Articles

Creating a gaming PC ambilight with Philips Hue Lightstrip and ScreenBloom

#article #rocketleague

When I moved house, one of the key things I wanted to do was wall mount my 34" ASUS ultrawide monitor as the stand was taking up a colossal amount of space on my desk. Coupled with that was an idea to wrap a Philips Hue Lightstrip around the back to create some form of ambient lighting. I've now gotten around to doing both and I'm really pleased with the results.

You can ignore the cables - those will be hidden in the wall soon enough...
You can ignore the cables - those will be hidden in the wall soon enough...

I used to have a Lightpack PC on the back of my iMac and my original hope was to transplant this to the back of my gaming monitor when I purchased it last year. Unfortunately it broke during movement and I was never really that pleased with it anyway; whilst it could show different colours around the entirety of the monitor (i.e. red one end, blue the other) and work these out from what was on display, the brightness was pretty low as was the number of colours it could actually display. The Lightstrip doesn't let you change colours along its length nor can it work as a true ambient light based on HDMI passthrough but it displays a much better range of colours, is much brighter, and can be controlled via the excellent Hue apps and open API. Due to this, my initial thought was that I would use it as a basic ambient light and then maybe have some presets for certain games like Rocket League i.e. have a Flic button on my desk so I could switch between an orange or a blue depending on which team I was on in a given match.

No filters were applied to this image - the orange really does look that nice!
No filters were applied to this image - the orange really does look that nice!

After playing a few matches like that, I started getting into the realms of fantasy wondering if I could build an app to either pluck the score from regular screenshots or sniff through the memory of the game in order to automatically switch between orange and blue depending on which team was winning. My friend and Rocket League partner John had heard of somebody linking their current boost level to the brightness of their backlit keyboard and so it definitely seemed possible.

Eventually, though, I found ScreenBloom, a free app for both PC and Mac that approximates a Philips Ambilight TV by taking an average colour sample of the screen (with optional saturation boost) and then changing the backlight to that single colour. Whilst there is a little latency due to the capture and wireless communication, it is perfectly usable even in a fast-paced game. The release notes for the app say that it can only be used for gaming when in fullscreen borderless windowed modes but I've found it works just fine in true fullscreen at least on my G-Sync enabled setup.

Using a strong and stable blue for election night
Using a strong and stable blue for election night

Depending on your setup, ScreenBloom will take up ~16MB of RAM and anywhere from 3-15% of your CPU. I haven't noticed any ill effects from using it in the background whilst gaming and even without being able to change the colour of the strip at different points the ambient effect is very compelling. I dropped the animation time from 0.7 seconds to 0.3 seconds and that made it feel a bit snappier without having it flash when changing between colour extremes.

One of the nicest features is the ability to use multiple Hue products and divide your screen into different zones. For example, you could have a Hue Bloom on each side of your monitor and divide them into the left and right of the contents of the screen for a better ambient effect. I have two spotlights in my study pointing at the desk so I'm very tempted to replace the current white Hue bulbs with colour ones to make use of that feature.

If you've ever wanted an ambient backlight but have been put off by the high prices of bespoke solutions like the LightPack or Ambiscreen (or their lack of support for anything other than HDMI) then I can definitely recommend the Hue Lightstrip even without the ScreenBloom app. Coupling it with ScreenBloom definitely leads to a better look though, especially if you have multiple Hue products for a full room effect.

Humble Monthly: June 2017

#article #humblemonthly

And so ends the five-month run of games I already own when Dark Souls II is the primary game in the bundle next month. Of course, it isn't a game I'll play as it would shit me right up but at least it will be something different! In the mean time, there are several good looking titles this month...

Stellaris

The primary game of the bundle and one that was gifted to me by their acting engine lead a while back; this means that I won't be righting up a proper review but I have currently spent around 30 hours playing and I absolutely love it. I ended up gifting this copy to a friend who loves both 4X games and space... seemed a good match!

