Archive for the Blog Category

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!!!

Makaimura Returns / Ghosts ‘N Goblins Resurrection

Posted in Artwork, Best / Worst, Blog, Games on December 12, 2020 by slateman

I’ll admit I’m disappointed it’s currently at Switch exclusive, but I’m psyched Capcom has revisited this classic series. The stages are familiar but the visuals are outstanding and this new piece of art is simply remarkable. Here’s hoping for a Playstation port (along with Hades, please!)

Gaming In 2020

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Resident Evil, Skyrim, Tony Hawk Series with tags on December 9, 2020 by slateman

Another year down and another year in which I missed out on more of the biggest titles than I played. Before hitting upon what I have experienced, I figured I’d look at what I didn’t get a chance to dive into.

  • Final Fantasy VII Remake
  • Ghost Of Tsushima
  • Hades
  • Immortals: Fenyx Rising
  • Last Of Us – Part II, The
  • Ori And The Will Of The Wisps
  • Sackboy: A Big Adventure

I’ve skipped out on Cyberpunk 2077 and some others. Of those games, my interest is genuinely piqued by Tsushima and Hades. The former will eventually be in my collection, the latter will have to wait for a Sony port. I’ve no interest in playing that on the Switch.

OK, now to the older games I’ve experienced. Titles with an asterisk are ones I’d played before. Underlined are ones I beat.

  • Death Stranding
  • Dark Souls: Remastered
  • Days Gone
  • Detroit: Become Human
  • Doom
  • Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, The (*)
  • Far Cry 5
  • Fighting EX Layer
  • Ketsui
  • Minecraft Dungeons
  • Modern Warfare 2: Remastered (*)
  • Shadow Of The Colossus
  • Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Remastered (*)
  • Ys VIII

Not forgetting Skyrim is a remaster, that’s a lot of updated old games there. I spent most of quarantine lockdown replaying Skyrim and actually progressing farther than I had during my initial playthrough back in 2012. I beat Shadow Of The Colossus for the first time, after bailing on both the PS2 and PS3 versions in years past. Another Uncharted 2 run was a reminder of how that game is still top-10 ever. (I’ll eventually get around to posting my list). Others were things I dipped my toes into but came far from completing.

Far Cry 5 was the expected, entertaining romp and I do endeavor to get back to Days Gone and Detroit. Most of these games were good; few were great. Next up: 2020 games, finally!

  • Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
  • Astro’s Playroom
  • Borderlands 3
  • Bugsnax
  • Demon’s Souls
  • Resident Evil 3
  • Spelunky 2
  • Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2

So, obviously, I beat THPS, writing an entire chapter on it in the revised edition of Tony Hawk’s Gaming Domination. Just as quickly, I dropped off of that one.

Spelunky 2 was a frustratingly-difficult but enjoyable journey. Each run was different and my kids and I laughed our asses off far too frequently. It’s about the same as the first, but pretty fantastic and there’s zero chance I’ll ever actually complete it. Speaking of kids, they played the crap out of Bugsnax, just finishing it today. I haven’t completed Demon’s Souls and suspect that’s a long journey ahead.

Resident Evil 3 was a short affair, but one I never traipsed through on the PS1 original. I enjoyed it, beating it a few times. That’s the good, but I don’t envision diving back in, despite my enjoyment.

And then we get to the year’s best. Astro’s Playroom won’t win any awards, but damn, that was fun. It was a spectacular history lesson, peeking at Sony’s legacy as well as being a showcase of the new console and its features.

So, as of the second week of December, I am so enamored with Valhalla and its beauty, that I must declare it my tentative 2020 Game Of The Year. It’s the most vibrant and diverse world I’ve ever played in. The gameplay loop is enjoyable enough and the sound design is top notch. It’s possibly the best-looking game I’ever witnessed and the 60fps/often-4k visual upgrade has just left me speechless on numerous occasions. The dynamic lighting is superb, dialogues and story are wonderful and the scope is simply remarkable.

I suspect this opinion could change…but as of today, this is it. This could be the first Assassin’s Creed game I actually complete, much like GTA V in 2018.

Two Days With The Playstation 5 – Thoughts

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games on December 1, 2020 by slateman

The day has finally come! It took about three weeks to arrive: going to Chicago, then Wisconsin, then across the Atlantic to Naples Capodichino, then to the American consulate, then finally home. After a lengthy setup process, I went into the process of downloading Demon’s Souls and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. While doing so, I dove into the utterly phenomenal Astro’s Playroom. It was then the console’s new features were put on display.

However, as the first day ended, it was easy to get the sense that this may be the smallest leap between generations. From the DVD drive in the PS2 to the Blu-Ray player in the PS3, to the visual leap to the PS4, this has fewer clear bells-and-whistles. But at the end of day #2, I felt clear – I love my PS5.

Load Times
Booting into AC: Valhalla took about 80 seconds and loading into the game itself, another 100. Quick traveling was a solid two minutes…each and every time. With the Activity Cards feature on the Playstation 5, I can skip that initial 80 seconds altogether. A direct comparison:

Doing? PS4 Time PS5 Time
Into Menu 80 0
Into Playable 180 50
Fast Travel 120 10

It’s that last one that’s startling – and altogether awesome. It’s between 9 and 10 seconds typically. The difference is simply amazing. Bouncing between two or three fast-travel locations saves serious time and it’s hardly enough to look at my phone before Eivor is back, ready and perched atop some chapel or archaeological site.

3D Audio
I’ve marveled at sound design in recent years, simply awed at how good gritty footsteps, rubbing clothing and rustling of leaves sound. However, running through medieval England and hearing birds and pigs, the wind and people’s voices all around me. Each came from a different quadrant, with rain realistically sounding like it was falling in so many different places at once. Just astounding.

The DualSense
I read all the reviews and heard all the praise. It was only when Astro’s Playroom resisted my shoulder triggers before releasing in a satisfying click that it felt real. When the sensation of sand and wind and ice and rocks all came through the controller, I felt that joy of next-gen. The game is fun in its own right, but the controller is the real hero here. It’s spectacular.

60 FPS
I have to admit, the 4K upgrade wasn’t as pronounced as I had hoped, but when I got Valhalla running at 60 FPS, I smiled with joy. Having the choice between the two is something I missed in the PS4 Pro era. I first appreciated the importance of the higher frame rate with Metal Gear Solid 5 but having a direct comparison has truly opened my eyes. It’s buttery smooth and the way life ought to be.

App Integration
Signing in was a breeze, installing apps is simple, notifications about app preparedness is welcome and on it goes. I’m hoping they keep up with the features and ease of use. Ideally, having snapshots available on mobile (like Microsoft) would be sensational.

The Dislikes
It looks, feels and sounds great. That’s what you want in your $500 purchase. While the system needs some work, I don’t see anything that can’t be fixed with some firmware tweaks. The UI is good, but it’s clunkier than the PS4. Fixes like separating games and media is great, but there are fewer titles in the list. The PS button menu is fast and the overlay is nice, but it feels cluttered and things like turning the console off are harder and more obtuse than before.