First Impression: House Flipper (PC – Steam) ~ Renovations On Top

Steam store pageOfficial website

Sometimes, you just need to give a game or a concept a chance. You’ll never know if it grows on you or not. When I got a Steam key for House Flipper by being a subscriber to Humble Bundle’s Humble Choice, I was intrigued and interested on how this game is going to work. Are we going to flip the houses ourselves or are we going to run a company that does house flipping? Well, it’s the first. We are going to do the house flipping and decorating. And today, I want to take you on a journey with me to talk about my first impressions of this game in my usual Game Quicky format. Where I first mention the good things, then the bad things to wrap up with a conclusion at the end. Oh, and any comments on my work on this article and/or the game are welcome in the comment section down below.

No need to renovate

In this game, you play as a handy man who cleans and renovates houses. The skill set of your character goes from being a painter, electrician, plumber, interior decorator, carpenter… And your character does everything which for some jobs a (whole) crew does.

Honestly, I knew that I wasn’t too good at interior decorating, and it shows. There are several Christmas levels where you have to decorate the house with a lot of decorations. In a lot of cases, my end result often looks like a quickly thrown together mess. But, here is the strange thing about it. I enjoy decorating the houses.

In terms of difficulty: if you want a challenge, look elsewhere. The focus of this game isn’t in being difficult or providing some challenge. It’s more a sort of sandbox-ish type of game where you have to do certain jobs for people and if you want, improve their houses with for example new furniture or nicer decorated walls. Also, the price you earn goes up depending on the materials used and the amount of upgrades you did to the house. This doesn’t mean that the game isn’t rewarding to play. The before and after pictures you get after a job well done are so enjoyable and rewarding.

There are a lot of things you can do around the house. At the start of the game, you’ll unlock each and every skill by tutorial jobs. After these tutorial jobs, you’ll be able to use these skills in your own house and other jobs. The game can get somewhat repetitive if you don’t use the skill/perk system.

The perk system is a great system that helps you do certain tasks more efficient and faster. Image being able to paint three sections of wall at the same time instead of one. Or being able to upgrade your broom to clean faster (To be honest, I wish cleaning worked similar in the real world. Just heaving to wave a mop in the direction of the mess and voilà). Each skill/category has 9 perks in 3 sections. Each time you preform said skill/category a certain amount of times, you get a skill point with which you can unlock an upgrade. Compare it to the skill tree in Skyrim. This system actually compelled me to 100% each job since that made me get closer to new skill points making the next jobs go more smoothly and faster to do.

The controls of this game work flawlessly. This game also works with a controller, but I honestly prefer the mouse & keyboard combo for this game. I find that I have way better control over the game with the mouse and keyboard compared to the controller.

Visually, this game looks amazing. The game looks somewhat realistic while keeping your typical “game” look. Sadly, there are just a few things that look a bit unrealistic, but these don’t really destroy the illusion too much. Something I really like is how this game takes certain possible phobia’s in consideration. There are cockroaches in this game. But if you suffer from Katsaridaphobia, you can disable them right before you see/hear them for the first time. You can change them in glass shards. And to be honest, I find that the mechanic to clean up the glass shards works better and is a bit easier compared to cockroaches, but that’s such a minor detail.

The music and sound effects in this game are quite relaxing. I feel right at ease and relaxed while I’m cleaning and renovating houses. It fits the game like a glove and the sound effects as well. I wish there were more sound effects for some things like for cleaning, placing wall tiles… But that’s always a delicate balance if you put more sound effects in your game or less. Since, too many sound effects can be overwhelming and make the game “too busy”.

There are two styles of gameplay. You can either do jobs where you have a certain requirement of things that need to do be done. This is sort of the adventure mode of the game. Honestly, I have spent most of my time playing this game with the job system. Since, you can use that access money with the other mode. In this mode, you can play on the housing market and really buy, renovate and sell houses. You always have a list of potential buyers and trying to match a house to their needs with their live reactions at the side is a real interesting puzzle.

Now, if you are interested in this game and want to get even more out of it… Well, you can expand this game with additional DLC. You can access most of the main content without the DLC and I can still tell you that this game is still a lot of fun without the DLC. Every DLC adds a handful of missions, new items and new mechanics and expand the game even more. The only negative I have is that the DLC’s are a tad bit expensive in my opinion. I would find a more fair price to be €9,99 instead of €12,5. But oh well, it’s clear that a lot of effort has been put into them and if you are really enjoying the game, I think the DLC is worth it.

