Without The Sarcasm http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com Insights. Analysis. Answers. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 22:46:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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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5 Quick Tips for Clan Wars | Clash of Clans http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/5-quick-tips-clan-wars-clash-clans/ http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/5-quick-tips-clan-wars-clash-clans/#comments Sat, 05 Jul 2014 13:47:04 +0000 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=5350 Clan Wars are the new hotness in Clash of Clans. Winning Clan Wars takes some different strategies from your normal base raids, though. If you’re having trouble getting stars for your clan in Clan Wars, you should check out this article! I’ll share 5 quick tips for Clan Wars that are sure to make you a Clan Wars pro in no time.

#5: Know Your Goal

The goal in Clan Wars is simple – stars. You need to get stars in order to win. Resources don’t matter at all. This can be a difficult thing to deal with, as most of the raiding you do in Clash of Clans is generally focused on resource raiding rather than for acquiring trophies. Thus, you’ll want to adapt your strategies accordingly.

Remember what you get stars for:

  1. Destroying the enemy Town Hall
  2. Destroying 50% of the base
  3. Destroying 100% of the base

Most mid-level bases don’t have enough walls to protect all of their buildings. Thus, it can be pretty easy to get just one star on an attack – a lot of the buildings will be located in underprotected areas, or even out at the edges where nothing is defending them.

Usually people will outfit their war bases so their Town Hall is at the center of their base. Thus, it tends to be the second easiest star to get. If you can manage to get into the center of the base, it’s generally yours.

Finally, completely crushing an opponent will net you that third and final star. This can be tricky to do, since the game tends to match clans at approximately the same power level. Thus, the chances that you will completely outmatch your opponent are relatively low unless you’re the most powerful person in your clan.

Pro Tip Time is not on your side during a raid, especially if you are trying to go for 100%. I’ve seen attacks fail to destroy everything due to a lack of time, and I’ve also been in situations where I would have destroyed a Town Hall and gotten an extra star if I’d had a few more seconds. Make sure your strategy is fast enough to win!

#4: War Base Management

The War Base is just a copy of your normal base by default. It’s important that you customize the layout of your war base, especially to protect your Town Hall. You’re likely to be up against at least a few players who are significantly higher level than you, and chances are they have access to troops that you normally wouldn’t see attacking your base.

I also suggest creating zones for your defenses. Don’t put all your mortars inside the same wall, for instance. This leaves you vulnerable to Giant assaults. You should also carefully place air defenses so that all the possible routes into the center of your base are covered. Otherwise, it may be possible for a smart attacker to send air units past some of your more challenging defenses in order to take your Town Hall or critical defensive structures out with ease.

While you’re setting up your War Base, you can also request troops to defend it. Unlike troops you request from your clan normally, these troops are not used up when your War Base is raided. They will defend your Clan Castle repeatedly, even if they are defeated in previous raids. Also remember that you can kick out troops from your War Base’s Clan Castle if they’re not what you want.

#4: Scout Early & Call Your First Attack

During preparation day, you can view the enemy bases. The best thing you can do is to pick your top bases to raid. Once you’ve done this, let your clan know. Make sure everyone has a unique target for their first raid.

Remember that only the best attack against a given base counts. Thus, if you and another clanmate both decide to use your first attack on the same enemy, chances are good that stars are going to go to waste.

Scouting early also allows you to plan your attacking forces and request the appropriate troops for your clan castle to use during the raid.

Sometimes it helps to plan out your attack during preparation day, train up the troops you plan to use, and then find a base like the one you plan to raid and test out your strategy. Did you manage to break enough buildings for 1 star? Did you manage to get to their town hall? If not, you might have to rethink your troop mix or your attack strategy.

#2: Check the Replay

Once everyone’s done their first raid, it’s a good time to take a step back and see what your next target should be. Again, calling your second target early is a good idea, so everyone knows where you’re planning to invest your second attack.

The most powerful thing you have at your disposal is the replay from the best attack against each base. Remember that the enemy can no longer make changes to their War Base or their Clan Castle, so whatever traps and troops you see in the replay are what you’re going to get during your second attack. You can often find out where their Hidden Teslas are, for instance.

If you see some powerful Clan Castle troops, you might change up your strategy somewhat to deal with them.

#1: Clan Wars Raids Require Different Strategies

Normally when raiding for resources, the cost of your army is an important concern. You might use spells, Giants and Wall Breakers sparingly, for instance, since they’re so expensive. The rewards in Clan Wars are much greater, even if the base is relatively weak. Plus, you’re benefiting the entire clan with every star you earn. Thus, the price of your army is a lot less important. Go all out!

Usually also in regular raiding, finding a full Clan Castle is a bit unusual. In Clan Wars, though, Clan Castle troops are all but guaranteed. It’s also likely that they’re going to come from the most well-developed base in the Clan War. The Clan Castle has a large attack radius, so it’s possible to “sucker” them out and into a part of the map where you can deal with them more easily. Once they’ve left the Clan Castle, these troops will head towards your attacking forces, regardless of where they are on the map.

