Madness Setup

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I spent most of last night running around hanging out with my friend Grace and doing low rank hunts with weapons I have never used before.  The revelation from the night is…  I really like hammer.  The only problem there is I need to get better at timing my uppercut to boop things in the snoot.  However I did notice I can break a leg nice and fast as well in a pinch.  All in all I dig the weapon and want to play with it more and have upgraded through to currently the rarity 5 ore hammer, and am just a little bit of farming in Elder’s Recess away from the Rarity 6 version that is in parity with some of my other weapons.

I did make a solo attempted at Nergigante and got frustratingly close.  I had the monster limping and with a skull icon hovering over its head…  but that last phase had some brand new tricks up is sleeve that I struggled dealing with.  Namely a combination of knocking shards down from the ceiling and the prolific use of dive bombing.  I feel like I was pretty damned close to finishing… when he managed to pin me against a wall and get my final faint.  After 36 minutes of fighting that asshole…  I simply didn’t have another attempt in me so the rest of the night was fun low rank nonsense with friends.

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I’ve had a few people ask me about my gaming set up, namely the fact that I am piping all of the audio for all of my systems through my PC.  The primary reason for doing is for comfort while shifting between PC based voice chat like Discord and console specific offerings like Playstation Network party chat.  It allows me to comfortably have one set of headphones that I like wearing and flip back and forth between platforms without much hassle.  Since I had talked a little bit in the past about what I did to accomplish that, I thought I would just diagram out my entire setup this time.  Yes I did do this in visio…  mostly because I thought it would illustrate it the most clearly.

I like the concept of having all of my systems “on tap” and easily accessible.  Namely I started down this path because I wanted to at least in theory be able to capture video and images from any console that I chose without having to swap a bunch of cables.  The earliest version of this set up revolved around a 5 port HDMI switch which was relatively cheap on Amazon.  As I added in a few other systems that I wanted to capture from… I had to eventually seek out a bigger option and finally landed on an 8 port HDMI switch option from Monoprice.  It was more expensive than I would have preferred but the options for something with that many ports were super limited.

This 8 port switch feeds into the business end of my Elgato Game Capture HD, that I picked up for I think $30 on Craigslist.  At some point I would love to upgrade to one of the more modern models, but for the time being it does what I want it to do and was nowhere close to the $150-200 price tag of an upgrade.  Next up we need to defeat the HDCP lockout, or at least I wanted to… because I hate the concept of PS4 arbitrarily telling me when I can or cannot record something.  This is done using a cheaply constructed HDMI splitter…  so cheap that it unintentionally strips out the HDCP signal coming from the console and turns it into a open signal that the Elgato is capable of recording.

This splitter also serves the purpose of providing me a latency free copy of my video feed that goes directly into the television, as well as the leg that finally connects up to the Elgato and winds its way into my PC through USB.  The first time I streamed with my new arrangement after getting the 4k television… I realized I had a problem.  I had been relying entirely on the television speakers to give me access to game audio.  The problem there is that while broadcasting my voice through my Yeti setup… I would end up picking up a fair amount of background audio from the game leading to a questionable feedback experience.

So the problem at hand was figuring out a way to feed the audio from the gaming systems into my headset so that I could comfortably chat away with an open mic… without causing all sorts of auditory dissonance for anyone listening in.  The only audio out from the television was an optical out port which meant that I would need some sort of a digital to analog converter to step it down into something I could feed into the line in port of my PC.  I eventually settled on this device from amazon, and in the grand scheme of things it has been working excellent.

I had to do some fiddling in the television but I now have the audio being broadcast over the built in speakers and out over the optical cable.  This allows me to wear a headset if I choose to or just turn back up the volume on the television and listen to the playback there.  This also has the weird quirk of allowing me to pick up all of PSN voice chat and bypass their default state of not recording any of the voices.  All in all I am pretty happy with the way things are set up apart from one minor thing.

