Year End Wall of Text

Over the last few days I have been doing a number of posts to review the year that is ending, and with today being the last day of 2018…  I thought I would probably do another one. This time however it is probably going to downshift considerably and get into personal territory.  It was an odd year for me specifically and quite frankly… not an amazing one. My world had been fairly hectic and as a result it has trickled down to effecting how I view this blog and the games I end up playing.

This was the year that I took over as Manager of my section at work being comprised of three different subject areas.  That means that on any given day I am responsible for roughly fifteen other lives, not to mention a handful of individuals that may not actually report to me but regularly seek advisement.  Now this is something I have steadily moved towards over the last decade, but even with that… I am not sure I was quite prepared for the stress level increase.

I am now accountable not only for the actions of myself, or previously the actions of the handful of application developers…  but also the actions of a whole bunch of people that I am significantly less integrated with. So this year has been in large part about me getting accustomed to this role and learning everything I can about the roles of everyone that was not a traditional developer before the transition.

We also had a pretty significant shake up position wise and saw me having to go on a hiring spree in which I filled several positions.  As is the case with hiring there is a certain trickle effect where… someone higher up leaves, and you promote someone into that position…  which leaves another vacancy and so on. This meant for what felt like six months I was doing interviews… which is weirdly more tiring than you might think.  The positive is that I got to promote a lot of great people who were waiting in the wings… and also hire several more awesome people in the process.

It is weird how much leading guilds in MMORPGs prepared me for this role, and in truth I wish we lived in a world where that was more recognizable as valid experience.  Had I not lead guilds and raids there is no way I would have had the people skills required to make the transition work at all. If you can convince 20-40 strangers to do something…  then you can convince 10-15 people you can actually sit in the same room with to make the changes needed that have actual tangible benefits to their lives.

On the gaming front however 2018 was a pretty lonely year for me, and I found myself withdrawing further and further away from anything resembling organized play.  I think part of this comes from the fact that by the time I got home… I was “over socialized” from having to be responsible for so many other people. Another part of this comes from the fact that things that happened in 2016 and 2017 were starting to really affect me in 2018.

For years I had been in the habit of hanging out every night on voice chat with the various members of the AggroChat community, be it either the other five members of the podcast or the various folks that surrounded it.  When the podcast started it was made up of 4 members that lived in the EST timezone and myself and another that lived in CST. That meant at worst we were an hour apart and pretty drift compatible as it comes to gaming together.

For years I was used to getting up at 5:30 in the morning and going to bed around midnight.  However with the way my life has changed that is just no longer sustainable. Now as the night wears on I start to wind down around 9-9:30 and play for thirty minutes or so on my phone before falling asleep around 10ish.  So that alone has greatly lowered my window of viability from having about five hours each night to do things in… to a much shorter three hour window.

Starting in 2015 a change happened…  slowly at first but it built over time.  It began with the migration westward of Tamrielo to Seattle, and before long Kodra had accepted what seemed to be his dream job and joined him.  A little bit after that Ashgar migrated as well because he had the functionality to work remotely from pretty much anywhere. Before I even really grasped the ramifications, half of our show was located on the West Coast and as such two hours behind me.

What this meant in practice is all too often they were showing up to play games…  at roughly the same time I was trying to disengage for the night. For a long while this was okayish, because I still had Thalen and Grace to hang out with, but I found myself spending less and less time in voice chat, because there was nothing more depressing than an empty server… or in our case a server with a ghost of Kodra on it because he never logs out of anything.  

Grace and I did more and more together because we seemed to usually be playing the same games.  However this year Thalen and Grace both had life changing events alter their play schedules and as such I am sort of now the odd man out as it were.  So I am left with this decision… do I just accept that I am a single player gamer or do I invest the social capitol that it takes to branch out and find new groups of people to play with?  Because of the draining nature of my work changes… the answer has generally been that I just sit alone and figure out things to do that don’t actually require other people to do them.

This is not a cry for help mind you, because there are a constant string of awesome people who keep inviting me to do things with them.  Squirrel and Waren are always offering assistance on the Destiny 2 front, and I have a list of people that I could be doing stuff with in Monster Hunter World as well.  Similarly the Final Fantasy XIV free company is super active and all it would take is for me to show up on the right nights to get back engaged with doing lots of things with them.  The problem is… all of these things take a number of “spoons” that I generally do not have in my drawer.

Two Thousand and Eighteen was a year when I felt completely out of sync with everything going on around me.  I am hoping that Two Thousand and Nineteen can see me finding ways to remedy that. Since tomorrow is New Years I am likely going to call it a holiday and not make post, but Wednesday I will return with a post about some of the ways I am hoping to change my current situation.  The last few years have been rough, and I am hoping in this next year some things start to turn around. Sorry for ending the year on a bit of a bummer post… but I sorta had to write what was in my mind.  As not to end the post on a complete downturn…  this year was also the year I got back into contact with a good friend of mine from High School so that was definitely in the wins column.

Games of the Blog 2018 Edition

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Traditionally at this time of year you start seeing a bunch of review and award posts, and quite frankly I am not beneath this in the least.  However since we are recording our official AggroChat Games of the Year show this weekend, I thought I would kick off this morning with a sort of “Games of the Blog” post.  I am not going to be handing out awards or anything of the sort but instead just going to be spending some time this morning talking about the games that were really important to me during this calendar year.  The problem with “of the year” stuff is that I always get tied up on the minutiae of whether or not I should only pick games that came out during a specific calendar year, or if I can freely pick the games that I played and meant something to me.  In the end this blog post is likely going to be an amalgam of the two.

Monster Hunter World – PC

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If I was going to pick a true “Game of the Year” then it would probably be Monster Hunter World because I have spent more time playing it than probably any other game.  It released in January on the Playstation 4 and I played my way through to past Tempered Kirin and into my 50s for Hunter Rank.  Then I turned around and completely restarted the game when it released on PC in August and pushed my way back up past Tempered Kirin and into the 60s on my Hunter Rank.  I call out Tempered Kirin because it really is the bottle neck for progression and is a truly painful fight…  if you are apparently anyone other than Tam who supposedly breezed right past it?  The main reason why this game deserves the prime honors for this year is two fold…  firstly I played it all year long and never stopped being engaged with it.  While I might take breaks I can always return happily and there is always something for me to strive towards be it a weapon or a piece of gear or a new event that is happening for a limited time.

