Spy DNA Pre Alpha Review

I love strategy games. I spend way too much time indulging in SRPGs, building empires in 4x games, trying to become the best trader in merchant style games, getting my squad out alive in tactical games, and clicking faster then other people in real-time strategy games. I recently got a pre-alpha copy of Shy Snake‘s Spy DNA to play around with. If you are not familiar with it, Spy DNA is a squad based tactical role playing game that prides itself with being grounded in real life mechanics. If you want some examples think Syndicate or X-COM but with a more free moving system rather than turn movement.

The Demo

main

The pre-alpha demo provides two previews of game play. The first being Crolimax Lab and the second being the outdoor combat demo.

Crolimax Lab

introThe lab demo takes you through a bit of the story. I talked with a number of folks working at the lab and learn what the lab is for, the history of the organization, and what I would be doing for them. I ended up using this area to get used to the controls. One thing that got me over and over was the camera movement. I kept wanting to use WASD to move the camera with Q and E to rotate. I’m not sure why I kept gravitating towards those bindings but, for me, they would make more sense than the arrow keys. In any case I’m sure Shy Snake will either add similar bindings or will be able to explain why the arrow keys make more sense for Spy DNA.

It was during this demo I noticed the bottom left camera. This is known as the “body cam” and is quite interesting and useful. As the squad member moves around you can watch their movement from their point of view. This is helpful for when you want to make sure you are covered or verify you have a clear line of site while still keeping your eye on the over all tactical view of the theater.

Outdoor Combat Demo

fightIn the outdoor combat demo you get a three member squad and are faced with an encampment of enemies keeping patrol. For some reason one of the members always started far off the screen, but this is pre-alpha after all! In any case, this is where the fun really begins! I was able to sneak in and around a few guards before needing to start taking out some of them. By default you move quickly from point to point but, by clicking and holding, you can change how you traverse terrain allowing for sneaking and other options.

As I played I picked up the mechanics around the sight cam. At first I misinterpreted what I was seeing and didn’t understand why I kept missing almost every shot but after a few more tries it became clear how it works (and it totally makes sense).

aim

The pre-alpha manual states that the innermost green circle is where 50% of shots will land, the yellow circle is where 90% will land, and the outermost where 99% of shots will land. You can tweak the shot making the entire circle larger or smaller, move it around the target, select the type of shot you want to take (from single shot, burst, and auto “spray and pray”), as well as the amount of bullets to be used.

Following the realistic vibe you don’t have infinite anything and landing a shot causes real damage. There are no over the top 40 shot kills here and it’s a breath of fresh air!

One thing I found myself doing a lot was making use of the pause. I think this is due to how many other games in the past relied on turn based movement and my brain wanting to keep trying to fit Spy DNA into that pattern. With a full manual or tutorial map and a little practice I believe I could really get into the more free movement system. Until then I can’t stop myself from wanting to use pause.

Conclusion

Obviously, being pre-alpha, there were a decent amount of bugs present (mainly camera placement/control related) but the basic ideas came through and came through well. Many people who enjoy games like Jagged Alliance or Silent Storm are still playing them as the AAA or indie game industries have not really kept up with the game style. It’s a pity as well as tactical games can be very rewarding. Spy DNA feels like it could become a very refreshing entry into a genre which needs a revival.

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Slack Isn’t New, It’s New

New tech tools show up daily. You’ve probably heard about Slack already as it’s being talked about a lot, but just in case you haven’t I’ll give you the tl;dr: Slack integrates your development and infrastructure notifications, chat and documents from different providers into one chat like interface. It’s pretty much the same as Hipchat. All in all slack is a pretty cool and sleek system which allows for easy chatting within a group. But as I tested the service I kept having a feeling of deja vu. This cool new service feels familiar to me. Then it hit me, I have seen this before, haven’t I?

For a long time many engineers, especially in the Free/open arena, have utilized IRC as a way of communication while working. It’s efficient, simple, client agnostic and supports chat rooms as well as private messages. Slack’s main chat interface is very similar to IRC. It’s a chat room with a list of people present and the ability to send private messages. Just like IRC people post messages to the chat room and everyone in the room is able to read them. In a way it’s a little funny to think about chat rooms being “new” but, then again, people have been using instant messaging and SMS style message systems for so long that the concept of the chat room may seem fresh. So the chat interface is similar to IRC, but what about the integration? Aren’t they new?

