Ember – An RPG that pays tribute to games like Ultima and Diablo

They say time is relative to the developer. And it was about a year ago when I first read news of new RPG being created that would be heavily influence by Ultima and Diablo. Oddly, it was intended to be a mobile game and available at the end of 2015.

Well, that kinda, sorta, never really happened. Instead, the game was built for the desktop and it now available on Steam. However, it does an impressive job of keeping a price of a mobile game and is $9.99. And this is not some Flash based game, this rascal is a hefty 4GB download.

I hadn’t been tracking the release, so it coming to Steam was a complete surprise. Nevertheless, I immediately bought a copy. And after playing for a few hours, it’s an impressive game that does play like an Ultima from the days of old.

In typical style, I looted crypts and rifled through the pockets on my slain enemies. I amassed a hefty stock of junk weapons and sold them off to the first merchant I came across. With my new coins I bought plenty of rations to use in healing and bought cloth armor to replace my rags.

And in the same familiar sense, the goal is to gain XP and use those points to level up Strength, Dexterity, Intellect and Vitality. Those skill points are then use for the warrior with blades, the archer with ranged weapons, or the mage with wands. I chose blades and worked my way out of the first area called the Barrows and up to the main world. From there I gathered multiple quests, found all sorts of new weapons and explored several of the areas.

For anyone who played the older Ultimas, you will be familiar with the idea of getting out bedroll to camp and restore your strength and vitality. You will so be familiar with the simple combat mechanics. There is ridiculously complicated skill tree or the idea of min/max skills. You apply points to the stat that benefits you the most, Strength for melee, then go find or buy the most badass weapon you can. There are weapons "of Tormet", "of Smiting", "of Quake", "of the Bull", that give different special bonuses, combat moves or healing.

There is also some crafting such as cooking meat, fish and chicken to sustain you on the long journey. These have to be cooked over a campfire before they can be consumed, so have to think ahead just a bit.

There are the usual encounters with bears, wolves and stags so you can gather hides and make clothes, or sell them for money.

Like the old Ultima series, you will have companions to help you out. You start off with one, but as you progress, others will join in the quest.

You interact with plenty of people and decide how you want to handle those encounters. You can take the combative approach or the compassion approach.

Ember is a single player adventure game that I’m quite taken with so far. The mechanics are simple and understandable. The main focus of the game is exploration and interaction. The combat is click to attack, but mixes in special abilities you activate to keep things interesting. You activate them for the other party members as well.

I’m amused by the crafting and the ability to craft your own items. You get basic cooking, but there are recipes for making healing and energy potions. You can also make weapons and other items. As you move around the map you will see harvestable items like Sage and Copper Ore. And in dungeons you will find different reagents.

I’m also thrilled that a game of this scope and quality is a mere $10. In this age where games hit the store with a price tag of $60, whether it deserves it or not, it’s nice to see a game that you can take a chance on without emptying your pockets and becoming a pauper.

Finally, Ember is a game you can play for a few minutes or few hours. For those that remember, Ember uses save files, so it’s always best to save the game often, especially before a big encounter so you can go back and do it again if things go sideways. You only get three slots, but I save like a fiend every time I come through a scrape or find something good.

For those that liked game like Ultima 4-7, the original Diablo, and other more casual RPGs, Ember is an impressive game with lots of fun. It has a nice momentum to it, without having to grind relentlessly to build your skills. And there are plenty of quests out there to keep you busy.

It’s a highly recommended title and for $10, you absolutely can’t go wrong with it.

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A copper vein out in the world. Copper can be used for weapons.

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A fishing resource. Good thing I found a fishing pole while rifling through the pockets of my fallen enemies

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A bandit road with some slain bodies. Those were like that when I got here.

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Hmm, dirty rotten bandits trying to block my path

Ember on Steam

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Amazon Echo, Tap and Dot

So there is a new offering for the Amazon Echo Dot, and a nice price tag to go with it. It’s the new 2.0 version, although I’m not sure what they’ve done under the plastic to warrant a 2.0 revision. The original Echo has been software updated multiple times I’m sure and doesn’t bear a 2.0 moniker.

Nevertheless, a new model is out, this time in white and at a price of $49.99, which is significantly lower than the introductory price. I got my first Echo Dot at the higher offering. However, I did jump on board and ordered another. I decided to get the white one and it will go in the living room.

