AnalogSenses

By ÁLVARO SERRANO

Shawn Blanc launches The Focus Course →

June 23, 2015 |

Shawn Blanc’s most ambitious project yet is now live. As a subscribing member on his personal site, I’ve been following along Shawn’s progress in designing and building the course right from day one. His unique insight into personal creativity, productivity and focus is something I deeply admire, and I have no doubt the course will be well worth your time and effort should you decide to sign up.

Shawn’s put an incredible amount of thought, effort, care and love into this project. He’s poured his heart and soul into it, and it shows. Today that work is seeing the light of day for the very first time; let’s show him the warmest of welcomes.

♤ ♧ ♡ ♢

Apple will pay artists during the 3-month free trial of Apple Music after all →

June 22, 2015 |

There was quite a kerfuffle over the weekend, when Taylor Swift posted an open letter to her official Tumblr blog in which she sharply criticized Apple for not paying artists during the 3-month free trial of Apple Music, which is due to launch at the end of the month. In her letter, Swift urged Apple to do the right thing and compensate musicians fairly from the get go:

I’m sure you are aware that Apple Music will be offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service. I’m not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.

Many have acknowledged the music star has a point, and now Apple has acknowledged that, too. Shortly after Swift’s letter was posted, Eddy Cue reacted by announcing on Twitter that Apple will pay artists even during the customer’s free trial period:

This is a perfect example of the huge power some music stars wield over the entire industry. If even Apple was backed into a corner and forced to rectify, where’s the limit?

There’s no doubt huge corporations like Apple are still dictating the terms, but social media has given artists much of their leverage back. This is great news for all music lovers out there, and it paves the way for a more healthy relationship for everyone involved moving forward.

Kudos to Taylor Swift for raising her voice, and kudos to Apple for listening.

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Morning Coffee, issue #3

June 20, 2015

This was a rough week for all American citizens. Another senseless murder was committed, and there are no words to express my indignation and sadness. My thoughts are with those who have been touched by this tragedy. I hope justice is made and steps are taken to ensure such heinous acts can never happen again.

Understandably, the Charleston tragedy has influenced much of this week’s writing and online discourse, with many people arguing over whether this act deserves the qualification of terrorism. There’s no doubt in my mind that it does. Sadly, like all Spanish people, I’m well acquainted with the notion of domestic terrorism and this is exactly what it looks and feels like.

I realize this is a deeply sensitive matter, so I’ll leave it at that out of respect for the victims, their families and all the American people. Like I said, my thoughts are with all of you. I hope you find the courage to rise again, stronger, better and more united than ever.

On a much brighter note, there were plenty of interesting things to talk and write about this week. One such thing was of course the E3 expo, which was jam-packed with cool announcements this year, including several much-awaited releases and some very surprising new ones. The gaming industry is thriving, despite the damage a few misguided individuals keep inflicting upon it.

In the Apple sphere, things were relatively quiet in the wake of WWDC, with many tech writers still coming to terms with Apple’s new announcements. In typical post-WWDC fashion, we saw a few recap articles, as well as in-depth overviews of Apple’s new operating systems. However, the biggest Apple-related news item of the week was probably the Indiana University whitepaper that detailed a series of potentially very serious vulnerabilities found in iOS and OS X. But more on that later. Other than that though, the news stream seemed to give us a much needed break this time around.

And of course, Donald Trump once again said he’s running for President. Because why the hell not.

Anyway, another week, another issue of Morning Coffee, and we’re on to the third one. Time seems to be flying these days.

Issue #3: on bad faith, politics in the face of terror, sexism and violence in movies, Federer’s greatness, and personal writing

Get ready for some deeply personal pieces this week, which I just love. These are not a product of the ever turning wheel of news, but are instead born of reflection and self-discovery. These are the meaningful pieces we should all be trying to write, and I look forward to them every week.

iMore’s in-depth look at the XARA whitepaper | Nick Arnott →

Nick Arnott tells you everything you need to know about the recently discovered vulnerabilities in iOS and OS X. Nick really outdid himself here, as did the entire iMore team during the week. Kudos to them on a terrific job.

