More Home Smartifying

Nothing video game related today.  The two things I have been playing are Far Cry: New Dawn and the most recent World of Warcraft expansion.  Considering how Far Cry 5 ended, I’m going to wait until the end of New Dawn before I say anything about it, and I have some …complex… emotions to sort through before I can talk about Shadowlands so I should probably put that off as well.

Instead, take a look at this adorable piece of surveillance technology!

Who’s a cute little HD camera? It’s you!

My smart home setup has increased slightly in complexity since my post of a few days ago. I’ve added another switched outlet for another lamp, and yet another switched outlet that the Chromecast Ultra is plugged in to.  This last is because, for some reason, the Chromecast Ultra likes to completely power off Sony TVs.  Like, when you go to turn your TV on after a while, it has to go through the entire boot cycle from the Android logo on.  So I have a switched outlet so I can turn the Chromecast on when I want it and off when I don’t.

Then I bought this little Wyze Cam because, well, I am getting older and I have this annoying THING where I pull out of the garage and get about 5 minutes away and then I have this crippling feeling of dread about whether I closed the garage door or not.  By this point, I think my wife can recognize the little sound I make when this hits me, and it means that we’re going to be turning around and driving back and confirming that yes, the garage door IS closed only now we are going to be ten minutes late for wherever we were going.

So I set this up and pointed it at the garage door.

That gray… lump… is one of our cats.  The corner of the car hood he’s on is the corner that is warmest when the car has been recently driven.  The car has not been driven in six days. He is eternally hopeful that there will be warmth.

It also has pretty good night vision.

So.  Total price of camera, something like 25 bucks.  In future, when I have that moment’s dread about whether the door is closed, I can check it in a few seconds thanks to the power of The Cloud.  We’re truly living in the future.

On the other hand, I could have done without this weird gamification.  That is my only complaint.  I’m just setting up cameras, here, not trying to beat my step count.

Next time: I will probably talk about WoW, or Far Cry.  Or maybe I will have another one of these posts that only serves to further fragment the idea of whatever the heck the topic of this blog is supposed to be.

 

 

 

Posted in gadgets | Leave a comment

In which, I try Stadia and it’s actually OK.

Kinda giving the whole post away with that title, but you can keep reading if you want to spend a few more minutes of your life reading my eloquent prose.

Since my ego won’t allow me to conceive that anyone actually stopped, let’s keep going.

A few days ago, I mentioned that Google had sent me a Nest Mini for subscribing to their Youtube Music service, and they recently followed that up with their Stadia “Premiere Edition” kit.

It’s a very attractive box.  Opening it up you get the controller,

Sort of a nice medium ground between Playstation and Xbox layouts.  You get the ABXY buttons, laid out as God intended with A on the bottom, you get symmetrical thumbsticks and a pleasantly-clicky D-Pad, there’s a dedicated screenshot button and a button that can be pressed to activate the Google Assistant.  Because apparently this thing has a microphone in it, somewhere?

It feels a little off-balance when you’re holding it, but that goes away after a few minutes.

Below that, you get some cables, a couple of AC adapters, and the Chromecast Ultra provided for your TV connection:

In a truly bizarre mix, note that the Stadia controller port is USB-C but the Chromecast still uses a micro USB connector.

The Chromecast’s AC adapter DOES have a neat feature, though – an Ethernet port.

This lets you use it on a wired network, and I strongly recommend this.

The actual setup process is, to my mind, overly complicated.  You need to download the Google Home app to set up the Chromecast Ultra and the Stadia app to set up the controller.  Once you have them both configured, you enter a code with the D-pad and face buttons to link the controller to the Chromecast and then you’re good to go.

The Chromecast is a very weird streaming box, as an aside.  Or, more to the point, I expected it to be a little smarter than it really is.  It doesn’t have any built-in apps or any ability to download apps; it is purely a box that receives streams and puts them on your TV screen.

My TV is also a Chromecast, I think?  I tried seeing if I could figure out how to link the Stadia controller to the TV directly so I wouldn’t need the dongle hanging off one of the HDMI ports, but I was unsuccessful.

To get this gadget for “free”, I had to sign up for a month of Google’s “Stadia Pro” service, which is a sort of Gamepass-like affair that lets you play a fairly decent selection of games on a rotating basis.  I downloaded the remake of Panzer Dragoon and spent a few minutes with it, but it really wasn’t what I was in the mood for and wasn’t much of a showcase.  The point of Stadia, after all, is to let you play console-quality games without having an expensive and bulky console taking up space under your TV.

With the intention of finding a nice flagship game to try, I looked through all the offerings on Stadia Pro and just couldn’t get enthused for any of them.  On the other hand, there’s currently a Black Friday sale on the Stadia store, Far Cry: New Dawn was only 11.99… and I also had a $10 off coupon.  So, for $1.99 I figured it was worth trying out.  I really liked Far Cry 5, after all, and this is the direct sequel.

It was not, initially, a good experience.  It was choppy and VERY low-res at times, and I felt like all of my apprehensions about game streaming were being justified.

Setting the game to Easy meant that I was able to survive firefights even with the terrible performance, but that seemed a poor showing.  The obvious culprit was my internet connection, which meant that I knew how to fix it but actually had to do some work.

