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OH MY GOD A… Holiday?

July 22, 2018 | Filed under: Uncategorized

I am going away. Yes really. Despite being the kind of person who works every weekend, and is puzzled by other people not doing so, I am occasionally persuaded to leave my home-office and go see parts of the world. I don’t do it *that much* mostly because of the ‘not wanting to do too much flying‘ thing, so if I *do* actually fly somewhere, I do try to make the most of it. I’m also completely paranoid about being away from my business for any length of time, so I’m a bit of a nightmare person to arrange holidays with

Anyway…

I am heading far away to the land of ice bears and where the dust comes from, or something like that. I’m told there are bears, and glaciers, and a friend I’m meeting up with assures me there is good sushi. It probably looks like this:

I’ll be heading off tomorrow morning, and back on the 7th of August, which is a scarily long time for me. I’ll be checking email occasionally but apparently interference from the ice bears and the dust means there isn’t much in the way of wifi.

I hope that I’m leaving Production Line in a pretty good state for 2 weeks. I just finished fixing a whole host of crash bugs, and got really good feedback about it. I have a price-GUI change that I’m going to quadruple-check later today and maybe make live on the steam build before I go, as its a pretty minor (but aesthetically much needed) change. While I’m away I am hoping to switch off a bit from work, I have two BIG books to read, and I’m reading both with my wife so I cant get lazy and not finish them. I will doubtless still worry about unanswered emails and unanswered tech support requests on my forums and on steam. Early Access customers can (rightly) be concerned that a game has been ‘abandoned’. (It really hasn’t :D).

I’ll also probably worry a lot about some green energy investment thing that is causing me *distress*. Hopefully the ice bears will teach me how to relax.

My twitter account for the next two weeks will mostly be pictures of ice, and bears.

 

 

For some context, I’m 48 years old, I’m a game developer who makes and sells PC strategy games, and promotes them through various means, including youtube trailers and a weekly developer video vlog which can be found here.

I worry about youtube. Not just youtube, but the growth of video content in general, and the growth of super-HD globally available video content more than anything. Not in the default ‘new things scare me!’ way, but because I think they are probably skewing society in a way that is harmful, and I see this through the lens of someone who produces a weekly vlog, and occasionally looks at others.

When I was a young gamer, in my teens, there was zero content when it came to covering my hobby. Gaming was for kids (definitely) and the geeky ones at that. I’d guess more boys played games than girls then. The idea of a gaming ‘celebrity’ did not exist of course, because it was pre-internet, let alone the idea of making a living from playing games, and the idea of people knowing who you are, who did NOT go to the same school as you was not even out there. Unless you were Michael Jackson, you were not known to anyone outside you local school as a kid. Not only was fame when really young not achievable, it wasn’t really on anybodies radar. If someone at your school found you attractive, that was great. You could be the best looking person in school I guess, but that sample size is pretty small. I’m reminded of the most beautiful girl in the room:

Gaming now is very different, and video content is very very different. One of the most well known youtube celebrities is ‘Zoella’ apparently. She has 12 million youtube followers, and her net worth is estimated at £2.5 million. She started her youtube channel is 2009, aged 19. PewDiePie is one of the best known gaming youtubers, with 63 million youtube followers. His net worth is estimated at £20 million. I have never sat and watched a whole pewdiepie or zoella video (I’m BUSY), but something stands out about these two, and all the other super-well known youtube celebrities.

They are unusually good looking, and started pretty young.

There is a MASSIVE culture of youtube videos about how to put on makeup. HUGE, like TERRIFYINGLY HUGE. If you wonder why on earth your teenage daughter has the capacity to sit and watch youtube videos for ten hours straight, its because there is a vast, vast rabbithole of this stuff. And if you think its a female-only culture, think again. This ‘one minute beard grooming’ video has over a million views.

When I was in a heavy metal band, I sometimes had a beard. Sadly very few pictures exist, but you know how much ‘beard grooming’ I did? Fuck-all. I occasionally picked out clumps of paint or sawdust from work (I built boats), and that was it. And believe it or not, despite this horrifically minimalist beard-grooming regimen (by modern standards) I did actually meet girls and even slept with some. AMAZING! How could anyone as rough and un-groomed, un-sculptured, with imperfections and a complete lack of a daily skin-care moisteurizing regimen, ever be happy or meet anyone?