For instance, say there’s a mortar tower in a critical area and you’ve got 2 lightning spells ready to take it out. If you drop one troop within the Clan Castle radius and get the Clan Castle troops to chase that guy over top of the mortar tower, you can lightning both the troops and the mortar at once, doubling up on your damage output!

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Tips and Tricks for Elixir & Gold Raiding Around Town Hall 7 | Clash of Clans http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/tips-tricks-rapid-raiding-around-town-hall-7-clash-clans/ http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/tips-tricks-rapid-raiding-around-town-hall-7-clash-clans/#comments Sun, 29 Jun 2014 22:30:18 +0000 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=5344 In my previous article, I discussed one troop combination that makes raiding bases for trophies and stars particularly easy. However, if all you’re raiding for is resources, Giants and Wall Breakers are going to cut deeply into your profit margins. In this article, I’ll summarize a simple strategy for Clash of Clans raiding that you can do around Town Hall 6 through Town Hall 8, and how to use it to exploit idle bases for massive profits.

The goal of this strategy is NOT trophies and stars!

This strategy is commonly referred to as “BARCH” by Clash of Clans regulars. The “B” is for Barbarians, and the “ARCH” is for Archers. Since Barbarians and Archers are both cheap troops that are fast to train, you can target more enemy bases more often, and the profit margins are higher.

The goal of this strategy is to gain resources. You will probably not be earning a ton of trophies this way – you may even lose some, depending on the fights you pick.

If you’re trying to win battles during Clan Wars, remember that resources are meaningless and stars are everything! The strategy I will describe here is terrible for Clan Wars. I covered a really good strategy for Clan Wars in my previous article.

Another common variant of this strategy is to throw Minions into the mix. This alternative strategy is called “BAM” for Barbarians, Archers, and Minions. Minions require Dark Elixir and the Dark Barracks. Chances are you’re not going to be able to get Minions regularly until about Town Hall 8 when you get the Dark Elixir Drill.

What troops to train for BARCH

The BARCH strategy for Clash of Clans is not particularly complex, and it can be done at almost any level. It really starts to shine when you’re late in the Town Hall 6 timeframe. By this point, you should have 3 star Barbarians and Archers, at least.

To train for BARCH, just train:

  • 2/3rds of your Army Camp capacity as Archers
  • 1/3rd of your Army Camp capacity as Barbarians

So if you’ve got around 150 Army Camp capacity, train 100 Archers and 50 Barbarians. That’s it. You don’t need anything else. No Wall Breakers, no Wizards, no Giants, nada. You don’t need any spells, either.

Pro Tip You can play a bit with the ratio here, you may want more or less Barbarians, but generally speaking you want the bulk of your forces to be Archers.

Finding BARCH raid targets

Now we’ve got to pick a target. The best targets for BARCH are folks with full collectors outside of their walls. This is a surprisingly common base setup.

You will want to take a look at how many resources are available and where they are stored. Unlike the Giants strategy I detailed last time, this troop training only really costs about 15,000 elixir for level 3 Barbarians and Archers. That’s about a tenth of the cost of the Giants/Wall Breakers/Spells strategy! Thus, you can afford to hit bases that aren’t nearly as fruitful.

I also mentioned checking where those resources are stored. You will want to find bases where the collectors outside of the base’s walls are full, and the storage bins are pretty empty by comparison. That way, you can get the bulk of the resources without having to breach any walls.

Pro Tip Generally I have the best luck with this strategy early in the morning, when people haven’t checked in with their bases and stockpiled the resources from their collectors overnight. Now, it’s always early in the morning somewhere so in the middle of the day in the US, you might go searching for Chinese player bases, for example.

Deploying troops for a BARCH raid

Once you’ve got your Barbarians and Archers trained up, and you’ve found your target, now it’s time to raid. This is also pretty simple!

Just drop a few Barbarians near each collector, and the follow that up with about twice as many Archers. Rinse and repeat until all the collectors have groups attacking them. Then just sit back and watch the carnage!

Pro Tip I find it easiest to pick Barbarians, then tap and hold for a second, and then swipe across the screen to deploy a rough “line” of Barbarians. Then do the same for the Archers, but double back so that you end up doubling up on Archers.

Other tips for maximum efficiency!

Sometimes you don’t need to use all your troops to take the collectors down. Depending on where the defenses are, you might find that your Archers can take out the collectors without getting hit. It can be a significant cost and time savings if you can conserve Barbarians in these cases.

Overtrain! While you’re searching for a target, keep your Barracks pumping out Archers and Barbarians. As you use troops, your base will continue training. This will shorten your downtime while you prep for the next attack.

