Rage 2 First Impressions

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Last night I had a bit of a pleasant surprise, in that I came home and noticed that Rage 2 in my Bethesda launcher had 30 minutes left on the countdown to being ready to play.  I was fully expecting it to unlock somewhere around midnight, meaning that I would not be playing it last night at all.  However in theory the Bethesda launcher unlocked the game at the earliest playable time instead of Steam which I believe unlocked it at Midnight Eastern Standard time.  Quake Champions alpha was the game that got me to install the Bethesda Launcher so when Fallout 76 forced me to use it…  it was no big deal given that I already had it installed on my system.  For Rage 2…  it just seemed like a decent idea to go ahead and order directly from the company for fear of there being some last minute storefront shenanigans like there have been recently with the Epic Games store.  One thing that you have to know going into this discussion…  I loved the original Rage, just felt that it was too short of a game that felt like the opening act of a story and not a complete experience.

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So going into Rage I was already familiar with the basic story of how the world went wrong.  That said…  I do think they did a good job of prefacing the major points through some slightly unreliable narration.  Given that if you have not played Rage yet you like area not going to… so here goes my quick rundown of the events as I remember them.  Essentially a planet-killer scale meteor named Apophis fell and destroyed the world…  and you are one of the representatives of mankind’s best hope that were buried in Arks underground in order to survive the impact.  However on the way to earth the meteor bounced off of the moon causing a large chunk to break off…  and also causing the impact to not be quite as devastating as originally predicted.  So in the first game you encounter survivors of the old world both good and bad… and fight your way through the paramilitary power of the time called the Authority and trigger all of the other Arks to rise to the surface in the final events of that game.  However at some point between those events and that of Rage 2 some terraforming satellites have fallen to earth and caused pockets of the world to become a lush oasis…  as was in theory the goal of Project Eden to help reclaim the broken world.

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There is a thirty year gap between the events of Rage 1 and Rage 2 and in that time a number of major settlements have arisen and solidified their hold on the world.  You play as your choice of a male or female character from the Settlement of Vineland.  Within moments of starting the game you are thrust into a battle with the Authority that is now returning after a lengthy absense to begin reclaiming the wastes for themselves.  Through a somewhat creepy sequence you scavenge a set of ranger armor from a dead body and that is apparently all it takes to make you one?  You are sent out on a mission to make contact with three other city states and start something called Project Dagger going.  And thus begins the first of the comparisons to Fallout…  in that from the moment you leave that tutorial sequence you are no longer fettered by any constraints as to what you should or should not be doing.

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Just like your first footsteps out of the vault…  you can roam the world freely and do anything that suits your fancy.  You have markers on your map directing you to each of these major settlements but also a bunch of other micro objectives that will gain you favor with various entities.  The original Rage was essentially “what if Fallout were more like Quake”, and this game is more like “what if Fallout were a better shooter”.  I am somewhat cautious on the Fallout comparisons however because Bethesda games are massively different for each of the players that choose to play them.  For me that core Fallout experience is going off into the wilderness to be a murder hobo and bring back stacks of blood drenched armor to sell for caps…  and then repeating this over and over until I have explored every bit of the world that suits my fancy and done all of the quests associated with them.  In those terms Rage 2 feels very Fallout to me, because I can roam around the map and tick off objectives while looking for tasty loot.

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Much like the first game you have a trusty steed in the form of a Mad Maxian road war vehicle…  this time around it is something called Phoenix equipped with an Alexa style AI that talks to you as you do things.  The game also gives you a decent waypoint system that shows up in game as a series of neon pink chevrons directing you towards your target.  While on the road there are a number of random encounters…  bandit camps of sorts or other vehicles that might try and run you off the road.  One of the first objectives that you encounter is a bridge that has been blocked off by bandits and you need to clear the camp and flip a lever to raise the roadblock.  That is more or less the sort of level involvement you should expect from the encounters in game…  more or less go to an area… murder everything… search for hidden loot boxes and then profit.  If Fallout was a deep role-playing experience for you…  then maybe Rage 2 won’t feel like a reasonable simulacrum.

