Ten Years of Tales

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Ten years ago today I installed WordPress for the first time and decided to put digital pen to paper and roll out the mat of Tales of the Aggronaut.  At that time I doubt I had a thought in my head about it lasting anywhere near this long, nor growing into what it has become.  Tales of the Aggronaut was not my necessarily my first blog…  and the previous incarnation is floating out there still in the ether never to be spoken of again.  However this blog combined a bunch of things that I was already doing…  namely writing big walls of text.  I was one of those folks that would come into a game forum and write big posts talking about my feelings about this thing or that thing… or offering support and advice to those who were in need.  I was a fairly active member at the time on the Argent Dawn server forums, and a lot of the people that I am still in contact from those days I met amongst a bunch of lines of text…  and the eventual IRC server that spawned from it.

Ten years seems like a momentous number, but I just could not really think of anything I wanted to do to mark the occasion.  At this point many days it is a struggle to get myself to log in and make a morning post, let alone come up with some grand promotional scheme.  Instead we are going to have a quiet birthday…  which is in truth how I prefer to celebrate my actual annuals these days as well.  There are many blogs out there that are far longer in the tooth than this one, but I think well aged blogs is a bit of a rarity these days.  I know my own blog roll is full of blogs that have gone into the sands of time…  that I just cannot bring myself to delete.  Blaugust has helped quite a bit, and I am planning on this year potentially outshining last year now that we have a fairly active Discord community surrounding it.  I am thankful for my regulars…  and I hate to say this because it sounds vain but…  anytime I get a notification saying someone liked one of my posts it is a little burst to keep me going.

The other interesting thing about the passage of ten years is just how different my life has become in that time.  When I started this blog I was a dedicated Guild and Raid leader making our way through the newly released Ulduar raid and struggling a bit at the jump up in difficulty between it and Neo-Naxxramas. I was also completely devoted to World of Warcraft and namely playing the Warrior class.  I also had very definite opinions on raid tanking and various other aspects of the game… thinking myself to be some font of knowledge for the community.  I had opinions and I was very willing to share them damn the consequences…  because I was in my early thirties and thought I had figured an awful lot of things out.

Now we scan forward to today…  and I am a leader of people with fifteen people under me as I transitioned from development to management.  As a result I am not longer leading anything at all in my off time and doing really good to be a member of literally anything.  While I still organize people around concepts and ideas…  I have tried my best not to be the one actually holding the reins.  While I used to raid on a near nightly basis…  I can’t bring myself to even commit to raiding once a week for a few hours.  Where I used to spend every night grouped up with other people and usually on voice chat…  I can’t bring myself to communicate with other human beings regularly once I am officially off the clock.  Where I used to think I had a clue what I was doing…  I am now in my 40s and know that I know next to nothing about most topics and it seems like I am imposing myself when I share my opinions on things.  While I am still very much an MMO player…  I find myself playing them all effectively on solo mode or maybe with a very small group of people in tow.

Another thing that has changed significantly over the years is how much of myself I am willing to put into these posts.  I’ve shared with you deaths in the family, times I am struggling with one thing or another, and things that have happened that brought me joy.  I shifted my writing style from being disconnected from the readers…  to trying to invite you all into my world for a few minutes each morning as I write.  I can’t say that anything I write about is actually interesting, but it is at least grounded in the reality of where I am and what I am doing at a given moment.  The truth is I would be far more popular if I would simply stick to a single topic and become an official site for a specific game.  Those folks are the ones with the large readership, but me…  I am more of an acquired taste.  If you are not interested in me as a human being… then chances are you won’t be sticking around for very long.

All of that said…  I am thankful for the people that I do have that regularly check in on my world…  and it is shockingly a larger number than I ever expected it to be.  In ten years almost 200,000 unique individuals have visited Tales of the Aggronaut…  and while I am certain a good number of those unique users are bots because internet… it still means that I have introduced myself and my point of view to way more people than I ever expected I would.  During that time I have made 2028 posts including this one…  which would have been a larger number were it not for the fact that I barely made any posts during the first four years of this blog.  Every day however a few hundred of you come and visit my world and I am thankful for the company.  It makes me wish I had the fire to do more to actually push this blog and the disconnected community that supports it on a regular basis.  In theory I should be pushing a discord or a reddit or some other venue…  but instead I would just rather enjoy knowing the fact that I have a bunch of quiet users out there tagging along with me as I do things.

This isn’t exactly the triumphant post you make when you reach a milestone like this, but in truth I didn’t really want a bunch of fanfare.  You out there… reading this blog… and an important part of it even though you may have never actually interacted with me directly.  Even though I largely write like I am talking to myself, I do appreciate knowing there are people out there that care.  As far as words of wisdom to leave this post on…  I am not entirely certain I have any.  I guess we will see if Tales of the Aggronaut makes another ten years…  though at this point I cannot imagine what the world and my life will be like during that time.  My blog is as much therapy as it is a purposeful act of creation, and I thank you all for taking the time to listen.

 

Grim Community

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If you have been reading this blog over the last few days you will know that I have been delving into Grim Dawn.  At this point I believe I am 43 and after some advice that I received checked the Veteran box.  I am not entirely sure what this does apart from seemingly increase the rate of named mobs spawning, and as a result increase your chance for good loot in the process.  More or less it reminds me of the difference between Normal and Hard in Diablo 3, where you can pretty much instantly bump up to Hard and just go on with your life without much stress.  It appears the other difficulty ranks do not unlock until later…  I am assuming either associated with you hitting level cap or you finishing the main story.

I have officially been playing long enough that I have started trying to venture out and see what sort of community surrounds this game.  For a largely single player focused experience…  I was not expecting much.  The steam forums were not exactly a great resource, but then again they never.  However exploring further it appears that there is a fairly active scene supporting this game, so I thought I would spend some time this morning going into some of the resources I have found.  The at a glance takeaway seems to be that a lot of the same sort of folks that supported Diablo 2 and Diablo 3…  are supporting this game.