This strategy doesn’t always net you trophies. I find that often if I can take down the vast majority of a base’s collectors and whatever else is left outside the walls, I end up with a star. Bear in mind, though, that trophies aren’t really as important as resources in this game, so I wouldn’t be overly concerned if you end up on a losing streak, as long as you’re banking major Gold and Elixir.

Conclusion

In Clash of Clans, the BARCH strategy is an easy to deploy strategy that will net you massive amounts of Gold and Elixir with minimal effort and resources invested. It opens up way more bases that you’d normally skip over because they wouldn’t normally be profitable, and the low investment means you keep more of your winnings even when you make a major raid. It’s not the most sophisticated strategy, and it’s useless in Clan Wars, but it’s a strategy for your raiding toolbox nonetheless.

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Tips for Clan Wars & Trophy Raiding Around Town Hall 7 | Clash of Clans http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/tips-raiding-around-town-hall-7-clash-clans/ http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/tips-raiding-around-town-hall-7-clash-clans/#comments Sun, 29 Jun 2014 00:04:11 +0000 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=5330 Once you get past the initial phase of Clash of Clans, you’ll find yourself in the late stages of town hall 6 and into town hall 7. Where you used to be able to just wait out new upgrades, at this point, raiding becomes a more important part of your strategy for gaining resources. This area of the game tends to lead to a lot of issues for people. If you’ve found yourself stuck around town hall 6 and town hall 7, where all your raids seem to be unprofitable or you’re losing constantly, this is the guide for you.

The goal of this strategy, Clan Wars, and alternative strategies

The strategy I outline in this guide is a good strategy for occasional raiding, and for when you’re doing clan wars. If you’re familiar with CoC raiding, this is a variant of the “Giant/Healer” strategy. The goal here is to maintain/grow trophies and to get some decent resources without a lot of grinding.

Remember that in clan wars, the only thing that counts is stars. Some of the alternative strategies are more focused on farming resources and trophies are a secondary concern. However, in clan wars, it’s stars or nothing!

There are a couple of alternative strategies:

  • Build Barbarians & Archers, with the goal of taking out full collectors placed outside people’s bases. This strategy is called BARCH and can be run reasonably quickly due to the low training time and training cost. You’ll end up searching out bases where walls aren’t protecting collectors and then raiding those collectors only.
  • Once you have the Dark Barracks and can gain Dark Elixir more easily, you can start training Barbarians, Archers, and Minions. This strategy is called BAM and is extremely effective at taking out collectors and the occasional storage within a base, due to the Minions ability to fly.

These strategies are better for farming resources if you’ve got a lot of time for raiding.

Another strategy that used to be popular is the goblin rush. Similar to the BARCH strategy, goblins will very rapidly deplete full collectors. However, goblins are very susceptible to mortar and wizard tower fire, and thus you need someone with many full collectors unprotected by their major defenses. Thus, it’s a bit weaker than some of the other strategies.

What troops should I train at town hall 6 or town hall 7?

This is the question everyone asks whenever they’re stuck around this area. At this point, you’ve got:

  • Barracks around level 6-9, which gives you access to balloons, wizards, healers, and dragons, respectively
  • Army camp size between 160 and 200 or so
  • Most of your troops around level 3, but moving towards troop level 4
  • Spell Factory level 2-4 or so

It can be difficult to determine what mix of troops you should train at this point. My strategy generally entails:

  • 15-20 Giants. If you’re closer to 200 army camp size, take closer to 20.
  • 6-8 Wall Breakers. If they’re level 3 or level 4, this should be enough.
  • Maybe 1-2 Healers, if you have them and you’ve powered them up
  • A few Goblins (say, 10 or so)
  • The rest Archers

For your spells, I like to take almost exclusively Lightning. You can also get Healing and Rage around this area, but I find Lightning to be the best balance of elixir to usefulness. Healing is another popular choice, however. It can keep your Giants going longer, which can be useful in situations where it takes longer to take down the major defenses.

Picking Raid Targets

My clan-brother-from-another-mother EBongo put together some good tips in his 5 quick tips for CoC farming guide, so I suggest you read that as well if you haven’t already.

It pays to be picky. I suggest starting with your revenge log, and look for people who raided you with troops whose level are at yours or below. Especially if they did a poor job or dropped a lot of troops but didn’t take very much, chances are their base layout is going to be pretty poor. If you don’t have any suitable revenge targets, be prepared to skip a lot of potential fights before you find one you like.