I groused a bit, then managed to find an ethernet cable long enough to hook it up to our wired network, and that turned it into…

…well, honestly, I was a little blown away.  When I had the thing wired, it felt like I was playing a game from a local console most of the time.  Running through areas with lots of waving foliage got a little fuzzy at times, but I have to give them serious props for whatever magic they are using to adjust for the latency that MUST be present in the connection.

After that, I figured I would try running Stadia without the Chromecast.  The second point of “Cloud Gaming”, after all, is that you can get to your library from anything.

Well, there’s no Android TV Stadia app.  And it’s only officially supported on a few Android tablets and phones, though there is a “look, just see if it will work” option that you can turn on in the Stadia app.  And it certainly won’t work on any iDevices.  And trying to use Stadia in Chrome on my 5-year-old Surface 3 resulted in some dire performance.

I could have tried it on a Windows laptop – I have a Dell G3, and that’s a fairly good entry-level gaming laptop – but I didn’t see the point of testing that.  If you already have a gaming laptop, why wouldn’t you just buy the game for Windows and have it locally?

Finally, I turned to my 2018 Macbook, and finally I had some decent results and could get back to the enjoyable task of massacring bandits in fictional post-apocalyptic Montana.  Far Cry even detected the PS4 controller I had plugged in and adapted its button prompts to match, which was an attention to detail I hadn’t expected.

It’s not as high resolution as the Chromecast was, and there were considerably more dips into fuzziness when running through foliage, but it was playing a recent AAA game on a device with an Apple logo and that’s a rarity indeed.

In fact, I dare say that a Mac owner who had a Stadia subscription and an Apple Arcade subscription would probably have enough choice of Stuff To Play at any given time, especially with WoW and FFXIV there to scratch the MMO itch as needed. It fills the niche of “I don’t want to own a gaming PC or an Xbox, but I really want to play the new Assassin’s Creed” pretty nicely.

Now, I’m not sure exactly how many actual people that represents.  It’s probably not zero? If I suddenly found myself forced to live in a dorm room situation, I’d probably opt for something like this? Maybe?

I’m stretching a little bit here, I know.  I’m impressed enough with how well it works that I find myself kind of rooting for it to get traction.  It’s a dancing bear that’s applied itself and actually dances well, and I appreciate that.

Posted in gadgets, videogames | 2 Comments

Making an iOS Shortcut for Apple Pay

So I guess this is a gadget blog now? Because apparently that is the stuff I am posting.  I have come a long way from the days when I would write posts about my attempts to get upskirt shots of the characters in Fatal Frame 2.

I’m not actually sure I have improved as a person since then, but at least I’m trying to write about stuff with more social worth.

Anyway, I thought about titling this post “In which, I am schooled by a Walmart cashier” because frankly this is a story about me getting schooled by a Walmart cashier, but in the end I figured I would go for a post title that was a little more search-engine friendly and then I opened the post with an anecdote that will probably turn anyone off reading further.

It is possible that I am not acting entirely logically here.

Anyway, to get back to the bit where I was forced to admit that I was not the alpha geek in an exchange: A few nights ago, I was making a purchase at our local Walmart and trying to use Walmart Pay since they do not support Apple Pay and because who uses credit cards anymore anyway? COMMUNISTS AND CAVEMEN, that’s who.  Contactless pay with your phone is what REAL AMERICANS use.

Technically I am only half American, but that is not important for the purposes of this story.

Anyway, Walmart Pay is a pain to get to if you open the Walmart app while you are standing IN a Walmart, because it’s smart enough to know that you are in one of their stores and really wants to be helpful.  So there are several screens to click through before you can actually pay for anything, and I was apologizing to the cashier for this while I clicked and hunted for the “give the massive faceless corporation some money” button, and he said “hey, you know, if you shop here a lot you could just set up a widget or something” and then he pulled out his personal phone to show me an icon labeled “Walmart Pay” on his home screen, which when clicked went directly to the critical feature of the application.

He continued with “I don’t know if Apple has anything like that but you could give it a try” and I thanked him as the last shreds of my ego shriveled into nothingness.

So, to avoid any more of the long story, it turns out that this is super easy to do and an excellent use of the “Shortcuts” feature in iOS, so I thought I would share it with any of my readers who might also find it useful.  I even took some screenshots, which look awful because I didn’t think to switch to Dark Mode and I didn’t do a very consistent job of highlighting the controls.

It starts by opening the Shortcuts app and choosing the + New Shortcut button.

Then +  Add Action

Search for “Walmart” and select it.

Then choose the “Open Walmart Pay” option.

Then choose Next

After this, you can enter a name for the shortcut

When you click “Done”, you’ll be taken to the Shortcuts app home screen.  Choose the … menu for your new shortcut.

Then press the … option in the shortcut editor.

And choose Add to Home Screen

Afterwards, you will have a nice icon you can use to skip a lot of annoying dialogs.  You can customize the icon, icon color, that sort of thing but I didn’t want to have too many more screenshots in this post.

I haven’t used Shortcuts for much other than morning and night routines, but this seems like a great use of them to avoid a small frustration and I own a great deal of thanks to a guy who was entirely too smart to be stuck ringing up groceries for a living.  Hopefully he is moving on to better things soon.

