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October 23, 2016 • 1 hour, 42 minutes
Leave the gun and take the cannoli— this week The Incomparable discusses 1972’s “The Godfather,” with guests John Gruber, John Siracusa, Joe Rosensteel, and David J. Loehr.
October 22, 2016 9:54 AM PT
My thanks to Second Verse’s FabFocus for sponsoring Six Colors this week. FabFocus just launched on the App Store. It lets phones that aren’t the iPhone 7 Plus generate portraits with depth-of-field and bokeh effects, too. FabFocus detects the background of your photos and blurs it, and also allows you to add in your own bokeh effects in interesting shapes. (Trivia: Second Verse was founded by the Smith brothers, who were behind Freeverse, a longtime Apple software developer.)
By Jason Snell
October 21, 2016 3:30 PM PT
It was an innocuous tweet. “Hey, have y’all played Mini Metro?” he asked. “It just got ported to mobile this week and it’s great.”
Oh, no, I had not played Mini Metro. It’s $5 on the App Store. And it is amazing.
Developed by Dinosaur Polo Club and available as a $10 Mac/PC download on Steam since last fall, Mini Metro is a game inspired by the classic style of Harry Beck, creator of the famous London Underground map. And now it’s available for iOS and Android.
In Mini Metro, your job is to connect stations on a map—represented by circles, triangles, squares, and the occasional special shape (I like to imagine they represent things like hospitals, stadiums, and Superman’s Fortress of Solitude)—in an efficient way to keep people moving around your city. You set up the lines and equip them with trains. After every week of simulated commutes, you get more resources, like additional subway lines, more trains and train cars, and station upgrades. Oh, and all the while, the commute traffic in your simulated city increases.
Your commuters are represented by shapes waiting at each station, indicating their destination. The app simulates all of their commutes, and the game ends if one of your stations gets too crowded for too long. You can see the little shapes riding around in the train cars—and see them get deposited at their destinations. It’s pretty amazing.
The touch interface of iOS and Android seems perfect for this game—it’s just so easy to draw out transit lines with your fingers. But there’s enough complexity here that it takes a little time to learn some of the most important gestures. You have to tap on a line and then hold on a station to disconnect the station from that line, and sometimes selecting the right line can be tricky. But once you get the hang of it, the tactile interface is great fun.
All the while, there’s an adorable, minimalist soundtrack playing in the background. It’s soothing, which is good because once the map gets complicated you can get pretty stressed out. But of course, the sound gets more complicated as the maps get complicated. You can’t win.
No, seriously: you can’t win. Losing is inevitable. You lose when a station gets too crowded—because you’ve failed in your job as a transit planner. Now, on the Steam version, once you lose the game you’re offered a chance to play in “endless” mode, where you can just keep building your transit lines as your city grows. That option doesn’t exist yet on iOS, though Dinosaur Polo Club says they’ll add it in an update. This is good, because I miss my cities once they’re gone and sometime you just want to watch the trains run and not stress out, you know?
Mini metro reminds me a whole lot of SimCity, and in the best way. You can appreciate it on a very simple level, but if you really get into it you’ll discover all sorts of layers of strategy. Don’t connect too many circles together, for instance—they’re commuter stations, and the people who arrive there want to go to squares and triangles, not other circles. The list goes on.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for a new extension on the Blue Line.
Dan Moren for Macworld
October 21, 2016 12:19 PM PT
As we wait with bated breath for the announcement of new Macs next Thursday, it’s worth thinking about the future of Apple’s PC line. I don’t mean its future in the grand scale of things—I’ve already said I’m bullish on the Mac, and that hasn’t changed—but the technologies that are going to propel the Mac into the next stage of its life.
With the Mac as mature as it is, we are no longer in the era of huge fundamental changes, but rather refinements and enhancements. There’s still plenty of excitement to be had over these new features and technologies, because they have the possibility to improve and update the way we interact with our computers. And though it might be scary to hear it, a lot of these decisions and additions are informed by what Apple has learned from its other major product lines, iPhones and iPads.>
October 20, 2016 • 44 minutes
Is Apple even making a car anymore? We’re unclear on the concept. But we do talk about Apple’s rumored plans of making an E Ink keyboard, more exploding Samsung phones, the Echo’s new powers, and whether Siri really listens.
By Jason Snell
October 19, 2016 11:44 AM PT
I have a weather station on my roof. I have an Amazon Echo in my house. I should be able to get these two things together, somehow, right? “Alexa, what’s the temperature at my house?” is something I’d like to ask.
But here’s the thing: Right now it’s extremely hard to build any add-ons to Alexa unless you’re an accomplished developer, which I’m not. You have to set up a web service—ideally via Amazon’s AWS Lambda—and jump through a whole lot of hoops, no matter how simple your add-on “skill” is.
