Update on my Lego Worlds addiction

I certainly haven’t stopped playing Lego Worlds.  In fact, it has gotten a bit out of hand.  I now have it on 4 platforms: X-Box One, PS4, Switch and Steam.  Crazy, right?  I only mention it now because I just completed another milestone.  I just made it to 100 gold bricks on the PC version.  Here’s my stats for each system:

Switch – 985 items, 106 gold bricks
X-Box – 1175 items, 115 gold bricks
PS4 – 1194 items, 127 gold bricks
PC – 830 items, 100 gold bricks

With that goal completed, my next goal is a bit more challenging and probably only requires a bit of time:  Acquire all building block types on each platform.  On PS4 I’m actually at 100% already.  I’m not sure how, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t coincidence.  The game seems to just “give” you another piece you need when you either tackle the troublemaker in any world or open a chest.  This is completely random though, and most of the time you’ll get other items, including gold bricks, tools, or actual brick builds.  It just seems to be very random, so it only takes time to eventually get there.  It should be interesting to see how long it takes.  I’ll keep noting my progress here once in awhile.  Not that anyone’s actually interested though.

 

 

 

 

 

Lego Worlds – A review

Hello, my name is Jim and I’m an addict. Yeah, I’m a grown-up… And still I play with toys. Legos are all the rage these days–even in the movies. So when Lego Worlds was recently released for the PS4, I jumped on it almost immediately. I’ve had the Early Release version for the PC on Steam for quite some time, but I only played it once in awhile. It was a really cool open world system, and you just dove in and started playing around with objects and characters, building and breaking things, etc., etc., much like Minecraft. I find many games a bit difficult to play on the PC unless I have my Steam controller optimally configured for that particular game, and in the case of Lego Worlds on Steam, I just wasn’t able to get it working to my liking, and often gave up trying to get it to work properly for me. So when the PS4 version was released, I knew that, finally, it must have a controller configuration good enough to work with on the PS4, so I gave it a shot.

I don’t know if the Steam version ever received the same treatment that the PS4 version now has, but there certainly wasn’t Tutorial levels and gameplay like there is on the PS4 version when I was playing it on Steam! My initial experience with the PS4 version was totally new, and it’s really interesting how it first teaches you the basics, giving you lessons along the way, and as you progress through the tutorial levels you learn more and more about how everything works, more items are given to you, and you basically (at least in my case) become addicted and want more and more eye candy, game candy, object builds, blocks, gold bricks… The tutorials end after 3 or 4 different worlds are “completed”, then you unlock the main “game” that in-turn unlocks everything else. The ultimate goal being to reach 100 Gold Bricks, which unlocks the ability to create NEW worlds of your very own. So this is all sort of a huge “training ground”, or a giant tutorial if you will, to prepare you for the open world creation freedom that is to come–which then, I imagine, works somewhat like Minecraft, where you can either start with a blank world, scarcely populated or completely blank, and build upon it whatever you will. Except that with THIS game, the tools at your disposal are far beyond anything I’ve ever seen in Minecraft!

But getting that far (100 Gold Bricks) is still on my horizon, so I can’t really say for sure how that part of the experience is yet (hence the “incomplete review” title). I’m at 71 Gold Bricks as of this writing, and climbing daily. The pace at which you gain bricks varies quite a bit, from what I’ve seen though. What happens after the tutorials is the ability for you to generate random worlds, then travel to them, explore and plunder them, all in an effort to gather everything you can from the world. This includes completing quests the characters on that world ask of you, finding chests filled with objects (including Gold Bricks), exploring, tackling troublemakers (who will come up to you and taunt you with the game piece they’re holding, then run from you as you try to tackle them to get the piece) and just plain trashing everything you can to gain studs (every Lego game’s currency). When you “Discover” an object in the game it gets added to your inventory, but you can’t actually “use” the object until you purchase it in the game using some studs. The value of each object in the game is pre-defined–for example it might cost 2,500 studs for a particular in-game vehicle–so if you pay that to unlock it, you can then deploy that vehicle anywhere, on any world, and use it in whatever way suits you. Or, perhaps an object is needed to complete a quest, and you have it… Use it and get rewarded with even more studs to use in the game. Added to all of this is the expansion of world sizes you can play in. You start out with just small worlds (as if that doesn’t overwhelm you enough), but after obtaining so many Gold Bricks you unlock Medium-sized worlds and everything is a lot bigger. Then, further on you unlock Large-sized worlds, and then, finally, Huge-sized worlds.

