Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mailbag: What Dremel Should I Buy?

I've been asked this a lot over the past few years, so last night when Kristy H. asked again on the Epbot FB page I figured I'd better get around to posting an official answer!

Dremels are one of those infinitely versatile tools that you'll find yourself using for everything from drilling to sanding to carving, so I definitely recommend buying one if you're the crafty type.

Mine is a Dremel model 4000, but I'm not a stickler for brand names. (I call them all Dremels, but that's actually just the most popular brand of "rotary tools.") Whatever brand you buy, make sure you get a corded model (for more power), and definitely spring for the "flex shaft" attachment - the smaller bit that screws on to the main body:

The Dremel is kind of heavy, so the flex attachment lets you drill and sand with much greater control. I use it at least half of the times I'm using the Dremel, so it's really worth its weight in gold. (This one retails for about $43, and is just under $29 on Amazon.)

If you purchase a kit then it will probably come with most of the accessories you need: cutting disks, drum sanders, drill bits, etc. (I spotted two Dremel kit options on Amazon - one for $80, and one for $135, and both are about half of the list price.)

If you want to try any wood carving, there's a pack of specialty bits for that - but I actually found mine marketed as pumpkin carving bits around Halloween. The tips look like this:

I have three sizes of these, which are what I used to carve my Harry Potter wand display:

You'll probably also want a pack of super tiny drill bits; I use those all the time for jewelry and finer pieces. Get the small bits online, though; we found they're MUCH cheaper that way versus the local hardware store. You should be able to get a whole pack of various sizes for well under $10 with shipping. (Check Ebay for those; I didn't see anything great on Amazon.)

For Christmas John also got me a Dremel workstation, aka a drill press stand, which is great for projects where you're either drilling a lot of holes, need those holes to be at perfect right angles, or both.

(Retails for about $65, about $40 on Amazon.)

The stand was a life saver when I was making my light-up copper cane, and it was also perfect for drilling my resin penny bracelet, since I needed those holes to be at perfect right angles.

Other than those projects, though, I haven't really used the drill press. It's one of those add-ons that's invaluable for the right project, but otherwise won't get used a whole lot, so I'd hold off on buying one until you find you actually need it.

K, I think that's everything, so I hope it helps, guys! And happy crafting!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Best Non-Violent Video Games For Adults

After my review a few weeks back of BioShock: Infinite, a reader by the name of ZippyWafflebuns (best name ever? YUP) wrote:

"This was a fun review to read (and would love to see you write more), but are there any games this quality that aren't violent? Like, no killing involved at all? I have a pretty low threshold for this kind of thing in games that I play, and I just can't put myself through it just for the world-building/storyline. But I wish I could, because I feel like I'm stuck playing Lego games and this looks so much cooler."

There aren't many non-violent games out there not aimed at children, but there are some, and some of those are pretty darn amazing. I gave Zippy a few titles to try, and then started amassing a list of my own. I focused on relatively recent, story-driven console games not specifically aimed at kids - and I also left out anything sports-related, because blech. (In fact, you might recognize several of these from my last recommended games post; I'm not generally a fan of violent games, either.)

I realize there are many degrees of violence, but for my purposes here I'm defining any game that doesn't include/require killing other humanoid characters as "non-violent."

So, with those caveats, here's what I've got so far:

Games I've played:

Kingdom Hearts - (2002)(PS2) or Kingdom Hearts Remix (HD remastered collection for the PS3,  releases this September, yay!)

A must-play for Dizgeeks with a fun, button-mashing fighting style. Great storyline, gorgeous graphics, and only mild cartoon violence. I love this game. (I also can't believe it's this old - yikes! Can't wait to get the HD remix version and play it again this Fall.)

Mini Ninjas (2009, PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii, and Mac) -

Quite possibly the perfect game; beautiful, a rich story, and you defeat enemies by turning them back into the adorable woodland creatures they used to be. 

- Psychonauts (2005) (Xbox, PS2, PC, Mac)


This game is almost too old to include, but it's still brilliant. Crazy characters, funny dialogue, great art, and a totally unique concept/story line. As I recall there's some cartoon violence, but no killing. (Please correct me on that if I'm wrong, guys.)

I do have a love/hate relationship with Psychonauts, though, because I've never seen the ending; the last boss fight is just too dang hard. I threw my controller across the room more times than I can remember with this game, but if you're a more skilled player than I (which is likely), do give it a try.

Portal 2 (2011)(PS3, Xbox360, PC, Mac) - 
By all means play both Portals, but if you have to choose just one, go with Portal 2. It's a hilarious puzzle-based action game with a fantastic storyline. The only violent aspect are automated turrets that shoot at you, so there's no real killing. Plus there's a 2-player co-op mode that's great fun to play with your SO.

Quantum Conundrum - (2012)(PS3, Xbox360, PC)

If you've already played both Portals and are yearning for a game with puzzles almost exactly like them, play this one. (It was directed by one of the Portal designers, which explains the puzzle similarities.) The story isn't as entertaining, but the colorful, cartoony style is fun - and may fool you into thinking this game is easy. IT'S NOT. (I made it about halfway before giving up in frustration.) No violence whatsoever, and as a bonus for my fellow Trekkers, John DeLancie (aka Q) is the main voice actor.

