[tl;dr] Titanfall on Xbox One: impressions

I must have missed a memo – I don’t understand the hype behind Titanfall. My theory is a combination of: it’s a new franchise in the popular online shooter genre, it’s an exclusive “near-launch” title for Xbox One, it’s developed by a company made up of former Infinity Ward veterans and everybody loves giant mech robots. Did I miss anything else?

Nevertheless, it’s the game that everyone’s buzzing about and so far it’s scored pretty high by critic reviews (86 on Metacritic at the time of writing).

Here are some of my quick impressions. Caveat: I admit to be a reluctant console gamer (I still prefer PC games).

  • It’s pretty much a cross between Battlefield, Halo and Call of Duty. If you played any of those (who hasn’t), you won’t be far from home.
  • Since the entire game is multiplayer-only (even the “campaign”), you’ll get used to waiting in a lobby for teammates or an opposing team.
  • Rounds are short and usually skewed towards one team, so you’ll either feel like a champion or continuously beaten down. A neat consolation prize for the losing team is the race to an evacuation ship at the end of a round which grants bonus points.
  • The controls, maps and characters are simple and straight-forward. Wall-running and double jumps are interesting but doesn’t change the core mechanics of gameplay (lots of shooting and running).
  • The levelling system and unlocks are consistent with most online shooters. New weapons and titans keeps things fresh without throwing the balance out the door.
  • The titans are fun while it lasts: enemy titans always seem invincible, my titans always die easily. You’ll never get of watching a titan drop from the sky.
  • Although it runs pretty smoothly, the graphics are just acceptable for a next-generation game. After all it’s based on the Source engine but you don’t spend a lot of time standing still to enjoy the scenery.
  • The little story you do get from the “campaign” by mission reports and voiceovers is pretty dry and generic space-colony uprising fluff.
  • The network ping/latency for Australian players will be a bit high, but it’s not unplayable (unless you’re a competitive type). It’s rumoured Australian servers will come. EDIT: Australian servers are coming March 14.

In conclusion, if you have an itch for an online shooter on Xbox One, Titanfall is as good as any and you’ll have a lot of fun. Otherwise, I’m not sure it or any other game for that matter could live up to it’s hype.

EDIT: The Titanfall Reviewer’s Guide supplied by EA is a great reading resource to understand the game.


Sunsetting MetroTwit: all good things must come to an end

Cross-posting this from the MetroTwit blog since this project was a big part of my life since 2010. I’m proud to have built an app that so many people enjoyed using day-in day-out. It was an amazing learning experience about WPF, .NET desktop apps and shipping a consumer application (before the Windows Store).

I want to personally thank everyone in the developer communities and Microsoft developer evangelists who helped us get across many challenging technical hurdles and made it possible for us to deliver a great Twitter experience on Windows for as long as we could.

We are saddened to announce the end-of-life of the MetroTwit for Desktop and MetroTwit for Windows 8 apps effective immediately.

Due to the “access token limit” imposed by Twitter since August 2012, we are preemptively sunsetting MetroTwit due to technical limitations of Twitter’s API which may prevent existing users from accessing the app after the limit has been crossed.

Effective immediately, we will be removing the MetroTwit for Desktop installer and MetroTwit for Windows 8 Store listing to ensure the app remains usable by all current users.

If you’re a current MetroTwit user, we apologise for the inconvenience but don’t worry, the apps you love to use will continue to work. However, we will not be supporting the app or releasing any major new features and updates.

We’re extremely proud to have worked on MetroTwit and want to thank the over 400,000 Twitter users who used MetroTwit over the past 4 years and have helped shape and support it.

A very special thanks to our MetroTwit Loop beta group who have been our exceedingly enthusiastic supporters and have let us know both the good and bad about MetroTwit since our first beta version.

None of us could have ever imagined what a humble Photoshop mockup would become as popular and acclaimed as MetroTwit. Not without its challenges and struggles, we’re proud to have worked on this app and its many updates.

Once again, thank you all.

The MetroTwit team
David Golden, Winston Pang, Long Zheng


Making directions better on Google Glass and having fun with the Mirror API

Getting map directions is easily one of the best features and use-cases for Google Glass. Seeing turn-by-turn directions at the corner of your eye when you’re out and about is one of the simple pleasures of wearing a computer on your head.

