Adulting During Quarantine

It’s been a few days since the whole Blapril 2020 thing wound down (though I guess it went past when I called it done, but I still qualify for having “completed” the challenge to my knowledge) and I took a little bit of a break from blogging because I was running out of things to talk about and needed to recharge a bit. The marathon of blogging every day for a month takes its toll despite the fact that I have done it on multiple occasions. I know I can do it, but I prefer a more lax “write when you have something meaningful to write” approach. To each their own, I guess. Whatever the case, I have been playing games, doing adult stuff and have built up a set of drafts that I’d like to publish in the near future. Today, rather than talking about games or MTG, instead I have some IRL updates for you.

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned it on the blog already, if not I definitely mentioned it on social media. I moved my family into a house back at the beginning of the year, and one of the positives was it had a nice sized back yard for my dog to occupy. The front yard had grass that was mostly dead, but with all of the rain we had over the course of the last couple of months, things got hairy pretty quick. Soon enough I had several foot tall weeds in the back yard, and the front yard was starting to look horrendous as well. When it first started getting out of control, I borrowed my friend’s lawnmower to get things handled, but unfortunately his machine was a bit old and in disrepair. We couldn’t get it to work no matter what we tried. Option #2 was to pick up a weed eater from a local hardware store and at least try and knock the bulk of it down. We did that, and though it wasn’t pretty at least the front was presentable again, though the back yard managed to eat up the remaining line I had. Eventually I knew it was time to bite the bullet and buy a proper lawn mower. So that’s what I did, though the story doesn’t end there. I went to the local Home Depot to get one and due to the COVID-19 madness, there was a line just to get into the store. As such I turned to Amazon, who came through with the Craftsman mower pictured here, and delivered it within a week. I still had to look at my shabby yard during that time, but once it finally showed and I put it together, I ran through the rest of the project and have mowed again since. It’s definitely nicer to maintain it and I’m glad I can do so now.

Another purchase that needed to be made but we had gone without, was for the front room. When I got my new computer desk setup in my office, I still had the old one ready to be used, so it became our makeshift TV stand. As much as it worked and wasn’t really an issue, I have always wanted a big TV (which I got earlier this year) on a proper entertainment center where I could hook up my multitude of consoles in one spot so they could all be easily enjoyed. We ended up going for a little more expensive of a selection just to make sure it was higher quality. I wanted something that would be comparable to the computer desk I selected a few months prior. When it arrived and I started putting it together though, I realized that it was going to be a bit of an undertaking to get everything set up. Also, we these build it yourself pieces of furniture, they are usually pretty easy to put together, but this one required so much screwdriver work that I decided it was probably time to also invest in a power drill.

My local hardware store had a good selection of drills, but I finally narrowed it down to this DeWalt. I’ve used the brand in the past and they’ve always seemed a good value. The pack I picked came with a battery, charger and case, but I also had to spend a little extra on a set of bits for it. I guess I’m getting pretty old, when buying tools and furniture is actually exciting. Whatever the case, I had stopped mid-build on the entertainment center to pick this bad boy up, so I came back home and got back to work. The rest of the assembly was a breeze with the help of this drill along with my lovely lady. Soon enough it was put together and I set up my PS4 on it. As you can see above, it was pretty bare bones at this point.

Having purchased this entertainment center with the explicit intention of having all of my consoles on deck, I picked this one because it not only had hidden shelves inside the cabinets, but also the premade holes on the back of the unit for cable management. But after getting them all set up I realized two things. A: I would need an HDMI switch because my TV only has 2 inputs, and B: I would need a larger surge protector in order to plug everything in. I only had a 6-outlet protector at that moment, so I ended up purchasing a 12-outlet one along with a 5 input HDMI switch. The final piece of the puzzle arrived yesterday, as I already had the switch and consoles set up for the past couple of days. I hooked up the surge protector and plugged everything in, and I thought I’d share the test run with you here:

Here you’ll see the switch, my console setup, and me swapping through all of the inputs. We start with the PS4, switch over to the PS3 (which had just rebooted from a system software update), on to the NES Classic and SNES Classic (both of which were on screen saver mode, showing the intro movies to various games) and finally my At Games Genesis mini, then back to the PS4. It works great, is a sleek/solid design and quite compact to boot. The only thing I still want to add to the setup is a sound bar with subwoofer for the TV, which will be great for all consoles along with movie watching, etc. Overall I’m happy with the purchase, and the ability to finally have all of these great consoles out and usable. The mini systems and my PS3 have been collecting dust for some time, and there’s some great games installed on all of these platforms. Time to start a retro gaming series I suppose!

