Just Dance 2015 and Dance Central Spotlight on Xbox One

Yesterday I played my first two Kinect games on the Xbox One. That’s not to say the Kinect hasn’t been useful, I love using it for voice commands, streaming, logging in, switching / snapping apps, changing channels, the list goes on and on. I just haven’t used it to play a Kinect game yet (I have used Kinect features in games and enjoyed it). Last night I downloaded both Just Dance 2015 and Dance Central Spotlight and enjoyed both quite a bit.

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I had never played a Just Dance game before, but right from the start I was impressed. I really love the sleek and quick menus and the collection of songs available is quite enjoyable. The game features about 40 songs but you can buy more for $1.99 a song (we bought a handful including PSY’s “Gangam Style” which is so fun to dance to I’m surprised it wasn’t included in the game).

Just Dance 2015 menu

A look at the menu on Xbox One. You can navigate either with hand motions, voice commands or with a controller.

The dancing in Just Dance 2015 is simple enough to make it accessible to just about anyone, but it can be challenging in a fun way with some more complex moves (some even requiring you to get down on the floor, or hold another dancer). At the end of the song you’re presented with a highlight reel edited by the ‘autodance’ feature which will make you look as good as possible (but still quite goofy if you’re me).

You can choose to share your highlight reel with the Just Dance community and even Facebook if you like. At the moment, however, the Facebook functionality in Just Dance 2015 is not working on the Xbox One for many users. Once it launches the IE app to connect to Facebook there’s a URL redirect error. I’ve e-mailed Ubisoft support (as have many other users) but I haven’t seen a response yet.

My highlight reel from “Gangam Style”. Not the best dancer, but hey there was alcohol involved!

Just Dance 2015 challenges

There’s some multiplayer functionality available in Just Dance 2015 as well. You can compete with other dancers by adding challengers and you’ll see their scores alongside yours throughout the song. These are pre recorded scores you’re competing against but it gives you an incentive to up your game. I’ve also received challenges in my Just Dance feed from other players. I assume the game is curating these challenges rather than being issued by the players, but I haven’t played enough to know for sure. You can also compete against live dancers in the World Dance Floor mode, however I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet. When I was playing last night there were on average 25 dancers online in World Dance Floor mode at any given time throughout the evening.

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Dance Central Spotlight is Harmonix’s dancing game available as a $9.99 download on Xbox One. As opposed to Just Dance which bundles 40 songs into a $50 package, Spotlight charges a minimal fee for the game and throws in a small sampler of songs (10 songs) and then allows you to purchase only the songs you want for $1.99 a song (some bundles are available for $3.49). I actually like this business model of charging just for the content you want. There are quite a few DLC songs available for download already with more to come (I picked up “Turn Down for What” and “Party Rock Anthem” so far and plan to pick up a few others).

Dance Central focuses more on a core set of moves and incorporates those moves into the various songs. The game wants you to learn those moves and master them as the difficulty raises and more and more moves are introduced. From my experience Just Dance has unique dances for each song and doesn’t reuse any routines, however this can lead to quite a bit of chaos (which can also be fun). Once you learn the moves of Dance Central it’s easy to nail routines and feel like you’re not just flailing limbs around like what tends to happen in Just Dance.

So far I’m enjoying both games quite a bit and they have me wanting to check out Harmonix’s Fantasia Music Evolved as well. I may end up picking Fantasia up in the few weeks to experience some more Kinect content. If you’re looking for some fun party games that make use of the Kinect I highly recommend checking out Just Dance 2015 and Dance Central Spotlight on the Xbox One.

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Where’s my CNN? (Dish Network loses CNN and others)

CNN Dish network

Every morning I wake up and tune to CNN to get a quick look at what’s going on in the world. Sure CNN isn’t the best quality news, and I quickly tire of it and head to The New York Times to get a better look at the news, it’s easy to tune to first thing in the morning.

Today, however, I was met with a message saying that “Turner Networks has removed this channel from your lineup” because of a contract dispute. Other channels missing include Headline News (HLN), Cartoon Network, truTV, TCM, Adult Swim, Boomerang and CNN en Espanol.

CNN DISH network

I hate how this always seems to happens, and don’t understand why these things can’t get settled without all the finger pointing and putting the customers in the middle of the fight. I don’t doubt the channels will return in a timely manner, I just feel like it’s a childish move.

So if you were looking for CNN this morning on DISH Network I recommend Aljazeera America as an alternate. I feel like they offer the least sensational presentation, and they’re more focused on investigating the news rather than trying to capture viewers.

