion, you’re getting the real thing. Additionally, having a growing number of real-world publications make their sites available as Onion Services doesn’t hurt Tor’s credibility.

The nuances of Tor and .onion addresses get a little… nerdy, but here’s the bigger takeaway: although you could always access through a Tor browser (which provided an additional level of anonymity to your browsing), the availability of a fully fledged .onion URL run by the Times speaks to a growing worldwide desire for encrypted and unmonitored use of the Internet, particularly when it comes to accessing the news. I can’t imagine any meaningful percentage of readers will switch to using the new .onion address, but as with most things Tor, if you can (a) already access The New York Times and (b) do so without worry, this service probably isn’t aimed at you.

Monday, 30 October

Mark Wilson, Fast Company:

“When we introduced Xbox One, we designed it to have the best experience with the Kinect. That was our goal with the Xbox One launch,” says [Matthew Lapsen, GM of Xbox Devices Marketing]. “And like all product launches, you monitor that over time, you learn and adjust.” In practice, the Xbox’s target demo cared more about a few extra polygons than some new paradigm in human-computer interaction. So Microsoft decided to invest its talents in other products.

But [Golan Levin, director of the Studio for Creative Inquiry at CMU], and other researchers like him, adored the Kinect for its forward-looking technologies. “The important thing about Kinect is it showed you could have an inexpensive depth camera. And it supported the development of thousands of applications that used depth sensing,” Levin says. He points out that it was literally Microsoft Kinect hardware that made it possible for a startup like Faceshift to exist. Built to perform extremely 3D tracking of the human face that’s suitable for biometric security, Apple acquired Faceshift to replace its thumbprint scans. And to take advantage of the technology, Apple essentially built a Kinect clone right into the iPhone X, having acquired PrimeSense in 2013, the Israeli company that developed 3D tracking technology that Microsoft licensed for the first Kinect.

The Kinect was a core part of Microsoft’s strategy to usher in the future of living room entertainment. Imagine logging in to your set-top box just by walking into the room, and then being able to navigate through everything from games to cable channels with only your voice. Now look behind you, because that’s what Microsoft delivered with the Xbox One.

But the vision of a reinvented home entertainment system was ahead of its time. Case in point, a headlining feature of the Xbox One was the ability to tie-in with your existing cable services; one box to rule them all. Today’s cord-cutting movement is still in early days, but if the urgency of my local cable provider’s mail advertisements are any indication, it’s not going well. The secondary issue was that the Kinect failed to prove itself essential as a gaming accessory, leading to Microsoft unbundling it from the Xbox One. Although this lowered the cost of entry, selling Xbox Ones without a Kinect relegated the sensor to an expensive (to causal gamers, at least) add-on.

Given its past, it is then impressive just how influential and integral the Kinect has been to today’s 3D mapping technologies. The Kinect succeeded in academia and R&D groups, arguably having more impact there then in the home, despite being cast aside by its target market. In an attempt to unify the living room, Microsoft found a sleeper hit in the lab.

Back to Mr. Wilson, who also reviewed the original Kinect, “I don’t believe it an exaggeration to say that Kinect has been the single most influential, or at least prescient, piece of hardware outside of the iPhone.”

A bold statement, but considering the now-yesterday’s Kinect lives on inside of tomorrow’s iPhone X, I’m inclined to agree.

Wednesday, 25 October

Michael Balsamo, Associated Press:

In the first 11 months of the fiscal year, federal agents were unable to access the content of more than 6,900 mobile devices, [FBI Director Christopher] said in a speech at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia.

“To put it mildly, this is a huge, huge problem,” Wray said. “It impacts investigations across the board — narcotics, human trafficking, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, gangs, organized crime, child exploitation.”

The FBI and other law enforcement officials have long complained about being unable to unlock and recover evidence from cellphones and other devices seized from suspects even if they have a warrant, while technology companies have insisted they must protect customers’ digital privacy.

