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Making the Automaton from Hugo

I rewatched Martin Scorsese's Hugo last night, and was reminded of how much I loved the film--itself being a love letter to filmmaking. One of the standouts of the movie is the elaborate automaton that's at the center of the story--a small mechanical boy that winds up and draws a picture. I was pleased to find this behind this scenes video from production house Dick George Creatives that showed the making of this complex and beautiful machine. The propmakers used modern fabrication technologies to build 13 static models, and two that actually drew without the aid of CG (albeit slowly). As I've mentioned before, the Hugo automata was inspired by many automata machines of the 1700s, including watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz's 'The Writer' and the Maillardet automata now at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. And as expected, RPF members have attempted to recreate it, or at least the notebook featured in the movie with the automata drawings.

In Brief: Six Common Mistakes in Creature Animation

Friend of Tested Fon Davis shared this really useful article from the AnimationMentor blog. It's a list of common mistakes made by animators creating demo reels showing off their creature work for production houses, and written by Shawn Kelly, an animator at ILM. Kelly, who was the lead animator for the Lockdown villain in the latest Transformers film, calls out animation and editing quirks that ruin the suspension of disbelief, like an inconsistency between the size of the creature and the speed the viewer expects of it. A useful read not only for aspiring animators, for but film nerds to understand the difficulties of animating believable CG characters.

Norman
Choosing Buttons and Joysticks for a Custom Arcade Cabinet

Arcade parts website FocusAttack.com sells 11 varieties of 30mm Japanese arcade buttons, and without some research, it's hard to spot the minute differences that separate one from another. Some are push-buttons, which install into an arcade panel with a simple snap. Others are screw-buttons, which anchor into a wooden surface. There are also smaller 24mm buttons, and buttons with clear tops or clear rims that can be paired with fancy LED lighting. But most importantly, there is the choice between Sanwa and Seimitsu manufactured buttons, Japan's two juggernauts of arcade hardware.

When you're building your own arcade cabinet, you want the best buttons for your games. But wading into the minutia of arcade parts unprepared feels like going up against a world-class Street Fighter player--while you're clumsily figuring out how to throw a fireball, they're stringing together moves you didn't even know existed. There are just as many varieties of joysticks as there are buttons, each with their own nuanced feel.

Knowing the differences between these components enables building an arcade machine for exactly the kinds of games you want to play--or, by mixing and matching hardware, you can create a machine with inputs that are great for a wide swath of arcade genres. For the Tested MAME machine, that's exactly what we wanted--something perfect for fighting games like Street Fighter, primed for SHMUPs like Ikaruga, and still able to handle classic 80s games like Pac-Man.

Here's what we learned while researching our arcade controls.

The General Overview: Japan vs. America

There's an easy high-level way to categorize arcade parts: Japanese and American.

Before we get into the nuances of different models of buttons and joysticks, there's an easy high-level way to categorize arcade parts: Japanese and American. If you grew up going to arcades in the US or Europe, you're likely familiar with American arcade parts made by the company Happ. They're easy to recognize: Happ buttons are concave and have to be pushed in relatively far before they offer that classic arcade click. Happs joysticks typically have elongated cylindrical bat tops, as opposed to the spherical tops of Japanese sticks.

Japanese parts primarily come from two companies: Sanwa and Seimitsu. Each company produces multiple joysticks and buttons, but in general their buttons are flat or slightly convex, require far less pressure to activate, and have slightly larger faces. Their joysticks are also generally looser than Happ sticks, meaning they have more play to them. The round ball tops of Sanwa and Seimitsu sticks can be replaced with bat tops to make their grips more like Happ sticks.

A big factor in choosing the parts for your arcade machine comes from personal preference. If you grew up going to American arcades and using American parts, they're going to feel more natural at first, but you might be missing out on something better. The website Slagcoin, which contains a wealth of knowledge about joystick parts, outlines some of the differences between Japanese and American designs and offers up a heavily, heavily researched opinion: Japanese parts are better.

"Sanwa and Seimitsu make high-quality parts which will not likely disappoint. Happ/IL is a company that seems centered more on simple, public vending parts with high durability at the sacrifice of precision," he writes. "I am not exactly a fanboy for Japanese parts, just quality parts. In fact, it is my opinion that many more Americans would compete internationally much stronger in many more games if our country’s standard/common joysticks were of better quality. I would very much like to see Happ/IL or some other company do better."

The evidence to support that claim is in the nuances of various button and joystick models. Let's start with joystick technology, the Sanwa, Seimitsu, and Happ options, and which joysticks are best for which games.

In Brief: Amazon Drops the Price on the Fire Phone

After only a couple of weeks, Amazon has addressed one of our complaints about the Fire Phone, its high price. The 32GB model is now $0.99 with a two year contract, and the 64GB model is $100 on-contract. Amazon also dropped the off-contract price down to $450, $100 more than the entry-level Nexus 5. Even if you're tempted by the new lower price, don't be. You still shouldn't buy a Fire Phone.

Will 2
Show and Tell: Star Wars Imperial Probe Droid Project

For this week's Show and Tell, Norm invites you back into his home office to check out two of his new favorite things--both Star Wars themed! The first is a great Death Star rug from Thinkgeek, and the second is a 1/6th scale Imperial Probe Droid model that Norm has upgraded with some minor hacking.