When I’m picking a target, I like to look for the following:

  • Do they have enough resources? Just dropping 20 level 4 Giants costs you 40,000 elixir. If you use 8 level 3 Wall Breakers, that’s another 16,000 elixir. If you add a couple of Lightning spells, that’s another 35-40,000 elixir. If you need all of these things to take a base, you’ve got to make at least 100,000 to 120,000 elixir to make a profit.
  • How hard will it be to take down their heavy defenses? For the most part, around this level you’re looking at 3 mortars and 2 wizard towers, plus perhaps a hidden tesla and their clan castle. Are all of these things in the same set of walls? Once the walls breached, can you take them all out quickly, or are there a lot of other targets in the way?
  • How high-level are their walls? Until you get level 4 or level 5 wall breakers, it’s going to be hard to bust through walls levels 6 (light purple crystal) and higher. This means you’re looking for a lot of level 5 (golden stone) or level 4 (square gray stone) walls.
  • Where are their resources? People who play often will tend to have their resources concentrated in their storage bins, while people who are mostly idle will tend to keep it in their collectors. Learn to recognize what a full collector and storage area looks like, so you can tell if the resources are easy to grab or not.

It may take a long time to find an appropriate target. If you find yourself just completely unable to find a suitable target, it might be a good idea to gain or lose some trophies. In theory, losing trophies should put you up against weaker opponents for less resources. But in practice, many people stay at very low trophies intentionally to avoid getting matched up against opponents at their strength level. So, you might have to experiment a bit in order to find a trophy range with people who make good targets.

Battle Strategy

The overall battle strategy is as follows:

  • We want the Giants to eliminate the mortars and wizard towers quickly. They will decimate the archers and goblins if left unchecked. The Giants will also tend to target defenses and have high HP, which makes them the best units to send in against them.
  • Wall Breakers will shorten the amount of time Giants spend wailing on walls, which increases their effectiveness at taking down the enemy defenses.
  • The Archers are there to lay waste to other buildings and take resources. Since they hang back from the fighting, defensive structures will tend not to target them unless they get away from the main Giant force.
  • Healers (if you have them) should follow the Giants and keep them alive for as long as possible.

With that in mind, start by dropping a couple of Giants near the weakest/closest wall near the mortars and wizard towers. Let these Giants get to the wall, and then drop some wall breakers. Two Level 3 wall breakers should be able to bust through a level 5 “gold stone” wall. Lower level walls take just a single level 3 wall breaker to bust.

Once the Giants have made it past the wall, drop all your giants to follow the first two. If you have healers, now’s a good time to drop them to chase the Giants.

As soon as this is done, most of the defenses in the area will target the Giants. Now is the time to drop Archers behind the Giants. They will not prioritize the defensive towers, so it will take them a little while to get past the outer buildings. However, they will dish out damage quickly. Drop the Archers in small groups, so that in case they trigger a trap, few of them will be lost.

Once the defenses are mostly down or distracted, you can drop a few Goblins in to mop up the leftover resources.

If things are starting to go pear-shaped, and there’s still a lot of resources left to grab, you might consider using your spells. With the Giants in a massive group, a Healing spell will do well. If there are a couple of Mortars or Wizard Towers in a clump, dropping a Lightning spell can soften them up or remove them from play.

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Cult of the Fiver | June 2014 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/cult-fiver-june-2014/ http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/cult-fiver-june-2014/#comments Sat, 28 Jun 2014 21:58:21 +0000 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=5327 Hitman: Absolution

cult-of-the-fiver-hitman-absolution

Agent 47, the conspicuously bald but undeniably deadly master assassin, has been sent to take care of a personal contract. His former handler has gone rogue and must be eliminated. What seems like a straightforward assignment quickly goes pear shaped, though, as he finds himself protecting a young girl from the agency that was once his employer.

Hitman: Absolution is worth your $5 because… it takes the Hitman series in a thoroughly enjoyable direction. I wasn’t a big fan of some of the older games in the series, but this one really scratches that stealth gaming itch. The “instinct” system can give you hints about clever ways to approach your current objective. It also allows you to keep tabs on the situation with your enemies, and allows you to “blend in” at times when you’d normally get caught. There are a variety of challenges to complete, and playstyles to master. The “Contracts” mode allows you to challenge yourself and others by turning every level and every enemy into a potential target.

But don’t pay full price for Hitman: Absolution, since… there are some weird, tasteless, and downright creepy parts of the game. There are more fake breasts on display than a plastic surgeon’s office. The major antagonists seem to like to sling around homophobic slurs, and the overall portrayal of women is terrible and made me uncomfortable. Just say no to sleaze, game developers.

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

Quick Tips:

  • Instinct only depletes when you’re using “point shooting” or using it to trick enemies that would otherwise catch you. You can use it to look for hints and to see guards through walls for free.
  • There’s no score penalty for killing enemies silently, if you hide their bodies. The fiber wire leaves the cleanest kill. Also, you can knock out and then hide civilians for no score penalty. This makes getting disguises easy.
  • Look for clever ways to take out your enemies that make their deaths look like accidents. This saves you a lot of time and effort in many ways, although these situations can be tricky to set into motion.