Apple Watch: My most personal review ever | Jim Dalrymple →

Just like it says on the tin. I love Jim’s reviews, but it’s true that he rarely ever delves into personal territory. This time around though, he did it big time. Jim’s been taking better care of himself and, thanks to the Health app and the Apple Watch, he’s managed to lose over 40 pounds over the past 10 months. That’s an incredible achievement and I’m really glad he decided to share the experience with us, because it will surely help many others who are still struggling to adopt a healthier lifestyle. More like this, please.

The seven “Prime Directives” of repairing and upgrading tech | Adrian Kingsley-Hughes →

As a general rule, I try to use my gear until it breaks or it’s not really usable anymore. My main Mac is over seven years old, and my secondary Mac isn’t far behind at five. I lasted three and a half years with an iPhone 3G. Yes, I know. Like a caveman.

I don’t like to upgrade my devices if there’s not a compelling reason to do so. And no, “the new one is cooler” doesn’t really count.

That said, there always comes a time when upgrading becomes a necessity rather than a luxury, and these rules by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes provide a useful reference to help identify those times. I may not personally adhere to all of Adrian’s rules, but they’re a good place to start.

Charleston and the age of Obama | David Remnick →

David Remnick, writing for The New Yorker, provides some context on the Charleston massacre and its relation to America’s history of racial violence. A must-read.

You are free, like it or not | David Cain →

David Cain does it again:

As soon as I learned about the concept of bad faith, I started noticing that I am guilty of it all the time. I might delay on a worthwhile-but-nerve-wracking phone call until it’s no longer an option to make, and tell myself the opportunity slipped through my fingers accidentally. I might pretend I didn’t hear a critical comment so that I didn’t have to decide how to respond to it. I often tell myself I can’t do any worthwhile work unless I have two uninterrupted hours to do it in.

Personal freedom can be downright terrifying, and that’s why we make excuses. Being aware of the process is the first step towards finding a way out.

Why freelancers are so depressed | Anya Kamenetz →

Great piece over at Fast Company on the unique challenges of self-employment. Food for thought.

People power: the secret to Montreal’s success as a bike-friendly city | Peter Walker →

Over at The Guardian, Peter Walker tells the fascinating story of how Montreal’s own citizens were responsible for creating a strong bicycle culture despite facing many external difficulties. I particularly loved the bit about Robert Silverman, also known as “Bicycle Bob”:

Now 81, he was among the founding members of Le Monde à Bicyclette in 1975, a loose collection of mainly artists, activists and anarchists who, styling themselves the “poetic velo-rutionary tendency”, pioneered many of the direct action tactics common to modern protest movements.

Jurassic World’s mother of a problem | Lesley Coffin →

I quite enjoyed Jurassic World when I saw it on Tuesday, although admittedly I was wildly predisposed to love the film long before entering the theater. Much of that has to do with the indelible impression of sheer awe that the original Jurassic Park left on my ten-year-old self over two decades ago. However, after the initial rush of adrenaline wore off, I started to realize Jurassic World doesn’t hold up nearly as well as the original under scrutiny.

Apart from several dumb plot choices that I was happy to rationalize within the context of the film — any excuse to see raptors hunting, really — there’s a big sexism problem going on here, and it’s especially unfortunate in a franchise that has always featured strong female characters that often kicked as much ass — if not more — than their male counterparts. Lesley Coffin does a great job of calling the makers of Jurassic World out on this specific issue, and it’s a sobering piece that adds some much-needed perspective for those who, like myself, sometimes fail to notice these problems in movies.

Scorsese’s achievement with “GoodFellas” | Richard Brody →

Violence has been one of the most important themes throughout Martin Scorsese’s entire career as a director. In this piece for The New Yorker, Richard Brody analyzes the filmmaker’s take on violence through the lens of one of his most acclaimed films, “GoodFellas”. It’s probably not what you expect.

Team Federer: How the tennis ace became the world’s pre-eminent athlete | Richard Evans →

Probably one of the best pieces I’ve read on Federer’s stature and relevance in the sporting world beyond tennis. And I’ve read a lot.

On writing | Ben Brooks →

This is a fantastic article, and a very useful resource for anyone who writes, either as a hobby or for a living. Read the whole thing, give it some time to sink in, then read it again. So great.