Right now I have a second monitor hooked to my gaming PC and it feels awkward to cram everything that I want to interact with while playing a game over onto that monitor.  At some point I am contemplating re-engineering this entire set up to be able to include a second machine to game capture.  That unfortunately would result in a top down rethink of the way I have everything set up because all audio would be piping through a second setup.  I think at that point I would have to upgrade to the Elgato Game Capture HD60 pro to give me more options.  So all of this is why I generally just say “I am doing some nonsense” when people ask me how I have things set up.

 

Monster Hunter Online

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There are times I do things that don’t make sense at all…  but am nonetheless compelled to do them anyways.  Last night was one of those nights and the madness that my brain was targeting involved seeing if I could actually get Monster Hunter Online installed and running.  I had decided that I would end up hanging out with my wife last night and watching some olypmics while she graded, which meant I would be losing access to my beloved Monster Hunter World.  I mean sure I could play it through PS Remote Play but the experience degrades so drastically since I am used to playing it on a 4K display in HDR.  Early in the evening I had stumbled onto a video by Arekkz from June of 2016 where he attempted playing the game.  This for whatever reason  triggered something in my brain wanting to try it, much like I will sometimes devote way too much effort to trying to emulate something that I have sitting in my closet.

The first problem is that there are plenty of guides out there for playing Monster Hunter Online.  The key problem with each of them is that they involve downloading some random package of binaries from either a file dump website or in some cases google drive.  I do not trust downloading a “verified good” client from somewhere I don’t know as the originating source of the file.  Basically that ruled out all of those options and left me sorting out the steps by myself.  Essentially the step to get up and running look a little something like this.

  1. Register a QQ Account – this is essentially the Tencent version of AIM and has a really weird profiling system that includes details like asking you for your blood type which is not creepy at all.  I filled out only the minimum of information and found it hilarious that the QQ version of the Twitter Egg icon…  is a crying baby.  Apparently all Tecent games are driven by the QQ account and this will be a numerical address combined with a password.  SAVE THIS NUMBER… there is apparently no great way to recover an account.
  2. Download WeGame – WeGame is the Tencent version of Steam for lack of a better term for it.  There is no english version so you are ultimately going to be flying blind here.  All of the categories are in chinese except for FPS and MMORPG.  Since what we are looking for is an MMORPG it was pretty easy to select that category and find the Monster Hunter Online logo shown above to start the download process.
  3. Download Monster Hunter Online – there will be what appears to be an obvious download button when you find Monster Hunter Online in the menu.  This seems to download the game in the background…  so the process will show up in Task Manager but won’t actually be a window you can flip over to through Alt-Tab or through the task bar.  I have really fast internet so it did not take long at all…  but it involves two downloads one that is around 9 gb and another that is around 15 gb so it may take forever for you.
  4. Launch Monster Hunter Online – when the game finally finishing installing which is an awkward and largely blind experience… it will show up in the left hand bar of the WeGame client.  All the while it is downloading there will be what is the Monster Hunter Online theme playing in the background…  that you can literally do nothing about.  How I determined it was finished… was when the music went away.  Immediately upon launching the game you will be presented with the next hurdle.
  5. Fake a Chinese ID – You will immediately be presented with a page from QQ stating that the game cannot be played without some sort of national Chinese ID.  This was not super surprising because when you attempt to play a lot of South Korean games you run into a similar problem.  The difference here is that apparently the Chinese ID is an amalgam of a birthdate, region codes, and some randomized number all with a check bit to verify that it is “official”.  As result there are tons of places online that offer you a generator to create your own.  The one I linked is the one that worked for me… and quite honestly since I do not read chinese we engaged in a bit of pattern matching.  You will need to make sure that you match up the names of the regions in both the generator and the client and unfortunately google translate only goes so far.  I went with Bejing and what looked to be the most distinct pattern that I was able to match in both locations.  SAVE THIS NUMBER.
  6. Plug Code into QQ Page and Pray – The page that popped up when you launch Monster Hunter World should still be sitting there in the background, and for me at least I was able to pop that code into the box, hit submit and it worked first attempt. Your mileage may vary especially depending on your pattern matching skills on the earlier steps.
  7. Relaunch Monster Hunter Online – If everything worked you will now be able to play Monster Hunter Online and have the same fun I did guessing what the buttons actually do in the character creation system.  I managed to limp through the process of creating a character by guessing the logic that was used.  On the lower left hand side there is a menu that appears to be some sort of a batch of presets…  and then the button beside it to the right appears to be some sort of a confirmation that takes you to a prompt in the center of the screen that lets you name your character and enter the world.  It accepted my english named character without any problems.

