Sunday, November 24, 2013

Surface RT, 1 year on

I bought an original Surface RT back when it launched, about a year ago:

I’ve got a desktop for real work and can check emails on my Windows 8 Phone when I’m on the move, but the Surface fits right in the middle: It’s useful for meetings where I might want to make some notes, or for travelling, or for browsing the internet and reading news via RSS from the couch at home. I played a few games from the store, but they’re pretty lame if you’re used to something like the Xbox.

I’ve used Handbrake to rip a few DVDs to MP4 so I’ve got stuff to watch on the handful of occasions I’m away from home.

Surface RT 2 and Surface Pro 2 have just come out, but I’m not sure what benefits, if any, these bring over the originals.

Windows 8.1 was released and was a free upgrade, so I’m now running that. Microsoft continue to fail to talk to their customers so I’ve no idea what benefits I should expect, but here’s a few things I’ve found since the upgrade.

The big news, for me, is that the SkyDrive client is built in to Windows 8.1 and it works on Surface RT so I now have all my files automatically synched to the Surface! The control interface is now through the Windows Store app which is built-in to Windows 8 & 8.1. Note that the earlier client will just vanish from a Windows 8 laptop when you upgrade to 8.1 as the upgrade tidies it away, which is nice, but a little heads-up would have been good. Given that email is a well-understood communications tool, and Windows has a client built-in, it could have sent me a little email or something to let me know.

The start button is back and appears bottom-left of the desktop, in the usual place. This button just brings up the start page, so isn’t useful to me as I’m now used to hitting the Windows key or whatever. I can see how it would have helped Windows 7 users transition though and I’m amazed it took this long for it to arrive.

Searching is slightly different. You can still just start typing on the start page and it flicks into search mode, but the categories are gone now. Instead it searches “everywhere” and gives a you results page which you can switch back to if you want to try different results without having to rekey your search. Handy. Also, when at the start screen you can now swipe down (or click the little down arrow) to find your list of all app that are installed – previously I was searching and clicking the Apps category.

Food and Health & Fitness apps have appeared. These are just additions to the existing built in news apps, such as the Sport and Finance apps. Not useful to me.

A Reading List app has also appeared. This lets you bookmark web pages to remind you to read them later. You do this via the Share charm, so from within IE you share to the Reading List app. Seems like they broke their own metaphor here, but not tried it enough to judge whether it works or not. The list will sync across desktops apparently. It didn’t work from desktop IE though – only the Windows Store IE

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Sims Freeplay

This is a free version of the The Sims which I am playing on my Nokia Lumia 920 which is a Windows Phone 8. It needs a phone with at least 1 GB of RAM and won’t show up in the Store if you have less.

Like many “fremium” games it is technically free, but every action in the game takes time to complete so if you are impatient you have to buy in game currency to speed them up. You don’t have to though – if you’re patient you can play for free.

There’s not much depth to the game though. You can create multiple people (Sims) and houses for them to live in and fill the houses with lots of stuff for the Sims to interact with, but left to their own devices they just find a chair to sit in. Buying the stuff requires in-game currency (Simoleons) and using the stuff takes time. You can easily earn Simoleons by growing plants and getting jobs, for example.

The best stuff, and some actions such as having a baby or advancing a Sim through to adulthood, requires a second in-game currency: Lifestyle Points (LPs). These are harder to earn, assuming you don’t want to pay real money. Initially you can earn them by increasing your overall level and increasing your town value. Doing any action (sleeping, eating, watching TV) generates XP which  increases your level. Longer actions usually provide more XP. Spending Simoleons on building new properties increases your town value. However, both these activities become slower to level up as you increase their levels, which means you run out of LPs, in my case by level 25.

However, there are other (legitimate) ways to earn LPs:

  • Goals. The game keeps generating goals through weekly challenges which will earn LPs.
  • Pets. You can buy pets at the town pet store, although these also cost LPs. I believe more expensive pets find better stuff. Shake Hands with a dog and he’ll dig something up for you. Usually Simoleons, but sometimes an LP. You can Praise the dog afterwards, but I’m not sure if it actually trains the dog to find extra LPs.
  • Sims can win LPs at the town Competition Centre. One Sim can enter one event every 24 hours. Each event uses one of the various hobbies, so get your Sims to practice these.


Hobby Stage Compete Practice Venue
Woodworking Adult   Community Centre, first floor
Ghost hunter Adult   Any home – buy items with the red ghost symbol on then use them to Search For Ghosts
Fishing Adult Yes Town park – look for fishing rods on a wooden pier
Fashion Adult   Buy the Fashion Studio item from the town’s Promotions R Us store and then add that to a house from your Inventory
Ballet Pre-teen Yes Community Centre, ground floor
Karate Pre-teen Yes Community Centre, ground floor
Skating Adult   Snow park
Diving Adult Yes Swimming Centre
Music Adult Yes Teen Idol’s can’t compete in this event