In Brief: Custom Fix It Felix, Jr Arcade Cabinet

We're kind of in an arcade fix today. Just as we were posting part three of our cocktail cabinet build video, reader Sergio Meyer sent over word of his own cabinet build that he's been working on with his dad. But instead of your typical multi-game MAME cabinet, Sergio's cab is a faithful recreation of the Fix It Felix, Jr. cabinet as seen in the Disney movie Wreck-It-Ralph. Sergio has been documenting his build over the course of 17 weeks, and it's now in a playable state. The most interesting thing about this project may what software he's using to run the fictional game. Disney released a Flash version of the game online, but arcade enthusiasts have recreated it to run in Windows. And as it turns out, a version that Disney made for its promotional cabinets actually leaked online.

Norman 1
Google Play App Roundup: Boxer, CounterSpy, and Bio Inc

There are far too many apps flowing into the Play Store on a daily basis to find all the good stuff yourself. This is the problem that Google Play App Roundup seeks to solve. Every week we tell you about the best new and newly updated apps in the Play Store. Just click the app name to head right to the Play Store and check things out for yourself.

This week there's a cool new mail client, a game about sneaking, and a biomedical strategy simulator.

Boxer

The official Gmail app does a pretty good job when it comes to managing email on Android, but maybe you want something with a few more options, or you don't use a Google address all the time. There are plenty of options out there, but the newly released Boxer email client is one of the best I've ever come across. It might even be good enough to replace the Gmail app for some.

Boxer supports Gmail, Exchange, Outlook, Yahoo, Hotmail, iCloud, AOL, Office 365, and generic IMAP and POP3 accounts. The setup process is painless and configures the settings automatically based on the type of email address you add. Like the regular Gmail app, it has push notifications for new messages and includes rich Android notifications.

If you're using a Gmail account, Boxer has built-in support for labels, stars, and threaded messages. Although, I've noticed a few threads broken up for some reason. The interface is very light and clean with a modern Android aesthetic. The navigation panel provides quick access to all your labels and folders too. Boxer scales appropriately to phones and tablets, with a two-pane UI for tablets.

The message list is typical of mail clients at first glance, but there's something very cool going on behind the scenes. Boxer has swipe controls that can be used to manage messages, but they're much more powerful than the swipe actions for Gmail and other apps. The left and right swipe directions are split up into short and long swipes. For example, a short swipe to the left might archive a message, whereas a long swipe deletes it. The right swipes can add a label for a short swipe, and trigger a quick reply for a long one.

What's more, you can use the swipe controls on more than one message at a time by multi-selecting and then swiping on any of the selected messages. It's an incredibly powerful tool, but you have to pay up to take full advantage of it. The free version of Boxer does not include the option to change the default swipe actions, but you can get the pro version for $9.99 through an in-app purchase. Yeah, that's a lot for a mobile app, but inviting five of your friends will also unlock the pro version. It's also $9.99 for Exchange support, unfortunately.

I haven't had any issues sending or receiving messages in Boxer, and I've actually gotten quite used to the swipe actions. I also really appreciate the integration with Evernote and Dropbox. I'm not sure if Boxer will replace Gmail for me, but it's an impressive app nonetheless.

Tested Projects: Building a Custom Arcade Cabinet, Part 3

With the top and side panels of the arcade cabinet cut out, we move onto the control boards and the holes needed for all the buttons, joysticks, and other gaming controls. Different types of buttons and sticks for each of the panels require unique mounts, so John Duncan teaches us how to set up a router to cut the right kind of hole for each control scheme. (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about how you can support us with memberships!)

The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (August 2014)

Big things are happening in the Android phone ecosystem these days. With a gaggle of phone announcements in the last few days, it's time to check in on the options you have on the big four US carriers. There are plenty of compelling options, but is now the time to wait it out? Let's go over your options.

AT&T

AT&T will be carrying the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the new Moto X in the next few weeks. If you find yourself on Ma Bell, you need to decide if the current options are compelling enough to take the plunge or if you need to wait it out. If you're in need of a new device right now, there are two options--the LG G3 and the Samsung Galaxy S5.

Starting with LG's new flagship, the G3 is pushing past 1080p as the first major OEM to put a 1440p screen on a smartphone.The G3 is plastic with a removable back and a 3000mAh (removable) battery, but the plastic LG uses actually feels rather nice as far as plastic goes. The design is overall very slick and the rear-facing buttons work extremely well. The narrow bezels also make the large screen somewhat manageable.

As for the specs, you're looking at a Snapdragon 801, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and a 5.5-inch 2560x1440 LCD. It's a real beast of a phone. I like the screen in general, but it is a little on the dim side. The colors are more dull than you'd see on AMOLED and the contrast could be higher. On the subject of battery life, the G3 seems to perform about the same as the GS5 over the course of a day. Note, the screen will suck down more power when it's running, but the standby time is great.

The 13MP camera on the G3 uses laser autofocusing and it actually works as advertised. Even in a dark room, the G3 can focus when other devices simply fail. It also takes above average low-light shots. In bright light, it takes fabulous pictures.

LG has also cleaned up its software act this year. The version of KitKat on the G3 is responsive and mostly free of junk you won't use. Samsung still includes more stuff you'll never use, but LG seems focused on a few things. One of the main selling points is Knock Code, which lets you wake and unlock the phone with a series of screen taps. It's really neat.

This is a $200 phone on contract, and I'd say it's safe to buy this device on AT&T right now, even with big things on the way.