Plague Inc. Evolved

I've played a lot of Plague Inc. on the iPad as infecting people by air is the perfect game to play when you have a cold on a plane. Whilst the PC version is obviously very similar, I hadn't noticed that it now has co-op and competitive multiplayer modes so whilst I might not play it much in solo I can definitely see enjoying a few rounds in co-op.

SUPERHOT

I picked up SUPERHOT on launch day which happened to coincide with the launch of The Flame in the Flood. Unfortunately there were all kinds of launch issues with both games so it wasn't until a month or two later that I came back and completed it. Whilst I loved the core gameplay, the story, the lack of Xbox 360 controller support on Mac, and the annoying SUPERHOT SUPERHOT SUPERHOT over the in-game replay has meant that I've never really gone back to it. I gave this copy to somebody who had it on their wishlist for a while so it has gone to a good place - I may jump back in to it if I pick up a VR headset or if they release the free DLC expansion that was announced a year ago.

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation

Allegedly the creator of the first 64-bit RTS engine, Ashes of the Singularity looks to be a space-based RTS with some good visuals and a lot of great reviews. It hasn't been on my radar previously (although I recognised the name somehow) but I'm a sucker for a decent RTS so this is definitely going on the "to play" list.

Brigador: Up-Armored Edition

I wasn't sure about this from the artwork on the Humble Monthly website but the Steam page shows it to be an isometric game that looks a bit like the old Command & Conquer games. This isn't an RTS though but a roguelite with 100% destructible environments and 'Overwhelming Positive' reviews on Steam. I did't think this would be for me but I'm certainly going to give it a try.

Shoppe Keep

I was really excited to try this when I first read about this as the idea of running an adventurers shop seemed like a nice twist on the standard dungeon crawler. Instead it looks like a mid-90s 3D game which the developers have abandoned in favour of jumping on the VR bandwagon. The number of negative reviews means it is highly unlikely I'll even boot this one up - a shame!

Maize

This game pretty much had me with its description — "Maize is a first-person adventure game about what happens when two scientists misinterpret a memo from the U.S. Government and create sentient corn" — but they also get bonus points for the "cornucopia" pun on their Steam page. I'm always a fan of a short adventure game so I'll definitely give this a try.

Tiny Echo

I swear that the Humble Original titles have been more interesting than the other games in the bundle over the past few months. This is a beautiful looking game that looks like it should be a cartoon from the '90s. Couple that with some puzzles and a chilled soundtrack that make it reminiscent of Machinarium and it looks like a winner!

Humble Monthly: May 2017

#article #humblemonthly

I'm starting to sound like a broken record but this is now four months in a row where I've already owned the featured game within the Humble Monthly Bundle and that is continuing yet again next month when Stellaris will be available. Fingers crossed that July's bundle will feature something I don't yet own! In the mean time, the May bundle just unlocked and includes the following...

INSIDE

I reviewed this successor to LIMBO back in January and commented that it was a "solid platformer with an intriguing premise and story". I've recommended it to several people since then and I'm keen to see what Playdead are working on next. Obviously I already own this one so it is being passed onto a friend but it is a great game to get in the bundle.

DiRT Rally

I've been having an absolute blast with Forza Horizon 3 over the past few months so I'll be interested to see if I take to this in the same way. I used to love rally games like Colin McRae back in the day so I can't imagine that I'll dislike it. Always happy to see Steam Workshop support in games like this as well.

This is the Police

This is a game that has been on my (police) radar for a little while but I hadn't got around to pulling the trigger on a purchase for some reason. What a happy coincidence that it should finally appear in my inbox! Not to be confused with the recently released Beat Cop, This is the Police is a management sim with some adventure game mechanics thrown in. Looks to be interesting and it is firmly in my "to play" list.

Undertale

A game I've heard of many times before but have never bothered to look at in any depth as the graphical style instantly put me off. I want to try and ignore the design and give it a try as it has incredibly positive reviews but I'm just not sure I'll be able to cope with the style. We'll see...

