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Design: The worst thing about the New 3DS XL power button, and how Nintendo could fix it

This week I decided to take the plunge on Nintendo’s New 3DS XL, and I love it! But there’s one small problem: the power button is in precisely the wrong place, and how it works is about the least user-friendly it could be.

The position is on the lower right front edge. It’s very close to where my pinkie often comes to rest during regular play, but when things get tense I often grip hard and the pinkie slides up and presses the button. That’s the first part of the problem. The second part is how the software is designed to work once it’s pressed. It brings up a top-screen telling you to close the console if you want it to Sleep, and on the lower screen asks you to tap a button to Power off, or hit the hardware Home button to just return to the Home screen. There’s no option to just cancel the whole process and return to your game.

So in practice if you have software running when you hit the button that software will quit immediately, no saving, no matter what. In something like Animal Crossing one’s grasp of the console is a lot more relaxed, but in a particularly tense moment like the end of a Mario Kart race, or claiming a tough prey in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, it’s all too easy to find my pinkie pulling down on that Power button and it’s Game Over.

How Nintendo could fix the Power button issue

There’s a couple of things Nintendo could do to fix this with software updates. The first thing that would help would be to make the Power button only respond to a long hold rather than a firm press. It should really be like this anyway, as it is on most other portable devices. They’d ideally combine this with something a little more like how the Home button works. Instead of quitting the game just pause it like the Home button does, then ask me if I want to Sleep, Power off, or go Home.

It’s such an easy and you’d like to think obvious fix that hopefully it’s something we’ll see in a future software update. If you happen to know someone at Nintendo, do suggest this from me. 😉

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iCade for iPad: my review

It was my birthday last weekend (36 if you must know) and I treated myself to an iCade for my iPad; normally I think they’re a bit overpriced at £79 ($99) but it was in a sale and I got some Quidco cashback, plus it was my birthday so that’s okay.

It requires a bit of assembly screwing the sides, back and pre-formed control panel to each other but once complete the design and high quality finish instantly conjures up memories of mis-spent youths in arcades, even if you never actually mis-spent your youth in arcades (the only games I was allowed as a kid were ZX Spectrum and BBC Master games, and I’ve been remedying that ever since).

play PacMan on the iCade for iPadThe verdict is that we love it – my wife is no gamer but got thoroughly stuck in to a couple of classics and modern remakes on the iCade, laughing, cursing and throwing the stick around mercilessly. She’s even downloaded some to her own iPad for when I’m out with mine, it’s that good.

Yes, it’s expensive but it’s the extra level of control it brings to iPad arcade gaming that justifies the purchase – most people instinctively know how to use a stick, even if you’ve never set foot in an arcade. The improvement is profound in some cases; for example, the delightfully insane Forget-Me-Not does alright with swipe-to-turn input but played on an iCade you immediately forget about the controls and focus on the frantic, epileptic-fit-inducing gameplay; arcade gaming feels so right on this thing.

But it’s not perfect

We’ve mostly been playing Pac Man for iPad and a superb Galaga clone called Warblade HD, both of which I highly recommend. They’re the epitome of arcade gaming and well worth the price, even Pac Man’s relatively pricey (for retro) £2.99 – just think how many goes that would buy you in an arcade these days. However, these games are so good that they highlight a couple of issues I have with the controls.

playing Warblade (Galaga clone) on iCade for iPadFirst, both the stick and the buttons, while sturdy and good quality, are very clicky and the buttons require a fairly firm push. Shooting games like Warblade are bloody noisy to play as a result, and it can get pretty tiring hammering away at the stiff fire buttons. Sure, I could work on my arcade physique a little more but it really does feel like hard work after a while.

Second, the stick’s movement is restricted by a square ‘gate’ inside the control panel. The square is set so that the stick locks into the corners on the diagonals as opposed to the Up, Down, Left and Right directions which are on the flat sides of the square gate.

In Pac Man in particular you want to hit those prime directions reliably and often with some force (especially when Hollie is playing it). The way the iCade stick is set up it’s far too easy to hit the flat edge of the square gate and slide into one of the corners; it only takes a small slip like this to trigger a diagonal, turning Pac Man round a corner you didn’t intend to turn or occasionally flipping him 180 degrees, straight into the ectoplasmic jaws of Blinky, Pinky, Inky or Clyde.

