Archive for the Blog Category

Final Fantasy VII Remake – Revisited

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games with tags on March 6, 2021 by slateman

One JRPG down – another to go? And to think…I bought this game on launch day way back in 1997. Remember it vividly too. Bought in the morning alongside the strategy guide. Then had school and work all day before I could even play. It was my first Final Fantasy game and, really, my introduction to JRPGs. Dunno if I’ll have the fortitude (=patience) to complete this game but hey… 1) it’s free and 2) the music will be nostalgic-lane for me. Let’s go!!!!

Einherjer: North Star – Disappointing

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Music, Reviews on March 6, 2021 by slateman

My first spins of Einherjer’s latest record were underwhelming, but we all know that happens from time to time. It takes a few plays to really sink in and become the classic album it endeavors to be. However, while this isn’t uncommon, subsequent plays only reaffirmed my dismay.

The band’s breakup following 2003’s AotY contender, Blot was succeeded by a reformed union and 2011’s Norrøn, a solid, if flawed, record. With diminished expectations, I proclaimed the follow-up, Av Oss, For Oss, 2014’s Album of the Year. The pristine blend of viking, retro rock and melodicism, it was well deserving of that year’s crown.

Unfortunately, its follow-up, 2018’s Norrøne Spor left me with a tinge of disappointment. It’s hardly unfair – the successor to an AotY record is always held to a higher standard than any ol’ record. Thus, 20201’s arrival of North Star theoretically should be held to a somewhat-reduced level of scrutiny! Even with that, this new record only issues forth several memorable songs to mingle with its entirely-forgettable ones. To contrast with Av Oss, For Oss, this new record’s closer is simply unlistenable to mine ears. A few songs are worthwhile, but the true test is by re-listening to the back catalogue.

I’m not even talking classic Einherjer here. I listened to the last one – the so-so Norrøne Spor had some real bangers and ones I’ll return to. Both Spre Vingene and Døden Tar Ingen Fangar are catchy, riffy and metal-as-fuck. Moving backwards more, my aforementioned AotY still stands up, with memorable sections, headbangy choruses and viking-up-the-ass atittude.

Unfortunately, this new one only has a few I might ever wish to return to: The Blood And The Iron, Higher Fire and maybe one or two others. It’s heart-breaking and makes me wonder if the truly great album from Einherjer is the exception, not the norm. *shrug*. AotY this is not. :(

Ys IX Completed! Thoughts Within

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Ys on March 6, 2021 by slateman

I’ve now completed the campaign in Ys IX: Monstrum Nox and also cleaned up some trophies in the process. The game was wonderful and certainly resides among my favorite entries in the storied franchise. Now is the time to look back and reflect on the good, the bad and the in between.

The story itself was just OK, with a main villain only really showing up in the last act. Convoluted as expected, I didn’t care much for the twists they introduced later on and things felt a bit drawn out in the late game. Alternately, the cast of characters were as fun as they were cliché and my son remembered everyone’s names: both normal and Monstrum variants.

Exploration was, for the most part, quite fun and I do like how they mixed things up with the city of Balduq. However, with the game being front-loaded with city adventure, it left a number of areas to the back half which felt a bit uninspired, almost as if they were just add-ons. A more equal distribution would have given the game a more cohesive feel. The gameplay itself is the real winner, with gifts allowing for easy traversal and fun exploration. It’s going to be hard to go back to prior entries given how good adventuring felt. Combat itself was a mix – it was fun and rewarding, but it was also a chaotic mash-fest on normal difficulty. The game was a bit easier than traditional entries on the standard setting but that was no downside for me as I prefer the experience over the challenge.

On the sound front, Falcom rarely disappoints. While sound effects themselves feel ages old now (Ys Seven is over a decade old and sounds are the same in some cases), the entire game had a good, punchy sound, particularly with headphones on. The big question is the soundtrack. As a collector of Falcom Sound Team JDK’s work, this is another phenomenal entry. Some songs were stuck in my head for days with upbeat, metal riffs offset by melodic piano and symphonic entries. You can’t go wrong with an Ys soundtrack and I quite enjoyed my time with this one.

Ultimately, it was a fantastic and entertaining romp. The PS5’s load times were almost nothing – often two seconds but maxing out at around five – which made the entire experience so much better. I may revisit this brief post to expand upon my thoughts, but for now it’s just a brief overview with a hefty dose of spoiler-filled images below.

New 4×4 Record! Sub-2 Minutes!

