Thoughts on Tesla vs. Lovecraft

A buddy purchased Tesla vs. Lovecraft for me as a gift on Steam. As a fan of both historical figures I was immediately intrigued and it was just the kind of relatively mindless game play I could get into. It’s a two-stick-style shooter where you, as Nikola Tesla, use a variety of technological inventions and weapons to push back hordes of Lovecraftian horrors summoned by H.P. Lovecraft himself with his book of eldritch magic. Apparently, Tesla is meddling with powers man was never meant to meddle with and Lovecraft is wielding magic man was never intended to wield to stop Tesla’s scientific progress to prevent a cataclysm (or a Cthulhu-ysm).

The short of it is the game is fun, short, a bit unbalanced, a bit unpolished, and maybe a little too expensive ($15 currently on Steam). It can also be a bit repetitive, but no more so than say other games where you slaughter hordes of enemies, think the Diablo series.

You can see from the world map image that there are at least a couple of dozen stages. Each stage starts off the same way with Tesla in his mech (of course he has a mech) for a limited time to help get you started. But the mech eventually explodes and you’re left with just Tesla, whatever perks he has, and a simple pistol. Perks are various abilities and upgrades Tesla gets as he levels up in the stage.  These include things like extra damage, ricocheting bullets,  regenerating health, and extra barrels. The early part of the stage is usually the make it or break it part of the gameplay. You’re relatively under-gunned and outclassed by the ever-increasing swarm of eldritch creatures spawning from various gates. You’ll spend that first couple of minutes frantically running away, shooting, and teleporting around the map to not get swallowed by the flood of spawns until you find a decent weapon.

The weapons spawn randomly but are also appear to be level dependent. Early on, you can get a more powerful handgun or a shotgun, but later and with more levels you will get Gauss rifles and lightning guns. If you don’t get a good weapon early, especially in the more difficult levels, you’re probably going to die. Or even late in the stage and with many levels, you can imperil yourself by accidentally picking up a crappy weapon, going from a Gauss shotgun to a regular shot gun.

There are other random power-ups you can collect in each stage in addition to weapons like pieces to rebuild your mech or limited-use super weapons. These are just nice little bonuses to help you survive. Or in the case of the mech, to quickly take down one of the bosses, which tend to be bigger versions of ordinary monsters with some special ability.

The game’s world map has three planes or difficulty settings. By the second one, the ether plane, ether crystals start to spawn in stages and you can use these to purchase various “inventions” that power Tesla up. These inventions increase in cost as your improve them, but they are what help poor Tesla survive in the early going of the higher difficulty stages. Extra uses of teleport and starting with a super weapon are sometimes the only things that will keep you alive in narrow alleyways surrounded by monsters.

There are also special power perks or items that rarely spawn. These all seem awesome at first, like infinite uses of teleport or super weapons, but some can get you killed in the late stages. Picking up the death ray late in the game when you have a lot of perks can do more harm that good because the death ray doesn’t benefit from the perks you’ve collected until then nearly as much as some other weapons and has limited range. You’re usually far better off with a gauss shotgun or lighting ball gun near the end of a frantic stage than getting the death ray.

When you kill monsters, you can experience points which gain levels. When you level up, you get to choose one of two random perks. There’s some strategy as to what you should take at any given time, depending on the type of monsters trying to kill you, the weapon you have, etc. But if you just get unlucky, you’re first first few perks could be useless. I needed to replay certain stages several times just to get a good draw of perks and weapons to be able to survive long enough to kill monsters in mass and not be overwhelmed. There is an invention you can spend crystals on to reshuffle the pair of perks you get to choose from on a level up, at least.

