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A 4-post collection

Game Review: Ori and the Blind Forest

Written by Michael Earls
 Gaming  ori  PC  XBox

One of the reasons I chose the XBox Bundle that I did (besides the 1TB hard drive) was because of the games it included. One of those games was Ori and the Blind Forest.

From the very start, I was hooked. It has a great story and challenging gameplay.

Getting food with "mother"Getting food with “mother”

Aside from basic platformer shooting, there are also fun puzzles and, what is probably the best feature of the game, the escape sequences from the six major areas. These escape sequences give you very little time to think and no room for error as you use your skills to progress through the board with a very stressful natural disaster (or enemy) on your tail.

Perhaps the hardest sequence in the game is the first one, the Ginso Tree escape. It’s the hardest because it’s the first and you can’t make any mistakes.

One of the great features of the game is the ability tree that you have access to that lets you spend your spirit points (gained by killing enemies) to gain new abilities. I was one ability away from collecting all abilities. I missed that achievement. I just didn’t have enough skill points going into the final sequence. I’ve read that you can’t go back and explore after you win the game.

Ori's Ability TreeOri’s Ability Tree

After getting a new ability, I would go back to areas I had already cleared to get powerups that I could not get earlier in the game. I would also attempt to explore 100% of each area and get to all the secret places.

Map of the areaMap of the area

I am currently on the last sequence. It’s very difficult. I have the enemy on my tail. The sequence is a series of very challenging moves that require a mastery of all the skills (abilities also come in handy – like the triple jump) that Ori acquired throughout the game. Each section only gives you about 10 seconds to get through before the enemy swoops in and violently ends your life. Then you spend a few seconds getting through additional sections. If you spend too much time in an area that is not visible to the enemy, you still have to worry about the environment around you catching on fire. Basically, you can’t stop moving (much like the other escape sequences). I’m almost to the end of the sequence. Even knowing what’s coming next, you still have to execute the movements without faltering. The sounds of the enemy in the distance add a creepy ambiance to the sequence. It also gives you audible clues as to how much time you have left to finish your current section.

The following video does not show the ending with spoilers, it only shows the sequence.

I have to play these sequences sitting on the edge of my seat. It can be very stressful, but the reward for finishing is a feeling of great relief.

I have really enjoyed this game. It reminds me of the early days of playing Super Mario Brothers for the first time. The artwork is fantastic and the gameplay mechanics are fun. I find that it had just the right amount of difficulty.

No more Mac. Why I chose to sell my Apple computer

Written by Michael Earls
 apple  iMac  PC

I recently bought an iMac. I’ve always wanted to own one, but never had the money. I got the opportunity last month and I picked one up used.

I installed the latest operating system on it and started using it instead of my PC. I still kept my PC hooked up and connected to my monitor for gaming. I set everything up; email, browser, PGP keys, etc. As time progressed, I kept finding myself switching back to the PC for various tasks. Eventually, I realized that I hadn’t turned on the Mac in a few days. It was a hassle. I didn’t have any software for it and there wasn’t really any software for it that I couldn’t get on the PC (Adobe Creative Cloud, for example). Plus, that magic mouse is so annoying!

My PC is so much more comfortable to me. I just don’t have a need for the Mac, after all. So I put it up for sale on eBay. Hopefully, someone can find a use for it that I couldn’t. Maybe one day I’ll invest in a new spiffy iMac, but honesty, for the money, I think I’d much rather invest in a killer PC. You just get more for your money. I don’t need a coffee shop trophy, so the Macbook isn’t for me. I have a great desktop, so the iMac isn’t for me.

I’m still using iCloud for a shared family calendar, since Laurie and I both have iPhones and she uses her iPad a lot. I also use it for notes and photos. I’ll probably keep paying for extra space on iCloud since it’s integrated with my iPhone. Though, for $9.95/month, I could get 1TB of One Drive along with 5 installs of MS office. That might be a better deal than $3.95 for just 250GB of iCloud space. I’ll have to weigh my options.

I’m still torn between OneNote and Apple Notes. I really like OneNote, but Apple notes is so convenient. I guess I can configure OneNote to act just like it, so it’s not really a problem. I just need to take the plunge. I was “all in” with Apple products a few weeks ago, but I’m starting to die a little inside because of it.

About five years ago, I said, “We’re not having any of that Apple crap in my house”, responding to Laurie buying an iPod. Now we both use iPhones, have a Macbook Air and iPad Air 2 for Laurie, and an AirPort Time Capsule WiFi router. So, I’ve grown a little more tolerant, but I’m still a Windows fan at the end of the day, I think.

Mac vs. PC - Which is better?

Written by Michael Earls
 Mac  OSX  PC  windows  Yosemite

After having a Mac for a few weeks, I have learned some things about using computers. I’ve always been a PC person since I got my first IBM PS-1 when I was a teenager. I was so eager to get it, that I used a strategy that I’m not very proud of today (I’ve repaid that Karma many times over through the years, I’m sure). Anyway, I bought a used iMac a few weeks ago for $250. It’s a Dual-Core processor with 3GB RAM in it, so it doesn’t really compare to my PC, which is a quad core with 8GB RAM and an upgraded Video card. However, I think I can make a decent comparison about the general usability of the two.