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For me however the world is interesting and filled with quest givers that want me to help them out either to retrieve items or get much needed revenge on someone who did them or their family wrong.  The feel of the world is also excellent, and not at all what I was expecting given the trailers and neon punk aesthetic leading up to the release of this game.  Sure there are hot pink flares burning in the distance at times, but the world itself feels significantly more subdued and is filled with the sort of broken people you would expect from a broken landscape.  There are no dialog prompts…  just click on an NPC and get their story as well as a quest showing up in your journal…  which admittedly is perfectly fine for me.  I am always going to be the hero and help everyone out…  so it isn’t like I need a red or blue option to the dialog to make me happy.  That said for some the game will feel like it isn’t giving you any options other than killing everything…  but again… it is a shooter first and anything else second.

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Probably the most interesting aspect of the game is that each Ark can teach you a super power of sorts.  From the first Ark located in Vineland you learn the ability to dodge out of the way of things… which comes in handy in many places.  Last night before I shut down for the evening I found an Ark that effectively taught me the ability to double jump, and before that another one that taught me how to take my dodge and turn it into a body slam that can break armor off enemies.  All of the abilities have their own skill tree of sorts that allows you to pour resources find in the wastes into leveling them up.  As you start gaining these the game begins to feel really interesting and unique in that you are given was to both traverse the world but also interact with its combat.  Now so far it is nothing in the way of the types of movement Tam generally craves…  but double jump should at least make Ash as happy as it does me.  I deeply appreciate the fact that the game has a ledge system that allows you to pull up if you get close enough to it… meaning that traversing areas that at first glance that you might not be able to make becomes a little bit more reasonable.

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All in all I am deeply pleased with the experience so far, and all I really wanted in truth was more of the first game.  Rage 2 however gives me enough tweaks to make that prospect significantly more interesting.  The challenge the game has in front of it however is that so far… the game plays NOTHING like the trailer.  The trailers were all so over the top and filled with Neon Punk aesthetic and thus far at least…  I have seen very little of it apart from the occasional colored flare.  The trailers would make me expect that a rainbow shat on my screen…  and so far at least that isn’t exactly the case as you can see from what is a pretty common vista of junk strewn across a wasteland.  This might be a turn off for folks expecting the former… for me personally I am completely fine with this as like I said before I loved the original.

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I mean I guess the screenshots get a little more over the top when you factor in the photo mode that you can apply to things and add all sorts of neon nonsense to the sides.  However that same aesthetic doesn’t really carry over to the gritty world that I have been experiencing.  If you like playing murder hobo in Bethesda games…  then Rage 2 might be a game for you.  If you like post apocalyptic gopher mission shooters…  then Rage 2 might be a game for you.  If you want deep role-playing choices and feeling like you have some effect on the story…  then Rage 2 might not be a game for you.  If you were expecting a carnal bullet ballet in a neon punk wasteland…  then it is probably a coin flip if this game will be for you because there are definitely those elements but as I said before it is nowhere near as over the top as the trailers would lead you to believe.  For me personally… this is a positive but it won’t be for everyone.

I will say that the latest trailers for the game are playing down the elements from the earlier ones…  so MAYBE the style changed over time?  It is a really fun game that I am definitely enjoying, and if what I talked about seems interesting to you then maybe check it out.  I am not about to say the game is going to be for everyone, but for me…  I am completely down for this nonsense.

 

Fuzzy Detectives

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This weekend was very light on gaming for various reasons.  Saturday I scurried around in the morning and cleaned the house so that I could be done in time to hit an 11 am matinee of Detective Pikachu.  My wife was busy doing an AP Statistics review session they call “Super STATurday” where they prep them for the upcoming AP exam and then the students take a mock test.  Since my wife does not generally go in for the nonsense that I enjoy like Pokemon…  I figured it was easiest if I just went by myself.  First off…  Detective Pikachu is adorable and if you need something pure in your life you should totally go see it.  I am not exactly a diehard Pokemon fan but I have been around it enough to get a general feel for the movie doing an excellent job of representing the various critters.  Secondly… Ryan Reynolds was perfect in the role and make the entire film feel like a G rated Deadpool…  which admittedly Once Upon a Deadpool is my favorite version of Deadpool 2.