 

 

Posted in gadgets, iOS | Leave a comment

Brand Disloyalty

So, in the fifteen years or so since I bought my first modern Macintosh (a first-gen Intel Mac mini), our house has turned into a bit of an Apple Shrine.  We have four Macs, an iPhone each, a few iPads, a couple of AppleTVs and even a pair of HomePods, which are Apple’s entry into the “smart speaker” marketplace.

So why do I have THREE Google Nest Minis?

My attempt at a product glamor shot.  Ceramic cat for scale.

Well, it’s a long story that started when Google decided to send one of these things to all of their YouTube Music subscribers.  I signed up for that service ages ago when it was Google Play Music, mostly to get rid of ads on YouTube, and I’ve maintained my subscription because I’m grandfathered in at a low rate and I watch a lot of YouTube and hate ads.

I didn’t see a ton of point to the thing, but I plugged it in so my wife could use it as a bluetooth speaker for her phone.  It’s actually not very good at that as the phone and speaker kept getting unsynced.  She has a newer phone now and they may work better together but we haven’t tried.

Anyway, since it wasn’t a great bluetooth speaker it mostly sat plugged in on an end table doing… nothing, really.  Listening, I guess.  Always listening.  We kind of forgot we had the thing.

It’s critical to note at this point that we don’t have a clock in our living room and that at one point my wife asked me what time it was and I didn’t have my phone handy so I said “OK, Google, what time is it?” and it told us the time and suddenly it had a purpose.

Then I discovered that this freebie speaker was better at answering basic questions than Siri.  Like, if you ask Siri “What time does Target close?” there are a lot of extraneous words before she finally tells you what Target’s hours are. And she tells you the hours, like “opens at 7 am and closes at 11 PM” which is not technically the answer to the question.

Google, on the other hand, says “Target at (address of closest Target) closes at 11 PM tonight”

And then we bought a new smart TV for our living room and the two devices talked to each other and suddenly I could tell the TV to turn on while I was walking into the room while carrying food… and then we discovered that we had quite a few other things, like Xboxes, that could integrate with this free little speaker. So that was kind of neat.

Furthermore, since I DO have a subscription to YouTube Music, it has been invaluable at times, like when I discovered that my wife had never heard EITHER of Golden Earring’s hit songs and I was able to subject her to roughly 30 seconds each of “Radar Love” and “Twilight Zone” before she told me to stop that and never do it again lest I wind up having a smart speaker lobbed at my head.

Then, I was in Walmart and saw these things.

They’re nothing more than crazy cheap Google-compatible switched plugs, but they are crazy cheap.  Like, under nine dollars each.

And also extra Google Nest Minis were only $29 each.

So, I bought two more of them and three of these smart plugs and we’ve got them hooked up to lights in places like the bedroom so we don’t have to worry about the moment between turning off the light and getting into bed which is when the cat likes to dash directly between us and the bed, and we have a house that is, for some definitions of the phrase, a “Smart Home” even though that usually conjures up images of people who have, for some reason, decided that their doorbell needs to rely on wi-fi connectivity.

We are very far from that.

And it has all come together for less than the price of a single HomePod Mini*, which is Apple’s attempt to enter the low end of the smart speaker market.

I don’t have any regrets about owning the HomePods, mind you – they are fantastic-sounding speakers even if Siri is a little slow, and handoff is black magic with how seamlessly it works – but Google’s got something pretty impressive going on here.

* Technically only because one of the nest minis was free.  Otherwise it would be slightly more.

 

Posted in gadgets | 2 Comments

Apple TV for consoles is here, and it’s …eh.

So, I’ve had an AppleTV of one sort or another for a bit over eleven years now.  The very first model, basically a stripped-down Mac Mini in a squashed box, was purely a way to rent movies from iTunes and get content in your iTunes library to show up on your TV.  It was quickly replaced with a much smaller and slightly-more-capable model that added streaming services, and there have been revisions and iterations that have brought it up to a quite capable 4k streamer with some light gaming chops.

Oh, and it still lets you show the content in your iTunes library on your TV.  I have a tremendous amount of personally-ripped media and have spent way too much time organizing and tagging it.

Last year, of course, Apple introduced their own streaming service.  Personally, I haven’t had much (any) use for it, but it’s meant that they have started allowing some non-Apple devices access to iTunes Store content.  Up until now, that’s basically been a few smart TVs… but, with the launch of the new consoles, Apple has finally broken down and released their Apple TV app for boxes that people actually own.

I downloaded the PS4 and Xbone apps and took them for a quick spin.  Screenshots below are mostly from the PS4 version, but the two look identical.  Also, these were taken with a camera because the app disables the in-OS screenshot options so they’re not particularly high-quality pictures.

Watch Now is intended to be the home screen for the Apple TV app, basically showing you your most-recently-purchased-or-played videos.

So, the app LOOKS like the same app when run off a hardware Apple TV, but there are some differences.  On an Apple TV, if you launch a movie with iTunes Extras, it takes you to a menu where you can select the extras or start the movie.  If you’re mid-movie, you get the choice to resume from the last playback position or start from the beginning.  On the consoles, you can’t access the iTunes Extras and the movie just starts playing from whatever point you left off.  If that happens to be in the middle of a movie, you need to press B or Circle to choose to start the movie from the beginning.