The long-simmering debate was on display in 2016, when the Justice Department tried to force Apple to unlock an encrypted cellphone used by a gunman in a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California. The department eventually relented after the FBI said it paid an unidentified vendor who provided a tool to unlock the phone and no longer needed Apple’s assistance, avoiding a court showdown.

In an age where someone’s cellphone is the key to potentially terabytes of personal data, some of which might be incriminating, what protections does the Fifth Amendment offer? Additionally, as our device unlock mechanisms move from passwords to fingerprints to advanced biometrics, what can the courts legally force you to give up? So far, being forced to divulge your passcode appears to be protected, but in 2014, a Virginia judge ruled that police could legally force a man to unlock his phone with his fingerprint. As pointed out by Marcia Hofmann, an attorney and special counsel to digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, a biometric password is a unique legal challenge, because “is it something you know, or something you have?”

I believe U.S. citizens have a fundamental right to privacy, but the legal questions surrounding this generation’s data, privacy, and use of encryption have a ways to go before we can codify a reasonable set of laws. I have no doubt encrypted devices are a significant impediment to the FBI’s work, but asking companies to weaken security features or install digital backdoors is both irresponsible to customers and sets a dangerous legal precedent for use of the All Writs Act.

Additionally, encryption—as in the maths and algorithms that we use to encrypt data—is here to stay. Having one company weaken (read: break) their encryption implementation won’t stop a soul from going out and encrypting data on their own. And with everything from email to notes to chat to to-do lists implementing some form of encryption, personal privacy is not only a selling point, but also increasingly accessible. Can’t stop it now.

Tuesday, 24 October

Steven Padnick:

And when I say everybody, I mean everybody. Not just most people today don’t understand the original story—though that’s true—but every retelling of the story, from the earliest stage plays to Steven Moffat’s otherwise brilliant miniseries Jekyll, misses a key point of Robert Louis Stevenson’s original story:

There is no Mr. Hyde.

Spoilers, obviously. Does that even need said, if the title is more than 100 years old?

Mr. Padnick’s take is different than the one I came away with post-reading, but I really enjoyed his analysis. Considering our current damp and dark October, and the fact there’s a Kindle version for just $1.99, it might be time to revisit Stevenson’s classic.

Tuesday, 24 October

Fixing Extremely Poor Call Quality When Using AirPods and MacOS

A few months ago, the voice and video call audio on my Mac took a nosedive. Call participants sounded hollow and fuzzy, and I sounded the same to them. I blamed network connectivity issues, but my problem persisted regardless of location. One day, forgetting my much loved AirPods at home, audio calls sounded fine again. The AirPods were to blame.

Turns out, I wasn’t alone. There are numerous complaints online about the “terrible” AirPods’ audio quality when both connected to a Mac and conducting a voice or video call. After an hour of troubleshooting, I finally found an answer by way of the Ask Different Q&A site:

Ever since I purchased the AirPods a month ago, they demonstrate extremely poor quality while activating the AirPod Mic, whilst they are connected to a Mac. When activating the Mic to record audio, it seems that both the recording quality AND audio playback quality severely drops to a substandard level (Mono 8.0 kHz). […]

Current best practice is to use the Internal Microphone for Recording, and the AirPods for playback when conducting calls. Input and Output devices can be selected in System Settings > Sound or by ⌥-clicking the Volume icon in the macOS Menu Bar, and selecting devices there.

Essentially, the crux of this issue is that when you’re using AirPods for a voice or video call on MacOS, AirPods switch over to Bluetooth’s SCO (Synchronous Connection-Oriented) codec to handle the audio input and output, which tanks the overall audio quality. However, by manually selecting your Mac’s internal microphone as the primary input device, you allow AirPods to switch off SCO, and the quality improves.

According to this user on the Apple Discussion boards, Apple is aware of the issue, and they recommend the aforementioned mic-swapping method as a temporary workaround. Having tried it myself, I can confirm it works. Calls sound appreciably better, which is worth the manual tinkering.