The secondary reason is that this is the game that made me “Grok” Monster Hunter as a franchise.  I have purchased several versions of this franchise and each time have bounced extremely hard off of it, because quite frankly the games do a poor job of on-boarding you into this world.  They were a game series that assumed you had been playing since the Playstation 2 days and would just simply know what to do without any question.  Monster Hunter World on the other hand took time to teach you the ropes and while it has a lot of weird things going on…  in the fact that its grouping system is obtuse as hell…  it is manageable and becomes way less so on the PC which utilizes Steam social groups in place of a clan or guild.  I love this game so much and am completely amped for the expansion later this year, and for the most part this has been a year about me playing Monster Hunter World and Destiny 2 as my primary MMOs.  If you have not played this game then I highly suggest you check it out soon.  If you end up picking it up on the PC let me know, because I am more than happy to show new folks the ropes.

Destiny 2 Forsaken – PC

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During Destiny 1 the Taken King expansion refocused the game and greatly improved the moment to moment interactions, and was more or less the point where I turned from a casual fan to a rabid fanatic.  Destiny 2 on the other hand had a really rough start and it felt like they had simply not learned from the three years of lessons taught by Destiny 1.  With the launch of Forsaken…  Destiny 2 had its Taken King moment where they tweaked all of the things that needed tweaking and presented the best version of the game to the public.  The game went from being something that I played but often times felt like I had no real focus…  to being a game that I rabidly consume in a weekly cycle that never quite gives me enough time to actually feel like I have done “all the things”.  There are so many micro objectives to accomplish and the moment to moment gameplay feels so much more improved, removing all of my complaints from year one.  Forsaken presented a story that was not quite what I was expecting, and gave us a choose your own adventure path to move through it.  However the real reason why it is on this list is the massive replayability, and the ability for me to drop in any given night and have plenty of things that I want to be doing.  It is a great game and our clan is starting to get active once again which is excellent…  now I just need to find the people to make a raid happen once more.

Diablo 3 – Switch

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A game that I totally did not expect to be putting on this list is Diablo 3 for the Nintendo Switch, but wow is this a great port of the game.  Lately this has been my go to game of choice for the Nintendo Switch and apart from some weirdness surrounding seasonal characters it is just flawless.  I had never really spent much time playing Diablo 3 on any of the consoles, even though there was a short lived experiment of me trying to play it on the Vita through Remote Play from my PS4.  At that point however Diablo 3 on console was a vastly different experience than on the PC because you lost seasons and adventure mode.  In the meantime however Blizzard has caught the software base up and as far as I can tell all versions of the game have pretty much all of the features.  Diablo 3 fits with the portability of the switch so amazingly well and allows you to drop in and kill some demons and then pop back out and get on with whatever you need to be doing.  Well worth checking out especially if you had trouble getting into Diablo as a mouse click game…  seeing as a few of the AggroChat folks latched onto this title when they never really had with the PC equivalent.

Return of the Obra Dinn – PC

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This one is extremely fresh to the list given that I played through it in a single sitting this weekend of about six hours.  Please don’t let that relatively short play time make you think that the game might not be worth every penny of its $20 price tag however.  There isn’t a whole lot I can say about this game that would not give away major plot points, however here goes the elevator pitch version.  In 1802 the Obra Dinn set sail with a sixty person crew and disappeared mysteriously…  five years later it washed up with no one still alive on board and you are an insurance adjuster for the East India Company tasked with the job of determining the fate of everyone that was on the manifest.  The trick is you are given a mystical pocket watch of sorts that allows you to see the last moments of a persons life, and through a series of these still vignettes you have to piece together what happened on the ship.  The game is essentially one giant logic puzzle, and as you go you are filling in details in a log book of sorts that asks you to determine who killed a given person and in what fashion.  All of this sounds kinda dry to this point… but once I got hooked I could not put the game down because the story it hints at is so interesting.  I guess there in lies the problem… you get hints and scraps of information instead of a cohesive narrative and are asked to draw a lot of your own conclusions…  which is sorta the thing Destiny does as well.  So if you bounce off that sort of indirect storytelling…  then it might not be for you.  For me however… I gobbled it up.

Draglia Lost – Android

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I never expected to care this much about a mobile game.  I have been a bit of a snob in that department, not really considering mobile games to be of the same value as more traditional options.  Ultimately I would download something from the play store, play it for a week… and then promptly uninstall because whatever mirth was there was gone and I didn’t have a reason to keep playing once I reached the inevitable paywall.  With Dragalia however there has been a constant drip feed of content that has kept me engaged, and they do this great thing where when one event finishes…  they give you a preview of the event that is just around the corner to keep you interested and logging in every day.  This has become my before bed activity of playing through at least enough to finish all of this games Daily quests.  When there is an event going on I focus more on grinding my way through the really fun boss fights, one of which is shown in the left most panel of the above triptych.  It also feels like I am always trying to build better element focused teams, so swapping out characters and rapidly leveling them up with items to try and keep building a better fighting force.  I am still not the biggest fan of the touch to move interface…  but once I turned off the rotate 180 degree option the movement felt more fluid and manageable.  I still would prefer to play this on the switch…  but I am more than happy to keep logging in every day on my phone as I lay in bed.

