Without The Sarcasm https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com Insights. Analysis. Answers. Tue, 24 Apr 2018 23:23:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/wp-content/uploads/cropped-question-mark-512-1-32x32.png Without The Sarcasm https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com 32 32 41351423 Frostpunk Review: Ice Cold https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/frostpunk-review-ice-cold/ https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/frostpunk-review-ice-cold/#respond Tue, 24 Apr 2018 23:23:26 +0000 https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=8868
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Frostpunk is a steampunk-themed post-apocalyptic city builder from 11 bit studios, who you may know from the Anomaly: Warzone Earth series or This War of Mine. I got a chance to check out a demo of Frostpunk while on the expo floor at PAX South 2018, and thanks to the folks at Evolve I got a review code a few days before it launched. Frostpunk‘s style and gameplay caught my eye, so I’m super excited for the chance to do this review! Let’s get started.

Frostpunk invisions an alternate history of the world, where sometime during the 1900’s, a massive ice age begins, freezing most of the civilized world. Luckily, to prepare for the coming eternal winter, engineers had the foresight to build these giant coal-fired generators in the middle of nowhere. Each of Frostpunk‘s scenarios looks at a different group of people fleeing a desolated London in search of someplace both safe and warm.

The center of your new city is always the generator – a lone source of warmth in the otherwise frigid, snow-covered world. It requires coal to continue running, and without it, your entire city is lost. Staying warm is only part of the problem, though, as you also need to feed your citizens and keep their spirits up. Hopeless citizens may give up on survival, while discontented citizens may rebel against your authority.

Frostpunk very quickly ramps up the difficulty, with each passing day getting colder than the previous. The scenarios throw increasingly complex curveballs at you as they progress, which also add to the challenge. The only way to survive is to plan carefully and build up a strong economy while investing in long-term projects like enhanced technology and scouting for resources.

Periodically, you’ll be asked to interact more directly with your citizens. Either the scenario will present you with some difficult choice to make, or you’ll need to pass a new law that may be the right thing for survival, but maybe the wrong thing for civil society.

For instance, if someone is grievously injured, do you attempt to heal them by any means necessary, including amputation? Or do you try to keep them alive long enough that perhaps you can cure them completely? If you choose amputation, one of your citizens may refuse – do you force them to undergo the procedure, or do you let them choose death? Each of these choices has consequences and can impact the way the game plays out.

The presentation in Frostpunk is nearly flawless. Cold homes quickly build up snow on their rooves. Tiny people go about their daily routine, moving from their place of work to home and back when shifts change. Stories-tall automatons lumber about the city, working constantly to keep their masters alive. The music is understated but foreboding, reflecting the despair of the wintery environs.

Frostpunk suffers a bit in the replayability department, though. I managed to finish the “main” scenario on medium difficulty in two playthroughs that took a good 3-4 hours each. There’s no score kept on how well you did – in my “successful” run of the first scenario, I just barely scraped by, with hundreds of my people dead, sick, or starving at the end. Still, this counted as a win.

There’s also no open-ended mode to Frostpunk. Once the scenario was done, the game ended for me. I wasn’t able to continue to grow my city past that point. An endless free-play mode is a weird thing to leave out of a city builder. I was somewhat sad that I couldn’t continue playing without the constant threat of story-related disasters.

On the subject of scenarios, there’s only 3 included with the game as it stands today. I managed to finish all three in less than a week. However, it seems like the sort of thing that could be expanded on easily, or perhaps even opened up to the Steam Workshop to make the game essentially endlessly customizable.

The difficulty of Frostpunk is a bit uneven at times. Some of that difficulty comes from UI issues – some important info (like the rate at which you’re gaining/losing resources) is buried in areas you won’t often look. Notifications for important events are sometimes subtle enough that you’ll miss them.

Other issues arise from the fact that the sequence of events in the scenarios is canned, but not clear from the start. Several times I sunk myself by accomplishing goals too early, leaving me no time to stockpile before a major bad event occurred. Other times, I failed one sub-objective of a task and got an instant game over, which I wasn’t expecting.

Frostpunk
Links:Homepage, Store Page
Release:9/1/2015
Price:$29.99
Rating: - Awesome!
Our Thoughts:

Frostpunk is a beautifully presented and brutally challenging city building/survival game. There’s a fair amount of depth to be found in its tech tree and some heart-wrenching decisions to make on every playthrough. Hours seemed to melt away as I played, but unfortunately I quickly reached the end – hopefully more content and a free-play mode will be forthcoming.

Review Policy

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Monoprice Maker Select & Select Plus – Improving Print Quality https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/monoprice-maker-select-select-plus-improving-print-quality/ https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/monoprice-maker-select-select-plus-improving-print-quality/#respond Sat, 10 Mar 2018 18:17:25 +0000 https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=8832
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Once you’ve printed your first few objects, no doubt you will notice many slight (or maybe not so slight…) imperfections. In this article, I’ll give you all the resources I have for improving your print quality. With these resources, you’ll be able to troubleshoot bad prints, and make modifications to your printer or your slicer to avoid the problem in the future.

Once again, my printer is a Monoprice Maker Select Plus (aka “Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus”). Most of these resource will be generic, but a lot of the upgrades may be different for your model of printer. The Monoprice Maker Select (“Wanhao Duplicator i3”) is very similar to the Select Plus, so a lot of these things will “just work” or have very similar STL files. Bottom line – if you don’t have a Monoprice Maker Select Plus, double check these resources before you commit to any of these upgrades.

Thanks for your support! Links to third party websites in this article may contain affiliate IDs. If you purchase something from these links, the blog might get a small percentage as revenue. We use that money to offset the cost of creating and hosting our content. If you’d prefer not to participate in this program, don’t click these links.

Troubleshooting Bad Prints

There are a wealth of resources out on the internet for doing bad print troubleshooting, so I just want to collect my favorite links here.

  • Simplify 3D Print Troubleshooting – Definitely my favorite guide. Some of it is specific to Simplify 3D, which I don’t use, but a lot of the info here is generic enough that you can use it with Cura if you wish. The best part is that there is a picture to go with every print defect, so you can learn what people call the thing your printer is doing. That helps immensely when asking or searching for help.
  • Ultimaker 3D Print Troubleshooting Articles – This resource is pretty decent, not as comprehensive as the Simplify 3D website.
  • FixMyPrint Subreddit – A great place to ask questions about your 3D print issues. Again, knowing your print issue and doing some research can go a long way.

Monoprice Maker Select Upgrade & Tweak List

Warning We’re getting back into a riskier section of this guide, so it’s disclaimer time again. I’m an engineer with years of experience in motorized embedded systems. That said, I’m still a 3D printing newbie. Following my instructions, even 100% correctly, might still lead to you damaging your printer in some way. Any operations you carry out on your computer/printer are done at your risk. I make no guarantees and won’t be liable if you do damage to yourself, your gear, burning your house down, etc as a result of the notes presented on this page.

The best thing about these inexpensive 3D printers is that they’re easy to tweak and upgrade. The 3D printer is capable of improving itself, basically. I’ve looked around the internet and picked up a variety of upgrade/tweak lists. These are the ones I consider to be essential:

Filament Clip

Why? – Clipping the filament to the spool before you unload the extruder will prevent it from snapping back to the spool and possibly causing a knot, which will ruin your print.

What do I need? – A STL file for a clip that fits your spool, there are tons on Thingaverse.

How do I do it? – Print the clip, attach to your spool, and clip it before you unload.

How hard is this? – Simple!

Flashing Custom Firmware

Why? – Way more options, including a lot of calibration routines that can improve print quality significantly.

