Entering Moria for the First Time

Lord of the Rings Online, fishing, The Shire, LotRO

My video card was dying. I would start up a graphics intensive game, and seconds later I would experience a full system crash. Looking through all the trackers at my disposal, the common thread was the failure of the video card drivers. I mean, that’s where most crashes come from, simply the miscommunication between the software and the hardware. Driver refreshes weren’t working, either. The card itself was physically dying. But I still wasn’t absolutely sold on the video card, as the card failing could’ve been a cascade from the motherboard to the processor, both of which are getting up in age at this point. So, I needed a program that would be intensive on the processor, but not on the video card to really test it out. Lord of the Rings Online immediately popped to mind.

It’s not like LotRO is a visually unappealing game, it very much is, but the game’s architecture relies more on your processing power. Sure enough, where Elder Scrolls Online or Secret World Legends would crash within seconds, Lord of the Rings Online stayed up. Yup, it was definitely the video card. Which is fine. The fix ended up needing a new card, a new system case, and a new power supply, so while I was waiting to get all that together, I had LotRO.

Lord of the Rings Online, LotRO, Trollshaws, trolls

Oh hey! I remember these fellas!

Early September, the Summer event was in mid-swing. I had a Dwarven Rune-keeper in the mid-30’s (my highest level to date that I started in April of 2017), and my long-time spreadsheet had the information I needed on the character to quickly pick up right where I left off. My want for this character, though, was to play through all of the main story and finally to get the whole LotRO experience (without the grouping and raids, of course, because that’s how I roll).

I finished up the Lone-Lands (ugh), and then headed up to Evendim. But it quickly dawned on me that Evendim was not part of the original game. It was an expansion added well after launch, and to get the LotRO experience, that would take completing zones and content in order. Tricky to find, but I found this list of Patch updates.

Switching to the Trollshaws, my philosophy was simple: Complete as many quests in a new zone as possible before moving on (skipping fellowship quests), complete any story in the zone, complete Deeds that would help my Rune-keeper’s primary traits (wisdom, loyalty, idealism, confidence, and empathy), keep up with crafting, complete Faction Reputations in the zone, and to not over-level a zone using the Stone of the Tortoise, a pocket item that would cancel experience gains. Tortoise is apt, as every time I told my plan to others, they mostly digitally shook their heads wondering why I just wasn’t rushing to end game. That’s just not my style.

Lord of the Rings Online, LotRO, Angmar, towers

Not too many quests take place in these towers, but man are they a nice set-piece to screenshot.

From the Trollshaws to the Misty Mountains, then on to Angmar, I was making slow progress. Then, at 51 (I gave myself a one level buffer for harder quests), I stopped experience entirely. From Angmar, then started the second half story of Volume 1. Through the icy wastes of Forochel and finally on to Eregion.

Finally, just last night I completed Eregion, finished the Prelude Volume 2: Book 1 quests, picked up my first Legendary Item, and stepped through Durin’s Gate and into Moria for the first time. Armed with my traits in the 8-9 range, a couple goat steeds, and a brand new Legendary Item (oddly worse than the weapon I currently have), I’m ready to put my Tortoise Stone aside and start leveling to 60.

Lord of the Rings Online, LotRO, Moria, stairs

Where do these stairs go? They go… up?

Since Moria launched in February of 2009 I’m only, what, 10 years behind? I’m cool with that.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

// Ocho

Adding The Division

The Division, Times Square

It took me a while, but I found out where I purchased The Division. In January of 2018 there was a sale on Humble’s Store, and I was able to pick up The Division for $20. Not bad, considering it’s now going for $5. In this day of multiple digital storefronts, from Steam to GoG, from Humble to GreenManGaming, Uplay to Twitch, it could have been anywhere. In trying to keep organized, I logged my purchase onto my master spreadsheet and then promptly moved on to playing Star Trek Online‘s 2018 anniversary event. However, I didn’t remember that I owned The Division until I started to hear about The Division 2. Once more in the middle of now Star Trek Online‘s 2019 anniversary, I thought ‘why not, let’s see what The Division is all about’.

Going into The Division, all I could remember were the complaints that distinctly put it into MMO territory. For a game that revolves around guns, the bad guys took way too many shots to take down. Also, PvP in the “Dark Zone” was a mess and not really worth the effort. Gear disparity, especially in PvP, was an issue. But that’s about it. I knew the story took place in New York City during a disaster of epic proportions. Also, my only experience with a shooter MMO has been Defiance, which wasn’t a bad game, in my opinion, just really repetitive in their overused events.

The Division, New York, snow

Occasionally the snow really comes down and you get whiteout conditions.

What The Division ends up being is a mixture. Similar to Guild Wars, the safe zones and headquarters act as social hubs to find groups, but the open world is instanced just for you. Similar to Guild Wars 2 and Elder Scrolls Online, movement across zones has a feel of point-to-point completion. Finally, similar to Defiance, the shooting feels tight with a nice selection of different weapons, but uses cover mechanics instead of shielding technology.

Where The Division shines, though, is in the extreme attention to detail in the setting. New York, falling apart due to a catastrophic plague, in the dead of winter. Seeing packs of rats scurrying around, dogs roaming the streets, piles of garbage on the sidewalks, apartments looking like they were vacated in a hurry, and even down to the small details of snow accumulating on your character’s shoulders and hat, or the pricing board of a local coffee shop.