 Magic the Gathering Arena – PC

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Over the years I have dabbled in a bunch of digital card games like Hearthstone, but always found them to be lacking in one way or another.  I would play them and enjoy them on some level…  but never quite replaced Magic the Gathering in my heart.  The digital form factor works so much better for me personally as an adult than the paper one, because I just don’t have a group that I can play Magic with in the same way as I did in High School.  The other problem that I run into is that while Friday Night Magic exists… it is traditionally way more competitive than I want to be, seeing as I get a kick out of throwing together some janky decks built around a theme…  that just get plastered by anyone who is “netdecking” for efficiency.  Magic Online was a generally horrible experience because it did nothing to actually onboard the player into it…  not to mention its obtuse form of purchasing cards by talking to what is essentially an IRC Chatbot.  Arena however brings the sensibility of a digital first game like Hearthstone to my beloved Magic the Gathering and I completely love it.  I am not playing every night, but have played often enough to at least get a few rounds in every single week.  If you are or were a player of Magic the Gathering… I highly suggest you check it out because this is really the game I was waiting on all this time.  Essentially Hearthstone and all of the other related digital card games are dead to me now that the ACTUAL Magic experience exists in a user friendly form.

Night in the Woods – PC

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This game did not come out during the 2018 calendar year… but it was really important to me regardless.  As someone who grew up in a Tiny town and went through the awkward transition of being one of the few people who made it past my first semester of college…  with pretty much a good percentage of my class mates dropping out to “go back home”…  this game personally attacked me at times.  I related to the tale and the downfall of the town a bit too closely.  Sure we didn’t have a creepy abandoned flooded tram system in town, but we had our share of things that were once glorious and had fallen into complete squalor.  I also came so damned close to dropping out of college at one point during my path, and I sort of related to that as well.  This is a great game and the problem is… I am not sure it would be for anyone who had not experienced some of the things that are slantwise related to the tale that is being told.  For me…  I latched onto this game hard and it became this weirdly remixed version of my life.  For you however… it might just be a cute game with cartoon animals and a weirdly dark story thread running in the background.  I think you owe it to yourself however to see which it is for you… because for me it was bordering on life changing.

 

 

 

Games Played 2018 Edition

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Over the years I have developed two habits that help me keep track of what games I am playing in a given month.  The first is that I take a lot of screenshots and archive them on network attached storage so that I can reach out and get one for this blog when I need it.  The second is that since April of 2013 I have been blogging at a minimum every weekday…  and for the first three years and some change…  every single day.  This gives me a pretty good record to know what I happened to be playing in a given stretch of time.  Years ago I used to use the Raptr gaming service to track what games I happened to be playing, but as that got sold and my game time fragmented between multiple console platforms as well… it became harder for me to get a high level view of what I happened to be doing at a given period of time.  As such I crawled back through my screenshots and my blog posts and started piecing together a map of what games I played in a given month.  Now this is not necessarily tracking the length of time played…  but instead that I played a given game during a specific month.

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This is going to look like nonsense to my viewers but this image represents the top 25 games played since May of 2012…  that I had either written or screenshot proof that I was playing at the time.  Essentially I question the reliability of this record any further back than April of 2013, but I decided to extend it out as far as I could just for sake of tracking patterns.  There are years when I play an awful lot of games… and then there are years when I don’t play many at all.  This year for example I played seventy two different games throughout the year and eight of them I played for more than five months.  On the other side of that coin 32 of the games that I played were singletons… where they were only played in a single month.  Now some of these were new games that failed to gain traction like State of Decay 2 that I had been looking forward to greatly… and others are games like Horizon Zero Dawn where I booted it back up to return briefly to a game that I had played an awful lot more in the previous year.  If you are curious enough to dig into the madness you can see the full google sheet that I maintain here.  The biggest trend you will notice is that I am one of those people that revisits old territory quite often, especially when it comes to booting up an older MMO and spending a weekend or two exploring it again.

The problem with this concept is that it is really hard to keep track of a nice clean “Top 25” list as there are ultimately a lot of games that end up being tied for the same number of months.  As such for this specific year if we set the benchmark at three months played…  because there were thirteen games that spanned two months sorta skewing the results a bit.  For games that I played three or more months however we end up with a list of twenty three games.  So as a result lets run them down.  One thing that I have done since last year is combined time played in Destiny 1 with time played in Destiny 2 since there was effectively a clean cut-over there with no real overlap.

  • Destiny/Destiny 2 – 12 Months
  • Elder Scrolls Online – 12 Months
  • Pokemon Go – 12 Months
  • Monster Hunter World – 12 Months
  • World of Warcraft – 10 Months
  • Magic the Gathering Arena – 9 Months
  • Diablo 3 – 6 Months
  • Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate – 5 Months
  • Final Fantasy XIV – 4 Months
  • Neverwinter – 4 Months
  • Dauntless – 4 Months
  • Dragalia Lost – 4 Months
  • Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor Martyr – 4 Months
  • Fallout 4 – 3 Months
  • Minecraft – 3 Months
  • The Division – 3 Months
  • No Man’s Sky – 3 Months
  • Assassin’s Creed Origins – 3 Months
  • Path of Exile – 3 Months
  • Warframe – 3 Months
  • Fallout 76 – 3 Months
  • God of War – 3 Months
  • Hollow Knight – 3 Months

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So if we look at just 2017 against 2018 there are some interesting things at work here.  Firstly mobile games played way more of a presence in my gaming diet than they have ever before with Pokemon go effectively being played at least once a month since it released in July of 2017 for a grand total of 18 months of it being on my radar.  Dragalia Lost similarly has been played every single month since release, and in many cases almost every night before I fall asleep to at a minimum do the dailies.  Another thing that happened this year was that Final Fantasy XIV seemingly feel completely off my radar with playing it only 4 months instead of the previous years 7 months.  Destiny looks a little bit weird because there were two months of overlap between the games so 2017 shows it as “14” months because I didn’t have a great way of accounting for that…  but during the last two years there has not been a month that I did not play the Destiny franchise and in truth that reaches all the way back to September of 2016 in contiguous play.  Elder Scrolls Online held way more of a presence this year as being another one of those games that I played at least once a month all year long going up from 2 months the previous year.  The real story of the year however is Monster Hunter World that sort of came out from nowhere and then was the game that I probably played the most throughout the entire year, and also inspired me to latch onto Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate when it released in August.  Similar to Destiny 2 this is a game that I started on the Playstation 4 and then moved to PC when the staggered release for it happened…  so my time accounts for leveling essentially twice.

