Tiny Black Mage

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My madness continues… and last night I joined in with Grace and eventually Storm and Muspel to do some Palace of the Dead.  Essentially PotD is the new FATE grinding, and while it can be sort of repetitive, I never seem to get tired of it.  I mean I thought Tam was insane when he went through his own period of time where he lived in dank dungeon, but now I finally get it.  What I am loving about it is that I can just hop in… run a bunch of Palace of the Dead…  mentally be somewhere else like watching a movie or a television show and then still feel like I made significant progress at the end of the night.  The first goal has been to catch up my classes to 50, because it is going to allow me to have a massive house cleaning of everything that has been clogging my retainers.  I have a problem with gear, because I know that eventually I would love to have every single class to the level cap.  That is just the sort of person I am.  In World of Warcraft I actually achieved this goal prior to the launch of legion and had at least one of every alliance character sitting at 100, and three horde characters as well.

Currently I have my Warrior sitting at 60 and he is my only viably geared character for doing big kid stuff.  Then you have my Dragoon that I also leveled to 60, but promptly abandoned because playing that class in Heavensward was just so much less enjoyable for me than it was in ARR.  When I was last furiously playing the game I was working on my Bard, which had become my defacto dps class for awhile and I managed to get it up to 55.  Then we drop down to my 50s which are Paladin that I have not touched since Heavensward because I simply don’t really like playing a Paladin tank.  We have my newly raised trio of casters in the form of the Scholar, Summoner and Black Mage all sitting at 50.  Then we drop down to some 30 somethings with Ninja at 38, Monk at 33, and Dark Knight at 33.  I have yet to even pick up the quest to be a Machinist or an Astrologian but at some point I probably need to do that so that I can weave those into the rotation as well.  Now I am sort of torn as to what I should pick to level next, but for the moment I am leaning towards either the Dark Knight because I miss playing heavy armor classes… or the Ninja because they are just really fun to play.

The other set of goals that is staring me in the face is that when I last left my crafting… I had managed to push everything up to 21… with mining and foraging sitting at 50.  At some point I really want to start this grind again and push everything up to at least the point where I can make glamour prisms.  In theory I should be doing my beast tribe dailies to use those to level my crafting, but I just haven’t reached a point of getting back into the game enough to sort everything out to be able to do that.  Once I finished with the Sahagin I sort of let the beast tribe thing die once again…  but in theory should be doing the Ixal at least for crafting levels.  Whatever the case it seems like I have been assimilated back into Final Fantasy XIV, and have more goals than I can realistically accomplish.  My Warrior gear could also always be improved, but I am just finding PotD a relaxing way to spend my evenings…  but sadly one that is not terribly interesting to write blog posts about.

Random Screenshots #3

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This is another one of those mornings when I feel like I don’t have much of anything to talk about.  Work encroached upon my gaming time, first with a meeting that I did not get out of until 6 pm…  when I normally get out of the office around 4/4:30.  Second when I did get home I had a bunch of things that I needed to look into given that we are still ironing out the issues with a brand new website launch.  As a result by the time I finished up I largely just crashed on the sofa and watched some Black Mirror as I had not touched season 3.  That show is extremely creepy, but also something that I cannot really stop watching.  It is a sort of technological tales of the crypt, and if you have never watched the show…  be prepared for some disturbing content.  That said it is still very much worth your time and the latest season has at least one gem scattered among the digital nightmares in the form of the San Junipero episode.  Anyways this morning is going to be a random screenshot post morning because I am not sure what else to really talk about.  I am still fairly groggy and probably shouldn’t have finished the 4th episode last night, and instead just headed on to bed.

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I am not entirely certain of the context, but this is of course a screenshot from Wildstar.  I believe it is from the moon mission where you have to figure out what happened to all of the miners.  Even though I have long struggled to really click with this game, I cannot deny how much of an interesting vision it really is.  The art direction was on point and everything feels like it exists in the same shared technicolor delusion.  For whatever reason I never really liked how spastic their flavor of hotbar combat felt.  Most recently I paid a little money to be able to create a Chua Warrior and I found it enjoyable…  but still not really clicking as hard as I would have liked.  Honestly this game and Guild Wars 2 sort of exist in the same space for me…  where they are equally interesting to visit but not exactly the same of place I want to call home.  I will say though that the people who do play the game regularly are amazing and I am super happy to have a whole bunch of them occupying my social media streams.  This is one of those games that I root hard for…  just from a distance.

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We go from a game that I don’t really get fully, to one that I absolutely do…  but still don’t end up playing that often.  I believe this screenshot is from one of the opening shots of Makeb which was the sequence of content I last played during a December 2015 binge of the game thanks to Force Awakens Star Wars hype.  I honestly thought I would similarly return during the Rogue One hype machine but it never actually materialized.  I realize I am missing so much great content, and I keep saying that one of these days when I hit a lull in whatever other games I happen to be playing that I will swoop back to Star Wars the Old Republic and gobble up all of the goodies I have missed.  I still have yet to start any of the Shadow of Revan content…  let alone Fallen Empire or Eternal Throne.  I did have an active sub, but I let that lapse at some point…  they keep roping me in with offers of “subs get X shiny bauble” and then I never actually end up playing.  I should in theory pop back in before this last bit of sub time lapses and I am stuck playing in freemium hell.