It’s worth noting that I really only played the single player campaign and didn’t try co-op. I also only gave the survival mode, but didn’t take to it. So, take this all with a grain of salt. The co-op coul dbe the best part of this game and I just don’t know because I didn’t try it. And ss silly as it sounds, I was most looking forward to the quirky campaign story and setting. And that’s where I was a little disappointed. The cut scenes are simple and the animation pretty underwhelming, akin to old flash videos. I do enjoy the art style however and the locations, like Wardenclyffe Tower and the Mountains of Madness. Those were a treat.

The developers, 10tons Ltd., are patching and improving this game, which released back on Jan. 26 of this year. So, I expect many of my issues to be improved over time. But having gone through the campaign, I don’t have any real desire to return to it just to grind for crystals to unlock more inventions to compete in the survival mode for a high score.

But I do recommend picking this up if you enjoy two-stick shooters or fast action games and catch it on a Steam sale.

Oculus Rift and Beer at the Tin Roof Tap Room for Tech Tuesday

A little over a week ago, I went with a couple of buddies to enjoy some free beer at the Tin Roof Brewery and a demo of an admittedly older version of the nifty VR headset, Oculus Rift. And after my house being broken into, a lot of my stuff stolen, and all the insurance paperwork that comes with that, I needed the night out.

I had been to the Tin Roof Brewery’s Tap Room before for a beer dinner, so I was already familiar with their beers. The first beer I had was the Rougarou, named for the mythical shape-shifting, swamp monster that haunts South Louisiana. Despite being rated at 108 IBU’s, I didn’t find it nearly that bitter. After some party snacks, I followed the Rougarou with the Perfect Tin Amber Ale. I wanted something lighter on flavor and alcohol content with a bit of maltiness to it and this beer hit the spot.

If you’ve never visited the Tin Roof Tap Room or the brewery, it’s worth checking out at least once if you find yourself in Baton Rouge looking for something to do.

Beyond the beer, I got to try out the Oculus Rift as part of a tech demo organized by the Louisiana Technology Park. LSU Digital Media Arts & Engineering Director Marc Aubanel was on hand to give a little presentation about the technology and its applications for gaming and learning. Marc was a cool guy and an old fan of the Ultima series. You can learn more about him in this interview on YouTube here.

Oculus Rift
Oculus Rift demo running on a nondescript Intel-powered laptop. The two images shown on the screen are what is displayed to each eye when the headset is on. The motion tracker mounted on top of the laptop follows your head movements.

I admit I was a little disappointed with the demo, but only because my expectations were higher than they should have been. As an AMD fan and stockholder, I’ve been keeping up with the graphics card maker’s virtual reality efforts and had read about crazy custom PCs boasting a pair of Fury X graphics cards running Oculus Rift headsets with modern survival horror game demos at high resolutions and the necessary 120+ fps frame rates to prevent motion sickness. What I got instead was an older, simpler version of the headset running off an Intel mobile iGPU. Yeah, it was kind of a bummer, but I got free beer and food out of it.

I did put the headset on and I could clearly see the potential for gaming (and business and training applications galore!), despite the resolution of the little space flight simulator being akin to smashing my face against the screen of an old Pac-Man arcade machine. It sensed my head motion and could track where my eyes were focused to fire lasers at various targets. It was also relatively light and comfortable, but I couldn’t see myself wearing it for an extended period of time if not just to keep from sweating all over it. It was in full color and a little blurry at the edges of my vision/the googles. What really hurt it, however, was the lack of sound—any sound. With some decent headphones and a good sound card pumping out directional audio, it would be ideal for a turret-based shooter. Think a 21st century rendition of the old Atari classic, Missile Command.

But still, the Virtual Boy this was not, and I was glad someone thought it would be cool to set up such an event for a Tech Tuesday. I mean, you can’t go wrong spending an evening drinking free Tin Roof beer and demoing Oculus Rift.

