Technological World for November 13: Disney+ is live, Braava robot mop glides, Sandbox VR wows, Death Stranding compelling and clunky

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, iRobot’s Braava robot mop is a perfect companion to the Roomba, Sandbox VR puts you and friends in another world, and Death Stranding turns you into a courier. But first, Disney+ is on air.

Disney+ takes to the air

There’s Netflix, and Crave, and Amazon Prime Video, and Apple TV+.

Now there’s Disney+.

The new video streaming service is now live. For $9 a month ($90 a year), subscribers get access to much of the content owned by the Walt Disney Company, which includes those charming, albeit dated, family films from the ’60s and ’70s, classic animated films, Pixar films, everything Marvel, National Geographic, and more.

Oh, yeah. Also Star Wars.

The company also has a block of original programming that will be available only through Disney+, the most prominent of which is western-inspired The Mandalorian, which premiered on Tuesday.

Other originals include Kristin Bell’s Encore, which, years after the original performances, reunites high school classmates to re-stage the musicals of their youth.

There’s also High School Musical: The Musical!, a serial version of the popular movie franchise, and The World According to Jeff Goldblum from National Geographic, in which the animated actor explores the nature of everyday objects (the first episode is all about sneakers).

New episodes of these original series are being released on Fridays.

You can subscribe online or through the Disney+ app available on the App Store or Google Play. You can also download the Disney+ client on whatever box you’ve got connected to your TV, including Roku sticks and PS4 and Xbox One game consoles.

iRobot doing even more to keep your floors clean with Braava robot mop

Here in Vancouver we’ve had an unseasonably dry fall, but the rains will come. And when they do, you might want to think about getting yourself a Braava jet m6 from iRobot to keep your floors clean.

This is the same company that makes the Roomba robot vacuums, and all of the innovation that has gone into the vacuums has also gone into the mops.

That includes the “Imprint Smart Mapping” that the robots use to learn your floor plan and design the ideal cleaning pattern. With your smartphone, you can also interact with that map to define “keep out” zones, so the Braava, which is for hard surfaces after all, doesn’t go onto your shag carpet.

The Braava is smarter than that, actually, so it won’t try and get onto carpet. It’s also smart enough so that if it runs out of power in the middle of a cleaning cycle, it will go back to the home base and recharge only as long as it needs to to complete the clean. It knows it will get a full charge when the job is done.

And if you’ve got either the i7 or s9 model of Roomba, the two robots will talk to each other, so when the vacuum is done, it tells the mop to get to work.

The Braava jet m6 auto detects the cleaning pad you’ve attached to it. There are single use wet mops or sweeping pads, and washable versions which can be used up to 50 times before needing to be replaced.

And if you’ve got a particularly nasty mess, you can use a solution in the Braava to clean it up.

The Braava jet m6 retails for $700.

Remember: the rains are coming.

Experience multiplayer gaming virtual reality at Sandbox VR

Virtual reality (VR) entertainment is quite something to experience. It’s even more when you can experience it with other people.

That’s what Sandbox VR gives you. You might be wearing a headset, so not interacting with other people in the traditional way, but at Sandbox you’re in the sandbox with up to five other players.

The sandbox is a mostly empty room that becomes any number of things when you put on the headset. There are three different games you can play: Deadwood Mansion (zombies), Curse of Davy Jones (skeletons), and Amber Sky 2088 (aliens).

Each of the experiences is a variation of an on-rails first person shooter. Except you have the weapon in your hands and you’re walking around freely.

This is because you’re carrying the computer that runs your VR kit in a lightweight MSI backpack. Sandbox VR is using Oculus headsets supplemented with additional technology that tracks your body movement in the real world to move your avatar in the game space.

When you’re done, you get a video that intercuts the game experience with footage of your group in the room, delivered as a movie trailer.

New experiences coming include UFL, which pits two players against each other in futuristic melee combat, and Star Trek: Discovery, Away Mission.

Sandbox has locations around the world, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The only Canadian location is the B.C. Lower Mainland.

But if you’re in the greater Vancouver area and need something fun to do for a staff holiday party or fun with friends, you should definitely give Sandbox VR a try.

A 20- to 30-minute game experience costs $48 per player.

Death Stranding’s unique experience is compelling despite the clunky metaphors

Game designer Hideo Kojima has again conjured a strange, paranoid world that mirrors the dark corners of our own.

Kojima’s new world is a post-apocalyptic Earth that is the setting for Death Stranding, a Playstation 4 exclusive (a Windows release is scheduled for 2020) that is now available.

This is an open world game that, like many of Kojima’s games, features a troubled loner who gets caught up in momentous events that impact everything and everyone. Kojima is not just the game’s designer. He’s also the writer and director, and has always had firm control over the games he makes.

This auteur approach comes with problems, though. Death Stranding is one big mixed metaphor, with Kojima linking beached whales and social media obsession with notions of the afterlife and the apocalypse. He’d benefit from working with a strong editor who could help him pull his ideas together better.

His far-reaching philosophy has its merits, though. Fans of Kojima’s games revel in trying to find meaning in his sprawling vision. I’m pretty sure I caught a Cthulhu reference in one early sequence, for example. Whether it was an intentional reference by Kojima or I’m seeing something that only I can see is just fine.

Gamers delight in trying to understand the meaning and Kojima’s intent is, frankly, irrelevant.

And there is something weirdly compelling about Death Stranding. This is a game in which you are, essentially, a courier. The central mechanic is in figuring out how to carry hundreds of kilograms of weight on your back and still navigate a scrambling landscape. Strapping a package to your shoulder may balance you better, for example, than putting everything on your back.

As you progress through the game you get stronger, you can carry more weight, and your ability to move faster with more weight also improves.

Be prepared to be patient in the games first couple of hours, though, as you won’t actually play much. The set up of the world and the characters is mostly a movie that you periodically interact with – this is another Kojima characteristic – and the script is often laborious, with characters given to long lectures that explain the story to us.

While the exposition delivered in the dialogue is tiresome, the acting in Death Stranding is excellent. Norman Reedus stars as the protagonist, Sam Porter Bridges, and other prominent roles are played by Mads Mikelsen, Léa Seydoux, and Lindsay Wagner.

The mystery of what happened to Earth, and the former United States where the game is set, is slowly revealed through the course of the game. It revolves around time and dimensions and the connections between them. Rain is known “timefall” because it ages anything it touches, and the countryside is filled with otherworldly creatures that used to be humans before they died.

These “BTs” cannot be seen by normal people, so “bridge babies” are used to sense and see them. Bridge babies, “BBs”, are premature infants removed from their mothers and placed in artificial wombs.

There’s not a lot of combat in Death Stranding. While you are often confronted by antagonists, like the BTs, your best approach is usually to use stealth, and to run when necessary.

Death Stranding is a game that many people will not like for various reasons. But there will be people who will find exploring a strange and bizarre environment and becoming the best possible porter a sublime experience. And we’ve got Hideo Kojima – and Sony – to thank for it.

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