GrimCalc

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This is the very first Grim Dawn resource that I stumbled across, because several build guides were linking to specs designed using it.  Ultimately it is at its core a spec generation tool that allows you to fiddle with your talent points and devotions…  and then links to a bunch of other resources not necessarily hosted on the same site.  I thought it was pretty great and exactly the sort of thing I had been looking for.  Unfortunately when you dip down into the build compendium, instead of having something more programmatic and searchable it links you to a forum post with a bunch of popular builds.

Grim Checklist

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This was linked to off of GrimCalc and appears to be a site that maintains checklists that you can create for your various characters to make sure you have hit certain objectives.  At this point I don’t really know enough about the game to understand this, and as such I have not spent much time exploring it but I thought it was worth noting.

Grim Tools

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Then in my journeys I stumbled across Grim Tools which appears to be the WoWHead of Grim Dawn websites.  Effectively it does everything that the previously two links do… but adds a bunch more functionality as well.  It of course has a robust build calculator that you can see above that not only manages Talents and Devotions but also drills into possible item builds.  On top of that it has a database for all of the Items, Monsters and Pets…  their own version of the Checklist Functionality and a World Map.

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This later functionality was ultimately what drew me to the site.  I was searching to try and find a good map that shows all of the world and stumbled across this application instead.  Now given the limited area that I have cleared I had already thought that Grim Dawn was a really big game.  However based on this map it seems that I have not come close to seeing the full scope of it.  What is weird also is that as I go up through new areas… it appears like the areas themselves are getting much bigger in scale.  What I find really impressive about this game is that legitimately you can walk from one end to another and the zones actually connect and synchronize without having to do any hand waving teleportation magic.  This is something that Diablo 3 completely fails at with each act representing a disconnected island from the whole.

Grim Dawn Forums

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Another interesting throwback with this game is the fact that it has official forums…  and they really are a hub of information about the game.  So many modern games have all but completely abandoned this concept, pushing all of the moderation duty to fan managed Reddits and the like.  However Grim Dawn has what appears to be a very thriving forum culture where folks congregate to talk about the finer points of gameplay.  All in all it does not appear to be super flamey either.

Grim Dawn Reddit

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Normally I am super leery of anything that advertises specifically that it is “Not a Political Correct Reddit”.  This usually means that a given reddit has very specific political leanings of its own.  However with that caveat it does not appear to be a bad place to find information.  Overall the threads I’ve read up to this point have been largely positive, and quite frankly I have not really seen much that made me cringe.  That said I purposefully sorted it towards the bottom of the list because Reddit is not always going to be the most useful place in the world… and I have seen subs turn on a dime when something shifts in the game.  Still worth knowing about, and I suggest that you use the “Old” reddit for this one given that they have done nothing to update it for the modern interface.

 

Are you a Grim Dawn player, and is there a major resource that I completely missed in this list?  Let me know about it.  I purposefully excluded Graceful Dusk because it wasn’t nearly as good of an interface as GrimTools and didn’t appear to be as updated.  If you want to try custom versions of Grim Dawn, the game supports modding and this thread on the forums appears to be the best resource for grabbing those.  Finally there is a Discord server community if you are so included for that sort of thing.

 

Heir to the Throne

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This weekend was largely about three things.  Firstly watching the string of new releases coming out of Star Wars Celebration including a Star Wars Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker trailer, a trailer for the game that EA has a high likelihood of cancelling before it sees the light of day, and some leaked footage of the strangely press blackout Mandolorian Television Series sizzle reel and trailer.   It was also a weekend about watching the first episode of the final season of Game of Thrones…  and I had honestly forgotten how good that show was after watching so many recent seasons of Walking Dead when effectively nothing much happens.  Lastly it was a weekend devoted to playing heaps of Grim Dawn.  When I started this recent stint I was sitting at roughly level 15 but throughout the weekend I pushed through to level 38 on my Warder character.

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The only negative is that I found out this morning that running in Windows Borderless mode causes you to get some really fucked up screenshots.  The above image is an example of this where it appears to be capturing only the tiniest square of the upper left hand corner of the screen where I would assume the 0/0 coordinators are located.  This means that pretty much all of the cool screenshots that I thought I was getting over the weekend wound up to be duds, and I had to scramble around this morning to take a handful of relevant shots for the purpose of this blog post.

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The big problem with Grim Dawn is it never seems to give you a firm boundary between acts, so it is very hard to track exactly where you are in the progression of the main story.  As far as I can tell I am firmly in the middle of Act 3 and have managed to get my way to another large town called Homestead which appears to have everything that Devil’s Crossing has except maybe the Illusionist.  I am now questing for a group of Inquisitors called the Black Legion that is now sending me out into the wastes to kill stuff.  I like the look of Homestead a lot, but it is somewhat of a pain to navigate given its multiple levels and the fact that this game sometimes has trouble with ramps.  Ultimately you have to take any sort of a subtle ramp or rise very slowly or you just keep hopping right back of it.

The only real negative take away from the weekend is the fact that Multiplayer is not as easy as Diablo 3.  Even then there doesn’t really appear to be any multiplayer activity to do like Adventure mode and it would simply be either me joining someone elses game in progress or them joining mine.  The deal breaker however is the fact that both players theoretically have to own the same set of expansions in order for it to work.  I slowly picked up expansion content for this game as it was released and ultimately went on sale… and as such I have everything available.  So it would take someone paying the $24.99 for the base game, and then an additional $39.97 for all of the DLC content to catch up to the level my client is so we could play games together.

As a result this is largely going to be a single player game for me, but I still feel like this is the real heir to the Diablo 2 crown.  It is a happy medium between Diablo 3 and Path of Exile and feels just about right to actually go out and experience.  What is most interesting about it is how well the story line plays out and who it is way more intelligible than that of Diablo 3.  It actually has actions that make a difference on the world because in most of the quests you are given multiple paths to reach resolution.  I am currently paying for my actions because the town I am visiting is apparently missing one NPC because I chose to enact my vengeance during the events of Act 2.  Of all of the various NPCs I have chosen to take the combat route…. I am wondering which other ones will wind up making me miss something as a result.