It was easy, because frankly our standards were more localized. If I thought I was as attractive as the average dude in the pub, or the average boy at school, then…yeah thats pretty good. I didn’t obsess about my looks or seek out a completely impossible level of perfection that young people do now. I am SO GLAD that we did not have youtube, and social media when I was a teenager. the amount of angst, anxiety, body-image issues, self-confidence issues that I have avoided by simply not being exposed to so many attractive, confident, well-lit, perfectly edited and filmed people who modern day teenagers consider to be ‘just like them’… I feel so lucky.

Anyway, my broader point is that we talk a lot about fake news video, we talk a lot about racist or mysogynist or other hate-fuelled video content, and I think society needs to also take a look at the more subtle confidence and body-image effects that exposing young people not just to the most charismatic and beautiful people in their class (which is depressing enough), but in a class of a BILLION people, is doing. And do not think that because your kid is smart that this isn’t applying to them. I have a confession to make: I worry about how I look in my youtube videos. Should I get my teeth whitened, should I have that tiny lump on my nose lasered off, should I get a hair transplant even… and I am a married fourty eight year old man. What.The.Fuck.

I can only imagine the impact this youtube culture has on teenagers.

 

 

 

Its been a long, long bitter struggle, the likes of which I would turn into an opera if I was A)Wagner or B)Klingon, but basically at the end of a long struggle, I now have stupidly fast internet (at least for the UK). Here is a brief summary.

Firstly WHY was my internet so bad? because I live here (see below), which looks nice, and it is, its so quiet (ish…crows tractors and even shotguns are a thing…), there is VERY little crime, there is zero traffic, the air is fresh, its a wonderful place to live… (picture taken by me with my drone :D)

…apart from the fact that the internet, phone and power lines are all delivered to our houses like this:

Which is sub optimal. Again, the UK’s technological innovation in its far history has come to hurt us. We had very very early railway lines, so they are still here…and awful. We had very very early telephones…and the same wiring is still here…and awful. When people started getting the early phone lines in the UK nobody thought they would ever become THAT important, so sticking a handful of cables up on poles and running them along roadsides seemed fine…but we now find out that doesn’t scale, especially when trees grow next to the lines, and its windy as hell, and rains a lot..and the copper degrades…and to cut a long story short, most people in a rural location like me get internet speeds worse than my old ADSL speed:

Which is actually…not TOO bad. We could use catch-up TV services like the BBC iplayer, we could surf, play games, even stream (most of the time) on netflix and amazon, but large files (like games and game updates) were torturous to download, and uploading anything larger than 500MB was practically impossible. When I did my weekly blog video updates for Production Line I had to render them at 60FPS 1080p, then compress them with handbrake to 30FPS compressed, and then go mow the lawn or whatever during the 2+ hours it took to upload those compressed files. Video calls on skype were impossible and twitch was not an option. Ideally…we needed faster ADSL or FTTC to fix it.

FTTC stands for ‘Fiber to the cabinet‘ and it means a fiber superfast cable goes to a cabinet in the street, and copper cable goes from the cabinet to the house. Its what 90% of UK customers who ‘have fiber’ are using, and you can get maybe 50Mbps down, 10Mbps up (if you are lucky. Our local telephone exchange was FTTC enabled. OH MY GOD. But… the geniuses who manage this stuff had placed the ‘nearest’ cabinet further from us than from the exchange…so actually upgrading from ADSL to FTTC would have reduced our speeds… Many people in the village gave up and ordered satellite links (horrid latency).

I wont bore you with my epic struggle to get fiber, but the short version is me actually plonking down a massive deposit (final cost would have been five figures) to get what BT called ‘fiber to the premises on demand‘ which is basically their way of saving “You cannot have fiber, butt throw us a huge pile of cash and we will do it anyway’. Lots of debate went on, and local councils claimed to be paying for it at the same time as me (the cheek!) and to cut as long angry story short, I got a full refund, and BT connected us all to fiber anyway… (yay!)

I assume it must be illegal for BT openreach to actually think long term, because rather than dig up our road once and lay decent fiber cable, they spent days trimming some trees (but not all of them…which makes zero sense) and then laid fiber cable in the air between poles…except for a bit about 300ft long down a bit of road between no houses and just open pasture, where they buried it underground for no adequately explored reason. They even threatened to add two NEW poles on my neighbours land until he told them where they could put their poles, which obviously it turns out they didn’t need anyway…

So at last, a BT guy came and connected the final piece of the puzzle, a fiber cable into my house. Interestingly it came bundled with a new copper cable, so he could remove the old cable and reuse the same hole. Awesome.! I now have a BT fiber modem (its big!) attached to the wall, most of which is apparently a battery backup to keep the internet up and running if we get a power-cut (we do…and this is awesome, as my PC is on a UPS anyway :D). We also needed a new fiber-capable router because the old one couldn’t cope with the speed.