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On to yet another game that I have really fond memories of but never end up playing.  This is I believe a screenshot from one of the betas for The Secret World.  To the best of my knowledge this was me creating my very first character.  To be truthful I never was a huge fan of the character creation system in TSW, as it always felt like I never could create exactly the character that I wanted to create.  However on so many levels I loved this game, but the biggest problem is attempting to return to it.  Since you can repeat almost every quest it becomes extremely hard to see just what you have completed and what is new and something you should focus on.  When they release an issue I find it hard to actually track down all of the things that have been added and given that I last actively played during “Last Train to Cairo” which was issue number six… and they are currently on fifteen there is a ton of content I have missed.  I just find it extremely hard to get back into the game after being gone for so long…  and given all of the systems that they have seemingly loosely tacked onto the base experience.

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I don’t have an awful lot to say about this screenshot other than I thought it looked cool, so I decided to post it.  This is of course from Farcry 3 Blood Dragon, which is this insane 80s movie romp.  If you took every 80s sci-fi film and distilled it to its campy roots, then dumped all of that pure essence in a blender…  you wind up with Blood Dragon.  If you have never checked it out, you probably really should given that it regularly dips down into the $5 territory.  It is a completely stand alone experience and does not require Farcry…  nor does it really have anything to do with the Farcry Franchinse at all other than modeling some of the open world roaming gameplay.

 

One Hundred Floors

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So yesterday I mentioned that I had plenty of Aetherpool to get a weapon, but found out that I apparently needed to have completed the full 1-100 Palace of the Dead experience to purchase it.  Confession time here… before last night I had never actually completed any further into PotD than floor 70.  Most of my running lately has been resetting and running 51-60 over and over which tends to give between 1/2 and 3/4 of a level worth of experience depending on your level.  I am sure this slows down in the post 50 grind, but regardless considering how fast most of the runs go it is well worth my time.  Given how fast the queue is… I am guessing the community as a whole has also decided it is well worth their time.  For the moment I have been focused on getting up my characters to 50, which would allow me to clean out a significant amount of gear from my extremely clogged retainers.  Last night I hung out in a holding pattern until my wife got home, and then we both walked to dinner and finally around 7:30 I had arrived at a place where I could get committed to running something serious.  I mentioned that I really needed to get to floor 100 and within moments Tam, Ash and Grace had volunteered for the run.  All told it took roughly 2 hours to get through the 51-100 content, which no matter how you chop it is a raid like effort of sitting still in one place for a long period of time.  As far as experience goes I went from 33 to 37 and am just barely shy of dinging 38 so just a little less than a half level per flight of floors.  I also managed to bump my Aetherpool up to 85 weapon / 87 armor as seen in the final score shot from the dungeon.

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The first five sets of floors were pretty chill, but quickly things kinda turned to madness.  We had a sequence of floors with just a silly amount of Chimera and Dragon on them, and in truth we pomander of rage’d the last three floors just to go quicker.  We picked up plenty of silver chests and exited with 9 treasures…  but we didn’t exactly go out of our way to do full clears either.  If we had unexplored rooms and the portal activated… we were far more likely just to hop straight in than to spend any more time.  This become more so as we got into the last few flights and it was clear that we were all getting tired of the run.  I am super thankful to my friends because I probably would not have successfully pugged my way through that one.  I have had great luck with 1-10 and 51-60…  but pretty much any other set I try they end up failing miserably and I am just out thirty minutes worth of frustration in the process.  Grace on the other had has somehow managed to pug her way to 100, and I salute her.  Her intestinal fortitude for dealing with strangers is so much stronger than mine.  After running 1-50 for Muspel over the weekend, and then running 51-100 for me last night…  I think it might be a long while before I sign up for another complete run of Palace of the Dead.  I greatly prefer speed running the first flight over and over to trying to do the entire thing in a single sitting.

Weekend of the Dead

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This weekend it finally happened… I finally reached a point where I am full saturation once again in Final Fantasy XIV.  I am not really sure if it was the Fan Fest news trickling out over the weekend, or the introduction of Stormblood.  Whatever the case I spent the majority of the weekend plunked down on the sofa playing FFXIV.  Now the bizarre part of this however… is that I played a bunch of classes that I traditionally never play.  I almost exclusively played finger wigglers, which lead my guild to wonder if I had been replaced by a pod person.  Would I even know if that actually happened?  I mean do the pod people actually know that they are pod people?  Whatever the case two different things were happening this weekly.  Primarily I was using the Palace of the Dead to level classes that would be cool to have at max level… but that I don’t really want to level properly.  Namely Scholar and Summoner, which admittedly is the same leveling process…  but I spent most of the weekend running around with Garuda Egi in dps form.  I finished the grind Sunday Afternoon and then went rummaging through my vault to find something to wear.  Thankfully I managed to scrape together enough gear that I picked up along the way to hit somewhere in the vicinity of 110.