Still a great game, still very much worth picking up.  However given that this is a single player experience you can probably bide your time and pick it up when it hits a sale point favorable to you.

Faking Sealed Magic

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This morning you are going to get a tutorial how to do something that likely no one has actually ever asked for.  One of the more poorly documented features of Magic the Gathering Arena is the ability to directly challenge your friends.  This is also one of the more poorly supported given that there is no construct for keeping a friends list or seeing who is actually online and available for dueling.  Regardless…  there technically is the functionality of being able to switch over to Direct Challenge mode and input your username + random digits BattleTag style handle in and purposefully link up to another human being that you actually known.   Recently Tam, Mor and Lyle have been dueling each other and having a good time building decks with the limited pool of cards that they had available to them.  This largely meant that the three of them were relatively on even footing, and playing some really fun and really janky magic that mimics a sealed environment.

The challenge is that both Kodra and I have spent a lot more of our time and by reference money on MTG Arena, which also means that we have a much wider pool of cards available for building decks.  This also means that in theory we can build way more efficient decks that are probably less fair than having to be forced to play with the cards available and not necessarily the cards you want to play with.  It got me to thinking…  Magic the Gathering is a community that has an amazing set of web based tools to simple Price Lists like MTG Goldfish or amazing search engines like Scryfall.  I thought surely someone had already come to the point of wanting to fake out a sealed pool of cards…  and if not I would potentially be trying to build one myself and at least needed to research the APIs that would be available to me.

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What I found was MTGen a website that allows you to replicate a lot of the common sealed formats and generate lists of cards replicating the experience of opening packs…  including as you can see above the various seeded boosters that occur in pre-release tournaments.  The site more or less gives me what I was wanting minus a few problems.  What I actually want is the ability to simply say I want X of this pack and X of this pack and X of this pack…  but for sake of this experience I deemed it good enough.  Now the challenge that we have in front of us, that I experienced last night is that the default sealed formats expect you to take the pool of cards and build a 40 card deck with them.  When you are doing direct duels in MTG Arena it requires both players to have a 60 card deck meaning we are going to have to increase the total number of packs opened.  So instead of 6 packs for a normal sealed deck you would in theory open 9 packs as Kodra suggested to me last night.  Again if doing the pre-release format you would be adding 3 more packs…  and thankfully the MTGen site supports this sort of functionality.

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The only NEGATIVE however is that MTGen does not support Magic The Gathering Arena as an export format…  and of course Wizards of the Coast had to be difficult and could not simply recycle Magic Online.  This again lead me to find a work around.  I figured MTGO would be the most common format for converting deck lists from that online tool to Arena.  So I rolled with that and found that ultimately I just needed a list of cards minus the Sideboard heading.  So when you copy the cards out from MTGen make sure to trip that first line.

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Now we move on to another website… MTGArena.Pro and more importantly their Deck Converter tool.  This allowed me to paste in that list of cards that I got from MTGen and it converted it to the more contorted MTGArena format.  You can assign a deck name if you so choose, because the default in Arena will simple by “Imported Deck” if you do not.  I personally left it alone given that I would not want to accidentally pick one of these “Jank in Progress” decks for playing proper magic with, and at least I would know if it was still named Imported Deck I should stay away.  The site provides you a handy copy output button, which will place it on the clipboard stack…  which is important because Magic the Gathering Arena works weird.

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Lastly you go over to your Decks section of Magic the Gathering Arena and click Import…  at which point it will automagically try and import anything you have put in the copy/paste buffer.  This is not the behavior I expected…  I would have instead expected to be presented a file dialog to go find a text file on my hard drive.  I guess in theory they have gone this route to eventually make mobile support easier?  I guess at this point all mobile devices pretty much have robust copy and paste functionality.

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I realize I said lastly on the step before…  but you are presented with a list of your cards that have been plugged into Arena.  Now you can simply weed out the cards you don’t want to play and build your own janky sealed deck.  There will of course be problems if you don’t actually own a copy of the card and as such will have to craft it using the proxies you have earned up to that point.  This is also why you might want to draft a larger pool of packs if you happen to have a smaller pool of cards available.  It also might steer you to certain colors, but while this is not a perfect solution it does at least allow you to manually replicate sealed environments and play directly against your friends in this manner without having to hope to get into the same draft or sealed event on Arena.

Exploring Grim Dawn

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Last night was the very first night since February 15th that I have played no Anthem.  Up until this point I had attempted to get a little bit in every night even if that just meant doing a single contract.  Since the drop of Elysian Chests I had been trying to earn a key every night regardless if I actually ran the Stronghold to spend it on.  After yesterdays post I realized that my frustrations were reaching a level where I simply needed to let it drop for awhile for my own peace of mind.  For awhile I had contemplated playing some Destiny 2 given that it is theoretically in a pretty good state right now…  however my fear would be that I would spend the night comparing it to Anthem and still wind up frustrated.  I have been playing a lot of Diablo 3 on the switch, but again…  there is the whole comparison problem seeing as we all compare Anthem loot to that game.  Instead I decided to zig and zag off in a similar but different direction and spend some time with Grim Dawn.  The game was announced in 2009, went through a successful kickstarter campaign in 2012, entered early access in 2013 and finally officially “launched” in 2016.  Since then it has released three major content drops…  The Crucible which is a sort of horde mode arena thing and then Ashes of Malmouth and Forgotten Gods that add new story and additional functionalities.