The other big takeaway I have from the movie is that Sonic the Hedgehog as a movie is going to do just fine in the box office regardless of how much us nerds are raging against it.  The representation of Sonic bothers me greatly, but I was in a theater crammed full of kids on Saturday and they cheered and laughed when that trailer came on.  We are not the target audience of that movie, and it instead is designed for the same demographic that all of those Spykids movies were.  As much as it pains me to say it…  our opinion of that Sonic doesn’t really matter if the kids are engaged.  I do however think Pokemon Detective Pikachu was a more faithful recreation of both the look and feel of the Pokemon setting with deep call backs to lots of other settings from the games.  I think it was also genius to be handing out packs of Pokemon cards to everyone that bought a ticket…  I saw lots of kids excited to be getting these.  I am pretty sure that Pikachu was in every pack, but I also pulled a Bulbasaur which is probably my favorite of the starters.

For this next bit I don’t have any photos taken of my device, but I picked up a new tablet and spent a good deal of the weekend messing with it.  I’ve had android tablets before and always the experience was less than ideal, at least compared to what I was used to with my old Ipad 2.  As much as I hate to admit it…  Apple makes damned good tablet devices and I have always wanted something akin to that on the correct marketplace.  After a good deal of sifting through product reviews I wound up going with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 and so far am exceptionally happy with it.  Ultimately my constraints were fairly simple…  I wanted to be able to run mobile games on it fluidly, I wanted to be able to read comics on it at a resolution friendly to my aging eyes, and I wanted some sort of a pen device so I could maybe start sketching on it.  After looking at a bunch of different options I landed on either the Tab S3 or S4 and wound up finding a decent deal on the S4.

Then for awhile I thought Amazon had lost my order, as it failed to show up during the original delivery estimate and shifted into “maybe your package will arrive someday” mode.  The original tracking code is seemingly permanently stuck on “label created” mode.  It did however arrive one day late and seemingly no worse for the wear, and I was able to spend most of the weekend getting things set up on it.  As such I have been spending a lot of time juggling between Marvel Unlimited and reading up on comics there and the handful of CBZs that I had laying around from various Humble Bundle deals.  With those I am using a piece of software called ComiCat that seems to do a good job of both showing an attractive news stand mode and letting me flip through the comics seamlessly.

So far the battery life is excellent as I have not charged it past the first day and used it pretty much every night to go through my dailies in both Dragalia Lost and Marvel Future Fight as well as spending a good deal of time reading comics.  At this point I think the battery is somewhere around 85% which fares significantly better than my phone which can be drained by Dragalia Lost in what feels like a few minutes.  It is light weight enough to be able to fairly comfortable hold one handed, though I am contemplating investing in a pop socket to make that process a little easier.  Side note… as I have said before I have really stupidly large hands so I am not entirely certain if the average human being could hold the tablet one handed, but it works for me.  I do however fear dropping this on my face considering I have done that with my phone…  given that mobile time is generally my getting ready for sleep activity.  All in all however… I am super happy with this tablet and it also cost considerably less than a modern Ipad so bonus points there.

Skytrain Adventures

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I had one of those nights where I was bouncing around between games.  First off I spent some time working on RetroArch trying to get things configured as I wanted them.  I made some very minimal progress, but I do at least have MAME games launching from underneath it.  I still think I am going to have to go through the process of manually setting up playlists for the best possible experience.  In part why I like RetroArch/Libretro cores so much is the excellent controller support and the way whatever I happen to have plugged in seems to automagically work.  I also like the various shader effects which is another reason why the whole manual playlist idea is probably a good one.  From there I popped over into The Surge for a bit but ultimately bounced out of it pretty quickly.  I like the concept of this game…  but Dark Soulsian games so far really aren’t my jam.