Metrico+

There always seems to be one particularly interesting curveball in the Humble Monthly and it looks like Metrico+ fits that bill this time. It's apparently a puzzle game based around infographics with a strong emphasis on "thinking outside of the box". Count me in!

GoNNER

A "tough as hell procedurally-generated 2D platformer" where you will "die a lot". I'm a sucker for games like this and the art style and soundtrack mean I'll likely be trying this out in the near future.

Kevin Eastman's Underwhere

Apparently we're getting comic books in the Humble Monthly from now on! I've never really bothered with comics and I doubt I'm going to start now...

The Turing Test

I had this on my wishlist for a long time waiting for a sale; when it finally came, a quick look at the reviews made me think twice and buy something else instead so I'm really glad to see it appear in the Humble Monthly. I've heard it compared to Portal several times before and I'm definitely keen to play this sooner rather than later.

Super Rude Bear Resurrection

This is a game that has an interesting concept — when you die, your corpses remain so you can stack them up and use them as platforms — but the art style is again one that makes me unlikely to want to give it a try.

A2Be

Billed as a "science fiction narrative", this is a Humble Original that looks fairly interesting. It's hard to get much of an impression from the few screenshots provided but I get the feeling this will be something I'll enjoy and then wish there was a lot more of. I should probably just play it rather than speculate!

Vortech adds support for Lego Dimensions Wave 8

#article #legodimensions

I'm pleased to announce that v1.3 of my LEGO Dimensions tracking app Vortech has been released adding full support for the recently released Wave 8:

Wave 8 consists of:

  • Chase McCain (LEGO City): To coincide with the re-release of LEGO City on Switch, Xbox One, and PS4, this character has the ability to switch outfits giving him a massive 17 abilities such as drilling, flying, hacking, hazard cleaning, relic detection, tracking, water spraying, and more!
  • Hermione Granger (Harry Potter): Has two completely new abilities; Riddikulus and Wingardiam Leviosa in addition to several other spells that provide abilities such as illumination, laser deflection, and water spray. She also has the ability to apparate and use intelligence access points. .
  • Sloth (Goonies): Similar to Abby Yates, The Doctor, and B.A. Baracus, Sloth has the ability to character change to any of the Goonies giving him a large number of abilities such as dig, dive, grapple, laser deflection, sonar smash, and tracking. He also has access to the unique "truffle shuffle"...

Whilst there are still two waves left in this cycle, the future of LEGO Dimensions has been cast in doubt from various reports that LEGO are planning to ditch it. Should they go ahead with further waves then I'm planning on adding some significant updates including the ability to view vehicles and their various constructs.

If you enjoy the app, please leave a review on the App Store. If you notice any errors or have suggestions for new features, please get in touch.

Humble Monthly: April 2017

#article #humblemonthly

Last month I mentioned that this bundle would be the third in a row where I have owned the early unlock game. That is set to continue again next month when INSIDE is available but it will also be coming with DiRT Rally which I'm definitely interested in. In the mean time, the April bundle just unlocked and includes the following...

The Witness

I bought this in the Humble Freedom Bundle a few months ago but have still yet to actually play it although I definitely want to. I'm trying to churn through my backlog quickly before an influx of new games comes in the summer so hopefully I'll get to it soon. I've have heard many good things about this interesting puzzler.

Layers of Fear (Masterpiece Edition)

I'm always impressed at the fairly new releases that Humble manage to give away for $12 a month but this is one I'll be passing on to a friend as it would shit me right up. There is no way I'd watch a video of it, let alone play it.

Black Mesa

I was always under the impression that Black Mesa was an ambitious vaporware mod that would be free so I was very surprised to find out that it was already released (in Early Access) and costs £15. It has been a very long time since I've played Half-Life and, whilst the visuals pail to most recent releases, I'd be willing to give this a try. I may wait until it is complete with the addition of the Xen planet coming at some point.

Kingdom: New Lands (Royal Edition)

This is apparently a follow-up to the game Kingdom which I must have procured from somewhere as it is also in my Steam library. I'm not clear, from the Steam page, entirely what it is beyond there being permadeath, no tutorial system and an award winning soundtrack. It looks good so I'm going to stick in my "To Play" list.