In spite of liking the game quite a bit I have never really made it terribly far because I have never played it as a primary game for any length of time.  This has been my “go to” for moments when I feel like playing something LIKE Diablo but not Diablo.  The game does not do much hand holding or explaining of anything…  which is to its detriment given that some of the systems are less than clear.  Effective you are thrust into a Victorian era world where demon like creatures called Aetherials have taken back the world is a Shadowrun awakening sort of event called the Grim Dawn.  Magic the Aetherials and the Chthonians began flowing back in the world and as a survivor and formerly possessed you are trying to do your best to fight back for the sake of humanity.  It is somewhat or a madlibs style remixed version of a bunch of different tales, but the long and short is you are in a world with both magic and guns and playing a game that sits somewhere between Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 as far as feel.  You fight zombies and demons and weird floating not-quite-beholder things for the purpose of getting loot and progressing your character.

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When first starting the game you are asked to choose one of six masteries:  Soldier, Demolitionist, Occultist, Nightblade, Arcanist and Shaman.  At level 10 you get to pick a second mastery and effectively set what “class” you are going to be as a whole.  For example I chose Soldier and Shaman which is apparently a combination called the Warder and known for its tanky goodness.  I somehow arrived at this conclusion without ever actually doing research… it just seemed like the class combination that fit me the most.  There was a terribly unreadable diagram on the Grim Dawn site with a really unfortunate font…  so I decided to cobble together something more manageable real quick in Google Sheets.  The Ashes of Malmouth campaign adds two additional masteries in the Inquisitor and the Necromancer and the Forgotten Gods campaign adds Oathkeeper.  The names are rather evocative and honestly make me want to try playing a handful of those specific specs at some point or another.  I am almost always deeply drawn to anything called a Death Knight.

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Last night I managed to finally finish the first act of the game, in part because some of the quests are less than helpful in their directions.  It is a game largely without modern quest advisement, so you have to sort of wing your way through most of them.  There will never be an arrow pointing you in a direction other than maybe marking what general zone something takes place in.  I still have a ton of side quests to knock out in the Act One areas, so tonight I might spend some time trying to clean those up before moving forward.  Some of them I have PART of the things done…  like I have managed to gather up 2 pieces of fabric but I need 3 total to turn in with the person in Devil’s Crossing which serves as the main quest hub.  Occasionally Diablo style you might rescue someone out in the wastes that will turn into an NPC that either grants you quests or serves a functionality back in town.  I seem to be missing whatever NPC allows me to craft things because I have picked up some blueprints but have nowhere to use them as of yet.

Ultimately Grim Dawn does a really good job of being an Action RPG without being a Diablo clone.  It definitely has its own ideas about some things and while complicated…  serves to be way more approachable than Path of Exile.  I guess for the forseeable future I am going to spend my evenings in this game and see how far I can manage to get.  I greatly enjoyed last night and found the whole thing super relaxing.  I do however also want to play some Magic Arena with Tam and Mor over the weekend, so that might be what is actually on the docket for tonight.  The biggest challenge I have right now is the fact that I cannot be on voice chat while playing over parsec.  There are some cludgy workarounds that only work for Discord but getting Tam on Discord is a massive challenge.  Even at that it forces me to try and relay through a second account which is a mess that I have just not dealt with.  Essentially if I am downstairs on the laptop streaming through Parsec…  then I can’t be on voice.  Last night I started upstairs but Kenzie screamed at me until I went downstairs so she could in my lap while I gamed.  Cats are like that.

 

Shazam and Geek Culture

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I did not do much in the gaming front last night as I spent the evening watching Shazam.  Firstly this movie is pure joy, and I really wish we had more super hero movies that could tell a good story while also maybe not pushing the envelope quite so far into Warhammer 40k Grim Dark future timeline.  I realize this maybe only works for a movie like Shazam where you have childhood wonder mixed with instant super hero powers.  Basically I loved it and want more of it, however I am not sure if you can bottle the same sort of lightning twice with a sequel.  So far however this is probably my favorite DC movie?  For reference the other two that I really love are Aquaman and Wonder Woman…  so your mileage may vary if those were not your movies.  I never really thought the Heath Ledger Joker was that amazing even though he delivered a pretty great performance…  I loved the first movie in that series and they sorta went downhill from there for my personal tastes.

What I find weird is the situation we are in right now where DC is decidedly the more gritty movie series, which seems to be the exact opposite of my experience reading the comics growing up.  Marvel was the one that had more “realism” and DC was filled with a large number of what I would consider hapless Pollyannas.  Movie wise we have the polar opposites going on, where Marvel gives us movies that deliver both crushing sadness but also moments of pure joy and DC has given us “MAAAAARTHAAAAAAA”.  I was never really a follower of Shazam or “DC Captain Marvel” depending on how you choose to refer to the character, and I think in many ways that helps with the joy.  I went into Guardians of the Galaxy knowing only the most basic of information about those characters and was super fine with whatever tweaks they took to get them on the screen.  For Shazam as far as I am aware they represented the character pretty well, but I also don’t know a ton of information and as a result wouldn’t know if they completely butchered something…  or care.

There are definite times where our geek cred gets in the way of our enjoyment of things.  I’m sure you have experienced moments where you are watching some pop culture recreation of something you loved growing up… and they completely failed at some small piece of it.  Then that small piece works at the back of your brain until it starts to color your opinion of the thing as a whole.  You don’t want it to happen but it sort of happens automatically without you meaning to, and the next thing you know you are spitting venom about whatever that thing is.  I still personally find it hard to reconcile the Star Wars prequels for example, even though I realize they aren’t as bad as I originally thought they were.  Also there are moments like when you listen to the actor who played Jar Jar Binks…  and hear what hell he went through all over a bunch of fans galvanizing disappointment into something far more dangerous and militant.

