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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, Nettie Wild brings her salmon migration experience to virtual reality, and Apple teaches you how to draw yourself as a Peanuts character. But first, details of Valve’s Steam Deck handheld game system and a review of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD, new on the Nintendo Switch.

Valve’s Steam Deck reservations are open

There’s a new handheld game console being released this year, if you’re one of the lucky ones.

Valve’s Steam Deck sports a 7-inch touch screen (with a 1280×800 resolution). It’s very configurable, with thumbsticks and trackpads on both sides of the screen, bumper and trigger buttons, and buttons on the bottom for fingertips. These provide controlling options for both developers and players.

It’s being manufactured in three configurations (all prices in Canadian dollars):

  • 64 GB storage for $499
  • 256 GB storage for $659
  • 512 GB storage for $819

All models have a microSD slot for more storage. Valve will also be selling a USB-C hub docking station that will connect to any peripherals, including wired networking and external displays

In an effort to curb scalpers and bots from snapping up all the pre-order supply, Valve’s put in some protections, including a requirement that accounts looking to preorder have to have existed prior to June 2021. It’s also why Valve asked for a deposit for every preorder (it’s only $5.70).

Those protections were part of the reason that trying to place a preorder on Friday when things opened up was a bit challenging.

The Steam Deck comes with Steam OS pre-installed, which means you’ll have access to your entire Steam library.

But this is essentially a handheld computer, and in a video for developers, Valve rep Erik Peterson says, “You can install whatever you want on it, including other apps and [operating systems].”

That opens up possibilities for playing games from EA’s Origin, the Epic Games Store, Ubisoft’s uPlay, or even games from your Xbox Game Pass library.

Shipping of the Steam Deck begins in December, but when you’ll actually get your Steam Deck is tied to when you got your reservation in. I got mine in later on Friday and am seeing an estimated ship date of the second quarter of 2022.

Place your reservation for a Steam Deck.

High-definition remaster of Skyward Sword brings the Zelda tale to Nintendo’s Switch

Nintendo keeps giving us reasons to keep playing the Switch, and this week it’s the remaster of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which first released for the Wii in 2011.

What made Skyward Sword different from previous Zelda games was the control scheme that made use of the Wii motion controls. It took a little getting used to, but once you did it was sublime.

Here’s what I wrote when I reviewed it in November of 2011: “… never before have swinging a sword, firing a slingshot, and raising a shield felt so natural.”

This new version, aside from bumping up the graphics – it’s 1080p when using the Switch handheld and 720p when docked and displaying on your TV – has been tweaked to allow for two different control schemes.

You can choose to use the Joy-con controllers in much the same way as the Wii Remote and Nunchuk with the addition of a camera control that was absent from the original release (and which improves navigation and combat immeasurably).

But you can also play with gamepad controls and some workarounds have been developed to map the motion controls to the static controller, and this is where you might get a bit frustrated. For example, you use the right analogue stick for both swinging your sword and for camera control. The left bumper button is the toggle; holding it down means you’re moving the camera. This means you’ll occasionally find yourself flailing around with your sword when you mean to be changing the camera orientation.

I recommend the Joy-con controls so you get the feel of slashing that sword exactly how you need to, and then relish in the open sky that is the domain of Skyward Sword. There’s no open world here where you see a point in the distance and walk to it. Instead, you’ll fly on a massive bird, visiting islands in the sky to move the story along and to take on shorter side quests.

The pace of the game has been improved thanks to some tweaks to the dialogue screens, which can be sped up and skipped, and fewer interruptions from the game trying to explain itself to you. Plus, now you can save your game at any time.

For those who have only been with Nintendo since the Switch, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD is worth playing before the sequel to Breath of the Wild comes out next year. The linear approach and inventive puzzles of the former are a great contrast to the sprawling open world of the latter.

Nettie Wild’s salmon run experience is now in virtual reality

In 2017, filmmaker Nettie Wild used Vancouver’s Cambie Bridge as a screen, projecting massive images of salmon during the summer migration to spawning sites.

Uninterrupted was public art at its most dramatic, and every night during the summer of 2017, people would gather under the bridge to experience the cinematic spectacle as the salmon swam over them.

This summer, Uninterrupted moves into the realm of virtual reality. Through August, groups of 20 will be able to become part of the salmon run in outdoor locations where you’ll have your VR headset synchronized with the others in your group.

Uninterrupted in VR is showing at the Burnaby Art Gallery from August 3 to 13 and Vancouver from August 17 to 29.

More locations and dates are yet to be announced.

“Today at Apple” video teaches you how to draw Peanuts characters

Looking for something fun and – gasp, artistic and educational – your kids can do this summer? How about drawing themselves – and you – as a Peanuts characters a la Charles Schulz.

Apple has begun broadcasting some of its “Today at Apple” tutorials on YouTube, and the first release features television writer and producer Mark Evestaff and storyboard artist Krista Porter, both of whom are part of the staff of The Snoopy Show, a new Apple TV Plus show.

Supplementing the video is this list of drawing references that artists use to make sure they are being consistent in how they draw characters.