What do I need? – A microSD card, plus the ADVi3++ software

How do I do it? – Flash the software to your LCD and main board, the ADVi3++ user’s guide has a detailed walkthrough.

How hard is this? – Not particularly hard, although you will have to disassemble the front panel.

PID Tuning

Why? – Makes the hot end temperature more stable, leading to more consistent extrusion and less of a chance of burning filament.

What do I need? – ADVi3++, the custom firmware from the previous entry.

How do I do it? – ADVi3++ has this built-in, just run its PID tuning option and it will take care of the rest.

How hard is this? – Simple!

Calibrating your E-steps

Why? – This procedure ensures that your extruder motor is properly calibrated. This will help you avoid problems with under or over-extruding.

What do I need? – ADVi3++ has this built-in as well, you’ll need a ruler or tape measure.

How do I do it? – There are step by step instructions in ADVi3++.

How hard is this? – Simple!

XYZ Stepper Motor Calibration

Why? – This will adjust your printer to take into account variations between stepper motors. It will lead to more consistent dimensions on your finished prints.

What do I need? – A 20mm calibration cube STL, like this one. You’ll also probably want some digital calipers, which are good general tools to have when doing 3D modeling of objects anyhow. They run about $15-20.

How do I do it? – Print the calibration cube, then use the “Tune” menu in ADVi3++ to input the actual dimensions

How hard is this? – Simple!

X-Axis “Blueprinting”

Why? – This helps “square up” your X- and Z- axis so that they are consistent across the entire range of Z-axis movement.

What do I need? – Nothing, really. You’re just going to loosen and then tighten some screws.

How do I do it?This video explains it better than I can. Basically, move the Z-axis up as far as it will go, then remove the tension on the X-axis belt. Loosen the X-axis set screws, then wiggle the X-axis rods, then tighten the set screws again. Retighten the belt, and your printer is good to go.

Custom Hot-End Blower

Why? – The stock cooling is insufficient and inefficient to boot. Upgrading it will give you more consistent prints that have less of a chance of showing overheating defects.

What do I need? – The most popular cooler is probably the Diii Cooler. You’ll need some hardware and a radial fan, plus an object you can print. If you have the Plus, you need a 24V fan, if you don’t have the plus, you want a 12V fan. On my plus, these fans worked great.

How do I do it? – Unscrew and unhook the stock fan and fan mount, and replace it with the radial fan and the new mount. There are complete instructions on the Thingiverse page.

How hard is this? – Pretty simple, I found it hard to mount the cooler to the bracket on the extruder because the nuts kept turning inside their holes. But overall, it wasn’t hard.

Pro Tip I printed my Diii Cooler in PLA+ (’cause that’s the only material I have!) and I’ve only noticed some very minor warping over hours of printing. If you end up printing the cooler in something that has a low melting point, be sure to check it occasionally to ensure it is holding its shape.

Vibration Damping the Stepper Motors

Why? – You find the printer is too noisy (especially the high frequency/high pitched noises while moving)

What do I need? – Enough NEMA 17 Vibration Dampers for all your motors that lack one. (On my Monoprice Maker Select Plus, the Z-axis was already vibration damped).

How do I do it? – Take apart the Y and X axis motor mounts, and install the dampers between the motor and the frame. Adjust the gears on each motor so they stick out a bit more to compensate for the thickness of the damper. On my unit, I had to disassemble the entire Z axis to fit the X motor damper, and I had to leave the bottom cover off the printer to fit the Y axis damper. I also printed a shim for the stepper motor damper, but the stepper motor tends to be the quietest of the bunch so I’m not sure that it is worth the trouble. If you want to damp your extruder motor nonetheless, let me know and I’ll put my shim on Thingiverse.

How hard is this? – Pretty darn hard, comparatively speaking. Be ready to take almost the entire printer apart.

Z-axis Braces

Why? – The Z-axis on a lot of these printers is not 100% straight, leading to “leaning” in the Z-axis when you print tall objects.

What do I need? – About $5-10 worth of hardware, some way of measuring a 90 degree angle, plus a bunch of printed parts found here, for the Maker Select Plus.

How do I do it? – Print 4 corner pieces, plus 2 pieces for the uprights, and 6 adjustment balls. Go to the hardware store with the list in the Parts to Buy section of the Z-brace page. Follow the assembly instructions to make your braces.

How hard is this? – On the easy side, just a bunch of screws to remove.

Pro Tip The instructions call for a total of 4 of the “ball/nut” combos, one above and one below each of the two “top” pieces. I suggest adding two more – just above the bottom ends of the rod, to hold the bottom end of the rods in place.

Glass Bed

Why? – For better bed adhesion and release, glass is the choice of many 3D printer owners. It’s also a lot more durable than the standard print mat that comes with the printer.

What do I need? – A pane of borosilicate glass that is approximately 200 mm x 220 mm, like this one. You’ll also want some silicone thermal pad to go between the bed and your glass. Finally, you can optionally add some binder clips or you can print your own corner clips for added stability.

(Note: I’d advise against using “normal” hardware store glass – borosilicate glass (aka “Pyrex”) is much better at handling heat and temperature changes.)

How do I do it? – First, cut the pad. Some people say a few small squares for the corners and the middle is enough, or you can cover the whole bottom of the glass with it. Put the pad and glass on the bed, and then secure with your choice of clip if desired. Hairspray or glue stick can be used to adjust the bed adhesion. Here’s a YouTube clip showing the process.

How hard is this? – Pretty simple.

Pro Tip If you add a glass bed, I highly suggest you do the Y-carriage mod (see below) as well. The stock Y-carriage plate is just too flexible. I use glue stick on the plate before the print for smaller items to keep them adhered to the bed.

Y-Carriage Plate Upgrade

Why? – The stock Y-carriage plate on these printers tends to warp, leading to a bed that can’t be properly leveled or that goes out of level easily.

What do I need? – A Y-carriage plate for the printer. These can be harder to come by than some other parts. I often find them out of stock, but you can try this listing on Amazon. If Amazon fails, you might have to order from Aliexpress.

How do I do it? – You’ll have to remove the heated bed and the carriage plate, and disconnect the heated bed from the control board, since the wires for the bed pass through the carriage plate.

How hard is this? – Moderately difficult.

What’s Next?

Assuming you read all three parts of this guide, you now know how to get your printer set up, how to design new parts for printing, and how to improve your print quality through calibration and upgrades. If you want more to read, or need more help, here are some very useful resources:

  • /r/3dprinting – My favorite general-purpose subreddit for 3d printing. This is a great place to ask questions, show off your prints, or read up on what others are doing. You can also find info on a variety of printer models and vendors to buy from.
  • /r/wanhaoi3 – A great place to find support and useful links that are specific to the model(s) of printer I based this guide on. You can ask questions about the Wanhao Duplicator i3, the Monoprice Maker Select, the i3 Plus, or the Maker Select Plus here.
  • Wanhao Duplicator i3 Facebook Group – A ton of experts hang out here and answer questions about this printer! Just make sure you read the rules before you post.
  • 3dprinterwiki Wanhao i3 Page – Contrary to the name of the site, this is a blog and not a wiki. There’s a lot of broad info here on a wide variety of printers, so you might be able to find some additional information here.
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Monoprice Maker Select & Select Plus – Designing Prints & Slicing With Cura https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/monoprice-maker-select-select-plus-designing-prints-slicing-with-cura/ https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/monoprice-maker-select-select-plus-designing-prints-slicing-with-cura/#respond Sat, 10 Mar 2018 18:16:36 +0000 https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=8827
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Now that you’ve got your printer up and running, it’s time to actually print stuff! No doubt you’ve already gotten tired of printing the four basic files included with the printer, so let’s learn more about designing your own objects and getting them ready for printing. This guide should be generally applicable to any printer, but when I talk about specific settings I’ll be calling out my printer in particular. While my printer is a Monoprice Maker Select Plus, all of these settings also apply to the Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus, and most will apply to the Monoprice Maker Select (Wanhao Duplicator i3).

