Without The Sarcasm http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com Insights. Analysis. Answers. Fri, 15 Aug 2014 02:50:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Tips to beat the New Two Dots Level 72 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/tips-beat-new-two-dots-level-72/ http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/tips-beat-new-two-dots-level-72/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 02:48:00 +0000 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=5459 I’d like to tell you that the new Two Dots Level 72 was easier, that version 2 is a relief from the pain some experienced with the long path of the previous version… but I can’t. In fact, the new Two Dots Level 72 is so hard it might be the hardest level in the game! Grab your horseshoes and rabbit’s feet, and read on for more details.

New Two Dots Level 72

Harder is the new hard

In what seems like a trend, an update to the game (Version 1.1.2) made Level 72 much harder. The old Two Dots Level 72 was still challenging, but in a fun, puzzly kind of way – and I could routinely beat it in one or two tries after I figured it out. The new Two Dots Level 72 gives you far less moves to complete a totally different board where there is much more Fire, and you need to release an almost impossible number of Anchors. Even though I respect the developer, I’m a bit at a loss for the motivation in this ground up redesign beyond making the level an implicit paywall, and that is disappointing.

…but we Match on

Like any Two Dots level, Level 72 is not impossible, but with the few moves you have, every one must count. Work your way toward the bottom efficiently. When given the choice, try to always choose the match which eliminates the most Fire Dots at the same time (with some caveats below). Despite the distraction of Fire, this level, like most of them, is really all about making Squares. You must make a ton of Squares to win this level; there is pretty much no other way. Weigh each move carefully as it is sometimes better to make a “sacrifice” move to the Fire to set up a Square, so that you can create more Squares in later moves. Keeping a good rhythm of Squares going will reduce the number of colors on your board – which will make the level beatable, but just barely.

Pro Tip The starting board always includes 3 Squares. Pay close attention to the colors, and check out the single Dots that are touching Fire. Start by making a Square that’s the same color as one of the Dots touching the Fire, and keep in mind the colors of the other Squares for future single Dots that touch Fire in your early moves. It’s often good to use the middle Square in your second or third move, because otherwise it can get jumbled as you clear Fire Dots below it.

Pro Tip Anchors will not start to fall from the center until you clear the initial Anchors on one side or the other. In my experience they seem to fall sooner if you clear the Anchors on the left side first.

Warning As you near the bottom, your moves will eventually split the Fire. If you split the Fire in two pieces, two new Fire Dots will grow on the next turn. This means it can be better to make a sacrifice move rather than splitting the Fire, since letting two Fire Dots grow may cost you two turns to recover from.

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Tips to beat New Two Dots Level 69 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/tips-beat-new-two-dots-level-69/ http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/tips-beat-new-two-dots-level-69/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 03:02:21 +0000 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=5451 With the Version 1.1.0 update, Two Dots Level 69 got a major overhaul. The New Two Dots Level 69 is arguably even harder than its formidable predecessor. When I originally read the version update notes of “rebalancing” levels like this one, I assumed it would involve making tough levels easier. Boy, was I wrong….

New Two Dots Level 69

Gee, thanks

You thought Betaworks was going to give you a break? Think again. The new Two Dots Level 69 has 8 fewer moves than the previous version. Thankfully, there is no ice to break, but really the challenge was and continues to be controlling the Fire. Forget for the moment that you’ve got Anchors to clear, because if you don’t control the FireYou. Will. Lose. The worst thing that can happen is the Fire splitting up into the two side columns where the Anchors spawn. Do whatever you can to avoid this, because if it occurs, it’s game over.

Pro Tip The best starting move tends to be the double match right in the middle. This sets up a chance for more matches down the center which can clear Fire on both sides, and also increases the chances of a Square forming on either the right or left column.

Pro Tip Like other Fire levels, you’ll sometimes have turns where you can’t break a Fire Dot. This is a great time to move Anchors down and set up Squares or other matches. Keep in mind that breaking Fire Dots will cause your Dots to move down by two, and factor that into your strategy for setting up matches.

Eyes on the Prize

Once you have killed off or significantly reduced the Fire, it’s time to free up those Anchors. There is no trophy for a “clean” win, so take the matches however you can get them, but keep an eye out for Squares. If you can get a Square train going, it is often possible to win even if you have several more Anchors to collect with only a few moves left.

Pro Tip Immediately next to the Anchor columns, there is a single Dot on each side which connects those columns to the main board. Keep an eye on the color of the Dot in this column, as it can often help get Anchors free, especially in the starting board where it is often pink, matching the pink Dot that spawns below the initial Anchors.

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4 Things Nobody Tells You About Being a Parent (Part 2) http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/4-things-nobody-tells-parent-part-2/ http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/4-things-nobody-tells-parent-part-2/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 01:18:57 +0000 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=5433 We’re halfway through my countdown of the top four things nobody bothered to tell me about being a parent. If you’ve somehow joined us midway or if sleep deprivation has caused you to forget them, jump back to the top.

#2: Pediatricians Are Often Just As Clueless As You

When I had my first child, I was so scared of “breaking” him. Every time he so much as coughed, we took him to the pediatrician’s office. It didn’t help that he had a couple of pretty severe issues within his first few months, one of which required hospitalization. Luckily, we have good insurance, so the cost of these visits was relatively low.

However, over time you quickly realize that the pediatricians have very few tools in their toolboxes. For the most part, they can tell you to give them over the counter pain/fever medications (ie, Tylenol or Motrin), tell you to give them clear fluids, or tell you that you’re just going to have to tough it out.

Fun Fact: Much like Thor's hammer, a pediatrician's stethoscope is the source of their child-healing powers.