This very open-ended random-world generation makes things pretty interesting, and definitely a one-of-a-kind experience for everyone, and your own personality and tendencies come into play quite a bit. For example, there’s some really neat dungeons in the game, which are filled with traps, puzzles and monsters… Get through those successfully and you’re rewarded with many huge piles of studs! This is all really fun to play around with, but a smart kid just in a hurry to reach the end-game knows that with all of the tools available at that point in the game, one could simply pull out the landscaping tool and level the entire dungeon in one fell swoop.. or use to bazooka to blast right through the walls to the treasure. I considered this myself, briefly, before deciding to take the high road and experience the dungeon like I assume it was intended. Maybe later on I’ll come back and play around with leveling it, even if only to see how it was built and to possibly use some of it’s traps in the free world-building part of the game that I haven’t gotten to yet.

The game isn’t without it’s little quirks and bugs though. But I’d expect as much for a project this vast. There will no-doubt be updates to fix it up, I’m sure. One complaint I have might be a bug, but I’m not really sure. Right now it’s just an annoyance for me. Another family member found an awesome random world and wanted me to try it out. There’s an option to enter a random world “seed” on the main world selection screen, so I assumed this would allow me to enter the number he provided and I could then play that same world. So I entered the number, it appeared to show it in the mini map, but when I travel to the world, it’s a completely different random world! I can’t seem to get it to accept that exact number sequence, though it does allow me to see a preview of it. Very annoying. I can’t find a solution (or others even complaining about the same thing) on the web yet, so I think it’s just a bug that hasn’t been discussed yet.

So that’s the game, in a nutshell. I’ve been through the desert, the old west, a few very hot lava-filled planets, a few made of candy, some desert islands with interesting surprises, many caves containing buried treasure among other creepy things like spiders, scorpions and even zombies and swamp monsters, cloud cities and have even found many underwater treasures–including sunken shipwrecks, sharks, fish and even a few underwater cities. I can tell that the creators sure spent a lot of time either manually building whole areas brick by brick or wrote one heck of a procedural engine to generate worlds! It seems they are endless in their quantity, somehow. Like Minecraft, it boggles the mind. And, in the process, it feels like by the time I’m up to the 100 Gold Bricks needed I will have amassed hundreds of “discoveries” consisting of vehicles, characters, animals, insects, weapons, objects, and even whole “brick builds” (one-click mass-builds of large objects that assemble themselves before your eyes, instantly), and I will have learned quite a bit about the Lego world and what I am capable of as a “Master Builder”. I can see there’s also a lot of artistic skill needed as well, so for me things are going to take a lot longer to get right if I’m going to create any Lego Worlds of my very own. I’m sure going to want to, after spending this much time working through the entire game.

I’ll be sure to come back and complete this review or write a completely new one after I have completed the 100-Gold-Brick goal and am able to create entirely new worlds in the game. At that point I’m sure I’ll know even more about it and have much more to say. Now I’m going to head back into this Atlantis-looking underwater world I just found… I sure wish I could hold my breath for longer though… maybe I’ll find a or earn some scuba gear soon.