Super Crate Box on the iCadeThe clickiness was a bother that I could live with but the stick gate was such a frustration in an otherwise excellent package I Googled it to see if anything could be done. I learned that some square gates can actually be removed from the plastic frame they sit in and can be rotated 45 degrees to place the corners on the prime directions.

Alternatively they can be replaced with octagonal or round gates. Unfortunately the square gate on the iCade’s stick is all one piece and can’t be rotated. For that I’d need to buy a new gate, and so I was introduced to Gremlin Solutions and everything you might need to build your very own arcade machine.

And then I got to thinking about how if I was going to pop the iCade open I might as well see about fixing the clickiness too, so I started learning about switches, button weights, PCB versus non-PCB sticks, the naming conventions of Sanwa joysticks, and how to fit all the above into an iCade. Before I knew it I’d bought a set of eight buttons, a new stick, wiring, and an octagonal gate; £50.36 delivered from Gremlin Solutions, almost as much as I spent on the iCade to begin with.

Hey, it’s my birthday, remember?

Next post – fitting the new kit.

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these are a few (more) of my favourite things

Who doesn’t love using cool stuff to make their day to day survival more pleasing and less hassle? I’m sure I’m not the only one who’ll trawl the interwebz looking for cool stuff to buy or install, in the name of streamlining or at least aesthetically enhancing my workflow or daily routine, or just because its… well, cool.

Here’s a list of cool stuff I use at the moment, none of which falls under any particular category. Consider it more of a Buffet of Cool. Fill your plate with as much or as little as you like and do feel free to pitch in with some of your own Discoveries of Cool.

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hitting the street with the lumiquest softbox III

OWN_8822.JPG(UPDATE: February 2012; after I posted this I realised that some of the latter shots were a bit dark; the effect of the Softbox is visible but needed a bit more power, and it was underexposed overall. For many, many months, years in fact, I always meant to dig out the shots and lift them a bit in Photoshop but never got around to it.

So, I’ll just leave them the way they are and leave a note to myself as to why: it was very bright daylight and I wasn’t able to see the camera LCD clearly. I was gauging relative light ratios from the image but not looking at the histogram. If I had, I might have dialled in more power or opened the aperture a little.

Also, I’ve since invested in Pocketwizard Flex and Mini units which make outdoor flash triggering a breeze; Nikon CLS is very unreliable in strong daylight. Okay, on with the post.)

I got a LumiQuest Softbox III last week and wanted to put it to use straight away. Its main appeal to me is as a close in soft lighting source for portraits, useable handheld if necessary with no real awkwardness. I could use it at events to get awesome off-camera lit portraits anywhere, worlds away from the usual top-mounted flash look even when bouncing said flash off a ceiling. I could also use it as a soft fill against an umbrella key, or for moodier top lit shots, something I can’t quite do with the umbrella.

Basically, versatility and portability!

For a long time I’ve wanted to have the confidence to walk up to strangers and ask permission to shoot a portrait of them, totally for free, just because I think they look very photogenic. Missed lots of potential opportunities that way, so I decided to take the Softbox out for a walk along Putney Embankment last week. It was a sunny afternoon and I told myself the worst that could happen was people I asked said “No.” and that’s fine because there’s loads of other people to ask.

As it happens, everybody I asked said “Yes.”, but I was pretty selective, and I didn’t ask that many people in the end – the thing is I seemed to have chosen the time of day that a lot of mothers were out taking their babies and children for walks, and I didn’t want to bother them! And there were a lot of joggers out too and I thought leaping into their path with a huge camera and flash might put them off their pace.

I’d done some test shots first (since deleted, should have kept them to give you a laugh). I kept the SB-800 on 1/4 power, triggered via CLS from the D200, which was in manual at ISO 100, around f/4 on average (to give my auto-focus a bit of a chance), and whatever shutter speed got the background roughly one stop underexposed.

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the right kit for the job

At this very moment I’m heading away for just over a week on location on a film called Vivid. I already shot some days on it last weekend in London but the bulk of the action takes place in a country house in Dorset, which is where we’ll be based.

When it comes to packing for a trip or a holiday I’m a big fan of lists, and lots of ’em! So, I knew what I’d have to take for the shoot but for one reason or another I only got round to actually putting it all in bags last night. I thought someone might be interested in what I’m taking and how I’ve packed it, so I’ve put together a ‘short’ essay on the topic…