We got our fiber at 220MBps down, 20MBps up, and we get close to that:

I went with IDNet who seemed very organised, and its costing me a total of £96/month, including them taking over our old copper phone line for elderly and technologically clueless people who actually want to PHONE me in 2018. *shakes fist*. We have no data cap whatsoever. Obviously its a business expense, so I save a little bit of money on that.

Anyway… FTTP (fiber to the premises) is amazing, and so fast its actually funny. I cant find ANYTHING that I can download actually at 200Mbps, its pretty nuts. Steam updates are lightning fast, uploading files stupidly quick, and even simple tasks like posting screenshots to twitter now happen instantly. Youtube defaults to max quality and loads way beyond my ability to watch anything. Its truly awesome. My only regret is that the 80Mbps/20Mbps upload would have been more than enough, and I didn’t go for it. Anyway…fast internet is awesome. I feel like I’m in the modern age at last. I may even start using twitch!

 

A long time ago I was one of the lucky few who got an early VIVE headset from valve, then eventually got a VIVE pre (basically the release model, sans bluetooth support in lighthouse). I considered developing a VR game quite seriously, and spent a lot of time with the original VIVE headset. We even hosted a village VR party to introduce all our neighbours to its wonders which was interesting and fun, as the average age of my neighbours is HIGH. They all loved it.

In the end I didn’t release a VR game (my 3D skills are weak and I detest unity), but I remain a believer in consumer VR, and got a lot of use out of ‘fitness’ apps like rhythm punching games, and various VR archery and sword-related games. I even smashed my office lighting fixture to smithereens when playing vanishing realms.

I recently shelled out the £799 for the upgraded headset. This is a business expense for me (so knock off 20% tax saving) and also I’m VAT registered and can reclaim, so knock off another 20%.  I got it yesterday, and played with it with a few games and experiences like ‘the blu’ here are my impressions.

The VIVE pro comes in a nice compact box, nothing too ridiculous, which makes a pleasant change. Inside is a box for the headset and a box for the other stuff they updated, which is essentially the ‘breakout box’ and its power adaptor, and the various leads you might need to connect stuff.

The breakout box now has a power status LED and a power on/off button, both of which were obvious fixes from the bare bones original. I find it practical now for me to leave it permanently plugged in, knowing I can actually turn it off with a simple button press. This might seem a minor thing but actually its a BIG deal, my number one problem with the original VIVE setup was the fact that it took such a LONG sequence of actions to set up your VIVE to play a game or get some exercise. The barrier to entry meant I used it way less than I would otherwise.

Of course the final piece of the puzzle is the actual headset, and this is where all the cool stuff has changed, and what you have paid your money for. If you have just seen pictures, you probably think ‘oh its blue and has headphones’ but actually I think its much better than that,

Firstly, YES, it does have headphones integrated now, and this is a huge win. I’ll be honest, I like a decent pair of headphones and these are not decent, they are relatively cheap, with very poor bass response, and not a patch on the headphones I normally use for gaming, or my old bose ones. However, the fact that they are integrated and zero hassle, and mean one less cable, is a HUGE win. The adjustment on them is a bit limited, and I had to fiddle with various positions of straps etc to get them fully and nicely over my ears. More range of adjustment on these would be an improvement worth making.

The biggest change for me is the ergonomics of the headset itself. Firstly somehow there is now ZERO peripheral vision. With the old vive I could sometimes look down past my nose and see the floor, not any more, you are 100% in the dark with the vive lenses your only vision. This is a vast improvement.

Secondly, and I’d argue even better, is that instead of assing around with some unreliable Velcro nonsense at the side of your head, the new VIVE has a sort of ‘screw’ at the back of the head which can neatly and nicely tighten or release the whole headset. It works REALLY well, and my only gripe is that they haven’t taken the same approach on the top adjustment, which remains Velcro.