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From there I spent a good amount of time catching the Summoner and Scholar up on their quest chains…  which were laughably easy now that I overgeared them by a significant portion.  The thing that is making the leveling process awkward is that I switched Grand Companies between now and the last time I leveled… and as a result my vault is full of a bunch of Immortal Flames gear that I cannot actually use.  Side note…  Maelstrom completely fails because the low level Black Mage weapon is a one-handed item.  Regardless I managed to catch up quickly and now have four sets of awesome gear… 2 for summoner and 2 for scholar because I guess they just straight up give you the recolored version now?  The recolor was pretty different on scholar so I went with the good ole classic.  On summoner however they both looked pretty samey and I went with the evoker set not really knowing if that is the original or the reskin.  Side note… summoner “Egis” are hilarious as a Lalafel since they are always larger than you are.

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After getting Summoner and Scholar to 50… and through their class content…  I shifted gears and started working on Thaumaturge.  I had managed to get it to 26 a long time ago only because it was the level needed for a cross class ability.  I stopped there expecting to never pick it up, but instead tonight I dusted things off and tried to make a viable build work.  I guess in part I am wanting to get all of my casters to 50… so I can have a massive cleaning out of my vault given that I have so much gear laying around and there is zero way I can survive another expansion with the vault in its current state.  In truth I think it would be kinda cool to get ALL of my classes to 50, but given that I have not even started on Machinist and Astralogian…. and only have Dark Knight to 33 that might be awhile off.  I do however find Palace of the Dead extremely relaxing, especially the manner in which I am running it.  I am simply running 51 to 60 over and over which still seems to move the bar up nicely on weapons.  The other side benefit of the weekend is that I can now purchase my next weapon upgrade for the Warrior…   however in order to do that I am going to actually have to beat level 100 at some point.  I can begin pestering my friends about that now…  but having run 1-50 for a friend this weekend… I know just how much of a slot doing an entire PotD can be in one sitting.

Box of Spoons

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I feel like I was given a box full of spoons.  One of my friends said that awhile back and I had no clue what it meant at the time…  but after some research… yeah I totally get it.  I have been largely functioning on adrenaline and fear for the last several weeks as I had this big looming deadline swinging dangerously over my head.  Yesterday however was the day… and we launched…  and despite having a flurry of activity and a pretty active bug tracker we largely survived.  We had a happy hour yesterday where our boss picked up the tab, and I cannot fully express how awesome it was that he did that…  and even more so that I work with a group of people that I enjoy working with enough to go to happy hour.  This site had a heavy toll on both myself and Rae who has been the mastermind of its design.  By the time we sat down at the pub…  I felt like I had several weeks worth of tired crashing down upon my shoulders.  Last night I flailed about a bit trying to play various games… and even succeeding in doing a few delves in Elder Scrolls Online.  However before long I was back to staring blankly at my laptop and decided it was time for sleep.  I slept better than I have slept in a long time… with my periods of waking up being replaced by dreams where I thought I woke up and did things.  Apparently Kenzie was going nuts and it woke my wife up… but I seemingly was blissfully unaware.

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We still have a hefty list of things to sort out, and bugs to fix…  however they all seem so much less significant than the overarching goal of launching.  The chief content provider remarked that launching a website was like giving birth, and given that she has a teenage daughter I am going to take her word for it.  It is definitely like something, given that yesterday was the culmination of a few years worth of planning and a years worth of furious development and re-development and then ultimately trying to hop up and down on the trunk until the various components fit enough to close the lid.  You always start out with these lofty pristine goals, and then as you start managing towards a date you have to sacrifice some of that naivety and start trying to focus on what actually works or will work well enough for the time being.  I hate managing to a date… because it feels like you are doing development wrong, especially when you are doing something that you have never actually done before.  I mean I have launched plenty of sites…  but we essentially threw away most of our comfortable tools this time and launched out into a brand new direction that if we managed to pull it off was going to be amazing.  What is also the hard part is this is the first time I was the one actually managing the timeline and making sure things were getting done.  I would have been so screwed if like I said before… I didn’t have a really amazing group of people to work with.

