Amnesia: The Dark Descent – the first person survival horror

Its time to take a break…I think. At least, that’s what I think I remember… This is one of the reasons why taking a break is important. When you do take a break, you just might like Amnesia: The Dark Descent. It’s a first person adventure game for Windows.

Amnesia is an first person shooter adventure game. The game allows for physics-based puzzles and interactions such as opening doors and fixing machinery. In-game objects are operated by toggle. To open a door, for instance, you hold down a mouse button and then push (or pull) the mouse. This gives you stealth, allowing you to peek out a barely-opened door or to open it slowly and sneak away. This also adds a degree of difficulty to the game as it is now possible to push open a “pull” door while something tries to sneak up behind you.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Health is not the only attribute indicator displayed in the game. You also have to manage your sanity. For example, being in dark too long, witnessing unsettling events, or staring at monsters will reduce your sanity, causing hallucinations, which in turn will and draw the attention of more monsters. Light sources help restore your sanity, and if none are available, you can use a tinderbox to ignite candles. You can also light an oil-burning lantern found near the beginning of the game. Unfortunately, tinderboxes and oil are both limited; and standing in a light source also makes the player easier to spot by monsters.

If a monster spots you, you must flee. Amnesia don’t have any weapons. You have to find hiding places or barricade doors with rocks, chairs, etc. Unfortunately, monsters are able to tear down doors and to kick obstacles out of the way. They’re also fast once they’ve spotted you. Players can also choose to hide in the shadows, but again, if you hide in the shadows, you risk loosing sanity points.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a cool looking game. The graphics are really well done, and the story line is mostly interesting. The game doesn’t provide you with any weapons, so if you want to survive, you’re going to have to think on your feet.

Download Amnesia: The Dark Descent for Windows | Download Amnesia: The Dark Descent for Mac

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Dell Latitude 10 ST2 Follow-Up

latitude-10-tablet-overview2I’m still actively using my Windows 8 Based Dell Tablet; but I have a couple of updates. Let’s talk Microsoft OneNote.

I work in corporate America, as a software quality professional.  I do that in the healthcare arena as well, and as such, I often find myself either on the phone in conference calls or going from meeting to meeting every day.  My work day starts between 7:00-7:30am and usually ends between 5:00-5:30pm.  I am often in demand for a couple of reasons:

  1. I’ve got over 21 years of experience in quality assurance and am an SDLC expert
  2. I’ve got over 17 years of experience as a technology journalist, and I’m often sought out by people at the office – both formally and informally – to address technology issues.

Yep. I get everything from, “Chris can you help us define the right mobile testing strategy for this project?” to, “Chris, my daughter can’t get her iPad to download this content.”

If I’m not at my desk, I’m out and about; and being a contractor, I don’t have a cubicle to myself.  I’m located in a contractor’s bullpen with 32″ of shelf space – just enough room for my desk phone, laptop, monitor, keyboard, mouse and coffee cup – to call my own.  As such, having my Dell Latitude 10 ST2 here at the office is very beneficial, and actually pretty cool.

OneNoteLogoMicrosoft OneNote is a really great note taking application. Inking aside for just a moment, its organizational features allow me to take and organize notes for any number of different project meetings. If notes are typed, or if hand written notes are run through the app’s included OCR engine, notes can be cataloged and searched quickly and easily.

From a digital inking perspective, the device just shines.  As a digital notepad, I can use the device’s TabletPC features and Wacom stylus make taking handwritten notes easy. Even without transcoding all of the digital ink into text, it’s still easy to organize and find meeting notes from a specific meeting and date thanks to OneNote’s cataloging system.

I’ve used TabletPC’s at two different companies between 2007 and 2010.  I really liked the experience and found it to be the type of computing experience that worked the best for me. I’ve been trying to replicate that with my iPad, but the technology in it just didn’t cut it, despite the type of note taking app or stylus I used. While Windows 8 isn’t my favorite OS, mostly due to ModernUI, I’ll gladly use it as long as I can keep the Latitude 10 ST2’s slim form factor and easily portability. This is likely one tool that I will continue to use for years to come, if only for this purpose. I’ve gone green when it comes to meeting notes. No more pads of paper for me…

I was recently made aware of some updates that became available for the device.  Dell is actually pretty good at improving current generation products; and the Latitude 10 ST2 recently got a BIOS update as well as driver and support program updates during mid to late April 2013. I spent a good deal of time downloading the files and planned on spending a small amount of time refreshing the BIOS and those drivers I mentioned.  I’m hopeful that the updates make a bit of a difference performance wise.