Unboxing the Amazfit Bip Smartwatch

Having started a new job recently, it turned out that having my cellphone in my pocket at all times wasn’t going to happen. I’ve gone for years without wearing a watch due to having said cellphone in my pocket at all times, and using it as my primary timepiece. Because of this change, I knew I was going to have to go back to wearing a watch, but it turned out that my old watch’s battery had died and I wasn’t into the look of it as much as when I used to wear it. As such, I decided to peruse the web to see what was out there in 2019. Smart watches didn’t exist when I last wore a watch, and there are a ton to choose from. Most people would probably recommend grabbing an Apple or Samsung watch just because they are high end accessories to go along with your high end phone. I’ve never personally been in the market to dump hundreds of dollars on a smart phone, so I’ve never really seen the purpose for one of these watches, particularly when I can just pull my phone out of my pocket.

Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the idea of a watch that has more than just “tells the time” features. I didn’t really know what I was looking for, just that I didn’t want to spend a fortune. Before I could really get into research, my girlfriend told me that she would grab the watch for me for our upcoming 3rd anniversary, and that sealed the deal as far as a purchase went. I knew that I still didn’t want to spend a fortune, and I also knew that I would be better off getting something on the lower end just to see if I’d even like the concept. Worst case, I hate it and buy a standard watch again, and best case it’s a good test run prior to grabbing a more expensive/better model. It turns out that she too wants a Fitbit/watch, so she was already saying that when/if I buy a new one she can wear this one. So win/win.

I ended up going with a Chinese knockoff Fitbit that I found on Amazon for $80. The “Amazfit” by the Huami corp had favorable reviews and basically all of the features I was looking for, save for being able to answer my phone or send texts remotely from the watch. Some of the higher end models do this, but require a 4G connection which probably adds to your phone bill, I’d imagine. Instead, this watch will notify me when my phone rings and I can read text messages, I just can’t answer/respond. That’s okay, as it will at least notify me when my ringer is off as I’ve missed plenty of calls/texts that way. My main reason for wanting a smart watch was the fact that they are small and lightweight and I like having a digital screen. This one has customizable watch faces, displays the weather, counts your steps and has a couple of other features such as a timer, activity log and even a compass. So far it has been great for work, and I’m happy with it. I’m pretty much sold on the concept, so I will likely look into something a bit more higher end in the future.

Set up was a snap, though I’m not sure if it’s normal to have to use your phone to update and set up your watch (I imagine those models with cell service can update themselves). It went through its paces, updating the watch’s firmware and whatnot, and then I was able to do some customization and setup via the application on my phone. You can also change some settings via the watch, but there are more options through the app. Either way, there was a lot to play with and learn, and at this point I’m content. If you’re looking for a watch like this that is inexpensive and easy to use, I’d recommend this one. I saw watches as cheap as $30 and some of the high end ones are $500+, but I can’t really comment on any others, this being my first. I know some of the other guys at work have them as well, and they definitely seem to have more features, but this is really all I needed.

Unboxing the Razer Naga Trinity

With my birthday coming up this week, I was surprised by my father with the gift of a new gaming mouse for my PC. When I originally built my PC back in 2015 he had given me one of his mice, a Corsair M65 that I have used for the past few years without issue. It was still working as a matter of fact, but was starting to show signs of wear in certain spots. This didn’t affect functionality, but it was starting to look a bit ugly. Apparently my Dad is a mind reader, as he decided that I probably needed a new mouse by now. I was visiting this past weekend for another reason but he already had the mouse on hand and surprised me with it. I thought I’d take this opportunity to show it off and give some feedback. Enter the Razer Naga Trinity:

What’s unique about this particular design is the fact that it’s moddable. It came with the “MMO” 12-button side panel pre-installed, but also comes with a “MOBA” 9-button panel and something more like a FPS/Normal panel that has 2 side buttons.  Also packed in were a couple of Razer logo stickers and a manual. The mouse’s design is a little different than what I was used to as it has a “ring-finger rest” on the right side that makes it feel a little fat in the hand, but I think I’ll get used to it.

The side panel mods at first glance seem like they would be a pain in the ass to change up, but it turns out that it’s rather easy to do. Each panel is secured with magnets, and pulls right off for on-the-fly modifications. The contact panel pictured in the center connects the side buttons to the mouse inputs. It’s a pretty cool idea, and I’m happy to have the options. For now, I’ve put the normal/FPS panel on until I get used to the mouse in general. After that I may end up being able to try setting up hotkeys for games. I can’t imagine retraining my brain from keyboard keys to mouse keys, but I will try it out nonetheless.