There are two phases to printing your own stuff – one is designing a 3D object and making a STL file, and the other is translating that STL file into gcode with a slicer.

Thanks for your support! Links to third party websites in this article may contain affiliate IDs. If you purchase something from these links, the blog might get a small percentage as revenue. We use that money to offset the cost of creating and hosting our content. If you’d prefer not to participate in this program, don’t click these links.

A Brief Introduction to 3D Modeling

I don’t want to go into a lot of detail around the first aspect – the 3D modeling – since that’s it’s own topic with a wealth of information. I do want to introduce some important bits of software and explain the high level process of how you can go from idea to a design, though.

Pro Tip In many cases, the object you’re trying to make has already been modeled by someone else – there are a wealth of STL files for various models available on the internet. Before you go through the trouble of making your own model, try searching a site like Thingaverse to see if you can skip the modeling step. If you luck out, you can move straight to the “Slicing With Cura” section below.

Often what you’ll want to do is start with a 2D sketch of the object you want to create, and then extrude that to a 3D model. Sometimes your 2D item is simple enough that you can use the “sketch” features of your 3D modeling program to create the whole thing from start to finish, but sometimes you’re going to want to make a more complex 2D design first. When I need to start with a 2D design, I will tend to use Inkscape. It’s free and open source, and pretty easy to use. Inkscape can export to a SVG file format that most 3D modeling programs are able to understand.

Once that’s done, I’ll load my 3D modeling software. There are a number of popular utilities out there for doing 3D modeling, including:

  • Blender – an extremely powerful program, but it’s very focused on 3D animation more than doing 3D modeling.
  • FreeCAD – this program is better suited to sketching and then modeling parts, but it can be somewhat complex to get started.
  • OpenSCAD – a good choice if you’re already familiar with programming, since you build parts programmatically in a simplified design language. It may be hard to translate a complex idea into a set of simple commands, though.
  • AutoDesk Fusion 360 – not open source, but it is free for hobbyists. I like this one pretty well, and I use it the most often, but there are some things that are tough to do in it. For instance, placing two objects relative to one another is needlessly painful. It also seems to bug out on me from time to time.

The end result of any modeling operation is to produce a STL format file. You’ll want to make sure you also save a copy of the design in some format the modeling software understands, because if you have to make changes to your design, going from a STL file back to the model can be quite painful.

Slicing With Cura

The STL format file just represents your object as one or more solid hunks of material. Your 3D printer, though, only understands a few basic operations like “move the nozzle to this position” and “squirt out some plastic.” The language the printer speaks is called “gcode.” Bridging the gap between your design (in STL) and the printer’s capabilities (in gcode) is a piece of software called the “slicer.”

The slicer’s job is to look at your object and figure out how to move the printer head around and where/when to squirt plastic in order to create it. There are a few slicers available, but by far the most popular one is Cura. The Monoprice/Wanhao Maker Select printers ship with a custom version of Cura that has a bunch of settings already set, but this version of Cura is out of date and missing a lot of features. I would suggest that you use the latest version of Cura, and just customize it for your printer. Most of the settings are intuitive and well labeled, although the sheer volume of settings means that you’re going to have to practice and research in order to get everything dialed in just right.

The first step to configuring Cura for your printer is to add a new printer configuration. In Cura 3.2, this can be found under Settings->Printers->Add Printer. The settings here will depend on your exact model of printer. You can get these settings from the manufacturer, or if they offer a customized version of Cura, you can steal the settings from there.

Cura Printer Settings (Monoprice Maker Select Plus)

For my Monoprice Maker Select Plus (or Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus), the relevant Cura “Printer” settings are:

  • X (Width) – 200 mm – this is the left-to-right size of the build plate.
  • Y (Depth) – 200 mm – this is the back-to-front size of the build plate.
  • Z (Height) – 180 mm – this is the distance between the build plate and the highest point that the Z-axis can reach. Wanhao/Monoprice advertise this as 180 mm, but I would suggest being careful if you’re trying to print a very tall object. You might want to tell the printer to raise up as far as it can, and then measure the nozzle to plate distance as a double check.
  • Build Plate Shape – Rectangular. Hopefully that’s obvious.
  • Origin at Center – No – the origin of the printer is where it will go to when you zero/home all three axes. On the Monoprice Maker Select Plus, homing the axes takes you to the front left corner of the plate.
  • Heated bed – Yes – The MP Maker Select Plus has a heated bed.
  • Gcode flavor – Marlin – Wanhao bases their i3/i3 Plus firmware on Marlin
  • Printhead Settings – This is only really relevant if you want to print multiple objects in the same print, but you want to print all of object 1 before moving on to object 2 and so forth. When I print, I prefer to print the same layer of all objects at the same time, so this doesn’t matter.
  • Number of Extruders – 1. You’d know if you have more.

Monoprice Maker Select/Plus Start/End GCode

The “Start Gcode” and “End Gcode” are basically just chunks of gcode that will be copied to the top and bottom of every gcode file that Cura produces. Usually these do some maintenance operations like heating everything up, or priming the extruder (thereby making sure there is hot plastic ready for when it starts printing). I stole the gcode from the Wanhao version of Cura, although I’ve been playing with it since and may release some “better” gcode at some point. My gripe with the default “start gcode” is that it primes the extruder and then leaves a tangled ball of filament stuck to the extruder before it starts printing. That often collides with my print at some point, or it burns or jams something up.

You can find the “default” gcode and my “custom” gcode over on GitHub.

Cura Extruder Settings (Monoprice Maker Select Plus)

Next up is the “Extruder” settings tab. For my Monoprice Maker Select Plus (Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus), the Cura extruder settings are:

  • Nozzle size – 0.4 mm – taken from my printer’s documentation. If you’ve replaced your nozzle, you might need to change this from the Wanhao/Monoprice defaults
  • Compatible material diameter – 1.75 mm
  • Nozzle offset X/Y – ignored, because there’s just one nozzle.

Extruder Start Gcode and End Gcode can be left blank, since there’s just one extruder and we can put any start/end gcode in the “Printer” section just as well.

Cura Material/Filament Settings

Cura has a bunch of material settings built-in, but what settings you will want to use depends on your filament and the manufacturer’s recommendation. Many of the settings on the “Information” screen are optional – they’re only used to determine the cost of a print. The important ones are the diameter, the printing temperature, and the build plate temperature. I print with eSun PLA+, and eSun recommends an extruder temperature of around 210 degrees C, and a bed temperature of around 60 degrees C.

Pro Tip Cura will attempt to only show materials that fit the current active printer. If you try to create a new material and it seems to immediately disappear after setting up the “Diameter” field, double check that you have the correct settings for your printer to match the filament you’re trying to create.

Cura Print Setup Settings

From here on out, many of the settings are either personal preferences, or settings you might want to tweak because of an issue you’re having with your prints. You can start with the “Fine” profile and tweak it to suit your needs.