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When I ultimately settled in to a game for a bit I wound up playing some Sunless Skies.  Fallen London is probably one of my favorite game settings and for a long time I made a daily practice of logging in and playing through my adventures.  After the success of the web based game a couple of standalone titles have been released, Sunless Seas a game about travelling out into the black abyss of the Unterzee a subterranean ocean the size of Europe that surrounds the city.  Sunless Skies however is a direct sequel set ten years after the events of the first game in which you pilot a sky train of sorts around the region known has the High Wilderness way above the world of both Fallen London and Sunless Seas.  The truth is I have never made it terribly far in Sunless Seas…  or at least nowhere near far enough to know anything about the events that play out in that game, I just decided I would rather pilot a locomotive than a boat last night.

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There is something deeply relaxing about puttering around and visiting the various islands and having locomotive battles.  The game more or less features a lot of the same elements in that you move around through the darkness looking for things to interact with.  When you do interact you have various quests to keep you engaged in the story line and various crew members to pick up and have dialog with.  I seem to always go down the path that involves being combat ready, but this game seems to favor the subtlety checks way more than was the case with the web based game.  It seems like every time I take down a marauder train…  boarding and looting it is a subtlety check which makes me want to start pushing that up a bit more than I have.

I guess it was the sort of game that my brain was needing last night, but it unfortunately did not lull me into a sense of peace as I spent most of the night tossing and turning and not quite getting restful sleep.  As a result this morning I am feeling groggy and assume I am going to have to push through with copious amounts of caffeine to make the day function.  I have a fairly packed day so here is hoping that I make it through unscathed.

Gratitude and some Gaming

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First off let me start today’s post by saying how much I appreciate the outpouring of support that I have had over the last couple of days.  I’m sorry that I have not responded to each of you individually…  but I just haven’t been in a great place to be able to do that.  My focus was trying to get through the last couple of days which also had the added bonus of being super stressful on the work front as well.  Each time I saw a message come through it helped, and I wish I had been able to really be sociable and such.  I had mostly been staying off social media the last few days apart from making a few random comments here or there to take my mind off things.  What makes the whole experience weird is we have had a ferret playpen in our living room for at least the last ten years…  so now that we have cleaned everything and removed it…  there is a visible void that will take some getting used to.

To add to the pile of woes that are happening…  I spend a lot of time on the sofa with my laptop remoted in to the machine upstairs.  We were eating dinner and I had to get up to check on the printer upstairs that was reporting to be out of paper.  I had pre-emptively filled it and apparently did not get it jostled just right for the sensors to notice.  As soon as I had gotten settled in and was about to kick out the leg rest…  the handle that does this broke completely.  Now the handle itself had broken some time back as it was plastic and not exactly the best idea for a part that would get a lot of constant use with a certain amount of force applied to it.  This time the pulley or spring or whatever ties the mechanism to the armature under the chair came loose and now the remainder of the broken lever flops freely.  This is part of a sectional…  and the manufacturer apparently no longer carries the design anymore…  which lead me to research a replacement part.  Apparently these handles are pretty standard and I managed to track down what appears to be a replacement and a new cable to boot just in case that actually snapped as well.  So there is a project on the stack for the weekend.

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As far as gaming goes…  I am still playing quite a bit of Marvel Future Fight via Memu Android Emulator each evening.  I largely just burn down the daily objectives similar to how I usually play Dragalia Lost.  I apparently did not notice this last night or this morning when I took the screenshot…  but I appear to have 3 heroes that I can unlock now because I had gathered enough biometrics while doing other things to get over the initial 10 threshold.  I’ve since swapped out Agent 13 to Luna Snow another one of the Netmarble created champions because the team bonus between her and Sharon Rogers is pretty nice.  More or less Sharon Rogers is the primary champion and Captain America and Luna Snow are just walking buffs.  At some point I want to spend some more time playing Iron Hammer which is an interesting Amalgam character of Ironman and Thor first seen in Infinity War #3.  Whatever the case playing a blend of Ironman and Thor is pretty sweet.

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I am also still spending a lot of time playing Dragalia Lost because the Fire Emblem event is still going on, and should have the next story block released today.  Both the summon changes and this event went in at the same time…  and it definitely feels like I am getting to summon way more often and without the worry of getting shitty wyrmprints the whole experience feels better.  I am still getting a lot of crap summons, but have managed to gather up several really nice ones over the course of the event so far.  Marth is my jam and the character I play the most in Smash Bros…  so I was super happy to get it here as well.  It reminds me that I really should return to playing some of the Fire Emblem mobile game at some point.  It is still weird to me how much mobile gaming I am doing these days… but the whole playing from bed thing is a way bigger pull than it used to be.