This game auto-saves at the interval you set in the options’ menu. And if you leave in the middle of a job, you can continue it when you boot the game back up again. There are some bugs with the cloud saves, but one of the main forum threads has a solution for that. But, the amount of options and things like that in this game is just amazing. You can set almost anything to your hand and I love it.

Something I also really enjoy in this game as well are the achievements. They add additional challenges and charm to the game. They add some replay value, and they even make some jobs unique. Since, if you only stick to the requirements to finish the job… Some achievements can be easily unlocked by later jobs.

Now, something that is amazing is that this game also supports the Steam Workshop! So, if you don’t find what you are looking for in the base game or DLC… You can visit the workshop and look at the over 16000 items on it.

Renovations needed

Overall, the UI is close to perfect. But, at this moment of writing, the text entered into the tablet has some minor delay. It’s also not easy to remove everything at once. Something like a blinking cursor in the search field when you want to type in it would go a long way. Sadly, there are other minor things like that in the visuals. For example, the long grass at your home stops at a certain line. Near the hedges, actually. Another thing in terms of visuals and UI is that sometimes, it’s a pain finding the exact spot of e.g., dirt on the mini-map. In very rare cases, the task list or the mini map is saying that there is still stuff to do while there actually isn’t.

This game is translated in a lot of languages. I love this fact, since it makes the game a lot more accessible. Maybe, I might be extremely strict on this, since I’m an editor for the Dutch/Flemish translation of WordPress… But, the Dutch translation has various typos and inconsistencies. From wrong use of verbs to not using capitals in menu’s. Thankfully, the English version of this game works extremely well and still, I find it extremely impressive that this large game with so much text is translated in so many languages.

The overall quality of the translation is fine, but I honestly think that in an update, they should let various language experts go over the translation since I think there is a lot that can be polished up and improved. Since, if you aren’t well versed in English and know what everything means or what different objects are called, you might have problems with this game.

Overall, the camera works perfectly. Since, this is a first person game, you have full control over it. Sadly, in some montage sections, the camera dips quite weirdly. These moments are thankfully extremely rare and are mainly caused when you do the assembly in a different order. Knowing what the next steps are or going out of the assembly process and going back in usually fixes these minor camera goofs.

There are some minor things that could be communicated to the player better. The best example I can give is in the painting. In a lot of cases, like in the assembly process, you hear a little sound effect when you are finished with a step. You don’t get that with painting. When your wall is done, you don’t get a small notification in the corner or something. Of course, this might be because of the perk that you don’t waste paint on already painted walls but still… It should have more communication.

Like how tasks disappear way too quickly from the small to-do list on the right side of the screen. Give the player some time to see and realize which task they just completed. The task disappears when the jingle of task completed plays.

But the biggest offender of not communicating is the demolition. It’s not easy to fully destroy a wall and know what’s going to disappear or which pieces are waiting on you to hit with your hammer. I honestly think this should be improved upon since it makes this game a tad bit annoying sometimes. A great start should be unable to build a wall in that spot and have the offending still to destroy bricks flash or turn in red or another color. A similar fix would be helpful if you are unable to find that last dirty spot on the windows. Since, the lighting there sometimes makes it extremely hard to spot sometimes.

Sadly, some mechanics are a bit too finky sometimes. If you buy a shelving unit and try to place items on it without a ladder… Oh boy, it’s no easy to put items higher than eye height. Or that if you pick up tiles, and you want to change to different tiles, you first have to remember to lay the remainder down. Thankfully, as soon as I got “used” or knew my way around these little quirks, these problems didn’t annoy me that much anymore.

The invoice – Conclusion

I never expected this game to be so much fun. It’s an enjoyable relaxing time waster that fans of casual games, simulations should give a shot. I’m quite certain that if you enjoy building aspects of games, you’ll enjoy this game as well.

Now, this game isn’t perfect. There are some things that should be polished up. It’s such a shame seeing this amazing title with some rough edges. Especially when there is so much love and soul put into this game. And it pains me that most of the negatives are almost nitpicks. I think that an update where things are polished up, mechanics are made more consistent with the other mechanics… That would be a very welcome update.

Overall, this game is a relaxing enjoyable game. It’s mindblowing how the game handles so many combinations and mechanics so well. The expansiveness of this game is so broad that I can see myself coming back from time to time after a stressful day at work to wind down. (By doing chores in a way, but hey…) While the game has its problems, some textures, and models looking a bit too out of date… There are a lot of other things like two different game modes that more than make up for it.

