One week until I get some time off which will mean more physical work around the house but some much needed downtime from work work. Like most folk in the UK my reading this week has become more political. 6 weeks from now it will all be over, but until then:
How Scotland’s Economy Contributes to the UK – some interesting statistics on Scotland’s economy, especially in the light of the surge of SNP support and the seemingly inevitable prospect of another independence vote in the next 5 years no matter what happens in May.
Stacks is a new web app from Offset that helps users curate and share the apps and services they love. You login via Twitter and then create a stack. Simple.
Stacks makes it trivial to add app’s, products and services and for the user to maintain the stack. Once done, add some tags and publish it. So far I’ve made three stacks – Mac Essentials, Podcast Tools and iOS Homescreen. I’d like ability to add links and also icons and a search rather than relying on tags would be handy but it is new so not a big deal right now.
I like the low barrier of entry of Stacks and hopefully it will hang around as it’s a great curation tool. Currently invite only but you can request one from the Stacks site or let me know as I’ve got a spare one. What would you add to your Stacks?
Railroad Tycoon. Transport Tycoon. SimCity. SimCity 2000. Classic city or transport building games that I have fond memories off. The latest SimCity was a bit of a mess when it came out in 2013 and it was a full year before an offline and single player mode was introduced. So much potential ruined by EA. Step forward Paradox Interactive who recently launched Cities: Skylines. I bought it a week ago and it’s got me hooked.
When you start building your first city you feel a bit overwhelmed. There’s lots of road options, you need power, you need (clean) water and sewage disposal for your city to grow. However that feeling quickly passes and you soon realise that there’s a really rich toolset at your disposal to build whiter you want. Straight roads, one way systems, curved roads, roundabouts, tree lined suburbs – it’s all there.
The initial build area feels quite constrained but you quickly get the opportunity to expand and before long you realise there is a massive build area that you’ll do well to fill no matter how big your city grows too or how extended you want to make it. What helps is that the game, certainly at first, isn’t that hard. If you make some fundamental mistakes it can be costly to rip up and start again but generally the money will flow in and the transport and building options will unlock pretty easily…which is great! Instead of fearing money and the game getting tricky you are left to use your imagination and built the city you want.
There are many ways of influencing finances. Taxes, loans, budget tweaks and something I haven’t seen before – districts. You can split your city into districts and apply policies to those. So encourage green policies in one area and heavy industry in another, banning heavy transport near houses to help with the traffic flow through the city. It add’s another level of detail and greatly increases the feeling that you are in charge. The districts, like the city itself, can be named to whatever you like as can routes and even stores.
Graphically I’d say Cities: Skylines does enough. It looks good, is quick to move around the city and while most of the time you spend fairly zoomed out, you can drop right into the city and see what your individuals are doing, the routes they are going and the mess that your traffic is in – more of that later. What is captured is the feel of a city. There is loads happening at any one time and suburbs can feel quite sedate whereas heavy office and shopping areas feel really busy.
There’s also a lot of thought in the traffic/transport side of things. Bus routes, metro’s, train, ferry and airports plus policies that can be applied that affects traffic. With the various road types it leads to a lot of options and a chance to apply a lot of traffic management to your city…and you’ll need it as your city grows.
One thing that is missing are disasters – you won’t see a cyclone rip up your city or an earthquake. What you will have to get used to is destroying what you’ve built to make it better. Small early roads and buildings will need to make way for motorways and train lines and while this does replicate the growth of major cities it can make for some painful decisions.
For all thats good, there’s a fair bit of admin to do. Clearing out old buildings, water and sewage pipes…it can be a bit repetitive. There are ways around some of the pain but in many ways it’s a necessary evil.
It’s not as big an evil as traffic. With a game that gives so much control over traffic it’s frustrating that it seems to suffer from an over reliance on getting it absolutely right. If you are seeing bodies piling up, fires not being out out, an increase in sick people yet you’ve got an abundance of fire stations, cemeteries and hospitals then take a look at traffic. If you zoom in close you will see essential services stuck in pile ups of traffic and even with three lane roads there seems to be a build up of traffic in one lane. Hopefully this is a bug that will be fixed over time as traffic seems to be the biggest problem with the game right now.
There’s a mod for that
One thing I’ve not mentioned is the extendability within the game. You can enable mod’s that unlock all territory, gives you infinite money and there’s are loads being added all the time via the Steam Workshop. A few favourites are:
Extended Road Upgrade – This mod adds two new road building tools that allow you to upgrade between one- and two-way roads and to change one-way road directions, without having to demolish and rebuild the road.
Mod’s just don’t affect gameplay, you can also download new buildings and graphics to change the look of your cities. Imagine where this will go if you could download a Halo set of graphics…or Game of Thrones.
As well as creating your own starting maps you can also download a great number via Steam…and the game has only been out a couple of weeks.