This year also made a bunch of changes in the months played all time list, but considering how entrenched World of Warcraft is it is highly unlikely that anyone will dethrone it until I just completely quit cold turkey.  Thankfully I can create a nice clean top 15 list here so lets review the “All Time” list.

  • World of Warcraft – 57 Months
  • Final Fantasy XIV – 46 Months
  • Destiny/Destiny 2 – 45 Months
  • Rift – 39 Months
  • Elder Scrolls Online – 38 Months
  • Diablo 3 – 29 Months
  • Pokemon Go – 20 Months
  • ArcheAge – 13 Months
  • Fallout 4 – 13 Months
  • Guild Wars 2 – 13 Months
  • Wildstar – 13 Months
  • Monster Hunter World – 12 Months
  • Everquest II – 11 Months
  • Minecraft – 10 Months
  • Star Wars the Old Republic – 10 Months

This list is going to continue to shift over time, but with the selling of Trion Worlds to Gamigo… I have a feeling that ArcheAge and Rift are frozen in time and will likely not be gaining any more months played.  Similarly Wildstar has officially shuttered and it is equally frozen on the list and will eventually work its way out of the top.  Monster Hunter World and Pokemon Go are both climbing significantly and I feel like there is a good chance Destiny franchise will climb into the second place at some point in the future as I am playing it way more regularly than I am Final Fantasy XIV.  Elder Scrolls Online is going to seize the third spot early next year as well.  Diablo 3 is sort of the little engine that could and it will probably always be on the list, but the sporadic nature in which I play that game keeps it from really gaining ground.  Fallout 4 is the one that sort of shocked me… but I guess I keep returning to it much the same way as I did Fallout 3 or New Vegas before.  If you are curious you can see last years list on the Games Played 2017 Edition post.

This is largely a thing that I do for myself, but I guess the question is… does anyone find it interesting?  What games did you play the most often this year and why?  I would love to hear your answers in the comments.

Holiday Weekend Rundown

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For a good number of us this is “return to work day” and I am hoping it is finding you well.  Our holiday was a bit odd because my wife and I were realistically too sick to go to any of the family festivities.  As such we begged off on a few of the traditions until next weekend.  I used to take all of the time off between Christmas Eve and the day after New Years, but I was late getting my request in.  As such I am going to be stuck being the sole manager at work, and in truth the only voice of authority on my side of the house…  which will be interesting.  I did however take off all of next week to make up for it…  so I just need to get through the next few days.  This partial week is more or less going to be one of retrospection on the blog as I start doing the various year end activities.  This morning however I am going to talk about the various gaming related things I did over the weekend, starting with the Starlight Celebration in FFXIV…  which was adorable as usual but not really worth talking much about otherwise.

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Next up there is a holiday event running in Magic the Gathering Arena where you can play Pauper for free for a handful of prizes.  I threw together some black and green jank and immediately lost the first round, so I thought this would be a short lived event for me.  My hope was to win a single round so I could get the full art Llanowar Elves.  Instead however I went five wins after that initial loss and wound up winning a Firemind’s Research…  which is in Izzet colors and not exactly the sort of thing I play but hey…  free card and closing out the event by winning.  I need to play a few more rounds so I can stack up three more of the Llanowar Elves, but when I say it is a bunch of jank I mean it.  There is literally no discernible theme in this deck other than a bunch of cards that I for one reason or another like.

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Another thing that I did over the break was farm up a full set of the Universal Studios of Japan gear, which was available for PC players.  On the console you had to do a bunch of nonsense to get someone who had actually visited the theme park to start the queue for you.  On the PC however we could just join straight away so I got a cool set of reskinned High Rank Rathalos gear and a Rank 7 water based longsword.  Mostly these are things for the collection and while I will use Rathalos parts for mixed sets, it is going to be super rare that I actually break that sword out.

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Another thing that happened is I played through Return of the Obra Dinn from start to finish in a single sitting.  Well technically not a single sitting as I took some bathroom breaks there, but more or less played for six hours start until I beat it that night.  For the uninitiated this is a game that is attempting to feel old school… but doing a bunch of things that those elder games never could have accomplished.  The elevator pitch is that the Obra Dinn disappeared on the high seas in 1802 and mysteriously arrived in port in 1807.  You are dispatched as an insurance adjuster for the London Office of the East India Company and armed with a special pocket watch that allows you to view the last moments of a specific individuals death.  This more or less is a logic puzzle as you need to sort out the names and fates of all fifty-ish passengers, but what hooked me was the story being told through snippets… because quite frankly I wanted to learn more and just kept pushing forward.  Well worth the play through and is now going on my list for the Games of the Year AggroChat show.

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Finally I spent a ridiculous amount of time building in Minecraft because it was relaxing.  Ultimately I was watching something on History channel about ancient ruins, which prompted me to want to build in Minecraft.  That is generally how my Minecraft sessions go… I will get the urge to build something and then off I go into a project for awhile.  I am not entirely certain how this building came out the way it did…  but I started off wanting to build a giant pyramid and then decided to shift goals halfway through.  Each time I started building it sort of took a different direction and since I snapped this screenshot I have added more stuff onto it.  I did it in creative mode since I wasn’t really in the mood to mine tons of materials before I could start this sort of a project.  There are times when I will start something legit and other times like this one where I just wanted to build a thing that I had in my head.  Right now I am getting a strong urge to demolish the staircase and rebuild it as something with landings every so often.

Regardless that was my holiday break in a nutshell.  We also recorded a show along the way at some point which I have linked above.  I hope you had the best of holidays and that you don’t have to go back today.  However if you do…  our tears will keep us moisturized as we return to the salt mines.  Let me know how your holiday break went, and what cool things you did along the way!