Ultimately us geeks need to reach a point where we are capable of taking our loves not quite as seriously as we do.  That is the core problem with a lot of the toxicity that I see online… is when disappointed love turns to hatred.  Example…  I am trying very hard not to allow myself to become that guy with Anthem even though I have already waded knee deep into those waters on many occasions.  It is hard when your hope turns sour and you start lamenting all of the things that could have been… rather than focusing on the things that exist and are good.  I think the opposite is also bad where you have a sort of toxic positivity that everything is fine and everything is working as intended.  I think we need to reach a point where we can accept the fact that occasionally our heroes will let us down and that a lot of things will never quite live up to our expectations.  I am trying to get to that place myself honestly, but the fact that I realize I am being unreasonable is probably the first step.  The problem is…  it feels good to ruminate on that anger especially when it comes in the form of snarky semi-anonymous posts on some message board or YouTube comment section.

The long story short… I loved Shazam and would love to see more movies like this.  Not necessarily more Shazam movies… but more super hero movies that are capable of embracing joy.  Weirdly one of the other movies that sorta fits these guidelines is Deadpool, which is a fairly joyous movie…  in spite of the body count and ribaldry.  I feel like the Guardians of the Galaxy movies also were very much in this same style as was Thor Ragnarok and the Antman movies.  I want more movies that make me feel like I can ignite the spark of hope inside of me… rather than simply wallowing in the fact that the world is shit and will always be shit.  All I have really seen is some reports that the movie did not live up to expectations…  but then again much like with a video game release I am wondering if those expectations are deeply inflated and unrealistic.  It is a good movie and if you need something that invokes pure joy in your life…  then I highly suggest checking it out…  especially if you loved John Hughes movies.

Prone to Rant

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I love it when a game makes me seem like a whiny madman. I regularly read reddit, but very rarely comment about anything. However my frustration levels with Anthem have been growing to the point where I occasionally want to vent. I mean I try my best to keep this blog fairly positive, or at least balanced… but the Anthem reddit has been a salt mine since release so I figured it was a safe place to vent my frustrations. After today’s patch still announced no relief to the loot woes… I wound up venting at the nearest thread basically stating that apparently Bioware considers the current state of the game to be working as intended. To which I threw this lengthy comment.

So they have stated that loot isn’t where they want it to be. However it has been 52 days since the launch of the game and there has been a constant drumbeat from the player base that “loot is broken”. They have “accidentally” fixed loot twice to much praise from the players, so I find it hard to believe they do not understand which levers need to be pulled to give us what we actually want.

What I do believe however is they do not understand the kind of game that they built. They seemingly created Destiny with Flight… but with the loot system from Diablo 3 without fully understanding what makes either game tick. In Destiny… Exotics are these rare drops that feel super special when one happens, but that only works because every Exotic Weapon that you get is a curated roll and in the case of the armor that has some variation you have a way of re-rolling the stats. Diablo 3 on the other hand has a lot of variation in the loot and with that a bunch of crap items that are immediately going to get sharded… but the drops are plentiful which makes up for the fact you are going to keep very few of them.

If they want to continue to be Destiny with Flight and Diablo 3 Loot… then they need to make the tweaks and turn on the fountain of loot that makes that concept work. Either that or they need to change Legendaries so that they drop as perfectly curated rolls for optimal play if they want them to still be as rare as they are currently. The current combination is an incongruous mess.

I don’t want to abandon hope… I really don’t. However after gearing up all four Javelins to Masterwork level, and with the very limited content that is currently available there isn’t much for me to do right now other than decide either to walk away and cut my losses until “Year Two” and everything magically gets fixed like it did for Destiny, Diablo and The Division… or to keep slamming my forehead into the brick wall until I am dizzy enough not to care about the lack of legendary drops in GM2.

I had heard the term “Reddit Gold” before but never really understood what it was. I had to get Ashgar to explain to me how exactly it works because I legitimately had no clue. Apparently someone paid money to give me an award for that post? Anyways the funny bit about this when I got home and I did my daily run of trying to get a key and then doing a stronghold to use said key, the game decided to actually drop a legendary.

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It is actually a fairly good legendary at that, if you are the type of person who enjoys playing with sniper rifles.  I run with Siege Breaker for one reason and one reason only… it can freeze targets.  Otherwise I would probably never use a sniper rifle in this game, and unfortunately because I know I squandered my luck on this drop it will probably be another week before I see something else.  There was someone in the comment thread that theorized that they are working on some sort of a Stronghold challenge similar to Nightfalls in Destiny 2, and that maybe it would reward guaranteed legendaries.  There is still supposed to be a large patch in the works for some point this month, so I guess we will wait and see.  In the mean time I am trying to decide if doing dailies to get crafting materials and crappy decals is worth logging in on a daily basis.

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Since I complain that Anthem is a game that wants to be Diablo 3 but doesn’t exactly understand Diablo 3 Loot….  I decided to play some actual Diablo 3.  The last few nights I have been hanging out before bed working on my Crusader on the Switch version, and last night I wound up playing while upstairs in my office piped through my Elgato HD.  I find it weird that my default method for playing consoles right now is through a capture card, but it more or less works other than the fact that it doesn’t take amazing screenshots of the switch given the amount of upscaling that happens.  Over the weekend I finally beat the main story and now I am focused on running Rifts and doing bounties.  Over the last two nights I have worked my way act through act doing a full set of bounties…  only to realize that apparently the season that I started playing on is over and that didn’t count towards the normal seasons journey achievement.  Ultimately I am progressing too slow to really be worrying too much about seasons in the first place.

Right now I just want to hit 70 so I can gear out in the Thorns set which is hands down my favorite way to Crusader…  and a play style that I thought would translate well to handheld mode.  By the end of the night I managed to hit 58 and just a little bit away from 59, which means right around the corner I will start being able to collect Deaths Breath and finish unlocking the rest of the stuff in camp.  Additionally it means that I will be able to start Cubing some of the low level drops that I have gotten like the Heart of Iron that I managed to get during my 40s.  I am still only playing on Hard and have not ratcheted up the difficulty at all…  but without Haedrig’s Gift I feel like that ratcheting process is going to go way slower as I try and painstakingly collect a set of Invoker gear.