Fun Fact: Much like Thor’s hammer, a pediatrician’s stethoscope is the source of their child-healing powers. (Image Source: isafmedia)

Most of the time, the doctors don’t know what the problem is any more than we do. Occasionally they may prescribe medications, but with the decline in use of antibiotics there’s really not a lot they can give kids (especially younger ones) that you can’t just buy at the grocery store.

These days, for the most part I won’t take my kids to the doctor unless they’ve got a fever above 102 degrees or they’re just throwing up constantly and can’t keep anything down. Anything less severe than that and we just take care of it ourselves.

Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t take kids to the doctor if you’re concerned about their health. Having your kids checked out is worth it for the peace of mind alone.

However, kids get colds and stomach bugs on roughly a monthly basis. After a while of dealing with the same illnesses and getting the same advice from the pediatricians about it, you just learn to give yourself the advice and save the trip.

#1: Kids Make No Sense

Most living things have a set of “survival mechanisms” built into them. They will tend to instinctually do things that keep them alive and avoid things that would injure or kill them. This makes sense, as the living things that survive tend to have children and pass these instincts onto their children, making the population of living things those generally best suited to survive.

For some reason, human children seem to lack these mechanisms. My kids will refuse to eat or drink, for seemingly no reason. I can serve them ice cream for dinner and they’ll look at it as if I was asking them to eat their own poop. (They’d probably eat their own poop, though.)

Some days I feel like I need to follow them around the house all day and yell “BREATHE!” every thirty seconds or so to make sure they continue to utilize their lungs to exchange the gases needed for their survival.

But it’s not like they’d be likely to listen. I will calmly explain to them that running full speed into a glass door is likely to cause them untold pain and suffering, but they don’t really seem to listen. Even when they break rules directly related to their safety and end up in the ER getting stitches, once the pain has faded they’re right back at it again.

"Jeez Mom, we used SAFETY pins.  Why you gotta be so overprotective???"

“Jeez Mom, we used SAFETY pins. Why you gotta be so overprotective???” (Image Source: D Sharon Pruitt

It’s no use trying to convince people without any children of their own that kids are universally nonsensical. One universally true parenting axiom is that whenever you talk about your children, people are going to attempt to help you by offering sage, logical advice. I myself am an engineer, a profession dedicated to logic and problem solving. Let me tell you, there is no logic to children.

I can come up with really smart, really creative solutions to parenting problems and it’s no better than flipping a coin. If people give me what seems like solid advice, I will smile and nod and say “what a great idea!” I might even try it! However, I hold no faith that it will actually help.

The only solution I’ve ever found that works consistently is an infinite amount of patience and ability to calmly repeat myself over and over again.

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4 Things Nobody Tells You About Being a Parent (Part 1) http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/4-things-nobody-tells-parent/ http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/4-things-nobody-tells-parent/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 01:18:52 +0000 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=5377 When my wife was pregnant, I frequently got asked if I was “ready to be a parent.” I never really knew how to answer that. I don’t think anybody’s really “ready” to be a parent until months/years after their kids are born. I’ve learned so much, but some of it was more surprising than others. In this article, I’ll run down my top four “surprise lessons” during my years of being a parent.

#4: You Won’t Sleep

I don’t think I’ve had more than a handful of solid nights’ sleep since my eldest was born, and that was half a decade ago. I’m in a permanent state of sleep deprivation that makes my entire life both hilarious and depressing, sometimes simultaneously. If you’ve ever wondered where “Dad humor” comes from, this is it.

When we were meeting with all the doctors and pediatricians and so forth prior to the “blessed event” they told us that babies feed every 2 hours, and each feeding took around 45 minutes. “Great!” I thought, “that means 2 hours of rest between feedings, no problem.” However, I was mistaken. It’s two hours between the start times of feedings.

So practically 24 hours a day, the baby will cry and eat for around an hour, then take an hour break, and then do it again. If you did this to your worst enemy, it would be a form of torture.

"BEING ALIVE SUCKS" - Hungry Babies & Tired Parents

“BEING ALIVE SUCKS” – Hungry Babies & Tired Parents

But hey, at around three months most babies start sleeping through the night! Yay! Well, except that the definition of “through the night” means “they miss one feeding.” That’s maybe 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep, at least. Oh, also, babies don’t really have a concept of “night” or “day” so much, so they might decide that 10am is the perfect time for “night time” by their schedule.

All babies, their mothers, feedings, etc, are different, so this is just sort of an “average” experience. You might get lucky and have a really sleepy baby, in which case you’ll probably be worried that they’re not eating enough instead. It’s basically a no-win situation that involves a lot of screaming and stress.

Eventually babies actually are capable of sleeping through the night in the “sane human being” sense of that phrase. However, the sleep loss doesn’t really stop there. In the case of my three, this transition has always been a bit of a fight, where they want to be comforted at some point overnight even though they’re done eating. That leads to either going and comforting them every night or letting them “cry it out.” This generally means a couple of hours a night worth of the loudest, worst screaming imaginable. Meanwhile, you’re sitting on the couch trying to reassure yourself that they’re fine and this is for the best.

Even post-baby phase, sleep is a relatively rare occurrence. Once the feeding stops, then the teething starts, and they’re up crying due to the pain. About once a month kids get sick for a few days to a week, especially if they spend any time whatsoever around other children. Other times, they just wake up and cry out for random reasons. Sometimes it’s because their stuffed animal’s hat fell off, other times it’s because they’re not wearing shoes. In bed. At 2am.

#3: There’s Poop Everywhere

Before I had kids, I believed I understood diapers. I didn’t think there was that much to understand, really. It’s a wrapper you put on your child’s butt to catch the stuff that comes out down there. That’s its one and only job. When it’s used, you take it off, clean the child, and replace it. If you’re really environmentally conscious maybe you buy ones you can wash and use again.