Holiday Checklist

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This morning I feel like I should be writing something terribly profound given that this is my last post before Christmas.  Unfortunately I am not feeling profound.  We went to a Holiday party last weekend and my wife seems to have picked up some crud, which has progressed throughout the week.  Over the the last two days it feels like I too am coming down with whatever it is.  Fortunately today I only work a half day and then am off for four days.  I used to do this thing where I would essentially take off from before Christmas all the way through to after New Years but unfortunately…  given the position I am in  the other two section managers got their requests in before me.  So as such I am back to work on Wednesday and then off again the first week of the year, which should be fine.  I honestly don’t mind so much given that Christmas is largely about the kids and the other two managers have them… and I do not.  Like my cats won’t actually notice that a holiday is happening and will instead just look at me strangely when I am home during the day on a non-weekend.

Because I used to have almost two weeks off at Christmas I would do all sorts of things with that amount of time.  One year for example I played through Mass Effect 3…  and then played through Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3 all over again in sequence to see how the decisions effected each other.  Another Christmas I leveled in duo the entire time in Star Wars the Old Republic.  This time however I don’t feel like I have anywhere near as much time as I would have liked so I am going to have to temper those expectations.  Some of the things I would like to accomplish over the break.

  • Dad of War
    • I would love to actually make more progress in this game and better yet would love to beat it so that I could decide if it is in fact on my games of the year list or not.
  • Monster Hunter World
    • both the USJ and Behemoth events are live on PC and I want to farm gear from both of those.
  • Destiny 2
    • I would like to ignite the last few forges that I am missing.
  • FFXIV
    • I want to do the holiday event and collect the items that come from it.
    • I would also love to get unstuck gear wise and learn to farm dungeons as a tank again.
    • I would really love to figure out the glamour chest system and clean out my banks.
  • Elder Scrolls Online
    • I just want to figure out why the hell my patcher is no longer working and get back in game.

Now that is a lot of things to try and cram into four days, given that we also have holiday festivities involved as well.  However it is worth a shot.  We unfortunately still have a bunch of shopping to do because we are bad at thinking of things to get for people during the run up to the holidays and wind up frantic at the last moment.  It is going to be a rather un-fun holiday if my wife stays sick and I continue to get sicker.  However that does not preclude me from wishing all of you out there a very Happy Holiday.  I will likely be hanging out in various online games since that tends to be what I do on breaks, so if you see me around say hi and I will wish you a proper greeting in real time as well.  I hope everyone has a great break and some good times with whoever you choose to call your family be they related or just an assemblage of the people that matter to you in life.  Next week I will start doing my rundown posts to cap the year, but in the meantime…  enjoy yourselves and I will likely see you again on Wednesday unless the spirit hits me.

 

Holiday Checklist – I have a shortened break but here are a few of the things I would like to accomplish.

Return of the NDA

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Yesterday I mentioned that I thought I had a blog post in me about games testing and NDAs, and this morning we are going to see if that is true.  For those who are uninitiated the NDA stands for a Non-Disclosure agreement, and if you have reached this step in life without having already signed one count yourself lucky.  As a software developer by trade, pretty much every job has required one from me so I was more than familiar with them when I also started signing them for games tests.  Since I am talking about material that cannot effectively be spoken about… I decided to mock up the experience of playing something heavily governed with the above image filled with watermarks.  Currently I am engaged in three separate alpha tests and it seems as though the winds have changed.  For awhile it was en vogue to do all of your testing as a public alpha that allowed those who were in to effectively act as free advertising for the game drumming up hype along the way.

The problem with that however is that I am not entirely certain it ever worked as intended.  YouTube has basically made a cottage industry of mocking games that are not quite ready for prime time, which in truth should be any alpha or beta test.  Originally those were times for the game to find itself and having a limited testing group helped to prune things that were not working and hone in and polish the things that were.  However within the last decade these shifted from being a development mechanism to taking on a bunch of different purposes.  You had some games where the alpha or beta served as an extended demo period… take for example Fallout 76 that went into “beta” on October 23rd and the final game “shipped” on November 14th.  Having been around software development for going on three decades now…  there are no meaningful changes that can be made in such a short period of time.

Another case that has sprung up are the games that began selling access to testing in the form of “early access” or “founders packs”, which amount to you helping to fund the development of the game and in theory helping to shape the features as they are being put into the game.  I’ve purchased a number of paid alphas over the years, because in some cases especially with Indie games it gives you the opportunity to lock the game in at a bargain price.  After all when I bought into Minecraft it was less than $10 and that certainly was an investment that paid off over time.  However all too often games languish in early access more as a means of getting their shit together and keeping websites from publishing “official reviews” of the title since they can keep claiming that it is still in beta.  Rust for example went into early access in December of 2013 and finally launched in February or 2018…  which maybe seems like an excessive amount of time in testing.  The other problem with early access is you are effectively squandering whatever hype you might have had upon launching the game…  because effectively in the eyes of your players you launched a buggy game when you opened initial access.

The biggest problem with public testing is that while it allows you to develop a bit of a grass roots community on platforms like YouTube or Twitch… it also means that at any moment you could be subject to the same sort of blooper reels that effectively killed Mass Effect Andromeda.  Within days of that game launching a number of the issues were cleared up and I found it to be an amazingly fun experience.  However once the glitch videos started circulating it not only killed the game… but effectively killed the franchise.  Opening your game to the world is effectively playing with fire and once you get to a certain level of hype there are going to be folks all too willing to shit on your game to make a buck and rake in the views.

So effectively what I am seeing as a result is that more games are going underground and slapping an NDA on so that they can safely get on with the business of testing.  I was one of the very early tests of Elder Scrolls Online, starting with the very first external test in February of 2013 and continuing right up until the April 2014 launch date.  During that time I watched that game change significantly sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse but it was legitimately a testing process where we provided feedback and the developers reacted to it.  That is how testing should be and started out with limited engagement testing every few weeks and then eventually worked up to being on for longer periods of time.  