Batman: Arkham Origins

cult-of-the-fiver-arkham-origins

It’s Batman. You really need a… oh, fine. There’s this rich guy, see, and he has this thing for justice. So, he dresses up like a bat and punches people. In this installment, all hell has broken loose at Blackgate prison. A younger, less experienced, and more angsty Bruce Wayne must suit up and contain the damage. Quickly, though, it’s revealed that the criminal underworld has decided to get rid of Batman once and for all. In addition to dealing with super criminals, an army of mercs is out for Batman’s head. Something more sinister is at work here as well… what could it be? (It’s the Joker. Duhhhhh.)

Batman: Arkham Origins is worth your $5 because… it’s Batman. The Arkham series has been the height of video game Batman-ning, what with its fluid combat and emphasis on Batman’s deductive skills. There are some really cool crimes to solve, where Batman will have to reconstruct the crime scene and scrub through the timeline to uncover clues the police have missed. The shock gloves reduce the “annoyance factor” of fighting certain otherwise tricky enemies. Once again, there’s a large map packed with interesting things to do, and most importantly, lots of thugs to punch.

But don’t pay full price for Batman: Arkham Origins, since… this is not the greatest Batman game in the world, no. This is just a tribute. Rocksteady (the original Arkham architects) are off working on Arkham Knight, and it shows. There are many repeated elements from the first two games here. Even some of the supposedly “new” things are just old things with new names, like the glue grenades. The Arkham voice actors didn’t reprise their roles, and in particular I missed Mark Hamill’s Joker. The climax just doesn’t do the characters justice. It’s still Batman but it could be Batmanner.

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

Quick Tips:

  • Don’t bother going after the Enigma Data Packs until you’ve got the Glue Grenades. By this point you’ll be able to do them all, but it’s not always obvious which ones can be done and which ones can’t be done without a particular upgrade.
  • In combat, it’s easy to get a flow going by hitting a bunch of thugs in a row. Just push towards the next enemy and hit the strike button right after your last blow lands.
  • In Predator encounters, you generally want to hunt whichever baddie has gone off on his own. This makes it easy to take them out without the others knowing.

Skulls of the Shogun

cult-of-the-fiver-skulls-of-the-shogun

The afterlife’s just not all it’s cracked up to be. After almost becoming Japan’s most powerful warlord, our hero is stabbed in the back by his lieutenant. Bummer. Worse, his lieutenant has beat him to the afterlife, where he’s using his former master’s name to wreak havoc! In this turn-based strategy game, you’ll need to raise an army (literally) to fight back and claim the eternal reward you so richly deserve.

Skulls of the Shogun is worth your $5 because… it’s an intriguing turn-based strategy game in a miniature package. There are interesting concepts like units stationed next to each other form a “wall” that can’t be flanked or fired through. The Shogun himself is a unique unit who charges at the start of a battle. Bringing him out early means he’s weaker, but you get more time for him to deal damage.

But don’t pay full price for Skulls of the Shogun, since… it’s ultimately a better mobile game than desktop game. The limit of moves per turn means that you have less micromanagement, but it also means that having a numerical advantage is less important than it seems.

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

Quick Tips:

  • Units can hang out on a rice paddy to recover health each turn, even if that unit didn’t haunt the paddy in the first place.
  • Eating three skulls will turn a unit into a demon, which will grant it a second action per-turn.
  • When killed, units will drop any skulls that they have consumed, and these skulls are neutral and can be eaten by any team.

Kingdom Rush

cult-of-the-fiver-kingdom-rush

Kingdom Rush is tower defense game that was massively popular on iOS, before being ported to Android and also to PC. Lots and lots of orcs and other baddies are trying to pass your defensive line, but you’ve got to hold them back with knights, wizards, archers, explosives, and other fun orc-destroying toys.

Kingdom Rush is worth your $5 because… it’s a very polished and well done tower defense game. Each tower has two distinct upgrade tracks you can take it down, which means the towers can fill different roles depending on how you upgrade them. The levels are varied, and the bosses are interesting.

But don’t pay full price for Kingdom Rush, since… it’s technically just an upscaled version of a phone game, and the phone game is pretty cheap. Unless you really want to tackle the challenge levels, the game is relatively short.

The $5 Deal: Steam | Humble

Quick Tips:

I actually did a 2-part guide for the mobile version of this game, so check it out!

Bastion

cult-of-the-fiver-bastion

Bastion is the story of “the Kid” – one of few survivors of an apocalyptic event that decimated civilization. He makes his way to the titular Bastion, a floating city that becomes his new home, and might give him a chance to avert the disaster that started the whole mess. He meets a few other survivors, some of whom are friendly, and some who… aren’t so much. Along the way, the Kid will fight off the hostile denizens of the ruined world with an arsenal of upgradeable weapons and perk-like “tonics.”

Bastion is worth your $5 because… it tells an interesting, engaging story with excellent gameplay mechanics to back it up. The narrator, Rucks, is probably among the top 10 video game narrators, ever. The music is haunting and beautiful and still gives me chills, years after finishing it. The combat is varied, with different weapons, upgrades, perks, and challenges to overcome. It’s got a decently long campaign and a new-game plus mode for when that’s over with.