I don’t know if it’s some sort of massive diaper company conspiracy or if there’s some sort of genetic defect that every baby I’ve ever known has carried, but diapers seem to do a crappy job (hah!) of this seemingly simple task.

I'm not going to subject you to a photo of a poopy diaper.  This is just that silly game people play at baby showers that manages to be associate delicious candy with poop for reasons beyond my comprehension.

I’m not going to subject you to a photo of a poopy diaper. This is just that silly game people play at baby showers that manages to be associate delicious candy with poop for reasons beyond my comprehension.

Even after almost 6 years of dealing with diapers, not a week goes by that I don’t have at least one of them leak poop everywhere. Just one a week is a miracle, actually. It happens so often and so consistently that my cohort EB came up with a scale to rate his kids’ poop-related emergencies, each with its own unique and special name:

  • Shituation – Poop has escaped the diaper, but hasn’t yet made it onto any articles of clothing. This is a close call, and often I’m amazed I ever see these. Poop works in mysterious ways.
  • Crapsplosion – There’s poop in places it really shouldn’t be. There’s probably a small stain on clothing at this point, but maybe things are still under control.
  • Poopocalypse – Oh god, the poop is everywhere. It’s through the clothes and probably on other surfaces at this point. Break out the pre-treat spray, the carpet cleaner, and/or the bleach wipes. A load of laundry is imminent.
  • Shataclysm – Similar to the poopocalypse, except that you’re away from home and don’t have any spare clean things to change into. Despite epic planning, this situation happens so frequently it gets its own category.

Now, you can mitigate the chances of poop leakage by promptly changing diapers. Some diapers are better than others at avoiding leaks, and even the size of the diaper relative to the size of the child matters.

That said, kids just love to run off and find a corner and drop a big pantload out of sight of everyone, and then hide with all that poop slowly working it’s way out. Heaven forbid they realize that there are holes in the diaper that are easy to access.

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Destiny Beta Xbox 360 Impressions http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/destiny-beta-xbox-360-impressions/ http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/destiny-beta-xbox-360-impressions/#comments Sun, 03 Aug 2014 22:37:49 +0000 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=5417 EB and I to play a Bungie game. He's a Halo fan from the original Xbox days, and I've played practically everything they've put out since their early Mac games. Destiny's been on our radar since it was announced, so preordering it for beta access was a no-brainer. We'll summarize our impressions of the Destiny beta here, specifically around the Destiny Beta's Xbox 360 edition.]]> It doesn’t take much convincing to get EB and I to play a Bungie game. He’s a Halo fan from the original Xbox days, and I’ve played practically everything they’ve put out since their early Mac games. Destiny’s been on our radar since it was announced, so preordering it for beta access was a no-brainer. We’ll summarize our impressions of the Destiny beta here, specifically around the Destiny Beta’s Xbox 360 edition.

Destiny Beta Logo

First Impressions

On the Xbox 360 especially, Destiny does not leave the best first impression. I’m not going to mince words – the graphics here are bad. It’s clear that everything was designed for much higher resolutions on much more capable hardware, and then scaled down to match the Xbox 360′s limited system requirements.

Destiny Beta: Ugly Rust

There’s a lot of shimmering as models rotate, low poly count grass, and generally low res textures on display.

Moving beyond the graphics, the tutorial level just reeks of bland FPS gameplay. Destiny gives you an assault rifle, a secondary weapon (for the two classes I played, it was a shotgun or a sniper rifle) and a class-specific ability, which in both cases for me was a grenade. Shoot aliens, move to waypoint, lather, rinse, repeat. I’ve done this a thousand times in various console shooters, and it’s tired and old at this point.

There’s been a lot of criticism around Peter Dinklage’s performance as your Ghost. I’d have to say that there’s not really a lot that could be done with the script he’s got here. There’s a lot of technobabble and “alien things given simple proper nouns” in the dialog. “Oh no, we must stop that Wizard before he endangers the Tower!”

Past the First Hour

Really, though, the graphics, tutorial, and the general plot beats are kind of secondary in a game like this. They keep you going, sure, but the real meat and potatoes is playing the game. Here the outlook is better, although it’s still something of a mixed bag.

During the Destiny beta we only got a small slice of the full game’s content. We were limited to the “Cosmodrome” map on Earth, and could only get our characters to level 8. The Cosmodrome map is large and has varied indoor and outdoor environments. It plays more like a MMO zone than a multiplayer map. There’s a lot of similarities to a Borderlands 2 area, except the Destiny zone felt much larger.

Similar to a MMO, there were places where you could encounter other players or groups, and then there were places that were private, instanced “dungeons” to explore while on quests. The Cosmodrome zone had various enemies of different levels, and each part of the map held different enemies with different difficulties. Straying off the beaten path often ended with us dying quickly.

Destiny Beta: Mission 1

In the Cosmodrome zone there were a set of about 5 quests to play. The quest quality varied. There are “Explore” quests which basically just boil down to “go to randomly generated waypoint and accomplish randomly assigned task from this set of 4 tasks” – this was interesting up to a point, and might be good for grinding levels or just messing around without a strict set of goals. I could see it being fun, but after we hit the level cap it just became repetitive.

My favorite mission was the “Strike” mission. It was much longer and had several different parts, including some minibosses and a pretty hard boss fight at the end. The only downside was that EB and I had to take along a third player, whereas we would normally want to just play by ourselves. We had an awesome time during this mission, and I’m looking forward to more like it in the future.

Versus Multiplayer

We jumped into a few multiplayer matches to kill time. Although it seemed fun, I will say I didn’t find it as fun as other online FPS multiplayer games. I do have a preference for PvE rather than PvP, though. Also, I don’t feel like we got enough experience with our skills and weapons to really be competitive.

Time will tell if the game has significant versus multiplayer appeal. Lord knows we’ve spent untold hours on Bungie online shooters before, so I could see Destiny being a contender.