The Finish Line – Update added 3/24/2017

I made it. Last night, after sitting at 98 Gold Bricks for a day, I jumped in and made the push to 100 and made it. I saved the last 7 minutes of my gameplay if you’d like to watch it: https://youtu.be/NFaPjYGQ39c. As a subtext to the video: I had a trapped, frightened gingerbread person stuck on a rooftop. He/She had a gold brick, and if I could save them I would get my 100th brick. I had previously tamed several pigs, so they were following me around at this time. After some playing around with the landscape tool I managed to get the character to drop to the ground. As the gingerbread character pulled out its gold brick to throw it to me, he was attacked by my pigs and killed! NO BRICK FOR ME! Nazi Soup Pigs. But soon it happened again–another frightened gingerbread person in the same area… So I immediately took action, usied my scimitar, and sliced me up some tasty bacon to get that elusive last gold brick!

Obtaining 100 gold bricks gives you the rank of “Master Builder” and also unlocks the option to “Create custom worlds” in the game. So I played around with that option for the rest of the evening (and this morning before work) and I must say, the options are nice. I was a little disappointed at first when I couldn’t find an option to just start with a completely “clean slate” – just a blank, empty world, flat, with nothing in it – but I soon found that this was probably not an oversight, it was most likely done on purpose. You can, as they say, “create the Lego world of your dreams”, and if you desire a blank, flat world, well… go for it! It’s doable. Just do it.

Technically, you can’t actually “Create a new world”, as the voiceover announcer describes it at the end of obtaining 100 gold bricks (as you hear him say in my saved video). That’s deceiving, and I think it was actually a mistake. the game itself shows the option as “Create a custom world”. This is a bit more accurate, because you can only choose the individual Biomes, Animals, Characters, Vehicles and the world size you would like, then click the “create” button, and what it does is give you a world seed of that size, with those options set. It’s still a pre-defined world, with a seed you can share with any other Lego Worlds player. Your version of it might be just initially populated a little differently than anyone else’s, based on your preferences.

But this was a very interesting design choice for the game, as you’ll see. I set out, then, so create what I just mentioned above: A flat world, like a clean slate to start with–no animals, objects, or anything–sort of a complete beginning–so I know exactly what’s in that world, and everything in it I know came from me. The various tools available in the game are very fun to learn and use, so it’s not a problem at all. I chose the smallest world size, and just one “open prairie” biome, so the world would be as easy to flatten as possible, with the least number of objects to have to destroy and clean up. I used the “flatten” landscaping tool to level everything down (or up) to the same level, making it all flat. I guess I should say “am using”, as I’m still actively working on this world as I write this. My initial world came with many vehicles, animals and characters spread all over it, including a quest area or two, so I have plenty of work to do. As I level the landscape, animals on it will shift up or down to meet the ground and keep travelling on it, and I’ll select them and “remove” them to pop them out of existence. Sometimes I’ll run into a character or animal I haven’t discovered yet, requiring me to complete a quest first, before I can work with that particular animal or character. This is a fun side-objective, and it also provides you with more characters, objects and animals to use in the game. It even makes the dullness of simply flattening everything on the entire map much less so.

So create the Lego world of your dreams is fun, and there’s plenty to do along the way, so get busy. There are even plenty more gold bricks I can obtain as well as secret “Legendary” puzzle pieces which can be assembled to reveal even larger “Legendary Gold Bricks”, as well as many other things. It also seems like I will never have every single object, animal, character or vehicle in the game, so opening chests and completing quests can always earn me something new and unexpected along the way–especially with the possibility of downloadable content and add-ons that are sure to come later on. So I’m heading back in now, gotta keep flattening. Haylie wants an empty landscape to build her dream world on the next time she visits. This concludes my review.  I really like this game.

Playstation Now

Sony offers a new service for PS4 users called “Playstation Now”.  What it does is offer a free “streaming” library of classic PS3 games that you can run on your PS4, much like how Hulu and Netflix offer streaming movies.  You pay a monthly fee for full access, and in return you get open access to their entire library of Playstation Now titles (currently over 400 games).