Pro Tip Note that by default, Cura shows very few options. If you start typing in the “Search…” box, you can find even more settings

Some important settings you’ll want to learn about early:

  • Build Plate Adhesion (Raft) – If you’re having trouble getting your prints to stick, you could try adding a Raft. A Raft will put a wide, thin, chunk of plastic on the build plate and then build your model on top of that. I would probably suggest not using this unless you actually are having issues with stuff not sticking, though, as it leads to the bottom of your model ending up rough and damaged looking.
  • Build Plate Adhesion (Skirt) – It’s hard to call a skirt “build plate adhesion,” really. Skirts don’t actually touch your model. They can be useful for priming the extruder, which means that your extruder will be (hopefully) flowing plastic consistently when your model starts to print.
  • Generate Support – If you are printing a model that has parts which “hang” in the air, you’re probably going to want to print supports. Supports give the plastic something to stick to instead of just being printed into dead air.
  • Retraction – Depending on your material, you might find tweaking the retraction settings useful. I found that I often got “stringing” (little plastic bits floating off my model) until I tweaked my retraction settings.

Conclusion

Once you’ve practiced these techniques, you should feel comfortable creating or finding a 3D model for the item you want to print, and with the process of taking that model and generating gcode from it. Hopefully you’ve printed a few things by now and gotten some practice under your belt. In my next article, I’ll talk about what to do to improve your print quality, including useful modifications you can make to your printer.

Next Up – Improving Print Quality

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Monoprice Maker Select Plus Beginner’s Guide https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/monoprice-maker-select-plus-beginners-guide/ https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/monoprice-maker-select-plus-beginners-guide/#respond Sat, 10 Mar 2018 18:01:06 +0000 https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=8821
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I recently picked up a Monoprice Maker Select Plus 3D printer, which is a rebranded Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus. The manual that came with the printer is utterly useless as far as explaining the setup process for this printer, though. After spending a week doing a lot of research and also a ton of trial and error, I’ve learned enough to be competent. I’m making this post to help me remember as well as to help others who might be trying to figure this printer out.

Thanks for your support! Links to third party websites in this article may contain affiliate IDs. If you purchase something from these links, the blog might get a small percentage as revenue. We use that money to offset the cost of creating and hosting our content. If you’d prefer not to participate in this program, don’t click these links.

The Maker Select Plus is exactly the same as the Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus. This printer also has a lot in common with the Monoprice Maker Select which makes sense, since the Maker Select is just a Wanhao Duplicator i3. The mechanism is basically identical between the “Maker Select” and the “Maker Select Plus,” with the major difference being that the electronics are housed in the base of the Plus and in a separate box in the non-Plus. The Plus also has a touchscreen, which is both good and bad. The controls on the touchscreen are a bit more of a pain, in my opinion, since you can’t just push and hold to repeatedly choose an option. Moving the axes manually is kind of tedious for this reason. I got a good deal on the Plus, though, so I don’t regret the extra few bucks I paid.

Warning I’m an engineer with years of experience in motorized embedded systems. That said, I’m still a 3D printing newbie. Following my instructions, even 100% correctly, might still lead to you damaging your printer in some way. Any operations you carry out on your computer/printer are done at your risk. I make no guarantees and won’t be liable if you do damage to yourself, your gear, etc as a result of the notes presented on this page.

Okay! The big fat warning is out of the way. Let’s move on to the user manual, which is a total train wreck. Let’s go through the steps and see what corrections or lessons I learned.

Assembly (Monoprice Maker Select Plus)

When it’s time to assemble the printer (this was “step 6” in my manual) , there are two main pieces. One is the printer base, which contains the touchscreen and the Y axis setup. The other is the tower frame, which has the Z and X motors. In order to get my tower to fit over my printer base, I had to flex the tower a bit. Otherwise, there was interference between the legs of the tower that prevented it from moving smoothly over the base. The screws on each side can be started by hand to get the pieces somewhat together before you grab the allen wrench to tighten.

Pro Tip Allen wrenches are freaking annoying. If you’ve got a few bucks to spare, consider grabbing an allen wrench bit set. You can fit these in most cordless screwdrivers, or you can also pick up a compatible hand driver.

Soon after assembly, you need to level the X-axis rod. (This is step 9 in my manual). Unless your X-axis is really, really obviously off-level, I suggest waiting to do this until after you’ve hooked everything up, turned the printer on, and homed the X/Y/Z axes. If you don’t home first, it’s possible to move the right (or idler, the one without a motor) side of the X-axis down lower than the stops would normally allow you to, which causes all sorts of weird misbehavior.

Speaking of homing, let’s skip to step 19 now. Here, you’re asked to home the X/Y/Z axes and then shut the printer off. First, make sure the bed is as tight to the Y-axis carriage plate as it can be, by tightening the thumbscrews until the springs between the bed and the Y-axis plate are squished as far as they can be. Then, home the X/Y/Z axes.

The “Tool” menu has separate buttons for homing the X, Y, and Z axes, but the “Home All” option is actually under the “System” menu. It doesn’t really matter which option you use, but I thought I’d point this out because I found it confusing.

Once you’ve homed the X/Y/Z axes, now you can push the “disengage motors” button which will allow you to manually move any of the axes however you wish. If you don’t push this button (or shut down the printer) before trying to move the axes, the servo motors will keep the printer locked into place.

Now’s a good time to make sure the right side of the X axis is level by putting a level on it, and then turning the black metal Z-axis coupler on either side until the X axis is completely level. You might need to hold one coupler steady while you turn the other, since they will tend to want to move in unison.

Pro Tip Note that the motor controls will let you force the Z-axis down below the point which it considers itself “homed,” which can cause all sorts of awful grinding noises. The safest thing to do is home the Z-axis, and then make sure you never go lower than that position. If you do go below the home position on the Z-axis, re-level your X-axis rods before continuing.

Once you have the X-axis rod level, use the motor controls in the tools menu to check and see if the X-axis moves up and down the Z-rods smoothly. If it doesn’t, you’ll probably hear a clicking noise as the threaded rod slips or skips. If this happens, tighten the set screws on the offending black metal coupler a little bit to get a better grip.

Once you’re happy with the Z-axis performance, home that axis and disengage the motors (or turn off the printer). Now is also a good time to make sure the hot end is cold, assuming you’ve ever warmed it up before. It’s now time to level the bed. Leveling the bed is simple in theory but takes a bit of practice. Luckily, it seems to stay pretty level in my experience. I only have to futz with it every few days.

Pro Tip “Leveling” is a bit of a misnomer. You’re not actually leveling the bed – 3D printers can print if the bed and the extruder are not level, they just need to be a consistent distance from one another. The technically correct term for this process is tramming.

What you want to do is grab something very thin. My printer came with a plastic card, but some people swear by receipt papers, or you could get all fancy and use a feeler gauge. The basic principle is twofold. One, the nozzle needs to be very close to the bed without touching it. Two, the nozzle needs to be a consistent distance from the bed at all points. I say “at all points” but honestly, the most important zone is towards the middle, since that’s where most of the printing is done.

Pro Tip Before you level the bed, double check that the nozzle is cold (don’t want to burn your card!) and also that the end of the nozzle is clear of any residual plastic. If there’s some plastic hanging off the edge, that’s going to get in the way and make it impossible to get the small distance you need between the nozzle and the bed.

To proceed with leveling, your Z-axis should be homed. (We did that a couple of paragraphs ago, remember?). The motors need to be disengaged so that you can move the X and Y axes freely. Turn the four thumbscrews at the corners of the bed until the nozzle isn’t touching the bed. Then, pick a corner and move the nozzle about halfway between the corner of the bed and the center. Put your thin object between the nozzle and the bed. Now, adjust the knob in the corner while sliding your thin object back and forth under the nozzle. At some point, you’ll start to feel friction between your object, the nozzle, and the bed. If your object is particularly thick (like a business card) then you want to feel a good amount of friction before you stop adjusting the thumbscrew. If your object is thinner, you might want to wait until you can feel the friction and then move the bed back down a touch. Repeat with the other three corners, and then do a double check on each corner before moving on.