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Cubing, High Scores/Accomplishments on March 1, 2021 by slateman

I haven’t done any speed solving in quite some time, but after ordering a treasure trove of puzzles for Christmas, I was enjoying my 4×4 MoYu Meilong and its magnets. I realized just how quickly it turned and I thought a new record could be in sight. After an impressive 2:04 – an eight-second improvement on my existing personal best, I busted out my very first sub-2-minute run! Clocking in at 1:54.10, this was my first new record in over a year. I am certain I could improve upon it – but I don’t feel any burning need to do so. The 2-minute threshold is satisfying enough! Pretty psyched and this year marks my 10-year cubing anniversary.

15 Years Of Scrobbles

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Lists, Music, Personal on February 10, 2021 by slateman

I started using Last.FM back in 2005 and in the 15+ years since, it’s consistently been part of my music-playing experience. Though numbers from before then are omitted, as are hundreds from the old iPod days, I’ve still clocked in almost 80,000 plays and today I’m sharing my top-10 most-played bands. It’s no surprise that Moonsorrow sits atop the heap – they did just recently become my favorite-band ever! This means the entries go as follows:

Finland – Finland – Sweden – Norway – Finland – Sweden – USA – Finland – Norway – Sweden.

Remarkable. Oh, and Slayer sits comfortably at #11. All my stats can be found here.

Playstation: Top Games 2020

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Personal on February 7, 2021 by slateman

Two items with which to preface this post. First, on my stats page, it says I (*ahem* my kids) played 64 hours of Bugsnax but yet that doesn’t sit in my top-three as shown here. Second – yes – that’s Skyrim as my #1 game of the year. Wow.

I love stats and despite their complete inaccuracy, I don’t care. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla shows about 55 hours on my PS4 and then another 55 on my PS5. Don’t know how Sony tabulates their math, but it’s simply wrong. Ultimately, however, my return to Skyrim was a wondrous affair, as I mentioned several months back. The merger of pandemic lockdown and a somewhat-family-friendly game meant I totally enjoyed diving back in and getting much farther than I did nearly a decade ago. I will admit that the 60fps mod on the PS5 gives me a bit of a tickle to re-return…but for now, my backlog is far too large to do such a thing.

The Elder Scrolls was supplanted by Far Cry 5, a not-so-family-friendly game which was as much fun as its predecessors. I’ll say, I’m fairly certain my leader for 2021 is Immortals: Fenyx Rising. I suppose I could check my PS5 to find out.

Some more final stats: I earned almost 800 trophies, topping 2019’s 536 – though I had 16 platinums that year thanks to the Vita and its shovelware library. Additionally, it claims I played 974 hours compared to 2019’s 351. I have a feeling that last year’s number is a bit shy of the real one – though I did move from Sweden to Italy in 2019.

2020 vs 2019

Mixup Cube Algorithms

Posted in Algorithms, Blog, Cubing on January 17, 2021 by slateman

This puzzle was a curious one and I required a helpful tutorial to solve it. Just some quick algorithms to help me solve this cool cube.

Step 1: Return to a cube

First, you’ll get offset centers lined up with an edge piece sloped downward above it. Here, you move the center piece 45° to the right, then perform a R, U’, R’ before returning the center. You then keep repeating this process. If you’re stuck with a flipped edge, just bring it down to make it a center and repeat.

Step 2: Restore centers

Just prep centers. This will swap front and right centers. When you have a pair to exchange, move your center 45° to the right, then R2 and return. Super easy.

Step 3: Solve F2L

Solve the first two layers are you would on a normal 3×3.

Step 4: Last-Layer Parities

If you get the classic 4×4 parity, you can bring down your front edge 45° (an M slice). Then F2, an E (turn left as you look at it), F2, and return the E and return M’.

This will mess up three layer 2 edges which can be fixed easily apparently. Place the proper piece on bottom/back and whip out a: B2 M B2 M. This should fix it.

If you get a parity where your final two edges are swapped, place the flipped edge in front. A M’ here is a 45° upward.

M’, R, U, R’, U’
M’, U, R, U’, R’

I’m finding a problem where this doesn’t necessarily solve it all. But for now, it’s a good start. Perhaps I’ll edit this again in the future.

Clover Pyraminx Algorithms

Posted in Algorithms, Blog, Cubing on January 15, 2021 by slateman

This puzzle looks cool, turns wonderfully and appears simple enough. While it’s effectively just a 3×3 shape mod, I simply cannot visualize it as such. This tutorial helped me whittle the whole thing down to something digestible.

Step 1: Solve two-colored edges

As jumbled as this can get, remember that sometimes the solved position is on another plane.

First, flatten each petal. If they’re beside one another, turn the layer that includes both down (it’ll be on the right side), then left down, up, up. This should fix it all.

If they’re not on the same face, turn the top face one down (using a left turn), the front/right face 180° and the top back up. Should fix it.