The mouse wheel and logo on the mouse are also RGB lighted and customizable with different effects/colors.

After plugging the mouse in, the Razer Synapse software installs and opens up your configuration options. There’s quite a bit of different specs to change but the most important is setting up the lighting (I chose static red as my keyboard is also lit up in that color) and the sensitivity. The Naga Trinity supports up to 16000 DPI, which is absolutely insane. My device defaulted to 1700 DPI which was far too slow for my ultra wide monitor, and I ended up settling for the Stage 2 3700 DPI. It feels about where my old mouse was. I may have to change it up depending on gaming performance, which I have yet to test out at this point.

Don’t mind my dusty ass workspace, but here’s both pieces lit up together:

It seems like a solid mouse and has a nice range of options to play with. I’d recommend it if you’re in the market for a mouse that can work for multiple genres — hardcore PC gamers will enjoy it. The mouse buttons also have a satisfying click that feels mechanical and I’ve enjoyed the responsiveness. I give it an A+.

The Year in Gaming: 2017

It’s that time of year when games are being awarded “Game of The Year” honors and people are rounding up their activities for the year as well. Year in Review posts aren’t something new here on this blog, but sometimes I make lists of my favorite games of the year, sometimes I talk about what was going on with my personal life and sometimes I even make lists about my favorite Metal releases or what have you. This year I’m going to talk about my year in gaming, particularly about what games I picked up, those I finished, and those that came out this year that I still want but haven’t purchased yet. At the end of it all I’ll throw out my nod for game of the year and call it a day. The only criteria for these categories going forward was that the games in question released this year. So let’s get started, shall we?

Games I Actually Finished:

Resident Evil 7
Telltale’s Walking Dead Season 3
Bioshock Remastered (didn’t release this year)
Bioshock Remastered 2 (didn’t release this year)
Destiny (didn’t release this year)

I poured through my blog posts for the past year and there were a shit load of games that I played, but many of those I didn’t finish were MOBAs, CCGs, or MMOs (no finished state). I did say I wasn’t going to count any sort of games that didn’t release this year, but the games listed above were completed despite not being a new release and I wanted to catalog what games I actually completed. Resident Evil 7 and Telltale’s Walking Dead games were fantastic and I beat them shortly after release. I played through the original Destiny early in the year but didn’t have an interest in the sequel after reading much of the blogosphere’s opinions on it. I only recently finished up the first two Bioshock games and though they were excellent, these latter three titles aren’t in contention for game of the year.

Games I Bought But Didn’t Finish:

Mass Effect: Andromeda
I Am Setsuna
Wonderboy: The Dragon’s Trap
Cosmic Star Heroine
Codex of Victory

I bought a lot of games around the beginning of the year. I was still subscribed to Humble Monthly, so I was getting games left and right via that platform and Playstation Plus, on top of anything I purchased. The above list were games that released this year and that I picked up and played, but didn’t complete. Some are in the backlog to finish and honestly some of them probably won’t be finished anytime soon. I would like to play Mass Effect Andromeda soon, but for now I’m concentrating on finishing the Bioshock series. I’m rarely on the cutting edge of new games in my catalog as I typically wait for big titles to go on sale but outside of Mass Effect these were smaller indie titles and though they were all good in their own ways, I only tried them out and never completed them. Perhaps I’ll be able to add them to the completed list by this time next year, but that really depends on how much time I devote to Magic: The Gathering and Everquest II over the next year.

Games I Want To Buy:

Gran Turismo Sport
Divinity Original Sin II
Wolfenstein 2
Quake Champions
The Evil Within 2
Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite
Horizon Zero Dawn

There were a bunch of new releases over the year that I’d really like to pick up. Gran Turismo is my favorite racing series and the newest version looks great. Divinity Original Sin II got rave reviews, though I do need to finish the original first. I did complete the first Wolfenstein so I’d definitely like to pick up the sequel (it’s on sale on Steam right now too!). The other games are sequels to games I’ve already enjoyed, or a remake in the case of Prey. Finally, Horizon Zero Dawn is the type of game that probably made some Game of the Year lists, but I was waiting for the complete version that released this month, so perhaps I’ll grab that one soon.