In the Assassin’s Creed series, the focus is on performing multiple executions of figures from history. That’s part of the fun. Those figures from history really existed and usually died in either large battles or unknown circumstances. Placing the player in the part of being the “real” cause adds a nice fictional layer. In the same way, The Division, instead of murdering historical figures, has you going through intense fire fights in famous landmarks. I’ve only made it halfway through the game so far, but missions have taken place in Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Tunnel, and Times Square. Having lived near the New York area, it has been extremely satisfying seeing these landmarks used in this way.

The Division, explosion

Well, that’s the risk you take when you carry a tank of napalm on your back.

My downsides to The Division are pretty much agreeing with the complaints that I’ve heard of. The bosses are real bullet sponges, and with your character getting seriously punished for being out of cover, end up feeling quite frustrating at times. Also, the story, though interesting, is only presented in drips are drops through vignettes: phone recordings, futuristic style “echos”, or other stories of survival. Not bad drips and drops, though, but not enough to really balance the combat and the environment. Halfway through the game we’ve mostly figured out who started the plague, and how they started it, but that’s about it. Also, the “how” was really given during the game’s introductory video, so figuring out how the plague started really didn’t come as a surprise.

Overall, though, the graphical detail and the setting are really the game’s strengths. Coupled with the decent feeling combat, they outweigh any of the negatives I listed, making The Division a really enjoyable experience. Even more than I was anticipating. I don’t think I’ll ever see this as a serious multiplayer title, having not even dabbled with grouping yet, but as a single-player experience I’m really enjoying it and glad that I finally gave it a shot.

// Ocho

Stepping Foot Into Baldur’s Gate

Baldur's Gate, Friendly Arm Inn

Last year I found I was severely lacking on my backlog attack. Out of all the games I own, and of all the ones I purchased over the past year, I only completed 5 games. That’s it. Bioshock 2, Life Is Strange: Before the Storm, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, Skyrim, and Ultima 1 are now crossed off my list. Technically also Wing Commander: Privateer, but I’m still working my way through the expansion, so it’s not done yet. Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t still play. Of course I did, I just primarily spent my time in MMOs. Namely Elder Scrolls Online, Secret World Legends, and Lord of the Rings Online. I get around. So with completing 8 games in 2017, and 5 in 2018, I’m aiming to increase my average of 6.5 for 2019. Starting with: Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition.

Baldur’s Gate, though, is not a small game. They didn’t make them small back then. The 90’s were still a time when the concept of games that took a long time to complete meant a better value. That’s changed. Nowadays we’re more apt to find value in the overall experience instead of just the time expended, as live services become more and more commonplace (and with it an infinite amount of money we can spend, instead of the static value of the past). The Enhanced Edition adds new resolution support, some more classes, and some minor tweaks, but absolutely keeps the spirit of the original, which you can’t really ask more of for a re-release. As of this writing I’ve already spent 7 nights playing, and have only just reached the city of Nashkel.

Baldur's Gate, caravan

The art styling in this game never gets old, it’s literally playing on a painting. What they were able to achieve using painted environments is mind-blowing.

Nashkel is the location of the first major plot point. Aside from the overarcing plot of “what is going on and why do I have a bounty on my head”, the characters are hinted that there’s a problem with the iron mines and weapons being produced from the iron coming out, and just to keep you on the right path the game will periodically break your weapons (as well as having your companions start complaining that you’re not staying focused).

Speaking of companions, I found myself surprised that I was only to create one character at the start of the game. Usually, from the SSI Gold Box games, to numerous others games, you created your entire party from the start. However, this approach of creating a single character and then mixing and matching your companions as you go is refreshing, albeit a little overwhelming.

The Nashkel Mines… a little dark due to the fog of war, but it’s there.

Having quickly deduced that you could either play the game “good” or play the game “evil”, I decided on “good” (since playing “evil” is a little too edgelordy for me these days). “Neutral” characters, in an odd design choice, are essentially just “good” characters that put up with a lot more. They get angry when you do too many evil things, but yet are totally fine with doing good deeds. Doesn’t really sound neutral, but whatever. Right out of the gate the game gives you either two evil characters to join, or two “good” characters, cementing early your intended playstyle. By the time I’ve reached Nashkel, though, I’ve already met and rejected many different companions, and it makes me wonder if I will even stick it out with the companions that I’ve currently chosen.

First things first, since I was going to play as “good”, I opted for “Neutral Good”, the alignment I think closely resembles my own philosophy. This choice immediately removed about 14 classes I could play as. But seeing it still left 29 to choose from, I wasn’t hurting. That’s right, last I counted, Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition let’s you play as 43 different classes. 43! In the end, I opted for a Longbow-wielding Archer, a kit class of Ranger that specializes in distance. So far, so good. So, since I had distance damage covered personally, gaming experiences has taught that I would then need healing, tanking, a mage, more damage, and thieving to round out the party.

Ocho, Baldur's Gate, Secret World

My character, Ocho the Archer. Yes, that is my Secret World character’s image. The stock photos were lackluster, so I went with what I know. 😛

My party currently consists of Khalid, a fighter; Jaheira, a druid; Imoen, a thief; Neera, a wild mage (interesting class, like a regular mage but chaotic); and Rasaad, a Sun Soul monk. I ran across one of the more famous characters in the game already, Minsc (and Boo), but with Minsc being a ranger and my own character a ranger, I’ve so far opted for the monk instead. Minsc and Boo are quite the characters, though.