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The images you are seeing are not from my random screenshot tool, but I would forgive you if you thought that given that up until this point in today’s post I have not actually talked about gaming.  Instead these are sort of post cards from the gaming that I did while in this state.  I have been playing quite a bit of Elder Scrolls Online, because of the segmented nature of its questing allows me to get in… turn a single symbol on my map from black to white… and feel like I have accomplished something.  I am still slowly pushing my way through Malabal Tor, but if I get a full day of questing this weekend I might be able to get through it.  Last weekend during the AggroChat podcast I started working on my Warlock in World of Warcraft, and was shocked that it pretty much took the entire podcast to get through the intro scenario, artifact weapon, and class order hall quests.  I really should have done what so many of my guildies did and chain ran all of my characters up to the point where they choose the first zone in Legion.  In that intro scenario there were two of us…  which made it take significantly longer than it was intended.  As a result they maybe need to scale that back given that we are reaching a point where no one is running it.  Finally at some point over the last week I participated in all four turns of the third section of Alexander and man…  is that a thing.  I greatly enjoyed the fights so much more than I did the middle section of Alexander, because Voltron sorta broke me.  The final boss was sufficiently epic, and both 9 and 12 required a bunch of attempts to finally push through it.  I rolled lucky and managed to get two helm tokens and two of the four needed pants tokens… so I guess I will be wanting to run more of this?  It was a lot of fun, but was sort of dulled by the stupored state of being in constant stress mode.  I am looking forward to feeling like I can actually enjoy the world once more.

Four Screenshots

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Last night was another fairly anxiety fraught night, and I simply didn’t feel capable of tanking a World of Warcraft progression raid.  I feel bad about it, but by the time I got home…  my mind was spent racing through all of the possible things that could fail today.  This is it.. the day we launch the new website and I am terrified.  In the grand scheme of things I know that we will deal with everything that comes down the pipe and triage issues as they arise.  However on the eve of the event I can’t stop thinking about all of the things that could go catastrophically wrong.  I need this to launch and I need it to go successful… because honestly I need a few days to simply fall apart.  I have been functionally working sick for over two weeks because I knew things had to get done.  Granted I have not been running a fever, so I didn’t think I was likely contagious… but that didn’t necessarily stop me from feeling downright miserable.  One thing I did do last night was get my little Random Shots project out on GitHub since Scopique mentioned I should do this thing.  Since I don’t really have a whole lot that I feel like talking about this morning, I am going to try one out of these random screenshot posts and see what happens.

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I have this weird relationship with Rift.  I love it or at least I really want to love it… but I have issues playing it.  I talked a little bit about my issues with combat over on Syp’s blog yesterday in the comment section, but another huge issue I have is that I simply cannot bring myself to purge things from my vault.  I love their housing system… but I also cannot seem to be bothered to actually spend time building a proper house.  However I have this long term desire to do so…  and because of that my vault is horrible.  With Nightmare Tide they introduced the Minion system and for months I logged in dutifully every day hoping to get housing caches with the thought of putting all of this cool stuff to work in building a really great dimension.  However what actually happened is it filled up both my vault and inventory with a bunch of items that I never could quite bring myself to part with.  I could bring myself to part with the deluge of crafting materials that my minions kept bringing back, but those housing items were just too rare feeling.  Sure most of them go on the auction house for a few silver….  but that doesn’t actually seem to alleviate the problem.  What I wish is that Rift had a housing system that worked similar to Wildstar in that you chuck items in a sort of housing inventory that you can then place items from.  I would happy wander the world collecting housing items, knowing that one day I might actually sit down and devote the hours to building a proper home.

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I had honestly forgotten about the events that happened during this screenshot.  Back in 2014 the Halloween event included the ability to transform into one of the various signature characters in the game.  There were a bunch of different clones running around in Uldah, and I wound up as Nanamo Ul Namo.  It was a lot of fun but largely was just an occasion to take funny photos… like there is one floating around of like nine Minfilia’s on a bench sitting beside one Merlwyb who is looking exasperated.   That is one of the really cool and frustrating things about Final Fantasy XIV is that each holiday event is unique and will never be repeated.  They sometimes put the rewards you could have earned on the cash shop for a pretty cheap price… but each year and each holiday offers something truly unique.  Over the years I have missed several, and there will always be a small bit of me that feels a slightly sense of loss over not getting to see whatever content that was.

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This is one of those screenshots where I know what it is and what it is showing… but can’t be terribly certain of the sequence of events.  Essentially I know that this is a beta test build of Elder Scrolls Online, during one of the most public test weekends and not one of the Psijic Order/Team Akatosh weekends.  The screenshot is somewhere in the middle of Stonefalls, because I spent so much time in Stonefalls.  By the time the game launched I was pretty sick of both the Daggerfall Covenant starter area and the Ebonheart Pact starter area.  The reason why I know it is a public beta client, is because there is no obnoxious watermark that says my email address over and over across the screen.  I still have plenty of alpha screenshots floating around that are watermarked to hell and back and this is obviously not one of them.  I also know this is not a live screenshot… in part because of the time stamp on the image and also because I have yet to make it to Ebonheart Pact on my main character.  The funny part about this shot is that I had been in alpha/beta testing on the game roughly a full year when we reached this point back in February of 2014.  I was an extremely dutiful tester, repeatedly reporting bugs every time I played.  To the best of my knowledge I never missed a weekend testing event, even if it simply meant that I popped in for a few hours somewhere during it.  It just seems shocking that in April we will be coming up on the third anniversary of the Elder Scrolls Online.