Event[0]

A short sci-fi narrative exploration game where you build a relationship with an AI. It's these kind of games that I find most interesting on Humble Monthly as I likely wouldn't take a chance on a £15 game I'd heard nothing about but this definitely piques my curiosity.

Tumblestone

Tumblestone is (apparently) the "first original action-puzzle game of the past fifteen years". I think the dearth of action-puzzle games on iOS would disagree with that statement but in any case the visual style of this game just doesn't appeal to me. I'm also not really a fan of games like this on the PC where I like to sink into something either artistic or meaty. This gets even trickier with the Switch which is eyeing up my platforming games on PC that I'd really prefer to play in bed or on the sofa. Either way, this one isn't for me.

Slime-san

A fast-paced retro style game most closely compared to Super Meat Boy. These things always seem to turn up in the Humble Monthly Debut and are nearly always in a pixel-art style. I've never been a huge fan of retro arcade games and I preferred the 16-bit era over these 8-bit styles. It has some good ratings so I'll keep it in my library but I can't imagine I'll be playing it any time soon.

Jawns

I feel I say this every month but I rarely bother with the Humble Originals as they aren't on Steam (so you have to download them manually and then remember to play them and *ugh*). I'll be making an exception for this intriguing board game though purely because of the amusing trailer that plays out like one of the skits on the first Tenacious D album. Looks great. It also seems to have online multiplayer and works on Mac so I can definitely see myself giving this a try in the near future. Screw it, I'm playing it now...

Humble Monthly: March 2017

#article #humblemonthly

My run of already owning the headline game in each Humble Monthly is set to be 3-in-a-row next month when The Witness unlocks for April. In the mean time, the March bundle just unlocked and includes the following...

Total War: Warhammer

Unfortunately the headline game is one that I already own but I still find it impressive that Humble are able to give away what is a very recent game as part of a $12 bundle. I've played a few hours of this Warhammer twist on the Total War formula and really need to dedicate some time to getting further in the campaign. I was absolutely addicted to the original Total War: Rome back in the day (which is now available on iPad) so this should be a solid fit but something about it just didn't grab me as much.

Space Run Galaxy

I didn't play the original Space Run but I always heard good things about it. This is the sequel, released in June last year, and looks to be just as good with its unique twist on the tower defence genre (the massive number of "not recommended" reviews based on connection issues notwithstanding). I'll likely give this one a try at some point in the future as I do love a tower defence game, but this isn't going to be at the top of my growing "to play" list.

One Piece Pirate Warriors 3

This definitely doesn't look like it is for me; a PS3 port of a Dragon Warriors clone which appears to have a very strange controller scheme (using left and right trigger to move the camera). This will stay "unclaimed" I think.

Flat Heroes

This is much more style with a frantic minimalist puzzle game in which you need to get a coloured square to the same coloured area of a board without getting hit by numerous obstacles. I'm having a few days gaming with some friends next week so will definitely be giving this a try.

RIVE

A 360-degree hybrid platformer twin stick shooter with a 6 hour campaign. It isn't a game I've heard of but the reviews on Steam all seem to rate it as a hidden gem plus it has voice acting from my namesake Mark Dodson who starred in Gremlins and Star Wars. Colour me intrigued!

Morphblade

Another minimalist puzzler, Morphblade was released last week and is a hex based fighting game in a similar vein to Hoplite on iOS. I might give this a try at some point as I generally love things like this; however, it likely would work better on mobile for me (and is indeed inspired by Imbroglio).

Uurnog

I so rarely install the Humble Originals games and there isn't anything in this platformer that particularly grabs me. From the trailer, the music sounds pretty good but there are too many other games to play at the moment.

Kylo Ben Summary: February 2017

#article

February is usually a difficult month for game releases and I assumed it would be even more pronounced with anticipation for the Switch coming in March. Instead, we were treated to a new wave of LEGO Dimensions content and two strong indie games in the form of Hollow Knight and Night in the Woods. Add a healthy dose of Pokémon, Rocket League, and some great games from the Humble Monthly and it turned out to be a great month!