Systems I Want:

SNES Classic
Nintendo Switch

Lastly, 2017 saw the rise of Nintendo from the ashes. Not only did the company make some decent releases on mobile platforms, they’ve continued portable system dominance with the 3/2DS systems. I’m tempted to grab one of those but I didn’t list it here, because I’m actually kind of interested in the Switch, which itself is a semi-portable device. I also really want on of the SNES Classic systems to go along with my NES Classic, but it’s likely I’ll be price gouged on that just like I was with the original. It’s surprising to me to be interested in a Nintendo system again (outside of the Classics which are just plain awesome), because I’m usually against their kid-friendly platform and lack of “mature” titles. However, having played some Super Mario Maker on my step-son’s 3DS, I’ve actually found the desire to play some of the newer games. I’ve heard great things about the new Zelda and Mario titles, and well it’s stuff I grew up on so I’m interested. Plus it’s a more portable device so I can take it with me when I go on trips, etc. Lastly, my step-son is very interested in games and Nintendo tends to make family-friendly titles that aren’t too difficult so it will give us something to do. I may pick one up next year after I get my tax return.

So with all of that said, 2017 seems to have been a pretty good year for gaming. I’d now like to give my nod for Game of the Year, and because I didn’t play many titles to completion this year I only have a couple to choose from, and I’m going to give my award to Resident Evil VII.

The game was amazing. The first person perspective really brought a whole new life to the series, and it was actually very creepy throughout. I enjoyed the hell out of it and would place it much higher on the scale that some of the more recent entries. Of course, I probably could have played something else and just as easily given the award to another game (there are certainly other titles out there that are worthy) but in my experiences this year, it was the game that stuck out most in my head as my favorite experience.

So there you have it. Another great year of gaming down the tubes. See you next year!

Thoughts on the Steam Controller

During the summer sale on Steam, Valve decided to put their hardware offerings on discount, and I’ve thought about purchasing a Steam Controller for a while now. Honestly, I dislike the Xbox controller very much, and always have. I know that is probably the most commonly used controller for PC gaming, but my distaste for it meant that I ended up buying a Logitech controller that was sort of a hybrid of an Xbox and Playstation controller. It has the same A,B,X,Y button layout as an Xbox controller, but instead of the skewed sticks, they are in-line like the PS setup. It was a fine controller and still works, but it is wired and the D-pad is shit. I found that I didn’t use it all that often, but some games simply feel better with a controller rather than keyboard/mouse.

I realize that you are able to use Playstation controllers on PC, but the last time I tried that you had to keep it wired, and I assume that is still the case so it’s not optimal. The Steam Controller is made for PC gaming, and made for Steam specifically (where most of my game collection is found outside of consoles) so I figured it was a good investment, and for $35 (on sale) it’s cheaper than buying most of the other AAA controllers on the market.

The controller finally arrived the other night, and I finally got around to giving it a whirl. It came packed in a nice box that you can see above, and here’s what comes inside:

I swear at some point I read that you are required to have the Steam Link to use the controller, but that isn’t the case. The Steam link is similar to an Nvidia Shield or other streaming device that just puts the display from your computer onto a TV in another room. Great concept, but not needed for me, so I just got the controller. It is battery powered and comes with a USB dongle that enables wireless usability. Installing the batteries was easy enough, and I assume if you use rechargables, you’d be able to charge them via the USB cord, but I could be wrong about that. Outside of installing the batteries, there was no other setup required, just plug in the dongle and start up steam. It will update the firmware automatically and then you’re good to go.

Big picture mode is not required though it makes navigating Steam a bit easier with the controller. Overall I like the construction of the unit and the feel of it in your hand. It feels like a great controller. In practice, it takes some getting used to.

I started off by checking out steam controller supported games in my library, and the first one I tried wouldn’t work with the unit. The second game I tried worked well, but it was a platformer and only used the one stick and buttons. The trackpads feel great, but they are hard to use in the case of FPS games. I tried one, and it didn’t feel very good to move the camera with a trackpad. Apparently you can push on the trackpad and swing the controller in various ways to help with the camera control, but I didn’t really figure that out until watching a video later on. People rave about the controller being great for any game, but I feel like it’s best saved for slower paced games or more simplistic ones. Those that require twin sticks will definitely require some practice, but I want to put in that practice because I made the investment. We’ll see how that develops over time.

My final verdict? It’s worth the sale price. It feels and looks great. Most games that you would traditionally think about using a controller for (fighting, shmup, beat-em-ups, side-scrollers, and platformers) are going to benefit. Those that use twin-stick camera and movement controls might irritate you at first, but I think once you get past the learning curve it can be great. I’d buy it if you dislike Xbox controllers and want something built for the PC.