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As far as non-mobile gaming…  I played an awful lot of Lumines yesterday because zoning in on a puzzle game was an excellent way to forget about the world for awhile.  As a PSP owner I loved this game on that platform, and was super happy to see when it got remastered and re-released on the Nintendo Switch.  This is one of those games like Tetris that you can just blank out while playing and move into pure muscle memory territory, or at least that is generally how I play puzzle games.  The more I think about things the more I fuck them up… so if I can just reach a point where I am reacting automatically I am not psyching myself out.  The only real question is…  how do you pronounce this game?  I heard someone in a video the other day call it what sounded like “Lou Mines” whereas I have always called it “Lumin Es” sorta like Luminous chopped off with an Es at the end.  The fact that the game has always had a sort of shiny flair element above the I made me think this, but hell I could be wrong.  Lou Mines just does not sound right however.

Goodbye Shiloh

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Last night was a rough night, and one where we didn’t get an awful lot to sleep.  First off I am super thankful that we have an amazing vet that is open extremely late, and was wiling to stay there as long as it took us to finally reach the decision.  When you reach the point where you are capable of taking action…  there is still an awful lot of second guessing yourself but from the moment I got home there was not really a time when she was not regularly having seizures.  Before I left yesterday I had tried my best to stabilize her and she was resting relatively comfortably in one of her beds.  When I arrived at home that was very much not the case.

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So this morning we are going to remember Shiloh in happier times, napping in her toy box or bouncing on the bed.  It is weird how we quickly reach a point where we think things have always been this way.  The photo above was taken in July of last year and she was still her happy and bouncy self, seemingly unaffected by the fetters of age.  So what seemed like something that had been going on for years was in truth a fairly rapid decline over the past year.  The nurse last night remarked that she was one of the oldest ferrets she had ever seen come in to the vet…  that also specializes in exotics.  So I guess we stole a lot of good years that we might not have gotten otherwise.

While Bella that we lost in 2017 was “my” baby…  I still very much loved Shiloh so this has been hard to go through.  The experience also seemingly traumatized the cats…  one of which only came out of hiding after we got back from the vet.  It isn’t really over yet however… because at some point I have to go pick her back up…  so that I can bury her beside her cage mate Bella.  I don’t have much of a post in me this morning but I wanted to at least give an update since so many people offered support yesterday.

Depressing Real Life Shit

This is one of those moments where I don’t exactly have something that I feel like would make a good blog post.  Last night I was in a weird place where everything felt wrong.  It was the entertainment version of rummaging through your closet because nothing quite fits.  If you are blessed with excellent genes and have never had to deal with this…  then awesome go you.  However if you have been fat your entire life you are pretty much in a constant state of frustration and flux.  Last night I had the gaming equivalent of this going on with nothing much seeming like a good idea.  I even exited out of SWTOR in the middle of a solo flashpoint because I simply was not feeling it…  I have no clue what I will log into when I reconnect.  It would be weird if things just picked up from where I left off…  but I fully imagine that won’t be the case.

In part a lot of last nights frustrations were caused by the fact that I slept extremely poorly Monday night.  Again it was a fits of restlessness thing where I could not seem to find the right orientation of pillow, bed, body and blankets that made things conducive to falling asleep.  I know I drifted off at some point after 12:30 so somewhere closer to 1 in the morning probably, which when you get up at 5:30 means that was not much in the sleep department.  It was bad enough that I kept having thoughts of “well I might as well get up and do something rather than just lay here”, but never quite reached that point.  As a result last night I was nodding off on the sofa around 8 pm…  which mean’t that I ended up going to bed around 8:30…  only to be woken up at 4:30 by the ferret going through what sounded like a very painful set of seizures.