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This is a screenshot from one of the early alpha builds of Skysaga, a minecraftian sort of voxel building game.  The game had a really awesome style to it, in everything other than the character models… and their weird floating arms and legs that were detached from the torso bothered me.  I realize that was part style decision and part that they simply didn’t want to have to properly animate arms and legs.  I mean if it worked for Rayman… why not for a construction/exploration game?  I cannot really tell you why I checked out of this game, but I did… I think in part because it was the sort of experience that handheld you through the process of building by continually throwing new crafting achievements in front of you.  Then each time a new build was released… we would get wiped back to square one.  I am sure the game has changed massively given that this is a screenshot from February of 2015 and I am still actively getting emails talking about alpha builds of the game.  When I just checked the website they list that they are in Alpha 9… and this screenshot is from what I can only term as a 0 alpha build given the version number.  If you are still in alpha after two years…  something tells me you are using the nomenclature completely wrong.  If you are selling a product… you aren’t in alpha.  You are just in a buggy release mode.

Chateau Belghast

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This weekend was a bizarre one.  We are still very much under the gun of a release date, and I attempted to do whatever I could to further that goal.  However for all of Saturday our building was without power, and I was instead on call just in case something went wrong.  The building power went down at 6:30 in the morning, and by the time we started recording AggroChat we had not yet gotten the all clear.  I was just hoping that things would cycle off of the generators as successfully as they did cycling onto them, and that I would not end up getting interrupted during the podcast.  Sunday was a mixed bag of work and doing all of the other things that we ultimately put off until Sunday like laundry and various errands.  The weekend as a whole wound up being a very random mix of games as I played whatever I could during the brief moments of downtime.  As you can see by the Chateau Belghast image above, I started fiddling around with Fallout 4 once again, and scrapped my old house and built this one instead.  The inside is largely unfurnished but I am digging the outside quite a bit.  It took me far longer than it should have to sort out how best to attempt centering the neon text, but in the grand scheme it seems to look okay.  The frustrating bit with their neon font is that is is in no way monospaced with the characters all varying pretty wildly in width.

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In Final Fantasy XIV I am still very much getting back in the swing of things, and have fallen into the pattern of doing Beast Tribe dailies.  In theory I started down this path because I wanted a reliable source of ventures for my retainers, so that I could keep sending out my gatherers on field exploration.  However I also really like mounts, and over the course of the last week or so I have been pushing up the Sahagin, not necessarily because I love the mount, but more because it was the next closest faction.  For a long period of time, it was the faction I was spending the rest of my daily allowance on while working on the Sylph.  Yesterday however I managed to push Sahagin across the finish line and now have my truly bizarre Sapsa mount to ride around on.  I figured what better place to take a picture of it than in the waters of The Mists, where the Free Company house is located.  Next up should be the Kobolds as once again…  they are the next closest given that I had been spending my extra ventures on them while working on the Sahagin.  I mean I know there are lots of other things I SHOULD be doing… but I just can’t bring myself to pug dungeons yet.  After a string of bad experiences with Palace of the Dead… I don’t much feel like pugging that one either.  The problem there is as we talked about on the podcast, is that if you fail…  you lose all progress gained which seems deeply punitive for a random group activity.

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Finally I spent a good amount of time this weekend playing Elder Scrolls online.  I failed to take any screenshots so instead you get an interior shot of my home.  I pushed forward the story line in Malabal Tor a bit, but the big problem with ESO is that I tend to wander wildly.  I find it extremely hard to stay focused and instead I wind up going after the next object on the horizon that looks interesting, and as a result never seem to end up getting my objectives accomplished.  There is always a fallen log to harvest, or an outcropping of ore to mine.  Whatever the case I find myself continuing to move steadily towards 160 champion levels, which is the current item cap.  Unfortunately I have a feeling this is probably going to change with Morrowind, but for the time being getting there.. and being able to craft a set of gear that will last me for a bit tends to be my focus.  The other thing that I am realizing is that 160 champion levels is just a drop in the bucket given that quite literally every build I find expects you to have at least four or five times that amount.  There is a part of me that wishes I had never actually faded away from this game, because at this very moment I am so impossibly behind the curve.  Then again I think that overwhelming amount of content is what has been drawing me there much in the same way as it did for A Realm Reborn until we caught up.  I know there is more to do than I have time to do it… and in some way that is insurance from ever really getting bored.

