Julian Hard Cider Cherry Bomb

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Julian Hard Cider Cherry Bomb“Add one more to the great tradition of American Cherry Bombs! Julian Hard Cider Cherry Bomb is a clean, crisp, hard apple cider infused with juice from the Montmorency Cherry, (a world-renowned “superfruit” loaded with antioxidants and prized for it’s intense, tart cherry flavor). 100% gluten-free, Julian Hard Cider makes all their hard ciders from the freshest apples in the United States.”

Rating: 3.5/5

Location: Julian, California
ABV: 6.99%

Mindy’s Thoughts: Not too sweet, not too tart, not overly acidic, Julian Hard Cider Cherry Bomb (or just Cherry Bomb for short) is like Goldilocks a “just right” entry in the flavored cider world. They take a multi-apple blend and add Montmorency cherry juice to give it that tart but sweet cherry flavor. The apple cider itself is well rounded, neutral in a way, and makes a good base for the cherry juice to stand out against.

On a sidenote, there is some complicated history with Julian Hard Cider that I uncovered when I was trying to find their god damn website. At the time of this article being written their website does not exist, and instead shows the worst maintenance page ever when you go to it:

julian-websteI also found that they are in the middle of defending themselves in a lawsuit that would, if successful, make them change their name. While they may have facilities in Julian, California, their parent company is Blue Mountain Cider (headquarted in Oregon) and they don’t really use Julian, California specific apples. Sounds like a bunch of horseshit to me, but people from California are horrific so I’m not really shocked (sorry, not sorry, if you’re from Cali).

What did surprise me is learning about Blue Mountain Cider owning Julian Hard Cider. Blue Mountain’s Cherry is so much better, why didn’t they just relabel it and sell it as Julian? Why create a separate recipe that is inferior? The outcome of the lawsuit is expected any day now, so maybe we’ll see a label or recipe change in the near future. Either way, if you like cherries, I recommend that you pick up a bottle of this while you still can, it’s certainly worth a try.. or two, or three.

Dixon’s Thoughts: While not my favorite cherry apple cider, this is certainly a great cider. It’s well balanced, but a bit tart for my tastes. This is an issue it’s Blue Mountain cousin does not have. It’s very lightly carbonated, and as a result is pretty easy to drink, and while it is a bit tart, the other flavors are all well blended. Not overly sweet or dry, I recommend this for a nice spring/summer porch-sitting session with friends.

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Ziggurat

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zigguratZiggurat is the latest FPS dungeon crawler from Milkstone Studios. Released on Steam and XBox One in March 2015, it combines Rogue-like mechanics with the twitch shooter styling of the old classics Hexen and Heretic.

Rating: Buy it. (3.5/5)

Dixon’s Thoughts: Ziggurat is difficult to explain to people who have never played a Rogue simulator and haven’t experienced ID Software and Raven Software’s Heretic series. To save time, you can check out the Rogue concept here. Briefly, these types of games feature things like a single life, procedurally generated (read: randomized) dungeons, and punishing difficulty curves. The Heretic series, on the other hand, are some of the earliest examples of Golden-era 90’s PC shooters, with the added twist that the entire series took place in a dark fantasy setting, using magic, crossbows, and other weird ritual magic devices. Ziggurat lovingly combines the dark, brutal atmosphere of that series with the unique elements of Roguelike games to form a coherent, tight indie title that only has a few minor flaws. It’s a rewarding experience, full of monsters and frustration and eventual triumph.

You begin after choosing your character. Initially you have only one choice, but there are several unlock-able characters, each with their own specific abilities that will change the way you play through the Ziggurat. The first character is the most balanced, with no specific specialties.

Hello, I'll be your generic starter character today!

Hello, I’ll be your generic starter character today!

To unlock new characters one must complete specific challenges, which are laid out for you in advance when you select a character. This allows you to shoot for specific character unlocks should you want to do so.

"I'll only help you if you shoot this wand a specific number of times. I'll keep track!"

“I’ll only help you if you shoot this wand a specific number of times. I’ll keep track!”

The gameplay itself is relatively simple and easy to grasp. As a first person shooter the interface is fairly basic. Your Right and Left triggers fire your weapons’ primary and secondary attack, respectively. I’m not sure how many weapons there are, however, the game itself has 3 resources aside from health, and they correspond to three different weapon “types”. These types are Spells, Staves, and Alchemy. Staves are typically lower damage but very easy to aim (the projectiles for staff weapons seem to have some homing capabilities), while spells are usually slower moving but cover large areas, as well as carrying some status effect utility like freezing or burning. Alchemical weapons usually manifest in the form of grenades or crossbows that launch odd projectiles such as hell arrows or other grenades. Overall, I found the Staff weapons to be the most useful on boss monsters, while Spells seemed to be the trick to managing the large packs of two-legged pink dildo monsters that the game seems so fucking fond of.