For the most part, though, we tend to prefer games that place players on a roughly level playing field and then challenge them to play better. In Destiny, it seems like grinding for better gear and skills is going to be just as important.

Is it Next Gen Time Yet?

I’m not convinced I should buy an Xbox One for Destiny. Bungie claims the game is just as full-featured on the 360 and the PS3, and that the choice just comes down to graphics. That means that the game itself is still designed around last-gen hardware restrictions.

It’s certainly a good game, but not one that I’m willing to drop several hundred dollars on to get the “best experience.” This has been a weird console transition, and with all of the games coming out cross platform I’ve still yet to convince myself that it’s worth it to buy a new console.

Bungie has also said that if you move from one console generation to another within the same family (ie 360->XB1 or PS3->PS4), your characters can be migrated. Thus, if Destiny gets a bunch of XB1 exclusive content, I can always move up to experience it.

Conclusion

Destiny is an odd duck. It’s Borderlands with more MMO and a more “serious” story attached to it. The beta didn’t show us anything that really improved on the Borderlands formula, so it’s more a matter of whether or not you like the lateral movement Destiny represents. The Xbox 360 edition is ugly but capable, so once again we’ve got a hotly anticipated title that isn’t selling us on the new console generation.

Am I going to play it? Yeah, I’m going to play it. Is it a decent title, if a bit cliched in spots? Yeah, that’s true too. Is it a revolutionary, game-changing title that will set the standard for what’s to come? Not really, no.

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Tips to beat Two Dots Level 72 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/tips-beat-two-dots-level-72/ http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/tips-beat-two-dots-level-72/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 03:41:57 +0000 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=5402

Update! This level was radically changed in the version 1.1.2 update. Click here to see tips for the new level.

Several readers have reached out and asked for some tips on Two Dots Level 72. Ask and you shall receive friends! Level 72 can be fairly difficult, and like most levels in Two Dots that involve Fire, if you don’t have the right strategy… you’ll get killed with fire. Without further ado, here are some quick tips.

Two Dots Level 72

It burns

Because of the shape of this board, you need to consider each move carefully with respect to Fire control. Just about every time the Fire grows you are losing 2 moves – the first where you didn’t clear a Fire Dot, and the second to clear the Fire Dot which spread because you didn’t clear one. Naturally, this can get out of hand quickly – so you need to take control early and keep it throughout the round. For starters, take out that pesky fire Dot on the top left ASAP. You don’t need two fires growing. It may be worth rerolling the level until you’ve got a good move to clear it.

Warning When you first start clearing the fire on the right, be very careful to avoid dropping Fire Dots into your safe area below. If it happens, clear them immediately. The Fire Dots only fall down in this area you let them grow into the top of the column and then clear Dots below them. Try to strike quickly to start working the Fire back to the right, and you soon won’t have to worry about this nuisance.

Forward Progress

The bottom left area is the best part of the board for making Squares. Also, watch for the chance to create Bombs (Squares that enclose other Dots), since they actually appear fairly often here and are a good alternative if you can’t make a Square.

Pro Tip As you snake through the level on the right, don’t use a Square if you don’t have to. Many times you can clear two or three Fire Dots just by making “match – twos”. If you use your Square too soon, you’ll only clear one fire Dot, and the random drops may not be as favorable. The best use of Squares is when you are down to single Dots of that color that are touching the fire. I believe this nuance is what makes Level 72 challenging for so many people, since you need to try and hold off on Squares until they are most needed.

Pro Tip Avoid spending moves to make Squares unless you don’t have any moves that can clear Fire. Inevitably you will get stuck every so often, and that’s the opportune time to set up a Square.

Was Two Dots Level 72 just too hard? Do you need more help? Check out 5 quick tips for Two Dots here.

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Cult of the Fiver | July 2014 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/cult-fiver-july-2014/ http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/cult-fiver-july-2014/#comments Sun, 27 Jul 2014 17:47:38 +0000 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=5388 Rollercoaster Tycoon 3: Platinum

RollerCoaster Tycoon 3: Platinum

Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 is the third (and so far final) entry in one of the most popular Tycoon game series of all time. In it, you manage a theme park, try to attract as many guests as possible, and then take all their money in return for temporarily entertaining them. Or making them vomit. But ideally, a bit of both. The Platinum edition comes with some additional water park and zoo attractions.

Rollercoaster Tycoon 3: Platinum is worth your $5 because… it’s a fun simulation/tycoon game with a lot of hilarious replay value. Will you torture your guests or coddle them? If you choose torture, you can charge them obscene amounts of money to put them on rides that scare the vomit right out of them, and then charge them again to go to the bathroom afterwards. Or you could put some silly rides in, I guess, and charge a reasonable amount. But what’s the fun in that?

But don’t pay full price for Rollercoaster Tycoon 3: Platinum, since… it’s pretty long in the tooth, and the series was better in the first two incarnations. The game can get a bit slow, and it’s got a learning curve. The interface isn’t that great, and getting stuff done often feels like a struggle.

The $5 Deal: Steam

Quick Tips:

  • Most of your shops and rides won’t actually start until you activate them by changing the flag from red to green in the settings.
  • Pay attention to orientation – the entrance to a shop or ride needs to point towards the path for maximum profits.
  • If you see that a particular type of shop is really doing well, putting another one in is an easy way to get extra cash.
  • Hire additional workers when you can – if there’s a lot of vomit, for instance, you might need extra janitors.

Sniper Elite V2

Sniper Elite V2

In the closing days of World War 2, Nazi rocket scientists are defecting to the Soviets. Although the Soviets and the US are allies in the war, there’s talk that the Soviets are planning to use Nazi rocket technology against the US. Oh Noes! It’s up to a lone sniper to sneak deep behind enemy lines and blow a lot of people’s brains out (literally) in order to save the day.