But don’t pay full price for Bastion, since… well, pay whatever they want for it. It’s worth every penny.

The $5 Deal: Steam

Quick Tips:

  • Tonics are like perks that you can swap out whenever you visit the Bastion.
  • Try to pick a set of weapons that compliment one another. For instance, a weapon for close quarters and one for ranged encounters.

The Unworthy

  • Galcon Legends – Sometimes when you strip a game concept down to its most minimal form, it gets super fun. Other times, not so much. This minimalist RTS game is in the second category.
  • HAWX 2 – I like arcade-y flight sims, and I liked the original HAWX. However, this one is full of stupid design decisions like always-on DRM that will actively eject you from campaign levels without saving. The AI is terrible. I had a wingman crash his plane into a mountain while he was delivering a line once. It’s too bad, too, because the overall game is pretty fun.
  • Ittle Dew – Do you like the 2-D Zelda games? Sure you do! Do you wish you could play one that is focused on a lot of block pushing puzzles? What if it frequently wasn’t clear whether or not you had the tools to solve them at the moment? How about if we take away 80% of the interesting gear? Not so much? Me neither.
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Two Dots Soundtrack now available! http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/two-dots-soundtrack-now-available/ http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/two-dots-soundtrack-now-available/#comments Wed, 25 Jun 2014 03:12:15 +0000 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=5322 Two Dots Soundtrack

The music of Two Dots is one of the best parts, and for weeks now folks have been asking “so where is the Two Dots Soundtrack”? Luckily, the geniuses behind that catchy theme song, Upright T-rex Music, have finally released the album.

The theme song is fantastic, an excellent tune for chilling while you are puzzling or in my case even when reviewing spreadsheets and similar monotonous tasks. There is also a more mellow version of the same song dubbed the in-game version, which I like equally well. Beyond that, the rest of the album is a series of soothing mechanical melodies that work well, but aren’t quite the ear worm of the main theme. Upright T-rex even throws in some more “experimental” remixes at the end, which are a nice touch for those that just can’t get enough Two Dots and already have remixes haunting their dreams.

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Tips to beat Two Dots Level 102 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/tips-beat-two-dots-level-102/ http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/tips-beat-two-dots-level-102/#comments Tue, 24 Jun 2014 02:51:06 +0000 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=5317 Two Dots Level 102 is so hard. I spent an absolute ton of lives on it, and I had nearly convinced myself it was impossible when I finally cracked the code to beating it. Make no mistake, it remains the hardest level so far by a fair margin – but something I continue to respect about Two Dots is that there is a puzzle here. I’d argue that you must understand the way to beat Two Dots Level 102 in order to have a chance of beating it. That’s why your reading this… so read on!

Two Dots Level 102

The Sacred Order

At the beginning of this level, there aren’t that many Dots, and several of them follow a predictable pattern. You’ve probably noticed this in other Two Dots levels by now, and I believe it is a small hint from Betaworks about important areas to focus on. On Two Dots Level 102 you will see that there are always two horizontal Dots at the top, and there is always one square in the middle. Of course the Fire and Sandstone always appear in the same spots too, so these are all givens. In my experience, you have to approach these things in a certain order to have success, and I’ll explain why.

1. The top line

The first move you should always make is clearing the top horizontal two dots. This will open up the top of the board for more Dots to fall down, and also creates the path for the Fire to come together. If you don’t clear the top line first you’ll quickly get starved of Dots in the middle, and you’ll be more vulnerable to falling Fire with less move options to choose from.

2. The top Fire

No matter what you do next, keep in mind that your goal is to eliminate the Fire on the top left and top right of the board. If you’ve played this level as many times as I did, you may think that’s impossible, but it isn’t provided that you move slowly and focus on this goal. Knocking out Sandstone as you go will create more chances for Squares, but be very careful in doing so until the Fire on the top row is clear. Squares are extremely important, because they are the only effective way to press back the Fire.

Warning Each time you drop Fire bits from the top row into the middle by matching, you’ll have to quickly deal with those bits in 1-2 moves or you are doomed. Consider carefully before making a move which will cause Fire to drop down, and try to have a follow up move planned to take it out.

3. The Middle Square

The middle Square that you start with helps to get a toe-hold vs. the Fire and to set up further Squares. Typically, you should plan to use it on turn 2 or 3 depending on what you get in your first move. Since the key is to stop Fire from growing, a move that stops both Fire pieces from spreading is better than a move which stops only one Fire piece from spreading, which in turn is better than a move which doesn’t stop Fire from spreading at all.