It’s quite clear that this game is a passion project by the developers and the love and attention to detail is shown in the game. When writing this first impression/review, I had a really hard time finding actual negatives in this game apart from several technical things that can be improved by a few patches.

I found this game at the perfect moment. I was looking for a more relaxing game I could play to wind down when I’m over stressed or had a busy/hard day at work… And then booting up this game and hearing the calming music and being able to let my creativity flow and create and improve houses… If you got interested in reading this article or looking at gameplay video’s, give it a go.

If you enjoy games like the Sims or building in Minecraft or more relaxing games, I would highly advise this game. While I totally understand that this game isn’t for everyone, it did click with me, and I’m still so surprised that this €20 game has so much value and polish. Now I’m so curious to see where the active developers are going to take this game next.

And with that said, I have said almost everything I wanted to say about this game for now. I want to thank you so much for reading this article and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care.

First Impression: Amid Evil (PC – Steam) ~ Champion!

Steam pageWikipedia entry

In the near future, Amid Evil will have new content named The Black Labyrinth. Now, this is quite extincting, since this gives me an amazing opportunity to talk about the base game. Since, this game comes from the same studio that brought us the amazing retro-style shooter Dusk and does it live up to that name, or should we totally look elsewhere? Should we leave this game amid evil, or should we save it from evil? Well, that’s what I want to figure out with while writing this article with my first impressions about the game. So, let’s dive right into the game and talk about it, while I invite you to leave a comment in the comment section down below with your thoughts and/or opinions on the content of this article and/or this game. So, Amid Evil… What do you get for us?

Champion !

Amid Evil is being called the spiritual successor to games like Hexen and Heretic. That’s quite a high bar to set since I really enjoy Heretic. I love the concept, and I was quite impressed with it. I remember discovering Heretic through a website that shared old DOS shareware versions of games. Now, before I get side tracked and this article turns into a half Heretic review, let’s focus on the game.

In Amid Evil, you play as one of the last standing heroes that is tasked with saving various worlds. In this game, the evil forces already took over and it’s to you, the Champion to save them. And in terms of story, that’s mostly it. This shooter pulls you right into the action. That’s not to say, that this game doesn’t have any story. Each episode has a lot of world building and builds up the various evil forces that took over those worlds in a unique theme, but if you are looking for a shooter with a strong overarching story, I’m afraid that you might be disappointed with this game.

To avoid spoilers, I’m going to talk about the next bit somewhat vague. But there are 7 episodes in this game, with each episode having 3 levels each and then a boss fight. In each level, there are various moments of lore and world building that if you really spend time with it, it tells an amazing story. The game tells just enough for you to let your imagination run wild and fill in the “story gaps”.

Due to the story taking quite the backseat in this game, there isn’t a lot of voice acting in this game. Apart from the Champion’s pain grunts, jump sounds and alike… There is only one character that really says lines. That’s the voice of the ancients, who is played by Tamara Ryan. She did an amazing job in voicing that character. I really enjoyed her comments when I returned to the level hub. And also, I wasn’t able to find out who voiced the main character, but the voice work there is amazing as well.

Now, if you have read earlier articles from me, you might expect that I’m going to say that it’s a shame that the story take such a backseat, but you would be wrong. I think the execution and the pacing of the story in this game is excellent. The story is told through the world building and because of this, each episode feels like a sort of anime arch/season with a start, middle and end. Especially, because each episode tells a different story with different enemies and ways you have to defeat the levels. The only thing that remains the same are the weapons and their abilities.

Something that remains the same are the controls. Those smooth and amazing controls. I really like how in control I feel of the Champion I play as. I also like things like the fact you can even choose how your crosshair looks in the options menu. That’s so lovely and allows you to add that personal touch to the game that I really love.

It’s shooting time

At it’s core, this game is an old-school linear shooter. The best way to somewhat explain the gameplay of this game is take games like Dusk or Blood, and put them in a dark fantasy setting. So, in this game, you through long levels, shooting your way through various enemies with various weapons. While going through the levels, you also have to hit switches, flip levers, make jumps, hunt for keys to open doors and maybe find secrets along the way. With a handy press of the tab button, you can easily see how many enemies and secrets there are left, but also your time in the level. So, there is an in-game time mode for speedrunners. Lovely.