The playback interface is barebones as all get out, and essentially uses the D-pad on the controller to emulate the touchpad on the Apple TV remote.  So, to turn subtitles on or change audio, you press down on the D-pad.  Perfectly intuitive!

Also, A / X to pause.  The Start/Options buttons do nothing.

You can also use the D-pad to scrub forwards or backwards 10 seconds at a time.

If you’re controlling your PS4 with a HDMI-CEC compatible remote, you can use that instead of the controller.  That’s one definite point in its favor over the Xbone version.

Does the Xbox Series S|X support HDMI-CEC? I should probably research that.

Anyway.

Library view shows you your purchased content. I have bought over five hundred movies from the iTunes Store over the years, and a fair amount of TV.  That’s probably more than most people, and almost certainly more than they tested the console app with, because trying to browse through the library on the PS4 has invariably resulted in, well…

Is it still a “Blue Screen of Death” if it’s not on Windows?

For the record, you can scroll through your library without issues on the Xbone app.  It’s just the PS4 app that has problems for me.

Oddly enough, “purchasing” the app on the Xbone has a weird bit of language that I’m assuming is just a typo, since as far as I can tell there IS no Windows 10 version of the Apple TV app.

Maybe it’s planned for the future?

Finally, there’s no way to access local iTunes libraries.  That’s unfortunate, but kind of expected.

So… short version, it’s a way to get Apple streaming on TVs using the game console you probably already own, but the experience is not really great yet.

Posted in movies & tv, PS4, Xbox One | Leave a comment

On Green Bars

So, no posts here in ages and it would be kind of embarrassing if the last thing I wrote was a tediously boring bit about extracting audio tracks from mkv files. Instead, let’s have a tediously boring rant about healing in MMOs.

I played a lot – and I hesitate to think about how much “a lot” means, here – of Final Fantasy 14 last year and early this year, and if I were recommending an MMO to anyone curious about the genre it would still probably be FFXIV. It’s probably the most heavily story-driven MMO on the market, to the point of having different quest icons for “GO HERE FOR MORE PLOT” and “GO HERE IF YOU JUST WANNA KILL TEN RATS”, and I have developed a genuine fondness for the game’s characters over the course of several expansions’ worth of storylines.

However.

If you like playing healing classes – and I do! – it is not exactly the most exciting thing.

Very little of FFXIV’s player damage is random. If you’re fighting a boss that casts a big AE nuke 90 seconds into the encounter, you know that boss will always cast the big AE nuke at 90 seconds, you know to save your “heal everyone back to full” spell for 91 seconds into the encounter, and the 89 seconds prior to that are spent spamming damage spells at the boss. In the worst examples, you know in advance that the four DPS players in the group – and only the four DPS players – are about to be afflicted with a status effect that needs to be cured off or that they need to run away from the group. There’s no need to adjust for “what happens if this lands on a tank or healer?” because the game is scripted to make it always hit players in particular roles.

In addition, most late-game encounters in FFXIV have rigid time limits. There is no outhealing a party-wide instant-death attack that is going to occur eleven minutes after the boss is engaged.

The end result is that healers in FFXIV are usually reacting to very predictable damage and are expected to be nuking 90% of the time to help prevent running into that “you took too long, everyone dies” attack.

By contrast, I have been playing a little bit of WoW recently because both my wife and I were in a WoW mood and it’s a good thing when we’re both playing the same game at the same time.

Now, WoW has some serious issues. It’s creaking with age and it really doesn’t feel like Blizzard particularly has its heart in pumping out new content, and the graphical style is… well, it’s not going back to 1999 EQ levels of bad, but it’s definitely stylized in a way that is a bit marmite.

BUT.

Healing is marvelously chaotic.

Just look at all of those green bars, at various levels of “healthy” to “not doing so hot”, and imagine that you have a few healing tools to choose from and need to decide which character is at risk of dying if you don’t use the fast, mana-hog heal and which can live long enough for your bigger, more mana-efficient heal to land.

Oh, and there are like half a dozen different healing specs and they all have different tool sets with obvious shortages. I the last time I played WoW, I was playing as priest, and got used to having shields, heal-over-time spells, group heals, just a marvelous toolbox to counter the minor drawback of basically being made out of tissue paper.

This time, I’ve been playing a “Holy” Paladin, and it has great single-player heals but suffers tremendously in any situation where there’s a lot of AE damage… but I also have the ability to put an invulnerability bubble on a character who is about to otherwise eat floorboards, which my priest character never had. There are also druid and shaman healers, all of which seem viable but have their own weaknesses.

FFXIV has White Mages and … the other two healers, who kind of struggle to find identity. Scholar is an “anticipate damage and put shields on the person who is about to take damage” class, and Astrologians are just kind of … there. I don’t know much about them and rarely grouped with them. They’ve avoided adding healing classes past these three.

Furthermore,

Now you’ve lost a few people. The boss obviously isn’t dead yet. It would be good to have someone resurrect those players back into the fight, BUT… in-combat resurrections are incredibly limited in WoW and need to be used strategically. If the raid uses up one of its rezzes on a dead DPS player and the off tank goes down, there may not be a rez available for him.