Unfortunately the only way Google provides to start navigation is with speech recognition which fails more times it works. Even though Glass’ speech recognition works well enough for simple queries like “Pizza Hut” or “62 King St”, it stumbles on more complicated place names and addresses (especially with an Australian accent). Of course there’s also the problem of sound like a crazy person yelling addresses on the street.

Needless to say this problem has been frustrating me for weeks and because I had so much fun developing my first Google Glass app, I knew I could solve it too.

The solution had to be typing, but you can’t type on Glass. So the next best thing was to type in a browser or on your phone, then send the address to Glass, like ChromeToPhone. Thankfully, the Glass Mirror API allows you to send content with a geolocation latitude/longitude and a “NAVIGATE” action for this exact purpose.

So over the Valentine’s Day weekend, I decided what better way to spend a romantic evening than with the Mirror API, PHP, SQL Azure and the Google Maps API. After a few hours of trial and error, Map2Glass.com was born.


It’s a simple website that lets you login with a Google Glass account and opens a map view with an autocomplete search box at the top. Google Maps’ v3 API makes this almost too easy. A “Send to Glass” button then takes the latitude and longitude of a pinned address (along with some other metadata), formats it to a Glass Timeline card and sends it to the Mirror API. Once received on Glass, a simple tap begins navigation to the embedded location.

I threw the code on Windows Azure Web Sites, bought a domain and started spreading it around. On a post in the Google+ community of Glass Explorer users I got a comment which was very fitting for Valentine’s Day and it made it all worthwhile.


What this “phone-to-Glass” workflow has taught me is that even though I strongly believe wearable computing is the future, simple and precise tasks like typing can be perfectly complimentary to the wearable experience.


The history of Danger, a Microsoft acquisition long forgotten

Just a year after Apple introduced the iPhone, the very start of the mobile platform wars, Microsoft announced it had acquired Danger Inc. Six years later today, people barely remember the acquisition much less the brand and technology that came with it.

Chris DeSalvo, who worked at Danger, later on Google Android, and now at Voxer, wrote up a very insightful blog post on the long and winding history of Danger from the 2000s, when their product was a keyfob with an LCD screen. It’s a great read for anyone interested in the history of mobile platforms.

I came across a website whose purpose was to provide a super detailed list of every handheld computing environment going back to the early 1970’s. It did a great job except for one glaring omission: the first mobile platform that I helped develop. The company was called Danger, the platform was called hiptop, and what follows is an account of our early days, and a list of some of the “modern” technologies we shipped years before you could buy an iOS or Android device.

His back-of-the-napkin math showed that for about the same cost as building out and maintaining this doomed nationwide FM data network we could instead do the R&D on a two-way data device hosted on GSM cellular networks. The data service on those networks was called GPRS, bleeding edge stuff at the time. This was awesome!

Tons of inputs—being power users of our desktop computers we wanted lots of inputs and lots of ways to tie them together to do extra stuff. We had a 1D roller controller that was also the main action button (later replaced with a 2D trackball), a 4-way d-pad (for games and such), three buttons on the corners of the face of the device (menu, jump, cancel). There was also a full QWERTY keyboard with a dedicated number row. You could chord the menu button with keyboard keys to perform menu actions (cut/copy/paste, etc), or with the jump button to quickly switch between apps. We’d later add two top-edge shoulder buttons, an “ok” button, and dedicated buttons for answering and hanging up phone calls. Written out like that it sounds like a lot but you quickly got used to them allowed you to do a lot of complicated actions without ever having to look at the screen.

We did a demo once at a trade show where we had someone in the audience give us a quote. Our presenter typed the quote into a hiptop and then put it on the ground and dropped a bowling ball on it. The hiptop was destroyed. He then removed the SIM card, plugged it into another hiptop, signed into the same account and seconds later there was the Notes app with the quote fully restored. Much applause.

Around 2005 there was a skunkworks project within Danger to merge a color Gameboy with a hip top—we called it G1.

We extracted a Gameboy Advance chipset and built it on to the backside of the hiptop’s main board. We then developed a custom chip that would let us mix the video signals of the Gameboy and the hiptop so that on a per-pixel basis we could decide which to show on the screen. We made hiptop software that would let us start and stop the Gameboy, or play/pause a game, etc. The Gameboy inputs came from the hiptop’s d-pad and four corner buttons.

For a company that has pivoted so many times and came up with the wildest ideas at each turn, it’s kind of no surprise their run (figuratively) ended with the Microsoft Kin.

P.S. The top image comes courtesy of the Microsoft Careers site which still has a reference to “Microsoft Danger Mobile”.