So why exactly get an Echo Dot? What is it good for? Well, it makes a perfect alarm clock that’s for sure. The original is in my bedroom and is set every night. The alarm is far more pleasant that the horrific buzzing of a regular clock or the static filled music of the radio.

It’s also great for setting a timer and playing a playlist before bed. The speaker is nothing to write home about, but it sounds fine for lite listening.

I also bought the Tap when it was introduced. That went in the kitchen and works great for playing music while cooking and cleaning. Additionally, you can pick it up and wander around the house. It’s been quite nice to take it outside on the deck without having to worry about cords and resetting the network connection.

I’ve seen a lot of people ask, what is the difference between the three? The original Echo, is the best and largest of the lot. It has the better speaker for improved sound. Next, is the Tap, which has a decent speaker and is cordless so you can move it around with ease. As long as there is a network connection it will keep playing. Third, is the Dot. It’s great for asking questions, getting information, checking the time, setting timers and adding items to a list. The speaker is miniature to say the least, but you can hook it to a bigger set.

From a functionality standpoint, they all work the same. They have the same voice, hook into the same system and have the same level of accuracy in voice recognition, which for me, is pretty damn high. It rarely gets something wrong.

Are they worth it? Absolutely. I love these little rascals. I think the Echo is a fantastic piece of technology that has evolved from a glorified speaker to an impressive piece of hardware. Once you get used to it, you’ll be asking Echo or "Alexa" as I know her, all sorts of questions such as when is the next full moon, when is daylight savings, when is Autumn, flip a coin, roll a 20 sided die, and set a timer for 30 minutes so this chicken doesn’t burn.

I don’t know anything about the Smarthome technology such as adjusting thermostats and turning off lights, but I can only imagine it works as flawlessly as the rest. Ironically, it seems like Apple should have been the one to build Echo, not Amazon. Having Siri in a stand alone device, other than a phone, would have been something Apple was keen to make. I guess that wasn’t on their radar. Or maybe they got beat to market. Or maybe Siri is trapped in the Apple TV.

But the Echo is a very useful device. And since we are coming up on the holidays and the price has dropped a few times, it makes a great gift for yourself or someone else. They really are very useful and entertaining.

And just so you know, Alexa does seem to know how much wood a woodchuck can chuck – if the wind is at his back.

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WinZip 20.5 for $10

Although I have a copy of WinZip, I haven’t been diligent in keeping it up to date. I mean, has the zip/unzip process really changed that much? And if I do find myself in some sort of bind, 7Zip has been there to sort things out. winZip has actually been preinstalled on a couple of machine and it works find so why go chasing the latest edition?

However, I just got an email with a pretty sweet offer, an Upgrade to WinZip 20.5 for a mere $10. I would have to say that’s a good deal. And this is the Pro version, which has a few more bells and whistles than the Standard, but I doubt I will notice a difference and the link is for the Pro edition, so no real choice there.

This is a great price for WinZip, which has a history of being a decent compression tool. The regular price was a bit steep at $30 for Standard and $50 for Pro, but for $10, I have no problem in getting a copy. Fact of the matter is, I’ll grab a couple of copies as you don’t need any sort of previous serial number or cd-key to take advantage of the price.

This might mean there is a new version right around the corner, but how often do you really need to upgrade a tool like this? This copy should last me several years, or at least until they send me another upgrade offer for $10.

WinZip 20.5 for $10

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Time for Steam to clean up Early Access

Since there are so many titles up for sale during the Steam Summer Sale, it’s hard not to be exposed to a slew of new titles. However, it also exposes some serious flaws with Early Access. There are a lot of titles still in Early Access that haven’t been updated in a couple of years with hundreds (or more) negative reviews saying the game has been abandoned and not to waste your money. And it’s not just one or two titles, I’ve seen dozens.

I think Kickstarter and Steam Early Access are a fantastic platform to let Indie developers get their games into player hands without having to go through the corporate BS that kills off so many titles. Think of how many studios Microsoft and Electronic Arts have scuttled and you’ll get my point.

However, it’s becoming clear that Early Access is a dumping ground for get rich quick schemes and half-baked games where developers are hoping they’ll get enough money to finish their game. That’s not what Early Access is for.

Early Access should be for people to see a game in it’s early stages of development so they can offer input into the balancing of the game; things such as how hard a racing game should be, combat mechanics and AI difficulty. You can see this in games like Dirt Rally, Hand of Fate and Shroud of the Avatar.

