Sunday, January 26, 2014

Steam In-Home Streaming First Impressions

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at

The best way to explain Steam's in-home streaming is to quote Valve directly:
Any two computers in a home can be used to stream a gameplay session and this can enable playing games on systems that would not traditionally be able to run those games. For example, a Windows only game could be streamed from a Windows PC to a Steam Machine running Linux in the living room. A graphically intensive game could be streamed from a beefy gaming rig in the office to your low powered laptop that you are using in bed. You could even start a game on one computer and move to a more comfortable location and continue playing it there.
In-Home Streaming is in beta right now, so I decided to test it out using my roommate's computer. We're both running Windows, but his computer is significantly less powerful: he has an i5-3330S with 8GB RAM, and I have an i5-3570K, a GTX 670, and 16GB RAM.

The first step was to make sure both computers are using the beta version of Steam (they already were.) Then I logged into both computers using the same Steam account. Both computers popped up with a message saying that they were ready for in-home streaming. I decided to test it out with games that a) were too graphically intense for Declan's computer, and b) were only installed on my computer.
First up, I tried Batman: Arkham City. It looked really good and I didn't detect any lag. However, I quickly remembered that I had gliding and grapple hooking set to my mouse's thumb buttons. Since Declan's mouse doesn't have those I couldn't move around very quickly or gracefully.

Next I tried out Borderlands 2, and I took a quick video of it. Naturally, that means that I was playing one-handed, so again it wasn't graceful. It's worth noting that although both computers display the game on their screens, only the computer that is receiving the stream outputs the audio.

Next I decided to try to break the system. I had read that when a computer is being used to stream a game to another computer, it can't be used for anything else. On a hunch, I Alt-Tabbed out of the game on my computer. Both computers were then displaying my computer's desktop environment. It was essentially just a remote desktop connection, though the only way to get out of the game is from my computer.
So there you have it, Steam in-home streaming works as advertised! Of course, it's only useful to those of us with multiple computers in their house, and I have no idea how well it will work on different routers. I think it would be a very good move for some company to come out with a Steam Machine as small and cheap as possible, with the intention of taking advantage of in-home streaming. It would be like the Chromecast of gaming, and we know how well the Chromecast sold.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

World of Tanks Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at

During the computer science club's LAN party last semester I was introduced to World of Tanks. I have to admit that I don't play many multiplayer games, but this one had me hooked pretty quickly. I like the feeling of power and weight you get when driving a tank around and firing those gigantic cannons.

As with any game I started out as a pretty big noob, but thankfully I had an experienced player there to give me some pro tips. Those mostly consisted of "find a nice bush to hide in until an enemy is stupid enough to expose themselves; then shoot them." So yeah, it often ends up being a pretty campy game, especially on certain maps with gigantic no-man's lands in the middle.
Come out and play.
One of the reasons that I don't enjoy League of Legends as much is because the games typically last 30-50 minutes; I often don't have time for that, and even when I do I usually get bored with the game before it's halfway over. World of Tanks has a time cap at 15 minutes, and the games are usually much shorter than that. Plus, if your tank gets destroyed before the end of the game, the best thing to do is return to your garage and pick another tank to go into battle with. I appreciate this rapid turnover and overall respect for my time.
Because the game has been out for a few years, the tech trees are very fleshed out. They look pretty daunting at first, but it is nice to have a lot of options available. I am currently making my way through the American tank destroyers and the German SPGs. The game plays very differently depending on what kind of tank you are using. I've been enjoying the tank destroyers because they work best when I let someone else go just ahead of me, and then I shoot whoever shoots at them. The SPGs are artillery that essentially act as snipers. They get a top-down view of the map, but they can still only see enemies that their teammates relay back to them.
Even though I don't have any friends who play on a regular basis, I am having a good time with it. It doesn't hurt that it is a free-to-play game. I've heard that the model used to be pretty close to pay-to-win, but they have since cleaned that up. You can pay for paint jobs, more slots in your garage for tanks, and experience. But those things won't guarantee you win, since the game places you in games against people in the same tier as you. It also encourages players to come back every day by offering double experience on your first victory of the day. At the very least you should play it so I have people to play with. Pretty please?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ingress Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at

The last few years have taught us something about mobile gaming: it's really easy to make a terrible mobile game. They either try to be a big-budget third-person action game and absolutely fail, or they are casual freemium games that try to bleed you dry by giving you customization options or making you wait a long time before you can perform the next action unless you pay real money. Ingress is neither of those; its gameplay is based around using the capabilities found only in smartphones, and it is completely free. You couldn't spend money in this game even if you wanted to. In one sentence I would describe it as the perfect mobile game.