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Getting sucked into Clash of Clans

Clash of Clans became popular quite awhile ago, and I’m not even sure if many of those who first started talking about it still play it. I had always known very little about Clash of Clans and had convinced myself it probably wasn’t worth my time. From what I could tell it was just another take on the Simpsons: Tapped Out model where you’re trying to construct a cool town and the more you play the more you’re tempted to spend money on the game to expedite the building process (there’s not much to do while waiting for tasks to complete).

Yesterday for some odd reason I decided to finally download Clash of Clans on my iPad. Now I’m once again stuck in the mindset that if I’m not constantly putting my builders to work upgrading my town (camp? not sure what Clash players refer to their home base as) I’m essentially throwing away time and leaving my home unprepared for a siege.

Clash of Clans ipad notification

A notification from Clash of Clans that’s 30 minutes old. That’s 30 minutes that builder could’ve been put to work doing something else!

So far the game is enjoyable, more so than I expected it to be. I’m a “noob” in every sense, I’m just getting my feet wet, but basically you build up your town and upgrade facilities that collect resources (elixir and gold) which you then use to upgrade more facilities, build new buildings or defenses and train troops.

Clash of Clans Elixir collector upgrade screen

 

It will take one hour and 1400 gold to upgrade this elixir collector to level 4, increasing its production rate by 200 per hour.

You use your troops to complete single player objectives where you can raid encampments in order to steal elixir and gold, and also earn stars based on how much damage you do before all of your troops are killed (3 stars if you completely destroy everything). You can also raid other player’s camps, however if you do so within your first three days of gameplay you also become vulnerable to invasion by other players (for the first three days you have a shield which prevents you from being attacked. You can also purchase additional shield time with gems).

I haven’t seen any of the player vs player combat yet since I’m still within my first three days of gameplay, so I can’t really comment on that, but I presume that’s where where real fun begins. I’m also not eligible to join a clan yet, so that’s another area of gameplay I can’t comment or speculate on.

clash of clans town

My humble little home

I’m interested to learn more about the game, but for now I’m just working on upgrading my town as much as I can to prepare for the moment I become vulnerable to invasion in two days.  I’ll admit I already spent $4.99 on the game to purchase 500 gems which were required to receive a third builder. Builders are what you use to construct and upgrade your facilities and I felt too limited with just the two builders you start out with. You can earn gems without spending any money, however it will take patience which I don’t quite have.

Clash of Clans treasure page

A look at Clash of Clan’s in app purchases

Do you play Clash of Clans? Have any advice for a newbie? How about the Star War’s version, Star Wars: Force Commander?

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I love how technology has proved NFL Gameday

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After an exciting, though ultimately disappointing game (for those rooting for the Irish) last night between Notre Dame and Florida State, I’m reading hoping for a better result between the Ravens and the Falcons. So far it’s been pretty positive with Baltimore leading 7-0 early in the second quarter, however just as I began to write this Flacco threw an unfortunate interception in the endzone.

I’m glad to be back in the United States where I can watch football live on Sunday, rather than having to catch games on NFL Rewind (which I subscribed to while I was in Korea). It’s nice to be able to catch all the action as it’s going on, as I juggle games on my MacBook (Ravens), the TV (Seahawks) and my iPad (NFL Redzone / NFL Mobile).

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I love how technology has made keeping track of gameday easier than ever. You no longer have to rely on half time updates or tickers and you can access the information you care about when you want it. With apps such as NFL Mobile and NFL Now you’re able to curate your own information (drive charts, highlights, scoring plays, stats, roster information and so on) with a few taps and swipes.

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In addition to the mobile apps there’s also the NFL app on Xbox One which you can use in snap mode to keep an eye on other scores and also view stats and highlights in real time. I’ll usually snap the NFL app every now and then to get a quick look at everything assuming I’m watching the Ravens game on TV, otherwise having my iPad up next to my MacBook makes it easier to glance over at the NFL Mobile app in-between plays.

NFL on Xbox one

 

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OS X Yosemite download troubles

Quick update, after giving it just a few minutes after posting this I was able to get Yosemite to start downloading. Yay!

Hey there, sorry I haven’t been around over the last week or so, but I returned home from my summer ‘deployment’ (more like 4 months TDY seeing as we spent it in Hawaii and Korea) last Friday and have been busy since then.

OS X Yosemite was finally made available and I was quite excited to install it, only to hit a roadblock this afternoon as I’m unable to download the update. I’ll continue trying as the evening goes on, and hopefully I’ll be checking out Yosemite later tonight or sometime tomorrow.