I’ve been in extremely bizarre alpha tests as well.  One company required me to effectively fill out a contract that included the NDA as part of that, and not only sign a digital agreement but to print out a document and get it witnessed and notarized.  In addition to that I had to send in a photocopy of my drivers license.  I’ve had others where the game was technically restricted but I never actually wound up agreeing to anything and had a key just show up in my mail box with no mention of the NDA in the letter.  I personally tend to take the NDA pretty seriously, and in twenty years of testing maintained a firewall that keeps information about said games out of the things I am willing to talk about publicly.  I am only really comfortable talking about this in general right now because I am in three separate testing processes and there is no real way of you guessing which games that might be.

Sure it sucks that I can’t talk about the things that I am really enjoying, because there are things I could hype about each of them.  There are also things that I would complain about each of them, and that NDA is effectively buying the company time to fix or at least mitigate those problems.  I for one am happy to see closed testing returning to seemingly being the norm, because after years of public testing I am not sure the hype generated ever was worth the issues that arose from it.  There will always be people willing to break NDA like the individual who streamed Anthem and got some reportedly major circumstances for doing so…  but then later was confirmed to not actually have any games on their Origin profile to start with.  The thing is though… breaking an NDA is against the terms of service of most digital distribution platforms and in theory you could lose whatever account you used to cause the break on.  It would never be worth me risking my Steam account for example, just in the hopes of getting a few more eyeballs to find this blog or my neglected twitch stream.

To wrap this up… I am very much in favor of games testing starting to go dark again.  That said my job is also not tied to talking about games.  This is a thing I do for fun and as a hobby, and I have gone out of my way to not actually make any money from this blog in spite of the regular stream of folks who want to advertise on it.  Were this my daytime gig I might feel completely different, because then I would be grasping at things to fill the current 24 hour a day gaming news cycle.  Everyone loves seeing a sneak peek at games, and when you have alpha access and can take some really cool screenshots or videos to embellish your prose, it makes for a compelling user experience.

This is just my take, but I am absolutely open to other ideas. Are you in favor of games testing going dark or would you prefer that testing remain open and public?

MMORPG Social

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Over the last few days I have found myself playing around with Mastodon quite a bit more.  For those who remember I wrote a series of posts about Mastodon, talking about its potential as a twitter replacement.  The two posts of note are probably “Adventures in the Federiverse” where I largely botch the agreed upon “Fediverse” name, and a later one where I talk about the customs I wish I knew about going into it.  I still have a lot of hope about the concept, but I also found myself largely falling out of frequency in using it.  Nineties.Cafe had this great run of regular activity and then almost simultaneously we all sorta wandered off more than likely because we got busy.

This recent flurry of activity has in part been do to the very excellent Gazimoff aka Gareth Harmer and creating the MMORPG.social mastodon instance.  At first I thought this was something connected to MMORPG.com since well you know… he is one of the writers there.  After some digging however I guess the root is with the loss of Wildstar, the idea seems to be bourn out of trying to create a neutral non-game based MMORPG community that lets people continue to stay in touch.  This is something I can definitely get behind, plus the launch of a new instance is an awful lot like the launch of a new MMORPG itself… and everyone appears to be happy and busy and active.

The only negative is that I seem to be leaving ground strewn in my wake full of past instances.  For those who have not followed my madness I have ended up unintentionally being a bit of an instance jumper.  Thankfully Mastodon by default has a system that allows you to forward users from one profile to another… but they are effectively disconnected personas.  MMORPG.Social is my fourth experiment with the platform…  let me run through them all.

  • @Belghast@Mastodon.Cloud – my first attempt and I only started here because Mastodon.social the flagship was full
  • @Belghast@Elekk.xyz – I rapidly realized that this instance had way more of “my people” on it and jumped because of its game focused local.  I still sub to the Patreon to help support it.
  • @Belghast@Nineties.Cafe – I jumped yet again when my good friend Liore founded this instance to create a permanent niche in the mastodon network that we had a bit more control over.  The truth is I don’t plan on abandoning this but over the last several months it has become pretty inactive.
  • @Belghast@MMORPG.social – Finally I am here because I thought this was a really interesting experiment and thusfar has been a very charming local to hang out and talk MMORPGs with.  At the moment it seems to be very FFXIV focused, but folks have commented on some of my Destiny related posts as well.

Now can I say with certainty that I won’t jump again?  Nope not at all, but the cool thing about Mastodon and the ActivityPub based Fediverse is that you don’t have to care much about it.  You can export the people you follow from one instance and move them forward with you to the next.  You are by no means limited to communicating with your local pool of users, but can instead drink from the firehose and go out into the much larger global fediverse and interact with hundreds of other instances each with their own specific goals and purposes.

I think the biggest challenge that Mastodon has is we keep looking to it as a replacement for Twitter as a whole.  That is a lot of responsibility to be placing on a fledgling network, especially given that personally I have been actively using Twitter since April of 2009 and racked up in that time some almost 58,000 tweets.  My gut reaction when something happens is to still hop on Twitter and say something about it.  There is a lot of inertia there to overcome, and if you go into it expecting it to be the new thing that everyone is going to use…  it is more or less just setting it up for failure.  Instead I am largely angling for the stance of “This is something else fun to use” and setting myself for those expectations.  I know that I will never convert the critical mass of twitter folk to take up the banner of tooting…  but instead I am finding it interesting to branch out and meet some new and interesting people there instead.

I have goals of sorta tweaking each of the four profiles I have on Mastodon to be different things, because I still want to use Nineties.cafe, but probably as a more personal account, and MMORPG.social will become the account I use more to talk about gaming stuff.  I know several users who have done an excellent job of separating the streams, and each account gives me access to a totally different Local feed.  I just need to sort out a better Android client to use that has good multi-account support since Tusky as much as I like it… requires you to log out completely to log into another instance.