Kevin and I are trying it out right now with a free 1-week trial.  So far, it seems to be pretty decent.  Another big benefit is that with this membership you also get the ability to play all of these games on a PC.  This doesn’t come without it’s own little hitches though–your PC must meet the minimum specs to run the Playstation Now software and you must connect a PS4 controller to your PC, either with a USB cable or with an adapter available for an additional fee from Sony.

I’ve been on a 7-day free trial for several days now, and I’ve tried most features as well as dozens of games.  The pricing is currently $19.99/month or $44.99 for 3 months (about $15/month).  Somehow the games really are “streamed” too.  This means they’re not installed on your PS4 or your PC, the data they use is streamed over the internet while you’re playing the game.  There may be some temporary storage on your local drive, but this appears to be removed once you exit the game you’re playing.  I have played over 40 games from Playstation Now so far, and have noticed no decrease in the free space on my PS4.

Gladly, each time you play a new game from the service, an icon for it is added to your PS4, just like any other installed game icon.  This means that in order to play that game again, you only need to open that icon and don’t have to re-open the Playstation Now application each time (unlike Hulu or Netflix).  I love this feature!  This way, I only see my favorite games on my PS4 and I can organize them any way I wish.  I chose not to mix these titles with my installed and purchased PS4 games, so I created a folder called “Playstation Now” and I put all of those games in that folder (along with an icon for Playstation Now itself, for easy access when I need it).

Sony has been pretty active with adding new games to the service, and I believe 20+ games were added just this past month.  This is quite a few more than Playstation Plus, which is currently offering 2 games per month for PS4, 2 games for PS3, and 2 games for PS Vita–their handheld game system.

When you start a game from Playstation Now, it downloads what it needs from the server, so naturally it takes a little longer to start a game.  But with today’s internet speeds, and Sony’s Internet speed requirements for subscribers to actually be able to use the service, this isn’t very long at all.  At least not for me.  I must admit, however, that I do have the top speed tier with Time Warner Cable, so I’m not sure how much of a difference that would actually make compared to other Internet Service Providers.

I do have a few concerns about the service at this point though:

  1. What will Sony do when they run out of old PS3 games to offer?  And when will this happen?  I’m not too sure developers are still developing games for the PS3, and if they are, it has to be much less than when it was Sony’s top gaming platform.
  2. One time, when trying to start a Playstation Now game, I was told that all of the servers were busy and I had to wait in a queue.  The wait time was currently 1-2 minutes.  After that wait time, the game launched.  As the service gets more and more popular, will this happen more and more and will wait times get longer and longer just to play?  Or will Sony reliably add more and more servers as needed to keep up with the volume?
  3. Did Sony choose to not allow backward compatibility on the PS4 just so they could make more money with this subscription service?  X-Box One has backward compatibility, though not 100%, but they’re improving it more all the time.  We still have our old PS3, and plan to keep it, now that we know we can’t play any of our old games on our PS4–unless we keep paying for Playstation Now–which offers many of those games, but still not all of them, though it does include many other good games we hadn’t ever played on PS3.  I guess I’d have to add up the possible cost of the entire Playstation Now library (which continues to grow all the time) and compare that with the monthly fee times how long we’ll potentially keep our PS4 to see which would save us the most money in the long run.  That’s a tough one.

Life is but a stream…So it seems like you’re actually running your game on a PS3 server somewhere at Sony, and your PS4 (or your PC) is simply serving up the screens it’s fed.  If this is the case, I don’t know how it can keep up without severe lag, but somehow it does…most of the time.  Several times during gameplay I have noticed the announced warning icon appearing in the corner of the screen.  They explain this icon each time a game is started, explaining that this means your internet connection quality (speed) has decreased, and you should save any progress you’ve made, if possible, just in case you lose your connection to the server.  Nearly every time this appeared, it disappeared again a short time later and I noticed little to no effect.  There may have been some frame loss resulting in a little jittering in image quality, but nothing else.  In one case, however, I’ve lost connection completely and the game exited on me.  A few minutes later I was able to re-launch it and pretty much picked up where I left off pretty easily.  Basically, before you subscribe, you definitely want to go with the free 1-week trial and make sure your own internet connection is reliable enough to play the games without issue.