So, let’s talk about the weapons you can use in this game. The “infinite ammo” weapon in this game is the Axe of the Black Labyrinth. It’s a rather strong weapon, but it’s extremely slow. I’m quite sure that this weapon was my least used weapon because of that slow speed. You also had to get up close and personal with the enemies for it to have effect, and the hectic and fun combat of this game doesn’t always allow that. Since, health in this game is rather precious. I’m not saying that this game is brutal, but if you don’t understand how the enemies work, the can become a lot of trouble.

Maybe the first shooting weapon in this game might be of help. It’s what I call “an upgraded version of Heretic’s staff” and it’s called the Staff of the Azure Orb in this game. While it’s far from the strongest weapon in the game, it was one of my favorite weapons to use. This is a water based weapon, so if you hit flame enemies with it, you deal some extra damage. But then again, water based enemies are immune to this weapon. So remember that well when you are fighting to use another weapon in case of water spirits.

Another weapon like the Whisper’s Edge. It might give you an edge in combat since it’s a sort of “shooting sword”. And not like you shoot energy beams from the top of the blade, oh no. You shoot “slashes”. This is a slow weapon, but it’s a very strong weapon. I see it as the shotgun of the weapons in this game. If you use it well, you can deal a lot of damage, quite fast. And that’s handy since this game likes to put you into tight rooms with a lot of enemies with their unique quirks. It’s essential to understand the weapons and the enemies in each episode, since that knowledge will help you survive the episode.

Like in the original DooM, each enemy has their own unique cry and sound effect. Learning these sound effects and playing this game with a good headset or surround system is a must. It helps you quite a lot to avoid dying over and over again in the chaotic and addictive battles. Something that also helped quite a lot is the Voltride. This is Poseidon’s trident combined with Zeus’ thunder in weapon form. Oh, do I love this weapon since it’s such a strong weapon, but it eats through your mana so quickly.

Speaking of mana, there are three types of mana in this game. Blue, Green and Orange mana. I really like the attention to detail that this game has with giving the ammo count the same color as the mana you need to pick up to power it. The first weapon in the roster with orange mana is the Celestial Claw. This bazooka of a claw shoots actual planets, and sometimes even our own Earth! Man, I love to use this weapon to try to hit a lot of enemies at once while circle strafing around the room.

The next weapon on the list if the Star of Torment. This weapon has its use cases. This is a weapon you need to learn how to use, since it’s not your typical “gun weapon”. The Star of Torment is a weapon that can cause not only splash damage to nearby enemies, but it can also nail enemies to the floor and/or walls if used correctly. I like to use it in crowded rooms to quickly damage the biggest enemies, they are easy pickings when I’m focusing myself on the weaker enemies.

My last case scenario is the Aethurnum. This weapon is quite close to a small screen nuke. It will rip out the souls of the enemies quite easily. And with these souls, you can charge up your soul meter. At a certain point, your soul meter is full and you can activate a sort of “rage mode”. In this mode, your weapons are stronger and do a lot more damage, but they also eat you a LOT more of your mana. I’m not going to spoil the alternate attacks of each and every weapon but let’s just say that the slow weapons aren’t slow anymore.

There is no armor in this game, so that means that you really need to be careful while playing this game, so you don’t die. In the levels, there are also red orbs you can collect that heal you. But be careful, sometimes it’s more recommend to either safe the orb and pick it up later, since it might not be the only time you pass through the section. But, if you learn the enemy attack patterns and really dive into how this game works, you might be able to even pass up some of those health pickups since, full is full.

Worship or not?

Visually, this game does a lot right. This game is the best cross between old school 3D shooters on the PS1, while it looks quite modern as well. The artstyle and theming in this game is superb, and if only I had a stronger gaming PC to see how the new DLSS visuals look like. Since, from what I have seen in the promotional material, the game looks even better.

As I said earlier in this article, the story in this game really takes a backseat, and the game tells you just enough to fill in the details with your imagination. Well, a lot of that has to do with the amazing work the developers did in theming each episode. For example, one episode is quite industrial themed. So, you go through old machines, use giant cog wheels to go around while you avoid robots with lasers. Another episode is more medieval themed, so you will see knights and soldiers hunting you down.

In terms of the UI, I don’t have anything I would change. I really like how you quickly get all the information you need from it. It shows you on the left, your health and your soul power and on the right, your mana and the acquired weapons. Combine that with the beautiful animations as this game has, and the package is complete.