 

Forging Stuff

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A couple of weeks ago I talked about my general disappointment in The Black Armory and how it does not really have any content that players can participate in immediately.  That much is largely true but as far as disappointment it is waning.  Once I hit 620 light the Forge Ignition sequence went from nigh impossible to pretty much a guaranteed thing.  The actually event itself is honestly pretty great, I just wish it would have scaled in a similar fashion to the way that strikes appear to, giving players a brand new activity to do at a much wider variety of light levels.  Now at 630 light burning down the final boss feels much like burning down a Public Event Boss…  somewhat time consuming but largely trivial.  Granted I have yet to ignite any of the forges other than Volundr, but I am up to the point where I should be doing Gofanon tonight.  I could have in theory done it last night but I spent my evening trying to mop up any remaining powerful gear rewards that I had available.

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The Hammerhead is your first reward for taking down the boss and while I didn’t get an amazing roll…  I didn’t get a horrific one either.  I’ve since ignited the forge a few more times to get some of the blue weapon frames which apparently end up as one of a handful of weapons per type of activity being completed.  I did one that required doing three lost sectors on the Dreaming City and another that required taking down a couple high value targets in the Gambit and in both cases it rewarded a weapon from the pool from those activities.  I am working on one for collecting a bunch of materials, and as a result I am assuming it will be rewarding one of the planetary weapons as a result.  Now for some quick show and tell of some of the weapons I have picked up from the armory either as drops or as frames that I forged.

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This is the weapon that I forged from a blue frame that involved running three lost sectors in Dreaming City.  I have to say I love this weapon so much in both look and the way it feels to use it.  I’ve infused it up a bit and it has more or less become my new main hand canon to go to.

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The other weapon that I got from forging a blue frame is Bygones…  which weirdly enough is a weapon I had yet to get from any of my Gambit packages.  This one comes with kill clip and full auto and so far has been a blast to use because it honestly feels like you are firing a really slow rate of fire super accurate auto rifle.

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As far as random drops…  Bad News was never an amazing Hand Canon to start with, and this way cooler paint job version isn’t necessarily amazing either.  The roll I got has explosive rounds and range finder… which is okay-ish but the reload speed largely precludes me from using this very often.

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Baligant is also not an amazing shotgun in general but this version with Field Prep and Moving Target seems particularly bad…  I mean I guess you could slide to reload but not really my cup of tea.  I tend to ignore all shotguns that are not full auto.

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Lastly I finally wrapped up my Hand Cannon Headshots in Crucible… and then completed the rest of steps and unlocked my Ace of Spades.  Yes I realize this is like six months behind the curve but whatever…  it knocks another exotic quest off the list.  I still have several that I need to do including the Rat King which simply requires me to go find some other people with the Rat King and do activities.

Have you gotten anything cool or interesting from the Black Armory Forges?

Prison Break Problems

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First off I need to start this mornings blog post with a spoiler warning.  If you have not played through the first mission in the Destiny 2 Forsaken expansion, then there are going to be spoilers included.  Granted probably nothing more than was already spoiled with the Forsaken trailer, but I just felt like I needed to throw that out there.  This weekend I spent some time playing Destiny 2 and while working on the Heroic Story mission queue I noticed one of the missions was “Prison Break” the first mission in the Forsaken storyline, and something I had not played through in awhile.  I remembered really liking it a lot and opted to go replay it for powerful gear credit.

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It was around this point that I realized the core problem with Destiny 2 and its story.  It functionally operates in two modes…  pretending that you never played Destiny 1 and re-educating you in all of the basics of the universe, or assuming completely that you were a Destiny 1 lore hound and giving you a big ole deep dive with little room between the two.  The “Prison Break” episode plays out completely differently for players who were new to Destiny with the PC release and players who were veterans of the original game on the consoles.  This disconnect begins from the very moment that you are treated to a cinematic between Uldren Sov and Cayde-6.  This really hit me at the moment of the above screenshot…  the “How’s your sister?” line either is extremely powerful or makes no fucking sense depending on your perspective.

“Prison Break” is a mission that almost exclusively references things that happened in Destiny 1… and worse things that were never introduced up to this point in Destiny 2.  Sure if you went around scanning everything your ghost indicates you can scan you might have gotten snippets of information here or there but if you base things entirely upon what you see in the normal flow of Destiny 2 there are a bunch of problems.

  • The player has no clue who Uldren Sov is – we last saw him in the introduction to Taken King expansion for Destiny 1
  • The player has no clue who Mara Sov is… because again we last saw her in the introduction video to Taken King in the big Oryx space battle
  • The player really has no clue what the Reef is
  • The player has no clue that the Awoken were working with the Fallen and have no clue who Variks was/is
  • The player has no clue what exactly the Prison of Elders is
  • The player has no clue who Petra Venj is and why we already seemingly know her

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These are all things that make this mission extremely confusing if you view it through the lens of a “brand new to Destiny 2” player.  For veterans however this mission is a big romp as you roam through this place that you only managed to see a piece of before when doing trials for Variks.  This is a destination I think that we all wanted to see more of and I was completely staggered by the sheer scope of the place when I first played the mission.  For those who are not already familiar with it… it is just another busted ass location that is being blown up for some reason and that is largely hand waved away.  There is no time spent on explaining what it is other than a Prison, and no time spent explaining who Petra Venj is other than someone who can apparently levitate her knife.

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This is the core challenge of this expansion and why I think it had such split reactions.  For me it was an amazing romp through places I had been and quite honestly miss greatly from Destiny 1, and for others… it is just another string of locations that were never really explained.  The game does a really bad job of telling a cohesive narrative that does not require you to have watched every single Byf or Myelin lore video to understand.  I was one of those players that gobbled up every little bit of lore about the first game… and as a result I sounded like a madman half of the time when I talked about it trying to defend it to the rest of the AggroChat crew as being this deep masterpiece.  The game doesn’t just let players know these things, but instead requires them to jump through a whole bunch of hoops to be able to interact with the content.  The Book of Sorrows is really interesting science fiction horror reading…  that thankfully has been collected into an easy to read PDF or EPUB format…   but to get it initially you had to roam around the Dreadnaught in Destiny 1 collecting over 40 Calcified Fragments.