Esplanade Riel and The Forks | Josh Ginter →

Have you ever wondered how your city is perceived by tourists? Do you know all there is to know about the place you live in, and its history? Josh Ginter takes a stroll around Winnipeg and reflects on his province and the people who live in it. I really enjoyed this honest, personal piece.

Flying with my dad | Jason Kottke →

I love Jason’s take on life and parenthood. What a beautiful story.

A journey through darkness into moments of bliss | Erin Brooks →

In another deeply personal article, Erin Brooks shows us a very different — but similarly authentic — take on parenthood. It takes a huge amount of courage to write something like this, so I won’t spoil it for you. Thanks for sharing, Erin.

Afterword

It was a week of great writing, and what better way to celebrate it than by curling up in your favorite couch with a hot beverage. My coffee is already gone, but that just means I have to start thinking about the next cup.

It was also an intense week for me, personally, with some quality writing time that I hadn’t managed to find in what felt like ages. It feels great to once again be able to write without distractions for hours, and now that I’m starting to get into a rhythm I have no intention of taking my foot off the gas.

A few days ago I wrote a piece about sharing pictures from your dedicated camera on Instagram. It’s something I’ve been doing more and more often these days and I find it irksome that the process is a lot more cumbersome that it needs to be. I realize Instagram was designed with a different purpose in mind, but the service has become so popular that they really need to start making some changes to reflect the way people are actually using it.

I’m also looking forward to next week. Right now I’m hard at work on finishing up my next review for Tools & Toys, which will be about the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 Micro Four Thirds lens. This is one of my favorite pieces of gear and I was really looking forward to reviewing it.

Since it’s a portrait lens, I arranged a session with Sara, one of the models from my photography course, to illustrate the review. I’m really happy with how it went, and I can’t wait to show you the end result. For now, I’ll just leave you with a small sample from the session. Consider it a teaser for Tuesday.

Now, If you’ll excuse me, I must get back to work and yes, you guessed it: that’s what the coffee is for.

Have a great weekend.

♤ ♧ ♡ ♢

Cyclist films driver eating a bowl of cereal behind the wheel →

June 18, 2015 |

David Williams is a cycling instructor in Surrey, south-west London. He’s known on YouTube as Surrey Suburban Cyclist, and he usually rides his bicycle with a camera mounted on his helmet. A few days ago he encountered something out of the ordinary: a middle-aged woman eating a bowl of cereal behind the wheel of her Land Rover. Check out the video:

I’m baffled at the things some people do. I can’t even begin to imagine how that woman could think it was ok for her to do such an incredibly stupid thing.

In related news, Fausto Coppi was not impressed:

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Witches are furious at Etsy for banning the sale of spells →

June 18, 2015 |

Jaya Saxena, writing at The Daily Dot:

But many who sell supernatural goods on the site are claiming Etsy has been on something of a witch hunt (sorry), changing its rules about the sale of metaphysical services and shutting down stores without warning.

“Swathes of us have now had our sales and shop views tank, and there is great distress in the metaphysical community,” one vendor, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Daily Dot in an email.

Can’t they, I don’t know, make an anti-banning spell? That ought to take care of everything.

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Zookeepers are recreating Chris Pratt’s moves in Jurassic World →

June 18, 2015 |

Michelle Buchman, writing for nerdist.com:

Keepers and trainers at aquariums and zoos all over are announcing their membership in Pratt’s raptor squad. Starting on Tumblr, keepers have been posting photos recreating the famous shot of Pratt’s character Owen Grady taming the velociraptors. I love a good meme, and these photos are amazing. What better way to spread the word about zoos and aquariums?

Things like this will make the Internet a net gain for humanity long after the machines have risen against us.

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Sharing pictures from a dedicated camera on Instagram: what works and what needs fixing

June 17, 2015

Over the past couple of months I’ve been more active than usual in my photography. Thanks to the photography course I’ve been taking and thanks to a few photographer friends of mine, I’ve had some opportunities to work with really talented models and it’s been a terrific experience. I’m so happy I enrolled in the course and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in photography.

“Look at me”. Olympus OM-D E-M10 with Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens.

A side effect of this increased photographic activity is that over the past few weeks I’ve also been sharing more of my pictures on Instagram. I’ve never been crazy about Instagram but for all its faults, there’s a really vibrant community of users there and it’s one of the best places — probably the best place — to share your pictures, even those taken with a dedicated camera instead of a smartphone.