Now just imagine endless rooms of them spitting acid at you and jumping around.

FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFU…

The procedural level generation is nice. While they do tend to recycle room “building blocks” frequently, there is enough variation in the monsters and traps in each level that it only feels stale after playing for several hours. The game’s real depth can be fully explored in it’s leveling and item discovery system. When you die, and occasionally while playing the game, you’ll discover new “items”.

A must have item for any internet debate.

A must have item for any internet debate.

This item does not go to your inventory. Instead, it gets put into a “deck” of items and abilities that are randomly selected and presented to you when you level up.

Choose wisely. No, seriously, this is one of the most important aspects of the game.

Choose wisely. No, seriously, this is one of the most important aspects of the game.

Some choices will be more obvious than others, say, more ammo capacity for a weapon that you don’t have yet versus more maximum health. Others, like the one pictured, are less obvious. Personally, I always chose Bookworm when it comes up. This is a bit of an RNG trick, as this game only really lets you personalize your character through the leveling up system, and this perk gives you 3 options to choose from instead of two. As a whole, the leveling and specialization portion of the game is both simple and engaging, as it encourages you to explore as far as possible but rewards you for both leveling up AND dying a lot. (At the time of this blog, I do not understand the mechanics for item discovery when you die. I’ll update this post should I ever figure it out.)

At the end of every level is a Boss fight. These, too, are randomly selected, though I’ve only ever seen a handful of the same bosses per floor.They are generally giant versions of your least favorite enemies from the floor, and are almost always accompanied by a horde of lesser minions intent on fucking up your day.

ALLRIGHT ALLRIGHT ALLRIGHT!

HEY THERE! I’m just a big old lovable slime!

Just Kidding! Fuck you!

HAHA JUST KIDDING! FUCK YOU, DIXON!

Should you manage to make it through the entire floor, collect the portal key (which unlocks the boss room), clear all the rooms of minions, AND beat the boss, you’ll be presented with a portal to the next floor, as well as all of the loot from the boss and his crappy-shitty-no-good minions. If you’re lucky, some of them will have dropped health potions, and you MIGHT be able to get to the next floor with 50% health. At this time there are only five floors, and I’ve only made it through the first three. While five doesn’t seem like a lot (it’s not), the replay value and difficulty curve of the game has kept me playing on and off for weeks.

Ziggurat is a fun, engaging, indie shooter with a lot more depth than you’d expect. It offers an enjoyable, if not overly unique, reward and leveling system, and it’s difficulty curve and quirky, humorous art style and design have all come together perfectly in this game. I only find a few things lacking, like the number of floors and a sparse approach to explaining game mechanics (there is no tutorial and item discovery isn’t explained anywhere), but overall the game’s strengths outweigh it’s few weaknesses. Pick it up!

The Missing Link Roundup

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Atlas V MMS Launch - NASA

NASA’s Atlas V rocket launched recently from Cape Canaveral with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft onboard. The MMS spacecraft will construct the first ever 3D view of Earth’s magnetosphere. Awesome! — NASA

China’s Yutu moon rover has quietly been doing a bunch of science on our moon. Recently scientists announced that they’ve discovered over nine different layers of rock beneath the surface, leading them to believe that the moon has actually been volcanically active over the last 3 billion years. — New Hampshire Voice

Did you know there is a small binary star system called “Scholz’s star” that grazed our solar system 7000 years ago? — CNET

Minecraft: Stables

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Minecraft Stables Front ViewWhen you’re creating an entire sprawling Kingdom in Minecraft one thing to not overlook is an area for your outdoor animals: a stables! We created The Stables project on the back side of a mountain. Specifically the Castle East Mountain, so that it lies nestled between Castle East, the Wizard Towers (Castle West), and is contained within the Sea Wall. The above photo is a mostly finished exterior picture of the stables; keep reading to see how it was created!

Minecraft Stables In ProgressYou can see from the above in-progress photo how the area started to take shape. Dixon did most of the labor intensive beginning build for the mansion exterior and barn areas. Part of the mountain was shaved off to create the stables mansion front, and two barn areas come out from the house. When we started developing the area it was fairly sparse, so trees and decor were added as we went along to create more of a village forest feel.
The barn area is broken into two wings, each with the capacity to hold five horses each. The stables were eventually filled with beautiful horses I found and tamed from thousands of blocks away. There is a small horse staging area built out of fencing you can see in the above photo off to the upper left. The first few horses lived over there while we built out the stables for them.

