Archive for the Blog Category

Valfaris: Running & Gunning – METAL Style!

Posted in Blog, Games on April 17, 2021 by slateman

I’ve been keeping Valfaris on the backburner despite it checking a lot of the boxes of games I like. This old-school-style, side-scrolling 2D run-and-gun action game presents a stiff challenge to go with its retro-inspired look. While you genuinely know what you’re getting into here – an ultra-violent Contra clone at heart, the game’s soundtrack simply makes you want to tear into more foes after each disappointing death. I’m only a few hours in, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the consistent influx of power-ups, the satisfaction of improving and the pulsing rhythms of metal blaring in mine ears. This is definitely not one to sleep on and despite its high difficulty, it’s entertained me a great deal so far!

New 4×4 Record: 1:43.62!!!

Posted in Blog, Cubing, High Scores/Accomplishments on April 2, 2021 by slateman

When I broke my four-year-old 4×4 record last month, I was rather thrilled, securing my first sub-2-minute solve in the process. I was quite content with the accomplishment and immediately felt satisfaction and zero motivation to improve upon the time. However, as I’m on spring break right now, I’ve been tinkering around with the puzzle and it’s so spectacular! The magnets are just wonderful and as I was running through things, I noticed two things. First, my centers are done in about 20 seconds. Second, I’ve been getting better at edge matching. First, I match white edges and then move on to yellow. These high-contrast pieces are much easier to keep track of and instead of lining up several edges at once (like the pros do), I just wing one at a time and keep track of other edges which is actually more productive.

Anyhow, as I have noticed an improvement, I figured I go for time. My best average-of-five now resides around 2:07 with a new record a full 10 seconds faster than my prior record! Pretty damn cool, I have to be honest. I can’t see any huge change coming in the future, but I may keep trying. \m/

Following Day Update: I haven’t come close to my 103-second solve, but it was not for a lack of effort. In the process, I managed a 2:05.28 average-of-five. it’s hardly disappointing: 2:05 would’ve been my personal best before last month!

New 5×5 Record! Sub-5 Minutes!

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Cubing, High Scores/Accomplishments on March 25, 2021 by slateman

I haven’t really tried for a 5×5 record in ages. I purchased my ShengShou way back in 2012 and promptly broke my record. However, while the puzzle itself is pretty good, I only rarely returned to try to break my just-over-five-minutes standard.

For Christmas, I made a massive order of puzzles. I got like a dozen or something and among them were three magnetic puzzles: a 3×3, 4×4 and 5×5. Now, I’ve already proclaimed my love for these last month when I broke my four-year-old 4×4 record getting my very-first sub-two-minute solve. Today, with some extra time on my hands, I figured I’d take a stab at the 5×5, a puzzle I haven’t improved time on in eight-and-a-half years.

The stickerless, magnetic ShengShou is a great puzzle. It never locks up, those magnets help tidy up those quick turns and it cuts like a dream, so I’m rarely ever stuck between layers. My first solve was almost 5:30 – not too bad with no practice and my second was 5:07, a mere five seconds off my record. Solve #3 was it: my first sub-five-minute 5×5! Clocking in at 4:51, I beat my old record by 11 seconds!

After a mess up and another 5:something time, the stars aligned and…OMFG??!! 4:12.93! That is fifty seconds better than the record which stood since October of 2012. FIFTY SECONDS! I don’t even know what to say! Beating this would require some serious dedication but, like the 4×4 before it, I’ve accomplished what I’ve always wanted to: a sub-five. The four-minute finish line feels way too far off. I think next up will be a new 6×6. Still rocking the V-Cube 6 I bought in August of 2011. Urgh.

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.