For real, the way how enemies go into a stun animation or die, it told me all the right information I needed to know to try and survive the rather hectic fights. The same counts for the bosses. While they are quite challenging, they telegraph their attacks quite well to give you a chance to dodge and/or get to a safe spot. It makes the game even more fun to play.

A guilty pleasure of mine is that if there are cheats in the game, I like to experiment with them. The cheats in this game give this game such a nostalgic feel to me. But, then you have amazing things like you can play the episodes somewhat out of order. Like, how you can choose which level to play like in the 2nd episode of Nightmare Reaper. It’s really great stuff.

So, earlier I talked about that you need to learn the sound effects of each enemy. I said that for a reason, since the sound design in this game is really, really good. I’m so glad that I play PC games with a noise-cancelling headset, since I’m quite sure it saved me several times from dying. Combine that with an amazing soundtrack by the legendary Andrew Hulshult and the music and sound design gets a chef’s kiss… A ten out of ten. The soundtrack has been part of my work playlist for quite a long time, I love it. It fits the theming of the game like a glove.

There is a lot of attention to detail in this game, like how you have different death screens in this game tell you how you died and giving you quick and easy access to either reload the level, reload a save… The polish in this game makes it quite tricky to find negatives in this game. Yet, there are a few things I really didn’t like.

First of all, this is something I think can be fixed with a patch, but the alt+tab out of the game is extremely glitchy. I had to start and quit the game several times since it had quite a hard time remembering my screen size. It also wasn’t always active, and it switched between focus and not focused mode quite often.

The second thing, could also be fixed with a patch, but the counter in the codex isn’t always correct. Especially with the episodes. For some reason, it’s stuck at 8 for me, while it has double the pages.

But the 3rd thing is something I really disliked. The lack of a map screen. There isn’t an in-game map in this game. And if there is one, I haven’t been able to find it. While this game has great level design, and it flows quite nice, I sometimes missed in-game map to find secrets more easily. Since, some secret locations are so silly as underneath a stair.

Something I feel honestly somewhat mixed about are the power ups. There are so rare and far between, I honestly didn’t remember that this game had power-ups before I clicked open the codex for this article. While it came flooding back then, I think that there could have been much more use of these. Maybe if there is ever a multiplayer or death match or even a sort of zombie style mini-game, I think they can shine.

As you can see, this game is an excellent retro throwback shooter with a lot of polish. The fact that even after 3 years, this game gets frequent updates to polish up bugs and the game, I can’t really fault it for a lot besides not having a sort of in-game map. I really enjoyed myself with this game and I highly recommend it to everybody who enjoys playing shooters like Dusk, Nightmare Reaper, Blood, Bioshock, DooM… It’s really good. Be aware, it isn’t the easiest game you will play, but it’s a fair game, and it has that: “just one more try” attitude written all over it.

I’m really curious to see what the new DLC will bring since it will have new levels, new music and new weapons. Then, I shall wake up the champion once more to fight amid the evil and conquer it. But until then, I think I’ll end of the article here. I want to thank you so much for reading this article, and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care!

First Impression: GameR-Mate Stik (Hardware) ~ Take Your Ubuntu Everywhere.

FlashBayArtwork-GameR-Mate-Stik-Full

Official website

Today I want to talk about something that has been in the works for quite a while. Last year, the folks over at BlackRangerSoftware sent me an mail promoting their newest product called the GameR-Mate Stik v1.0.0. I was going to write an article about it back then, but the devs created an updated version right after I sent them my feedback. On top of that, the COVID-19 outbreak and shipping something from the USA to Europe delayed this article until now. Now, with that said, I think it’s high time to talk about this product. Know that the developer asked for my 100% honest opinion and that’s what you are going to read in this article. Now, let’s take a look at the first physical product I’m going to review on my blog. Feel free to leave a comment with your opinions on the product and/or the content of this article in the comment section down below.

What is GameR-Mate?

So, image this. An USB stick that you can plug into any computer that can run USB3.0 sticks and with that, you can play your games without affecting the computer itself. That’s GameR-Mate. The technical term for it is a Live-USB.

The latest version I received is running a modified version of Ubuntu 16.08. Now, what is Ubuntu? Let me tell you. So, to be able to run your computer, you need an operating system. An operating system is a sort of “translator”. It translates instructions from software to actual machine code. For example, when you make a new folder, the operating system gets that information from Windows or OSX and tells the hard drive: “Hey, make me a new folder on that location”. An operating system is much more than that, but for keeping this article simple, let’s not dive too much deeper into the inner working of computers.  