Minecraft Stables In Progress from WindowAnother in-progress photo, but this time looking directly out the loft window of the stables mansion, toward the Wizard Towers (Castle West). If you look closely you can even see part of the village area that is mostly off screen on the left.
The small hill directly in front of the stables was larger at one point and was whittled down over time to create a small overhang area with trees. Stone was replaced with dirt to allow for tree and plant growth, plus animals don’t want to hang out on rocks all day.

Minecraft Stables and TreesAbove you can see the hill (with trees and a sculpted overhang) from a different angle. You can also see the fence line in the background that went around the entire Stables area. Keep the animals in, keep the monsters out!

Minecraft Stables Interior shot from Bottom FloorThe stables mansion was built on a sheer mountain/cliff face, so the interior was carved out of the mountain to create a multi-level room with a secret passage leading into Castle East.
The above photo is of the stables mansion entrance area from the bottom floor. This was prior to decorating, so it is a little sparse but we had completed the layout design. There are second floor loft rooms with windows that look out over the stables and village areas. On the left side of the above photo you can see stairs leading behind the wall, which led to a second floor area as partially seen in the below photo.

Minecraft Stables Interior shot from Top FloorHere we have the same angle, but from the second floor view. This was further edited to include a library and the secret passage to Castle East. You can see the ‘exposed beam’ finish throughout the mansion better in this photo; I tried to purposefully make the stables feel like a really big, grand log cabin.

That’s it for the Stables walk-through! Next time we’ll take a look at building an entire village, including an awesome darkness sensing light-up clock tower.

The Missing Link Roundup

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Hops383HOPS 383 is a young Class 0 (short-lived) protostar, and we’ve seen it start to form before our eyes. NASA says that HOPS 383 is the youngest protostellar eruption we’ve ever recorded, which is pretty awesome as we’re still trying to figure out exactly how this kind of thing happens. — NASA

Newly published research takes a look at why our solar system is so abnormal, could it be Jupiter’s fault? The Jupiter-gravity theory explains not only the hole in our inner solar system but also how the inner rocky planets formed. — UCSC News

Scientists have discovered evidence of nitrates in rocks from Mars. This is a huge discovery because  while we don’t know what it means yet, Nitrogen is one of the crucial building blocks of life (as we know it). — Phys.org

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

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PVZ Garden WarfarePlants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is an online multiplayer third-person shooter game, released in March of 2014 by Popcap and EA Games. The game offers multiple modes of play, including co-op (split screen), garden defense (tower defense), and many multiplayer modes where you can choose to be either plants or zombies.

Rating: 5/5

Dixon’s Thoughts: Garden Warfare set out to do something that seemed impossible and almost pointless. The original Plants Vs. Zombies is a basic tower defense game with a very specific art style and sense of humor. With Garden Warfare, Popcap set out to translate this entire experience to a 3rd person, over-the-shoulder shooter, which, why? In my limited experience, the prime demographic of the original Plants vs Zombies was women over 50 and children. Odd pairing aside, PvZ: Garden Warfare is engaging, fun, accessible, and has almost infinite replay value. The game has two different play styles: Garden Ops, a mode where you can only play plant characters and fight off waves of zombies, and Multiplayer PvP, which itself has several different modes and allows the players to play either plants or zombies. Garden Ops is the only mode of the game that supports split-screen co-op play, which we’ll discuss later.

Regardless of which mode you choose, the gameplay is very simple: shoot the other team. Sometimes you need to do this in specific ways, or while accomplishing team based objectives, but at heart that’s all there is to it. When you first start playing the game, you start with the basic versions of each characters’ abilities. You will eventually also unlock the alternate versions of these abilities as well, allowing for some (albeit minor) character ability customization. As usual, some of the upgrades are must-haves, and others are actually worse than their counterparts.

For instance, if you use this thing, you are an asshole.

For instance, we have never found a situation in which this thing is useful.

In Garden Ops, a single player can search for other groups of players looking to join forces and defend the Garden base from increasingly difficult waves of Zombies. This mode most closely resembles the original PvZ game, as players can only control a Plant character and it involves randomly generated waves of specific zombie types. Every so often, a boss wave event happens, which itself has an element of randomness to it.

Boss waves consist of 3 randomly selected mini-waves.

Boss waves consist of 3 randomly selected mini-waves.