I’m not familiar enough with Bluetooth codecs (shocker) and wireless audio to know whether this issue could be addressed in a future firmware update, but it’d be great if it was. Regardless, I would like to believe Apple wants to fix this, if only because AirPods’ call quality on my iPhone is perfect, and that experience should be one shared with the Mac. Put another way: there should be no scenario where a FaceTime call coming through Apple headphones sounds like a landline in 1990; but there is, and it does.

Monday, 23 October

Darbian, a video game speedrunner from Virginia, recently set a new world record for The Super Mario Bros., by shaving off .35 seconds from the previous title. Watch the video; it’s an impressive bit of skill, requiring near instant reaction time and over 20,000 practice attempts. One neat visual I hadn’t seen before was a real time display of Darbian’s heart rate. I bet we see more of that from speedrunners in the future.

Reading through the comments on this particular run, I like the way Matthew Panzario, Editor-in-Chief of TechCrunch compared this display to traditional sports:

eSports are sports, and speed running is the 50 meter (or golf, depending on the lens). Look at the stream. Informed, loyal spectators, getting amped as hell as he gets closer. The culmination of 26,000 runs. It’s no less an achievement than many in sports. It’s just done in a small bedroom with boat-bordered wallpaper. With 80,000 watching.

I agree. Esports and sports are both competitive forms of entertainment, and esports are becoming more normalized by the year. The only real questions left in my mind are related to style. Do we lowercase the ’s’ in esports? Is speedrunning one word? For now, I’m saying yes for both.

Monday, 23 October

Brian Crecente, Glixel, covering a devious-sounding patent application from 2015, which was recently granted to video game publisher Activision:

“For instance, the microtransaction engine may match a more expert/marquee player with a junior player to encourage the junior player to make game-related purchases of items possessed/used by the marquee player. A junior player may wish to emulate the marquee player by obtaining weapons or other items used by the marquee player.” […]

The system can also be much more specific in its analysis of potential customers in a game:

“In a particular example, the junior player may wish to become an expert sniper in a game (e.g., as determined from the player profile),” according to the patent. “The microtransaction engine may match the junior player with a player that is a highly skilled sniper in the game. In this manner, the junior player may be encouraged to make game-related purchases such as a rifle or other item used by the marquee player. “

As pointed out by Mr. Crecente, Activision states that the technology is not currently being used in any of their games. The company, which is one of many subsidiary video game publishers to Activision Blizzard, contextualizes the patent as “an exploratory patent filed in 2015 by an R&D team working independently from our game studios”. This, in case you need help parsing legalese, translates to, “last year our parent company made over $3.6 billion from in-game content, and we really want to sell more”.

Microtransactions are a cash cow, and although Activision Blizzard isn’t “currently” employing any of the manipulative methods outlined in this patent, I don’t have much faith it will stay that way for long, which is saddening.

For a long time, my copy of a video game was the same one everyone else had. It didn’t matter if you were a kid down the street or the president of Activision Blizzard; we all got the same experience. However, the day where publishers make more money from in-game content than from the game itself is coming, and the only losers will be the players. When a better experience or higher odds of winning are tied to whether you’re willing to outspend everyone else, video games start to lose their unifying appeal, which is why we started playing in the first place.

Wednesday, 18 October

Luke Plunkett, Kotaku:

So while it’s tempting to spend pages here banging on about the specific ways in which PES 2018’s mastery of the actual sport of football (as it’s played) is unmatched, or just what it is about FIFA that makes it irresistible every year in spite of its glaring flaws, I’m just going to cut to the chase.

PES 2018 is the better game this year because it plays a better game of football. Sorry if that sounds predictable, since that’s been the case for the last few years, but it’s the case again in 2017.

I prefer PES to FIFA, but Mr. Plunkett nails the core problems with Konami’s title: clunky menus, lack of licenses, and commentary you want to turn off entirely.

Wednesday, 18 October

Thanks for reading. Check out more in the archive.