FAQ What happens if I get the bed too high/too low? The most important thing to ensure is that the nozzle isn’t dragging on the bed. This will cause the nozzle and the bed to take damage when you try to print. It’s not the end of the world if it drags across the build mat for a few seconds, but it is something you should try to avoid. Having this distance otherwise incorrect will lead to bad/ugly prints. It will be obvious on the first layer that something is wrong. If it doesn’t look like any plastic is coming out, the nozzle is too low. If the plastic isn’t adhering to the bed, it’s likely that the nozzle is too high. If the first layer looks uneven, chances are one of the corners is off. In any event, cancel the print, and re-check your level.

Loading Filament (Monoprice Maker Select/Select Plus)

After leveling the bed, it’s time to load the filament. Filament is touchy stuff, and it doesn’t like being left out for very long. If you’re not printing, you need to unload the filament and store it in an airtight container – for my 1kg rolls, a gallon size ziplock bag works fine.

Pro Tip Desiccant is your friend. It will absorb moisture inside your airtight container, thus prolonging the life of your filament. They make desiccant that changes color to indicate saturation, which can also be dried out and reused. I suggest drying out in the oven at 245 degrees F rather than using the microwave. You can also use your printer to print desiccant boxes, or you can drill small holes in pill bottles if you have extras lying around.

When loading the filament, first go to the “Tools” menu, then touch “Filament” then “Load Filament”. This will heat up the hot end and make the extruder motor turn continuously. If your printer doesn’t have these options, preheat the extruder and once hot, you can use the “E-axis” + button (That’s E for Extruder) to move the extruder gear manually. Don’t try to load filament while the hot end is cold, it won’t work!

While the hot end is heating up, trim, whittle, or otherwise sharpen the end of the filament. Bend it a bit to straighten it out. What we’re going to try to do is snake the filament through a small hole that you can’t see inside the cold side of the extruder, and both of these steps will make it easier to hit. You’ll also want to make sure the Z-axis is up a bit, so that you give the extruded plastic somewhere to go.

Once the extruder is hot, press down on the black lever and insert the end of the filament through the small hole at the top. Do your best to get it to go straight down. You don’t need to push very far, maybe an inch or so. Then release the black lever. This lever actually moves a ball bearing that normally pushes the filament right up against the extruder gear. If you have a flashlight, you can shine it through the small gap on the right side of the black lever to see the gear.

Pro Tip If you’re having trouble getting the filament to load properly, you might need to take the cold end of the extruder apart and check for something jammed in there. To do this, you can remove the two screws that hold the fan/heatsink to the extruder motor. Careful, though, since removing these two screws releases the extruder motor and it can fall. I put something soft under the motor to catch it just in case it comes off. Once the fan and heatsink are out of the way, you can see down into the aluminum block where the filament is trying to go. There’s a PFTE (Teflon, although it looks like white plastic) tube around the outside, but is there anything caught in the middle? If so, use some tweezers to pull it out.

On my printer, the gear won’t turn if the X/Y/Z axis is moving manually, and if the gear is turning manually, the printer will “queue up” X/Y/Z moves. This can be very confusing if you’re using the manual motor controls. Plus, since there’s no UI feedback about the extruder gear’s status, it’s also hard to know when the extruder gear has stopped without listening very carefully or keeping your eye on the gear. All the more reason to use the “Load Filament” option if you have it!

Once you’re done inserting the filament, watch two places. One, check to see that the filament is moving towards the extruder. It’s going to move very slowly, but you should notice a slight movement in your reel. Once you’ve confirmed that it is moving, take a look at the nozzle. After a few seconds, plastic should start to shoot out. Give it a bit of time so that everything is properly primed, then stop the E-axis (or back out of the “Load Filament” screen).

Pro Tip When you extrude plastic into empty space, it’s going to get all stringy and cling to the nozzle. That means you’re going to be doing a lot of cleaning plastic off the hot end, and it is (duh) hot. I suggest grabbing some long metal tweezers to help with this.

Unloading Filament (Monoprice Maker Select/Select Plus)

While we’re on the subject of filament, and since I’ve covered how important it is to properly store it, let’s talk about unloading filament. This direction is substantially easier, although gotchas still arise. If you’ve got the “Unload Filament” option, it’s basically trivial. Use this option, wait for the hot end to heat up, then depress the lever and pull the filament out. Trim any strings, and then carefully secure the end of the filament. If you let the end of the filament go, it will wrap itself up with the spool, potentially causing knots and tangles, which ruin prints.

Pro Tip In fact, the safest thing to do is to use a clip to attach the filament to the reel before you unload it. Thingaverse has a bunch depending on the type of spool your filament provider uses. When you’re done printing, before you start the unload process, clip the filament to the reel. Then just make sure that the end of the filament isn’t tangled after you load the filament again later.

Conclusion

At this point, you should be knowledgeable enough to get your first print going! Try one of the gcode files that is included on the SD card, assuming you haven’t lost it by now. In the next article, we’ll cover designing and printing something new.

Next Up – Designing Prints and Slicing With Cura

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A Case of Distrust Review https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/case-distrust-review/ https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/case-distrust-review/#respond Fri, 09 Feb 2018 22:46:39 +0000 https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=8810
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A Case of Distrust is a 2D narrative 1920’s detective noir game from one-man indie dev The Wandering Ben, and published by Serenity Forge. Long-time WOTS readers will recognize Serenity Forge as a developer/publisher we’ve had success with in the past.

I honestly have no idea what it is about noir detective games that appeals so much to me, but there you are. Whatever the reason, as soon as I heard the premise for A Case of Distrust, I was sold. The trailer explains most of what you need to know – A Case of Distrust is a stylish game told primarily through silhouettes and text narration.

Protagonist Phyllis Malone is an ex-cop turned private detective. When a small time crook shows up at her doorstep with a mysterious threatening letter, Phyllis quickly finds herself embroiled in a web of intrigue in prohibition era San Francisco’s seedy underworld.

The case itself can be split into two parts – the first is an investigation into the mysterious letter, and the second explores an escalation in the case that leads to a murder. Each mystery is solved via a combination of hunting for clues in static 2D scenes, and through interrogating key individuals.

The 2D scene explorations are beautifully presented, although they’re generally pretty simple. It’s possible to overlook clues if you do a bad job of identifying the interactive objects, but the scenes are small enough that being exhaustive isn’t that difficult. There’s a lot of red herrings in the scenes, but there’s no real penalty to taking your time and exploring everything.

When it comes to interrogations, the closest game I can reference here is L.A. Noire. However, there are some significant differences between A Case of Distrust and L.A. Noire. In L.A. Noire, interrogations can go south if you haven’t done the correct research, or if you respond incorrectly to witnesses’ statements. In A Case of Distrust, it’s far harder to mess up. Late in the game you can accuse suspects, and I didn’t check to see if this angered witnesses enough to permanently lock you out of solving the case. Beyond that, though, you can ask anything you want and respond however you want during an interrogation.

Length-wise, A Case of Distrust clocks in at around a 2-3 hours for a single playthrough. I spent some of that time stuck for a while on the interrogations, where I wasn’t really clear on what I was missing in order to proceed. The game kind of nudges you to ask the bartender for help if you get stuck, but I never found him to be that useful outside of a couple of times I was required to talk to him.