With Slack the integrations are set up via the web interface. Each integration can send information to a channel with an icon and message. Obviously IRC does not have this functionality directly, but IRC bots do! Many developers set up bots like Supybot with integration with their external development tools. Announcements of new builds, code pushes, deployments, support requests, etc.. show up in channel from the bot. While it’s not as flashy as Slack the same basic integration idea occurs.

Don’t get me wrong, the point of this post isn’t to say that Slack is dumb or simply a copy of something “better”. The point of this post is that, while Slack isn’t really something brand new, it is quite cool. There is a reason developers and ops folks have been setting up things similar to Slack in their own chat rooms for years! The ability to see the development process actually flow can be pretty exciting and empowering. Those who have or will not be able to set up their own integrations have an option to use Slack as a pre-baked set up which, depending on team/company may be more user friendly for the less technical minded. And letting the non-technical see how much is happening day to day can open their eyes to just how much a team is getting done. Probably way more than they realize.

Two Beers I Don’t Get

I like very trying new beers. It’s no secret. But recently I had two beers, in a row, that I could not wrap my head around. Don’t misunderstand, these were not bad beers but beers that either fly over my head or I expected too much from.

312 is golden
Photo credit: swanksalot)

The first beer is Goose Island’s 312 Urban Wheat. What is an urban wheat? I don’t know either. According to Beer Advocate it’s an American Pale Wheat Ale. Now APWA’s are a style I enjoy – In fact Bell’s Oberon is way up there on my list – but I just could not figure out the beers concept. First off, it’s a very light APWA and clearer than I’d expect. The aroma was very faint grassy and maybe slight lemon. The taste was wheat and an extremely faint hint of lemon. Both fade away to a water like taste after a few sips reminiscent of a cheap light lager. Mouth feel was light carbonation and supper thin. It was after roughly an eighth if the pint I said enough and drained it. It was almost like a cream ale but with wheat malt. Not close to what I want out of an APWA. As a side note I learned that Goose Island is owned by a very large company with a poor reputation with craft beer lovers …

Petrus dubbel bruin
(Photo credit: Lec)

The second beer was from another of my beloved styles: the dubbel. I’ve enjoyed St. Bernardus Pater 6, Chimay Rouge and the Westmalle Trappist Dubbel and I I walk by Petrus bottles every time I’m in the Belgian isle. It was time to try Brouwerij Bavik’s take on the dubbel. After pouring into a goblet I noticed quickly the low carbonation. There was some very minor white off lacing but it didn’t look anything like what I expected. The aroma was carmel, brown sugar and spices. The taste initially was dominated by sweetness followed by an RC Cola like flavor. After that I couldn’t shake that, not only did it taste like half flat RC Cola, it even looked a bit like it as well. And it wasn’t the pleasant hint cola like taste of Foothills Peoples Porter. Maybe I got a dud bottle?

Raleigh Brewing Company: First Taste

Today was the opening of the Raleigh Brewing Company which kicked off with a 7 hour opening celebration. I was able to enjoy roughly three and a half hours drinking, talking and just having a good time.

The place is much bigger than I expected. The main entrance serves as the door to both the homebrewing shop as well as the main bar area.

Be hind the bar is a warehouse/brewery area which also has a back in slot for food trucks. On opening night there was plenty of cornhole games going.

Unfortunately the doors opened before 5pm but they wouldn’t sell tickets for beer or food until the 5pm mark. This was a little awkward as a line formed waiting to get ID’d and ticketed with some people being turned away from the line. This caused a little crowed watching other people drinking. This was the only oddity of the night.

Once the general public was allowed in things started to move quickly. I was in the first five people to enter from the general public and went straight to the taps. Unsurprisingly people were friendly and civil at the bar. When a bartender asked the fellow next to me what he’d like the man kindly stated that he was third in line after me and another fellow. People were easy to talk to and just having a fun time. True craft crowd!