She is end of life, and we have pretty much just been trying to do whatever we could to make life easier on her.  However while sitting down to write this morning…  I’ve been interrupted because she went through another round.  So I am prepping myself for coming home tonight and finding that she has passed on.  Ferrets are not long lived animals… especially not with the modern state of Ferrets largely all coming from the same mega breeder.  Effectively almost every ferret that you see in the United States comes from a place called Marshall Farms in Upstate New York, and  “mill” Ferrets tend to have a lifespan of somewhere in the vicinity of eight years.  Shiloh best as we can tell is somewhere in the 10-12 year old range depending on how old she was when we got her… and since she was a rescue it is hard to properly gauge that.  She is the last of our ferrets having had four over the years…  and probably legitimately going to be the last one that we have because it is rough loving an animal so prone to dire complications.

I’ve got an awful lot of crap on my mind right now that is not gaming related, because Shiloh is not the only end of life animal we have in this house.  Allie has been fighting hyperthyroidism for awhile and we have reached the point where there isn’t much of anything that we can do.  She has started pottying in places that she should not be…  which means every night is a constant clean up process.  Thankfully she is doing so in a way that is easy to clean up…  but it is one of those constant grind sort of situations that just wears you down.  Having gone through several animals at this point in this state… I know what the answer will be…  that they will ultimately suggest that we put her down.  I am just not sure if I am ready for that, because she still snuggles with me every night and still has the loudest purr…  so I am trying my best to make the end of her life as good as possible.  Allie has always been “my” baby, and I guess as long as she is still actively seeking attention I am going to try really hard to keep giving it to her.

So yeah…  this ended up not being a game post at all.  I’m tired and just sorta want to crawl up into a ball and forget the world exists…  but gaming has not been granting me that escapism that I crave.

Adventures in Fight Sticks

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I’ve been going through a little bit of a fighting game renaissance lately, especially playing them on the PC with the release of Mortal Kombat 11 and diving into some Street Fighter V on the PS4.  I cut my teeth on the 90s arcade scene playing a lot of Street Fighter, Samurai Showdown, Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct.  However as time went on I faded away from that and dug more and more into PC gaming…  eventually joining the cult of gamers tied to our MMORPGs.  In that time fighting games have evolved and changed, and while I no longer have the reflexes that I once did I have wanted to regain a little bit of my youth.  One thing that I noticed while playing these fighting games on my Xbox One controller that I use with my PC…  is that my hand would get really tired really fast after trying to do the combos.  This lead me down the path of looking into getting a proper fight stick.

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For the uninitiated… fight sticks vary wildly in price and quality and it is entirely possible to drop $500 on a custom made stick with the best arcade components.  After a bit of research I started to notice that many of the custom builds I was seeing centered around using a Mayflash fight stick as a base and then adding additional components to it.  Mayflash is a chinese made budget fight stick that accepts universal arcade components and ships with its own Sanwa-knock-off buttons and joystick that I figured would serve fine for my purposes…  but give me the ability to upgrade later if I saw fit to do so.  Ultimately there are two models available… the F300 which seems to be more compact and probably ideal for smaller hands…  and then the F500 which I ended up getting which has a more spread out design ideal for my stupidly large hands.

The best part about these is the fact that they are wired to support pretty much every console I would ever want to play on.  Officially it supports… PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, Android, Switch and the NeoGeo Mini.  There are probably some others that it actually works fine on as well.  The support for PS4 is a little janky because it requires you to connect an official PS4 controller to the fight stick that then uses it for pass through authentication with the machine.  All told however it has been amazingly simple to get it up and running with the platforms I have tried it on.  The F300 tends to go for around $60 on Amazon and the F500 for around $80…  however I managed to find an Ebay Buy It Now F500 listing with free shipping for only $55 so your mileage may vary.  The weird thing about that… is it shipped from Amazon so I am guessing it came from Mayflash directly that was running some sort of an Ebay Special that I legitimately got the last listed copy of.

