Articles

Vortech adds support for LEGO Dimensions Wave 9

#article #legodimensions

I'm pleased to announce that v1.4 of my LEGO Dimensions tracking app Vortech has been released adding full support for the recently released Wave 9:

Wave 9 consists of three new worlds (Beetlejuice, Powerpuff Girls, and Teen Titans Go!) along with seven characters:

  • Beast Boy (Teen Titans Go!): Similar to Jake the Dog from Adventure Time, Beast Boy can shape shift to gain additional abilities such as Drone, Dig, and Tracking. Interestingly, the Atlantis ability was previously limited to Aquaman from Wave 4 but three new characters in this wave now gain the ability including Beast Boy.
  • Beetlejuice (Beetlejuice): I feel like I should say his name again... Beetlejuice! This character only has 7 abilities but they include the newly added "Slurp" for getting through access points hidden in some of the new worlds in this wave. He is the only character in this wave without the Flight ability.
  • Blossom (The Powerpuff Girls): Each of the Powerpuff Girls has heart regeneration, an energy shield, and a new LEGO Constructs ability which was previously limited to the Red Lantern version of Supergirl. Blossom has Freeze Breath which was previously just for Superman and Supergirl and she also gets X-Ray Vision.
  • Bubbles (The Powerpuff Girls): In addition to the standard set of Powerpuff abilities, Buttercup has Rainbow LEGO Blowup due to her love of cute stuff and Parseltongue due to her ability to speak with animals. She and Raven (also in this wave) are the only characters not in the Harry Potter universe to have the Parseltongue ability.
  • Buttercup (The Powerpuff Girls): In keeping with the other two Powerpuff Girls, Buttercup has abilities that were previously limited to other properties including Gyrosphere Switches (previously limited to Jurassic World vehicle or Jake the Dog from Adventure Time) and, more interestingly, Spinjitzu which was limited to the seven Ninjago characters.
  • Raven (Teen Titans Go!): Raven has a good range of abilities including Drone, Flight, Hazard Protection, and Magic but she also has a unique ability called Raven Portals which can be used in several worlds such as Gremlins, A-Team, and Adventure Time.
  • Starfire (Teen Titans Go!): In many ways Starfire is the same as Bubbles from The Powerpuff Girls; she has the Atlantis, Parseltongue, Heart Regeneration, and Rainbow LEGO Blowup abilities as well as more common abilities such as Acrobat and Dive.

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.

With the release of these team and fun packs, wave 9 closes out this series of LEGO Dimensions and it now remains to be seen if anything else will be announced or whether this is the end. There are several properties that could still be added (The Matrix, Red Dwarf, The Flintstones, The Jetsons) but with 30 franchises covered already it isn't unthinkable that it will now wrap up. If it does continue, I think they need to do some updates to the core game and sort out some of their voice acting but, if this is the end, I'll be sad to see it go.

The PC, Switch, and Xbox One X dilemma

#article #pc #switch #xboxonex

Until fairly recently, purchasing choices for me were pretty simple when it came to games. Before I built my gaming PC I would get everything on Xbox One, usually digitally so I didn't have to wait for the inevitably late Amazon delivery (although I did make an exception if I knew it might be something I'd want to sell once I was finished like Dead Rising 4). Once the PC came along, I switched almost wholesale to that and bought everything on Steam; the only holdouts on my Xbox One were LEGO Dimensions and Titanfall 2.

HDR at 1080p or no HDR at 3440x1440? Actually a tricky decision!
HDR at 1080p or no HDR at 3440x1440? Actually a tricky decision!

This started to get a little bit more complex when the Xbox One S arrived as then I had the choice between low-quality low-framerate but HDR upscaled on a 4K screen or high-quality high-framerate non-HDR on an ultrawide 3440x1440 monitor. Fortunately the only game that really tested this was Forza Horizon 3 and, thanks to Play Anywhere, I was able to pick and choose between the gaming PC and the Xbox One S at any point as the saves were synced and you got both copies for the single digital price; it turned out I generally preferred the HDR version, especially for the Blizzard Mountain DLC, although it always took 5-10 minutes for my eyes to get over the 30fps judder.

