Archon of the Tiers

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This morning I am flailing quite a bit when it comes down actually sitting here and composing a blog post.  Its been one thing or the other… like a cat that decided she had to be held before she would relinquish the keyboard to me to actually type.  Or the fact that I spilled coffee on my shirt and needed to go change it.  Now that I actually sit down at the keyboard I am not entirely certain what I have to talk about.  Last night was a night devoted to Tyranny because Saturday we are recording our March AggroChat Game Club game show and I wanted to be able to participate in the conversation fully.  I like the idea of the Game Club, but I am a poor member.  I am highly susceptible to whims, and tend to get focused in on a game… or number of games at a time.  I am also super bad at forcing myself to finish some thing when I am really not that into it.  This is evidenced by the fact that my night stand is filled with partially finished books discarded when the mood left me.  There was a time when I was actually rather good at finishing games… in fact I spent one entire summer competing with a friend of mine trying to see how many Nintendo games we could finish.  The difference there however was that I had very limited options….  and now thanks to the commodity that games have become…  I have all of the options in the world to distract me from actually focusing on a game once the going gets less than enjoyable.  As a result I tend to bounce back and forth between the games that excite me the most and when any one of those games slows down…  I tend to stall and eventually stop playing it.

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Playing games for the game club often times feels like homework, and I either avoid it entirely… or put it off until the point where I cannot reasonably finish the game before the show.  There is a big reasons why I don’t really do reviews, because I never really have that drive to finish games.  In fact I have the opposite drive.  When I get sucked into a story and a world, there is a part of me that never wants the journey to end.  So I have found myself constantly reaching points in games where I am a few hours from the end… and then I simply never make that finish push.  It is like so long as I do not cross that hill then the adventure never has to end.  All of that said… I didn’t want this to be the case with Tyranny because I had a really amazing first weekend playing the game…  but stalled out at some point during the middle section.  However over the last few weeks I have tried to put in a few hours, every few nights hoping to pull through on the other side and get to a place in the game where the pace quickened once more.  Last night I seemed to hit that stride and found myself completely unable to stop playing as I circled the ending and finally finished around 11:30 last night.  I was not going to sleep without completing this… or at least what I hoped and apparently guessed right was going to be the ending.  All of this said…  I absolutely crave a continuation.  I want dlc or a sequel that lets me continue on from the point I reached in the main games arc.

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I don’t really want to go into a lot of details because I am largely saving them up for the podcast, but I have to say…  this was a really great game.  More shockingly it goes on the pile of games that I want to play through a second or third time because along the journey you have to make so many choices.  There are things that I did that I might have done differently.  The game is absolutely brutal in forcing you down a path based on your actions, and not letting you wriggle out from under those actions without consequences.  In many ways it reminds me of the way Undertale did this, with the exception that at least here you can reload a save file and try again.  However usually by the time you reach one of these branching points… it is too late because a series of tiny decisions will ultimately make or break your choices when it comes to a larger one.  The game flips so many conventions on its head, as you play through as the functional “bad guy” in the story…  but one that is entirely capable of making fair and just choices in spite of this fact.  In many ways there are chunks of my play through that remind me of what it was like trying to play a Light Side Sith in Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic.  I did not succeed entirely but in the grand scheme I thought I was doing a good job of walking the line…  until I reached the end and was forced to account for all of my past decisions.  This game remembers… and winds up rubbing your nose in them…  forcing you to confront the ramifications of each minor choice.  All told start to finish I spent 14 hours… and could have probably easily spent another 10 hours were I not rushing towards a fixed goal.  I highly suggest checking out this game if you are into classic Baldur’s Gate era PC RPGs.

Hair Elemental Gone

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Yesterday was a bit of a mixed day for me, given that I was sick and staying home.  I spent the majority of it watching Iron Fist on the sofa while attempting to do other things…. and sorta fading in and out of sleep.  Throughout the course of the day I played a little Tyranny, working my way closer and closer to the end.  I also worked my way through the new Final Fantasy XIV patch content, that represents the last bit of story we will see before the launch of Stormblood this summer.  That said I feel like it is just too soon to really talk about the patch or any of the ramifications of it.  In the evening I poked my head around in Destiny attempting to get a husk to drop for the new necrochasm exotic quest.  I had zero luck and instead just completed a few bounties, when I wandered away from the game to do something else.  I found out that apparently Skyforge is available not on the PS4, in its pre-launch patron pack sort of scheme like they did on the PC.  Now there have been a number of times in the past where I have talked about liking this game, but feeling it would play considerably better on a console.  As a result I absolutely jumped on the bandwagon last night and gave it a shot.  You functionally have three options that you can go with if you feel like buying your way into what is essentially console based early access.  Each of the prices listed is with the PS+ discount… because really I consider plus a cost of owning a PS4.

  • Early Adopter Pack – $11.99 – Access to 3 Base Classes
  • Rage of the Beserker – $39.99 – 3 Base + Berserker Class
  • Wrath of the Gods – $55.99 – 3 Base + Berserker + Gunner + Mount

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I jumped in with both feet and went ahead and went for the pack that includes the Gunner class and mount, because in truth I already know I like this game.  One of the things about this game that I wish others would notice… is all the damned beard options.  It wasn’t just a choice of full mountain man vs stubble beard…  but instead I had this complex set of styling options for facial hair that seriously put every other game to shame.  The end result allowed me to create a “Belghast” I am extremely happy with…  the lack of the whole eye scar thing made me go with an eyepatch instead even though it is on the wrong eye.  Traditionally when given the option I give my “Bel” characters some sort of a scar around their left eye… and if given the choice I do the damaged white eye thing as well.  All of that said I was able to create a character that I really like…  instead of a character that wound up being the lesser of evils like is always the case with South Korean MMOs.  The UI took a little getting used to because it varies slightly depending on the screen, but is generally navigated by a combination of bumpers, triggers and the d-pad.  The square to show and hide hints piece is something super important that I took a bit to grasp, because the game inexplicably pops windows up over other windows… and the only way to remove them is to click the button.

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Something important to note is that it has been a really long time since I have played Skyforge.  I played quite a bit during July of 2015, and have poked my head in occasionally since but never for terribly long.  The mouse and keyboard control scheme worked, but it always felt artificial.  So as a result I have not seen the intro to this game in a very long time… and back then it felt somewhat random.  They seem to have fixed some things narratively, to give you a better explanation of the world you inhabit and why your character happens to be immortal.  The end result still feels extremely thin, but it at least flows better than I remember it doing in the past.  Similarly I noticed that they fixed some of the problems I had with a few of the character models.  Herida for example the NPC that you talk to as part of the tutorial had a weird design in the past of teal hair wearing a turquoise hood that flows down into a dress.  The problem is the hair was not distinct enough of a color and it make it look like she was a lady with turquoise hair that somehow connected to her boobs.  In the console version however she has blonde hair, and the hood itself has been moved back a bit so that you can clearly see the haircut below.  As a result you have some contrast and it no longer looks like she is some sort of hair elemental.

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As far as the gameplay itself… the game feels excellent but it has a complex enough control scheme that I am still getting used to it.  It is following in the footsteps of console MMOs like FFXIV and using the face buttons for most of the attacks with bumpers and triggers acting as either modifiers or quick time event buttons for finishers and power attacks.  It was a little awkward at first but after completing the first few missions it started to feel extremely solid.  All in all I feel like this game is so much more suited for the console, with its pseudo lobby system and little bite sized missions.  Another tweak that I noticed is that we now apparently have a pet that follows us around, and over time can be trained to do functions like automagically picking up loot Diablo 3 style.  At some point I want to go through all of the tutorials for sub classes, because if I remember correctly each one of them unlocked a new outfit.  I never really made much progress in the PC version of the game, so abandoning it completely for the console is not really that big of a decision for me.  That said if you are happy with the PC, then in truth there probably isn’t enough new in the console release to really tempt you.  I think the game just feels better in this form factor, but that is a deeply personal preference.  Its not like I needed another game to be playing, but whatever the case it seems like I am going to be poking my head more into the PS4 Skyforge.

[Edit]

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These are not exact comparison shots, since I failed to take a screenshot during the tutorial.  However this at least shows the slight difference between the two models.  Column A…  weird hair elemental, Column B – someone just wearing a shawl.

Content Creator

This is probably not the best subject to talk about on a day when I am feeling lousy. However there is something that bugs the shit out of me, and I feel like I want to get it off my chest…  or at the very least use my frustration for a blog post.  I hate the term “Content Creator”.  Over the last few years it has gone from something you would hear every now and then to something that is constantly used.  At face value it seems like a term that places all sorts of incoming content on an even playing field.  Do you write a blog?  Awesome you are a “Content Creator”.  Do you post amazing artwork on Deviant Art?  Awesome you too are a “Content Creator”.  Do you create a Podcast, upload songs to SoundCloud, stream “let’s plays”, post creative photos on Instagram, carefully curate a Reddit, or create amazing videos…  then awesome by all reason you should all be “Content Creators”.  The only problem is that this new unifying term…  isn’t really that unifying at all.  Functionally it should by definition mean anyone who produces content for others to consume.  In my experience however that really is not the case.

When you see someone talking about “Content Creators” the majority of the time they exclusively mean Youtubers and Streamers.  Please don’t think this is a rant against Youtube or Streaming, because while I fail miserably at doing either I greatly respect both platforms.  This is a rant against the creating this theoretically inclusive term but instead applying it to a very narrow margin of items that are “content”.  Functionally the frustration comes when someone says they are looking for content creators to work with a product, but in truth really meaning they want eyeballs on YouTube.  For years I have struggled with the definition of “Media” as concerned with conventions and such.  While I can qualify as such, it always feels wrong.  I am not the news and I don’t produce content designed necessarily to inform purchase decisions or report breaking stories.  I am the editorial page in the newspaper and spend my time talking about the things I want to talk about.  More importantly however is the distinction that I do not do it for monetary gain.  That last part often knocks me out of the traditional Media category completely.  However having that special “media” pass sort of grants you an instant layer of legitimacy that cuts through some of the awkwardness that comes from introducing yourself and trying to get detailed information out of them about their product.  Side note… having a business card also does this but it still ends up being wierd as you shove a crisp card with your logo on it into someone else’s hand.

Now I have gone to PAX three times and I have found ways to do this without the vaunted badge each time.  However it would have made things easier, and acted as a sort of social lubricant to make the conversations flow a little more smoothly.  I’ve been able to set up press appointments on my own without the benefit of the designation, so the truth is it isn’t a hard barrier.  This year around however I saw that they had “Content Creator” badges for the first time, and then was instantly saddened when I saw that they were almost exclusively targeting Youtubers and Streamers with them.  Maybe everyone just assumes this and I am the last one to the show.  When you say “Content” to me that is a super universal term for literally anything that a user can consume.  Hell if you are creating xeroxed “Zines” and handing them out to random people passing by…  that is still Content to me because someone devoted time and effort and more importantly mental cycles in to creating something that they thought another human being would enjoy consuming.  So all thing are largely equal to me…  but it feels like some animals are more equal than others.  Were it just PAX it would be no big deal… they maybe used the wrong term for the wrong thing.  The problem is I have seen the same sort of stacked deck against non-video creatives in a lot of different “creator” programs in the gaming industry.

Maybe this is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, and maybe this is just a sign that I am old.  Hell this past week I got my very first prescription for multi-focal lenses, which is sort of the gold standard of “signs that you are old”.  However this is not me yelling at those damned kids to get off my lawn.  In truth I just want all of the people standing on the lawn to be treated equally.  While I might have preferences towards this or that sort of medium for consuming information…  I am still actively consuming pretty much all of them.  While I largely still think of myself as a blogger and a podcaster, that doesn’t mean I only get information from blogs or podcasts.  I have a pretty steady diet of YouTube channel that I follow, and a handful of streamers that I watch “as time allows”.  To branch out there are even a bunch of artists that I follow on a regular basis, and a few people that I keep tabs on just because they make really amazing craftables.  In my mind each and every one of these people that I have identified… is a Content Creator.  It should be this unifying term, not something that narrows the focus.  I mean labels are bizarre in the first place, and there are a lot of them that I struggle with.  Content Creator is just another in a long line of titles that I used to think seemed like a great idea…  until I saw the way it was being used.

Dangerous Water

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I am pretty sure I am coming down with something because I have felt fairly lousy since the weekend.  It is the sort of indiscriminate miserable that just makes doing anything a complete trudge.  It also feels like I have spent more time searching for something to play than actually playing anything.  Then things happen like the fact that for some reason I booted up Bioshock Remastered?  I got the game free for owning all of the other Bioshock content, and I installed it some time ago thinking it might be nice to play back through this game.  Then the election happened…  and the character of Andrew Ryan felt a little too on the nose for me personally.  So as a result it has sat unloved as a desktop icon…  waiting on someone to give it the time of day and click on it.  For whatever reason last night I did just that…  and apparently the game defaults to running at 4k.  Did you know that 4k PNG screenshots are almost 15 mb a piece?  I didn’t but now do…  I have lots of them that I will ultimately need to drop down if I ever hope to use them.  Something else that I did not know is that if you have a USB Controller connected to your system…  the game doesn’t seem to be willing to give you a mouse and keyboard option.  So as a result I played through on the Xbox 360 controller I leave hooked up to my gaming machine.  I didn’t get super far before the whim changed, but enough to remember how much I really love this game.  I do find it extremely odd that you can’t really sight any of the weapons though….  that is not something I remembered but I guess it makes sense given that your alternate fire is whatever plasmid you happen to have equipped.  Personally I still think the game looks gorgeous, and artistically it has some of the most memorable visual sequences and staging.

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When I bounced I ultimately did so in the direction of Mass Effect Andromeda, and opted to finish up Hvarl.  The weird part about this is that I thought I had not actually really scratched the surface of this planet.  However it seems like in the grand scheme of things is is maybe half the length of Voeld.  The weird part about this is it seems like the last thing that I waited to do was actually go vault hunting.  I am not exactly sure if you can do this early however since  the actual access to the vault and the second half of the map only work if you happen to be on specific quests.  So far this seems like the most “on rails” planet given that things need to happen in a specific sequence to end up leading to the end of it.  The planet itself reminds me an awful lot of Dromund Kaas from SWTOR, with a much more wild jungle area.  In the grand scheme I did not like this planet nearly as much as I did Voeld…  and also it doesn’t feel nearly as satisfying to move on past it either.  I think the biggest part of this for me is the complete and total lack of Nomad action, which makes sense given how dense the foliage is.  That said I did not really realize how much of my enjoyment planet side is related to driving my Nomad around until I hit this planet.  We talked about it on twitter yesterday… but want to buy a Nomad racing DLC for this game.

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Towards the end of the night I moved forward in the story and started the world of Kadara, which happens to be populated by a bunch of the Exiles off the Nexus.  Functionally you can think of it as Omega by any other name…  except instead of a slew of interesting Aliens…  you have a bunch of asshole humans instead.  After Desert World, Ice World and Night World…  I was happy to move on to something that looked relatively normal.  You know other than the whole acid water thing going on…  and toxic regions that damage your suit similar to the last few worlds we have been on.  Something tells me that I am ultimately going to work on terraforming the shit out of this world first thing so that I can enjoy the ride more freely.  I’ve barely just scratched the surface but I gotta say… fighting Nexus outlaws is way more enjoyable than any of the enemy types I have encountered to date in this game.  I mean I love the Remnant and it is always fun to kill Kett, but the outlaws here feel much more varied.  Especially when you factor in that apparently there is a turf war going on, and the two factions are gunning for each other as well as you.  I am sort of longing for a “kill everyone and settle the planet” option but I am not likely going to see that.

 

C is for Captain

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I thought I would start things off with a humorous glitch this morning that started happening last night.  Any time I would go into the bar and get a drink, the glass was missing and would instead get this goofy empty hand sequence.  Secondly I got chastised the other day for not saying that there would be potential spoilers in my blog post… so lets get that one out of the way.  I am not intentionally going into full on story mode, but I also am too sleepy to probably comb my post adequately for spoilers.  So there might be some, especially since I am realizing that my definition of a spoiler is vastly different than the definition of some folks.  For me a spoiler is generally a big plot point, or what happens when you make this or that decision.  Whereas I never would have thought the fact that you end up on an ice planet, or the fact that you wind up getting a new race that has been featured in pretty much every trailer for the last bit would be classified as spoilers.  So be forewarned, your mileage may vary.  To be truthful this is probably a blanket statement about every post that I make.  While I generally try not to spoiler larger plot points, the fact that I am writing a blog every morning and need constant fodder means that ultimately details about games will come out.  Hell the simple fact that I am posting a constant flood of screenshots is probably spoilery in itself.

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I spent a fair amount of Sunday playing Mass Effect Andromeda, and lets me honest…  I spent MOST of that time wandering around Not-Hoth.  The way the planets work in this game is a massive trap for someone like me who likes to roam around aimlessly and complete mini objectives.  I generally like ice zones and ice planets… and while there was a huge segment of Hoth in SWTOR that was sheer drudgery…  I still loved it.  So the fact that I am wandering around in a giant all terrain vehicle on gorgeous ice flows exploring nifty things I see off on the horizon…  that is definitely in my wheelhouse.  I did however take time out of my busy schedule of killing remnant and kett camps to move the story forward, and unlock the vault on Voeld.  This allowed me to set down my second colonial base, that was given a name there is no way in the hell I am ever going to remember.  I mean I realize that they couldn’t give me the ability to name these settlements because voiced dialog lines….  but at least make them easy to remember.  I mean they all have nifty lore nuggets when the colonial governor explains why they named the town whatever they named it…  but there is zero point zero chance I am going to remember any of it.  I may or may not have an issue with remembering the names of things…  and if you have ever listened to AggroChat there is a lot of me explaining what I am talking about… and then Tam or Ash coughing up the name of whatever it is.

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The biggest takeaway from the weekend… is just how much in general I like my crew.  I am even starting to like Liam, who I guess at the first I was sort of expecting to be the Corso Riggs of the crew.  There is something I like about each and every one of them, and I guess that is sort of the hallmark of a good Bioware game.  The biggest surprise for me however is how I have ended up playing with Jaal.  At face value he did not exactly seem like I character I would want to run around with, but did anyways because I kept exploring functionally his homeworlds.  However over time I have come to actually like the Cat Squid Whatever quite a lot.  I am however having weird flashbacks to the Selkath and Manaan  when interacting with Aya and the Angara.  In truth there is a lot of this game that feels thematically reminiscent of Knights of the Old Republic.  I mean functionally we are unlocking ancient tech similar to that of the content leading up to the Star Forge, and while not exactly the same it feels strangely similar to me.  I think in part I have spent so much time working on the two spin off Angara worlds because otherwise it would feel really freaking wrong when we started plunking colonies down on these planets.  If I had not done a bunch of things to fix core problems and to build a giant freaking bridge between the Angara and the species of the Milky Way… it would feel super invadery when I started setting up shop on their worlds.

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My growing take away however is that while this game is full of glitches and all sorts of strange shit going on…  that underneath the lack of polish is a really solid experience.  I struggled at length to get into Dragon Age Inquisition… because I just didn’t care about the story that was happening and in truth many of the characters that were part of it.  That has not been the case with Mass Effect Andromeda.  While the narrative feels a little ill fitting at time… and “Ryder” feels more forced at times…  I still very much feel like I am my own character.  I can tweak the dialog just enough to give my own spin on the conversation.  While it doesn’t seem to have some of the same lasting effects as going renegade used to…  there are still some of these moments scattered throughout the game play where a quick time event alters the course of the story.  I think what is missing is the asshole Ryder option, similar to asshole Shepard…  and that was something I never played.  I could never bring myself to go down those dialog options because I just don’t have that level of cruelty in me…  even if being enacted upon non-existent people.  All of that said… I am enjoying the hell out of this game.

Not-Hoth

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I don’t have a whole hell of a lot to talk about this morning, in part because I had a pretty rough night.  It was one of those evenings where I started to inexplicably run out of steam around 9 pm.  Then when I went to bed… instead of falling asleep peacefully as it seemed would be the case I wound up tossing and turning until 12:30.  The other futile thing that I attempted was running Mass Effect Andromeda on my laptop.  Granted my laptop is not that old nor is it that far behind the curve.  It is a 4000 series i7 mobile processor and contains GeForce 960M graphics…  which I thought would largely be sufficient to run the game at a reasonable resolution.  However that is very much not the case and in order to get a decent frame rate I have to functionally run everything on low settings.  A good chunk of the night I was attempting to run around on Havarl, which is a ground clutter dense world… and a relatively dark world…  making the less than optimal set up feel even more so.  Instead of roaming around like I actually wanted to….  I wound up going after the objective with a laser focus and getting the hell out of there.

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Which leads me to Voeld… aka “Not-Hoth” an icy world that legends tell didn’t used to be so.  That has such cold that it taxes my suits life support and forces me to ping pong around the map going between sheltered Daars and Forward Bases.  This also has me fighting way more Kett which is a good thing… because in truth I kinda felt bad killing the evil Angara.  Whatever the case I did not really feel like I made much progress last night.  Sure I landed on the homeworld on a new species and started running errands for them…  but the lo-fi version of the game kept me from enjoying it nearly as much as I would have liked.  For running on what seems to be a souped up version of the Dragon Age Inquisition engine… it certainly requires a lot more in the way of system resources.  That has been the weirdest part about this console generation…  it doesn’t seem like we have hit the plateau yet.  During the PS3/Xbox 360 era of console games there was a clear point where PC power definitely outstripped the games that were being built and ultimately ported from the consoles.  However with the PS4/Xbox One games… it feels like we have yet to hit that pint and these games are still rather taxing on hardware pending you want them to look reasonably decent.  I am sure the PS4 Pro/Scorpio machinations will only serve to increase the ceiling of this process as well.

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So the end result is that laptop gaming does not feel nearly as viable now as it once did.  Were this a Steam game I could simply stream it from my upstairs machine and life would be golden.  However given that it is marooned in Origin land, that seems less viable.  There are of course tricks that you can do to make this work under steam in home streaming, but I attempted most of these during my many attempts to get into Dragon Age Inquisition and it never really worked as well as I hoped it would.  Either I would get a black screen while streaming, or the game would simply get stranded and stay open forever on my gaming desktop.  I wish there was a viable platform agnostic streaming option, but none of the remote desktop applications are really designed for high frame rate/high resolution streaming.  I want to be able to play the game 1080p and as close to 60 fps as I can get…. over my AC band wireless connection and so far Steam in home streaming is the only thing optimized enough to pull that off.  Splashtop works fairly well for mobile device resolutions, but not for the desktop.  In any case Mass Effect may simply be an upstairs online game for me, and I will be limited to something else while chilling on the sofa.

Turning the Corner

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I think last night I reached the point where I have turned the corner on Mass Effect Andromeda.  By that I mean I think I have finally gotten used to the animations just enough to stop seeing them anymore.  I mean I still see them… but they just don’t really bother me anymore because I am not invested enough in the characters and the story to stop caring.  I’ve talked about why Mass Effect 2 was my favorite in the series, and how it allowed me to go on smaller away missions and largely avoid really moving the story forward when I did’t want to.  Andromeda gives me this in droves, and I spent most of the night last night working on minor story threads.  I tracked down a Saboteur, determined the guilt or innocence of a Turian on trial for the first murder on the station, and helped  determine if an official was “on the take”.  I like roaming around planetside and exploring, and I absolutely love the way the Nomad vehicle feels.  I was never really a huge fan of the hammerhead or the mako, but this time they seemed to flip all of the switches in the right direction and give me a vehicle that I actually want to use.

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When I play Mass Effect I almost exclusively use Assault Rifles and always have.  Traditionally I just stick to the M-8 Avenger until I get something grossly overpowered later in the game.  However I have already found something I like using better.  The M-37 Falcon I is something that I am not really sure how it can be classified as an Assault Rifle.  In truth it is a grenade launcher… and my god does it pack a punch.  So long as my aim is true, I can largely one shot all smaller “trash” enemies and two or three shot the bigger shielded ones.  The only issue however is that it has a very small magazine (which is going to annoy the shit out of Squirrel that they call a clip… its a thing of his) and has a pretty hefty wait time between shots.  All of this is something that I can forgive given just how hard it its and how cool it sounds when you fire it.  I ended up picking this up on the Nexus in pre-colonization state and I am absolutely loving it.  Another thing that I am digging about the game is how you can find deployment pylons scattered around the map that let you change weapons and crew members planet side.  I did not actually use this weapon for a bit, because I was not certain I would like it… and had no clue I could use the pylons if I changed my mind.

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I have a freaking pet Pyjack on the ship.  That in itself is enough to make me love the game, and it roams freely which is awesome…  because I was partially afraid it would end up in a cage in my quarters. Speaking of roaming…  I both love and hate the fact that the crew roams keeps moving around the ship.  One of the hallmarks of Mass Effect is the need to constantly keep checking in on your crew because they tell you story tidbits, or just have commentary about what you just did.  So each time I land back on the ship I have a habit of wanting to go around and check in on everyone to see if there are any new story options.  The fact that the crew roams aimlessly through the ship makes it extremely challenging to mentally make sure you have actually found everyone.  As far as crew members go… I honestly thought I would be annoyed by Peebee but have ended up loving her.  Similarly I was not sure what I would think of Cora but also similarly really like the character… and she has become one of my go to fighters for missions.  Vetra is awesome and I have only recently started taking her planet side (largely because I could not figure out how to drop Liam early on).  I like Drak as a character but have not really done much with him.  So far the only crew member that I have zero interest in is Liam.  He is a poor replacement for Garrus and will never be my best friend…  no matter how much the game really wants him to be.  As far as the other crew members…  they all seem way more hollow than the previous generation.  I actually liked going and talking to Joker or listening to Donnelly and Daniels banter back and forth.  As it stands now I just don’t care at all about Gil, Suvi, or Kallo.  That said however I do go talk to Dr Lexi at every opportunity because she is freaking awesome.  In any case… I feel like I have gotten acclimatized to the game and can now enjoy it properly.

Third Party Screenshot Tools

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Last night was the night we go out and do things in Final Fantasy XIV, but for a period of time before and after the events I got in some Mass Effect Andromeda.  There are still aspects of the game that I really do love, and aspects that I am really struggling to cope with.  I am trying really hard to come up with a headcanon that the 600 year cryo sleep has given pretty much everyone partial facial paralysis… because wow… just wow.  It is fine more or less when dealing with the normal ins and outs of missions… but when you take a romantic option you tread on some seriously painful uncanny valley territory.  I am hoping we get later patches that adjust this, because it is mostly a distraction from what is otherwise a pretty solid game.  I am having some weirdness with Ryder as well because I keep forgetting he isn’t Shepard.  I mean I am playing a Mass Effect game and dealing with weird elder god robotic space magic stuff…  and I am trying to approach the game as though I were my version of Shepard and it isn’t quite working out that way.  Maybe over time I will stop doing this, but for now Ryder is very much “Not-Shepard” for me and doesn’t have much of an identity of his own.  I get what they are trying to do with this game, but so far it feels like a pair of jeans that doesn’t quite fit right anymore but you are still trying to wear them.  There is so much love and nostalgia for those “jeans”, but its a struggle to keep them pulled up and keep from mooning everyone.

Now the weirdest thing about this game so far is that no one seems to be able to find the screenshot key?  I did some research last night and folks seemed to indicate it was F11…  however that did not actually work for me.  A second search this morning indicates that no… the game does not actually have a built in screenshot functionality and is relying on you to use some sort of a third party solution.  I have personally used FRAPS for the better part of a decade, and especially when I started doing the daily blogging thing I needed the ability to have a predictable place where all of my screenshots would be.  I’ve talked about this before but all of my screenshots get dumped into a single directory on each machine that I play games on… and then I pull those screenshots off onto network attached storage to sort into a Genre>Game directory structure for long term storage.  Basically when I write my morning posts… I am still waking up and I really need to make things as easy on myself as humanly possible.  Trying to remember what the hell the screenshot directory for this or that game is at 5:30 in the morning is not something I excel at.  Knowing that any recent shots are going to be in G:\Gameshots is much much easier, and with Windows 10 showing off recently used directories… it is also almost always easily available.  FRAPS unfortunately costs money, and is outdated… and at this point is not the most amazing thing in the world…  but it is extremely reliable and seems to be willing to take screenshots of anything.  It does have the nice side effect of having a one time fee of $37… and then lifetime free updates.  It feels sort of dirty that I had to point that out as a positive… because that used to be the way all software worked.  I thought however I would cover a few other options that are “Not-FRAPS”.

GeForce Experience

This is probably the secondary go to for me, and with the introduction of Ansel technology I am contemplating making the switch myself.  If you have a somewhat modern video card, it is almost certain to support ShadowPlay (gtx 650 or higher).  GeForce Experience is the weird software that exposes this functionality, and also gives you some performance tweaking options.  If you just want the ability to play games without having to fiddle with settings, you can launch the game once and then have Experience optimize the settings.  In all cases the game will be playable…  but I have found the software pretty conservative on quality settings especially if you are running in a generationally mismatched environment of an older CPU and newer Video Card.  However for the sake of screenshots you can toggle on share options, which gives you access to set screenshot functionality.  The reason why I am not already using this however is that there is no functionality for remapping your screenshot hotkey.

GeForce Experience Website

AMD Gaming Evolved

If you are on the Red team side of the house they have the AMD Gaming Evolved app… which you need to understand is just Raptr.  At some point they either bought them or struck a deal with them… but installing the AMD tool is functionally installing a beefed up version of the Raptr gaming social media thing.  It however offers screen shot functionality, but having not used this in years I cannot comment on how functional it is.

Raptr AMD Gaming Evolved Website

MSI Afterburner

Afterburner is a piece of software that has been around since the early days of PC Video Cards.  In fact it was originally called RIVATuner if I am remembering correctly, that specifically relates to the Riva series of Nvidia cards from the late 90s.  This is the go to software for overclocking, but it also has a bunch of packed in functionality…  one of which is the ability to snap screenshots and record video clips.  It is fairly light weight and just runs quietly in the background allowing you to take screenshots at will.  My only suggestion here is to make sure you don’t fiddle with any of the settings that you are not comfortable with.  You can absolutely crash your machine if you start playing with the sliders.  The fact that it is “MSI” branded really should not throw you off, because they simply maintain the software these days and it still works for every brand of video card.

MSI Afterburner Website

Windows 10 Game DVR

Included as part of the Windows 10 installation is the Xbox app, which among other things exposes something called the Game DVR.  This does some things that are good and some things that are not so good.  The not so good is that it will start recording gameplay footage, in a rolling loop of the last X minutes which is configurable.  The idea being that it gives you easy access to snag clips of gameplay footage AFTER it happens.  This also means that your system will be effectively recording video all of the time, and a certain bit of diskspace will simply just be lost to this process.  The positive is that it allows you to also set up a screenshot keybind without installing any additional software.  I’ve noticed a decent performance hit while this option is turned on, so this is largely why I do not personally choose to use it.  It is however there so I thought I would cover it as an option.

Windows 10 Game DVR Adjustment Settings

Forge.gg

In a similar “gaming DVR” camp is Forge which should be mentioned.  This is software that essentially allows you to broadcast your gameplay and after a session trim clips from it to save to the Forge website.  One of the options is to take still frames from this DVR footage, which also seemed a bit more contorted than I really wanted it to be for just taking screenshots.  However there are a ton of people that love the software, and the ability to stream without needing to do much of anything special.  I am throwing it out there because it technically can take decent screenshots, but it functions so vastly differently than what I want a screenshot software to function like.

Forge.gg Website

These are just a few options that I can think off off the top of my head at 6 in the morning.  There are countless other pieces of software that do some version of this functionality.  I continue to use FRAPs largely because it works like  want it to work, and doesn’t seem to consume much in the way of system resources.  It is also extremely reliably…  several other options I have tried in the past like DxTory or Greenshot have both created situations where I thought I was taking a screenshot… and ended up with either nothing, black screens, or pictures of my desktop icons.  While I absolutely can talk at length about the virtues of using some form of third party screenshot software… and having a filing system for said screenshots…  I can’t really push one piece of software over another.  You are ultimately going to need to try a bunch of them and find the one that seems to work with your gaming style.  Any of the ones I mentioned save for maybe Forge is going to probably function exactly how you want.

 

 

 

 

 

Going to Space

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I did not in fact stay up last night and play Andromeda, but man was it hard not to.  Over the weekend I got to play some of the early access trial and to be honest this game at least in the early minutes of game play is exactly what I liked about the Mass Effect series.  However first let me talk about the trial a bit before I go into that.  You got the trial through being an Origin Access subscriber.  Being in Origin Access gives you a discount on game purchases… that is roughly about what a month of the subscription is so it was honestly a no brainer to do that given that the discount functionally paid for itself.  Through this it unlocked a 10 hour trial of the game… which seemed weird but I figured there was no way I would actually play all ten hours.  So I pre-loaded the Trial and the game and wandered off on my mini vacation.  Friday night when I got back into town, I sat down on the sofa and booted the game on my laptop, fiddling around with the character creator before my wife suggested it was bed time.  I agreed and exited the game, expecting to have 9.5 hours worth of game play waiting on me.  While the game exited completely and was missing from my hotbar…  it was apparently still resident in memory somehow and Origin sat there ticking away my trial time while I slept.  When I got up the next morning, ate breakfast and finally settled in to do some gaming… I was extremely disappointed to find out that according to Origin I had completed my trial time.

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At the suggestions of Ashgar I tried using Origin customer support, because apparently in the past he had good luck with it.  That was not really the case for me, because firstly the live chat feature did not appear to be working and instead of telling me that on screen while I was waiting for chat to load…  it sent me an email telling me that to resolve my issues I needed to call the support center.  That is a huge strike against any customer service, if I actually have to call and talk to someone….  especially given that I have a hard enough time explaining my problem without having to also attempt to decode a vastly different accent and speech pattern than that of my own.  They had the option to ask for the support to call you, whenever someone was available and I did this…  but knew immediately things were going to not go well when they asked me to get on the machine that had Origin installed.  They started pushing me through steps to verify that Origin was installed…  without actually listening to the issue that I was having.  After about thirty minutes of working through someones flip file of instructions I finally got them to listen to the real issue, which was that Mass Effect did not fully close… and it ate up every last bit of my trial time.  They gave me back 5 hours of trial time, which was frustrating given that I should have had 9.5 hours….  but after the frustrations I was ready to just settle for anything.  Side note… if you ever do an Origin trial… make sure the game exits completely and open task manager to kill anything that looks connected to it.  I even went so far as to kill origin itself and the memory resident helper program.  This isn’t just a me thing because apparently the exact same bug happened to Tam yesterday and cost him whatever remained of his trial.

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The next big bullet point is that the real fun for me with Mass Effect is leading a team and running missions.  As a result my favorite Mass Effect game to date is the second one, because it had the most “Star Trek Away Team” moment, where we landed on a planet to assess what was going on and end up stumbling into adventure.  The story of the series is excellent, but it isn’t necessarily the hook for me.  Similarly the romance elements are interesting enough, but definitely not why I play the game and feel more like a mini game within the game.  I feel all of this is important because lots of different people play Mass Effect for completely different reasons.  So far… the game is scratching all of my itches and giving me a significantly better combat system to improve the feeling of exploring the galaxy.  What I always wanted was a game that offered the same sort of tactical missions that the second game had…. with the ability to literally land on any world that the first game had…  and it seems like maybe Andromeda is at least heading in that direction.  Granted I have only just done the intro mission and am now exploring the first tutorial planet, but so far so good.

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Please note there are absolutely some detractors to this game.  Firstly even though it was the ammunition for some horrific bullshit…  and I do not want to have any part of that…  the animations are bad.  It is no so much that the animations are bad themselves… it just feels like the rigging that attaches animations to the models is somehow faulty.  Sometimes it is perfectly fine, and other times…..  it is inhuman and creepy as your character duck walk runs through an area.  The truth is though that this is nothing new and there have been countless other games with model and animation issues out of the gate… and I am hoping with additional patching this will go away.  If not… I am hoping that someone releases an unofficial patch or mod that fixes it since playing on the PC gives me access to a bunch of these…  I am looking at you play dough hair from Dragon Age Inquisition.  Given that the models and animations are not why I am playing the game,  I can look past them and get on with the fit bits of game play but they are most definitely immersion breaking.

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The other big issue I have is the new dialog system.  No I am not talking the lack of red and blue options but more the way that the game just zooms you into conversation without sending you to a secondary interface.  Situations like this happen where I am talking to someone but doing so in an extremely awkward fashion that occludes most of the character to character interactions.  A lot of the problems I have experienced with animation screw ups have happened while exiting the dialog system, so I am wondering if the two are connected.  In the above image I snapped the shot just after exiting dialog and there is some weird layer separation going on with the colors.  If you look at some of the edges you can really see it… but it is as though the RGB layers are askew.  It fixes itself with time but during the dialog itself it feels like my eyes are out of focus.  I don’t necessarily mourn the loss of Vanguard and Renegade the way most people seem to… considering I rarely if ever took the renegade option.  Like sure… if I was tracking down a bad guy I would sometimes take the renegade option and shoot them in the head, but in moment to moment character interaction I am at my core a hero type.  I find it damned near impossible to play a Sith or true dark sider in SWTOR… and that same thing spills over into Mass Effect.

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All in all I have enjoyed the game quite a bit, in spite of its faults and am looking forward to getting home tonight and roaming the Andromeda galaxy.  Ash, Tam and I are I think going to give the multiplayer a spin and in theory I got enough freebie packs that allow me to create something resembling a character load out that I like.  I did not go with the super extra deluxe version that included some boosters, largely because multiplayer was not near the thing for me as it was my friends.  However I am totally down for giving it a proper whirl.  What I want to see however is more of these worlds and what exactly I can do to fix them.  Mass Effect Andromeda already has me in its grip, and I don’t think it is going to really lose me any time soon.  While I acknowledge there are issues, I am just taking a low sodium approach to it and realizing that there is a lot of good there that happens to cater to my very specific interests.