During my playthrough I missed a few achievements, and it’s not clear to me if there are multiple ways for the ending to play out. I’m interested to see if there’s reason to replay, as I wasn’t quite “done” exploring A Case of Distrust’s 1920’s San Francisco. Given the way the ending left more than a few loose ends, I suspect that A Case of Distrust is intended to be the first episode in a Telltale-style series. I feel like the length and quality of the experience measures up pretty well with that as a benchmark.

A Case of Distrust
Links:Homepage, Steam
Release:2/8/2018
Price:$14.99
Rating: - Awesome!
Our Thoughts:

A Case of Distrust does more than you’d expect with its minimalist trappings. The cases captured my interest quickly with excellent writing and fantastic art. While it’s on the short side, and occasionally a bit frustrating, A Case of Distrust is nonetheless an excellent throwback both to the detective noir genre and the era of the classic adventure game.

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Staxel Preview: It’s Harvest Moon Minecraft. https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/staxel-preview-harvest-moon-minecraft/ https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/staxel-preview-harvest-moon-minecraft/#respond Wed, 24 Jan 2018 23:40:30 +0000 https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=8803 Staxel is a game by an ex-Chucklefish developer (think Starbound) that combines elements of Minecraft and Harvest Moon (or Stardew Valley if you prefer). Humble (of humblebundle.com) is publishing it. Aaaaaand that's all most of you will want to know. If you haven't thrown your wallet at the screen, you can buy it on Humble's Store or over on Steam. Thanks for reading!
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Staxel is a game by an ex-Chucklefish developer (think Starbound) that combines elements of Minecraft and Harvest Moon (or Stardew Valley if you prefer). Humble (of humblebundle.com) is publishing it. Aaaaaand that’s all most of you will want to know. If you haven’t thrown your wallet at the screen, you can buy it on Humble’s Store or over on Steam. Thanks for reading!

… Wait. You’re still here? Huh. Okay, let’s dig a bit deeper.

From Minecraft, Staxel steals its voxel-styled graphics and overall world destructivity. Chop, dig, mine, break stuff, craft new items, and build your own structures. Multiplayer servers are already supported for co-op farming. However, the world as I’ve seen it so far is much, much smaller than a Minecraft world – the emphasis is not on exploration. There’s also no significant RPG elements – combat seems to be completely missing.

From Harvest Moon/Stardew Valley, Staxel steals the “you take over a dilapidated farm and have to restore it” plotline, plus the run-a-farm economy, a town full of NPCs, and some farm-related quests to undertake. Seasons pass and crops grow; meanwhile you can also raise livestock and improve your farm. The missing bits are things like significant NPC interactions (gifts, marriage, etc)

The state of Staxel at the launch of Early Access is still pretty rough. There’s a tutorial that helps some, but there are a lot of unexplained elements. Staxel is one of those games that really needs a wiki to explain everything, and I’m playing it before such a resource exists. The economy is such that it doesn’t really make sense to farm at this point, which is really quite weird for a farming game. A lot of the crafting is so daggone expensive and complex that I really never felt “competent” at creating new things.

Minecraft + Harvest Moon is such a peanut-butter-and-chocolate combo that it’s a bit of a surprise that there isn’t a blockbuster indie game out there that already tried this mashup. No doubt Staxel will do its best to evolve and fill this niche. It’s hard to say exactly what Staxel is going to turn out to be like when it’s “finished.” (If it ever is – is Minecraft finished at this point? Starbound even? These games seem to get maintained forever…)

A lot depends on the size and quality of Staxel’s community. There’s Steam Workshop support already in Staxel, so if aspiring modders want to build new elements for the game, they’re certainly able to. Given that Humble is backing it, chances are good that we’ll see Staxel reach a wide audience and become immensely popular. As with all Early Access games, though, there’s an element of risk to jumping in early.

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DA:I: Why “Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts” is just The Worst https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/dai-wicked-eyes-wicked-hearts-just-worst/ https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/dai-wicked-eyes-wicked-hearts-just-worst/#respond Fri, 22 Sep 2017 19:25:37 +0000 https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=8792 Dragon Age: Inquisition, but I've had such a tumultuous time with it that I really just want to write something about it to let off some steam. DA:I definitely has some high points, but last night I was playing the mission Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts and I just about threw my controller across the room because of how bad a mission it is. So consider this a "mini-review" (slash-rant) about game design and how this particular mission gets it so, so wrong.
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It’s a bit late to write a full-blown review of Dragon Age: Inquisition, but I’ve had such a tumultuous time with it that I really just want to write something about it to let off some steam. DA:I definitely has some high points, but last night I was playing the mission Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts and I just about threw my controller across the room because of how bad a mission it is. So consider this a “mini-review” (slash-rant) about game design and how this particular mission gets it so, so wrong.

I’ve had a somewhat rocky relationship with the Dragon Age series over the years. I love me some western-style RPGs, and I love BioWare as well. I first played DA:O on my Xbox 360, but never finished it since the game hard locked my console about 4 times. I recently returned to the PC version of DA:O, and liked it enough to drop $20 to round out my collection with DA2 and DA: Inquisition. I could rant for longer than anyone cares to listen about the lazy design decisions of DA2. That particular game feels like a rush job from start to finish. But it’s not why we’re here. We’re here for Inquisition, and specifically one main plot mission.

The Plot is Meaningless

The backstory of Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts can be summarized as follows. One of the major countries in the DA setting is a “France stand-in” called Orlais. Orlais at the time of DA:I is undergoing a civil war. There’s the currently ruling empress, and she’s fighting with a duke that controls a lot of the army. There’s also this elven girl who runs a spy network or something and opposes them both.

“Team Good Guys” has reason to believe that the empress is going to be assassinated by “The Big Bad,” (both completely unrelated to any of these warring factions) so they get themselves invited to a big party to try and stop that from happening. The party is actually a cover for peace talks to end the war. It takes place at a palace, with members from all the factions under one roof.

My first problem with this quest starts even before the quest does. None of these factions has played a significant role in the game so far. I’ve never met any of these people before. The civil war has similarly not been a focus of the game at all either. The characters and the war are introduced in an exposition dump between two of my advisers before the mission starts. I’d be willing to bet that once the mission is over, I’ll probably never see any of these people again.

So why should I care what the outcome is?

During the course of the quest, this issue is compounded. As it turns out, all three of these bozos are assholes. They’re all backstabbing, exploitative, out of touch jerks who have personal vendettas with one another. It’s probably a pretty accurate representation of politics in general, but that doesn’t mean that it’s fun to play. I don’t feel invested in the results of this mission at all, even less so once I learn more of the backstory.

The Main Objectives are a Disaster

Okay, so the story sucks, no big deal, that’s 99% of video games, right? The gameplay in this mission is so, so much worse.

The entire quest takes place in the palace, which is not a very large zone, despite its very odd architecture. For some reason, it’s divided into maybe 5-6 zones. The palace is loaded with guests, but for the most part they all repeat the same snippets of dialog over and over. There were more people concerned about the “number of canapes that were being served” or “whether or not the servants could hold them all” than I could count.

The main thrust of the quest is building up and maintaining your reputation with the nobles in attendance. This “reputation counter” is represented by a number between 0 and 100. If this number falls to 0, it’s instant game-over. In order to convince the court to see things your way, you need this to be higher than 85 by the time the quest is over.

The effect of your actions on this number are mysterious and vague. Dialog choices can raise or lower it, but what works and what doesn’t is nearly impossible to guess unless you’re aggressively save scumming or using a guide. DA:I uses the sort of abbreviated conversation wheel that means what you see on screen is often not what is actually said, so it can be hard to even figure out what the appropriate response is from the information you’re given. Further, things that work with one race/class combo, or with one group of party members just don’t work with other combinations.