As you may recall from the review, while the tablet has 1.8Ghz Atom z2760 processor, the device doesn’t have a lot of punch.  The Atom z2760 processor may be “fast,” but it doesn’t have a lot of horse power.

One of the drivers that got updated was the tablet’s graphics driver. This is important, as the original Windows Experience Index score for the device is 3.3, with the devices Gaming Graphics determining the overall score.  There was a change after the updates were applied.

The overall Windows Experience Index Score went down from 3.3 to 3.2.

Prior to the new graphics drivers being installed, the Desktop Graphics score was 3.8 and the Gaming Graphics score was 3.3.  After the graphics driver update, both dropped to 3.2.  I’m not encouraged…

I will need to do more testing, and there may yet be another driver update. Hopefully, the combination of BIOS and driver updates will produce a smoother experience. However, I’m not holding my breath.

 

 

 

 

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Find the fonts you’re looking for with WhatFontIs.com

whatfontis-iconDesktop publishing isn’t easy, even with today’s advanced tools. Finding the right look and feel for your publications as well as your web pages and other projects isn’t always easy, and quite frankly, matching unknown fonts can be really difficult. Thankfully, WhatFontIs.com provides you with some interesting alternatives when you don’t have the typeface you need. WhatFontIs.com is a web app that works in just about any web browser on any PC, any platform.

I’ve heard many people say that desktop publishing is more art than skill, and I believe them. When it comes to laying out pamphlets, fliers, programs and other kinds of collateral, if you don’t understand design life can get challenging quickly. Completing projects can also get difficult when you don’t have the right typeface or font to help you get the job done. Thankfully, WhatFontIs.com can solve that problem quickly and easily.

All you have to do is follow a simple process:
1. Take a screenshot of the font you wish to identify
2. Open your browser and surf to www.WhatFontIs.com
3. Register on the site
4. Upload the screenshot you took in step 1
5. Allow WhatFontIs.com to suggest a matching font

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If you can’t take a screen shot, WhatFontIs.com can also use a URL with the image you want to use, but that can take a while, especially if you don’t have a fast broadband connection

I like WhatFontIs.com. It’s a great resource as it suggests both free and for purchase fonts, or just one or the other, if you wish. I had some problems with the screenshots I uploaded, however.

I found that the simpler the shot, the better chance you have of the site finding a matching font. The best shots were one line of text. Multi-line screen shots just confused the site, especially if you were using exotic fonts. Best to use the KISS principle here.

I also found that the site’s didn’t recognize or match up all the letters in the screen shot, even after it required you to type them in next to the broken down screen shot. That confused me a bit.

Open WhatFontIs.com

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Is Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings HD still the king of RTS?

Back in 1997 Microsoft Studios published the Ensemble developed Age of Empires, a game that quickly garnered a sequel in 1999 with the release of Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings. There have been numerous sequels and spin-offs since the millennium with games such as Age of Mythology appearing on PC and ports appearing on both home consoles and handhelds. Yet nothing has approached the success of the original Age of Empires II.

ageHDheaderCritical and commercial success

The critical success of Age of Empires II has been quite astonishing. IGN ranked it in its top 10 PC games of all time, while its aggregate metacritic score was 92%. The sales have more than matched this critical success: in 1999 it was the 4th best selling game of the year – an astonishing feat when you consider it was released on September 30.

While sequels in the Age of Empires series have brought delight to fans around the world, Age of Empires II is still the one that is remembered most fondly, so it’s understandable that the announcement of an HD remake was met with considerable anticipation. Could the re-release live up to the original?

