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Games and Gaming

Horizon: Zero Dawn, a review.

Oddly enough, I ended up buying this game, quite by accident on the first weekend of its release. It’s been a while since I’ve had any real fire in my belly about an upcoming game, and, in fact, there is at least one game I picked up more than two years ago at a midnight release that has never made it out of the shrink wrap. I guess any gamer cred I may have gained from that one went away just as quickly. Anyway, in the last few years, there have been very few games that have really grabbed me based solely on the pre-release hype. As it turns out, Horizon: Zero Dawn was no exception. I had seen Sony’s trailers on YouTube, and they definitely looked impressive, but I figured I’d wait until Amazonhad it on sale for twenty bucks, or there was some irresistible deal on the Playstation store, or something similar, at which time I figured I’d pick it up.

It turns out that circumstances can indeed be strange things. I happened to be canceling a pre-order for the Nintendo Switch (another story), and by the time I was looking at the credit from the return, I was a measly five bucks away from getting Zero Dawn. What the hell, right? So I brought it home, as it turns out, just in time to catch one of those nasty bugs that confines one to the couch. I mean the kind of bug where you don’t bother with boxes of tissue anymore, you just grab a roll of toilet paper and a grocery bag, and start working your way through a case of chicken soup. So there I was, with no energy to stand for more than a couple of minutes, and a brand new triple-A title. Hmm, what to do?

From the beginning, I could tell that Horizon: Zero Dawn was going to be one of those games I pretty much consumed whole.

The basics of the game have been pretty well covered, but just in case you missed it, Horizon: Zero Dawn is an open-world third person action/RPG set, as so may are, in a post-apocalyptic world.  The universe is a bit different than what you might expect, though. It departs from the irradiated, Mad Max inspired, or post-plague The Last of Us style environment, in favor of a more pre-industrial world. There’s never any doubt that the player is in fact on Earth, but you get the sense that human society is well along the road of rebuilding, but long after any coherent memory of the “Old ones” (us) has long faded.  I was reminded a bit of Canticle for Leibowitz in that sense.

Oh, but there are robots.

Called simply “Machines”, the majority of the enemies in the game are robots, most of which appear to be built following the design of animals that lived on Earth at one time or another. From dinosaurs to dogs, there is a great variation among the machines on the world, the only real common denominator being that they don’t like people. Of course, there are also other humans who don’t like you either.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The main character is Aloy (pronounced “AY-loy”), who starts out as an infant at the beginning of the game (don’t worry, the very beginning is all cut-scene, you don’t have to play as a baby).  The game actually begins when Aloy is a young girl, but the action really starts when she is old enough to engage in a rite of passage (the story is actually quite engaging, so I’m going to stay vague about it).  Yeah, the set up is pretty much all of Young Adult fiction over the last 10 years or so, so the structure so far is going to be familiar if you’ve read or seen any of the Hunger Games or Divergent series.  Don’t let this fool you though, you’re about to experience some truly stellar game design and play.

Like most open world games, Zero Dawn provides a main story line, a number of side quests, and also a few quests helpfully called “Errands”. I have to say, I appreciate the developers’ choice to readily identify how much a player can expect out of any given quest.  I often play under time constraints, and it’s nice to know at the outset if I should be settling in for an evening of uncovering part of the plot, or if I just need to go fetch something for someone, and only need 15 minutes to make it happen.

Like most open world games, what really sucked me in was the nature of the game’s universe, as well as the way the story unfolded. The Horizon universe is both familiar in some of its tropes, and also refreshingly interesting in others. I long ago realized that it has been centuries since the last truly original story has been written, at least for a human audience, so I don’t really expect complete novelty, but I also find great artistry in a storyteller’s ability to arrange a finite number of elements in a way that feels fresh. That’s what I get from this game’s world: In the same way that a delicatessen can offer up a novel signature sandwich from the same list of ingredients that every other deli uses, Horizon takes some of the greatest themes of post-apocalyptia and serves them up in a way you haven’t necessarily been conditioned to expect. That’s about as far as I’m willing to go on this without wandering into spoiler territory, so I’ll just leave it here.