Another key question I had with the service was whether it worked just like purchased game licenses work on the PS4.  This is where you can purchase one license for a game, install it on two PS4’s in your household, and two players (the players set a “primary” users on each other’s PS4’s) and both play that game together or separately.  I was hoping that this functionality also applied to Playstation Now, and I wasn’t disappointed.  It worked fine for Kevin and I, and we both played a long session of “ibb and obb” together (a simple, yet very interesting mind-bending puzzle game–something, it turns out, Kevin is actually better at than me!).

But so far, overall, I’m impressed.  I had no idea at all that you could stream games this way, using virtually no local hard drive space.  I had assumed this service would end up maxing out my hard drive and I’d be constantly swapping games out and installing others just to play everything.  The price seems a bit steep, but since the entire library of 400+ titles and growing weekly or monthly, I think it beats to 2-titles-per-month that Playstation Plus gives you…even though Plus gives you genuine PS4 titles that you then own a license for and have to install locally (but on the other hand, you own that license to the game, even if you stop subscribing to Playstation Plus, unlike Playstation Now where you lose access to its entire library if you stop subscribing.  At $15 per month (paying 3 months at a time) it would work for both Kevin and I on one account, so we could split the cost.  That brings it down to just $7.50 per month for each of us, which isn’t bad, in my opinion.

That’s about it.  Now let me go play some Red Dead Redemption, which I see was just added to the PSNow library…

Drone

home-from-droneThis weekend Matt stopped by with his new drone!  Wow, what a piece of technology!  I was a little curious at the start, but much more so once he was flying it and showing us the features.  He bought a rather expensive model (at least in my book), and it has some pretty sweet features and specs, including a nice gimble & camera.  The gimble allows for beautifully smooth movement of the camera while shooting up to 4K video or 12-megapixel snapshots.

He started it up in the driveway, got up between 200 and 300 feet to clear everything tall in the neighborhood, then flew it around.  I must say, it scared me a bit knowing how much that little toy costed, and watching it zoom out of sight over the neighborhood.  It has a decent range, but I still found it scary.  It probably would have felt even worse, had I been the one who paid for it!  He mentioned getting to a certain point where the video starts to cut out…sheesh, now THAT could give me heart issues… but there’s a nifty little “Go Home” feature and calls it back and it comes right back to your location.

After some flying around and recording (both from my cell phone and from the 4K camera on the drone) until the drone’s battery was nearly dead and getting pretty chilly in the 32-degree weather, we came back inside to warm up and figure out how to view the footage as quickly as possible.

I transferred the videos to my PC and could view them there, but we wanted to watch them on the big TV.  It’s 1080p though, so we couldn’t actually view them in full 4K quality.  I used my laptop, which already has a dock connected to the TV, and the video looked awesome!

The video on a MicroSD card is limited to 4GB file sizes, so our footage was split into two files – one about 8 minutes (4GB in size), and the other about 6 minutes (about 3GB in size).  I wanted to use ShareStudio, an app on the PS4, to edit the video, but unfortunately, the PS4 didn’t recognize the video file format that the drone used.

After we finished ogling the fine footage, I dropped the videos into my YouTube channel to start uploading them to the internet.  After a few hours they completed, and the footage still looks quite impressive there, and now we can share them with everyone easily.  Take a look if you want.  Here’s Part 1 and Part 2 from the drone, and my cell phone footage.

I want to be able to edit those three videos into one nice one, complete with cuts back and forth between be shooting the drone, and the drone shooting me, when we were playing with the “Follow Me” feature of the drone, but I tried doing so in Corel VideoStudio, but it didn’t work out so well.  The resulting video, which I wanted to save as a 4K video, was horrible with dropped frames throughout and full choppiness, rendering it unwatchable.  I might try it again at 1080p, just to see if it’s the 4K it can’t handle, or if my PC’s just not powerful enough to handle the job.

