Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Review Day: Beat Saber (Early Access)

"Not to sound like a shitty Ted Talk or anything, but virtual reality is finally here."

I pulled my Oculus Rift out of storage last week after not having played with it since that whole "having a kid" thing happened. In addition to re-downloading all of the games I partially played and dropped midway, I also used up some store credit on a pre-release version of Beat Saber, a rhythm game in which you slash through blocks with light sabers in time to the music. Since the awful first season of Riverdale proved that telling is inferior to showing, here is a gameplay video recorded in my new semi-permanent VR room (formerly known as "the workout room" and sometimes known as "the basement"):

I'm not usually the target market for rhythm games -- in spite of my music degree, I do awfully in Rock Band and Guitar Hero. As one of 4 people in the world that ever bought the dance mat for the Nintendo GameCube, I must make due with getting a barely passing grade while dancing to the Super Mario Brothers theme song and getting laughed at by a Goomba. In spite of this, I took to Beat Saber very easily.

At Early Access, the game contains 10 songs written exclusively for this game with 4 difficulty modes. I do pretty well on Hard mode, but fail almost immediately on Expert mode where there are more blocks flying at you than Funko Pop dolls when a tornado hits Gamestop. The game is very enjoyable at a visceral level, with satisfying feedback on block slicing and fun patterns that really get your body moving -- the designers clearly want you to play with your entire body instead of playing it safe with tiny, precise, controlled cuts. It can be quite the workout at higher levels and will no doubt fuel a demand for after-market headset covers that don't absorb all of your sweat for the next player to bathe in.

Since the game is still Early Access, it feels pretty limited in content. However, there's a lot of potential here (especially the possibility for mods, like this mod that puts Gangam Style in the game and forces you to do the actual dance). This could definitely be a game that pulls non-VR gamers into the fray without having to wade through the slow, extended tutorials and endless slideshows that currently act as a VR gatekeeper. Rebecca really enjoys playing as well and sometimes uses it as a wake-up workout before Maia is up in the morning!

Final Grade: I'd give it a B right now, subject to change when it's officially released!

tagged as reviews, games | permalink | 3 comments

Monday, June 18, 2018

Face Recognition Day

Have you noticed how creepily accurate the face recognition feature of Google Photos has become recently? Especially mapping from baby pictures to kids!

To see this in your own Google Photos albums, bring up a picture with people in it, hit the "i" Info button, and it will show you who it thinks is in the picture. Drill down on one of those people and it will show you every photo from your albums that it believes includes that person!

tagged as media | permalink | 2 comments

Friday, June 15, 2018

Review Day: Divinity: Original Sin 2

Divinity: Original Sin 2 is an excellent Kickstarter-based, old-school role-playing game with minor deficiencies that will probably be ironed out in the Enhanced Edition coming out later this year (free for owners of the original). It features a top-down view with a fully rotatable camera, turn-based combat built up around Action Points that allow you to cast, attack, or move specific amounts, and an involving story based in high fantasy without feeling overused. If someone were to modernize Ultima 6 and Ultima 7 today, this is probably as close as you could get to those classics.

I enjoyed the original D:OS game until its cumbersome UI got in the way. This round is much more polished but still a little on the clicky side -- my hands grew tired after gaming sessions in a Diablo 3 type of way. The first thing to experience is the completely open-ended character creation system with multiple races and classes that provides a starting point for your character but doesn't lock you into any permanent decisions. There are 6 ready-made characters with involved plot lines, as well as the option to roll your own. Instead of just attributes and skills, your character's build is broken down even further into attributes, talents, civil abilities, combat abilities, and finally skills that you can purchase based on which abilities you've selected. The sheer amount of options will give you party paralysis (as a perpetual reroller, I'm relieved that I managed to reroll only twice before committing to the rest of the game).

Graphics, sound, and presentation are all excellent, with great voice acting for every role and the ability to skip cutscenes. Combat is intentionally challenging, with overwhelming numbers of enemies that will quickly mow you down unless you maximize the use of the element-based battlegrounds (such as casting a rain spell to get the enemies wet then using lightning on them for bonus damage). Thankfully, there is also an easy difficulty mode for people that just care about the plot. Though I enjoyed the challenge in combat, it eventually wore me down. There are a limited number of set encounters (no random ones) and I always seemed to hit them just before I'd planned to stop playing. Encounters can last forever with so many characters taking their turns, especially when you die and need to try again.

I pooped out on D:OS2 about 2/3rds of the way through from simple fatigue -- there is so much to do and explore that it's not a great fit for my completionist tendencies and the journal system does not do a good job of juggling enough information for all of your different quests. Since I like to explore the whole map, I would also stumble into bits of the story that I didn't know I was supposed to be doing yet, which made some of the sidequests more confusing. In the 90s, this flaw would proudly fall under "old-school charm".

Still, I got a solid 50 hours of enjoyment out of this game and would recommend it for anyone who wants a classic RPG experience. I can see why so many publications made it Game of the Year last year even though no one in mainstream gaming had heard of it.

Final Grade: B

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

12 pictures of your day on the 12th of every month

5:35 AM: Showered and ready for work.
6:07 AM: The new normal work breakfast, in the absence of giant boxes of chips or an office to store them in.
8:01 AM: Working hard.
11:49 AM: Arrived home to find a back porch party.
12:04 PM: Leftover chicken for lunch, 50% inedibly dry. Thanks, Safeway.
12:44 PM: Lunchtime for children (and kitties).
3:18 PM: Post-nap drinks.
3:55 PM: Using voting as an excuse to crawl around in the grass.
5:07 PM: Egg for dinner, followed by beefcarrotbroccoli puree.
6:18 PM: Using second "nap" to make some taco beef.
7:45 PM: Bellybutton bathtime.
8:55 PM: Taco Night!

tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 1 comment

Monday, June 11, 2018

Data Day: Cloud Hosting Costs

The URI! Zone has been running IN THE CLOUD for just over three years now, so I thought I would compute the costs to see if I'm really getting my money's worth. The answer isn't completely cut and dried, as I do a lot more with the flexibility offered by the cloud, spinning up new servers on the fly to work on Sparkour or taking over hosting duties for the Paravia Wiki. Still, I'm very satisfied with what I've gotten for the amount I've paid.

In the olden days, I was spending $240 a year on the "complete" hosting package for the URI! Zone. I could login to my space on the shared server and upload files but not much else. When I moved into AWS, I added a 3rd server (Web/App/DB instead of just App/DB), and also an SSL Certificate so I would appear more trustworthy when telepathically stealing your credit card information.

The data for year #1 in the cloud is a little skewed since I took advantage of the introductory year's worth of free services through AWS. At the end of that year, I also purchased reserved instances on multi-year contracts for a lower price. It wasn't until year #2 and #3 that I could actually look at comparable costs. Through the advanced mathematical process of hand-waving and bad estimation, I would say that my cost per server has gone down in the cloud from $114 per server to about $93 per server. My productivity and ease of deployment has gone way up and I've only suffered a single outage (5 hours in 2015) in the whole time.

Bottom Line: Moving to the cloud took a good deal of upfront effort to do intelligently, but the pay-offs in cost reduction, productivity, and flexibility have more than outweighed this. I am very happy with AWS as a cloud environment, even though I don't need or use a majority of the services offered.

tagged as data, website | permalink | 0 comments

 

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