Una foto publicada por Álvaro Serrano (@analogsenses) el

“Look at me”, as shared on Instagram.

If we compare Instagram to Flickr, the other photography-oriented social network in which I’m an active user, the differences are stark. While Flickr is all about showcasing your pictures in their original form, Instagram was always meant to share the magic of special moments conveyed through images more than the actual photographs themselves. As such, Instagram pays very little attention to preserving detail or accuracy and instead emphasizes emotion over everything else. Filters are the perfect embodiment of that philosophy, with each filter imbuing your images with a different mood. That ability to provoke an emotional response is what makes Instagram a great service used and loved by millions of people, and it’s easy to understand why.

And yet, despite Instagram not being oriented towards the more academic or technical side of photography, more and more “serious” photographers are sharing their work there in recent years. Meanwhile, Flickr just kind of continues to exist in some shape or form without many people really caring about it anymore. If I’m being honest, that saddens me a bit because I still love Flickr and I’d love nothing more than for it to really thrive again, but I guess that’s just how things have played out.

Unfortunately, and I don’t mean to take anything away from Instagram’s success here, sharing pictures from a dedicated camera on Instagram is not nearly as convenient as it could be.

A matter of principles

When it comes to sharing pictures from a dedicated camera on Instagram, there are several hurdles to jump through. The most obvious one is the fact that Instagram doesn’t allow third-party apps or services to post images through their API, so the only officially supported way to upload pictures is through their mobile apps. What that means is that before you can even begin to upload your images, you must get them into your smartphone one way or another.

This first hurdle, at least, is readily solvable. In today’s mostly cloud-based world, moving pictures across devices is a relatively straightforward task. You can go old school and email them to yourself, you can use a Dropbox folder to sync the pictures, you can import them to Photos for Mac and use your iCloud Photo Library to sync the images, or you can use the syncing feature in Lightroom CC, which allows you to access your shared images from the mobile Lightroom app. All of these methods work reliably and securely and will get the job done just fine.

Whatever your preferred method, it’s relatively easy to get your pictures onto your phone, but all of these solutions present their own sets of inconveniences, and you’re always left at the mercy of some opaque system you can’t control. Unless you go really old school and connect your smartphone to your computer with an actual physical cable and import the images directly from the computer, that is. Heck, you could even use Apple’s Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader and import the pictures straight from your camera.1

Once the pictures are in your Camera Roll, there are still a couple things to take care of. That’s when the real fun begins.

It’s the format, dummy

As you know, Instagram was designed to share pictures with a square aspect ratio. However, most dedicated cameras don’t shoot in square mode, so the default way the Instagram app deals with non-square images is by offering to crop them. But what if you want to share the entire image area?

Above: “Lie with me”. Canon EOS 3 with Kodak Portra 160 film.

Una foto publicada por Álvaro Serrano (@analogsenses) el

“Lie with me”, as shared on Instagram.

Instagram doesn’t natively support turning rectangular images into square ones without cropping. Luckily, there other third party apps that can do this for you, so feel free to browse the App Store and try a few of them. The one I personally use is InstaSquarer, which is free and has all the features I need. To me, the most important feature is the ability to choose the background color, and InstaSquarer does this beautifully.

Above: InstaSquarer allows you to post pictures to Instagram without cropping. Below: final uncropped version.

So the format problem is also solvable, but why doesn’t Instagram allow for rectangular images to be posted natively in the first place? If we check out their Media Endpoints documentation, we find this relevant bit:

At this time, uploading via the API is not possible. We made a conscious choice not to add this for the following reasons:

  1. Instagram is about your life on the go – we hope to encourage photos from within the app.

  2. We want to fight spam & low quality photos. Once we allow uploading from other sources, it’s harder to control what comes into the Instagram ecosystem. All this being said, we’re working on ways to ensure users have a consistent and high-quality experience on our platform.

I suppose it’s a valid point, although I still think they’ll eventually need to evolve and accept reality. For better or worse, Instagram’s popularity has grown well beyond smartphones and sooner or later, the service will need to reflect that. Constraints and limitations are a good way to keep your product focused and true to its original vision, but all services need to evolve at some point. For example, Twitter recently announced they’re getting rid of the 140-character limitation for DMs, and it’s only a matter of time before they do the same for regular tweets as well.