Games

I played 15 games during February 2017 for a combined total of 90 hours.

  • Rocket League (16.1hrs)
  • Pokémon Moon (14.4hrs)
  • SteamWorld Heist (11.7hrs)
  • Pokémon Yellow (11.4hrs)
  • Hollow Knight (10.7hrs)
  • Forza Horizon 3 (6.3hrs)
  • Night in the Woods (5.8hrs)
  • LEGO Dimensions (4.2hrs)
  • Darkest Dungeon (2.9hrs)
  • Stagehand (2hrs)
  • Political Animals (1.4hrs)
  • Borderlands 2 (1.3hrs)
  • Titanfall 2 (0.9hrs)
  • Reigns (0.5hrs)
  • On Rusty Trails (0.4hrs)

Articles

I wrote 13416 words over 16 articles. This was mainly comprised of 4 reviews and 1 preview:

Vortech adds support for Lego Dimensions Wave 7.5

#article #legodimensions

I'm pleased to announce that v1.2.1 of my LEGO Dimensions tracking app Vortech has been released adding full support for the recently released Wave 7.5:

Wave 7.5 consists of:

  • Batgirl (The LEGO Batman Movie): Has the boomerang, glide, grapple, rope swing, and steal abilities as well as a new detective mode and the ability to use high security access terminals.
  • Excalibur Batman (The LEGO Batman Movie): Has the boomerang, grapple, laser deflector, master build, stealth, super strength, and vine cut abilities. He can also use sword switches which had previously been exclusive to Finn the Human (Adventure Time) .
  • Michael Knight (Knight Rider): Has the acrobat, hacking, technology, tracking, and x-ray vision abilities as well as a unique combat roll and the use of Michael's wrist watch.
  • Robin (The LEGO Batman Movie): Has the acrobat, dive, fix-it, glide, illumination, laser deflector, mini access, pole vault, and vine cut abilities as well as the exclusive Nightwing transform (RRRRIP!) and a unique vent access.

In addition to adding these characters and worlds, v1.2.1 also adds two great new features:

  • Wave Filter: You can now tap on the "All Minifigs" title to produce a popover that allows you to limit the characters to specific waves (including the limited edition that applies to Green Arrow and Supergirl)
  • Abilities Filter: Even better, you can tap on the "All Abilities" title within the abilities page to limit results to abilities your characters have or don't have. This makes it easier to decide which characters you need to get next.

I'm planning on adding more features over the coming weeks including something special to help with character recommendation...

If you enjoy the app, please leave a review on the App Store. If you notice any errors or have suggestions for new features, please get in touch.

Enabling HDR10 for Xbox One S on a Samsung 4K TV

#article #forzahorizon3 #hitman

Last year I decided to upgrade my living room TV from a 59" 1080p Samsung PS59D550 to the 55" 4K Samsung UE55KU6670 which was advertised on Currys as Ultra HD HDR. When I upgraded to the Xbox One S, I was primarily excited to see the improvements that HDR would bring and was massively disappointed when this screen appeared:

Whilst the set supported 4K UHD (60Hz) it was listed as not supporting 4K 10-bit at any refresh rate nor did it support HDR10. I did a bit of searching online at the time and could never find any results for "UE55KU6670 HDR10". When I looked through the manual for the TV the only references to HDR were for a HDR+ viewing mode which isn't enabled in every region (and on my set just throws a "this function is not available" error message).

I left it at that and assumed that Samsung were using some non-HDR10 spec version of HDR and vowed not to by a 4K set on offer in future; I convinced myself this was one of the differences between a £1000 TV and a £3000 one.

Fast forward to last week where I happened to come across a video by DigitalFoundry titled "How to Set-Up HDR For Samsung 2016 4K TVs"; it looked like they were using a similar set to mine and that they'd found HDR was not enabled by default over HDMI! There is a specific setting in Settings > Picture > Expert Settings > HDMI UHD Color that enables you to turn this feature on and off.