It would be nice of Haedrig’s Gift worked for pretty much any character to be honest, season or not.  The highlight of the night was seeing my very first Menagerist Goblin on the console and it dropped one of my favorite pets… the Flaming Skull.  At some point I will have to test out how grouping works as I know a handful of my friends have the copy on Switch.  That said this is largely a before bed solo grinding game for me as I find it incredibly relaxing.  I do however wish there was a way to link your Blizzard account and get some sort of cross play going on.  I somehow doubt that is going to be a thing anytime soon unfortunately.

 

Outward and Blades

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This morning I do not have a ton of great screenshots because for some reason over the weekend GeForce Experience decided to stop doing its thing.  So the majority of the time when I thought I was taking a good screenshot…  I got nothing at all which is insanely maddening given that I rely on these screenshots for this blog.  This weekend I tried a couple of new things, firstly Outward which is billed as a survival game published by Deep Silver and developed by Nine Dots Studio.  For me personally however it is something completely different.  Playing Outward reminds me of how it felt to play Everquest.  I don’t necessarily think this game was intending to be one of the many Everquest nostalgia titles out there, but in my hands it ends up being the best one so far.  I am not entirely sure what exactly throws it in this category, but a large piece of it is the fact that you have no minimap and the overworld map you do have does not show you where your character actually is at any given time.  This means you need to sort your own directions out by following the compass rose or by moving around based on landmarks.

Additionally I have been thrust into a world where I don’t quite understand the rules, and I realize this will fade over time…  but for now everything is interesting and dangerous.  I have no clue what might be around the next corner and if it will end up killing me.  Lastly the game has a system the requires you to venture back into the wild to do a manner of corpse recovery in the form of your backpack that is ultimately left behind when you die.  All of these things combine to provide a much truer experience to how Everquest felt as a brand new player than anything to date, and I am pretty certain that was not at all what this title was going for.  I think the design goal was to have an RPG rooted in the survival game tradition with extremely challenging stamina based combat that makes you choose your attacks carefully.  It succeeds at that, but I honestly don’t think I would have spent nearly as much time playing it this weekend were it not for the fact it was playing upon my memories.

In the above screenshot I remember not noticing that I had a disease for a really long time…  because it was the common cold and not the insane life drain disease that I had gotten before.  The common cold mean’t that my stamina regeneration was greatly impacted…  which also lead to me taking a death in the cave just in front of me.  Little things like that sneak up on you in this game and honestly make it feel way more cruel and brutal that any other similar game.  The story is pretty bleak so far as well given that you are effected by a blood tax due to the fact that your ancestor turned away some religions pilgrims…  that ultimately became the majority power in the setting…  things are pretty harsh.  After returning from being shipwrecked…  the townsfolk demand 150 silver within five in game days or they will repossess your house.  So you are set off on a path of either finding a way to earn that money, ignoring it and letting your house get taken…  or finding a way to do a favor for one of the locals big enough to get some debt relief.  It is a call to action, but sort of a maddening one…  that caused me to restart the game a few times until I sorted out how best to play it.

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The other new game that I tried out this weekend was Elder Scrolls Blades which promised to be a mobile Elder Scrolls Experience…  which admittedly was something I had been throwing a little side eye towards since the original announcement.  I’ve played Bethesda mobile games before and was greatly concerned about what monetization methods would be built into this one.  Ultimately the choice landed on a timer based system that locks your loot behind a gate of either waiting for it to open or paying to open it immediately.  Additionally the first chest you get has a wide array of stuff that is actually useful to you including a significant weapon upgrade.  The chests that I found following that initial tutorial chest however largely included unexciting common rarity junk, that admittedly is probably useful for the games in built crafting system…  but nothing hear as exciting as getting item drops that you can equip.

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The game itself feels like a really weird point and click adventure game…  with the addition of real time combat that feels awkward and non-intuitive.  My instinct is to click on the mob with my finger to swing my weapon at that body part.  Instead you have to press and hold and then release to swing your weapon.  You guard by pressing and holding on the shield icon… that isn’t on your screen all of the time and seems to only appear roughly a second after stopping attacking…  making the whole experience feel a little stilted.  The purpose of all of this appears to be to go on missions and complete objectives…  like in this case I was saving some prisoners that you can see caged in the central image of the above triptych.  Then you go back to town and use the resources that you just got to rebuild the town.  The only negative is…  this is fairly time consuming and requires something close to 20-30 minutes per iteration rather than the normal 5-10 minute loop that I expect out of mobile games.  This is definitely something you would play on your lunch break… rather than something you might pop open while waiting in line somewhere.

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The other big problem that I encountered is that while I have a fairly modern phone that has feature parity with all of the current flagship models…  I apparently was ineligible for app install. If you are curious here is a supposed complete list of devices the game is available for…  which seems to be missing a ton of devices it can technically run fine on.  So when you encounter a situation like this…  you don’t really have to sit and take it or at least not if you are an android user.  Sure Google Play is the most common app store and the one in general you want to use for most purposes.  However there are a bunch out there that will let you install literally anything you want on any device you want…  whether or not it will run is a completely different challenge.  Personally I tend to favor APKPure as I have had a lot of luck with that app in the past and it has some built in patcher support similar to Google Play.  Functionally this is going to be a two part step… firstly you need to enable installing apps from unknown sources and secondly you need to download the APKPure app to your device.  After that you can install Elder Scrolls Blades on your device and log in with your Bethesda.net launcher account.  If everything worked as expected you should be able to try out Blades on any device not listed on the official list.  For me it ran perfectly fine on my ZTE Axon 7…  though admittedly it is a significant battery drain taking me from 100% to 79% before completing the first tutorial quest…  which admittedly was like 20-30 minutes worth of game play.

I will probably poke my head into the game a bit more, but I am not entirely certain if it is really for me.  I was expecting Mobile Skyrim… and what I got was a traditional mobile device game.  Once I reset those expectations I am sure I will probably enjoy the experience and add it to my before bed roster of mobile games.