“Golden Light”. Canon EOS 3 with Kodak Portra 160 film.

Megapixel race? What Megapixel race?

The final problem when it comes to uploading pictures from your dedicated camera to Instagram is the fact that Instagram resizes all images before publishing them. Even though you do get to save a high-resolution image to your phone’s Camera Roll, you’re the only one who gets to see that file. Everyone else will only see a 640px by 640px resized version. That may be enough to see your images on a mobile device’s screen, but it severely limits Instagram’s appeal as a serious way for photographers to publish and distribute their work.2

Una foto publicada por Álvaro Serrano (@analogsenses) el

Above: Instagram’s 640px by 640px file. Below: High-resolution version generated by InstaSquarer and saved to Camera Roll. Both pictures scaled for Retina displays — that is, displayed at half their native resolutions.

Not a great social citizen

Let’s say we’ve managed to jump through all these hoops and our pictures are finally on Instagram. Yay us. Now we’d like to share these pictures to other services like Flickr, Facebook or Twitter, for example.

“Beautiful Strength”, featuring Brenda Stecconi. Canon EOS 3 with Fuji Superia 400 film.

On the ease department, Instagram gets top marks. Once we’ve connected our Facebook, Twitter and Flickr accounts to our Instagram account — a process that only takes a couple taps to complete — sharing to these services is only a single tap away. Plus, we can also share our description and even the location where the image was taken.

All social sharing options on Instagram are only a single tap away.

This works very well because Instagram was born primarily as a sharing service built on Twitter’s backend. In the early days, everyone would share their Instagram pictures on Twitter and it seemed both services were destined to merge one day.

That all changed, of course, when Facebook bought Instagram to the tune of one billion dollars in April of 2012. That sounded like a lot of money at the time but looking back, it was probably the bargain of the decade considering how much Instagram has grown since then.

With Instagram now being owned by Facebook, their sharing priorities seem to have changed. Integration with Facebook continues to be excellent, albeit with some of the same limitations that apply to all sharing options. They do allow you to select where you want to share your images, in case you manage several Facebook pages, which is a nice touch. And Facebook will display a link back to your original Instagram picture in the description, which is also useful.

In the case of Twitter, sharing was a bit of a mess until Instagram integrated their userbase with Twitter’s own. It used to be that if a user you @mentioned on Instagram had a different Twitter handle from their Instagram username, things usually became confusing on the Twitter side. However, and somewhat surprisingly, Instagram fixed this back in October of 2012, roughly six months after being acquired by Facebook.

And finally in the case of Flickr, the whole process is relatively straightforward. After sharing on Instagram, your image will appear on your Flickr photostream, along with any accompanying text you may have included. There are precisely zero customization options though, which is unfortunate. It would have been nice to have at least an option to publish the images in a particular album, for example.

“Smile”. Olympus OM-D E-M10 with Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens.

Unfortunately, even though sharing Instagram pictures with other services is remarkably easy, things are not so rosy when it comes to the quality of the shared files. By default, Instagram will only share the resized 640px by 640px images, which is just ridiculous. There’s simply no good reason why they couldn’t share the original high-resolution images other than being overprotective and defensive. The 640px by 640px image size is self-imposed by Instagram’s own design, but none of the other services share that limitation.

Una foto publicada por Álvaro Serrano (@analogsenses) el

Instagram’s low-resolution images are already barely suitable for embedding in websites, and considering the quick adoption of desktop Retina displays, the situation is not going to get any better.

There are ways to overcome this problem, though. Apps like IF by IFTTT — hat tip to Richard J. Anderson for this one — will allow you to automatically share the high-resolution images that Instagram saves to your phone instead of Instagram’s own resized versions. Best of all, the images will be shared as native Twitter images, together with a link back to your Instagram picture.

The IF app by IFTTT automatically posts Instagram pictures to Twitter as native images.

High-resolution picture automatically posted as native Twitter image by the IF app, including original image description and a link back to the Instagram post. Click on the image to enlarge.