Journey (2013)(downloadable PS3 exclusive) - I'd never even heard of this one before I started researching games last week, but after watching this trailer I immediately downloaded it and played it that night:

That review says it all, although I'll add that this was the most relaxing game experience I've ever had, and I'll definitely be playing it again. I felt like there were plenty of things I missed the first time, so don't be too put off by the $14.99 price tag for a 2-hour game; odds are you'll get several play-throughs out of it.

Machinarium (2009)(downloadable only, PC or Mac)[Correction: someone just told me you can download this on the PS3, too! Yay!]

It's been years since I played this, but Machinarium is still popular and enjoyable enough that I'm including it despite the fact it's not a console game. Adorable robots and puzzle-solving gameplay. Need I say more? (Hit the link up there to play the demo for free.)

(And if you've already played that one, Unmechanical is another puzzle-based adventure game featuring adorable robots. You can only play that one on a PC, iPhone, or iPad, though.)

Honorable Mentions: 
Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009) & Batman: Arkham City - (2011, Xbox 360, PS3, PC) - 

While these games are definitely violent, Batman himself (who you play) never kills anyone. So if that distinction is enough for you, then give Asylum a try. Both titles won Game of the Year and have an "easy" level for not-so-great players like me. Again, these games are violent and gritty, though, so even though *you* won't be shooting people (you politely knock them unconscious instead), other people will be. Even so, the violence isn't nearly as graphic as BioShock:Infinite.

Games I haven't played:

Dishonored (2012)(PS3, Xbox 360, PC) - 

This is a tricky one, but it IS possible to play the game without killing anyone. It's just a lot harder. John played through the violent way, and from what little I've seen this is the game that most approaches BioShock: Infinite level scenery and detailing. That said, even if you choose not to kill in the game yourself, it's still a gritty, violence-filled world - like Batman - so there are no guarantees you'll find it any less disturbing.

Braid (2008)(Xbox 360, PC) -

This is a side-scrolling platform game that's won rave reviews and all kinds of awards for its unique puzzle-solving game-play. No violence that I know of.

Fez (2012)(Xbox, PC) -

(The PC version just came out this month!) Like Braid, this is an indie game that's garnered lots of praise, awards, and attention. It looks like a standard side-scroller, but you can rotate the world to turn corners and access all the different sides of each structure. Nifty!

[Btw, if you have Netflix Streaming check out Indie Game: The Movie. It's a documentary that features both Braid and Fez, among others.]

Katamari Forever (2009) (PS3) -

Since Katamari Damacy - the first game in this series - is now ten years old, I don't think its graphics will really hold up for new players. Katamari Forever is the most recent installment for a console, though, and from what I've read has the same style of gameplay as the original. It looks... weird. But hey, it's from Japan, and millions of fans can't be wrong, right? The object is to roll objects into one giant ball to form stars, so unless you consider that violent, it's completely violence-free.

Mirror's Edge (2007) (PS3, Xbox, PC) - 

This is a parkour-based game, so your object is to scale buildings, run, jump, tumble, etc. to deliver secret messages in a dystopian society. Your character *can* use weapons, but doesn't have to, and like Dishonoured you unlock a special achievement if you navigate the entire game without killing anyone.

You'll note I've neglected to add any of the Mario series games, Lego, Rayman and the like, although those are all fantastic, fun games. I omitted them because they're primarily made for kids, and because I prefer games that are more story-driven. I also left out some titles like Myst, Ico, and Siberia because they're just too old; I tried to go back and play Siberia a few years back and the point-and-click playing style just didn't hold up well. (It's a gorgeous steampunky game, though!)

So, what did I miss, guys? Share your favorite non-violent games in the comments! Bonus points if they're not too old, not too kiddy, and somewhat story-driven (as opposed to arcade-style games.)


5/15 UPDATE: Wow, lots of great suggestions coming in! Keep 'em coming, guys! Here are some of the titles you've mentioned the most so far:

- The Professor Layton games (Nintendo DS only, which is why I didn't include it in my original list - but so many of you are raving about it that now I think I need a DS!)

- Ni No Kuni (Also for the DS, or the PS3, released in 2010)

- Okami (Re-released for the PS3 in 2011 [Supports the Move controller, but not required], also available on the Wii)

- World of Goo (PC, Mac, & Wii) - Physics-based puzzle game

- Stacking (Xbox 360 & PS3) I enjoyed the demo of this, but was afraid it'd be too kiddie to recommend. After talking to some of you in the comments, tho, I believe the puzzles get more challenging as the game progresses - so check it out! It's by DoubleFine, the company behind Psychonauts, and the art is fantastic.

- Ico and Shadow of the Colossus - I mentioned that Ico was too old, but someone pointed out it was re-released in 2011, so you can play it and its companion game on PS3! Sweet!

Be sure to check the comments for lots more; plenty of non-console games being mentioned, and also older titles. (You've all convinced me to finally try Zelda, too. Most of those are pretty old, though, so I just have to figure out where to start!)