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One of the nice things about this particular stick is the fact that it came with both a Square Gate and an Octagonal Gate.  I’ve swiped the above image of two Sanwa gates from the Shoryuken forums to use as a reference… because I am not sure it will make sense entirely without seeing them.  Essentially joysticks that came from the west and those that came from Japan evolved differently during the arcade boom.  While our 8 way joysticks got a distinct 8 point restrictor plate with a tactile divot for the shaft of the stick to bump into denoting which direction it was currently facing…  the Japanese sticks simply took what was previously a 4 way diamond shaped restrictor and rotated it to create what would eventually serve as their 8 way square restrictor.  Almost all of the mass produced Fight Sticks on the market come with a square gate, as the hotbed of fight stick production is still Japan.  However these feel really awkward for those of us who grew up with the octagonal gate design and the very first thing I did to my stick was pop open the back and change these out.

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After having done that…  and seeing how easy it was to swap parts out…  it has made me daydreaming on Focus Attack about other modifications I could make to tweak it…  and then being sad at how much additional cash it would ultimately wind up adding to the price of the stick.  This is how you take a $55 stick and turn it into something closer to $200 if you are not careful.  There is however one mod that I do plan on making soon.  One of the features that Focus Attack has is the ability to download a template for any of the common fight sticks and have them print a high quality laser cut artwork overlay to place under the clear Plexiglas cover that most of these sticks have.  So I took all of the awesome Ammo artwork that I have in the masthead of this blog and arranged them around the template.  Now the question is… do I order this or do I go ahead and swap the buttons and joystick while I am having to crack open and pull it apart anyway.  I feel like I have traveled down a very slippery path.

 

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.

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.

 

 

Assorted Blizzard Topic

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This morning I am going to apologize to anyone who actively reads either my Twitter feed or my Fediverse feed.  Those tend to be the platform where I make extemporaneous commentary and in the moment reactions to whatever happens to be on my mind.  Often time those statements end up getting distilled down into a blog post once more time and distance has passed.  Yesterday I spouted off in thread form on Twitter about the Activision/Blizzard layoffs and this morning I still feel the need to talk about it so I am cobbling together something in blog post form.  For those who have not been following this story it has been something looming on the horizon for awhile as Blizzard had gone into cost cutting measures and offered a number of employees buyout packages to voluntarily leave the company.  So these actions are something we had all been fearing would be happening, especially after the massive stock hit that came with the announcement of Bungie’s departure from the agreement with the publisher.

For those who have not been following this…  it was not a great year for Activision Blizzard as a whole in the public opinion area, however this did not stop them from making record profits this past year.  In 2017 they had a net profit of $273 million and in 2018 they realized a record $1.8 billion dollars in profit.  This is what makes the 800 layoffs feel all the more like “Snidely Whiplash tying Nell to the railroad tracks” evil.  I’ve not been able to verify as of yet who is and is not effected from the folks that I knew who were still working for Blizzard.  However among my circle of friends a good number of those friends of friends got the axe.  This whole sequence has been extremely frustrating and depressing to see play out on social media as so many people are scrambling to find a home in another studio.  Based on a few examples told to me in confidence, it appears that a good chunk will be trying to make their exit from games development in general for sake of stability.

There is a medium article that came out yesterday from Patrick Beja that is worth reading that goes over his thoughts about the whole situation and summarizes some statements that he had made earlier in the lead up.  There are a couple of specific sections that struck a chord with me, but I call one out in particular.

The other thing I often hear is “they’re only developing F2P mobile games that SUCK”. First, we don’t know they’ll suck. And second, I don’t know why they’d stop developing PC games that make money. Did you not enjoy Overwatch or Hearthstone or Heroes of the Storm? If you didn’t, you haven’t liked Blizzard for a long time… But if you did, maybe you’ll think the next PC games they release will be good too.

This was something that was hard to hear because since the release of Starcraft Blizzard has been a company that I held up on a pedestal as being quite possibly the ultimate end goal of what working in the games industry could be like.  I have obsessed over so many over their games and loved the artistry and craftsmanship that went into them.  However seeing that statement in print made a point ring true.  I love the Blizzard of the past and not necessarily the Blizzard of the here and now.  Now we are not talking about expansion content here…  but the last new game that they released that I have really enjoyed on a large level was Diablo 3 from 2012.  That means that for the last seven years they have not produced something that really interested me.  While I have rabidly eaten up every bit of expansion content for Diablo 3…  World of Warcraft and I have a much spottier record with liking some expansions like Legion and largely loathing some expansions like Cataclysm.  Effectively though…  I didn’t so much love Blizzard but instead loved those two games.