Weekend Adventures

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Today marks the first day back from a bit of a vacation.  As a result I must apologize for failing completely to write anything Friday.  I had every intent of making it an upside down day where I blog in the evening, however after getting home Friday night that just sort of evaporated.  I am leading the post off with a Mass Effect Andromeda screenshot, but I admit this is a little bit of bait and switch given that I am probably not going to be writing about that game at all until tomorrow morning.  Instead this morning I am going to talk about my adventures.  For the wife it has been spring break, and generally speaking we attempt to do something during that time.  When we traveled through Dallas on the way home from Pax South in January, we realized it had been a significant amount of time since we just went to the Metro for the sake of going there.  Another thing you need to know about us, is that we are die hard Half Priced Books fans… and for those not indoctrinated into that chain of book stores please click through this link and join the cult.  To call it a used book store is a bit of a disservice to just how many cool things they tend to have and how many genres they cross.  The only problem is there are none in the Tulsa metro area, however we regularly make a trip down the turnpike to Oklahoma City and hit the three that are located there.  Additionally any time we travel we see if there are any in the nearby area that we can either hit on the way there or on the way home.  As a result we have explored many in the Kansas City, St Louis, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Madison areas, and a few singlets we have found along the way.

Similarly I also love Micro Center and Fry’s Electronics… but we have neither of those chains.  I make an attempt to hit them any time I am in the vicinity, so combing those two goals we had this idea of trying to hit as many stores as we could.  What we did not figure in is just how damned big the Metro is, and how much time we would lose simply in travelling.  Additionally we threw in a trip to IKEA which is always a must, and Container Store…  as well as a slew of Target and Walmart stores to hunt for interesting clearance.  The end result is that over the course of what was functionally a day and a half in the Metro we hit I believe 10 Half Priced Book Stores, 2 Fry’s, the single solitary Micro center, IKEA and one of the several Container Stores.  The last we largely manages to catch because there happened to be one across the street from the In and Out burger we stopped at for lunch on Friday.  As far as eating establishments, we managed to hit Fuzzy’s Tacos for lunch on Thursday and an apparent local chain called Snuffers for dinner that night as well as the previously mentioned In and Out.  As far as wandering… my wife and I are extremely “drift compatible” when it comes to exploring new areas.  The only problem is… we did not even touch the Forth Worth area stores because we did not always take the most optimum routes.  That is one thing I really want… the ability to throw a bunch of points on a map and have google plot the most optimal course to hit all of them.  We also did not exactly stay in the most optimal location either… with me picking a random hotel in Richardson with quite possibly the most uncomfortable beds I have ever slept in.  All in all however it was fun trip, and as is always the case I took some photos of things that I found interesting…  which is more than likely going to be the bulk of the rest of this post.

arenabooktryptich

At one of the HPB stores, I found a copy of Magic the Gathering Arena… which in itself was not that big of a deal.  However what was interesting is that in the back of the book nobody had detached and sent in the coupon for the free card.  I’ve mangled a triptych of images here so you can see the book cover, the coupon as well as the card that you would have gotten had you turned in it.  I believe I have this card laying around somewhere, because while the book was pretty crummy…  at the time I was absolutely after any card I could get my hands on.

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Another interesting find is some Blizzard Noobz figures circa Blizzcon 2009.  They had the Murloc, Undead, and Ragnaros but sadly had none of the Jim Raynor which is probably the coolest of the set.  I ended up picking up the Ragnaros because I always liked that one as well.  I was just sort of shocked to see them still in the wild… and even more so that they had been marked down to $5.

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In the straight up odd department, at IKEA I found this interesting “hanging dryer” as the sign said.  Some googling tells me that this is extremely popular with the “cloth diaper” community.  Whatever the case… it is an adorable octopoid hanger and was worth taking a photo of.

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Finally in the just straight up weird category… one of the various stores I hit had a Daryl Dixon Funko Pop… that was literally the size of someones head.  I was trying to figure out what I could hold up for scale… and wound up using my hand but that may or may not be useful given that my hands are also huge.  You can however see a normal pop box on the shelf below for a potentially better reference.

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In the realm of “Bel has lost his damned mind” another happening over the extended four day weekend… is that I decided to shave back down to a mustache/goatee combo.  I just felt like I needed a change for awhile after doing a perfect impression of Hagrid for the better part of the last few years.   This photo was snapped while recording AggroChat because my co-hosts could not believe that I actually did it, so that is why you get garbage lighting conditions and a microphone in my face.

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Finally we wrapped the weekend with officially opening our back yard for the spring.  This means that my wife and I spent most of Saturday afternoon collecting leaves, spraying for weeds…  and applying a copious amount of fungicide to our very tree-like red tipped photinias.  The best part of this is of course that our patio just off the bedroom is now open for business, and my wife spent most of Sunday out there grading in the shade of our balcony.  Tonight I need to drag all ten bags of assorted yard debris around to the curb so that the trash service can pick them up on Tuesday.  The way our town works, is that we have to use these rather expensive bags that have the city name printed all over them, which in turn get filtered off into a green waste system.  The alternative was to buy a second trash bin, but that also limits you to only having a fixed amount each week.  This way we can clean the yard whenever we get the desire to do so and simply pay for bags.  Whatever the case the yard is open once more… and I’ve already gotten several birds coming to check out the feeder.  Yesterday we had a couple of gorgeous cardinals and a pair of blue jays, and it seems like the nesting pairs of turtles doves are back as well.  Now I just need to find me a switch so I can hang out on the back patio and play in style.