Be The Battery

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Yesterdays post was a little more bleak than they usually are, and the bizarro thing is…  I think writing it helped a lot.  It helped putting the frustrations and dread into a single post and sending it out into the world.  Its almost as if typing the words lessened the hold the malaise had on me.  Then again the activities of last night helped quite a bit as well.  However I will get to that shortly.  First off I want to show off my home in Elder Scrolls Online.  I went back and forth on a few different homes before finally settling on Mournoth Keep in the Halcyon Lake area of Bangkorai.  I remember being extremely fond of the main campaign in Bangkorai so that fit for me as well as the fact that since I chose Daggerfall Covenant as my original faction… I wanted something to call home in the same area.  In truth I have not done much with it since getting it, largely because I have not had much luck in getting pattern or furniture drops.  I am being told that looting furniture seems to be the best way to do that.  In theory I could resort to stealing, or instead just fine one of the many towns controlled by enemies and run amok looting there.  I have a feeling through with the focus on housing there is going to be a lot of competition for lootables.

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Now on to the events of last night and how they seem to have turned around my spirit.  For awhile now Squirrel, Jex and myself have had an informal Thursday night thing where we go off and do small group content in Destiny together.  Originally this was the night when we took on the Challenge of Elders, but more recently we have been running all three of our characters through the weekly nightfall.  I have yet to get an icebreaker, so I largely think they are humoring me until I actually get one.  Whatever the case it is a lot of fun, but due to the bizarre schedule since coming back from PAX it had been a few weeks since we last did one of these nights.  In truth I had not actually played Destiny since probably January 19th now that I am thinking about it.  I was extremely rusty, and by the sheer number of times that they had to rez me it showed… but regardless I think we all had a lot of fun.  This week the Nightfall is Dust Palace which is something that has been in the rotation since year one… and that everyone has memorized at this point.  As a result we were able to run through three characters worth of Nightfalls in way less than an hours time.  During the Nightfall runs they asked me where I was on progress on the quest line to unlock the Outbreak Prime weapon, which requires you to group together in a fire team with a Titan, Warlock and Hunter to make forward momentum.

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The truth is I had not really made it terribly far other than picking up the occasional progress from our Thursday night runs when the stars happened to be aligned and we wound up choosing to play different classes on a given run.  Like they often do… they set out to change that and we ran a sequence of Archon’s Forge to finish out the step I happened to be on since those apparently count as “public events”.  It was around this point that we realized that we did not have three characters with the devices needed to do the decoding step of the quest chain.  There is a phase that needs to be completed in a social area where a titan, warlock and hunter input a sequence on this item that drops from the quest chain.  If all three sequences are correct you can click through and get to the next step.  After a little shuffling we realized that Jex’s warlock had already completed the quest, and Squirrel’s hunter was on the step I had just completed.  So we continued on to catch Squirrel up in the process and ran a sequence of three heroic strikes, and then three public events to get us all on the same stage of the quest.  After that back to the social area to complete the matrix and move on to the next step.

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It felt like the night was still relatively young, so instead of hanging it up for the evening we pushed on into the next quest which involved collecting a bunch of SIVA tech by killing splicers.  This also required us to run the Sepiks Perfected strike, which we knocked out in short order by simply doing the 320 light version.  From there it was back into Archon’s Forge to complete three events, and farm up the rest of our SIVA Tech fragments.  All of which went extremely quickly and before we had finished the three events, we had gotten 100% of our fragments.  Watching those things scroll by 2 at a time on the right side of the screen was madness as we tore apart the forge event.  Finally it was another trip back to a social space, this time to solve a four by five matrix.  It took a half dozen attempts but we finally got the right numbers on all three of us, allowing us to move to the final step.  Now both Squirrel on his hunter and myself on my Titan are on the step that requires us to simply kill any three bosses in the Wrath of the Machine raid.  Then I will have my very own Outbreak Prime pulse rifle, and can do silly damage to SIVA targets with my nanites.  All it all it was exactly the sort of concentrated fun that I needed to pull me out of my funk, and even though I am staring down the barrel of what will almost certainly be an extremely stressful day…  I suddenly found a new packet of spoons with which to confront it.

Brief Goldrush

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briefgoldrush
Screen Grab from WoWToken.info

Yesterday was kind of a shit day.  I got to work around 7 am, ran around like a chicken with my head cut off and didn’t get home until after 6:30 pm.  To make matters worse I wound up skipping breakfast with the idea of just grabbing something from the cafeteria in the basement…  but apparently they changed hands and are no longer open at a reasonable hour for breakfast eating.  When I got home I ate some left overs and planned on largely chilling out on the sofa with my laptop, however within minutes I was falling asleep at the keyboard.  Instead of opting to consume caffeine to forcibly prop my eyelids open like I do so many nights…  I simply went with it and crashed hard.  I know I woke up a few times, one of which I vaguely remember going to the kitchen to get a drink…  but for the most part I was completely dead to the world not really becoming aware of my surroundings until about five minutes before the alarm was set to go off this morning.  Bel is still a very sick Bel, and while I am taking some stuff whatever respiratory hell that I picked up at PAX South seems to be lingering.  Unfortunately work is absolutely madness right now and we are pushing towards a hard deadline…  one that honestly made me think if going to PAX was a good idea at all in the first place.  So I am suffering through it, and largely just collapsing into my desk chair and trying to think clear thoughts…  that is until yesterday when a firestorm erupted not even vaguely related to said deadline.  All of the sudden I am back in the same meetings I attended six months ago… and being told to develop the same solution I suggested six months ago but was largely told wasn’t needed.  Suffice to say… it was a miserable day to be a Bel.