Sniper Elite V2 is worth your $5 because… it’s a halfway decent first person shooter. The sniping mechanics are kind of fun. Lining up shots, slowing down time, and taking down an enemy all the way across the map can be entertaining in any game, but this game takes that mechanic and makes it front and center.

But don’t pay full price for Sniper Elite V2, since… the amount of not-sniping you have to do is kind of high for a game about sniping. Plus, almost everything else about the game is a mess. Trying to fight with your SMG is painful. Stealth is a mess. The silenced pistol is terrible. Without a clear understanding of how the maps are laid out, setting traps is rarely useful. Even when you guess correctly, sometimes the enemies just teleport right past them.

The $5 Deal: Amazon w/Steam DRM | Steam | Humble

Quick Tips:

  • If the game gives you trip mines, set them up in nearby doors. Chances are you’ll need them soon.
  • There is a little “sound wave” icon in the upper right that indicates when you can fire your unsilenced weapons without attracting attention.
  • If you lay down near the top of some stairs, enemies have a tough time hitting you. You can back up a little bit and they’ll shoot right into the top stair, letting you pick them off at your leisure.

Papers, Please

Papers, Please

Glory to Arstotzka! It’s the 80′s in a fictional Soviet bloc country. Having won a labor lottery, you have been assigned to work the border between Arstotzka and Grestin. However, tensions are high and the bureaucracy is corrupt. You’ll have to balance an increasingly difficult set of border checkpoint rules, your family’s monetary needs, and the constant threat of terrorist attack in order to survive. Cause no trouble.

Papers, Please is worth your $5 because… it’s a unique and important game that really deserves attention. It teaches you about how systems and circumstances can dehumanize and desensitize people. I wrote about the lessons it’s trying to teach in another full-length Papers, Please article.

But don’t pay full price for Papers, Please, since… the game itself can be fun, but chances are you’re either going to love it or hate it. While there are 20 different endings, a lot of them are just variations of different ways to fail. There are a lot of scripted encounters that play out the same way every time you hit a particular day, making the replay value less than you might expect.

The $5 Deal: Steam | Humble

Quick Tips:

  • If you’re having trouble with money, turn “Easy Mode” on in the options – it’s $20 more per day with no strings attached.
  • If you come up with a system for checking documents, you’ll move faster and with less errors. I tended to check each form from top to bottom, and compare it against the person’s passport.
  • There are several ways to “win” but I’d suggest committing completely to supporting Arstotzka or undermining it, as anything in between is going to lead to issues.

Goat Simulator

Goat Simulator

In this game, you play as a goat. You do goat things like headbutt stuff and lick stuff and do 360 double frontflips off of trampolines. Mostly you cause chaos and trash everything in sight.

Goat Simulator is worth your $5 because… this game is the unholy union of Tony Hawk Pro Skater and Saints Row. There’s explosions, destruction, ragdolling, flying through the air, comboing for points, and a boatloat of secrets to find and collect. I was expecting it to be funny for about half an hour and then get boring, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s just as hilarious 10 hours in as it was in the first 10 minutes. There’s a lot of fun game mechanics and stuff to do and explore.

But don’t pay full price for Goat Simulator, since… it’s more of a silly diversion than a full-blown game in its own right. Plus one of the achievements is to win at a Flappy Bird clone, and #*$&# that game.

The $5 Deal: Amazon w/Steam DRM | Steam | Humble

Quick Tips:

  • If you keep from injuring any humans for about 5 minutes, you’ll unlock “angel goat.” When you’re in the air, you can glide by holding R. This makes getting massive tricks and landing safely a breeze.
  • You can start a custom game with whatever goat abilities you want, which makes some of the more tricky achievements less grindy.

Dead Rising 2

Dead Rising 2

Chuck is a down-on-his-luck former motocross star who is now taking part in an exploitative game show in “Not Las Vegas. ” He needs the money in order to pay for medication for his sick daughter. All hell breaks loose when zombies attack, and he’s framed for letting them loose. Now he’s got 72 hours to clear his name, all while dealing with psychopaths, reticent survivors, and his daughter’s constant need for medication.

Dead Rising 2 is worth your $5 because… it’s a tense but funny zombie-bashing experience. The clock is constantly ticking, so there’s a lot of strategy to how you plan your movements in order to do as much good as possible while still keeping track of the main story line missions. The combo weapon system gives you some awesome and ridiculous weapons to beat back the zombie invaders.

But don’t pay full price for Dead Rising 2, since… a lot of issues, both major and minor, mar the experience. For instance, the constantly ticking clock. It keeps the game moving, but it also means you’ve got little time to deal with anything but what’s absolutely required of you. The combat is often sloppy, especially against psychopaths. They all have unblockable, uninterruptable attacks that knock you down. Most of the available weapons are downright useless. Combat with guns especially is unwieldy.

The $5 Deal: Steam

Quick Tips:

  • Learn how to build the Defiler and the Knife Gloves ASAP. Both require items you can find in and around the safehouse, and both are seriously powerful.
  • I like to carry around a Nailbat as well, just because it does a good job of zombie crowd control and you can use it up without feeling like you’re losing something important.
  • Mix 2 beers in a blender to make a Painkiller, which restores life and halves the damage you take for 60 seconds. These are essential for some of the harder fights!

Dust: An Elysian Tail

Dust: An Elysian Tail

Dust is an amnesiac badass warrior with an oversized sword and a fairy partner named Fidget. Together, they’ll save the world from an overzealous general hell-bent on genocide. Beautiful sprites and backdrops compliment the 2-D Metroidvania style gameplay.