Who knows if any of these are bad ideas, or even if I will stick with my current group makeup, but so far having all the character choices as well as the way the world is being built have totally immersed me. I love that all my companions have personalities and motives, that they’re given agency depending on your choices. They can straight up leave the group or start attacking each other, depending on how they converse with each other. I realize that Baldur’s Gate is a classic, and I’m super late to the party on playing it, but it’s been fun discovering exactly why it has earned that distinction, and I’m only level 2… almost 3.

\\ Ocho

P.S. – You can catch me streaming Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition and many other games when I can on my Twitch channel. Debating starting up an Instagram for my many, many screenshots, too. Who knows.

How to Track and Attack the Gaming Backlog

Backlog, Wing Commander PrivateerI realized a while ago that I was losing track. Steam sales and Humble Bundles were so enticing due to the low costs, but they were adding into a collection of games that was quickly getting out of control. Feeding the backlog, but not doing anything to reduce it’s size. I was restarting games I had taken breaks from, which had caused me to forget my progress, so starting over seemed sensible. It wasn’t helping. My spending, though on sales and bundles, was excessive, and I wasn’t making progress. I had to change.

So, I did. To start, I made a conscious effort to start keeping track of everything I was doing in the gaming space, from the minor to the major, and to analyze the data later. Keep track of my backlog across every website and physical copy, and keep meticulous notes of my gaming habits. This was about 2 years ago, and I highly recommend it for everyone. I’ve curbed my spending, become more invested in the games I play with my limited time, can hop back into the games I’ve put aside easily, and finish games I’ve had on my list for years. Here’s how I did it.

Secret World Legends, Gatekeeper, Backlog

The Gatekeeper fears the size of his own Backlog.

Step 1: Create A Literal Backlog

The first step is knowing exactly what you’re up against. You should know the height of the mountain before you start to climb. Though there are some websites that are specifically designed to help with this, like Grouvee and The Backloggery, I opted to take a more manual route and just use Excel Online. I consider myself fairly skilled in the use of Excel, so using it’s online version seemed like a good start. Google Sheets would also work well, just try to use a method that is easily accessible.

Step 2: Fill Out Your Backlog

Once you have a spreadsheet ready, take every game you own and enter it. This would include every physical media game you own on all systems, PC and console, and every website you own games on. For me this includes my Playstation 2, Wii, physical games on CD and DVD, Zip files, and from websites like Amazon, BattleNet, Gamestop, Humble, GOG, Origin, Rockstar, RSI, Steam, Telltale, Twitch, UPlay, and the Windows Store. With more online options to download games from, it’s easy to forget where your games are located.

Break your columns up into Game Title, what Platform the game is found on, what Series the game is a part of, Release Year, if the game has an Ending, if you’ve Beaten or are done playing the game entirely, if you would still Play it, if you would Highly Consider playing it over others, a Counter column, and general Notes field.

Take a look at my own backlog for an example. As it stands, I own 775 games, 651 of which are beatable, 80 of which I’ve actually beaten, with 665 that I would still consider playing, and 98 highly considered. This is my backlog mountain. You can see why I had to take drastic steps.

Star Trek Online, Klingons, Backlog

The Klingons would attack their backlogs without mercy.

Step 3: Attack That Backlog

If you’re anything like me, with all the games you may own now staring back at you, your will to add to it may be quite diminished at this point. Would you really feel compelled to pay $60 for one game if you have 665 unplayed games staring back at you? I mean, for real.

The reason why you should add a “Play” column as well as a “Top Play” column is to make the decision of what game to play easier. Because you’ve paid for or received any of these games as gifts, you owe it to yourself to at least try them and not let that money go to waste. My philosophy is that even if you give it a try and quickly decide that the game isn’t for you, then at least you tried and you shouldn’t feel bad crossing it off your list.

To that effect, sometimes you should let fate decide what you play. Using the total “Play” and “Top Play” numbers, you can use a site like Random.org to make the choice for you. For example, based on my backlog I’d have it choose a number from 1 to 665 (my “To Play”). In this instance, it just picked number 85, which on my list is Company of Heroes, a RTS released in 2006 with a WWII setting I own through Steam. Would I ever just go “Hey, I should boot up Company of Heroes!” No, probably never. But at some point I acquired the game, through a Humble Bundle or a Steam sale, and now it’s fresh again in my mind. Maybe I will go give it a shot.

You don’t have to agree with the first RNG picked, of course. You’re in control, you can use RNG to pick a top 3 or 5 and pick one from that list, or just pick another one entirely. The overall goal, though, is to cross them off the list. Plus, you never know when RNG might pick a game you surprisingly find yourself really enjoying.

Euro Truck Simulator 2, Backlog

If you had told me I’d be a big fan of Euro Truck Simulator 2, I’d have called you a liar.

Step 4: Track Your Individual Progress

I know spreadsheets tend to have a bad rap and they’re seen as “taking the fun” out of games to use them. Not every game needs to be “Accounting: The Game”, I get that. But a general direction you were heading in the game helps to give you a point of reference. Like a method of using Champion Points in Elder Scrolls Online, or general quests to be done in a DOS game, a list of drops needed to craft armor upgrades in Guild Wars 1, or where to get trait upgrades in Lord of the Rings Online.

Having a quick list handy of what you were up to from times you’ve played before gives you a starting point when you come back, making it easier to jump back into where you were. This helps to alleviate the overwhelming stress and curb the desire to start over from scratch. If you’re not always starting over, you’re more apt to complete games and, most importantly, cross them off your list.

Step 5: Create A Daily Log

At the beginning of 2017 I started keeping a daily log of what game I was playing, what progress I made, and any other gaming-related metrics that I might find helpful. With days of the year on the Y axis and Game Titles on the X access, the list is simply calculating what days I played, and what games. If I felt I made some progress in the game, I would add a 1 in that game’s column. Since I also stream my play of Twitch, I added that as a column. Same for Podcasting, and Blogging/Writing.

Excessive? Maybe. But more data isn’t hurting anything, and helps you to better understand your own patterns. The MMO I’ve played the most? Secret World Legends. Since the beginning of 2017 I’ve streamed my play 236 nights, and podcasted 66 nights. This is only my 10th night writing, but my 5th time this month, which shows you the push that Blaugust Reborn has given me to take it up again. Most played game in April of 2017? Mass Effect 1, which took me a total of 15 nights to beat. What game did I play on August 31st of 2017? Guild Wars 1, I hit level 16.

Backlog, Icewind Dale

Using RNG might get you to play your classics, too. I mean, just *look* at this gorgeous artwork.

So does all this help? Do I feel like I’m better off than I was 2 years ago? Absolutely. I haven’t stopped buying games, though. In fact, GOG right now has The Witcher 3: Game of the Year edition at $20! How could anyone pass that up? But I have dropped my spending significantly, as well as crossing those games off. Realistically, I don’t think I’ll ever catch up. My backlog is just too big, but I at least have a handle on it, and I feel a lot more in control. Beating the backlog is the real game, so you may as well be as well equipped as you can be.

Good hunting, all.

// Ocho

Secret World’s Faction Ranking: To Gate or Not to Gate

Secret World, car park, Into Darkness

Come at me, bro.

At the beginning of August, Funcom re-released some content that had been in The Secret World for Secret World Legends but with a new mechanic. The missions, as they were in The Secret World, were given to the players as off-shoots of the original story, missions to show that the player was making progress within the rank of their faction. What made them unique is that they were a few of a handful of missions that differed depending on which faction you played. This made them an anomaly in the game as only the between-zone missions also did that, with the lion’s share of missions having faction-flavor text only to differentiate them.

Instead of releasing them as one time faction-flavor, they were released in Secret World Legends as repeatable variable-difficulty end-game missions as a way of bolstering the end-game options for players, especially solo players like myself. Awesome. They came with a caveat, though, in that in order to even begin the missions, you had to first hit gear-rating milestones, essentially gating the content. This decision has been met with mixed reactions by the Secret World community, to say the least.

Secret World, Tokyo, Orochi Tower, Fungus

This screenshot has nothing to do with the blog post, I just *love* how great the lighting and atmosphere looks.

The first mission, Into Darkness, has the player delve into a NYC car park and needs an Item Power (IP) of 250 to play. The second, Venetian Missile Crisis, has the player once more wielding the missile launcher and needs an IP of 325. The third, Rogue Agent, I assume involves chasing somebody down. I wouldn’t know as it needs an IP of 450, and my character is still in the early 400 IP range.

And this right here appears to be the main beef that players are having. That 450 IP gate. Most players I have talked to have no problem with the 250 IP gate, as one would generally hit that level during the Tokyo zone. Even the 325 IP gate isn’t so bad as one would hit that in late Tokyo or during the South Africa zone. But 450 IP? There just isn’t the content to support that yet without grinding missions, dungeons, or scenarios. Content that not every player enjoys grinding, let alone even playing.

Secret World, Gatekeeper

Hey there, GK. Ready to rumble?

Now I’m not saying that I feel that the content should be made easier to be more accessible. Quite to the contrary, I really enjoy a good challenge. The new Venetian Missile Crisis, since I was playing it at level took quite a bit of watching pulls, puzzle-like clearing, and a few deaths. It reminded me of playing the original Secret World, where in order to take on certain mobs you had to change up your build, specialize it, and use abilities and tricks that were outside your standard build. They were a puzzle in and of themselves.

That was one of the main themes of The Secret World, though, was the puzzles. Investigation missions were researching and detail puzzles, Sabotage missions were attentive and timing puzzles, and Action missions build and dodging puzzles. As long as you completed previous missions or accomplishments, you were able to proceed, no matter your gear. You beat all the dungeons, you opened up Elite dungeons. You beat all the Elite dungeons, you opened up fighting the Gatekeeper.

Remember the Gatekeeper? The Gatekeeper was the pure test to show that you were ready for Nightmare level dungeons. You beat the Gatekeeper, it showed you were good enough to join the end-game, whether your gear was up to snuff or not. For a lot of players, he was a wall. The Gatekeeper fight was *hard*. You could fight it as a tank, dps, or healer, and the fight changed to suit your role, but each part was still hard.

Secret World, Last Train to Cairo

I threw myself against Last Train to Cairo time and time again to try to beat it, and I don’t consider that a bad thing.

I guess that’s where my main disconnect with the new faction content in Secret World Legends lies. How would I even know if the final 450 IP gate mission is hard to beat or not? I’m not allowed to play it yet. I have to grind dungeons, which I don’t enjoy, or scenarios, which have improved since The Secret World but they’re still not my cup of tea, or just replay the same missions over and over and over again (and if the choice is replay the same content in one game or play new content in another, guess which I choose?).

It’s not like the gate is accomplishment based like The Secret World was, it’s purely gearscore number based. Heck, The Secret World let you play content well above your level all the time! I remember throwing myself time and again against the Last Train to Cairo mission, and I just couldn’t survive the fire section, but I was playing it at the same time I was making my way through the Egypt zone, and it was supposed to be post-Transylvania content.