Of course, Horizon: Zero Dawn is not a movie, it’s a video game. As such, it’s not a completely passive experience, and if there isn’t some interesting game play involved, then there’s very little point. This is where I really found the game to shine. The balance between combat, platforming and narrative is really something I’ve rarely seen. the Assassin’s Creed series is about the closest example I can think of as far as this balance goes, but without the steep larning curve and complicated control scheme. Combat in Zero Dawn is wonderfully intuitive, with a really interesting and entertaining array of ranged weapons, traps and snares, with what I found to be a very well-designed and effortless control system. The weapon wheel system works very smoothly and effortlessly, and the various weapons and ammunition types are well-balanced and offer a number of options for different play styles. By the time I had finished the first couple of tutorial missions, I felt right at home, and spent very little time thinking about the control scheme, and concentrating instead on how to best approach each encounter. If there is one shortcoming, though, it would be the lack of options for melee attacks. Given Aloy’s background and general nature, it’s not terribly surprising that the combat system would focus on range (also considering the sheer size and ferocity of many of the enemies).  Even so, the stealth mechanics on offer are also quite interesting, and go a long way toward satisfying the need for close-quarters combat without relying on repeated Hulk-style smashing and bashing.

I tend to be a completionist when it comes to open-world games, and I also admit that I am a complete sucker for trophies. With that in mind, I knew within the first hour of gameplay that I would be getting the Platinum on this one.  Just over a hundred hours later, I had pretty well explored every nook and cranny of Zero Dawn, and heard that final, sweet trill when the final trophy popped.  There is certainly no requirement to spend that much time finishing the game, and I admit to doing a bit of grinding to farm supplies that I may have been able to just buy, but I enjoyed every minute of it.  If you like poking around open-world environments, and solving the mystery of a long-past armageddon, then I highly recommend giving Horizon: Zero Dawn a try.

Games and Gaming

Fallout 4!

This was a big day for me as a gamer: Fallout 4 has officially been announced! The long wait is about to be over!

Fallout 3 was released in 2008, and Fallout: New Vegas in 2010. For five long years we’ve been waiting for more Fallout. Over the years, there had been some cruel hoaxes, . . . → Read More: Fallout 4!

3D Printing

3D printing software tools: OpenSCAD

For many people, there is something of a “honeymoon” period right after they’ve finished building their first 3D printer. You’ve got everything working, your printer is nicely tuned, you’ve gotten calibration shapes to come out jus like you want them. Congratulations! Youmagine and Thingiverse have become your favorite websites, and your’e spending hours just looking . . . → Read More: 3D printing software tools: OpenSCAD

3D Printing

Review: The Prometheus all-metal hotend from Distech Automation

Every once in a while, in any field of endeavor, something comes along that really re-defines the paradigm. For reasons I won’t be going into here, I don’t like to use the term “Game Changer”, but that’s really what I’m talking about. The RepRap world in particular, and the 3D printing world in general, . . . → Read More: Review: The Prometheus all-metal hotend from Distech Automation

Games and Gaming

Space egg on my face? Nerd rage and obscure world records...

Space Eggs title page

When I was a teenager, I was fortunate enough to live through what was inarguably one of the greatest eras in video gaming. The early 1980’s was the epoch in which the video arcade was born, as well as the very beginning of console and PC games. In the pecking order of the day, the . . . → Read More: Space egg on my face? Nerd rage and obscure world records…

3D Printing

Makerfarm i3v review - initial impressions:

So it took me a while, but recently I fnally got around to assembling the Makerfarm Prusa i3v 3D printer that had been sitting in my “to do” stack.

The i3v builds upon the successful Makerfarm Prusa i3, by replacing the traditional system of smooth rods and linear bearings with beefy OpenBeam extrusions and . . . → Read More: Makerfarm i3v review – initial impressions:

3D Printing

RepRap 101: Activating Marlin's EEPROM functions, and what that does for you.

I’ve been asked about this a few times, and it seemed appropriate to put together a quick post on the topic.

In my humble opinion, one of the most useful features of Marlin is the ability to save a bunch of settings to what is essentially a non-volatile area memory that exists on the . . . → Read More: RepRap 101: Activating Marlin’s EEPROM functions, and what that does for you.

3D Printing

Check out my Facebook Page!

I’ve set up a Facebook page specific to 3D printing. I think this will make it a lot easier to make small updates that don’t seem to warrant a full blog post. Check it out!

Zennmaster’s 3D printing on Facebook

3D Printing

RepRap 101: Calibrating your Extruder, Part 2: Fine-Tuning.

At this point, you have most likely done some basic calibration on your extrusion. If not, please check out part one of this series:

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The method I use is a . . . → Read More: RepRap 101: Calibrating your Extruder, Part 2: Fine-Tuning.

3D Printing

RepRap 101: Calibrating your extruder, part 1: E-steps

So you’ve got your printer built, and you’re ready to start spitting plastic. Maybe you get a few test prints done, which turns out to be just enough to demonstrate that something isn’t quite right. In any case, you’re going to need to make an initial calibration of your extrusion.

This is also something . . . → Read More: RepRap 101: Calibrating your extruder, part 1: E-steps