Dust: An Elysian Tail is worth your $5 because… it’s beautiful and fun to play. Just moving around is fun, but the combat is also quite entertaining. Revisiting old areas is rarely a chore, since the game keeps a good map that contains locations of loot and often secret entrances to other areas. The game’s a good length – not so short that you don’t get a chance to really get powerful, but not so long that it wears out its welcome.

But don’t pay full price for Dust: An Elysian Tail, since… it’s got a hackneyed plot, and often the combat is pretty one note. Despite there being various combo moves, for the most part you’ll probably just hit with a few normal attacks and then use the Dust/Fidget “Dust Storm” combo move to deal massive damage to practically everything on the screen. Lather, rinse, repeat until everything’s dead.

The $5 Deal: Amazon w/Steam DRM | Steam | Humble

Quick Tips:

  • Over the course of the game, Fidget will learn different elemental moves. Each element has a different attack pattern when used in Dust Storm. Experiment to find the best combos for different enemy attack patterns.
  • Almost every map has areas you won’t be able to unlock until you come back later in the game, so don’t feel like you need to do absolutely everything on your first pass.
  • Pretty much every enemy type has two types of things it can drop that you can use to make gear. Once you sell one of each item to the shops, the shops will start stocking them for sale. Thus, it’s in your best interest to collect these items and sell them early.
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Space Engineers (Alpha) Preview http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/space-engineers-alpha-preview/ http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/space-engineers-alpha-preview/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 22:46:00 +0000 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=5379 Space Engineers is a game all about mining, exploring, and building massive structures in an asteroid belt. I talked to Keen Software House about doing a preview of the current alpha build, and they were kind enough to provide me a Steam key for evaluation. I’ve spent many hours over the weekend and through this week taking the alpha for a spin, and I’m here to share my impressions.

Space: The Mine-al Frontier

Space Engineers is going to draw a lot of comparisons to Minecraft. In both games, you’ve got to mine various materials and use them to create ever more complex creations within your virtual play area. Space Engineers also features a “creative” and “survival” mode similar to Minecraft. The interface is definitely trying to make things easier for veteran Minecraft players as well.

However, Space Engineers is more than just “Minecraft, but in space!” For one, the physics in Space Engineers is phenomenal. It’s a ton of fun to turn on your personal jetpack and zip around the area, and then turn it off and run through space stations and ships. Second, whereas Minecraft generally leaves you on foot on the surface of a planet, the main focus of Space Engineers is building and flying your own ships of various sizes.

space-engineers-inventory

Space Engineers gives you kind of a wide array of parts and pieces to build with, and just lets you go crazy. I was reminded of the Gummi Ship mechanics in the Kingdom Hearts series, but without the complexities of that game’s UI. Being able to move in three dimensions around your creations, go inside them, and build from all sides is really a lot of fun. Each ship needs certain parts (like a cockpit, thrusters, and a reactor) in order to work, but other than that your ships can take whatever form you decide.

Of course, you need resources for all of these things, and at least in Survival you’ll have to mine them yourself. The game gives you a hand drill to start out with, but once you’re able to build your own ships you can attach drills to them as well. It’s very satisfying to build and fly your own mining vessels.

space-engineers-mining-ship

Once mined, the resources have to be refined and then assembled into usable blocks. When you build your ship, you can attach connectors to it, which you can then use to interface with connectors on your space stations. In this way, you can “dock” your mining ship and unload resources directly into your production chain. This simplifies inventory management and having to unload/load all your goods by hand.

Once you’ve built the requisite components, you’ll have to lay out your ship or station and then weld the parts into place. Again, you can do this by hand or you can build welding and grinding tools onto your ships that will help make the process easier and faster.

If you’d rather just skip the whole process of building your own stuff and get right to flying and destroying stuff, you can. There are several “quick start” scenarios included in the game, and there’s Steam Workshop support for sharing and downloading creations.

space-engineers-normandy

If getting into space dogfights is more your deal, there are already simple NPC ship options for single player worlds, and there are also multiplayer servers to check out. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, though, so don’t be surprised if you end up space-paste before you can really build anything of interest.

Still in Alpha

At the moment, Space Engineers is in alpha. It’s playable, and I didn’t encounter any severe bugs in my time with it. The game’s had weekly updates which have expanded the game significantly in the past few months. That said, it still does have rough edges.

There’s not a lot to do in single player besides build ships and stations. Space is mostly empty except for the odd asteroid for mining. You could fight the NPC ships (assuming you turn them on) but they’re not that much of a challenge. That’s not to say there’s not fun to be had building stuff and learning the game mechanics, but I would like to see some interesting end-game challenges.

The survival mode seems like it could use some balancing. It’s somewhat difficult to gather resources by hand, especially in zero-g. Once you have a mining ship or some artificial gravity, things are much easier. You can opt to start the game past this initial point, but I know a lot of the appeal of games like this is doing it all yourself by hand. I highly suggest playing creative first, and watching the tutorial videos on the Space Engineers site before you dig in. There’s a lot to learn, and a lot of it isn’t going to be obvious just from playing.

The survival bootstrapping issues are doubly problematic in multiplayer. By default, you’re going to start alone, with limited resources, in a hostile galaxy. Chances are good big constructions have already been completed, and it can be difficult to bootstrap yourself in these situations. On the servers I tried, it felt a lot like DayZ or Rust in that there were a lot of larger players preying on the starting resources newbies get. I’m sure it’s not like that everywhere, and the new user experience can be a tough nut to crack in these sorts of games.

Conclusion

Overall, Space Engineers is a fun game with incredible promise. If you’ve ever wanted to be an astronaut and fly around in zero-g,, building massive engineering projects in space, this game is going to scratch that itch very well. Looking over the planned feature list gets me giddy – there’s a lot of cool stuff in progress already.