Have fun!

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Categories Corus Radio Network | Consumer technology

This week on The Shift, Shane Hewitt and I talked about Valve’s Steam Deck handheld computer game system, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD, Nettie Wild’s Uninterrupted in virtual reality, and how to draw yourself as a Peanuts character with a Today at Apple tutorial. I come in at 45:16.

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, a closer look at Deathloop, coming to PS5 and Windows on September 14, a change to Twitter’s conversation settings, and what you need to know about Amazon Sidewalk. But first, meet Timbre Games, a new studio in Vancouver.

Timbre Games is a new development studio in Vancouver

A new game studio has been formed in Vancouver by three veterans. Timbre Games is a division of Oregon-based Pipeworks Studios, which is itself owned by Sumo Group.

At Timbre, Joe Nickolls is president, Geoff Coates is creative director, and Zöe Curnoe is the studio’s production director. All three have strong ties to the Vancouver game development community. Among other things, Coates worked on Company of Heroes and Dead Rising 4, Curnoe was production director for Gears of War, and Nickolls most recently was leading Maxis, the EA studio responsible for the Sims franchise.

Nickolls told VentureBeat that the plan is to “lean into action adventure and simulation, but we are not going to be doing extremely violent games or anything like that. We really want to make sure that we can provide accessible content for people across the board.”

The studio hasn’t announced anything in terms of games in development. They are hiring.

In-depth look at PS5 exclusive Deathloop

Last week, we got a closer look at Deathloop than we’ve yet had. The new game, from Bethesda’s Arkane Studios, is exclusive to the PS5 on console (it’s also releasing for Windows).

Arkane created the Dishonored series of action adventure games and the alienesque, Prey, and it looks as though Deathloop is leveraging a bunch of ideas and designs from those games in terms of powers (the teleportation manoeuvre Blink is the most obvious) and aesthetics.

But Colt, the protagonist stuck in a deathly repeating day, also has powers of his own. In the gameplay demo here, he shows his Karnesis ability, which gives him the ability to grab enemies with a telekinesis-like power.

Deathloop is one of the new genre of rogue-like adventure games that involve players dying over and over while they learn the systems, and the world, and accumulate items to help them beat the game. Hades and Returnal are two recent examples.

One thing that is quite different with Deathloop, though, is the primary antagonist in the game, a character named Julianna.

Like the player, who is Colt in Deathloop, Julianna retains memories of previous days in the loop. This makes her powerful and deadly, and she comes into the game either controlled by the game’s AI, or under the control of another player who has chosen to enter your game.

If Julianna kills you, Colt’s day immediately starts over from the beginning. If you kill her, you get a refill of your two “Reprise” charges, which rewinds time for Colt only, and is key to being able to solve the puzzle of the loop.

There are levels of metagame going on in Deathloop that I love. I can’t wait to play when the game releases on September 14.

Twitter now allows you to manage who can reply to your posts after you’ve tweeted

Since last summer, Twitter users have been able to restrict who can comment on their posts. As of this week, this functionality is available even after a post has published.

The idea is that people might find that a tweet of theirs has gone viral or is receiving unwanted attention.

There are three options for replies:

  • anyone can reply
  • only people you follow can reply
  • only people mentioned in the post can reply

The new conversation setting is available in the three-dot menu of a twitter message and is available through all Twitter apps, including the website.

What you need to know about Amazon Sidewalk

In the United States in June, Amazon launched a new free service called Sidewalk.

What Sidewalk does is automatically connect all of the various Amazon devices to all the other Amazon devices, creating a vast mesh network of sorts from the internet connections. This includes various Echo smart speakers and displays as well as some of the Ring surveillance devices.

Sidewalk is billed as a convenience, and it certainly can provide the convenience that a community-wide – city-wide? country-wide? – mesh network can provide.

How Sidewalk was rolled out in the U.S., though, is where there is a problem.

Even though Sidewalk is an optional feature, it was automatically activated on applicable devices, which means that unless someone knows about this, their network and everything on it is potentially at risk.

This violates the tech first principle of “explicitly ask for permission”.

There’s also an impact on a customer’s internet connectivity cap, because other devices not known to you could be using space without you knowing. Not to mention the data mining possibilities and threats of bad actors taking advantage of these “windows” into our lives.

I contacted Amazon in May to find out whether Sidewalk would be launching in Canada, and was told the company had nothing to say. I’ve assumed that means Sidewalk is not working in Canada, but we’ve got no idea what Amazon Canada has planned.

If (when?) Sidewalk comes north of the 49th, everyone with Amazon devices in their homes should know how to opt-out.

For Echo devices:

  1. Open the Alexa app on your smartphone or tablet
  2. In the three-line menu, navigate to More, Settings, Account settings
  3. Select Amazon Sidewalk
  4. Select Disable

For Ring devices:

  1. Open the Ring app on your smartphone or tablet
  2. In the three-line menu, navigate to Control center
  3. Select Amazon Sidewalk
  4. Select Disable, and confirm

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