The problem with this style of storytelling is it sets up a dichotomy of players.   You have players like me who are willing to track down the story and chase it across various in game assets and other websites that help to summarize and condense the content into easily understandable chunks.  You also have what I feel is the majority of players who just straight up bounce off of the story when it never quite pays off on the deep secrets they have heard people talking about through its storyline.  If you were a lore hound, you immediately understood who the frozen hive were and why it was super exciting to see them.  You also understood a lot of things about Rasputin and at the very least knew who Ana Bray was enough to be interested in meeting her.  You also knew all sorts of things about Cayde-6 and his background and how someone becomes an Exo, and why Clovis Bray is the home of some really dangerous technologies.

 

As a new player… which is especially true for the PC crowd given that there was no option of playing Destiny 1 on that platform, you are simply treated to a list of names that have no real meaning.  These are proper names which is at least an upgrade from Destiny 1 which treated you to “the traveler”, “the speaker”, “the exo stranger”, and “the darkness” among others.  The names themselves however don’t have meaning attached to them if you didn’t dig for said meaning.  Sure for the right kind of player this sets up a delectable puzzle that they are going to go digging for to find the answers, but you can’t expect EVERY player to want to do the leg work required to make any sense of it all.  In the end I will defend the story that is being told as ground breaking, because the sum of all parts is amazing…  but the game does no favors in actually helping players find it.  It took me a long time to really see this point of view, but replaying through “Prison Break” was a bit of a wake up call to them simply not explaining why we should be caring about anything in this game.

Digital Fragmentation

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There has been a significant amount of consternation surrounding the recent activities of Epic Games…  which I still feel like I need to cram the Mega in there.  There are those that herald this as a new era in which Steam actually has proper competition.  There are others that signal this as the end times for PC Gaming because players will be fragmented across many platforms.  There are others still that are complaining largely because they don’t want to have to install the “Fortnite Client” to play their games.  For me however I am somewhat amused as I sit back and watch the events unfold  because it all has a sense of deja vu.

Epic is a company that had a game that was a big enough success… that they decided they were able to askew all of the traditional norms and funnel everyone through their own infrastructure.  If you removed the word “Epic” and replaced it with Valve the above statement would still be completely true.  Steam started out more or less as the digital distribution mechanism for Half-life 2, and a good number of us only got our steam accounts largely because of this.  Prior to Steam I had dabbled with a few services like Direct 2 Drive which was at the time a side project by IGN, in fact my original Mass Effect 2 copy was through it.  However round about 2008 I standardized on Steam as my platform of choice since it was clearing winning the early digital distribution battles.

Since around 2010 I made the decision to go entirely digital if possible, and that carried forward onto not only PC purchases but also with consoles as well…  which has lead me to swap out a few hard drives to upgrade them in the process.  The funny thing is… you accumulate a lot of digital games scattered across different platforms.  When I purchased a video card a few years back I got a copy of Witcher 3 for example…  but it was only redeemable on the GOG Galaxy client.  Each month as part of my Amazon Prime subscription, Twitch Prime gives me a slew of games…  that are only available through the Twitch client.

I just did some looking this morning and not counting single game clients…  I have the following Multi-Game Launchers installed on my system…

  • Battle.net
  • Bethesda.net
  • Epic Games Launcher
  • Glyph
  • GOG Galaxy
  • My.Com Game Center
  • Origin
  • Perfect World ARC
  • Steam
  • Twitch Client
  • Ubisoft UPlay
  • Wargaming.net Game Center
  • Windows Store

That is thirteen clients, not counting Discord who also seemingly wants to get in on the action but that I don’t have any games through.  So to the point of those being concerned about fragmentation…  what difference does one more store make giving that eleven of those clients I had installed prior to the launch of the Epic Games store.  This isn’t taking into account the three online stores that I also interact with on Microsoft Consoles, Sony Consoles and Nintendo Consoles.  The funny thing is…  I can think of a couple other clients that I no longer have installed that would have bumped that number up even higher.

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What makes it even more disturbing is the number of games that I am accumulating that I will probably never actually play.  Originally this was just the realm of Humble Bundle… when I purchased a bundle deal because of one title that I wanted… and got fifteen more that I didn’t.  However since then there are Xbox Live Gold and Playstation Plus which I largely just consider to be the upkeep costs of owning a Microsoft or Sony console…  but that also give away games each month that I feel obligated to log into their respective store fronts and claim just in the off chance that I might want to play them at some point.  On top of that Origin gives away games on the regular… which I am admittedly less connected to regularly grabbing because Origin is hands down the worst client.  But now Epic Games is determined to start giving us new games every few weeks, and Twitch Prime offers up a deluge of new titles each month.  Ultimately I need some way of keeping track what I have on what platforms and the only real options I have found are completely manual.

Basically what I am saying is… we have been fragmented for a very long time and while I respect the notion that folks don’t want to sully their systems with yet another launcher I am also not that sort of a purist.  Disk space is cheap and I like the concept of having a lot of games “on tap” and ready to play when the mood hits me, and as a result I have all of these damned launchers scattered throughout my system doing whatever launchers do.  It is an unfortunate reality, but it is a reality I long ago accepted as something that I am going to have to deal with.  The only two clients that I really take issue with are Origin and the Windows Store, but one of those I can’t uninstall because it came with the operating system… and the other I am resigned to use because I still care about Bioware games.

When it comes to making game purchases however that is a completely different situation, and as it stands now…  I am not opposed to the concept of buying games on the Epic Games store.  The interface currently is way better for finding games than that of Steam… but that is only because it has a handful of games on it at the moment.  Steam is a victim of its own success and its generally hands off approach that they have had in attempting to manage their platform.  As such potential gems are embedded in among of shovelware asset flips, making it extremely hard to find those things that you maybe have not heard of yet… but probably should give a shot.  I guess time will tell how Epic decides to combat that with their own store front.  For the moment however I don’t think some sort of a PC Gaming Apocalypse is upon us…  nor do I really care about having to install another client.  I think things are going to move forward much the way they always have …  and by the end of next year I will probably be forced to install a few more vestigial clients in order to keep playing the things I want to play.