Once the Switch arrived in March, life was made more difficult still as there were a number of games that I'd have to choose between getting for PC, Xbox One, or Switch. A good example of this dilemma is Sonic Mania and can be looked at like this:

  • PC - 100fps, ultrawide monitor, Steam achievements, sit at desk
  • Xbox One S - 60fps, 1080p, achievements, sit in living room
  • Switch - 60fps, 1080p, no achievements, sit anywhere

In the end, I bought it on the Switch although in part that was because it was the first platform to get it with a midnight launch; the Xbox One version didn't land until 16 hours later and the PC version was delayed by 2 weeks. This would have been a ridiculously easy choice if the Switch had an achievements system but the fact that it doesn't means I generally still want to buy games on another platform if they are available. I haven't found this too much of a problem yet as most games launch on Switch some time after PC (i.e. Hollow Knight, Yooka-Laylee, etc) but once release dates equal out as they are starting to it does become a real balance between portability and achievements.

I'm a sucker for a new console
I'm a sucker for a new console

The reason I mention all of this is that things are just about to become harder still thanks to the introduction of the Xbox One X which I pre-ordered last night. When it was first announced, I said to my CTH co-host John¹:

"I doubt I'll get one as there isn't anything coming to it which is exclusive to Xbox One in 4K (i.e. even their mega exclusives like Forza 7 are on Windows 10 as well). I guess I'd replace the Xbox One S with one next year maybe when it has come down in price a bit but £500 is a bit more than I'm willing to pay when I already have the PC - I'd rather put that money towards a Titan X or something"

It turns out I was wrong. Now that the Xbox One is able to render games at 4K with HDR rather than just 1080p with HDR it is becoming incredibly difficult for me to choose between the PC or the Xbox due to the 3rd party titles that are supporting it. For example, here are a few of the 100 upcoming games that are all confirmed to have Xbox One X support (in contrast to the minuscule list of titles that supported HDR on Xbox One S):

  • Assassin's Creed: Origins
  • Far Cry 5
  • Ori and the Will of the Wisps
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of War
  • Star Wars II Battlefront
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

For every one of these games, I think my new default is to choose the Xbox One X. Sure the textures won't be as nice as those on my GTX 1080 but the convenience of the sofa combined with a 4K resolution and HDR means I'll gladly take the FPS hit. Add to that a game like Red Dead Redemption 2 which doesn't have a PC version (yet) and the 4K offering seems too good to pass up on.

I think the only thing that will change that now is the inevitable GTX 1180 coupled with an (as yet not a reality) ultrawide monitor sporting a resolution of 5160x2160px and HDR. It would also be nice if NVIDIA GameStream was more reliable as the number of times I've tried to do PC gaming in the living room has decreased the more frustrated I get with its connection issues and dropouts.

For now though I'm shifting my pre-orders to the Xbox One X, renewing my Xbox Live Gold membership, and getting ready to game in the living room again.

¹ Thanks to John for pointing this out to me with a screenshot of the very conversation in which I shat all over the Xbox One X. I am, indeed, a "tech magpie".

Frontier, uh, finds a way

#announcement #article #jurassicparkevolution

Back in February, Frontier Developments of Elite: Dangerous and Planet Coaster fame announced they were going to build games based on the movies of an "enduring franchise of global renown". At the time, most people were expecting a Star Trek or Star Wars game due to the Elite: Dangerous connection but I felt that it would be a curveball completely separate from their existing games. Turns out we were all wrong as the game, announced during Microsoft's presentation at Gamescom today, is closely related to the theme park genre...

Jurassic World Evolution will be coming at some point in Summer 2018 to coincide with the release of the new movie Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. There is little in the way of detail but it is safe to assume this will be a park builder / management sim in the same vein as Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. The trailer, whilst not game footage, shows an ACU building being placed to stop a rampaging T-Rex and Frontier Developments said that "players will build their own Jurassic World as they bioengineer new dinosaur breeds and construct attractions, containment and research facilities".

I've long wanted a follow up to Operation Genesis and the freemium Jurassic Park Builder on mobile was not it. Frontier certainly have the design chops for this with Planet Coaster proving to be a huge hit with creative players. That said, it does suffer from a poor management layer compared to its Rollercoaster Tycoon predecessors so I'd hope to see that improved upon in this game. Overall though, I'll be happy so long as I can breed the Pepsisaurus that Lowery wanted...

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: