Game recommendation: Beyond – Two Souls

One of the games I picked up shortly after getting a PS3 was Beyond: Two Souls. I admit I didn’t actually know much about the game aside from the fact that it had been created by the development team behind Heavy Rain, Quantic Dream.

Heavy Rain is definitely one of must-have titles for the Playstation 3 but IMHO Beyond: Two Souls is better in almost every aspect. When it comes to graphics and sound it’s amazing how awesome games can look on this decade-old machine. Sure, there are next-gen titles with better graphics, but for a PS3 title, Beyond is just gorgeous.

Like Heavy Rain Beyond: Two Souls is more an interactive movie than what I would call a game although Beyond has a lot more “gameplay” than its predecessor. Heavy Rain was basically a long sequence of QTEs, while Beyond feels more like a traditional adventure game. But it’s pretty light on puzzles and if I am not mistaken you can’t really fail. Since I haven’t replayed the game yet, I can’t judge how much the story is influenced by the player’s decisions. But I guess there are only a few branching moments and the rest of the story is built in a way that you have the illusion of choice. But even if that’s the case, it doesn’t make Beyond: Two Souls a less great game.

What makes Beyond such a great experience is a) its story and b) the acting. As I said, it’s more like an interactive movie and I enjoyed the actors performances (Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe are starring) a lot. If someone would turn Beyond into a proper movie I would definitely pay to watch it in the cinema. The focus of the story is Jodie, a young woman who is tied to some kind of spirit called Aiden, who grants her supernatural abilities. She can ask him to perform certain task for her, but he also acts on his own. I don’t want to spoil the story too much, but it’s an exciting ride with exciting combat, drama, government conspiracies, and questions about life, death, and what awaits us after death. The story is told in a non-chronological manner, which can sometimes be a bit confusing, but overall this works pretty well.

By the way, you can also play Beyond as a two-player co-op game. One player controls Jodie, while the other plays Aidan. But I haven’t tried this gamemode yet. As far as I know there is also a version for the PS4 which includes a couple of extras. Regardless which system you own, you should try to track down a copy of Beyond: Two Souls. It’s an impressive game, which tells an intriguing story and features believable characters. Beyond is also one of the few games who managed to have such an impact on me that I found myself close to tears several times during my playthrough. If you enjoy adventure games with mystery themes, you definitely have to play Beyond: Two Souls. You will not be disappointed!

Why should you get a PS3 in 2017?

Just last week I bought a used Sony Playstation 3 on eBay. Some of you might be wondering why I got this video game console now, when the new generation has already been available for quite some time now. There are a couple of reasons.

The main reason is that the PS3 is much more affordable now than it was years ago. You can easily buy a used one for less than 100€ including controllers and perhaps even a few games. And even though it’s already about a decade old, a lot of games still look great.

The PS3 has had a slew of exclusive titles you were always interested in, but because you never got one, you weren’t able to play them? Now’s your chance! Especially the highly popular PS3-exclusives are now available for a couple of Euros. I got games like Heavy Rain, The Last of Us, etc. for under 5€ each. In general used games are extremely cheap. The PS3 is still new enough and it sold extremely well during its lifetime, so that the games are not extremely rare. Chances are good that you can get a handful of games for the price of one new PS4 game. This might eventually change in the coming years, so now it’s a great time to start collecting PS3 games.

I especially like that the PS3 is easily upgraded. Yesterday I replaced the 80GB hard drive by a 1 TB one and the whole process took me less than half an hour (including formatting and installing the latest software update). And if you don’t own a BluRay player yet, a PS3 gets even more interesting compared to other consoles of its generation.

As a plus you also get a console which plays all your venerable Playstation 1 games. Yes, every PS3 is PS1 compatible, even though they dropped PS2 compatibilty eventually.

Currently the PS3 is still somewhat supported by Sony. You can still get system updates from their website (even though this update is a couple of years old) and there are still many PS3 titles available in the Playstation Store. But of course we don’t know how long this support will last. So starting your collection now seems quite reasonable.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Please share your comments below!

 

Pixels … Oh My!

Yesterday I noticed that the Adam Sandler movie Pixels was on Netflix. Even though I’ve heard that the film was really, really bad, I decided to watch it anyway. Has the movie been a disappointment? No, since I didn’t expect much. It even had a couple of funny moments. Unfortunately it is obvious that noone involved in this movie put any effort into it. The story had plot holes so large, you could squeeze a house-sized pacman through them. Sure, it’s a movie about 1980s Arcade games characters attacking Earth, but it should have at least tried to follow it’s own rules.

The silliest scene in the movie is when the heroes find out that Peter Dinklage’s character used cheats in their real-life fight with Pacman. Don’t ask me, how this is supposed to work. And yes, Peter Dinklage is in the movie, and even he can’t really save it. Overall there are so many inconsistencies, it’s not funny anymore. The acting was uninspired and the majority of the “jokes” were not really funny. The only redeeming value were the CGI effects and the ‘80s nostalgia that sometimes shone through. But overall it felt as if the people actually making this movie didn’t share this nostalgia. It’s a shame. This could have been a really awesome movie…

One last thing: the CGI Max Headroom looks terrible. I definitely prefer the original.

Spam is killing me!

Not literaly of course, but spam emails basically rendered several of my email accounts unusable. Unfortunately I haven’t found a good way to deal with this. Since these accounts are not used for any super-important stuff, ignoring the problem works for a while, but in the long run I really need a solution. My main email addresses are from Gmail. And you know what? I have basically no problems with spam. Gmail automatically identifies 99.9% of all spam emails and hides them away in the spam folder. Problem solved! False positives are not a big problem.

Alas I also have an outlook.com address (which I use for everything Microsoft-related) and an address provided by my hosting provider. With both accounts I have massive spam issues. The ratio between proper emails and spam is probably around 1:100. I wish I had Gmail-like spam filters for these accounts as well, but I don’t. Things are made even harder by the fact that there are some idiots out there who sign up for services using my email address. Don’t ask me how many times people try to sign up for services like Paypal, Twitter, Facebook, etc. using my address. So I have to deal with repeated authentification emails as well, when they realize they didn’t get those in the first place. No surprise there, idiot, they are in my inbox!

Unfortunately outlook.com’s spam filter doesn’t do anything and I get the feeling my hosting provider doesn’t even attempt to filter emails. I could forward all those emails to Gmail accounts and let their spam filter do the heavy hauling for me, BUT that’s not something I really want to do. Switching between several Google accounts is a chore. A perfect solution would be a spam filter included in an email desktop client. Since I can’t (or won’t) change anything on the server-side, perhaps there’s something to be done on the client side? Do you guys know of a solution to my problem? Is there a piece of software that helps me to deal with all this spam while keeping my sanity (or at least the few shreds still left)? Any advice would be appreciated!

What Am I Playing Right Now? (Part 2)

Yesterday I wrote about Star Trek Online, today I want to look at something similar but totally different. In a way Avorion has some similarities with a game like STO: you fly around in a space ship, there’s space combat, there’s exploration, you can play with other people, but that’s where the similarities end. In Avorion you start out with a simple mining drone in a remote sector of the galaxy. In the nearby asteroid field you can start mining for materials like Iron or Titanium. You’ll quickly notice that the other ships and stations you encounter look a bit blocky, but that’s because the game uses a voxel engine similar to games like Minecraft. It also uses procedular generation to populate the universe with countless space ships and stations.

1AdEIfklp

After having mined for a while you can use the material to build your own ship, block by block, much like putting together LEGO bricks. Aside from plain hull blocks, there are several functional blocks like generators, crew quarters, thrusters etc. Just bashing a few blocks together is usually not enough, you have to make sure the ship not only looks nice (which is actually optional) but also works (which is a must). Last but not least you can attach turrets to your creation. You start out with 4 turrets of which you can use up to 3 at the start. From what I’ve seen so far, you don’t get the same turrets every time you start a new game, but you always get two mining lasers and two weapon turrets. With your new ship you at first have to travel to a space station in order to hire crew. Without the crew necessary you can’t use turrets or maintain the ship. The larger the ship, the more crew members you’ll need. And these guys also want to get paid…

2pammhUd

So what to do now? Your ultimate goal in Avorion is to reach the center of the galaxy (much like in No Man’s Sky). But the closer you get to the core travelling using your hyperdrive engines, jumpgates, or wormholes, the more dangerous it gets. But there are also more valuable materials and technologies closer to the core. So you start out with a pretty dinky little ship, mine more materials, shoot pirates (or become a pirate yourself), trade, and so on. In the long run you can also buy additional ships which can then be commanded by captains you employ, and you can even have your own space stations. I have played the games for a couple of hours now and I am hooked. I even paused playing STO for a while because building space ships in this game is just so much fun – even though I suck at it.

1pO8grYD

Avorion is still in early access, but it has more depth to it than many other games. If you enjoy space games like Elite: Dangerous, EVE Online, the X series, and always wished there was a way to build your own ships, Avorion might be for you. Check it out! Avorion is available on Steam and sets you back about 18€ or your regional equivalent.

What Am I Playing Right Now? (Part 1)

Hmm, it has been quite some time since my last post on this blog. Real life can really mess with such things like blogging and my first priority has always been my roleplaying games blog, so Planet Stargazer lay dormant for a while. No more! The other thing which messes with blogging is playing computer games. There are currently two games which keep me enthralled: Avorion and Star Trek Online.

Let me start with the more popular one: Star Trek Online. Star Trek Online is a MMORPG created by Cryptic Studios and published by Perfect World Entertainment. It has a free-to-play model, which means you can play it compeletely free, with some minor limitations. I actually bought the game back in the day when it was initially released (and when it still had a classic subscription model). I have to admit I wasn’t that thrilled about the game back then. I really liked the space combat, but most ground missions were boring, and the client was so badly optimized that it ran like molasses even on pretty fast PCs. When giving it another chance about a week ago, I was positively surprised. The graphics have been updated and the game runs much, much smoother. Overall missions have been improved, are a bit more diverse (even though there’s still a focus on combat). Some of the ground missions now have some simple puzzles you need to solve in order to progress.

edge_of_forever2

Apropos progress, I was able to rise from Cadet to Vice Admiral in a few days of playing. This is way faster than I remember it to be. I basically just followed the storyline missions and didn’t do much else. Up until Vice Admiral you also get a new ship everytime you get promoted. After that things slow down tremendously. I also had to use some of my hard-earned cash to buy a couple of ZEN (that’s Perfect Worlds in-game currency) in order to buy a new ship. While you can definitely progress quite far without spending real money, the temptation becomes higher as soon as you reach level 50+. The only way to get you hands on ZEN without paying real money is to exchange Dilithium for ZEN in-game. Dilithium ore is often a mission reward and you have to refine it to Dilithium before you can use it. And of course the amount of ore you can refine per day is limited. Aside from ships you can also buy cosmetic items and XP booster etc. with ZEN. But if you are patient you can definitely play the game for a long time without ever paying a penny.

intrepid_back

Oh, I haven’t talked much about the gameplay yet. In STO you are the commanding officer of a Starfleet vessel (or one of the other factions like Romulan Republic or Klingon Defense Force). You can either be a science officer, a tactical officer, or an engineering officer. Depending on your class you get access to different abilities, but when it comes to space battles your choice of ships and bridge officers is more important. Yes, even as a science guy, you can fly a more combat-oriented ship if that’s your desire. I have mostly played Ezekiel Aurelius Stargazer, a human science officer. You start with a small ship and – correct me if I am wrong – one bridge officer. You then get sent on various missions. You fly to those missions through “sector space” which is basically a 3D space map until you reach a system. Aside from doing your mission you can also patrol systems. In that case the game generates a mission for you. When you enter the system you usually have to fight off some enemies first. Space combat is actually quite complex. You have to use beam weapons like phasers to drain the enemies’ shields first before you can use torpedos for full effect. Your and your bridge officers’ abilities help to repair damage, hinder foes, buff allies etc. Maneuvering the starships feels like it should feel. The bigger the ships are the slower they turn. A huge dreadnought can easily be outmaneuvered by a small escort.