I always caution people about Early Access games that what you’re buying might be the final version of the software. While the weekly updates seem to indicate that it isn’t the case here, it’s still wisdom to consider. Do you want to build huge space stations and ships, fly them around, mine stuff, shoot other stuff, and generally just play around? If so, Space Engineers is worth your time. Go check it out on Steam!

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Lessons Learned from Papers, Please http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/papers-please/ http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/papers-please/#comments Sat, 19 Jul 2014 01:07:33 +0000 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=5369 Depressing By Design

The design of this game is fascinating. I don’t know how much of it was intentional and how much is just happy coincidence, but it feels masterfully planned.

Your work environment is a booth, and the UI’s design manages to give you a cramped feeling in a digital space.

Papers Please UI

At the top of the screen is a sort of overview of your checkpoint. A line of people stretches off into infinity, and never gets shorter. Past the checkpoint, guards stand watch and cars pass by. Whenever there is a person in the booth, the sounds of the outer world become muted. The effect is that you technically could be paying attention to what’s going on, but in practice you generally won’t notice something is going terribly wrong until the poop has really hit the fan.

The bottom half of the screen is dedicated to the booth’s interior. On the left is a view of the person currently in your booth, along with their height and weight. There are spaces here for storing your instructions (which change daily) and your rule book. To the right, there’s a small area where you can place documents for review.

As the days wear on, the number of documents you need to place here far outstrip the work area’s ability to contain them. Really, you can only see two or perhaps three things side-by-side. There are often five or more documents that need to come together in order to determine whether or not a person is valid for entry. Constant shuffling of papers tends to ensue, until you develop a system to properly organize and efficiently deal with all the chaos.

After a few days, you’re also responsible for border security. When a terrorist attack begins, an alarm sounds and a special lock appears on your desk. You’ve got to find the key to the lock to access your armaments, and then pick up the sniper rifle and use it, all within a few seconds. Failure to do so can yield your death, or the death of the people guarding the border.

I get the feeling that Papers, Please is supposed to be mindless drudgery. However, maybe it’s a testament to my unusual not-quite-all-there brain patterns that I actually enjoyed the process. I’m not going to lie – there are a lot of things to master on the first few days. However, with some sticky notes, wiki pages, and a generous amount of experience, I found it easy and even somewhat fun.

I get that this game is trying to simulate life in a totalitarian police state. I think it also does a pretty good job of simulating any situation where you have to deal with a lot of anonymous people, many of whom wish to break the rules you’ve been tasked with upholding.

I don’t want to directly compare totalitarian dictatorships with crappy customer service jobs, though. I think that this game makes concessions in order to be a simulation and not the real thing. I think those concessions make it fit pretty well with my experiences as someone who has been involved in crappy customer service responsibilities, though. In this way, I think it’s possible to learn not only empathy towards those who live under these sorts of regimes, but also to learn something about dealing with other human beings.

Losing My Religion

It’s easy in Papers, Please to assume that everyone is a criminal. After the first few “bad apples” sneak through, you start to get suspicious of everyone. And often, your suspicions are confirmed. This leads to a bad feedback loop, though, and soon you might find yourself detaining anyone with even a single typo in their documentation. After all, you’re never going to see them again, and detaining them makes your life a tiny bit simpler along with giving you a bit more cash at the end of the day.

While the “people” in this game are just randomly generated blobs of pixels who are inherently not human, it’s just as easy to dehumanize people in similar situations in real life. Sure, the rules of whatever system they’re passing through are complicated, but as the player you understand it, right? It’s not that hard. Just bring your passport, work permit, entry permit, and identification supplement, all in proper order, and present them at the border. If something’s out of date, or the arbitrary rules have changed, well, you should have known that. A harsh response to such trivial mistakes is to be expected. We have high standards here in Arstotzka; we don’t let just anyone in. After all, you might be a terrorist.

If you find yourself hating these interactions, and considering the people entering the checkpoint as meaningless, abusive pawns who must bow to your will, you’re starting to understand.

Getting past this phase and realizing that you’ve been on both sides of this desk in real life before is something that I hope people can learn from this game. Whether you were in the booth or whether you were against the wall, in the other position the other side was an actual, real live person with hopes and dreams and reasons for doing what they’re doing.

The game attempts to “zap” you back into feeling empathy at regular intervals as the days progress. Amidst the stream of random strangers, people come through who need your help for one reason or another. Will you bend or break the rules to help them?

Your Eternal Reward

Even when you’re “playing it right,” the rewards for good behavior are basically nonexistent. You have a “boss” but he only deigns to visit every 10 days. He criticizes every one of your mistakes, and even if you work perfectly the only benefit is a slightly more impressive (but basically still junk) plaque.

At the end of every day, you take whatever earnings you managed to scrape together over the course of the day home to your waiting family. They are totally and utterly dependent on you – all the bills are your responsibility. Failure to feed them and keep them warm will lead to their deaths.

Again here, though, the rewards are next to nothing. You never actually see your family. Aside from one photo, you otherwise never see their faces. The only time you return home is to make a quick budgetary decision and then go to sleep. The game only ends if you can’t pay the rent or all of your family dies. Otherwise, your choices make little difference.

In other games, I might be tempted to critique this or bash a game for not adequately establishing the stakes or rewarding players when they succeed. Here, though, it again feels like a conscious decision. Your family is no more human than the neverending stream of people whose papers you stamp on a daily basis. Your only reward for all of your work is a depressing decision about how to allocate your inadequate funds toward your faceless family’s survival.

Conclusion

As a game, Papers, Please is certainly unique. If you’re afflicted by some terrible form of OCD, you might find it entertaining. Underneath the daily grind is a number of systems designed to drain and test your empathy and ethics.