Square Vengeance

Once you have established a toe-hold, and gotten the top row of Fire quenched, you’ll find the rest of Two Dots Level 102 much more straightforward. Squaring allows you to break Fire all over the board at the same time, and in general your focus should be to creates Squares on every turn possible. This is so much more possible once you don’t have pieces of Fire dropping into the mix everywhere. It also serves the added benefit of working towards your overall goal of matching Dot colors. If you keep Squaring, you’ll find that it is possible to completely eliminate the Fire, but do keep in mind that it isn’t required to do so.

Pro Tip If you’ve still got Fire around on the bottom, it can sometimes help if you let it connect left and right sides. This will mean on less Fire Dot per turn to deal with until you split them apart again.

Pro Tip As you get to the final moves, keep an eye on your color totals, and make some non-Square matches if needed to seal the win.

Do you think Two Dots Level 102 is the hardest? Are you still stuck? Did these tips help? Let us know in the comments!

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Low-Latency Streaming – AVerMedia Live Gamer HD C985 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/low-latency-streaming-avermedia-live-gamer-hd-c985/ http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/low-latency-streaming-avermedia-live-gamer-hd-c985/#comments Sat, 21 Jun 2014 20:47:01 +0000 http://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=5305 I’m still on a crusade to solve the problem of having a HDMI output (my Xbox) in one room, while playing it in another room. In my previous article I did all the research I could to find potential solutions to this problem. In this article, I’ll run down what I learned from trying to use an HDMI capture card for this purpose.

Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Sale?

I went back and forth on the options I researched. There’s a lot of pros and cons to each of them. Some of them I can rule out as just not likely to work (ie, the wife is probably going to balk at drilling holes in the floor of her brand new house). A lot of them I’m having to guess at the latency, because there just isn’t good data on the internet about them.

Then there was a sale on the AVerMedia Live Gamer HD C935 capture card, a good $80 off the retail price. I took a deep breath, checked the return policy, and picked one up.

The AVerMedia Live Gamer HD C935

This particular device is a PCIe x1 card with HDMI I/O and analog audio I/O to go with. The card itself can capture 1080p video up to 60 frames per second. It also boasts of a hardware h.264 video encoder, which can offload some of the processing work from your CPU and GPU. This is good for older PCs or if you want to capture a game you’re playing on the same PC – the game can use your CPU/GPU while the card does the heavy lifting for streaming.

Also in the box is a USB device that looks like a puck, which you can use to start or stop recording without having some other input to the device.

Installation is simple if you’ve ever installed an expansion card into a PC before. Power down, put the card into an empty PCIe slot, and power on again.

I skipped the install CD and grabbed the latest drivers, firmware, and whatnot off the AVerMedia site directly. The latest version was from last year, so it doesn’t seem like they’re actively supporting this card anymore, which is a shame.

In addition to the drivers, the install file includes “AVerMedia RECentral,” which is a simple capture and streaming app. In the box with the hardware is a gift code for XSplit, a popular commercial streaming software.

There’s also a separate install for something called “Live Gamer HD Stream Engine.” It’s an optional bit of software that improves compatibility with certain capture applications.

My Capture Rig

I cobbled together some old parts in order to build a rig for this capture card. Given that it’s got a hardware encoder on-chip, and that I’m not planning to play and stream with the same machine, I figure I don’t need the latest and greatest hardware. We’ll see if that comes back to bite me!

  • CPU: AMD Phenom X2 dual core 2.2GHz
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce 8800GT
  • RAM: 8GB DDR2

The power supply is a 430W, but I’m not running anything crazy here so it should be more than adequate. Likewise, the motherboard is a generic Gigabyte board. The drive is just a stock 7200 RPM SATA drive.

I installed Windows 7 from scratch on the drive, just so that there’d be nothing weird going on from any previous software installations.

This was my gaming rig from several years ago, back when the 8800GT was the card to beat. It’s since gone into disuse, as I bought a “gaming” laptop and rebuilt a new desktop in the intervening years.

For the HDMI source, I’m going to use my “gaming” laptop which has HDMI out and a dedicated, switchable ATI GPU.

RTMP Interlude

The intended use of this card is for streaming via the RTMP protocol. Thus, most of the applications designed to use it will want to connect to a RTMP server. This is no big thing if you’re connecting to Twitch or similar. However, if you want to stream locally, you’ll need a couple of extra pieces of software.

The first is a RTMP server. RTMP is a protocol that was developed as part of Flash, so Adobe and a few other companies make servers that can speak it. However, by and large they’re either expensive or slow. We want cheap and fast. Luckily, there is a plugin for nginx that can handle RTMP. nginx is a high-performance web server that is used frequently on Linux as a replacement for Apache. Double luckily, there is a Windows version that includes the RTMP plugin. All you’ve got to do is download the server, unzip the archive, and set up the RTMP configuration.

I added the following to conf\nginx-win.conf and saved it as conf\nginx.conf:

rtmp {
    buflen 1ms;
    server {
        listen 1935;
        wait_key on;
        wait_video on;
        out_queue 8;
        application stream {
            live on;
            allow publish all;
            allow play all;
        }
    }
}

Note the listen 1935 directive and the application stream block. The listen directive gives the port we will use for both the publisher and the player. The stream name here will be used later in building our RTMP URL as well.