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The next question you should be asking yourself is whether or not you should actually do this thing I just explained to you how to do.  The short answer is no… you should not.  You should really just stick to playing Monster Hunter World and waiting for the eventual PC release.  The positive take away from last night is that I have a fully functional QQ account and will be able to play things that get released by Tencent in China if I so care to at some point.  The bad part however is that the game is not great.  Sure it sorta looks like Monster Hunter but more importantly it FEELS nothing like Monster Hunter World.  If I did not know this was a purposeful collaboration between Capcom and Tencent I would have assumed the game was yet another asset flip mobile game because it is not pretty.

You are treated to this opening cutscene where some monster type I have never seen crashes into your airship.  All the while the monster is clipping through the airship and as you begin to crash land the ship itself randomly clips in and out of the mountain side.  When you finally get to ground level you have to fight yet another monster that I don’t recognize… but it could have been an overly stylized version of a Rathian.  During this fight you are provided with MMO style telegraphs on the ground to denote where the monster is going to attack.  These show up well before the actual animation sequence starts taking out a bit of the fun of playing Monster Hunter in the first place which is reading the monsters attacks.

I am not sure if everyone starts out as longsword but I lucked into that allowing me to try out a weapon that I already understand the attack patterns of which helped me get acclimatized quickly.  In the grand scheme of things the attacks were all recognizable and worked much the same as if I had been using a controller.  The equivalent of my Triangle attack was on the left mouse button and the equivalent of my R2 attack was on the right mouse button… with the short jab circle attacks being tied to E.  Z for whatever reason became the interact/harvest key which is only explained after you encounter your first herb plant to harvest.  You are not really given enough time after your first actual monster encounter to harvest the corpse.

It was playable but the post tutorial interface was clogged with tons of cash shop functionality that I never could figure out how to get rid of.  It was around the time I arrived in the first town that I finally decided to just stop playing and find something better to do with my evening.  The game did not feel great and the visuals felt cheaply thrown together and appear to be vastly different than the original images I saw from the first versions of the game.  The game appears to have been stylized a bit more away from the traditional Monster Hunter vibe, and in doing so the appearance and experience seems to have been cheapened significantly.

At the end of the day I highly suggest you not do the thing that I did last night.  I still felt largely compelled to explain how I did it though in case someone wanted to follow in my footsteps.  This methodology allows you to go to the original sources and get the actual files instead of hoping and praying that some google drive share doesn’t give you a bit coin mining virus.  I could not get any of the screenshots I took last night working, so instead I had to harvest a few from the interwebs for the purpose of this post.  Ash warned me away from this madness but sometimes I just feel compelled to do stupid things.

[Edit – 2/15/2018 – 10 am]

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After posting this…  Ashgar suggested that in fairness I should at least namedrop Dauntless here.  Right now it is in fact a PC based Monster Hunter like game available in closed beta.  To get into that said beta however you either need to be a media personality/streamer of some note…  or to pay for it.  There are varying levels of access that start at $40 and end at $80 (that used to be $100 and the way you got into alpha).  I’ve played this briefly at Pax South a few years back but can’t really speak to the state of the game.  If you are interested I would suggest you check out the video by Skill-Up that I will link below.  His take is that the game has promise, but it is not really a replacement for Monster Hunter yet.  So I return to my original advise of just waiting for World to be released on the PC.