When I click the download button I’m first hit with the message “This item is temporarily unavailable” and then once I hit ‘OK’ I see another error, “We could not complete your request.

OS X Yosemite download error

OS X Yosemite download error

 

Are you having any luck getting the update? Have it already? What do you think about it?

 

 

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Listen Now: Weezer- Everything Will be Alright in the End on iTunes First Look

Weezer on iTunes

You can now listen to Weezer’s upcoming Everything Will Be Alright In the End on iTunes for free! Check it out here!

I have yet to give it a complete listen, but I’ll be checking it out after work tonight. I already pre-ordered the vinyl LP and can’t wait to get home and give it a listen on my turntable when it arrives. “Back to the Shack” is already one of the best Weezer songs I’ve heard in quite awhile, so I’m excited to listen to the rest of the album.

Everything Will Be Alright In the End is set to be released on October 7th. Be sure to head to their Pledge Music page and pre-order the album in a variety of formats and packages.

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First Listen: Gerard Way – Hesitant Alien

Hesitant Alien

Yesterday Gerard Way released his first album since the breaking up of My Chemical Romance in 2013. I always enjoyed listening to My Chemical Romance right up until the end (The Black Parade is Dead! is probably my favorite concert DVD of all time, I absolutely love their stage presence) so I was excited to hear there would still be new music post MCR.

Hesitant Alien starts with the heavily distorted “The Bureau” which chugs along overpowering the shouted vocals, and it almost sounds like something that could’ve come from Danger Days. It works well as an intro track, but the rest of the album sounds quite differently.

“Action Cat” is upbeat and peppy and Way’s vocals on the track remind me a lot of the track “Lust for Life” by Girls. I definitely like the sound. It’s quite catchy even as the guitar track continues to overpower the vocals.

The album definitely has more of a pop feel (with a bit of alt rock thrown into the mix) with tracks like “No Shows” and “Millions”, yet I enjoy it quite a bit. I love Way’s voice and it continues to be hypnotizing on this album. There are hints of MCR here and there, but there’s enough of a unique direction it’s understandable that he had to part ways with the band.

The stand out track that I can’t stop listening to from the album is “Brother”. I love the piano and steady drum beat building up to a hypnotic chorus. It’s an absolutely beautiful song, and I’m sure I’ll be listening to it over and over for quite some time.

I definitely recommend giving the album a listen whether you were a My Chemical Romance fan or not. There’s definitely a lot to like on Hesitant Aliens.

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My first hour with Forza Horizon 2 (Xbox One)

Forza Horizon 2 Day One edition

It’s been quite awhile since two must buy games released on the same day, but the stars have aligned today in a sense with both Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Forza Horizon 2 seeing release. I had been quite excited for both these games and from my early impressions, neither has disappointed.

I absolutely love the Forza series, nothing comes close in the racing game genre. I never really enjoyed other ‘street’ or off the closed track racing games until the first Forza Horizon came around. Forza Horizon took everything great about the Forza series (authentic looking, sounding and handling cars, and all around great racing) and brought it off the track and it was a blast. I loved all of the different challenges in the world and the online multiplayer was amazing.

Forza Horizon 2 takes influence from Forza 5 and Forza Horizon and brings it to a new open world that’s absolutely stunning from what little I’ve seen of it so far.

First of all it’s worth noting that Drivatars return in Forza Horizon 2. I saw a lot of my friend’s drivatars in the first few races I did (they also show up in the open world) and since I only knew one other person to be playing Forza Horizon 2 so far it seems that they’re pulling Drivatars from Forza 5 and bringing them over to Forza Horizon 2 which is nice as it populates the world and gives you something more than just AI to race against.

Some other new additions to Forza Horizon include more realistic rain and cross country (off road) racing. The rain effects in Horizon 2 are pretty neat, especially while driving with the inside the car view (which honestly is the only view you should be using in Forza games!). You’ll even see your windshield wipers at work which is a neat little addition. Cross country races have you cutting through deep patches of grass and other plant life, navigating between trees (some of which are destructible) and other obstacles in between sections of asphalt or dirt road. It’s crazy looking out from within your car because you’ll find it hard to see anything and it’s an absolute thrill attempting to navigate between obstacles and other cars while trying to make your way to the front of the pack.

I have yet to try out any of the online features, but I’m excited to give them a try tomorrow. If they’re anything like the original Horizon I’m sure they’ll pack hours of fun.