I could still try it, though! It wasn’t gated just because my gear wasn’t up to par or hit some target yet. Same with the Gatekeeper. Your gear, in any game, is only a fraction of your character. Your own playing skill is the human element that goes along with the numerical gear/levels to round out your character. This is why we love our characters, they’re not just two dimensional, they include a large part of us as well. If we don’t have the gear yet, our own skill can compensate.

Secret World, Hell dungeon

I mean, running dungeons is a lot more fun when you know those around you, but I’m still not the biggest fan of them.

So, I haven’t played the 450 IP Rogue Agent mission yet, and I’m not going to grind to get there. It’s not like I’m going to give up on the game entirely, though, I’ll finally play it when there’s enough Secret World Legends content to support it, which hopefully will be when the next Congo zone is released. This may even be designed this way on purpose. I’m still disappointed, though, that I’m not even allowed to *attempt* the mission as it shows a shift in philosophy from The Secret World, a philosophy that is sadly taking the Player out of the Player Character equation.

 

// Ocho

Re-Exploring The Sky

No Man's Sky Next, perfect planet, Ocho II, Mucalls system

Flying over Ocho II, it’s lush red grass as far as the eye can see.

It’s been a while since I’ve played No Man’s Sky and, to be fair, I thought I had completely written this game off entirely. When it first released in August of 2016 I fell deep into the hype trap, even shelling out the full $60 tag, something I am usually loath to do, and was subsequently burned. Once bitten, twice shy. After some more recent hype revolving around No Man’s Sky, though, this time with a $0 pricetag since I’ve already bought into it, I decided to hop back in and check out what has really changed since launch. Find out what the ‘Next’ really means of the now titled ‘No Man’s Sky Next’. Turns out, quite a bit has changed.

First of all, I find it weird that I’m using terminology and treating this game like it’s some sort of MMO, which now that there is some sort of real multiplayer going on I guess it is much closer to that now. For all intents and purposes, though, No Man’s Sky still feels mostly single player. Which is fine by me. Usually, as a solo player, encountering other players in MMOs turns adversarial. We’re either fighting over the same drops, the same mobs, or fighting each other. That, as players, we’ve grown to consider this infighting ‘good, normal’ and ‘the way it should be’ is… odd. But I digress.

No Man's Sky Next, freighter

Coming in for a landing on the freighter Deep Space Ocho.

I remember when No Man’s Sky launched it felt like a wide ocean of content that was only a puddle deep. Everything was large and grand, but nothing felt important. There was no weight. Upgrades were acquired almost by accident and the primary focus was exploration… of similar, not-that-exciting locations. You could complete 99% of the game by just staying on the same planet you started on.

Now? Well, I’m not *entirely* sold that it’s monumentally different, but it does feel a lot better. The focus has absolutely changed. Now the focus is about building up your properties, your freighter fleet and your base, and completing the story missions. Your time spent on planets is transitory, hitting up only the points of interest you need to, and moving on. Which is good, because the less you see and pay attention to the procedural generation, the better. There was just not enough difference in the generation before. Now, it just feels… better. Planets feel more varied and look more populated. There’s more variety. I mean, there could always be even more variety in a game like this, but you don’t see the man-behind-the-curtain as much as you did two years ago.

No Man's Sky Next, random creatures

What were the devs smoking when they made *this* a possibility?

Upgrades, too, seem to be made more from progress than from randomness, which is a much better feeling than just stumbling across the best weapon/ships in the game. That random big find is still included, too, though, but now instead of finding a big new ship, you now find a big *broken* ship that you need to spend a good chunk of time and resources fixing.

Again, it feels productive, not accidental. This is good.

No Man's Sky Next, big red ball

Ah yes, the big red ball… things.

Also, we need to talk about the screenshot capabilities. They are, hands down, the best screenshot options I have ever seen in any game. Period. And I consider myself a screenshot aficionado, so I don’t say this lightly.

At any time you can pause the game to take a screenshot. When you do, you can move the camera to any position around your character to take it, within a large distance. On top of that, if the lighting isn’t right, you can change the time of day and the position of the sun. You can add/remove clouds, change the depth of field, and even add an Instagram-like filter on top of all that. For real, all other games need to take a page from No Man’s Sky’s screenshot book. Screenshots are your players methods of advertising your game for you, and having a system like this only helps you.

No Man's Sky Next, rings, ringed planet

The Rings at Night! Glow Big and Bright! *clap clap clap clap* Deep In the Heart of… of… wherever this is.

So will I keep it up? No, of course not. I’m a rambling gamer and will pass quickly from game to game as my whim takes me. However, with No Man’s Sky focus having changed to one that feels purposeful instead of accidental, I’m a lot more apt to keep it going. Plus, the entire game fits into only a 10 GB footprint, which is efficient and impressive as anything.

It currently is still sitting at $60, though, which I wouldn’t say feels entirely worth it, but if it falls back down to $30, or even $40, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest snapping it up.

 

// Ocho

 

P.S. – If you’re looking for a good planet to settle down on, I highly suggest planet Ocho II in the Mucalls system. Red grass, bright sun, abundant resources, and a pleasant temperature all year long. Nice place to vacation. Just don’t murder me, okay?

Information Satiation

Have you ever seen the cut-scene in Secret World for the Illuminati introduction to the Tokyo zone? No? Well, take a minute or two and give it a watch. I’ll wait.