Beers

City of Blokes

I’m not really a fan of English bitters. I’ve not had a ton but, of those I have tired, I did enjoy Fuller’s ESB. City to find Blokes was my first pour and it wasn’t bad! I chose it so I wouldn’t be putting my first taste up against some of my all time favorites in the Belgian or IPA categories. It also helped that it had such a low ABV.

House of Clay

I was going to down a HellYesMa’am but decided to try the Rye IPA. I was seriously impressed. This may be my go to beer when visiting the establishment. It has an amazing citrus aroma and a nice job bite. I’m a fan of Sierra Nevada‘s Ruthless Rye but this has something it doesn’t. Maybe it’s simply the freshness, I’m not sure, but I really like it.

End Result

Fun night, good people, good beer. It was a success. I’m looking forward to trying some of the other core beers … especially that HellYesMa’am!

Trophy: A Nano Brewery

Nestled a bit behind Raleigh’s Central Prison is a new nano brewery which has already been making some waves. It’s name? Trophy Brewing. It is a three barrel brewery which already has plans for minor expansion with pizza planned in the near future. And this is happening in a place where craft beer has been booking and new breweries are opening up left and right. But enough of all the background, let’s get down to the good stuff.

The Place

Right now the size of the place is holding Trophy back. My guess is roughly 30 people can be in there at any one time as long as about half of them are standing. They are working on adding a patio which should open things up a bit.

For now things are tight. The first two times I wanted to stop in the place was so packed I decided to just move on. After a while the traffic will slow down but for now finding the right time to make it in requires luck and some voodoo.

Parking is very limited. It’s probably best to park elsewhere and walk over.

The place has trophies lining the edges of the ceiling as well as trophies for tap handles. The decorations are minimal. Color scheme is woody and slightly retro.

The Beers

Sampled

Trophy Wife

American Pale Ale

Untappd

This was a highly drinkable APA. Generally I like more hop in a pale ale but this take on the style works. A bit sweeter than I would have expected with a much more understated citrus characteristic. So much so that it’s even less than the citrusy west coast IPA styles.

If you wish APA’s would be have less citrus, less hops yet keep the same mouth feel, aroma and a bitterness bite this should be on your list.

Biggest Flirt

Belgian IPA

Untappd

This was, unsurprisingly, my favorite of the tasting due to my love for Belgian style beer. Staying true to the Belgian heritage the brew was not overly hoppy. If it wasn’t for the name I’d have thought it was a lighter in color, general Belgian ale of some kind. Don’t let the IPA in the name fool you. It also was quite low in carbonation. I don’t know if this was a choice or just the will of the yeast. In appearance it was a bit of a turn off but the taste and liveliness of each sip did not suffer.

Best In Show

American Saison

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I have been on a saison kick and was a bit disappointed in this one. It was just too sweet and not as complex as I’d like in the style. Even the color was different than what I normally see in other saisons.

Don’t misunderstand me the drink is not poorly crafted, just not what I want out of a farmhouse ale.

Note they do specifically call this out as an American Saison. I’m not sure if there is a difference between traditional saisons or not.

Limbo Champ 

American Brown Ale

Untappd

This was the biggest surprise for me. Usually brown ales do nothing at all for me with exception to the CBC Maduro. Limbo Champ adds another exception to my list. Not only did I notice how easy it goes down but was intrigued by the chocolate and toffee notes I usually notice in its stouty brethren. Brown ale purists need not apply.

Eye Catching

The King

Belgian Dubbel

This I’ve yet to have only because they had already ran out of it before I was able to get in! Peanut butter and bananas (brewed with peanuts and includes plenty of esters). Here’s hopping it makes a comeback.

Trophinator

Dopplebock

This I took home in a growler for sampling later. Trophy describes it’s as a “Strong German style lager with notes of caramel and brown sugar.” Can’t wait to try it! It’s mocking me from my fridge.

Conclusion

In a city that has breweries springing up everywhere Trophy is going to need to find it’s nitch to stand out. Brews like The King, Limbo Champ and a few others not listed above show Trophy is willing to embrace the old extreme beer notions and experiment with taste. If they can grow to understand and supply the demand for their concoctions they may be able to take a front seat in a crowded NC beer marketplace.