 

Video Card Prime Day

It’s not something I talk about much outside of certain circles, but I really do enjoy building a computer. I put together my last one a few months back. It’s function sits somewhere among HTPC, gaming PC, work PC, and lab rat. I’ll use it to watch a Spoony, a Channel Awesome, or an AVGN episode on my living room TV and then switch over to playing one of the various Steam Games I scooped up on the cheap during the summer sale. Mainly, I’ve been playing (and enjoying) some Defense Grid 2. I’m a sucker for turret defense games. And when the rare mood strikes, I can pop open Word, zoom in to like 150%, and do some writing from my couch.

As far as the lab rat role, let me list the basic specs first.

  • AMD A10-7850K “Kaveri”
  • Gigabyte GA-F288XM-D3H FM2+ MB
  • 2 X 4GB 2133 MHz G.Skill DDR3 RAM
  • Samsung 850 Evo 120GB SSD
  • WD Blue 1TB HD
  • Asus 24X DVD-RW
  • Corsair Builder Series CX 600 Watt ATX/EPS 80 Plus
  • Sentey Ss6-2440 Mini Computer Case
  • Windows 8.1

The more savvy PC building enthusiasts may question some of the components or the lack of them. For example, I’ve yet to add a third-party CPU cooler and there’s no graphics card, as I’m relying on the APU graphics of the Kaveri. Others will questions why I didn’t get a better Intel chip for around the same price. Well, that’s thing. This PC is my lab rat and I really wanted to see just how functional the Kaveri is as a CPU and GPU and what it’s like to manage an SSD and an HD in Windows. This is also the first time I’ve ever used an SSD and it’s been a little bit of a learning experience. I’ve installed only the OS, the MS Office Suit, and Chrome, so far to the SDD, excluding a couple of GOG games I installed to the SSD by accident. I couldn’t find a way to configure the GOG downloader install directory, but I didn’t look very hard. And it’s not as if installing Master of Orion I and II will take years off the life of the SSD, even if playing them has used up a couple years of my own life.

As far as performance goes, everything I do is smooth, including the games I’ve been playing on my 1080p TV. Granted, I’ve yet to seriously play anything more taxing than Diablo 3 and League of Legends, but I haven’t really been up for playing much else lately. So as the Kaveri goes, I’ve no complaints at all, and the temps seem to be well within acceptable levels, based off the AMD Overdrive utility, Gigabyte’s EZTune application, and the BIOS, on just the stock cooler. Noise is not an issue either. If not for the snazzy LED fan lights, I probably wouldn’t know the thing was on.

The Sentey case was the first of its type I’ve ever used before and it really was a pleasure to work with. The case can open from the sides, like your usual tower-type case, but the case can also tilt open like a car hood, letting you work directly above the motherboard, which sits horizontal rather than vertical in the case. I did have an issue with installing the DVD-RW drive, but the Sentey customer service answered my email within hours about how to safely remove the case’s front panel so I could install the drive.

I’m going to wait until Black Friday comes around and see if I can’t get a really good deal on the CM Hyper 212 Evo CPU cooler. I don’t really have an interest in overclocking the Kaveri; I just like to be thorough.

Despite the fact the PC resembles a futuristic-looking bread maker, I really like using it for everyday type stuff and don’t regret building it. If you need to build an inexpensive rig for general computer usage that can handle some light gaming at 1080p, the A10-7850K (or the 7870K now) is the way to go. If you’re planning to go UHD, require high FPS, or want to pick up a $300+ graphics card down the road, then you’ve probably already bought a high-end Intel i5 or i7 so you can play [Insert AAA Title] here at 1440p+ with 60 fps.