Ingress is a strange game to describe, because there aren't any like it out there. It is technically an MMO because there is a persistent world that changes as the players perform actions withing it. But it is also an augmented reality game (though not the kind where you wear glasses that overlay objects onto your surroundings). Ingress is a game that uses your real-world location (based on your phone's GPS of course) to determine where you are in relation to in-game objects. Obviously you must be near these objects to perform most actions with them. It might be easier to describe the backstory of the game before I get deeper into the actions you can perform in the game.

Back in 2011 Google started a viral marketing campaign called "What is Niantic?" where a supposed investigator started leaking information about the "Niantic Project," a mysterious branch of research apparently happening at CERN. Over the course of a month they revealed that they had discovered a substance called Exotic Matter, or XM. This XM has been leaking into our world from another dimension throughout all of human history, and it has the curious effect of encouraging creative thought and intense concentration. Because of that many scientific breakthroughs, great works of art, and religious sites are located near the places where XM leaks through the most. These locations are known as portals.

Soon after this discovery, the technology used to scan for XM was leaked to the public (read: the game was released.) Two factions emerged. The Enlightened want to use XM to continue furthering human knowledge and technology; the Resistance believe that XM is dangerous, and that beings from another dimension called Shapers are using it to influence our thoughts. I of course joined Enlightened, but you should join whichever team you align with.

Now we get to what the players do in the game. The ultimate goal is for your team to control a majority of the world. This is done by creating control fields, which are created by connecting portals that your team controls. Any triangle created is a control field, and no links can cross each other.
For example, the University of Minnesota Morris campus is covered in green because we pretty much only have Enlightened players.
The Twin Cities campus is a slightly different matter.
The green portal I am next to was blue until I attacked it and took it down. The game never shows you other players, so you cannot attack them.
In order to get the items that allow you to claim and attack portals you hack the portals. The higher level the portal is, the higher level the items you will get from it. And of course virtually all of the actions that you perform in the game use up XM, which you collect as you walk around.
Ingress is a game that is best played with friends. I have gotten a few of my classmates to play with me, and we have a good time going out to town to capture and connect portals. It's also a great excuse to get outside and see some interesting buildings and statues, since portals tend to be located at those kinds of places. I find it odd that they decided to bring the game out of beta during a very cold winter, when most of us would rather stay indoors. However, once it warms up again I will be out there on my bike blanketing the neighborhood in green.

If you live in a large urban center, expect there to be a fairly large player base and a high turnover rate of portals. If you are in a rural area you might find yourself the only person in town who plays. However, this allows you to create large fields that last longer because there is nobody around to take them down. My proudest moment so far was when I connected Morris, Glenwood, and Alexandria to make this sucker:
If I have convinced you that Ingress is worth playing (and it totally is), you should watch these two videos that recap the major events of the first year of the game.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dream: Real Robots!

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at

I had a brief dream last night where I was with a bunch of camp staff preparing some patties with rice on top (don't ask me where that came from, I have no idea what they were) for the Cub Scouts. While we were doing that one of the other staff was showing us a series on YouTube. It seemed very similar to those trailers for Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon because it was a cartoon with lots of black and neon pink, and I distinctly remember hearing the same narrator's voice saying "In the forests outside of the apocalypse..." while the camera dramatically zoomed in on a base. The base's commander is standing on a balcony looking out over the forest, and he yells "Don't you know what we're dealing with?? Robots! REAL ROBOTS!!" The inflection for this came straight from this line (3:31 since the link refuses to start at that point in the video).

Seriously, there's something wrong with my brain.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Game of Thrones Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at

This post is about the book, not the HBO show in case you were confused. And yes, I started reading the book because I have heard great things about the show and I am a literature snob, so I have to start with the books.