These solutions work fairly well, but they remain an unfortunate necessity and they’re only really appropriate for those instances where you’re fine with cropping. Otherwise, you’d be posting a square photo with white borders to Twitter as opposed to the original rectangular version, which makes just about as much sense as tweeting the low-resolution Instagram version when you think about it. None of these are real long-term solutions, and it’s Instagram who should give users the option to share high-resolution images natively.

The fact that they won’t share the higher quality files with other services is very indicative of Facebook’s priorities for Instagram. They won’t outright eliminate every other sharing option, but they clearly can’t be bothered to work on improving them anymore. Unless something — or someone — forces their hand, it looks like things will stay the way they are for the foreseeable future.

Final words

All this goes to show that there are many non-trivial issues preventing Instagram from being a reliable, convenient way to share pictures from a dedicated camera which, frankly, makes its recent boom among models and professional photographers all the more difficult to understand.

“Memories of Summer”. Canon EOS 3 with Kodak Portra 160 film.

Una foto publicada por Álvaro Serrano (@analogsenses) el

“Memories of Summer”, as shared on Instagram.

Facebook knows all this, of course, which leads me to believe it may not be a lost cause entirely. That said, Facebook is also a particularly greedy company, so I wouldn’t be surprised if any potential improvements were exclusive to Facebook sharing, at least initially.

Whatever they do, Instagram’s biggest strength — much like Facebook’s — comes from their enormous userbase, and that’s not going away anytime soon. They can afford to take their sweet time because it would probably take years for any competing service to eclipse that massive userbase. Besides, any changes would need to be carefully studied in order to not jeopardize usability for the existing users, so the situation is not easy to resolve. Still, I’m hopeful.

If I were a betting man, I’d say Instagram will probably start doing something about this sooner rather than later. The photography and modeling industry is just too attractive and profitable to be ignored for long, and it’s only a matter of time before these users start actively demanding better features tailored to their own particular usage.

I just hope Facebook is listening.


  1.  If you shoot JPEGs, that is. For whatever reason, iOS remains unable to handle RAW files.

  2. Which is of course an entirely deliberate choice made by Instagram, as they state in the quoted excerpt above.

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Amazon launches new Kindle Paperwhite with high-resolution screen →

June 17, 2015 |

The new $119 Kindle Paperwhite has a 300 ppi screen, just like the one in the $199 Kindle Voyage. It also includes support for Amazon’s new typographic engine, with features like their all-new Bookerly font and hyphenation, which will be added via a future software update.

Compared to the Kindle Voyage, the only features the new Paperwhite doesn’t have are the glass display, the dedicated page-turning buttons and the auto-adaptive brightness technology that automatically adjusts display brightness depending on ambient lighting conditions. Those are all nice to have, but definitely not deal breakers. For my money, that makes the new Paperwhite a fair better deal.

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Sony at E3 2015: the 11 most important announcements →

June 16, 2015 |

Adi Robertson covers Sony’s announcements in yesterday’s E3 keynote for The Verge. There are plenty of awesome games coming, most notably among which are The Last Guardian, Uncharted 4, Shenmue 3 and the long, long awaited remake of Final Fantasy VII, which is one of my all-time personal top-2 games:

It appears Sony is throwing the kitchen sink at the PS4, and I couldn’t be happier. I suppose one could argue that these are all well-established franchises and that the lack of some high-profile new and original releases is somewhat worrying. Then again, any chance I can get to kick Sephiroth’s treacherous ass all over again is fine by me.

There are still a few months to go before any of these titles are available, and some of them won’t show up for well over a year but if they live up to their names, it’ll be well worth the wait.

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Panic’s upcoming Firewatch game will be released on PlayStation 4 →

June 16, 2015 |

Cabel Sasser:

We’ve already announced that Firewatch will be coming first to the Mac and PC. (And at WWDC we announced that the Mac version will support Metal for ultimate performance and fidelity! We’re really excited about this.)

But we just announced the other half of the equation…

Firewatch will also be coming to your PlayStation 4.

Great news, and yet another perfectly good reason to buy a PS4. I’m still living happily with my PS3, but some of these recent announcements are making my 1-click-buying finger extremely nervous. Check out the trailer they put together for Sony’s E3 keynote:

I can’t wait to get my hands on this game.

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