To preface some of what I have said in thread form…  Overwatch is a universe that I really like but with a game attached to it that I have no real interest in playing.  Hearthstone was a game I was interested in and dabbled with occasionally… but all of that interest died the moment I got my hands on MTG Arena and got what I had wanted all along.  Heroes of the Storm academically is a better game for me than League of Legends…  but I don’t really like either enough to play them on a regular basis and I have no interest at all in solo queuing.  Battle for Azeroth was probably the thing that caused Blizzard the most damage in my eyes because it went in the opposite direction that I wanted the franchise to go.  Legion gave me hope of us moving towards a class based narrative and away from the big dumb red versus blue crap we have had forced upon us for years.  However the narrative felt hollow and the gameplay was not really interesting enough to keep me attached to it as everything felt like rehashed versions of things we had already seen in one form or another before.

Diablo is the franchise that Blizzard created that I probably care the most about, and the handling of the Immortal announcement stung.  I am actually looking forward to that game, because I think it will be something fun to play from bed while I drift off much like I do currently with Dragalia Lost.  However we are hungry for more core Diablo gameplay and every year I have waited with so much built up hope for the eventual announcement of Diablo 4 that never quite comes.  Now I am more or less tired of waiting and have redoubled my efforts to explore the various alternatives like Torchlight Frontiers, Pagan Online and games I already have access to like Grim Dawn.  I fully support the Diablo team because they caught a bullet that was not necessarily intended for them.  However that does not mean my personal goodwill and hopefulness did not take a hit.

The layoffs have really driven home how disconnected I have become from Blizzard games in general.  Right now the only thing in the Blizzard launcher that sees much in the way of playtime is Destiny 2, and it is one of those games in limbo since Bungie left the fold.  I made an attempt to start this season of Diablo 3 but for various reason I never really latched onto it and didn’t even make it a quarter of the way to the level cap.  I’ve not really played World of Warcraft since October, in spite of logging in one or twice in November…  and effectively logging right back out again.  Blizzard currently is not producing anything that is really exciting me, and I am finding that excitement in other places which is nothing terribly new to be honest.  I have always been a WoW Tourist over the years… where I would disappear for a few months but return eventually to keep playing.  That said however the longest that I have gone without playing the game since 2012 is a couple of four month long breaks.

Unless there is a drastic change in direction that makes significant effort to bury the hatchet of the dumb faction conflict storyline…  I am not sure if I will be back.  Battle for Azeroth is the first World of Warcraft expansion not to make the AggroChat Games of the Year show, and quite honestly it is the first expansion I regret pre-0ordering and playing.  The future of me and Blizzard largely hinges upon if they make good on giving me a Diablo game that I want, which is a sorta depressing thing to say.  One thing that I want to talk about at the end however is that I don’t blame anyone other than myself for this.  I think the workers at Blizzard need our support desperately right now, because it has to be a very scary time for those who survived this round of cuts.  For those who didn’t…  we need to do whatever we can to help them out during this transition.

That is a point that I have always made throughout the years is that even if I am struggling to like a company…  it has nothing to do with how I feel about its employees.  Everyone works their asses off to make the best damned game they can.  When we talk badly about their work, it often feels like a kick in the gut after they probably gave up so much of their own life to crunch through the release of that product.  I see you all out there and appreciate what you try your level best to provide me a fun entertainment experience.  I am always reluctant when I start criticizing something because I don’t want it to feel like I am kicking the poor folks who helped to build it.  Lets be honest… many of us had daydreams of working in the games industry.  However I saw early on that it was not exactly a path of stability and I went down a path that would give me that security blanket that I craved.  That does not however mean that I don’t respect the fuck out of everyone that is making these games for me…  and for people who are not my specific arrangement of tastes.

The take away from this post is not that Blizzard is bad because we have grown apart.  I just find it weird that I can say something like that and actually mean it.  I am however frustrated with the hell that is being unleashed upon the good people that make up the company.  If you ever need someone to talk to my DMs are open.