Epic Games Through Steam Launcher

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I’ve spent more time this morning talking on twitter than actually working on a blog post.  I’m still very much in that state where I am fighting something…  be it a cold or something worse.  The hammer has not quite slammed down on me, but I feel like I am on the cusp of really getting sick.  My wife has continued to cough like mad pretty much every night to which I often say “Please don’t die” and she will angrily respond between coughs “I’m Not Dying!”.  She also won’t really go seek assistance either…  which admittedly were the roles reverse I probably wouldn’t either.  Still it is painful to hear her cough like that, and with my own fucked up immune system…  I know that it is just a matter of time until I will be doing the same.  As a precaution I have been trying to push fluids hard and get extra sleep…  but the second point doesn’t exactly make for interesting topics to talk about in the morning when you barely played any games the night before.

One of the things about yesterdays luke warm take on not really caring about Epic Games exclusives that I did not fully estimate…  was just how much hatred folks in general seem to have about a game like Borderlands 3 going exclusive on that platform.  The latest is a rumor that Epic Games is now doing something to block launching under steam as a “non-steam game”.  One of the arguments by supporters of Epic Games has been that you can still launch the games under Steam if you really just wanted to put them all in one location.  Were this rumor true it would seem that someone on one side or the other was actively taking moves to ward against this.  As someone who has three titles installed through the launcher I figured I would do some detective work.  For reference those titles are Fortnite which I picked up prior to the Battle Royale version because it was a game that I had been following in development.  The next is Ashen which is a platform exclusive and a game I very much wanted to try out.  The last is Hades which was ultimately the game that made me have that “whelp I guess I am installing this launcher” moment because I absolutely love Super Giant Games.

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The game that this rumor is circulating around however is Metro Exodus, that I did not purchase on any platform because quite frankly I don’t have the bandwidth to play it.  I am maybe finally learning my lesson to put of purchases until I am actually going to do something with the damned game.  So this is not necessarily going to be a fair test of the complaint that is circulating, but this should be a test if the launcher itself is blocking access to the games in some manner.  For the uninitiated you can effectively add any game to steam by going up to the “Games” menu at the top and choosing “Add A Non-Steam Game to My Library”.  This ends up bringing up the dialog above and sure enough… none of the three Epic Games Launcher games were showing up in the menu in spite of it seemingly bringing up every other executable on my system.  Curiouser and Curiouser.

I am one of those weirdos that allows every game to drop an icon on my desktop, so I decided to check out what exactly Hades was launching.  When you look into the shortcut you see something that is complete gibberish and that potentially only the Epic Games Launcher has any idea what to do with it.  “com.epicgames.launcher://apps/Min?action=launch&silent=true” is not something that steam can launch seeing as it is looking for some sort of executable.  I remember installing Hades to my bulk storage drive and the “Games” directory and sure enough I quickly found its directory.  Underneath was an X64 and a X86 directory and inside of each was an executable called “Hades.exe”.  So with path in hand I used the browse option to manually add this to steam and sure enough it launched the game as expected.

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Now you can do this with games that are purchased through platforms like UbiSoft’s UPlay, but there is almost always the caveat that you need to have the Games Launcher running in the system tray in order for the game to successfully launch.  In the case of UPlay even games you purchased THROUGH Steam itself… have to have the Uplay client running to access.  To test this theory further I decided to hard kill the Epic Games Launcher and make sure nothing remained of it in memory.  Unexpectedly…  Hades still launched fine and even managed to get the Steam Overlay successfully over the top of the game play.  The above screenshot is originally 4K resolution scaled down to 1080p so I could actually upload it to my blog, but you will see the tiny overlay window from steam in the lower right hand corner happily over top of Hades.

Maybe this was a fluke specific to the way Hades was developed, so I decided to try it again and go for a Ashen this time which is another platform exclusive title.  Same process as above, I had to go find the actual game executable but once I knew its location I was able to browse to it through the “Add A Non-Steam Game to My Library” dialog.  Again the game launched fine and again the steam overlay showed up in the lower right hand corner.  So the 25 year plus of experience technologist in me says… that this isn’t a behavior baked into the launcher itself.  I am not saying that something shady isn’t happening, just not necessarily the behavior that folks seem to be indicating.  I do find it weird that Steam seemingly refuses to find the executables for any of the games that I have installed through the Epic Games launcher, but has picked up like all of my Adobe Products…  all of the Asus apps that came with my Motherboard drivers…  Skype…  every single MMO and all of the games that installed through Origin.  Steam literally ONLY excluded the Epic Games titles which was bonkers.

The funny thing is about today’s post…  I have already written more words about the Epic Games store than I ever intended to.  I am not going to defend it because really I don’t care.  I used to have extreme loyalty to Steam as a platform, but originally it was a pretty great place to find new games.  I valued its discovery system to help me find titles that I might be interested in.  Lately however all of the really poor and asset flip titles clogging the platform…  has made it extremely hard to find anything.  So often its discovery system now gives me games “because it is popular” and not actually based on any past purchase or play history that I have had.  Steam isn’t exactly doing a great job…  but the problem is…  nobody else is either.  I admit I like the more curated experience of Epic Games because it has so many orders of magnitude fewer titles than Steam.  Ultimately at the end of the day I will buy the game in whatever digital platform it is available on… and for Ubisoft titles for example I have stopped buying them through steam entirely and just go through the Native launcher since I will have to have it running in the background regardless to play the games.

I didn’t have anything better to talk about this morning, and I spent most of my writing time researching this nonsense…  so you are getting it as the daily post.  Please note… I am not trying to dissuade you from hating Epic Games or video game exclusivity.  You can hate anything you want and there is plenty of ammo on either one of those stances.  However the rumor floating around that Epic Games is actively blocking launching games through steam…  does not appear to have any validity.   I launched two exclusive titles through steam this morning both with and without the Epic Games launcher running in the background.  In both cases it just worked without problems.  Since Metro Exodus is the game in question and I do not own it… I cannot diagnose what is going on there.  It could be that 4A Games or Deep Silver is doing something to block the Steam process from launching their executable, but again I can’t test this.  I can say that in my opinion it isn’t actually the launcher at fault.