As good as it ever was

The good news is the gameplay hasn’t been tinkered with – it’s still the same great game. As well as high definition graphics the game also supports widescreen. Apart from these graphical upgrades the multiplayer experience has been improved thanks to Steam integration. The expansion pack, Age of Empires II; The Conquerors is also included, which adds more civilizations, units and technologies, as well as more gameplay modes.

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Development issues

While Ensemble developed the original game, the studio has since become defunct. Thankfully, one of the lead developers from Ensemble, Matt Pritchard, headed the HD remake as a part of Hidden Path Entertainment. Despite the experience of the development team there have been teething issues. As people who pre-ordered the game managed to bag themselves a pre-release version, members of online forums began complaining of problems such as the game not loading properly and it crashing at random points. Thankfully a patch has already been released that has managed to address these problems.

History repeats itself

Considering the game is over a decade old many people may not have had the highest expectations when it came to commercial success – after all, nostalgia doesn’t necessarily translate to sales. However, after holding steady at number 3 on the pre-order charts, the game has managed to top the Steam best seller list, ensuring that a game that is still critically loved has also managed to do well financially.

While this HD remake will bring joy to hardcore fans that believe Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings is the pinnacle of RTS gaming (especially when they find out that all the original cheat codes still work), convincing younger gamers of its appeal might be more tricky. There’s no doubt that it does look as if its aged when placed next to modern games, but luckily its budget price point should mean that plenty of newcomers to the franchise are willing to give the game the chance it deserves.

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If Microsoft is Going to Listen, then it Needs to Listen

I need what I need, and not a token bone thrown at me. I’m just sayin’…

The interwebs have been agog lately with a number of different rumors and “confirmations” that Microsoft has heard the wailing and cries of its people. It’s said that the release of Windows 8.1 – or Windows Blue as its been code named – will bring back the Start button to the Windows 8 interface.  Unfortunately, a new undercurrent has been heard recently as well: The Start Button is going to do what it did in the Windows 8 Developer Preview – Bring up the Windows 8 Start Screen and not a Windows 7 Styled Start Menu.

My friend Preston Gralla sites a story from The Verge in his analysis.  He says that it its “true, it would be a [major] misstep for Microsoft.”

I agree, but it wouldn’t be the first time that MS thought it knew better than its customers.

startbuttonGralla says that, “Microsoft [appears] to have a death wish” when it comes to Windows 8. Users have been asking for a return of the Windows 7 Start Menu. No one is asking for a Start Button that gets users to the Windows 8 Start Screen. Users that want a quick way to get to the Start Screen can swipe in from the right edge of the screen, hit the Windows Key on a Windows compatible keyboard or hover the mouse over the lower left corner until a thumbnail of the Start Screen appears and then click on it.  Putting the Start Button back just to get the user to the Start Screen is silly.  We don’t want the Start screen.

We want the Windows 7 Start Menu.

The Windows 7 Start menu was simple. It was easy to use.  More importantly, its search results were much more accurate than its Windows 8 counterpart; at least that’s the current perception from most users.  Windows 8 Start Screen search results display data differently than displayed on the Windows 7 Start Menu; and the results sort and display is also confusing users.

Unfortunately, especially on a non-touch enabled PC, the Start Screen isn’t what users want. Windows 8.1 will likely give users the ability to boot directly to their Desktop instead of the Start Screen, which is something that users DO want.  However, giving users a Start Button that doesn’t do what users want it to do is confusing and, well, rude. If Microsoft is going to listen to its Windows 8 critics and change the way the OS works, then it needs to listen.

If The Verge’s report is accurate, Microsoft’s solution seems half-backed and empty.  Windows XP and its Start menu have been around since 2000. It’s over 13 years old. Changing that type of use behavior in the enterprise is NOT reasonable; and I honestly think Microsoft is going to miss the boat again if it doesn’t open both ears and listen to what users want from it.

 

 

 

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Cinema 4D Studio – the perfect application for professional 3D artists

cinema_4d_iconCreativity is an awesome outlet. Some of my most relaxing times are when I am busy creating something, be that writing, drawing, sculpting or painting. As computers are one of my most favorite things, being able to combine my creativity with my love of technology is pretty cool. Its for this reason that I really like Cinema 4D Studio. It’s a graphics tool for your Windows PC.