I mean, amazing, right? What’s going on here is that the figurehead of the Illuminati faction, Kirsten Geary (voiced by Kari Wahlgren), is informing the player of their need to head to Kaidan, Tokyo, the fictional location of the ‘filth bomb’ explosion that sets in motion the reaction of Gaia and events portrayed in Secret World, by way of Venice. So Venice first, then Tokyo, which is a pretty big plot location. But did you catch that part in the middle there?

This is the age of information. Stealth is not about hiding; it’s about inundating.

We leak the truth. Then we leak whole zettabytes of other junk. Opposing data, Similar data. Nonsense data. Ad nauseam. Mesmerism by cat memes. Hypnotised. Apathy for the win.

The human brain has only so much bandwidth. Critical thought can actually O.D. on input. Bury the ultimate secret of the universe in the shallow grave of the 5th page of a Google search and no one would ever find it. Cover-ups are so passé.

This was penned by the incomparable Joshua Alan Doetsch and in a word it’s just… Brilliant. Did you catch these thick layers of meaning that solidly attach this to the real world? What makes the fiction we consume so compelling is how much we relate to it. If we can’t relate to it, we can’t make a connection to it, and it passes right through us. But, this? Who *can’t* relate to this?

Give or take a year or two...

Okay, so according to my calculations I should be totally caught up by… 2023.

It just may be that I’m starting to feel the effects of age, but I’m constantly finding it harder and harder to keep up with all of social media. Remember in the early days of Facebook when you could scroll back to the last post you viewed and then catch up quickly with every single thing your friends posted? And I mean every single post? I won’t lie, I’m part of a few Discord channels, as Discord is the new hotness, and I can’t keep up with any of them. I’ve tried. But that’s a LOT of text, most fleeting, and, to quote the above, my brain has only so much bandwidth.

Same goes for Twitter, same for the current version of Facebook, same with Feedly, and the same goes for Discord. There’s just too much. In trying to be as well informed as humanly possible, we hit a staggering wall of data. I remember when I first started getting involved with blogging and keeping up with a whole bunch of blogs and news sites are what helped to keep me informed, but I gave up on reading novels in order to do it. It was the same amount of text and ideas as full-blown novels, but one by multiple authors and multiple topics. I’ve since learned to balance, but still.

After a point we just become satiated. You ever hear or type the same word so much that after a while it stops being a word and just becomes garbled? The world these days just feels… garbled. People are lost, clinging onto what they *hope* is the right information. There is so much out there. From my mother wanting me to read up on hydrolyzed proteins, me trying to figure out what this rash could be from, or the constant stream of world news detailing the horrific events in our current anthropocene extinction epoch. Watching cat videos or seeing pics of bunnies frolicking with a deer end up being truly therapeutic.

“But Ocho,” you may ask. “Aren’t you just adding to the bandwidth?” I am. I totally am. That’s what blogging is all about, after all, adding your individual notes to the constant stream of background noise.

“But… why? Why keep adding to it?” Simply put: Fighting Back. The simple act of creation is sometimes enough to control the tide of information. To coalesce our thoughts and to stake a claim on a thought, to delineate what we know from what we don’t know, and to make a stand for truth.

After all, it’s ‘apathy for the win’, and we can’t just let apathy win without a fight.

 

// Ocho

The Best Laid Blogs O’ Mice an’ Men

 

Let’s face it. I’m not the most prolific of bloggers. In fact, my last entry here was in… September of 2016?! Wow… I… uhhhh… yeah, that’s embarrassing. So, this Blaugust, headed up once more by the incomparable Belghast, let’s get into reasons WHY this long break has occurred and what you, as a blogger, can do to not make my same mistakes.

The Best Laid Schemes o’ Mice an’ Men

Let’s face it, we’re not perfect. And when it comes to our hobbies, sometimes they have to be waylaid when more important priorities come around. I type this as I look forlornly at my Disc Golf bag and discs sitting near my front door. When your hobbies are not making your family a living, and you need to put food on the table, and caring for your family is a priority, this can be the result as smaller pursuits and hobbies fall off.

When stress levels become so high in your life due to family, your career, etc. you tend to stick close to your primary sources of relieving that stress. For me, that is gaming itself. At the end of the day, it’s nice to kick back and immerse yourself in another world, one without the same stresses and goals and wins are easily attainable. But when the choice came: do I play games to help relieve my stress or do I spend that time writing about games, something that didn’t necessarily help, which was easier to choose? Time and again it became easier to choose that which I *knew* would help me.

The hard part is it’s hard to justify keeping up consistency under these circumstances. When faced with more important life decisions, only the foolish would continue worrying about the ephemera. But this is okay. You have to do what you have to do, and an understanding audience would sympathize, you just can’t expect them to hang around.

Habits are Hard to Force

The key to creating any sort of content, though, and having it reach your audience is: consistency, consistency, consistency. This has shown, time and again, to be one of the biggest paths to success. The music industry is filled with examples of one hit wonders, but the bands we tend to stick with the most are the ones that have kept creating. Our favorite authors have created multiple books, and our favorite Twitch/YouTube creators have plenty of backlog. The same goes with any creative endeavor. It’s not enough to just create, you have to keep it up.

Over the time that I’ve been away from blogging, it’s not like I’ve stopped creating. I’ve become more active on Twitch. I’ve been podcasting on Beyond the Veil, Master Debaters, and have been guests on multiple other casts. My want to create has never subsided, but making blogging a habit has always just been out of my reach.

So how do you force yourself into the habit? Obviously, it’s not impossible. Just look at Belghast, the force behind Blaugust itself. He makes blogging seem as easy as breathing.  According to James Clear, the psychology behind this is a circle of Reminder, Routine, and Reward. Reminding yourself to blog, getting into a routine that makes it easier for you to do so, and then seeing the fruits of your labor. Still, it’s not the easiest of processes.