First, I love OS X Yosemite. It blends nicely into my household where my wife uses an iPad and a Macbook Air. We both have iPhone 6 Pluses, so we get the added integration benefits of the new OS.

But, when it comes to gaming, nothing compares to my PC. I tried to install my Elder Scrolls online on my Mac, but it just wouldn’t install. I don’t think I meet the minimum requirements, so I’m not surprised. For music, the Mac seems to be doing a superb job. Everything works as it should with Reason. The only problem is that I was thinking of buying FL Studio to do music with. It only runs on the PC (there’s a BETA version that runs on Mac, but it’s hidden deep in their website and it won’t run on Yosemite).

Using the Mac is a wonderful experience. OS X has a great UI and I like the way everything just works. But, to be fair, I can say the same thing about Windows 8.1. It also “just works”. Aside from the “metro” UI, I use all of its features and it’s a joy to use. I can’t wait for Windows 10 as I’m sure they will improve on it.

So, from an OS perspective, both OS X and Windows have the same features, they’re just accessed a little differently. My Mac integrates with my Apple devices in the house (AirPort Time Capsule, Macbook Air, iPad, and iPhones). My Windows computer and OS X both interact well with my Wireless HP Printer. I haven’t had any trouble using it on either OS. It was a little more of a hassle to install it on Windows just for printing, but to get scanning and the other features of it working on OS X, I had to run the HP installer just like I did on Windows, so in the end, it was equally involved on both OSes.

I like that I can pull up an app on my phone and see where my devices are in the world. Since Laurie and I are part of the same family account, I can see where her phone and iPad are as well as where my Mac is (I hope it doesn’t start moving). The iCloud integration with photos is nice as I like the privacy policy from Apple a whole lot better than the one from Google. While Google’s cloud photo storage is “free”, Apple’s is costing me $3.99/month. It’s worth every penny to know my photos aren’t being examined and used for commercial purposes (or some other “non-evil” Google purpose).

Also, we cancelled our monthly $9.99 Office 365 account. We just weren’t using Office enough to justify the expense. I probably will go with either buying Office outright when the new version comes out or go with Scrivener and the Apple office products (I changed my mind :) )

So, the only future I see where I’m down to one computer is when I invest in a high-end iMac with good graphics card that I can dual boot into Windows 10 and play all my games and run all my music software on one computer (regardless of OS).

For now, I’ll stick with my PC and Mac running side-by-side, each doing what it does best.

Playing ESO and Getting more mileage from my Dell XPS 420

Written by Michael Earls
 Gaming  PC

I bought my desktop PC in 2007. I bought a Dell XPS 420 with 2 GB of RAM in it. It’s a quad core Pentium i5 running at 1.2 GHz. A few years later, I upgraded the video card to an NVidia GTX 550 Ti and upgraded the RAM to 4 GB (the most Windows 7 could recognize. I’ve since changed the OS to 64-bit).

The other day, I bought Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited so I could get back into playing games. I have played World of Warcraft and Star Wars: the Old Republic, but those get to be too difficult after a while. There’s just more to keep up with than I’m comfortable with. They started to feel more like jobs than games. So, ESO is a simple game to play and it has great voice acting in it (much like SWTOR). I like how there are fewer things to worry about in ESO.

After trying to play on High graphics settings, I noticed a lot of jerkiness while playing. It had some lag, too. So, I set the graphics at Medium hoping it would make a difference. It made the game run smoother, and it still looks pretty good, but I’d like to upgrade the graphics card a little.

I think for financial reasons, I’ve chosen the NVidia GeForce GTX 970. It’s a good price for speed and I’m hoping I can push the graphics quality to Ultra.

I’m also going to upgrade my RAM to 8 GB. That’s the maximum my motherboard will allow, unfortunately. Otherwise, I’d spend the same money and get 16GB. I have to buy special RAM for the Dell (at least that’s what I’ve come to understand). I have to buy 4 sticks of that RAM.

On the Disk side of things, I’m going to upgrade my boot drive to an SSD. I saw an article (some people in the comments accuse it of being an advertorial) on Ars Technica yesterday highlighting what looks like a good drive. It looks pretty solid to me. I already have two drives on my system, so I’d have a leftover HDD once I finished the upgrade and cloned my existing boot drive. I guess I could use that for some other purpose at a later date.

As time goes on, I’d like to be able to buy more PC games that look great on my machine. Upgrading it with these changes should give me a few more years of use out of it.

However, I will probably build my own gaming rig over the next year, so having parts I can reuse would be best. I’ll have to re-buy the RAM, but I can my another one of those graphics cards and set up SLI on them. I can reuse the drives, too.