The second is a RTMP client. VLC advertises support for RTMP, but I could not get it working reliably without a lot of latency. I ended up using nginx to serve the open source version of Flowplayer.

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<head>
<!-- 1. skin -->
<link rel="stylesheet" href="//releases.flowplayer.org/5.4.6/skin/minimalist.css">
 
<!-- 2. jquery library -->
<script src="//code.jquery.com/jquery-1.10.2.min.js"></script>
 
<!-- 3. flowplayer -->
<script src="//releases.flowplayer.org/5.4.6/flowplayer.min.js"></script>
<script src="//releases.flowplayer.org/js/flowplayer-3.2.13.min.js"></script>
</head>
<body>

<div class="player" id="player" style="height: 1080px;"></div>

<script>
$f("player", "http://releases.flowplayer.org/swf/flowplayer-3.2.18.swf", {

                clip: {
                    url: 'key',
                    provider: 'rtmp',
                    live: true,
                    bufferLength: 0,
                    bufferTime: 0,
                },

                plugins: {
                     rtmp: {
                        url: 'flowplayer.rtmp-3.2.3.swf',
                        netConnectionUrl: 'rtmp://192.168.x.x:1935/stream'
                    }
                }
            });
</script>

</body>
</html>

Note the value of url will need to be whatever you set as the “stream key” when you publish your stream using RECentral, OBS, XSplit, etc, in the following sections. The netConnectionUrl uses the IP of the nginx machine, the port from the RTMP plugin given in the config file, and the end of the URL matches the name we gave the RTMP app in the config file as well.

Save this as “player.html” in the nginx directory under the html folder and you should be able to access it after you’ve started nginx.

Base Software and Latency

To start with, I loaded the included RECentral app and turned on the preview. So far, so good. I put the laptop display in front of the capture rig’s monitor, and took a quick pic with my cell phone.

The delta in the two times tells me that the preview is delayed by between 60 and 90 milliseconds, which is 2-3 frames at 30 frames per second. That’s pretty darn good, to be honest. Of course, we’ve still got compression, transmission, and decompression to do.

I started streaming by configuring RECentral to broadcast to the custom RTMP server I set up earlier.

Assuming the setup I discussed earlier, the Stream URL on the Login dialog should be something of the form of:

rtmp://127.0.0.1:1935/stream

Then the stream key can be whatever you want, but it should match the url parameter used for Flowplayer. In my example above, I used key, so I’d put key in the Stream Key blank.

The setup through RECentral to the RTMP server and then to Flowplayer works, but the latency is pretty bad. It’s somewhere around 6 seconds, regardless of what encoding settings I choose.

Alternative Software Options

RECentral is the pack-in software for the card, but there are a couple of other major RTMP streaming alternatives. One is the open-source Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) and the other is XSplit.

The downside to using OBS is that the AVerMedia hardware h.264 encoder is proprietary and so OBS doesn’t support it. It did help some, getting the latency down to about 2 seconds or so. I couldn’t get any better than that, despite trying virtually every parameter the software makes available. The OBS guys don’t seem interested in low latency streaming, so it’s not really a surprise that it doesn’t work as well as I’d want it to.

XSplit is commercial software, but AVerMedia partnered with them to provide a 3-month gift certificate in the box with the capture card. I tried it out, but it didn’t seem to lower the latency any more than OBS did. It does, however, work with the hardware h.264 encoder on the card, albeit a bit sloppily and with few options. XSplit has its own “low latency LAN streaming” option, but it’s a bloated Java client/server that I couldn’t get working properly with my setup. It ate almost 80% of the CPU on the box without really providing any benefit over the nginx RTMP solution I was using elsewhere.

Of course, RTMP isn’t the ideal protocol for a low-latency LAN stream of HDMI captured data. There are several places where data could pile up, introducing latency. A point-to-point protocol like RTP might be better. I’ve been tempted to write my own app that opens the card, encodes the data (or uses the hardware encoder if that’s not overly complex) and streams it to some other host on the network. However, the packages I’d normally leverage for this (ie, gstreamer or ffmpeg) don’t seem to work properly with the card.

The Verdict

The AVerMedia Live Gamer HD C985 is an odd duck. It purports to encode on the card itself, but only with limited features and only with certain programs. It’s clearly not designed for low-latency streaming, but it did get close to doing so. What could the problem be? Maybe it’s the capture rig I put together, which is rather old but should be capable of handling the load. It could also be somewhere in software, which I could potentially modify if I had the will and the time.

Overall, I’m bummed that this didn’t work out. I may try again with this device or one of the other “long distance HDMI” solutions I’ve researched. In the meantime, I can at least capture HDMI now, which means that I can screen grab and record stuff for the blog.

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