So here’s a rare Six Colors Wish List item that’s not for Apple, but for Amazon: Wouldn’t it be nice if Echo users could fairly easily connect data from web services to the service? My Weather Station offers the current outdoor temperature in a text file that’s accessible via the web, but there’s no way for me to configure the Echo to respond to a specific voice command by reading the contents of that web address out loud.
Services like IFTTT offer Alexa integration, but it’s one-way — I can give Alexa a command, and it will trigger an IFTTT action. But grabbing information from the Internet and then speaking it to me? That’s another trick altogether.
So that’s what I want. I want a tool that will let me build simple Alexa skills, using content pulled from the Web. The more parsing that Amazon can provide, the better. I realize that most users won’t want a feature like this, but one of the joys of using cutting-edge technology like this is being able to extend its capabilities in interesting ways. Amazon should allow users to build custom responses in some way that doesn’t require setting up an AWS server and building a complete web app.
Jason Snell for Macworld
October 19, 2016 9:22 AM PT
For more than a year we’ve seen reports about Apple investing lots of money, time, and personnel into designing an Apple-branded car. From the very beginning it seemed strange, yet somehow plausible. Rather than weeping because there were no more worlds to conquer, the tech giant was doing what its competition does-investigate what other kinds of product categories could be conquered by tech industry cash and talent.
Earlier this year, I argued that Apple was wise to not become complacent and continue seeking new product categories that could help the company grow and diversify. But this week, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman and Alex Webb reported that Apple has made major changes to its car program, and “has drastically scaled back its automotive ambitions.”
So, what to make of this report?
By Jason Snell
October 18, 2016 11:27 AM PT
I have been playing chess since I was a kid. But I’m terrible at it, so I rarely play anymore. This past week, though, I’ve been really enjoying Zach Gage’s Really Bad Chess, an iOS game that puts a clever spin on Chess by seeding the board with a totally random collection of pieces.
What if you had three queens and four knights? What if you had eight bishops? All of these crazy scenarios can occur in Really Bad Chess. And it makes the game different. If you know how to play chess, your knowledge will come in handy—but you will find yourself confronting problems radically different from the ones you’d find in a normal game.
Really Bad Chess comes with a few different ways to play. There’s a Ranked mode that lets you play increasingly difficult boards—you start with a huge power advantage over your computer opponent, and the advantage slowly shifts until you’re trying to defend while underpowered. There are daily and weekly challenges, where you compete with other players to perform the best on a single board configuration.
This is a surprisingly fun game that’s worth a download and the $2.99 in-app purchase to turn off ads and unlock the full game. (If you become addicted, Gage sells packs of 100 move undos for 99 cents each. It’s nickel-and-diming, App Store style, but of the gentlest variety.)
Whether you’re a veteran chess player or just a frustrated fraud like me, Really Bad Chess will rekindle the fun of the game.
By Dan Moren
October 18, 2016 6:22 AM PT
After a couple days of teasing Twitter followers with mysterious images, Rockstar Games has officially announced what everyone had come to expect: Red Dead Redemption 2, a sequel to its hit Western-themed title from way back in 2010 (which shall forever be known among my friends as “Grand Theft Horse”). A trailer is scheduled to launch this Thursday.
Details are so far sparse, though the announcement confirms that the new game follows in the footsteps of the original in being “an epic tale of life in America’s unforgiving heartland.” The first RDR game was…unforgiving, to say the least, in its portrayal of the dying days of the Wild West, and it earned Game of the Year accolades from several publications. Personally, it remains one of my favorite video game experiences to date—I spent countless hours just enjoying riding a horse through the scenery.1
Rockstar also says the new game will feature “a brand new online multiplayer experience,” which will likely be music to the ears of those who played the original, which featured a somewhat limited and lackluster multiplayer experience that contrasted sharply with the single-player world. Certainly, the art so far used for RDR2, which features seven characters against a blood red backdrop, seems to point towards an experience that’s about a team—it’s hard not to draw a direct line to The Magnificent Seven. It’s worth noting, though, that none of the characters depicted in the initial image are women; Rockstar doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to the portrayal of women in its games. None of its popular Grand Theft Auto series have let you play as women, and its portrayal of female NPCs has often been reductive.
In an era where many franchises seem to pump out sequel after uninspired sequel every couple years, it’s kind of refreshing to see a company take its time—especially when it has such a tough act to follow. By the time RDR2 debuts in fall of next year, it’ll have been around seven years since the original game came out. Rockstar is known for taking time to develop its titles, and with a world as big and sprawling as RDR2 is likely to have, that’s important.
Yes. I just rode around on a horse for hours—and it was glorious. Sometimes it rained! ↩