Cinema 4D Studio is a great tool for professional, 3D artists. If you want to create advanced 3D graphics but need a helping hand, then this may be a great choice for you. Cinema 4D Studio adds advanced character tools, hair, a physics engine and an unlimited client network for rendering. The results can be stunning. Cinema 4D Studio can tackle just about any project you throw at.

Cinema 4D Studio’s character tools make it easy to create character rigs and advanced character animations. Adding hair or fur to characters is fast and simple. You can easily grow, comb, style and animate hair and fur easily. The physics engine makes it simple to perform complex collisions and interaction between any number of objects.

screen_studio_22

One of the app’s best features is Network rendering. As any graphic artist knows, rendering can take quite a long time, even on the more advanced and more powerful computers available today. Network rendering allows you to take advantage of all computers on your network and can help render your animations faster.

While Cinema 4D Studio is designed for advanced 3D, the extra tools found in it are still user-friendly and intuitive. Generating advanced 3D affects such as hair is pretty easy and fast. The app does much of the work for you. For example, hair will automatically swoosh and sway as you move your character around; and making thousands of objects collide with each other only takes a few mouse clicks to set up.

While the app may be great, its completely out the consumer price range at nearly $4000 USD, as of this writing. Unless you’re a serious graphic artist, or unless this app is something that your company can purchase for you, this isn’t something a regular user will purchase.

Download Cinema 4D Studio

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Keep track of all your PC and online passwords with KeePass

KeePass_iconPC security is probably the most important issue you’ll bump into today. One of the most important things you need to do to keep your computer safe is to track and secure all of your passwords.  This is probably the biggest reason why I like applications like KeePass. It’s a password manager for Windows.

Today, nearly everything you do on your computer has a password that you need to remember for it. Windows has a network logon, your e-mail account, your website’s FTP password, and then there are countless online passwords for websites, like your bank, Facebook, and Twitter. The list is endless. You should also use different passwords for each account. Because if you use only one password everywhere and someone gets it, you have a serious problem.

KP-08

KeePass is a free, secure password manager that helps you to manage your passwords. You can put all your passwords in one database and lock them with one master key or a key file. With KeePass, you only have to remember one single master password or select the key file to unlock the whole AES and Twofish encrypted database.

KeePass is a pretty cool app. While there are a lot of password safes out there, KeePass is free, and very easy to use. It you don’t have an app of this type, then its probably a good idea to give this one some very serious consideration. Having your accounts hacked is not cool; and forgetting your password to an infrequently used, but important, asset is problematic. KeePass keeps track of them all, and does it for the right price.

download KeePass

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Check out the health status and temperature of your HDD/SSD

CrystalDiskInfo-enStorage. Your computer lives off of it. Room for your operating system. Room for your data. Room for temporary and work files. Without enough storage, you won’t be able to run your computer the way you want. In order to keep your hard drive in working order, you need the right monitoring utilities. CrystalDiskInfo is a hard drive monitoring utility for Windows that gives you this awesome capability.

CrystalDiskInfo displays basic HDD information, monitors S.M.A.R.T. values, and disk temperature. When monitored drives start to fall out of acceptable ranges or values, the app can send you alerts via email. You can then come back to the monitored computer and check its status.

In order to help you monitor its stats, the app offers a variety of tools and monitors including rotation speeds, temperature settings and S.M.A.R.T information. You can also monitor and control AAM/APM settings.

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Conclusion: CrystalDiskInfo is a decent application…if you’re hardware savvy. If you don’t know a lot about hardware or if you don’t know what you should do with drives that are developing issues, having the app on your home PC isn’t going to do you a lot of good. The app is really meant for computers and drives that are on more than they’re off. In other words, if you have computers in a data center or other always on situation, CrystalDiskInfo is the kind of application you’re going to need in order to make sure mission critical applications stay up and running.

Having an app like this in a consumer setting or on your home network isn’t going to help you too much if you’re PC isn’t on more than off. Most consumers won’t know what do to with the issues and values they encounter, so the information is really just a lot of noise for someone who doesn’t understand hardware.

Download CrystalDiskInfo

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