 

 

Borderlands Still Fun

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Last night I did the thing I have been doing every night and spent enough time in Anthem to unlock another key, and then ran a stronghold in which I managed to expend two of the three keys I had banked.  I actually got a purple quality emote, which is a major step up from the various dross I had gotten prior to that.  After that I was somewhat listless and ended up landing upon installing the newly released Borderlands Game of the Year Remastered edition that should be showing up on whatever service you happen to own the original Borderlands through.  I remember reinstalling the original Borderlands shortly after the launch of Borderlands 2 and thinking to myself that the game in general felt really dated.  However this version allows me to push it up to glorious 4k resolutions with graphical clarity…  which is awesome and helps to distract me from the fact that it largely has a monotone color palette.

I have to say that I am happy that games are now pushing us beyond the “everything is brown and grey” era of shooters that we were stuck in for so long.  Hot pinks and purples absolutely belong in the wasteland, so I feel like it would have been great if they could have maybe splashed a little color here and there for this re-release.  That said they did a dutiful job of up-sampling all of the textures so that they pop…  the only negative is… it makes me realize how limited the geometry of this game is at times.  All of that said does not detract from my hot take of the night:  Borderlands is Still Really Fun to Play.

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I did not make it terribly far into the game, but I have already noticed a handful of quality of life improvements.  For example I did not remember the original borderlands having a mini-map, which was one of my complaints about questing through the game and feeling like I always had to keep popping up my large map.  Borderlands is a game without a lot of freedom of movement, and more or less you are travelling down fixed paths…  which means in order to get form point A to point B there is pretty much one correct path that you needed to take to get there.  Having the minimap makes me significantly less frustrated as I snake my way through a series of winding tunnels to a plateau…  that does not have an obvious visual path to help direct you there.

I am playing Roland…  because I always play Roland or Axton or whoever the third game will have that fills the roles of the basic soldier plus gadgets.  There is little wonder to why in Division 2 running around with a Turret feels so natural.  The other take away from the night is that the gunplay in Borderlands 1 is nowhere near as good as I thought I remembered it being.  In the meantime I have played Destiny… a game which takes obsessive gun feel to a whole new level.  Compared to that… and quite frankly even compared to Anthem…  Borderlands weapon design feels like an inaccurate mess.  That said I am adjusting and learning to over compensate for the fact that none of the non-scope sights seem to actually bear down on the target correctly.

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The other hot take of the night is that I really don’t care about Borderlands 3 being an Epic Game store exclusive title.  Basically this is a financial decision and should not be looked at as anything else, regardless of whatever lame commentary the parties involved come up with.  The harsh truth is Borderlands 3 will make way more money for the studio on Epic Games regardless of how many sales they make.  Borderlands has always been a title developed in Unreal Engine, which means that on top of the 30% Steam cut… there is a 5% Unreal Engine cut.  So the studio takes home 65% of every dollar made on Steam.  On the Epic store they are completely waving this Unreal Engine fee and then also only taking a 12% cut, meaning the studio takes home 88%.

So in the simplest of possible math… if a game makes 100 million dollars…  on Steam they would be taking home 65 million, and on Epic Games store they would be taking home 88 million.  That is a difference that you just cannot ignore in the climate of studios trying to figure out how they are going to fund their next title.  Especially given that Gearbox has had a number of pretty high profile flops since their last massive success in Borderlands 2.  I mean do we need to summon up imagery of Battleborn, Aliens: Colonial Marines and Duke Nukem Forever?  The difference in money a studio can get on Epic Games is just not something that can be ignore especially given that titles like Metro Exodus have proven that in spite of all of the grousing…  the majority of fans will not care at all about the platform change.  That title sold better than any of the previous titles regardless of the PC storefront exclusivity.

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Where I take issue with the jump to Epic Games is in scenarios where pre-order packages have already started being sold on a specific platform.  I feel like if you ever start taking pre-orders you are obligated to support that platform indefinitely.  I think where this will backfire strategy wise is the fact that high profile titles have jumped ship long after pre-orders had started…  will start making the customers question if putting in ANY pre-orders from now on is a good idea at least until things have stabilized a bit more.  Personally the only games that I pre-order in the first place are ones that are giving me some sort of a perk for doing so…  mostly a cosmetic outfit or a special gun…  even though I know that these items will be long forgotten within the first few hours of gameplay.

Ultimately at the end of the day Steam has to come to the table with a better proposition to keep titles from leaving.  As it stands if you are releasing a game built in Unreal Engine…  you would be dumb not to go with the Epic Games store platform for your release.  I think where I come from is maybe a different place than a lot of gamers given that I have traditionally mostly been an MMO gamer.  Almost every MMO has its own launcher and does not originally release on Steam… in spite of the fact that many eventually do come to that platform.  As a result my system is already strewn with single user launchers so an additional store front here or there does not really phase me in the least.  Steam is already not the only platform I bought games through…  if it is a UbiSoft title I tend to just buy directly on UPlay since I have to have that client regardless of where the purchase was made.  Then there is Origin my least favorite storefront that I continue to begrudgingly use…  because Bioware.  I more happily use GOG, but largely because I have a bunch of older titles there…  and my freebie copy of Witcher 3 had to be redeemed there.

Essentially while I favored Steam… I was not exactly a loyalist.  If a company can make more money on Epic Games store… then who am I to halt them.  I’ve seen a lot of “whelp I guess I won’t play the next Borderlands game” in my feeds, and that is fine if you truly feel that strongly.  Me I will be playing it and enjoying myself because as I found out last night…  Borderlands is still fun.