As a result I don’t have much that is exciting to talk about other than the fact that something strange happened.  We had essentially a virtual run on the banks in the form of the WoW Token going from 60,000 gold to 115,000 gold and back down to around 66,000 gold all within a 36 hour period.  So what caused this?  Well quite simply the law of supply and demand, but more importantly the release of the ability to fund “Battle.net Balance” from consuming a WoW token instead of simply trading it in for subscription time.  If you will indulge me in a quick side bar here…  didn’t Blizzard say that as far as branding goes “Battle.net” was going away?  I find it bizarre that they are rolling out a new feature with this same branding instead of simply calling it “Blizzard Balance” or something super generic like that.  Essentially all of those folks with pent up desires for products on the Blizzard store, suddenly had the ability to cash in their bankroll and buy those things pushing the demand for tokens way higher than the demand for actual gold.  In truth this should have been foreseen given that there will always be a constant need for things on the store that previously cost cash, but there is a constantly dwindling number of aspirational gold needs in the game.  Sure you could really drop a silly amount of money and buy outright that 2 million gold spider mount…  but at the end of the day it does nothing but sit there as a supposed status symbol.  Whereas in the past with the Tundra Mammoth and Yak… those greatly improved game-play especially when it came to leveling alts.  However I won’t lie that the thought of being able to sell a token and purchase the Alliance motorcycle did cross my mind as something I might be willing to do.

What I want to talk about more than anything else is the absolute windfall that this means for Blizzard.  When you purchase a token for $20 it can be then traded for goods valuing $15…  be it in the form of a monthly subscription or now in $15 of Battle.net balance that can then be spent on anything from physical merchandise to the digital services they provide.  Every time a token changes hands Blizzard makes $5 off the top, regardless of what it is spent on.  My theory is that a lot of the tokens over the last two days were spent purchasing digital services… like character moves or renames… things that folks had been wanting to do for a long period of time but just been unwilling to cough up hard currency to make it happen.  If that is the case then every single one of these token purchases also essentially amounted to pure profit.  I have been a long time critic of the prices that Blizzard charges for character moves or renames… when essentially they are charging for access to what is now a completely automated and scripted interaction.  Once upon a time there was a labor cost associated with these services, because someone manually kicked off a SQL script to make it happen…  however that has not been the case for over a decade and the price never actually went down.  If folks spent their tokens on digital game purchases, or in game items for Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm or Overwatch… then again that is mostly pure profit.  The only time there are serious physical expenses factoring in is if someone purchase tangible items on the store like a Murloc plush or an Overwatch hoodie.  Even then…  they are still making a decent profit on that item or they would not be selling it.  Basically the Token system allows Blizzard to double dip and make a profit on the front end and the back end of every purchase… and at the same time ensures that the folks that are grinding out the gold are actively playing their properties.

In truth I think we can expect one of these “runs on the bank” each time something new is released from Blizzard.  A new champion in Heroes of the Storm… bam the token price inflates as folks scurry to purchase it.  The Diablo 3 expansion pack that adds Necromancers releases…  same thing… a rush to sell off some gold to purchase the thing that folks want.  I think of this much like the lottery system, in that once the reward gets to a certain point… it brings people out of the woodwork that would never normally buy tickets.  Personally that price point is somewhere around 300 million dollars for a lottery, because that prompts me to start buying the occasional one off ticket here and there on the vague chance that I will actually win.  For WoW players that price point seems to be 100,000 gold for the US economy and 200,000 gold for the EU economy.  The bizarre part of this is that I don’t think the balance feature is even available on the EU realms yet, and it absolutely had no effect on China, Taiwan, or South Korea yet… but in truth those three markets are madness anyways. Regardless… the fact that players can now cash in their gold for tangible goods… that they could then in theory sell on secondary markets like Ebay tells me that we are going to change the dynamic considerably.  You have just essentially let players start turning game time in to real dollars, which is a strange paradigm and one that is not entirely dissimilar to the traditional third party gold markets.  Granted this is going to be a SUPER lossy process, but one that will exist nonetheless.  One that more than likely only the most sage of gold making wizards will ever figure out how to tap.  Things are going to be really strange from this point out.

[Edit] I just heard from my friend Nyn that you cannot apparently use Battle.net balance to fund physical items… so that at least negates some of my commentary.  However that does mean that tokens going to Battle.net balance are essentially going to be largely pure profit for Blizzard.