Step 2: Solve all Petals

This will take a three-cycle. It’s intuitive which this will change. Hold pyramid tip at you, this swaps far left, top center and far right. Do 180° flips between the two layers (DDUU – L2, R2, L2, R2)

If you’re stuck w/ a two-cycle you can’t fix, do a 90° turn, keeping a flat layer on the bottom. This will look like a person w/ glasses looking at you. Do the same three-cycle (Move them clockwise or CCW based on how you turn) to do a cycle of top left to bottom to top right to top left. Then return the 90° turn. Pics of this may help.

Step 3: Solve Centers/Corners

If these pieces are inverted (jutting out), there will be a hidden center piece somewhere. Find it. Then h old it facing you (the top of the pyramid) with the piece it’ll flip with on top. You’ll do this as an UUDD using your right hand. It’ll also swap the centers of the two ‘down’ faces too. R, L’, R’, L (x3)

Step 4: Swap Centers

Now that everything is flat, we can swap centers.

You don’t want to kick out those centers for those jutting out pieces, of course. So, to swap a L & a R (like you did above), turn that TOP piece 90° so that this algorithm will swap inside pieces & not mess up other centers.

PSVR: This Truly Is A Step Forward

Posted in Blog, Games on January 14, 2021 by slateman

Virtual Reality is something everyone would like, but it would be nice if their neighbor got it first – you know – just to check it out. I’ve been curious but, like countless others, the high price tag kept me far away. That is, until my daughter convinced my wife to get me one for Christmas. Long story short? I’m totally and utterly convinced.

Let’s get the bad out of the way first as there are absolutely downsides. The mess of wires is something my wife is not fond of and setting up is a routine of many specifics working both in harmony and in tandem. The visuals certainly take a hit in VR and the glasses fog up rather easily, though this is just an inconvenience that clears up quickly. Motion sickness is not something unique to Sony’s VR unit, but it can be jarring and difficult to work through.

Okay, with my gripes aired for all to see, what remains is simply extraordinary. Without hands-on experience, the true extent of VR’s punch can never be appreciated. It just can’t. The fact that your brain believes what it’s seeing is something that cannot be conveyed. When enormous setpieces pop up in Astro Bot or when a bullet flies at your head in Superhot VR or your car flies through the air in Trackmania Turbo, you are utterly convinced it’s reality – and all the joy and elation come alongside of it. Genuine fear, thrilling elation, nervous dodging – it doesn’t matter if the visuals are realistic or cartoony, the experience is an unbridled delight.

I’ve pondered these things more and more as my decades have passed and I find myself always returning to the concept of novelty. With so much really just being iterations of the same thing, so rarely are things truly new. I keep trying to think back to when something I’ve played was this impressive. A quick peek of Game Of The Year lists show that Shadow Of Mordor had the nemesis system back in 2014. Portal 2 was rather brilliant in 2011. How many others were sequels? Or sequels of sequels???

Is it possible that VR is the biggest step forward since sprites moved into the 3D realm? I hardly think that’s an overexaggeration. On the downside, I wonder if there’s enough of a flow of games to keep it a viable platform moving forward, but with a few new games in my library, I have a wide variety of experiences:

  • Astro Bot Rescue Mission
  • Superhot VR
  • Blood & Truth
  • Everybody’s Golf VR
  • Wipeout Omega Collection
  • Trackmania Turbo
  • Star Wars: Squadrons
  • Iron Man

What a great roster of titles. Moss, Rez Infinite and Tetris Effect are on the ‘to-buy’ list alongside a few others, With a few more out there, I look forward to a promising future of the platform with support continuing until at least a successor is announced.

Petal Pyraminx Guide

Posted in Algorithms, Blog, Cubing on January 1, 2021 by slateman

This little puzzle isn’t altogether too difficult, but it’s a good-enough challenge. As always, I need a little help to push myself through these and I will inevitably forget it all. For the sake of posterity, here are the instructions I’ve worked with, alongside some help from this tutorial. There are only four major steps: two on the Pyraminx portion and two on the inner circles. I sometimes struggle with step 2, but it’s the usual L’, R, L, R’ (or reverse) like all ‘Minx and Skewb puzzles.

  1. Situate tri-color tips so they’re all aligned.
  2. Solve the 6 two-sided edges to match those tips.
  3. Solve small inner-circle triangles.
  4. Solve large inner-circle triangles.

The tutorial shows how to swap those large triangles around. It’s not super intuitive for me and this is the hardest step for me. Here’s the timestamp in the video where he discusses this, but he places the swapped large triangles on the top of the front layer, and on the left of the top. You’ll perform this using the right layer of the side facing you. When you do it, this must bring the large triangle you want to swap up with it. If not, something is wrong and it won’t work. In this photo, the triangle is positioned properly.

Up, Circle Right
Down, Circle Left
Up, Circle Right
Down, Circle Right
Up, Circle Left, Down

All the circle rotations are done on the top layer, FYI. Good luck!!!