Much of the quest involves areas of the palace not included in the party, and for every minute you’re away from the party, the reputation counter decreases by one. It’s not always clear what zones are “safe” and what zones decrease your reputation, so you’ve got to move quickly through hostile areas and be careful not to linger looking for loot or side quest items too long. The lack of feedback and the pressure to speed through wide sections of the palace doesn’t help the pacing or the fun factor of this quest one bit.

The Sidequests Are Garbage

I mentioned looking for side quest items just now, and that’s kind of an important yet mostly meaningless part of this quest. There are something on the order of 60 “collectibles” to find. Fifteen of these are coins that can be tossed into a fountain for a small reputation counter boost. Finding these is a pain in the ass because you have to get relatively close to them in order to be able to track them and expose them.

Thirty more are “scandalous secrets” – many of which are circles on the floor where you have to eavesdrop on conversations nearby. The eavesdropping doesn’t always work – it’s random – so sometimes you have to eavesdrop on the same circle a bunch of times to get credit. The rest of the secrets are notes/books you can find and pick up.

Did you just spend a half hour combing the entire palace, carefully trying to avoid lingering in the reputation drop areas too long, lest you fail the mission or get a bad ending? Too bad, some don’t spawn until later stages of the quest. Even if you find every last one, sucks to be you. There’s no real reward for either of those collections! Surprise!

The final group of collectibles are statues. These statues are magical keys that can be used to unlock doors in the palace. There’s a limited number of statues, and it’s possible to miss some of them. There aren’t enough to open all the doors. Some of the endings to this quest require that you find and save the statues to open specific doors. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on plot-specific items.

All of this is not explained, at all, within the game proper. It’s very easy to miss statues or waste them on rooms that have sub-par generic loot and nothing else. One of the statues is up on the rafters above a room which makes it seriously painful to grab. Compounding this is the fact that the area is “off limits” and so you’re losing hard-earned reputation the whole time.

This Quest is the Worst

So let’s recap. Here we have a mission where:

  • I have no idea what is going on until 30 seconds before the mission starts
  • I don’t really care what happens during this mission
  • It’s mostly long and boring and full of politics that don’t impact me at all
  • All the side quests are irritating pixel searches that give little to no rewards
  • The outcome is decided by a bunch of forces I can’t know unless I cheat
  • Almost all of the mechanics are irritating at best and actively hostile at worst

Why is this in a video game again? What makes this fun or interesting?

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SteamWorld Dig 2 Review https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/steamworld-dig-2-review/ https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/steamworld-dig-2-review/#respond Wed, 20 Sep 2017 16:01:43 +0000 https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=8781
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I first encountered Image & Form’s SteamWorld series back in October 2014 when I played SteamWorld Dig for the first time. I’ve kept tabs on Image & Form since then, and when they released SteamWorld Heist, they managed to take one of my favorite genres (turn-based strategy) and make a highly polished and interesting game in the SteamWorld universe. Now, Image & Form has returned to craft a sequel to SteamWorld Dig, the aptly named SteamWorld Dig 2. Utilizing my well-honed journalistic skills of “begging for teh codez” I landed a review copy and spent the weekend digging as deep as I could.

The original SteamWorld Dig was a fun, but somewhat short, mining RPG – something like the cross between Boulder Dash (or some might compare it to Terraria for you youngin’s) but with a bit of a Metroidvania spin. Most post-Minecraft mining simulations are free-form sandbox affairs, but SteamWorld Dig was more linear and focused on making progress towards tangible goals.

The original Dig focused on Rusty, a mostly silent protagonist who uncovered a vast and sinister secret deep under the sleepy town of Tumbleton. Dig ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, with a visibly changed Rusty wandering alone in the desert. Dig 2 picks up where Dig left off, with one of the shopkeepers from Tumbleton (Dorothy) setting off to find out what happened to Rusty. The plot is still fairly lean, and I could probably summarize the whole thing in less than a paragraph, but it is a step up from the first SteamWorld Dig which was thin to the point of transparency.

SteamWorld Dig 2 adopts a very similar structure to SteamWorld Dig, but with improvements at almost every turn. The mine in Dig has been replaced with a larger, wider world map in Dig 2. My playthrough of Dig 2 clocked in at around 12-15 hours, which is more than double what I spent on the first Dig. A rapid transit system of tubes allows for fast travel between major checkpoints. The map’s not just bigger, it’s more varied as well. There’s way more variety in the enemy types as well as in the environments. Even the town and its inhabitants are much more colorful and animated.

There are also way more upgrades – dozens of options are available to customize your Dorothy. Gone are the consumable utility items like the ladder and teleporter, in favor of more permanent, meaningful choices. Mining gems and minerals yields cash, which pays for upgrades to your basic stats. Collecting artifacts and gears unlocks modifiers for your equipment, which can be respec’ed as often as you like in town.

With more flexibility and more upgrades comes more Metroidvania goodness. Even the most mundane of early areas contains secrets that can only be uncovered later in the game after finding the right unlocks. The map screen does a great job of highlighting areas you’ll want to revisit to do more in-depth secret searching. Dig 2 does a great job of training you on new mechanics, and it’s always clear if you’re ready for a particular challenge or not. Speaking of challenges, optional challenge caves are scattered about that test your skills to the limit, requiring both speed and precision in equal measure. These challenge caves are also packed full of secrets that only the most observant of players will detect.

By far, though, my favorite improvement in SteamWorld Dig 2 is the platforming. Dorothy moves smoothly right from the start, but as you slot in more and more upgrades, her motion through the mines feels almost effortless. Whether I was mining treasure to pay for upgrades or putting my robotic abilities to the test in the challenge caves, movement in SteamWorld Dig 2 was always a blast.

I will take a break from my lavish praise of SteamWorld Dig 2 to pick a few nits. There’s a small section of non-linearity to Dig 2, but it’s still pretty aggressively linear. If you go in expecting the freedom of something like Terraria to forge your own path, you’ll be disappointed. I find the setting of the SteamWorld universe quite interesting, but over the course of the 30-40 hours in three games I’ve played so far, I’m not sure I really have more than a few sentences to describe it. Aside from a few easy-to-miss achievements, there’s no reason to replay Dig 2, and there’s no New Game Plus mode either. None of these complaints really makes that big of a difference to me, and I knew what kind of game to expect as I’d already played SteamWorld Dig, so I classify them as minor gripes at best.

SteamWorld Dig 2
Links:Homepage, Switch Store Page, Steam Store Page
Release:9/21/2017
Price:$19.99
Rating: - UNBELIEVABLE!
Our Thoughts:

SteamWorld Dig 2 is the third consecutive awesome game I’ve played from Image & Form. SteamWorld Dig 2 takes all the great parts of SteamWorld Dig and refines them in a way that is nothing short of fantastic. I played it obsessively from start to finish. My only real regret is that I’m out of SteamWorld until I&F’s next release.

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Sundered Review https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/sundered-review/ https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/sundered-review/#respond Sat, 05 Aug 2017 17:08:24 +0000 https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=8758 Sundered is the second release from indie studio Thunder Lotus, who we have met on several occasions over the years. Their previous game, Jotun, knocked our socks off with its extremely detailed visuals and giant boss combat. Does Sundered clear the bar that Thunder Lotus has set with Jotun? Read on to find out in our Sundered review!
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Sundered is the second release from indie studio Thunder Lotus, who we have met on several occasions over the years. Their previous game, Jotun, knocked our socks off with its extremely detailed visuals and giant boss combat. Does Sundered clear the bar that Thunder Lotus has set with Jotun? Read on to find out in our Sundered review!