But let’s be honest, when it comes to light gaming, “light” is NOT a bad thing. There are some amazing, wonderful games you can play for hours and hours that require minimum specs. Go check out Transistor, the enhanced Baldur’s Gate Games, FTL: Advanced Edition, XCOM, League of Legends, Child of Light, Diablo 3, Starcraft 2, Divinity: Original Sin, Homeworld Remastered, Strike Suit Zero, Skyrim, or just about anything else more than a couple years old.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do own some AMD stock, which I bought just prior to the big console win announcement. I kind of regretting not dumping it when it reached the $4 level, but I have high hopes for the Zen architecture, the coming GPU shrinks, and Windows 10. I should also mention I built a gaming PC for my brother last Christmas with the Kaveri. On the minimal budget I had and by taking advantage of seasonal sales, the Kaveri beat every configuration of components I could come up with as far as power to cost goes. Considering my brother had been playing Blizzard games and League of Legends at minimal settings on his Intel Quad Core Duo, 32-bit Windows Vista-powered Gateway and the crumby Geforce 240 graphics card he dropped in it to play Starcraft 2, the Kaveri was a massive improvement.

I confess, too, to being fascinated by the idea of HSA at the time, but even a year and a half later there hasn’t been any significant implementation of it, which is kind of a bummer.

With all this background out of the way, I can get to the point of this post. I want to boost my lab rat PC, but I’m aware of the limitation of my 600 watt PSU. So, I want to get my hands on AMD’s “tock” line of graphics card, the R9 380, specifically. It features some pretty impressive specs and benchmarks at 1080p for just $200 to $240 depending on the brand and the amount of RAM. I have my eye on Gigabyte’s 4GB offering. I have no special loyalty to Gigabyte by the way. I just haven’t had any issues with their products and I figure a Gigabyte card should get along well with a Gigabyte board.

NVIDIA has some really good cards, too, but nothing with this much power in this price range at the moment. Despite the 3.5GB issue with the 970, that card is a real beast, but it costs about $150 more than I’d like to spend. No, the R9 380 card just screams value to me, as I have no designs on upgrading my monitors or TV anytime soon to UHD. It has one of AMD’s newer graphics architectures, is compatible with DX12 and Windows 10, supports the new frame rate targeting feature to save on power and heat, and it won’t require a PSU upgrade.

I almost ordered the card last week from Amazon when it was in stock for a brief couple of days. I haven’t seen it in stock on Newegg ever so far. My plan is to wait for the fabled Prime Day that Amazon is promoting for July 15. I’m hoping I can get a bit of a discount on the card, but I’ll have to see. If not, I can wait a little longer for a price drop of one sort or another. While I’m itching to see what Alien Isolation will look like with the graphics settings turned up, I really, really want to see how DX12 will handle the R9 380 and the Kaveri’s integrated GPU when Windows 10 and DX12 games come out.

Black Messiah, Curse of the Dragon Slayer, and Retro Gaming

 

What I’ve been listening to…

With the ongoing absence of a local modern rock radio station, I’m finding it more and more difficult to discover new music in my preferred genre, so I’ve been working to expand my tastes as a means of musical survival. To that end, I’ve come to rely on a combination of Amazon’s music offerings, Pandora when I have wifi, YouTube/VEVO, and Facebook.

Facebook is where I discovered D’Angelo and the Vanguard‘s album, Black Messiah. A friend and former co-worker praised it after a noisy knitting circle at her cafe of choice drove her to put on some headphones to get some peace.

Black Messiah

I’ll be frank. It’s a soul/RMB album.

That’s never really been my music of choice. I don’t dislike it; I’ve just never craved it. So, I was skeptical of the recommendation, but I did some research. I sampled some tracks. I enjoyed what I heard and ordered the CD and received an MP3 version, which I immediately downloaded to my phone. I got the CD in the mail a couple of days later. And yes, the album is a little heavy on politics, but if you can listen to Rage Against the Machine and not be bothered by it, then you won’t mind this one. It also helps that even after listening to the album over a dozen times with earbuds, headphones, computer speakers, and stereo speakers, I can’t understand the majority of the lyrics. Some might consider that a drawback, but it works for me. The emotion and timbre of the vocals fit seamlessly with the other instruments. You may not understand what’s being said, but you can feel it.

The stand out tracks (or the ones I bob my head to most at work) for me are “1,000 Deaths” and “Sugah Daddy.”