Now, the two biggest operating systems on the market are: Windows from Microsoft and OSX from Apple. Of course, you have Android from Google and iOS from Apple for smartphones. Let’s not forget ChromeOS for Chromebooks. And there is a special one as well. It’s called Linux.

Linux comes in a ton of flavors called “Distro’s”. Most of these distro’s are free to use and give you even more control of your computer than Windows and OSX. In the tech community, there are a lot of people who prefer using Linux to Windows or OSX. They enjoy the greater privacy control, ability to control every little thing about the system or just don’t want to pay for an operating system. There are many more reasons why people choose for Linux.

The userbase for Linux is rather small. According to NetMarketShare.com, the most used operating systems on the market are Windows (88,14%), Mac OSX (9,38%) and then Linux with (1,89%). Now, that’s mostly in the desktop and laptop space. Now, something quite “funny” happens when we look at the server side of things. Just take a look at datanyze.com with the comparisons between the usage of Windows Server and Ubuntu… Now, this is only just one website, but let me tell you from personal experience as an IT staff guy in a big school here in Belgium, we server techies prefer Linux distro’s for our servers in most cases over Windows server because it gives us more control over the system and is generally more lightweight so it uses less resources.

So, why am I putting so much effort into explaining Linux for this article? Especially in the section where I should be explaining what GameR-Mate actually is? Well, because Linux gives you the freedom to create very specific products without a lot of modifications. Just take a look at this list and you might be surprised on how much things run on Linux.

GameR-Mate is a special USB stick. So, you can boot to it and play your games and take it with you. The biggest limitation is that you need a “host” computer to be able to run it. So, if you don’t have a computer, you won’t be able to access your games. But that’s a limitation of each USB stick is it not?

What’s included?

Now, you can buy a GameR-Mate USB-stick right from Gamer-Mate.net. At the time of writing, the stick costs 70$ (discounted to 50$) which is give or take, 65 euro (45€ if it’s discounted). In order for you to be able to run your games, you need to have a computer that supports at least USB3.0. I have tested mine on older devices that don’t have an USB3.0 port and let me tell you, it wasn’t a fun time.

But, how do you know if your computer has USB3.0 ports? Well, in most cases these USB ports are blue. You can also double check that via the instructions in this article. So, after you placed your order, you get your GameR-Mate stick.

My stick arrived in a protective envelope that had the stick in a plastic bag stapled to a quick start guide. This quick start guide helps you to boot your computer to an USB stick instead of the actual operating system of your computer. Besides that, you get an user guide with explanation and some great information to get started using the stick. You also get a thank you letter from the CEO for buying the product. And finally you get a welcome letter as well.

I did get something additional, but that’s because I got a beta version of the product so I get some forms to fill in to give feedback on the product to create a better product. Personally, I think that they should include this with every purchase, even when the beta phase is over, you never know when it can come in handy.

The USB stick itself is made out of metal and plastic. It feels quite sturdy but you can remove the metal a bit too easily from the housing. Also, if you ever created USB sticks with your own print on them, you will recognize them right away. Maybe it’s a thing here in Belgium, but I got the same design of USB from various other places at events. I have the same model in yellow, green, blue and red. But, that’s nitpicking.

Something I missed with the USB-stick is a better way to store it. Now, I added an additional metal ring so I can attach it to a lanyard. I find that a bit more secure since during the research and testing I was doing for this article, my cat Troy knocked the USB stick underneath my desk while he was sleeping on my desk. Thanks to the lanyard, I was able to get it back from underneath my desk more easily. Now, adding a lanyard to the shipment might be too big of a cost, but adding a small metal ring to add it to your own lanyard would be lovely.

The experience

Depending on the hardware you run the stick on, the better performance you are going to get. Keep in mind that you need at least a port that can run USB3 sticks. In order to test this stick out, I tested this stick on my main machine. My main computer is running an i7-4820K, 16GB of DDR3 RAM at 666MHz and an MSI GTX 1050Ti. My motherboard is an ASROCK X79 Extreme 6. While this isn’t the strongest of systems out there, my computer is strong enough to run all the games I want to play at 30-60FPS at medium to high settings.

When you boot the stick, you can select various different modes. From what I can understand is that you can choose between loading it from the USB or load the system into RAM. There is also a recovery mode included. I had to use that once since an update failed to install and that corrupted my whole OS.