But that’s not how it’s working out in a lot of cases. There are way too many developers showing off a prototype of their game and asking for money to actually make it happen. The line between Kickstarter and Early Access is blurring to an alarming extent. We shouldn’t be putting up with that. Steam needs to scrape these games off and start auditing Early Access. For example, if you don’t provide a significant code update every 3 months, you’re done in Early Access and your game is yanked from the store. Additionally, money should be held in escrow and paid out every 3 months once you provide a code update. That way everyone can easily get a refund if need be. It should also be that once you get a significant number of negative reviews, there is an audit to justify whether you continue in Early Access. You shouldn’t be allowed to continue racking up the hate without consequence.

To be blunt, look at games like Towns, Delver, Next Car Game, Victory Age of Racing, Timber and Stone, Fortune’s Tavern and Blockscape just to name a few. Right now, you can go on Steam and buy a copy. Some have been outright abandoned, like Towns, while others have been in Early Access for 2 years. This kind of crap needs to stop. This is a ripoff for players and a disservice to other Indie developers.

To be even more blunt, Victory Age of Racing was abandoned and the company behind it was able to start another Early Access game, RaceCraft, which has been under development for about a year. You have a track record of 100% failure, but you’re back on Early Access? No good. At the very least, since there is a way to Green Light games on Steam, there should be a way to Black Flag them. Give us the option to request a game be reviewed for it’s standards so we aren’t left with all this crap lingering in the store.

To be honest, I’ve had enough of Early Access and apart from Shroud of the Avatar and Besiege, I no longer support Early Access games. I encourage Steam to start auditing Early Access and cut off these leeches. I also encourage people to be very careful when buying an Early Access game. Make sure to read the reviews and check how often the updates are coming. Sure, there’s a refund policy these days, but that’s no excuse for due diligence.

Early Access is not a fundraising campaign. Go to Kickstarter for that.

By the way, if you take money for a product, yet never deliver it, and don’t give the money back, some might be harsh and call that stealing.

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A closer look at DimmDrive on Steam

With the Steam Summer Sale going on, I thought it was a good opportunity to bring up DimmDrive, the Steam RamDrive creation tool. I’ve had DimmDrive installed for a few months and have been using it on Shroud of the Avatar which is currently in development. The machine I’m using it on has 32GB of ram with a 24GB ram drive and the entire contents of SotA loaded into memory. That should be an indication that you need a lot of ram and a higher end machine. I’ve seen a lot of reviews from people with mid-range machines and 8GB of ram and that’s just not going to work for you. Putting this on an “older” system or a “laptop” isn’t going to make it run like new.

I will say that my experience has been quite positive. Like I said, I loaded SotA entirely into ram and scenes load quicker and I’m able to enter a new area quicker than other players in my group. Not exactly scientific, but it is noticeable.

I’ve found DimmDrive to be very easy to work with and very stable. I’ve not had any crashes related to DimmDrive itself. For a game that gets updated frequently, I turn off the ram drive, update the game and recreate the ram drive. That seems to work out better and faster.

Overall, DimmDrive does exactly what it says it will do. It loads as much into ram as it possible and gives you quicker access to game files. Yes, there are tools that do similar functions for free, but you’re paying for the Steam integration, which works extremely well. All my games are listed and I haven’t had a problem loading one. Now, the Steam name and the Display Name might be a little different from time to time, but the game is in the list somewhere.

I will state that I think people have unrealistic expectations of ram drives and SSD. They think that just because you have one, game access is instantaneous. That’s not true, the game itself and network speed come into play. As stated, just because SotA is loaded into ram doesn’t mean the game loads in a flash. There are still load times. If has to retrieve data from the server to determine where other players are, their houses, decorations, items they’ve placed on the ground, etc, etc, etc.

For most games you should see smoother transitions and negligible delay as data is loaded. That’s a good thing, and that’s what I get. I think DimmDrive is a solid piece of software that gives me what I ask for – a performance boost, a couple of extra frames per second and a couple of seconds shaved off load and scene transition times.

Is it worth $30? To be honest, I think that’s a bit high. A price of $10-15 seems far more reasonable or a bundle with DimmDrive and CPUCores for $25. But it is on sale for $20 which isn’t too bad. And it’s cheaper than a full on SSD.

If you have reasonable expectations, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with DimmDrive.

As a side note, you can buy 32GB of ram at Amazon for around $120 right now.

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