Obviously, every MMO handles the question of mid-combat resurrections differently. EQ1 had its five-minutes resurrection sickness, which made sense because boss fights in that could last upwards of a half hour, EQ2 has its mechanic where the boss heals 4% of its life every time a character dies, FFXIV lets you bring back players without limits but you are still facing that encounter timer… You could argue the good and bad points of either, but I am currently appreciating WoW’s approach to it.

The end result is that, for all the things that Blizzard could be doing SO MUCH BETTER, if you want a Green Bar Filling Strategy Game, they have that in spades.

Anyway. Probably not the best post to come back from a long hiatus with, but I wasn’t quite ready to let this blog shuffle off into nothingness quite yet.

Posted in MMORPG, videogames | 1 Comment

Editing Audio and Subtitle Tracks in .mkv Files with ffmpeg

I have been trying to consolidate a bunch of servers recently, and one of the ones that I am looking to sunset is a box that has been used as a BD ripping and media encoding box.  The reason it HASN’T been sunset yet is that, well, there are a bunch of things on it that have been ripped but not yet encoded for playback on an AppleTV and I needed to get on that.

Anyway, that’s in process, and I was deleting a bunch of source files that had already been encoded and that’s when I ran across Maken-Ki.

If you’ve never seen it, it’s a really forgettable show whose chief draw is a violent pettanko who may or may not be a dragon.  I kind of regret watching both seasons of it, and I am very unlikely to ever watch it again, but finding the source files made me remember something about the series that had REALLY annoyed me; which was a frustrating typo in the subtitles in one of the episodes.

So I thought to myself, how hard could this be to fix?  I’ve got ffmpeg, which is like a Swiss army knife on steroids when it comes to video file manipulation, I’m sure I can sort it out.

What could possibly go wrong?

My first step was to look at how the original file was laid out, which you can do just by throwing it into ffmpeg, like so:

ffmpeg -i MakenKiS02E08.mkv

And this gives a lot of output:

    Stream #0:0: Video: hevc (Main 10), yuv420p10le(tv), 1920×1080 [SAR 1:1 DAR 16:9], 23.98 fps, 23.98 tbr, 1k tbn, 23.98 tbc (default)
    Metadata:
      _STATISTICS_TAGS-eng: BPS DURATION NUMBER_OF_FRAMES NUMBER_OF_BYTES
      _STATISTICS_WRITING_APP-eng: mkvmerge v30.1.0 (‘Forever And More’) 64-bit
      _STATISTICS_WRITING_DATE_UTC-eng: 2019-02-10 22:33:00
      BPS-eng         : 2583237
      DURATION-eng    : 00:23:42.046000000
      NUMBER_OF_BYTES-eng: 459185284
      NUMBER_OF_FRAMES-eng: 34095

    Stream #0:1(eng): Audio: aac (LC), 48000 Hz, 5.1, fltp (default)
    Metadata:
      title           : English 5.1 channel AAC
      _STATISTICS_TAGS-eng: BPS DURATION NUMBER_OF_FRAMES NUMBER_OF_BYTES
      _STATISTICS_WRITING_APP-eng: mkvmerge v30.1.0 (‘Forever And More’) 64-bit
      _STATISTICS_WRITING_DATE_UTC-eng: 2019-02-10 22:33:00
      BPS-eng         : 440524
      DURATION-eng    : 00:23:42.036000000
      NUMBER_OF_BYTES-eng: 78305206
      NUMBER_OF_FRAMES-eng: 66658

    Stream #0:2(jpn): Audio: aac (LC), 48000 Hz, stereo, fltp
    Metadata:
      title           : Japanese 2.0 channel AAC
      _STATISTICS_TAGS-eng: BPS DURATION NUMBER_OF_FRAMES NUMBER_OF_BYTES
      _STATISTICS_WRITING_APP-eng: mkvmerge v30.1.0 (‘Forever And More’) 64-bit
      _STATISTICS_WRITING_DATE_UTC-eng: 2019-02-10 22:33:00
      BPS-eng         : 179997
      DURATION-eng    : 00:23:42.087000000
      NUMBER_OF_BYTES-eng: 31996579
      NUMBER_OF_FRAMES-eng: 66661

    Stream #0:3(zxx): Subtitle: ass (default)
    Metadata:
      title           : Signs/Karaoke [Hatsuyuki] – [WHW]
      _STATISTICS_TAGS-eng: BPS DURATION NUMBER_OF_FRAMES NUMBER_OF_BYTES
      _STATISTICS_WRITING_APP-eng: mkvmerge v30.1.0 (‘Forever And More’) 64-bit
      _STATISTICS_WRITING_DATE_UTC-eng: 2019-02-10 22:33:00
      BPS-eng         : 470
      DURATION-eng    : 00:23:04.820000000
      NUMBER_OF_BYTES-eng: 81502
      NUMBER_OF_FRAMES-eng: 601

    Stream #0:4(eng): Subtitle: ass
    Metadata:
      title           : [Hatsuyuki] – [WHW]
      _STATISTICS_TAGS-eng: BPS DURATION NUMBER_OF_FRAMES NUMBER_OF_BYTES
      _STATISTICS_WRITING_APP-eng: mkvmerge v30.1.0 (‘Forever And More’) 64-bit
      _STATISTICS_WRITING_DATE_UTC-eng: 2019-02-10 22:33:00
      BPS-eng         : 562
      DURATION-eng    : 00:23:37.210000000
      NUMBER_OF_BYTES-eng: 99571
      NUMBER_OF_FRAMES-eng: 897