In the user guide, you get the advice to make frequent backups. If I had made a backup, I would have saved my first testing version from death. But yeah, I’m to blame since I thought I would be able to fix it since I used Linux various times during my studies and at work. But when you can even boot the OS, let alone go in recovery mode… Well, then you are quite screwed.

In a future article, I’ll take a look at the games that are included in this package. The list of pre-installed software is quite expansive. You can find the list at BlackRangerSoftware’s blog. Important footnote with this list, since this list is created during the development of the stick, it might be that some games aren’t included on the stick and/or on the list. But, I’m quite certain that the amount of games won’t change. Games that I could recommend are:

0AD, which is an open source RTS game like Age Of Empires

Alex 4, a lovely retro platformer in the style of an old Gameboy game.

B.A.L.L.Z, a platformer game where you are a ball and you need to use the bounce mechanics to your advantage.

Frogatto, this adventure platformer reminds me a lot of games like Shantae.

Sadly enough, there are some repeats. A lot of repeats actually. There are various Tetris-style, Pac-Man-style, Breakout-style… games. This gave me mixed feelings. At once hand, I love the choice I’m getting between all these various games. But at the other hand, I got the feeling that all of those games were just added to have a higher number of games to try and sell more sticks.

Is this GameR-Mate fun to use? If I have to answer that question, I’m going to have to add a disclaimer. There is going to be a learning curve if you have never worked with Linux. If you are used to Windows 10, there are a lot of things you will miss that you took for granted on your Windows machine. For example: seeing the password you are typing in, loading animations while settings are changing, double clicking a window to make it full screen, a place where all settings are combined into one place, a notification center…. It’s just not there in the Linux distro on the USB-stick. Now, do keep in mind that this can be updated and added in a future version of the stick.

But, you still have to learn a completely new operating system. While Linux has a lot of tutorials, due to the huge amount of different distro’s and differences between them, it can be quite overwhelming. So, give yourself some time and keep in mind that the system might work quite different compared to your Windows machine. Now, I do think that Apple users will have a better time adjusting to Linux since in a way, the user interface of Apple systems and Linux systems have various things in common. (Sidenote: while they have things in common, Apple OSX isn’t Linux and Linux isn’t OSX. But the flow in the OS can be similar.)

When you give this USB stick a chance, I think it might have the same effect on you then it has on me. I love to play around with unique ways to play games. I don’t mind honestly if the game is a retro or a current game. As long as I’m having fun while playing my games, it’s all that matters to me. So, I personally recommend this stick to people who love playing a ton of different games and/or people who travel a lot and aren’t able to take their main gaming rig with them. I think that the asking price is well worth it for the amount of value you are getting. Plus, you can always install more games from the various store fronts.

With that, I think I’m going to wrap up this first article on the GameR-Mate Stik. I want to thank BlackRangerSoftware for being so patient with me and also for giving me the opportunity to test out this product. I want to thank you for reading this article and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article and I wish you a great rest of your day and take care!

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Gamer’s Thoughts: How to play mobile games on your PC.

CaptureOfficial website

For some people, it isn’t easy to buy the latest and greatest phone to play the newest and greatest Android games on. Thankfully, there is a solution for that. It’s a solution I often use myself actually. There is a program called “BlueStacks” that allows you to play any Android game on your PC. I use this tool when I want to take screenshots when I want to review an Android game. To my big surprise, the folks over at Bluestacks contacted me with more information about BlueStacks 4. So, that’s what I’m writing about today. Before I begin, feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts on the program and/or the content of this article in the comment section down below.

What’s new

Currently, BlueStacks got a huge update. In v4, a lot of work has been done to make BlueStacks an even better platform to play Android games on. In this infographic created by the developers, you can find an overview of the changes and improvements in this new version.

If you want to download the program for yourself, just go to the official website that’s linked higher in the article and install the program. The installation is extremely easy. Just follow the on-screen steps and the installer does the rest for you. It gets even better, when you log in with the same account you use on your phone, you will be able to download all your purchased apps and install them in BlueStacks.

It’s quite impressive how far this program has come. Back in 2011, the first version of BlueStacks was released and today it’s one of the best programs on the market to play Android games on. With this program, you can easily stream, record or create screenshots from all Android games. And you can even play them.

If you don’t like the Google Play Store, BlueStacks also has its own AppCenter. This center is a new skin for the Play Store. Each program takes you directly to the corresponding page in the App Store.