“1,000 Deaths” is easily the most serious of the two. It just marches along like a smooth bad ass. And-this is silly-but the track title reminds me of a certain luchador.

“Sugah Daddy” just sounds fun. And I can picture D’Angelo and his band smiling at each other while they perform it. I just kind of hope it’s not really about something terrible, because then I’ll feel like a jerk. Also, it reminds me of Bart’s Nightmare, the limbo dreamworld stage where you try to hop onto the homework papers. Go figure.

So, give either of those two tracks a listen or try some others if you’re curious. There are plenty enough reviews out there for this album, too, if you’d like a more informed opinion.

What I’ve been watching…

I had a mild headache one night not too long ago, so I took a break from copy editing to lie down and watch whatever was on Netflix. This mediocre-rated fantasy movie, Curse of the Dragon Slayer, showed up in my recommendations. There was an elf girl with cool eyes, some orcs, and a dwarf on the cover art. So, I was sold. I’m a fantasy author; this stuff is my bread and butter, usually.

Just a quick note, the movie goes by an alternate title or two. I didn’t know this until I looked it up on IMDB later, but the hyperlink goes to the IMDB page.

Curse of the Dragon Slayer Cover

While this movie has a 4.9 rating on IMDB, I wouldn’t describe it as mediocre, boring, or middle of the road. It’s a combination of extremes. It’s sugar and vinegar. And that’s a shame, because I think with just a few script tweaks, tweaks that would have actually saved on the already apparently low budget, it could have been a pretty solid little cult fantasy flick. Heck, they could have worked out a deal with Paizo to make it into a Pathfinder movie (if it were better), by just changing names and such. The old Golem would have been pleased.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the movie’s problems:

  • Unrealistic fights against multiple opponents… man, was this bad. The evil minions would fight the heroes a couple at a time while the majority of them bounced in the background. They’d have been better off adjusting the plot so there wasn’t an army of minions to dance awkwardly in the background.
  • Underdeveloped and unresolved character story arcs.
  • Teased subverting the classic paladin (cleric?) hooks up with elf scenario, but didn’t subvert it, and then didn’t deliver on the cliche. See the point before this one.
  • The BBEG went down faster than the BBEG in a Season 1 scenario against an 6-man party comprised entirely of paladins and barbarians… That’s a Pathfinder reference… sorry…
  • Teased the whole rape the female captive bit, because it’s the new dead parents.

Here’s a breakdown of the movie’s strengths:

  • Danielle Chuchran as the elf Nemyt Akaia. She looked great and was a lot of fun to watch.
  • Also, props to Paul D. Hunt as Kullimon the Black.
  • The chemistry among the three main characters.
  • Most of the paladin’s story arc… They really needed to expand on this more.
  • There’s an evil dwarf armed with muskets and black powder bombs.
  • Some good one-on-one melees.
  • It was better than the D&D movies

Get some friends together. Have some beers. Put this movie on. There are plenty of worse ways to spend an evening.

What I’ve been playing…

I picked up the Gamerz Tek 8-Bit Entertainment System. I might have been a little buzzed at the time, but I’ve been wanting to try one of the new retro consoles. I still have a functional NES, but why use it, except for special occasions? Sometimes, I just need to blow off some steam and run through some Ninja Gaiden or Metal Storm. And this little guy, being about the size of 2~3 stacked NES cartridges, let’s me do this with a lot less fuss.

I unpacked it and hooked it up to my HDTV. It was packed pretty neatly. It smelled new and felt sturdier than I feared it would be. I popped in some Ninja Gaiden and slashed through the first few stages. Unfortunately, the controllers it came with became randomly unresponsive. So, I plugged in one of my original NES controllers and it worked fine. I’m debating if it’s worth trying to exchange the system for another one to get some functioning controllers. The controllers for retro consoles like these never get high marks…