I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting, but A Game of Thrones wasn't it. And that isn't a bad thing! I'm used to fantasy that either has a lot of magic, dragons, elves, and the like or fantasy that has none of that. The world that George RR Martin presents is one where those fantasy elements used to exist in abundance, but have since withdrawn to the edges of the world. Don't worry though, it looks like the overall story of the book series is going to be magic trying to make a reappearance in the world, and how the people of this world deal with it.

I also was not expecting the perspective to change every single chapter, or for many of the protagonists to be children. It makes sense though, because it would have been impossible to tell a story on this scale without using many characters for perspective. I also get the sense that the timeline of the book series is a long one, and pretty soon these children will be adults making important decisions that will affect the shape of the politics. Oh, and have I mentioned that the politics here are very strange?

I found that I quickly placed most of the characters into two categories: those who I absolutely loved and rooted for unconditionally, and those who I absolutely despised and wanted to die. I think that this was exactly Martin's intention, and normally I don't hold to that kind of polarization. But he does it so well that I don't care!

I'm looking forward to plunging into the rest of the series and getting started on the show as well. If you are interested in reading it, now would be the time. The longer you wait the more likely it is that someone will spoil something for you, as they did for me. Some friends are the worst.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Assassin's Creed IV: Freedom Cry Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at

One of the more interesting characters in Assassin's Creed IV was Adewalé, a former slave who becomes Edward Kenway's quartermaster for most of the game. He seemed to have his head screwed on better than Edward, and he actually cared about doing the right thing.

Freedom Cry takes place after the events of the main story, and Adewalé has joined the Assassins. However, he is shipwrecked near Port-au-Prince. As we know from our vast historical expertise, Haiti would eventually be the site of the only successful slave revolution; however that isn't until around 70 years after the events of this DLC. Adewalé initially wants to get back to the Assassins and continue his current mission, but he is convinced to stay and help free as many of the slaves as possible and plant the seeds of revolution.

The side missions found in the main game are replaced by various types of slave-freeing. Liberating plantations, interrupting auctions, intercepting convoys, and stopping beatings are a few of them. The game keeps track of how many people you have liberated to determine what upgrades are available to you in the shops. When I first saw that I needed 300 slaves to get the upgraded machete I was worried that they were just simplifying people to currency. However the game explains it as "the more people are living in your secret community of liberated slaves, the better resources are available to you" which does make sense.
The story was definitely more engaging than the main game's story, and thankfully it had more to say than "slavery is bad" which would have been a really easy crutch for the writers to fall on. There was even an emotional moment that really hit me and made me feel powerless and angry. "All the feels" as they say.
Even so, I had the most fun when I was doing what I wanted to do, which was a lot of the open-world side activities. The world was not very large; Port-au-Prince was the only city (and it was a pretty small one) and there is a modest bit of ocean to plunder. It provided me with about seven hours of enjoyment, which made it worth it for me, but this is by no means a must-buy for everybody.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Fly, Catbug, Fly! First Impressions

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at

The name Catbug is well known among fans of Cartoon Hangover's series Bravest Warriors. As they branch out into other forms of media, they are coming out with a game called Fly, Catbug, Fly! featuring of course the most popular character from the series. Currently the game is in beta on Android, and will be launching on Android and iOS for $1 sometime in the future.
As the title suggests, it is an endless flyer (and a fairly simple one at that.) The point of the game is to avoid running into the floor and ceiling while collecting the many items that float in your path. These items are all from the show as well. Every once in a while you will encounter a portal, which you fly into to drop the items off and receive money. The money is used in the shop to buy upgrades such as extra lives or power ups that give you an advantage, as well as various hats. I asked the developers if they were going to be accepting real money in the shop, and they said that that is not going to happen. That's a relief.

 The bottom line here is that if you are a fan of Bravest Warriors you'll enjoy Fly, Catbug, Fly! (and can you think of a better way to figure out if you like a game than participating in a beta?) And if you're not a fan of Bravest Warriors, go check it out. I can't recommend it highly enough, and now is the best time to catch up, because there are still less than two hours worth of episodes.
If you want to get into the beta, join the Google+ Community and once you have been accepted, grab the beta.