 

Spotify Review

I’m trying out Spotify. After hearing so many good things about it, and having looked at a few other streaming music services, I thought I’d give this one a shot. I’m already past my 7-day trial, and now on my first free 30 days. I’m hoping to know definitively, by the time it comes to charge me the first time, whether I’m going to stick with it or go back. So far, here’s what I’ve learned:  Spotify seems to have the largest music library out of all of the streaming music services–or at least pretty close–and it’s definitely the most popular.

The Good: I love the 12-second cross-fade. I haven’t seen this feature since my old MediaMonkey days, and I really like it. It sort of feels like a DJ-blended mix when I listen this way, smoothly fading between each song. Then there’s the simple “SAVE” button on every album, which saves it to “My Music” instantly, making it easy to find anything I grab when browsing their gazillion tracks. And once you “Save” an album, the option to make it “Available Offline” appears as a toggle switch, which results in the album downloading to your device locally. You can even stay offline for up to 30 days before you have to go online again, at least to “check in” to make sure you’re still a Spotify member. Very nice. It seems they’ve got both solutions (the ability to offer their vast library to their members available for STREAMING as well as offer local downloading and saving of any content for the members who prefer to download–or can’t afford to constantly stream). The interface is pretty solid with a nice layout and options. And I believe Spotify has the largest music selection out of all of the current streaming services, so it’s probably the best one to go with, if I stick with a streaming service.

The Not-So-Bad: Just after I signed up, I spot-checked some of my old classics, just to test the waters. For the most part, everything was there and easy to find. I had an issue with a few albums though, and this one kinda bugs me: I searched for Hootie & The Blowfish’s album “Cracked Rear View”, as this is an old favorite of mine. I couldn’t find the album, though there were other Hootie songs and one other album I found, as well as a few of the songs from Cracked Rear View on other albums. So I figured out how to do “Local Files” on the PC, I dropped my old copy of Cracked Rear View into it, then created a playlist that contained the album, which showed up on my phone in Spotify, then I was able to stream and/or download it. That worked ok, but the very next day, I played around some more, and there was Cracked Rear View, in Spotify, like it had always been there. I removed it from my “Local Files”, and it’s on Spotify now. Was that just a weird coincidence, or does Spotify just monitor user searches and Local Files and act on what they find really really quickly??? If it’s the latter, that would be amazing to learn. Wow, that would be amazing. Now I’m anxious to find another one that’s missing and do the exact same thing just to prove it was a coincidence. So that’s not so bad.

The Bad: I have over 67,000 local songs and audiobooks, all purchased as MP3’s, extracted from CDs, or converted from other formats, accumulated over the years. To quickly answer my next question, I pointed “Local Files” on my PC to my entire music section. I gave it a full day to add, catalog and index it all, but it failed miserably. Spotify on my PC froze up each time I clicked on Local Folders to view them, sometimes it even worked, somewhat, and displayed the tracks, but I wasn’t able to search them so they were pretty much useless to work with. If I were going to use “Local Files”, I would have to pick and choose the exact albums to make available to Spotify. I think 67,000 songs is way too much for it to handle at this time. One other feature that most other music players that I’ve used on my android device (and Audible) have is the ability for the app to pause or at least lower its volume when it loses temporary “focus”–this is when a notification sound occurs on the system, or another application uses the audio momentarily, such as Runtastic, which has a voice coach that announces my workout progress every so often while I walk. Spotify doesn’t have this feature, and I’ve grown very fond of it over the years with all my other apps. It makes them sort of “cooperate” with each other instead of fighting for the audio all at the same volume.

So, overall, I’m fairly impressed. It has it’s flaws, but nothing so bad I find it unusable. I’ll continue giving it a solid workout for a couple more weeks before they take their first $9.99 out of my wallet.

If you use or have used Spotify, I welcome your input, tips, suggestions and/or recommendations! Thanks!