Lastly, one of my favorite features from Forza Horizon is still around in Horizon 2. Everytime you level up you’ll get a chance to ‘spin the wheel’ where you can be rewarded with varying amounts of credits (including some large amounts) or even a brand new car! It’s a fun and addicting feature that’ll keep you racing toward that next driver level.

 

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My first two hours with Shadow of Mordor (Xbox One)

Shadow of Mordor Xbox One

Tonight I played about two hours of Shadow of Mordor on the Xbox One and enjoyed it quite a bit. I managed to kill off a few Captains, but also ran into some very sticky situations and managed to die three or four times already. I’ve had fun so far, but I started to get frustrated toward the end of my two hours.

I completed the first two story missions (or 2 of 3 that were available) and enjoyed those. I managed to die mostly because of mistimed button presses and the fact that I tend to play most video games poorly in the first place (unfortunately there’s no difficulty adjustment in Shadow of Mordor). I’m never any good at timing dodges right, especially when you not only have to time dodges with ‘A’ but also counters with ‘Y’. I’ll do alright if it’s just one or the other, but when I’m being attacked by different enemies and have to use both I just can’t get the hang of it.

Toward the end of my time with the game tonight I ran into a Captain who I didn’t have any intel on and probably shouldn’t have tried confronting him. He had some sort of ability that made my screen go red and constantly drained my health and I couldn’t figure out what was causing it or how to stop it. I’d run away and try to find some herbs to regain my health, but eventually he killed me off and I decided to take a break from the game for now.

I really like the idea of the Nemesis system, where enemies in the game can be promoted based on their actions and become stronger and gain new abilities if they defeat you in combat. You’ll be certain to face them again later and they’ll certainly remember you. Also if you happen to defeat an enemy they may also return, beaten, battered and scarred and ready for their revenge. It’s a pretty cool system that I think will add hours of exciting gameplay as you’re tempted to try to topple them all. It’s worth noting that the genesis system is only available on current gen consoles (Xbox One, PS4, PC). I can’t imagine how the game plays on last gen systems, as I think the genesis system is a core part of Shadow of Mordor and what sets it apart from other hack and slash games.

I look forward to diving deeper into Shadow of Mordor and hopefully figuring out how to overcome the Captain’s who haven slain me thus far.

 

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First listen: U2 – Songs of Innocence

Songs of Innocence

I’ve never actually sat down and listened to U2 before. I’ve heard their songs and have a good idea of what they sound like but I’ve never listened to any of their albums, or really actually paid attention to any of their songs. A lot of people love U2, I’ve just always known they’re not a band for me. Heck all I even know about U2 is they have hugely popular concerts, Bono wears sunglasses all the time and they seem to be involved in a lot of causes and world politics (whether this is true or not I couldn’t say).

U2 has been in the news a lot lately because Apple in a sense ‘bought out’ their thirteenth album Songs of Innocence and released it to half a billion iTunes users for free during their iPhone 6 reveal. Who doesn’t like free music? Well apparently the internet doesn’t. People immediately complained that the album snuck into their iTunes libraries unwanted. Personally, I feel the complaints are absolutely absurd and there will always be someone out there who will complain about anything. They could’ve given a $10 iTunes gift card to everyone in the world and somewhere out there on the internet someone would find a way to complain about it.

U2 songs of innocence iTunes page

Since I’ve never listened to U2 before I’ve decided I’d give the album a listen and write down a few thoughts about it. So here we go, I’m hitting play.

Aside from a handful of moments, (“The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)”, “Volcano” and “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight”) I can’t say I’ve found much to like in this album. Most of it sounds unremarkable, background music that falls apart when listened to closely. Reading the lyrics in the digital book as I listen doesn’t help. Most everything just comes off as boring.

The parts I like most is when Bono doesn’t sound like Bono. “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” and the verses of “Volcano” stand out as favorites (not a huge fan of the chorus). I like the darkness in his voice in those two songs in particular. The verses of “Volcano” even have a slight Marilyn Manson sound vocally which I love. If the rest of the album had more of that dark sound and less of the typical, soaring sound that has bored me for years without even having had to listen to a U2 album.

Songs of Innocence

I rated every song as I listened, and going off of the iTunes star rating Songs of Innocence gets 2 out of 5 stars based off my first listen. Seeing as how I’ve never listened to any other U2 album I can’t really say whether this is a particularly good or bad U2 album. I read in TIME that U2 sees this album as one of their best, so it may just be that I don’t like U2.

 

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