If you successfully complete all waves, you’ll have to rush to a location where Crazy Dave (the game’s only human) picks you up in what can only be described as a “Space RV.” This mode of play also supports split-screen co-op, however, there are significant problems with this aspect of the game. While it does allow you to play split screen, you cannot play online in this mode. The garden-ops games are geared towards groups of 4 players, so you’ll automatically start the game two players short. In addition, the “second” player is unable to use any of the game’s Potted Plants (items that you use as tower-defense like towers to automatically attack zombies). This is a pretty significant aspect of the game, and between that and the lack of online play, split screen garden ops is really not very fun. Not everyone agrees, however, so be sure and give it a try.

Fortunately, the game’s online multiplayer more than makes up for this flawed aspect. Multiplayer mode consists of several sub-modes. All the familiar game modes are here, deathmatch, capture the flag, and node control. The last mode, Gardens and Graveyards, is a bit different. In this mode, plants must defend a series of control points. The Zombie team’s only objective is to have more characters on the “flag” area, which will eventually capture it. Once captured, the garden turns into a graveyard and zombie players respawn from this new location, while plant players fall back to the next graveyard and attempt to defend that. This game mode has by far the largest maps, and it is here that strategy and map knowledge make a lot of difference for your team.

gardensandgraveyards

As does “slowly walking backwards”.

While the gameplay is both fun and engaging, PvZ: GW’s greatest features is arguably it’s extensive character customization. This is also where the game’s micro-transactions come into play. Win or lose, every player participating in a game gets in-game currency (coins) which can then be spent on a variety of “card packs”. These packs contain everything from consumable items such as summonable zombies or potted plants (both of which play off the Tower Defense roots of PvZ) to customizations like clothing and weapon skins, weapon upgrades, and new character pieces. There seem to be a phenomenal number of customized items.  We’ve been playing the game for well over a year and consistently see other players wearing items that we’ve never seen.

pvzgwsunflowerThere are 4 main plant variants and 4 main Zombie characters, each of which have a total of 5 class variants, so there are plenty of new characters on which you can spend your hard earned coins. Each class variant is significantly different, and as usual some are better than others. Almost all of them are more powerful than their original class, though the original All Star is extremely powerful in the hands of someone who isn’t terrible. Some of the variants seem almost broken after using them for a long period of time.

To expand on the game’s currency/reward system, there is a default value that every player will get for winning or losing matches. You are awarded bonus points for actions such as kill streaks, critical kills, repeated kills, killing an enemy while they are fighting someone else, killing an enemy who is on a kill streak, killing your nemesis (someone who has killed you at least 3 times in a game), healing party members, and resurrecting fallen players before they respawn. Additionally, players can earn “boasts” for having the most kills in a session, the longest kill streak, the most heals and resurrections, and the most assists.

endgamescreenIf all of that sounds boring to you, but wasting your money doesn’t, you can chose to simply purchase in-game currency to then spend on card packs. We’ve never done this, however, it hardly seems worth it as the currency you can purchase is exactly what you get in-game, and does not unlock anything you can’t otherwise unlock by just killing a lot of people.

There’s something about this game, a certain charm or irreverence that makes it seem like almost a giant middle finger to the modern gaming industry. It’s managed to both refuse to take itself seriously (there is no single play mode and no plot to speak of) while simultaneously being a challenging shooter with a lot of fun elements. It’s got a dedicated player base, at least on Xbox One, and you will come to recognize and hate certain key players that you run into repeatedly. The core gameplay is so simple that anyone can enjoy it, but complex enough to reward effort and skill, and combined with fresh content and consistent updates, the game always gives you something to come back to.  It’s easily one of our favorite games on the Xbox One, and you owe it to yourself to at least give it a shot. Who knows? We might see you there.

The game actually looks like this on the Xbox One.

The Missing Link Roundup

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In honor of the Solar Dynamic Observatory’s (SDO) fifth anniversary, NASA has released a video showcasing highlights from the last five years of sun watching. It features giant clouds of solar material hurled out into space, giant loops hovering in the corona, and huge sunspots growing and shrinking on the sun’s surface, among many, many other amazing moments. — Youtube/NASA

The science community has been pushing to go to Saturn’s moon Titan for years, so NASA recently discussed how we might be able to explore a planet that is mostly liquid. Solution? Send a badass submarine 886 million miles from Earth to Titan. — i09

The Curiosity rover recently took a composite selfie on Mars, giving us a very cool panorama view of the Martian landscape. There is also an annotated version on this page which points out where Curiosity has been recently, in the background of the photo. — NASA JPL