There’s also a tool to create your own height maps for the game – http://terrain.party. This is all thanks to this Reddit thread. The community already around this game is very good and a few good places to visit (apart from the publishers own forums) are:
Despite the flaws Cities: Skylines is a fantastic game and thanks to the large and active community and the steady flow of mod’s it’s got a long future ahead of it. If you are at all interested in management or simulation games then this is well worth a punt. It’s great for Paradox Interactive that they’ve not only built this superb game but it’s selling well and creating a great buzz. So long SimCity, you won’t be missed.
The Apple Watch was expected, the MacBook not so much, and Apple’s key note was all the better for it. Much of my reading this week was dominated by the Apple announcements but there are a few other gems in there.
Last nights Apple event was interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly they were finally detailing the Apple Watch and it’s been five years since Apple launched a new product category and it always fascinates me how Apple pitches and shapes their message. Secondly, so many people predicted that the keynote was all about the watch….wrong! Finally, no one predicted that Tim Cook would start with the Apple TV. Here are my quick thoughts on the products and message from last night.
No one expected Apple to lead with the Apple TV but the HBO Now announcement was a big deal. Exclusively launching on Apple TV for the first three months and in time for the new season of Game of Thrones this was what many users were wanting for years although $14.99 a month seems a bit high compared to Netflix.
Apple TV drops to £59. Thats it. No new hardware, no app store. I’m not the only one that was disappointed with that. Surely the hardware will see an update this year? Surely?
Following on from puff pieces on CarPlay and HomeKit I wasn’t expecting much on health but ReasearchKit was afforded 15 minutes on the big stage and afterwards it was clear why.
This is a massive opportunity that started with the M7 processor in the iPhone 5S. Data is being captured and while it’s mostly seen as steps, it’s only going to get richer and help with medical research and diagnosis.
Apple Will Not See Your Data – clear message to customers and competitors on what differentiates Apple. Apple will need to be repeat this again and again along with the security message that they have been playing out recently.
Cynical view – we’re about to sell a $10000 watch so contrast it with a good news story but I don’t believe that to be the case.
Apple will open source ResearchKit so it can be run on any platform.
5 apps already available and more on the way – this will be very interesting to watch over the coming years as the technology packed within phones and watches gets ever smarter.
My favourite part of the whole event. The new designs shown throughout the new MacBook were impressive.
The new keyboard mechanism looked great although early feedback seems mixed.
The force touchpad shows so much invention…apart from it’s name.
12 inch and Retina but so light and thin.
USB-C. One port. £69 adapter to get a data, video and power connector at the same time. If I look at my MacBook Air usage now though, that one port is enough.
CPU is a bit stingy looking but…Fanless! How will I tell when Flash is running? (clue – it’s not installed cause it’s a piece of shit)
All day battery is good but you are basically buying a battery with a screen and keyboard.
I’ll wait for reviews to see what playback looks like but assuming it’s OK, I’ll be buying a MacBook this year to replace the current Air and probably the iPad too. Next year, an iMac Retina to replace the five year old iMac. I do think the MacBook is the future of laptop design and the only other niggle is that this is rev 1.0 of the MacBook and the next version is probably the one to buy. But thats too much like common sense.
Strange intro as Tim Cook recapped all the features.
Kevin Lynch took to the stage to demo the Apple Watch in a real world scenario. Flawlessly done but pretty dull including the ubiquitous airport gate change demo.
18 hour battery and the news that it’s replaceable still feels a 1.0 target being met. Like the heavy first iPad Retina which was updated after 6 months. I don’t think we’ll see a 2.0 watch that quickly but I do expect next years product to be much better.
It was then onto pricing which was pretty much in line with much of the speculation including the expensive Edition pricing.
Apple never really sold a compelling reason as to why I need an Apple Watch. I found this part of the event underwhelming and pretty disappointing compared to other product launches. Will I buy one? Probably not although there is a bit of me that feels I should have one to try. I bought and instantly sold a Pebble and if the Apple Watch had a GPS I’d find it a more compelling product. It’s a wait and see right now.
Apple has mastered rolling out their products around the world quickly and efficiently. The same can’t be said for their services. Apple Pay, iTunes Radio, Beats, HBO Now and the initial batch of ResearchKit app’s are all US only. It’s only getting worse and becomes a bigger issue when the services are being used so heavily to promote the product. I hope they start to take this more seriously and while licensing is a complex issue, money helps and they have a lot of money so if anyone can fix it I expect it to be Apple.
Battery technology is becoming more of an anchor compared to the rest of the technology in our products. There’s clearly no Moore’s law for batteries.
Did anyone else expect more from Apple when it comes to their stores and promoting the Apple Watch than a new…table.
Overall a great keynote and one of the most interesting for years. The watch will sell millions but ResearchKit and the MacBook were the stars of the show. No one predicted that.
Apple Watch Prelude – Apple don’t release new product categories that often so tomorrows Apple Watch keynote is one of the most anticipated in years. John Gruber’s post offers some insight into the product but most intriguingly the possible pricing of the Apple Watch. We’ll know 24 hours from now but it’s fun watching the internet speculate.