    Stream #0:5: Attachment: ttf
    Metadata:
      filename        : HeyGorgeous.ttf
      mimetype        : application/x-truetype-font

    Stream #0:6: Attachment: ttf
    Metadata:
      filename        : INCOLHUA_R.ttf
      mimetype        : application/x-truetype-font

I’ve cut a lot out of this because what I want to know about is the Streams, which are all of the different components that make up the video file.  This file has one video stream, two audio streams, two subtitle streams and a bunch of embedded fonts.  I’ve cut off all the fonts after the first couple because the output was already long enough.

The English audio track and the “Signs/Karaoke” subtitle track are unnecessary, so let’s get rid of those first:

ffmpeg -i MakenKiS02E08.mkv -map 0 -map -0:1 -map -0:3 -acodec copy -vcodec copy -scodec copy tt.mkv

Breaking this down:

ffmpeg -i

just tells ffmpeg which file to read.

-map 0

tells it to copy all streams from file 0 to the output file.  ffmpeg starts counting everything from 0.  It’s annoying but you get used to it.  Except, we don’t want the English audio or signs and karaoke subtitles, so we use two more map commands to exclude those.

 "-map -0:1 -map -0:3"

is telling ffmpeg to drop streams 1 and 3 from file 0.

-acodec copy -vcodec copy -scodec copy

tells ffmpeg to copy the remaining audio, video, and subtitle streams without transcoding them.  This is very fast and doesn’t affect quality.

Finally, the last thing on your ffmpeg command line is the filename you want ffmpeg to write to.  “tt.mkv” is just my regular shorthand for temporary output files.

This cheerfully made a new mkv file, and I threw it into VLC to confirm that the subtitles and audio I wanted were present.  It was also 80 megabytes smaller without the English audio so you could use this to reduce the size of mkv files where you don’t care about some of the languages.

Then I needed to separate the subtitle file from the mkv file so I could make changes.

ffmpeg -t tt.mkv -map 0 -map -0:2 -acodec copy -vcodec copy tt_nosubs.mkv

Again I’m using the -map -0:2 command to exclude a stream, in this case the subtitle stream.  This gives me a file with just video, audio, and fonts.

I also extract the subtitle track to a text file with a .ass extension, like so:

ffmpeg -i tt.mkv -scodec copy script.ass

ffmpeg is smart enough to know that you can’t put video or audio into a .ass file so it drops those and we’re left with just the script.

After that, I made my changes to the script and needed to mash it all back into one file.

ffmpeg -i tt_nosubs.mkv -i script.ass -map 0 -map 1 -acodec copy -vcodec copy -scodec copy ttt.mkv

Two -i commands to tell ffmpeg that it needs to read from two input files, two -map commands to tell it to take all streams from file 0 (the mkv file) and all streams from file 1 (the subtitles file), copy them without transcoding and put everything into another file called ttt.mkv.

I am not particularly inventive with my file names.

I was then able to throw ttt.mkv through Handbrake and it gave me a lovely AppleTV-compatible .m4v file that I will probably never actually watch because Maken-Ki was not really worth a second watch, but damnit I fixed the typo and this was very important to me.

Though Himegami – that’s the violent pettanko’s name, had to look it up – WAS a hilarious character and it might be worth watching a couple episodes.  Someday.  When I get through all of the other shows in my queue.

Posted in anime, video encoding | Leave a comment

I Am Afraid of a Certain Number of Ghosts.

A few days ago, I mentioned that I had celebrated my lack of a games backlog by buying Luigi’s Mansion 3 during the Nintendo eShop sale.  I hadn’t played the first two games in the series, but it looked fun and the reviews were overwhelmingly positive and how often does Nintendo first party stuff go on sale anyway?

Upon starting it, however, and watching the opening cinematic, I was forced to realize that I had many unanswered questions that might hinder my enjoyment of the game.  Like, why does Luigi have a ghost dog? Furthermore, why is Luigi in the ghost catching business in the first place?

Obviously I needed to dip back into the history of the franchise, and that meant spending a couple of evenings playing through his original adventure on the Gamecube, through Dolphin since I wasn’t going to go to the hassle of digging out the original hardware.

As an aside, I hadn’t really ever messed with Dolphin before and it turned out to be a very civilized experience.  Luigi’s Mansion looked very good upscaled to 1080p and could easily have been mistaken for a much more modern game.

In short, I’m glad I did this.  Luigi’s Mansion turned out to be a tremendously charming and enjoyable experience.  At the end of it, I still didn’t know why he now has a ghostly dog but at least I understood the reason behind his one-plumber war on the spectral realm.

Wikipedia says he picked up the dog in the sequel, and I considered playing through that as well… and then I read reviews that mentioned mandatory balancing sections involving motion control and I put that notion right out of my head.

So I’m ready for Luigi’s Mansion 3 and if you are the sort of person who does not like to see any criticism of Nintendo first party titles we will both be happier if you stop reading at this point because I am about to say unkind things about a 19 year old game that was probably a fundamental part of your childhood.