rademacher

After having dispatched your enemies you often have to beam down onto a planet, or onto a space station. Sometimes you even board enemy or ally vessels. Ground combat works a lot like what you know from other MMOs, but usually there are no side missions of any kind. In most cases these are all instanced affairs which means you’re on your own, if you are not joining a larger PvE or PvP battle, or if you are in a team. I only recall one area where I could watch other players doing the same missions I did, and honestly it felt a bit weird. The writing of the missions is a mixed bag. The larger storylines are actually not that bad – even if they involve way too much time travel – but sometimes things are a bit silly, and too often missions remind me of bad Star Trek – Next Generation episodes. Luckily the gameplay is intriguing enough to keep me invested.

olympus_nebula

One thing which really works for me is the graphics. Oh boy, this game looks great. Even though the engine shows it age and still has quite a few bugs and glitches, some of the sights to behold are breathtaking. If you don’t believe me, just check out the screenshots I’ve posted. The sound effects are another highlight. Everything sounds as it should from the engines of your ship to the sound your tricorder makes when scanning something. The music is quite nice, but I’d like to hear a few of the more iconic pieces from the series. But I guess because of licensing this might not always be possible.

There’s so much more about the game which I haven’t mentioned yet, but which would also be beyond the scope of just one blog post: ship customization, uniform customization, buying and selling on the Exchange, duty officers and admirality system, just to name a few. STO has a lot of content and looks fantastic. If you are a fan of Star Trek and MMOs, you definitely should give it a try. But don’t complain if you get hooked. Zwinkerndes Smiley

Ok Google, please stop messing with my call quality

Some of you might have had the same issue I had. When talking on my smartphone I could unterstand the person I had called perfectly, but everything they got was a garbled mess. Sometimes hanging up and calling again helped. But if it worked it was only a temporary fix. I found out that this was a common issue on the Oneplus One phone I own, but people with other Android phones have encountered the same issue. As it turned out the Google Search voice recognition is the culprit, especially if you have the “Ok Google” feature enabled. Since I didn’t use that feature that often, I just turned it off and lo and behold the call quality was crystal clear – for both sides.

You may now ask, how do I disable this feature? Since I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, here’s a great step-by-step tutorial. By the way, does anyone know if Cortana causes the same issues on certain Android phones including the Oneplus One? If not, I might give it a try.

Some thoughts on Euro Truck Simulator 2

This game has been in my Steam library for ages. I don’t actually remember where I got it from, but I guess it was part of a Humble Bundle or a similar bundle. Until yesterday I never played the game. Even though the game has been praised by many people (which doesn’t happen that often with games having Simulator in their titles) I didn’t even touch it with a ten foot pole.

2016-03-02_00001

I don’t know what changed my mind. Perhaps it was the Youtube video I stumbled upon the night before in which two people talked about Leviathan Wakes, the first book of the Expanse series. The audio was accompanied by footage from Euro Truck Simulator 2. For some reason the video felt extremely soothing. So I decided to give the game a try.

Lo and behold, I was surprised how fun it can be driving a large truck on European highways. The developer actually made a good job to scale the world in such a way that it feels like the real deal even though you can drive from Frankfurt to Cologne in under 10 minutes. There’s not too much traffic, but just enough to not let you drive in the middle of the road all the time. Steering with the keyboard proved quite problematic, so I changed to my Steam Controller, which worked great. There’s even an official setup for the game provided by the developers.

2016-03-03_00001

So what is the game actually about? It’s first and foremost about trucking. You start out as a professional truck driver with no truck of their own. You can do driving jobs for other companies first until you make enough money to buy your own truck. Or you can take the quick way and loan the money from the bank. Of course you can customize the truck to your heart’s content. Some of the modifications are available at higher levels only (I’ll talk about levels in a second). After finishing a job you not only get paid, but you also get experience based on your performance. If you have gained enough XP to level your character up, you can raise certain skills that help you get more money or drive more economically. So there are even some minor RPG elements in there. Smiley Later in the game you can hire more drivers for you company and buy more trucks, even hire managers that do all the pesky micromanagement for you, while you drive around on Europe’s highways.