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Parents’ Frequently Asked Questions About Minecraft http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/parent-minecraft-faq/ http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/parent-minecraft-faq/#comments Sun, 13 Jul 2014 18:52:56 +0000 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=5354 Minecraft is one of the most popular games available worldwide, and it’s especially popular among children. As a parent who is also an avid video game enthusiast, I’ve been letting my kids play Minecraft with me, and I’ve been encouraging other parents to do the same. Many times I find that parents don’t know what Minecraft is, how it works, or if it’s safe for their children. Is Minecraft for kids? In this guide, I’ll go over the major questions parents have when their kids want to play Minecraft.

Minecraft Logo

How do I get Minecraft and what does it cost?

Minecraft is available on several different platforms, with more on the way.

There are plans for PS4 and Xbox One versions as well. To date, there’s been no Wii or Wii U version, but it’s possible that one may arrive eventually.

The PC and mobile versions of Minecraft rarely go on sale, but the disc versions for Xbox 360 and PS3 can often be found cheaper.

Be very, very careful about “free” Minecraft offers. There are a ton of scams out there where sites will say “Get Minecraft for free! It totally works!” but these are scams. The only place to get Minecraft is from Mojang.

What version of Minecraft should I buy?

The various versions of Minecraft are quite different.

The PC version is the one with the most features, and it’s also got the best support for gameplay modifications that keep the game fun long after the base game gets boring. However, you’ll need one PC and one copy of the game per player. So if you’ve got 3 kids, and they all want to play together, you’ll need 3 PCs and 3 copies of the game. This can make it the most costly version of all the options.

Minecraft Xbox 360 Edition

The Xbox 360 version and Playstation 3 version are significantly behind the PC version in terms of features. They are missing a bunch of the newer things added to Minecraft (like horses) and the size of the world is much, much smaller. In order to play online with other people on the Xbox 360 edition, you’ll need to fork over an additional $60 a year per player for Xbox Live Gold.

However, if your kids are more comfortable using controllers, they’ll probably feel more at home playing on a console. The crafting interface is much simpler, so kids won’t have to memorize complex patterns in order to build things. Also, the console versions feature split screen on high-def TVs for up to four players, so you only need one copy of the game, one console, and four controllers for four people to play together.

The Pocket Edition for iOS and Android is even further stripped down from the console edition. It’s okay for playing on a tablet, but it’s a bit rough playing it on a phone. If your kids generally spend their play time on tablets, it might be worth a look.

Is Minecraft safe for kids?

Generally speaking, yes. For the most part, playing Minecraft is about as dangerous as playing with a set of toy blocks.

There are a few things you might want to consider, though.

Minecraft can be an online game. Do your kids play Minecraft online with other people? If they do, the standard precautions about chat rooms and online strangers applies. Since there are so many kids who enjoy Minecraft, it’s not far fetched to say that unsavory elements might use the game to target children. It’s possible for other people to say or do objectionable things to your kids while they play online. Some online Minecraft servers may ask for money, or attempt to scam money or personal information from people. As with any other online activity, parental supervision is advised.

Minecraft Monsters

Minecraft can sometimes be scary for children. The enemies your kids may encounter include groaning zombies, giant spiders, exploding creepers, and skeletons. One of the goals of the game is to travel through something called the “Nether,” which is a fiery inferno, to get to someplace called “The End” to fight an enormous dragon. It’s all presented in a very blocky, pixelated manner, but it can still be intense for kids.

Minecraft can encourage violence towards animals. The only way to get certain resources is to kill cows and pigs, for instance. My 3 year old finds punching cows to be hilarious. I found his enthusiasm mildly disturbing. During our playtime, I’ve tried to encourage him to be nice to the animals instead. While it’s easy to dismiss this sort of thing, I’d hate to see him chase down our cat and hit her because we encouraged that kind of reaction towards animals through Minecraft. That said, I did play a lot of Super Mario Bros. as a kid, and I have not once stomped on a turtle to try and earn points.

Is Minecraft educational?

Again, here, Minecraft is about as educational as playing with a set of toy blocks. It can teach children many lessons about exploring, basic math, and building things. It encourages free-form creativity and essentially gives kids a limitless “block world” to play with.

Minecraft has a “survival” mode, but for the most part this teaches you nothing about survival. The first step in survival mode is generally punching a tree until you have enough wood to make sticks. It’s important in survival mode to build a shelter before the first day ends, as giant spiders and skeletons will attack you otherwise. Obviously, this is not particularly useful information to have.

Likewise, its physics are unusual and not really representative of the real world. For instance, with most blocks, you can stack blocks up and remove the lower blocks, after which the upper blocks will hang in midair. A single bucket’s worth of water will create an infinitely tall waterfall.

To kind of summarize, Minecraft is not educational in the way you might think of other forms of educational kids entertainment. Minecraft won’t teach life lessons or hand hold preschoolers through basic math, reading, or writing. It is more like a creative toy than a tailored educational experience.

My kids really enjoy Minecraft, what kinds of Minecraft-related stuff is there?

Owing to the popularity of Minecraft, there are a lot of clones out on the market. I’ve played a few, but I can’t really recommend these to anyone, as Minecraft itself is very complex, a fact that many of the clones fail to reproduce.

Tons and tons of modifications (“mods”) for Minecraft exist. These run the gamut from simple graphical changes to complete overhauls and additions of massive amounts of content. Like I mentioned above, most of these are for the PC version of the game. The console versions don’t support mods at all.

Terraria Logo

One similar game to Minecraft that I can recommend is Terraria. It is available for PC, consoles, and for phones/tablets. It is 2D where Minecraft is 3D, but otherwise it shares many of the same characteristics.

If your kids get really into Minecraft, you might be interested in getting some Minecraft merchandise. My son has said he wants a “Minecraft birthday party” this year, for example. I’ve compiled a list of interesting Minecraft gifts and toys in preparation for his party:

There’s a bunch more Minecraft merchandise over at Amazon that you can browse through as well.

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