Still with me? Good. Because, man, despite how enjoyable Luigi’s Mansion is, it is basically a showcase for all the worst elements of gaming in the late 90s/early 2000s.

You’ve got your forced-inverted-Y-axis control for aiming up and down, tank controls for horizontal aiming and movement, unstoppable cutscenes even on a repeat viewing, a fixed camera that is usually pretty decent but occasionally decides to be awful, no checkpoints and oh my god the backtracking.  Every time you save and re-enter the game, you have to start from the mansion’s foyer and then slowly walk through several floors to pick up wherever you left off.

Luigi doesn’t regain health when loading a game or after fights, which isn’t really an issue – there’s an easily accessed healing item in a room just a few doors away from the foyer – but walking over to pick that up every time I needed to heal up was (again) more backtracking.  Apparently in the 3DS remake of the game you can heal Luigi if you own the Toad Amiibo, which at least indicates that the remake team realized this was a pain.

There are also no pre-boss checkpoints, so dying to a boss means that you have to load your last game, putting you back in the foyer for an annoying walk back to the boss, where you will watch the pre-fight cutscene again.  The flip side of this is that MOST of the fights are very easy, so the odds of dying to most enemies are very low… and then you get to the fourth and final boss.

Without spoiling the particulars of the fight, the last boss comes out of nowhere in terms of challenge and obtuseness, and I had to finally give up and look up how to damage him after three or four abject failures at the fight.  Once I knew HOW to hit him, it still took several tries to figure out how to bait him into an attack I could punish with a counterattack.  Once I had that down, it wasn’t that bad of a fight but it could seriously have done with a little more telegraphing.

I am very grateful for save states, once I looked up how to use them in Dolphin anyway.  They meant that I could start the boss fight over from the beginning without the load screen -> walk through the mansion -> cutscene sequence every time.

The 3DS version lets you skip the final boss cutscene after the first viewing, by the way.  Another significant quality of life change there.  AND it lets you play with regular Y-axis controls.

What I’m saying is that Luigi’s Mansion is a really fun game and if you have somehow missed it then I quite recommend playing the 3DS version.

 

Posted in gamecube, videogames | Leave a comment

Phantasy Star Online 2

The final F2P game I’ve been trying out recently is JUST a little larger in scale than the mobile games I talked about over the last couple of days.  Phantasy Star Online 2 is one of those games that was stuck in Japan for ages, with seemingly little hope of a localization, before getting  a surprise drop during last summer’s Xbox E3 presentation.

It didn’t actually launch until April of this year, and it’s taken me a few months to get around to seeing what it’s all about.

I’ll lead with some positives, because there are a lot of nice things to say about this game.  For a start, the character creator let me put together a red-haired pigtailed robot girl with glasses, mahoosive hooters, and a pronounced absolute territory, and that’s just the sort of quality product that I look for.

Also, while individual game zones are fairly tiny – this was a Vita title at one point, after all – the art direction is just designed to make me happy.  Lots of alien worlds and floating islands and glowing sci-fi interiors.  It reminded me of Scarlet Blade in that way, and I’m sure that all three of the other people who played that particular MMO will agree.

The hub zone / base ship.  So much neon.

Floating islands are like the least realistic things ever but so pretty.

Love me some alien ruins.

Also there is a Ye Olde Timey Japanese City zone for reasons?

I didn’t get much into the game’s story missions, but I did play through a bunch of “expeditions” which are fairly linear affairs where you grind through a massive number of random mooks and then face off against a satisfyingly huge boss at the end.

Got a sort of samurai-Oni-thing going on here.

Gotta have dragons.

PSO2 scratches a very real itch, which is the need to beat the hell out of a boss that then explodes into a literal shower of color-coded loot.  This is what I was greeted with at the end of one of the game’s “urgent quest” which are massive multi-stage affairs for a dozen or two people.

I don’t have to share ANY of this loot.  I get it all.

Even smaller-scale bosses have pretty nice lootsplosions:

There’s like four weapons here, a bunch of money, and some skill boosts.  You get to run through it all mashing the “pick up item” button and hear happy little pings as it’s all added to your inventory.

Finally, the combat system is really fun.  It’s action based, so you are dodging around a battlefield paying attention to your character and the enemy rather than staring at a hotbar full of stuff and waiting for it to come off cooldown.  There’s a little bit of skill involved in timing your attacks in combination, and there’s a dodge skill with what feels like a generous helping of iframes.

If you just want to beat the stuffing out of weird and wonderful alien critters and sort through mounds of loot, PSO2 has LOTS to offer.

On the downside, it’s been out for eight years.  There is a huge amount of content, and just a crazy number of systems to try to absorb.  After playing for less than 20 hours, my character’s bank storage was full to bursting with random weapons and items that sure SEEM important but aren’t usable by the “Hunter” class I started with.  They’re probably useful for one of the game’s other 8 classes, and I can choose to level any of those classes at any time, so I should probably hold on to them.

There are also a lot of daily and weekly missions and NPCs standing everywhere asking me to take on vitally-important tasks and it is just a little overwhelming.