Nexus 4 Mini Review

This Nexus 4 has only been with me a short time but I can already see why the guys and gals who got their hands on the original batch of devices have raved so highly about them. Here’s a short run down of my thoughts so far…

The Look

Nexus 4
Nexus 4 (Photo credit: abuakel)

The device is understated for what one expects from flagship devices. By that I mean the Nexus 4 is not meant to draw eyes to it or make you the talk of the cool guy crowd. It’s meant to look like a lot like every other Android device out there. Not exactly like others but close enough that by glancing it wouldn’t stand out. The main thing that does stand out when focusing on the device is the back due to it’s sparkle/glass look. It actually does make the device look special without forcing it’s ‘coolness factor’.

As a side note it’s nice to have fewer brand names thrown all over the back. I’ve had phones which had multiple brands plastered on it followed by reminding me (and everyone around me) the brands ‘involved’ in the device. The Nexus 4 says Nexus and has a smaller LG logo near the bottom. The front is refreshingly brandless. Bootup also avoids yelling about it’s Google and LG makers. I love it!

The Form

Like the look the form isn’t much different than many other current generation Android devices but does have a slightly larger screen than my previous SGS II. To be honest I really like that as I’ve grown accustomed to the general Android device slate. Where it does part ways with most of it’s siblings is in how well the build feels. It’s light without feeling cheap. It’s thin without feeling frail. I’m not totally sure why the back is glass (other than giving it a slightly different look on focused look) but I have to assume that ends up adding to the positive build feel.

General Usage

Blockbuster
Better than the app. (Photo credit: ario_)

Hopefully every Android device manufacturer is taking notice of this device because this thing is exactly how I want to use a phone. First off I didn’t have to spend time hiding a bunch of ‘value added’ applications that I’ll never use. The amount of telco bought devies I’ve had which forced me to keep NASCAR or Blockbuster installed even though I never used either is a sad number.

Next, the device is fast. Really fast. I’ve been on the Tegra everywhere bandwagon and now I’m thinking Snapdragon really may be where it’s at for phone size devices. Then there’s the fact the device is running stock Jelly Bean. This means no Sense, TouchWiz, etc… Just Android the way it was meant to be. No extra value is added which makes it much more valuable.

Most of the applications the one expects are there so I won’t jump into them but Google Now is something I can see using pretty often. Don’t get me wrong, this is not my first Jelly Bean device. I have a Nexus 7 which I’ve been very happy with, but the Google Now software on a device that only has wifi access does not do Google Now justice.

The camera seems quite good so far. To be fair I have not used it much yet but here is a test photo I took in moderate to low light in a coffee shop. For a more in-depth look at the camera look at TechRadar’s review.

Medium/Lower to low light indoor photo. No flash.

Some Downsides

Nothing is perfect but wow does the Nexus 4 come close! Two of the three downsides are minor and only are noticeable one time only.

SIM Size

The first thing I did after charging the new device was to pull the SIM card from my old device for use in my new one. I should have noticed when reading about the Nexus 4 that it uses a Micro-SIM. Not a big deal but it did require a run to the closest telco store to get one.

English: GSM Micro SIM card vs. GSM Mini SIM card
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Initial Usage

There was a decent amount of updates ready to be installed upon first usage. An OS update along with many application updates. It would be nice if Google could use the latest ROM when shipping new batches. Again, not a big deal at all but still would be nice.

Storage

This is what kept me from buying it originally. The storage is capped at 8 or 16g which doesn’t sound like a good deal for those of us who keep our music library with us at all times. There are options that limit this as an issue. Using Google Music, Amazon Cloud Player, Subsonic, Pogoplug, etc.. can keep your music collection within reach as long as you have a data connection but each has it’s own downsides as well. My annoyance is generally with the quality of the music player for the services. It’s not that they are bad players but they are feature poor compared to many of the locally players.

tl;dr

Reign Of The Android
(Photo credit: JD Hancock)

If you are in the market for a new Android phone right now then there is no better option than the Nexus 4. While not perfect it’s downsides are few and are heavily overshadowed by how well the device works both in terms of physical feel and software. A real Jelly Bean experience, great build quality, no telco lock in and really fast. Did I mention you don’t have to put up with apps forced on you by telcos? Assuming that the device is currently available in your region there is not a reason to avoid it. Go get it!