2016-03-02_00009

What really surprised me was the attention to detail in Euro Truck Simulator 2. I already mentioned modifications you can make to your truck. These are not only cosmetic in nature but you can also improve functional parts. Each truck has a different feel, the interiors are very detailed and it’s even possible to listen to your own MP3s or internet radio stream directly from within the game. There’s a lot I haven’t explored yet in ETS2. At the monent I am also using the simplest driving mode in which you don’t need to shift gears at all. In my current configuration, the right trigger on my controller is the gas pedal, while the left one is the brake pedal. If you want the real deal, you can of course choose from different, increasingly realistic settings.

Usually I am no fan of this kind of games, but ETS2 definitely struck a nerve. If you got interested in Euro Truck Simulator 2 yourself, I recommend checking out some gameplay videos first. You can get ETS2 for €19.99 or your regional equivalent on Steam.

How I easily fixed my Senseo machine

Zwei-Tassen-Padhalter-SenseoSometimes things can be much easier than you think. Recently I noticed that my Senseo coffee machine started having issues. The coffee was not as hot as it used too and I also had the impression that the cups weren’t as full as they should be. At first I descaled the machine. This didn’t work. In fact things even got worse. The next time I tried to brew coffee, there was almost no water coming out of the machine and the noises it made were horrifying! I already saw myself having to buy a new coffee machine again. But there was a pretty easy solution to the problem.

The coffee pod (or pad as they are known in some languages) holder has a small sieve in it that tends to clog. Over time coffee residues and hard water deposits clog the sieve, so less and less water comes through. For some reason it never occured to me to regularly clean the pod holder. But after realizing that it was probably the culprit, I used descaling agent and boiling hot water to thoroughly clean the pod holder. Lo and behold, after that procedure my coffee maker worked as if it was new!

If you own a Senseo machine yourself, make sure you regularly clean the pod holders. I am sure a lot of Senseo owners threw their fully working machines into the trash just because these nastly little sieves in the pod holders were clogged.

Some thoughts on Firewatch

Firewatch is an indie adventure game by developer Campo Santo available on Steam and PS4. Yesterday I bought it and played through it in one four hour session. That’s not a very long playtime for a game which costs about 15€. But I am not disappointed. Firewatch is definitely one of the more impressive games I’ve played in recent weeks and I enjoyed these four hours tremendously.

bd27e80b-673a-4751-a22f-a9149f53ce12

Gameplaywise Firewatch is mostly a walking simulator. There are no puzzles to speak of and no combat. But what really sets the game apart is the story and the voice-acting. You play the role of Henry, a volunteer firewatcher whose only contact is Delilah, his supervisor and fellow firewatcher who you can contact via radio only. When interacting with her you can usually choose from multiple answers and what you say influences the relationship between you and Delilah.

From what I’ve gathered, Firewatch is pretty linear, BUT the relationship between you and your supervisor is unique and changes depending on your choices. The voice-acting is among the best I’ve encountered so far, even if compared to AAA titles. The graphics are not photo-realistic but reminded me of the style used by Telltale in their adventure games. Overall Firewatch is definitely a good looking and awesome sounding game.

a3ff53bb-afe0-4cbc-bf0c-cbdf0b88b13e

But what really makes the game stand out is the fact that it tells a very personal story that’s exciting to the last minute. Even though it was way past 3 am, I just couldn’t stop playing. I wanted to know how things turn out in the end. I wholeheartedly recommend this game to you. If you are still unsure whether it’s for you, wait for a sale. But you should definitely play it.

P.S.: The artwork in this post are photos taken ingame which you can actually get developed and sent to you. This is actually a pretty interesting offer and fits well to the 1980s vibe the games’ radiating.