On my particular Samsung TV, it would only allow me to toggle this for HDMI 1 so I needed to swap my Xbox One S and my YouView box. Once this was done, loading up Settings > Display & Sound > Video Output > Advanced Video Settings > 4K TV details on the Xbox One S led to this screen:

Green ticks for every aspect including 4K 10-bit at 60Hz and HDR Video / Gaming! I tested it by firing up Forza Horizon 3 and HITMAN (two of the few HDR titles on the Xbox One S) and was greeted with the message "An HDR video is playing" with a clearly noticeable difference in image quality.

I have no idea why Samsung have HDR disabled by default on HDMI nor why it is buried under the HDMI UHD Color setting without a consumer-friendly HDR titling. However, if you have an Xbox One S or a PS4 Pro and you've been disappointed to find your Samsung 4K TV isn't working in HDR, it may just be a case of enabling that setting and switching to your first HDMI input.

The voice actor trap

#article #legodimensions

Over the weekend I've been playing the LEGO Batman Movie story pack for LEGO Dimensions. I'll be writing a review shortly but one of the things that has absolutely killed it for me is a problem that has been plaguing this genre for a while; voice acting.

When the first year of LEGO Dimensions launched, they did an excellent job of either re-using archive audio or getting actors to come in and record all new lines. For an example of both, look no further than the Doctor Who level pack which had new lines recorded by Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman yet used audio from the TV shows for every other Doctor all the way back to William Hartnell. This extended to other franchises with new audio recorded by Michael J. Fox and Christopher LLoyd for Back to the Future and Ellen McLain reprising her role as GLaDOS for Portal 2 not to mention audio from Gary Coleman and Joel McHale for the main LEGO Dimensions story.

This was in stark contrast to the other big player at the time, Disney Infinity, which rarely used the correct voices instead plumping for poor voice actors. I found this particularly egregious given Disney's budget as it was their grand vision that new characters and levels for Disney Infinity would replace the usual token game that accompanied a new film release and so they already had most of the actors in the recording studio at the right time. Some voices weren't too bad such as Woody from Toy Story which was actually performed by Tom Hanks' brother Jim Hanks but others (looking at you Captain Jack Sparrow) were so bad as to make the game unplayable to me.

I mention this as LEGO Dimensions is now following this pattern with a number of the big name voices conspicuously missing from recent releases. I first noticed it in the Ghostbusters story pack which had the correct voices for everyone apart from one of my favourite actresses, Melissa McCarthy. This was then repeated with B. A. Baracus (A Team), Michael Knight and K.I.T.T. (Knight Rider), and Robin (The LEGO Batman Movie). I appreciate that actors like McCarthy, Hasslehoff, and Michael Cera are expensive but it is just horrible to have these major franchises and characters with the wrong voices. They could have used archive audio but they don't as they want the characters to have new lines so they can say things like "try that button over there", etc.

I personally would much prefer them shoe-horning lines from the films into the game rather than having new audio recorded by voice actors and this is a problem LEGO have already solved; if you look at the Mission: Impossible pack or at some of the other games such as Lord of the Rings or Jurassic World, they use the audio from the movies and just slice it to fit the situation. Many people wish that LEGO would go back to how the original games like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Pirates of the Caribbean worked and just have the characters making Sim-like voices and conveying everything with expressions, gestures, and props but I think that would be a mistake. A bigger mistake though is probably the long running issue with Bart Simpson in LEGO Dimensions being completely mute...

Bad voice acting can absolutely kill a game and it is a real shame to see LEGO Dimensions fall into the voice actor trap after they had such a strong start. Not every new release has had these issues with the Fantastic Beasts story pack having new lines from Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston but the lack of Michael Cera in the LEGO Batman Movie pack really threw me back to the Disney Infinity games that I just couldn't enjoy. Hopefully we'll see more archive audio being used over incorrect voice actors in future, especially if they somehow manage to get the rights to Star Wars and Disney now that Disney Infinity is no more.