Thirdly, the higher screen res now has (for me at least) 100% eliminated this ‘screen door’ thing that people mention, which is the fact that you can effectively see rows of pixels which break immersion. Those are just GONE now, and that is going to improve the feeling of ‘being there’ quite dramatically.

Finally, the headset now has a SINGLE cable (I think the original had 3, including headphones), and this is vastly better, plus the headset itself feels lighter. In short, its much more practical, comfortable and feels more like finished consumer hardware and not a prototype any more.

So should you get one? Well for me, its definitely worth it, given that I’m relatively cash-rich/time-poor and hated messing around with cables and buttons and so-on every time I wanted to use my VR headset. I also dont pay the VAT and can expense it, remember. If you have the VIVE already, upgrading to this may seem pretty expensive, and all I can say is that when people bang on about the screen res or headphones, dont disregard the fact that its a huge ergonomic upgrade too. If you love your VIVE but find it a pain to use, this is definitely a big improvement for you. If you want a step-=change in VR immersion, it probably is not. What I would say is that if you dont have ANY VR setup yet, and are trying to decide between the original and the pro, I’d definitely recommend the pro as worth spending more on.

Time will tell if I’m still using it a lot in six months time, but so far I’m impressed and glad I got it.

In case you missed the news, there was an ‘incident’ at youtubes headquarters recently… Here is a summary:

A woman shot and wounded three people at YouTube’s headquarters in Northern California before killing herself, police say.

Police have named the suspect as Nasim Aghdam, 39, and say they are still investigating a motive.

They say there is no evidence yet that she knew the victims, a 36-year-old man said to be in a critical condition, and two women aged 32 and 27.

Aghdam had in the past posted material venting anger at YouTube.

The more interesting part of the story is this:

She appeared often on YouTube and in one of her videos criticised the platform for discriminating against and filtering her posts.

On her personal website she accused YouTube of taking steps to prevent her videos from getting views.

“There is no equal growth opportunity on YouTube or any other video sharing site. Your channel will grow if they want to!” she wrote.

I know there is a ‘mental health’ angle here, and also a ‘gun laws’ thing here, but I’d like to focus on what I think is more interesting, and more widespread and more relevant to what i do, and the people who read this. In summary, this was a woman with an active youtube channel, who was obviously very invested in growing her channel and earning money from it. This was very important to her. This was SO important, that when she felt (rightly or wrongly) that youtube were preventing her getting the views and monetisation she expected, she actually went to kill people.

The scary thing here (apart from the obvious) is the huge disconnect people have between what they think the job of a third party company that they are uploading content to is, and what it actually is.

Youtubes job is to make money for alphabet shareholders. They are a private company, not a government organisation or a utility. When you upload videos to youtube, you are quite clearly stating that you agree with their terms and conditions, terms which that company has the right to change at any point. When you talk about YOUR youtube channel and YOUR subscribers, or YOUR facebook page or YOUR facebook followers etc…. be aware that this is just a fantasy. This is an artificial construct put together by marketing experts because long ago they discovered that implying ownership where it was not true (for example ebay referring to YOUR item, before the auction ends) gives you a greater sense of investment in the ‘product’. The accounts on facebook belong to facebook, not you. They might have a database of connections on THEIR servers which allow you (at their discretion) to communicate with other accounts that they also OWN, but do not in any way kid yourself that you are in control or have ownership of your facebook page, your twitter account, or any other third party social media site you are ‘invested’ in. That goes for twitch too, obviously. Youyr streaming career is a single mouse click(by someone else) away from being obliterated, and you would have ZERO recourse.

I love being indie, and unlike a lot of newer indies, I understand the meaning of the word independence. True independence is way, way trickier than the false sense of independence you are given by social media firms who are basically just using you as social data contribution vectors. Unless you PAY for something, its not yours, and youtube lets you have an account for free…

I’m fairly ‘invested’ in youtube, as I have 60+ Production line blog videos up there, but I am fully aware that I cannot make it a cornerstone of my business. I have 10k twitter followers, but I also value those at close to zero, as ultimately I have no control over them, or my access to them. This blog, is a notable exception. It runs wordpress (which is free) but its hosted on MY server, which I pay monthly rent for. Nobody can discontinue my wordpress account and shut down this blog. So even if twitter, facebook, youtube all turn the screws and close off my access to ‘my followers’ I still have this blog, my forums (remember… ‘your’ steam foruns, belong to valve), and my email mailing list. How independent is *your* community?

Never confuse the illusion of independence and control with real independence and control.