Stop Beating Yourself Up!!

This is probably the hardest hurdle of all. You’re going to start writing, and feel like you’re yelling into the void. You’ll spend minutes, sometimes hours, pouring over a post, making it as perfect as you can, trying to separate yourself with some view that nobody else has come up with yet. After you post you’ll look up the stats, this big post that you’re especially proud of, that has life-changing wisdom strewn throughout it… and it only has 5 views. 4 of which are from Turkmenistan with the comments filled with  Rayban sunglasses spam.

I’ve beat myself up many times over this. Where I think I’ve made some poignant view, filled with wisdom and would be relatable for everyone, and then nobody sees it. See what are currently my most popular posts? A list of Skyrim mods, a look at the EA references made throughout Ultima VII, a post about having to switch to a flip phone for a week. The reality is that the best content you’re going to create, at least in your mind, will not be what others will gravitate towards.

In the end, you have to be happy just in the act of creating. When Twitch streaming, try not to look at those viewer numbers. When blogging, try not to focus on those hits. When podcasting, try not to worry about that blank space. They’re not always going to be nice. Hold onto those times when you get that “hey, this streamer is amazing” tweet, or that “this post has inspired me to post about this myself”. Let those be your fuel to keep going.

You Can Do It!

It can be hard, though, when you’re removed off that blogroll for not posting for a while because work stress has bogged you down, or when you see someone post about streamers they enjoy and you’re not a part of the list as you had to take time off from sickness, or simply when those that you’ve respected don’t reciprocate that respect. These have all happened to me, recently even, and it feels like you’re being kicked when you’re down.

Down, though, is the best place to start. Or, like Blaugust Reborn itself, the best place to pick yourself up and reinvent yourself. To attempt again to create that habit, to attempt to not let setbacks and negative reactions get the better of you.

I’ve done it, and I have failed, and I have done it again. Nobody but you can dictate how many times you pick yourself up and try again. Hold on to those reasons why you’ve decided to start in the first place, because they’ll be the same reasons why you pick yourself up, and why you keep going after the kicks.

You got this. You can do it.

 

// Ocho

September Gaming Goal: Chasing the Doomboard

The Secret World, Hell

Hell has such a fascinating story in TSW. Demons are misunderstood, and Angels are far from heavenly.

Do we really *want* the items that are proferred to us in MMOs? Or just the ability to pursue them?

The thought struck me as I finished up yet another losing El Dorado PvP match in The Secret World. I haven’t won a single match playing El Dorado yet. It’s a faction based, collect and hold items sort of PvP match. In all the matches I’ve played so far, the Illuminati haven’t won a single one. But at least I was able to check off another daily challenge. And that’s all that matters in the special item-of-the-month chase this time around.

That item is the Doomboard, a Hell-themed hoverboard mount. Is my character really that “Hell” themed? Not really. I don’t even think it looks that great. But… it’s an item to chase, and I do love The Secret World. So why not chase it? The chance to chase limited-time items isn’t one that comes around often in TSW, and any reason to play TSW is a good reason.

Secret World, Illuminati, Fusang Projects

Illuminati defending the Center Facility in Fusang Projects

The worst part is, though, I don’t even *like* PvP. I’m not a competitive person and beating my fellow players isn’t something I would actively seek out. But then again, grouping up with them isn’t something I’ve necessarily enjoyed, either. I’ll do it periodically, just to check out some content I’ve never seen, but grouping for dungeons in MMOs I’ve found is just as competitive as PvP, if not more so. Sure, you’re all after the same target and same goal, but gear discrepancies, different builds, or experience will still separate you into the gaming haves and have-nots. And some players will go out of their way to tell you how much they think you’re a “have-not”. Social PvP, if you will.

To get the Doomboard, though, PvP and Dungeon running are a must. So I’m heading outside my comfort zone and trying new modes of play, just as the developers intended. I’m all up for trying new things, and now I have some nice self-made-builds for when I head down into PvP or dungeons, so there is that. And I’m getting nice chunks of reward to keep making gear progress, so there is that as well.

Secret World, Shambala, PvP

Tried out Shambala for the first time, too. With a win, no less.

The next-to-worst part, though, is that I may not even get it. Because of my reluctance and inexperience in the highest levels of running dungeons and content, I can still only complete just a few challenges a day, which puts me at an uncomfortable amount of playtime to get the remaining challenges completed. But dang it if I still won’t try, comfort zones be damned.

If we all stayed inside our comfort zones, how would we ever grow?

Rocking a Flip Phone in the Age of the Smartphone

Note: This post was first published on Sub-Cultured, a collection of geeky opinions on everything from tech, to cold pasta salad, to Batman.


I was at home scrolling through my Facebook feed on my phone, watching some small video that a friend reposted, when my 10 month old LG G4 rebooted itself.

In the world of small consumer electronics, that event is usually nothing special. It doesn’t happen all the time, but having a device say “You know what, I just need to reboot” does happen. We shrug, wait the few minutes for the device to restart, and go right back to where we were. My LG G4, though, got stuck in a booting loop and wouldn’t return to a home screen.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, my LG G4 had a hardware issue that was just counting down to when the phone would die (no recall notice, LG?). According to LG’s January 2016 statement to Android Authority, “LG Electronics has been made aware of a booting issue with the LG G4 smartphone that has now been identified as resulting from a loose contact between components.” Once that contact comes loose the phone bricks and becomes unusable. For some users that time is sooner, for some later. If you have an LG G4: Be prepared.