Wildlands

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laptop screenshot

It’s Monday morning and I am still struggling from whatever the hell I picked up at Pax South.  For a period of time last week I thought I had started to kick it… so I backed off the over the counter meds and apparently that was a massive fail.  For most of last week I was working on pure adrenaline as we careened headlong towards a super important demo that we had at work for Thursday afternoon.  After that happened… I largely started falling back apart and now even though I tried my best over the weekend to get back on the meds I am still struggling.  I am hoping that today at some point things start to chill out because we have an even more important demo this afternoon.  We are in crazy crunch mode with a big release looming on the all too near horizon, so I know that once I get back in the swing of things I won’t have time to fall apart any further.  So hopefully I can survive once again on adrenaline and caffeine to get me over that finish line when I can well and truly have time to fall apart and be sick.

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desktop screenshot

Ghost Recon Wildlands was one of those games that I had only been tangentially following.  I remember watching the video when it was announced and thinking that it looked pretty cool.  However I generally don’t really go in for “military fantasy” style games like Call of Duty, where I am an operator in a tangential reality to our own.  Ultimately this is the big reason why Destiny has continued to click for me… but Division fizzled out is because killing monsters will always feel better than killing people.  I knew there was a beta going on this weekend because another friend had been offering invites, which I largely turned down because I thought to myself “I have too many games to play”.  However next thing I know my friend Dallian emails me an invite to the beta on the PC so since I already had the key I figured that I might as well check it out.  I am largely over my frustrations with UPlay because I guess while playing The Division I learned to accept it.  I mean it is still a better interface than Origin…  so that is at least something.  Over the weekend I tried playing the game on both my i7 x99 980 gtx based gaming desktop and my i7 960m based gaming laptop.  In both cases the game performed fairly well…  with the laptop getting 30 fps on medium settings and the desktop getting a predictable 60 fps on high settings.  I will be trying to remember to caption the source of each screenshot, since I took some from both.

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laptop screenshot

As far as the game itself…  well to be truthful it plays a lot like most of these games do.  Once you take the setting into account and the fact that you are playing a third person game instead of a first person game…  I found it largely indistinguishable from Farcry.  You roam the world, taking on baddies while collecting resources for your faction of choice… so that you can then unlock upgrades.  The primary difference being that there seemed to be far less story… and way more open world sandbox than a Farcry game.  You are encouraged to go interrogate people.. but largely that just makes new blips show up on your map of where to find resources.  What I went into the game hoping I would find…  is The Division but in a single player fighting the drug cartels skin.  There are moments where it absolutely feels that way, especially considering that an awful lot of the sound effects when you secure something come straight from the sound effects we are used to hearing in Division.  Where the game excels however is in the use of the drone mechanic, that which it largely feels like a flying camera…  gives you a nice tactical advantage going into fights.  If you are fast and good at spotting targets you can mark all of the hostiles in an area ahead of a fight and take them one one by one in a semi-stealth manner.  I spent a lot of time sniping with my suppressed SMG, because ironically that allowed me to kill things without anyone noticing…  whereas my sniper rifle drew instant attention.

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desktop screenshot

The other odd thing about the game is the fact that for me personally… my squad existed for one purpose… to rez me when I got a little over zealous.  There was never a fight that I went into where I felt like they were an actual benefit and made the encounter easier.  They largely served as decoys to draw fire away from my position.  What I did find myself missing however is the cover mechanic from The Division.  There were so many places where I really needed to hug a wall and duck around a corner to get the shot… and I found that completely lacking.  Maybe I simply did not find the correct keybinds to hold to cover… but whatever the case it was something I was expecting to wound up missing.  The other complaint I had about the game is that it definitely feels like a console first/pc afterthought experience.  Now moment to moment gameplay and firefights are awesome on the PC, and I found it nice and easy to whittle my way through incoming hostiles.  Where it falls down however is that none of the vehicles felt like you could reasonably control them with a mouse and keyboard.  While driving something as simple as a jeep I found myself wildly veering from ditch to ditch as I tried desperately to wild around mountainside roads.  It is in fact another game about driving crappy vehicles on even crappier roads… and the shockingly even crappier keyboard and mouse controls make this an extremely frustrating experience.

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laptop screenshot

I am largely placing this game in the “it might be fun” bucket, but it is definitely not a preorder sort of situation for me.  The demo however really wants you to preorder, in fact it is constantly prompting you to do so.  The truth is like most open world games… you spend an awful lot of time wandering through fields full of absolutely nothing.  There are vast open spaces of nothing of any consequence that lay between the small bins of things that might be useful.  When you start running missions, rather than roaming aimlessly like I do… you spend an awful lot of time retracing areas that you have already been to as you operate out of specific hub locations.  Where the game excels however is in town-centric firefights, with the ability to duck inside of buildings and avoid guards… then pick them off at the most opportune time.  There is a larger village that you encounter pretty early that is really fun, especially if you allow the Blancos to call in reinforcements.  All of that said though, the game still doesn’t really feel like it gives me something unique that makes me extremely interested in its own brand of special ops fairy tale.  Especially when Horizon Zero Dawn is right around the corner… and will be a much more interesting world to explore.  Video games are largely about escapism for me…  and the Call of Duty style game just doesn’t feel escapist enough for me to ever really get hooked.