Sundered is a action roguelite side-scrolling Metroidvania game. Some of those pieces really don’t seem to fit together – I reacted with incredulity the first time I heard the pitch. How do you have a game with non-linear progression gated by abilities while also being procedurally generated? Metroidvania games are often distinguished by their very carefully planned level designs, whereas roguelike/lite games tend to be more random and haphazard by design.

Sundered pulls this off by being smart about how it combines random elements and prefab locations. The overall world map layout is fixed, with various major rooms and arenas carefully placed to enable ability gates and boss fights. However, large chunks of the map are big, dynamic spaces that are filled in randomly between runs. From my experience, there are various “room templates” that you’ll see repeated between runs through these spaces, with other smaller connectors that join them together.

Now that we’ve resolved the genre dichotomy, we can move on to talking about the game! Sundered is very much in the vein of Symphony of the Night in terms of combat. You’ve got a melee weapon with a rapid strike attack, plus a dodge roll that grants invulnerability. There’s also a ranged weapon that pierces enemies and walls that you unlock, although ammo is limited.

Combat encounters are randomized, and they could occur at any point as you are exploring. Sundered throws a practically insane number of monsters at you at times. This is probably my main gripe about the game – it’s very hard to be strategic when there are literally so many enemies you can’t even see yourself sometimes. It can be difficult to determine if the spawns are infinite or if eventually you’ll manage to beat back the tide. Running away is often not an option – the enemies can traverse the environment faster than you, there are hazards to consider, and some enemies can even block your escape.

Most of the abilities you unlock as you progress through Sundered add additional movement options. Double jump, air dash, wallrun, etc. There’s also a massive skill tree that buffs your stats and increases your overall survivability. Buying perks from the skill tree requires shards that drop from enemies, so plan on killing a lot and dying a lot in the process. While the progression is satisfying, at times getting the shards you need means subjecting yourself to a bunch of repetitive combat.

Much like in Jotun, the real highlight of the enemy encounters in Sundered is the boss battles. Each of Sundered’s 3 zones contains a set of minibosses and a massive area boss encounter. The bosses play with your sense of scale and often challenge you to perform precise platforming feats while something huge (but extremely well animated!) is creatively trying to murder you. None of the bosses are downright impossible, but each failure means you’ve got to navigate all the way back to the boss room from the starting location, which can be a pain.

I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot, but there’s a BioShock “rescue / harvest” kind of situation going on, and there are special skills that go along with each path. Your decision also effects the final boss you encounter. There’s some replay value available there, but the path you choose is decided early and basically permanent. If you choose to see all the endings, you’re going to be playing 90% of the same game to see 10% that is new on each playthrough.

Sundered
Links:Homepage, Steam, PSN
Release:7/28/2017
Price:$20.00
Rating: - Awesome!
Our Thoughts:

Sundered maintains Thunder Lotus’ commitment to extraordinary art and detail – a commitment that few games, indie or otherwise, are able to match. Sundered manages to almost seamlessly meld two completely incompatible genres into a satisfying exploration experience. Grindy combat against overwhelming odds keeps it from being a “perfect” game.

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Galaxy of Pen and Paper Review https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/galaxy-pen-paper-review/ https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/galaxy-pen-paper-review/#respond Tue, 01 Aug 2017 23:03:26 +0000 https://www.withoutthesarcasm.com/?p=8752 Galaxy of Pen and Paper is the latest release from Brazil-based Behold Studios, makers of fine entertainment software like Knights of Pen and Paper and Chroma Squad. We first met Saulo Camarotti at SxSW a few years back, where he was showing off a beta build of Chroma Squad. Saulo graciously provided us a review key of GoPaP prior to release, and I've been zipping around the galaxy questing like a crazy person since. Find out what I learned in our Galaxy of Pen and Paper review!
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Galaxy of Pen and Paper is the latest release from Brazil-based Behold Studios, makers of fine entertainment software like Knights of Pen and Paper and Chroma Squad. We first met Saulo Camarotti at SxSW a few years back, where he was showing off a beta build of Chroma Squad. Saulo graciously provided us a review key of GoPaP prior to release, and I’ve been zipping around the galaxy questing like a crazy person since. Find out what I learned in our Galaxy of Pen and Paper review!

Judging by its title (always a safe bet!) Galaxy of Pen and Paper could be considered something of a sequel to Knights of Pen and Paper. That was a fun game. Okay, review done!

Seriously, though, if you haven’t played Knights, both of these games follow a similar formula. They both harken back to the glory days of tabletop roleplaying, where your party members were actual humans that were physically (or virtually) sitting across a table from you. The “game master” would come up with a story and a scenario to play. How that story plays out is heavily influenced by the players and how they feel their characters would act in the situations the game master sets up.

If you couldn’t guess from their titles, the settings are a bit different. Knights focused more on the “fantasy” realms of traditional Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying. Galaxy is set in space, and features a lot of influences and cameos from a wide range of pop-culture sci-fi icons. The references are everywhere, from things like Hitchhiker’s Guide and Doctor Who to Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan.

It seems to be a running theme with Behold Studios’ games that there are multiple layers to their narratives. In the case of Galaxy of Pen and Paper, there are events happening in the game’s “real world,” plus events happening in the game’s “game world.” For instance, sometimes the game is interrupted because one of your characters’ computers disconnected from the internet. Or the game master’s mom comes barging in during a boss fight, causing some wacky misunderstandings. While the game’s “real world” is often obviously more mundane, the two worlds have a tendency to mix as the story continues.

Combat in Knights had a real Dragon Quest vibe. Galaxy adds a few wrinkles, and the end result is more along the lines of Final Fantasy. PCs and NPCs take turns performing actions, and the last team standing is the victor. XP, cash, and occasional loot items are your reward for surviving, while death just means a quick trip to the medbay and some other minor penalties.

There are no random combat encounters in Galaxy of Pen and Paper. Any time you’re on a planet, you have the option of creating a battle with whatever local enemies you feel like pummeling. You can also structure your encounters into a wide array of quests, some of which don’t involve combat at all. The bonuses for quests are built in such a way that rewards trying a little bit of everything, which helps reduce the feeling of grinding until you burn out.

While I generally like the planet-based combat in Galaxy of Pen and Paper, it is occasionally rather slow. Enemies can have high HP and long animations that make whittling them down a bit of a chore at times. The difficulty also spikes and drops in weird ways. While you can make any regular encounter as hard or as easy as you like, the bosses are always at the same difficulty. It’s often unclear how powerful you need to be in order to beat the next boss. Usually the penalties for dying are minor, but occasionally a boss has been behind a long cutscene or a set of scripted encounters that take a while to plow through.

What’s a space game without space travel, though? Early in Galaxy of Pen and Paper, you unlock the ability to travel from planet to planet and system to system. There’s also space combat, where your ship is pitted against enemy vessels in a simple turn- and dice-based minigame. The space combat is just a little too simplistic for my taste, and aside from completing main plot quests, there’s not much way to improve your ship.

Galaxy of Pen and Paper
Links:Homepage, Steam, Google Play, iTunes
Release:7/27/2017
Price:$14.99 (PC), $4.99 (Mobile)
Rating: - Awesome!
Our Thoughts:

If you were a fan of Knights of Pen and Paper, picking up Galaxy of Pen and Paper is definitely worth it. Galaxy an upgrade to Knights in almost every way. Likewise, if you’re a fan of space sci-fi or old-school RPGs, Galaxy of Pen and Paper will treat you right. There are a couple of areas for improvement, but overall Galaxy is a ton of fun on PC or mobile!

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