Here is the best thing of all, using BlueStacks is completely free. There are some ads in the program and you can’t customize your wallpaper. If you buy a premium account, you will be able to change your wallpaper and have no ads. You also got priority responses from the support team, if you need them. This subscription costs only 40 dollars yearly. The only annoying thing is that there aren’t too many payment options.

By doing various tasks, like loading up a game and returning daily, you earn BlueStack Points. With these points, you can buy themes and various merch prizes. At the moment of writing, there isn’t a list of which actions award you points. You can also buy BlueStack Points as a sort of microtransaction. But, these points are totally optional.

Playing games in BlueStacks

Thanks to the developers over at BlueStacks, I already got the chance to play around in a development build of version 4. Since BlueStack now supports the mapping of joysticks to keyboard buttons, I decided to try it out in Corpse Party – BloodDrive. Thankfully, there are cloud saves so I can pick up from where I left off.

screen 1

When I first installed the game, for some reason, the game closed to the desktop twice. But, the 3rd launch, the game just works perfectly fine. After mapping the joystick to the ZQSD (WASD in AZERTY, since I’m from Belgium and use AZERTY.) and the other joystick to the arrow keys, I was surprised at how accurate and fluent this works.

After that, I tried to map my keyboard keys to my wireless XBOX360 controller using a program called XPadder. With this program, you can map keyboard keys to one input on your controller. It’s quite a neat program actually. BlueStacks and XPadder work just fine together. While I wish that BlueStacks works with controllers like the wireless XBOX360 controller; then again, for how many games will you be able to only use the controller and not have to use the mouse to tap/click on a spot? So yeah.

If you want to set this up for yourself, you need to click on the keyboard icon in the righthand corner. This brings up a new menu where you can choose between controls for various actions. Currently, the following things are supported: a tap spot, d-pad, zoom, aim/pan & shoot, Moba Skill Pad, Swipe & Tilt. You click on what you need and drag it to where the button is on screen. If you want to change the keymap, you click on the button and press the key you want. It’s as simple as that.

screen 2

After you click save, you can start playing. Now, you can hide those keys. If you click on the eye icon that’s next to the keyboard icon, have a slider to choose how transparent you want those keys to be. I have set them all as invisible for the next screenshots in this article. I usually play on BlueStacks with invisible controls actually.

The next game I tested was the port of Sword of Mana, I played this on my tablet a while ago and it’s a very great port actually.

screen 3

I quickly got used to the controls I set up for this game. While I could set up a whole lay-out for the menu system for this game, I found that the clicking through it with the mouse works just fine. Also, I found this game easier to play, since now my hand didn’t cover up parts of the screen. I think I’m going to switch to BlueStacks to finish this game since it’s a more enjoyable experience than playing this on my actual tablet.

The final game I tested was Minecraft Story Mode. At first, I was annoyed that I was unable to login to my TellTales Account. But, I quickly realized why. Since I used to enter to confirm my password, I went back to the login screen. When I clicked “OK”, the login actually happened. Curious, I took my own tablet and tried the same thing on there, and I had the same problem.

Anyways, I was surprised at how quickly I was able to download and install the episodes on BlueStacks. I actually tested the download speed of episode 5 on my tablet and on BlueStacks and I found that the episode was downloaded and installed faster on BlueStacks than on my tablet.

The reason I wanted to test this game on BlueStacks is that I wanted to check if this game also has the graphical issues I experienced on my tablet or if it’s a problem with the graphics chipset of my tablet. Besides that, I wanted to test a game that didn’t have a d-pad for moving the character but relies on pressing the screen to move your character.

BlueStacks_ScreenShot

Surprisingly, this game works perfectly. I actually placed a hidden dpad and the game reacts perfectly to that. Also, I didn’t notice any graphical issues. But, the graphical issues happened so rarely on my tablet, I can’t say it’s totally fixed. Something I did experience was a small audio desync in the 5th episode. The voice acting started a second after the characters opened their mouths.

The quick-time events were easily done with the mouse. It did require me to get a bit used to the new way of playing this game but it didn’t take long. It reminded me that I want to finish this game.

So, now that I tested 3 different games on BlueStacks, I invite you to test out different games. Please, tell me your experiences with BlueStacks in the comment section. What games work and where fun to play on BlueStacks and which games gave you issues?

And with that, I want to thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article but until then, take care and have a great rest of your day.