LG B470, LGG4 Bootloop

A *NEW* LG B470

To the Strip Mall!

 

The good folks at our local AT&T store, whom we have always been treated with respect by, seemed to have their hands bound. I didn’t buy the insurance, but I was still within the warranty. The associate said they would have a replacement LG G4 shipped out to me, but it would take about a week to do so.

A week. A decade ago, we didn’t have smartphones, but their invention and proliferation has changed society as we know it. My wife and I don’t have a landline in our condo, specifically because we both have cell phones. An extra line would just be redundant, and I’m not about to give Comcast any more money than I absolutely have to. A week with no phone calls or texts can be done, but in this age of information, it’d be like willfully going deaf. Others would try to communicate, but I wouldn’t be able to hear them or even know they tried. Like it or not, cell phones have become a necessity of daily life.

My options were few. I couldn’t trade my phone in early for a new model, because it technically was broken. AT&T also doesn’t have a “loaner” program (seems like an oversight, this would inspire customer confidence). I also couldn’t pick up a phone and return it a week later, as this would incur a hefty “restocking” fee. So I did what I had to do, I bought their cheapest phone available on the spot, an LG B470 flip phone.

Living in the Aughts

 

I bought my first cell phone in 2001 at the same time as my then-girlfriend. Terrible decision. Don’t join in any contract with someone unless you’re committed to them. Life lesson. From there, it was flip phone to flip phone until 2010.

When my wife and I got married in the summer of 2010, the flip phone that I was rocking was destroyed on our honeymoon by a freak thunderstorm. Seeing as we were newlyweds and about to board a cruise out of country, my phone was the last thing on my mind. When we returned we bought a pair of our first smartphones, the Galaxy S.

This was only 6 years ago. Such a small time in the grand scheme of things, but such a large change in daily life.

Reaching for No Reason: The first thing I became acutely aware of with a flip phone in 2016 was exactly how often I would reach for my phone. Multiple times throughout the day I check my smartphone for new email, new social media comments, or other app fluff. With a phone that really only receives calls or texts, I keep flipping the phone open but then quickly realize it’s futile. It doesn’t have those frills, and if I get a call or text, the phone will let me know.

No GPS or Weather: Without Google Maps or weather widgets, I’ve felt a little lost (pardon the bad pun). Yes, I know, we use to get by without GPS maps and up-to-the-minute weather just fine. But with Google Maps and GPS devices, I’ve long rid my car of local maps. Also, storms just passed through this morning, and I had no idea they were coming. I could’ve used my home PC or work PC to check, but these are both things I have mentally relegated to my smartphone.

No Curated News: I also have felt much less informed overall. Lack of a smartphone means a lack of those in-between moments to check current events. I use social media, but I primarily use it to get my daily news. Groups that I’ve joined are both social interactions and a curated news delivery system. Yes, tell me all the news about Ultima, Star Trek, and Disc Golf! I’m all for them.

No Podcasts: All the podcasts that I keep up with will just have to be skipped this week, too. I won’t clean my house any less, but where I was listening to podcasts during my commute or while cleaning now will be silence or background music.

Tiny Pictures: And pictures on this little flip phone are laughable. Sure, I could take some, I guess, but without the ability to share them, what’s the point? We passed a business yesterday that it advertising itself as a “Cat Lounge”, and I didn’t even bother taking a picture to ask everyone what they thought that meant. I have no idea. A salon? A bar? Are cats welcome? What *is* that?! I couldn’t post the picture even if I did take it.

It’s not like these are monumental changes by any stretch, and are small annoyances at best. They highlight, though, just how integral these little devices have become in our daily rituals. It’s not in the large interactions that they found their use, but in the small periods of time between interactions. That podcast on the drive home, that quick check of social media in the bathroom, that look at the forecast in the morning.

LG B470, Ginger, Cat, Dark Photo

The pictures the B470 takes aren’t *that* bad, I guess…

The Reports of the Death of Social Interaction Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

 

People complain about how things were better before smartphones, though, how we talked to each other more and didn’t have our faces glued to screens. This is hyperbole, of course, but if anything my technological regression is making it clear how it’s *not* the devices that are to blame. People are.

If someone feels compelled to stick their face in a screen over having worthwhile human interaction, that’s the person doing that, not the device. That person who rudely talks on their phone while ordering coffee? That’s a rude person, not a rude phone. It’s essentially the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” argument, but applied to cell phones. Which is totally true. It’s the act that matters, not the device (cell phones aren’t designed solely for the purpose of death, though, which is the true basis of the guns argument).

So if you’re blaming your bad habits on your phone, nope, you’re in the wrong on this one. The phone is just an outlet to flex those bad habits, but you’re still the one doing them. Same goes, though, for blaming the downfall of society on devices or games. If all it took was a cell phone to trigger the downfall of society, then it wasn’t being held up by much in the first place. Stop blaming Pokemon Go on people’s lack of awareness, blame the unaware people.

LG B470, Trees

See? You can totally make out that there’s a sign there. And trees.

A Return to Normalcy

 

Can’t wait to get my replaced G4 back, though. The feeling of connection, of direction, of making those in-between moments useful again. This has been a fun experiment, and it’s been interesting to note the minute changes in daily life that have snuck up over the years. Every once in a while it’s good to remove yourself from your comfort zone, if only to measure how much you have changed. But, seriously, AT&T, where’s your recall or loaner phone program?