“I feel like nothing online is safe anymore and am damned glad that I have 1Password.”—Ben Brooks on online security. I’d agree with him, except I feel he’s using the wrong verb tense. It’s not so much “nothing online is safe anymore” as “nothing online has ever been safe”. Many of the hacks over the past few months have demonstrated that the “computer security” we always assumed was there was either non-existent or a complete joke.
Densha de Go! is a train simulator series that has been around since 1996, but as of a few weeks ago, is also available on iOS devices via the Japanese App Store. DenGO! Yamanote Line is a universal (iPhone/iPad) app that features the Yamanote Line’s current rolling stock, with two other trains (the 103 and the 205 series) available as in-app purchases. I picked it up on my iPhone 4 and ran through the line in both directions; here are my thoughts.
Don’t be fooled by how the screenshots look on the computer; the graphics are much nicer in motion on the Retina Display than you’d think otherwise.
There are two sets of controls: mascon (マスコン), which is essentially a big slider on the left side of the screen for brake/acceleration, and button (ボタン), which places big Notch Up and Notch Down buttons on the screen with a smaller Neutral button in the centre. I simply couldn’t control the game well with the mascon controls1, but button controls felt familiar to me coming from train sims played with a Dual Shock controller on the PS2/PS3.
The downfall of the game is its stability. Pausing the game almost guarantees a crash. There is an autosave system in place, but it is inconsistently invoked, and often the data that it saves is nonsense2. You almost have to disable notifications before playing and hope no one calls or texts you while you’re playing. You don’t have much of a choice but to complete a run in a sitting, so hopefully 8-10 minutes isn’t too long.3
There is Game Center support with a decent amount of achievements4 and a leaderboard for the highest score you’ve made in one run. The game doesn’t distinguish between the smaller 5-station runs and a full run of the line, so unless you’re terrible, attempting a full run of the loop sends you straight up to the top 5% of the leaderboard. This makes about as much sense as jubeat’s leaderboards do, which is to say, they might as well not be there.
The game’s default settings packs the screen with information, some of which is useful (current speed, score, map, distance from stop line), and some of which just seem to be Kanji I can’t read eating away screen real estate. Luckily, each bit of info can be toggled on and off in the in-game settings. I would have preferred it if the HUD looked more like Densha de Go Final’s HUD, but heh, can’t have everything, I guess.
All of this aside, it is awesome to be playing a train sim on my iPhone. If you get lucky and the game doesn’t crash on you, it’s about as enjoyable as any other train sim. Sure, I would love for a night mode, or an exterior camera angle, or more lines (Chuo Rapid Line! Osaka Loop Line!), but let’s start with being able to play without constantly worrying about crashes and interruptions.
If stability ever gets fixed, train sim fans should definitely pick this up. Part of me wonders if they’re going to port Chuo Main Line, Osaka Loop Line, and Tokaido Main Line to the iPhone like they did on the PSP; if they do, I can’t wait to pick them all up.
Everything becomes dependant on your left thumb, but to press the slider, your left thumb is obstructing the view of the current choice, so you’re never really sure what you’re setting the slider to. That wouldn’t be as bad if you didn’t have 14 different choices (emergency brake, 7 brake levels, neutral, five acceleration levels) on a 220px tall slider. ↩
I once restored from a save where I was roughly 3.5km away from the next station (the longest distance between stations is 2.2km) at midnight (the entire game is built around a 10am schedule, and there are no night graphics). ↩
Of course, you eventually unlock the possibility of running through the entire line in one go, and I can’t imagine how many tries it’s going to take to get through the whole Yamanote loop without crashing. ↩
Achievements which are fairly balanced, from completing segments of the line, to halting your train within 50 cm of the stop line for all 29 stations in a row. ↩
We lived in the countryside out by a lake. It was close enough to the city to go to the hardware store every other weekend and play house in the model kitchens and bathrooms, but remote enough for none of my friends to even know how to get there to come over and play. People who drove by were either from the surrounding houses or got lost, so you can imagine my surprise when a taxi stopped by our house, and the man exiting approached me.
"Hey little guy, I’m you from the future."
Clearly, this guy was bullshitting me. He was way too thin, wore glasses, and had an acceptable sense of style. He couldn’t possibly be me, but I played along anyway.
He took out a small glass rectangle from his pocket and told me it was a phone. How could it possibly be a phone? It didn’t even have buttons. Besides, my dad had a car phone, and surely miniaturization couldn’t speed up to such a point that something obviously much more powerful than our Performa 580CD would fit into such a slab of glass.
It all seemed too good to be true. I never forgot the day that time traveler came, but I never knew for sure if he really was me. Until now.
I was cleaning out the basement today and came across a strange-looking contraption, the kind of contraption that would send a guy 15 years into the past, back into the era where what seemed otherworldly and amazing back then was nothing in comparison to the stuff we use on a day-to-day basis.
If you bought DRM’d music from the iTunes Store before the launch of iTunes Plus (256k AAC, non-DRM tracks), you are now able to upgrade to higher quality, non-DRM’d versions of those tracks via the Purchased section of iTunes for free.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some FPM tracks to redownload.
"On a recent visit to Paris I heard some fresh murmurs and figures from global brands about their surprise and disappointment by the low subscription and download numbers for various iPad editions of magazines and newspapers. In a lobby of one hotel a buyer of media commented on the low return on investment and the fact no publisher has come up with a viable business model to make it work. In a café on the other side of the city a marketing director questioned whether the iPad was going to prove to be the downfall of many titles as she’s already seeing monthly frequencies slashed to quarterly while many more are shelving launches all together."
What most media companies aren’t telling anyone is how bad the experience of their iPad editions are. Lots of magazines are shoving what are essentially glorified PDFs on the device, without putting any thought to how it will look onscreen. By shoving standard pages onto a low-resolution screen that is physically smaller than print pages, you end up with tiny text that is barely legible, often typeset in something that looked great on print, but looks like crap on-screen. Media companies aren’t admitting this either because they’re convinced their iPad edition is awesome, or because they’re simply incapable of admitting how lazily it was put together.
“We are getting to the place that we should be able to warn you," Jha said. He envisions presenting a notice to users when they launch an application alerting them that using the application will drain 35 percent of the phone’s power, for example, he said. The user can then decide to continue or conserve power.”—from Motorola CEO: Open Android Store Leads to Quality Issues on BusinessWeek. Guess what battery-hogging crap probably won’t be getting that warning? MotoBlur.