In the final analysis, I think it’s a little late to jump on the PSO2 train.  The good thing is that they’re launching something called “Phantasy Star Online 2: New Genesis” next year, which uses your PSO2 characters in some fashion but that promises a fresh start.  I’m going to put my robot-fetish-fuel character on ice while I wait for that to launch.

 

Posted in MMORPG, Xbox One | 2 Comments

Fire Emblem: Heroes

OK, so I am somewhat late to the party on Fire Emblem: Heroes, being as it’s a mobile game that launched in February 2017.  At the time, however, I hadn’t played an actual Fire Emblem game (we will set TMS#FE aside) and the initial impressions I got of the title from watching online chatter was that it was pretty harsh to play if you weren’t willing to put some real money down, and fast.

I also saw far too many accounts of people starting and resetting the game over and over again to ensure that they could start with a 5-star hero for a leg up, and that just sounded far too tedious.

I eventually DID play a Fire Emblem title – three of them, actually, because I’d bought the Fire Emblem: Fates collected edition cartridge on a whim.  It was a pretty damned good time, and that led to me playing through Fire Emblem: Awakening and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon.

Apparently I like going backwards, or something?

This still was not enough to make me play FE: Heroes.

This, however, was:

Corrin is the main character in all three of the Fates games, and she is simultaneously both Best Girl AND Best Dragon, since her story begins at about the point where she discovers that (a) she’s adopted, (b) her adoptive family is a bundle of dicks and (c) she tends to grow wings, scales, and a pointy tail when she is under stress.

Plus fire breath.  Really, she’s the whole package.

I’ve since discovered that many of the Fire Emblem games contain cute girls that turn into dragons from time to time, but Corrin is exceptional in that she actually LOOKS like an adult rather than looking like a 12-year-old who claims she’s actually over a thousand and that gives her some serious points on the waifu scale.

At any rate, I obviously had to play this game, and I obviously had to keep resetting the game until I got her as one of my characters.

If you start a game of Fire Emblem: Heroes today, you get handed about 40 of the currency used to summon characters.  Each summon attempt costs 5 of these, and you have about a 5% chance of getting a 5-star character like Corrin.  There are multiple 5-star heroes in this event, however, so the actual odds were pretty bad.

I didn’t actually count the number of times I installed FE: Heroes, went through the tutorial, summoned a bunch of characters and then deleted the game, but I spent about three hours at it before this finally popped up:

I may have punched the air and exclaimed something along the lines of “woo” at this point.

After this, I ran through the rest of my currency and all of the other free summons that Nintendo handed me, and wound up with a lot of characters to choose from.  I had two other 5-star units from Fates (Camilla and Rinkah), and that formed the basis for a pretty strong team.

I was used to typical Fire Emblem maps being huge, sprawling affairs that can take upwards of an hour to clear.  Heroes battles are more tiny skirmishes on an 8×6 map.

This is my second team.  It’s more more focused on characters from Awakening.

The battles are likewise fairly streamlined, but most of the considerations from the full-sized games are in place.  You want to try to bait the enemy AI into coming into range of a unit that will have a tactical advantage, you need to consider the weapon triangle, your flying characters seem to have an amazing affinity for arrows, really it’s the whole Fire Emblem package with the exceptions being that there are no critical hits and there doesn’t seem to be any notion of a hit chance lower than 100%.

The actual battle screens are pretty adorable and full of energetic shouts as you engage in combat.

OH HAI MR. THIEF. DO YOU LIKE DRAGONS?

Thus far, I’ve played for four or five days, done a bunch of story missions and a bunch of side content and am very happy with what the game gives me for – as of this point in time – exactly zero dollars and zero cents.  There are a ton of game modes, maps are gated behind a stamina bar BUT it refills pretty quickly, you collect a bunch of new characters just from completing quests and doing daily maps, and it seems like you get a new summon for free every time a new set of characters comes into the rotation.  The latest one gave me yet ANOTHER 5-star healer.

DEFINITELY not Tom Hiddleston.

Let’s be perfectly clear here.  Nintendo, Intelligent Systems, whoever is responsible for this game, they have decided that the average players are very likely male and easily influenced by the power of 2D hooters.   This is even more apparent when they get wounded in combat and their “battle-damaged” versions look like this:

If I’m honest, I can’t fault their judgement on this issue.  I’m a little unsure on the whole greaves-but-no-boots aesthetic though.  Even girls who are dragons probably wear shoes of some sort.

Also the way Corrin’s waist is twisting here gives me a little pause.  It doesn’t look ENTIRELY comfortable.

If you’d rather avoid the more scantily-clad characters, there ARE plenty with more modest outfits.  Anna, here, was one of my favorite units in Awakening and I have been using her a lot.

Anna does NOT turn into a dragon.  On the other hand, she has a big axe and likes to hit people.  It’s a pretty reasonable tradeoff.

I probably would not have enjoyed this game when it came out.  Reading some impressions from that time, it was super grindy and not very forgiving if your characters died in combat – you didn’t lose them, but they lost any experience they’d gained on that map.  It also didn’t have nearly such a generous approach to handing out high-tier units.  Really, starting this over three years into its lifespan means that I am playing on Super Baby Casual Mode.

I am perfectly OK with that.

 

Posted in Uncategorized, videogames | 2 Comments