 

The Missing Piece

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My wife is amazing and if you were expecting a game based post… you are instead getting a second real life post in a row. My wife decided to do this thing in her classroom where each day she would post on the board a note talking about why she enjoyed being their teacher. She likely saw it on pinterest or from one of her other teacher friends but it was a pretty cool idea and a good way to mark the month of February leading up to Valentines day. As is often the case when we got close to go time, she needed a little assistance coming up with something to post on her bulletin board. As I have done countless other times I knocked out something quickly, figured out how to print it across multiple pages and then thought nothing more about it.  The above image is what I came up with and it looked pretty good printed on a nice pink paper that she ultimately cut out to put on the white board.

Each morning I go through a specific routine.  I get up and take the first shower so that she can sleep a little bit longer.  Then I start making the coffee, each of ours to a slightly different order…  hers going in a travel mug because she doesn’t like to drink it when it is piping hot.  From there I venture upstairs and drink my “probably still piping hot but I don’t actually notice it” cup of coffee and sit down to talk to all of you out there reading this blog.  About thirty minutes later my wife hollers up at me telling me to have a good day and I reciprocate.  I wrap up my thoughts, post something to the blog and rush around downstairs feeding the animals and doing whatever else needs to be done before I head to work.  I am very much a creature of habit.

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In February however these stared showing up along the bottom of my monitor.  At first I had not really caught on to the scheme because I am dense and also I usually see them first thing in the morning.  Each one a little note, along the same idea as the ones in her classroom but directed at me.  I am hoping that she does not mind the ones I chose to show, because I had to give an example of how cute they are.  This morning I found my favorite candy…  a Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg on the Keurig…  in my coffee mug…  and two upstairs in my chair along with a package of heart shaped butter cookies (also a favorite of mine).  The amount of work and detail that she poured into this scheme is both adorable and impressive and while I feel horrible for not coming up with this concept myself…  it’s been a delightful experience.

The thing is… I’ve never quite figured out when she has been doing it.  Firstly she goes to bed way earlier than I do and when I leave my office to go to bed… there is no note.  Generally speaking I wake up when she leaves bed or at least notice it…  and I have not been waking up or noticing it.  Then when I get upstairs after I take my shower…  there are notes or this morning candy.  The only thing I can reason is that she must be doing it when I go to the shower and sacrificing some of her warm bed time to make it happen.  I would think I would hear someone upstairs given how squeaky our floor boards are… but maybe the sound of the shower drowns it out?  Whatever the case it is precious and baffling at the same time.

My wife and I are a really interesting case study of two vastly different people who compliment each other nicely.  There are certain ways where we are very much the same, and others that we could not be more different.  However at the end of the day the two blend together into a more complete human being than what we had before.  I notice this most clearly when she has to travel to go to a convention or something of the sort.  There is something missing the entire time she is gone and isn’t really back until she has returned.  I don’t sleep well without her laying beside me, and the house feels eerie and cold without knowing she as at a maximum a room or two away.  We can be in the same room doing two completely different things…  and still feel connected and happy to be around each other.

Recently I went through an exercise at work where we have been attempting to standardize our interview questions.  One of the ones that was thrown out and ultimately shot down… was something along the lines of “If money was no object, what would you do with your life?”.  The thing is…  I had to stop and think about this because in truth other than maybe shifting the way and where I work…  I really wouldn’t change much.  It really made me realize just how good my life generally is.  So much of that is because I have a amazing partner to go through it with.  Sure we might be deeply introverted and prone to fits of social awkwardness…  but we work.  This is our 22nd valentines day, and in August will be our 20th year of marriage.  I cannot fathom going through this journey without her.  She supports me in the various madness that I find myself engaged in on a regular basis and I try my best to do the same.

While it is cliche’d and the subject of memes…  I wish for each of you out there reading this blog the sort of happiness that I seem to have stumbled into.  Sure I battle depression on a regular basis, but that is the process of malfunctioning chemicals in my brain and not a by product of my generally awesome existence.  My wife fits neatly into the various spots where I am deficient and together we can pretty much take on anything.  The stress of dealing with potentially having to spend significant amounts of money yesterday on home repairs brought this home.  I felt uneasy and unstable up until the point when I had my wife at my side and then I knew that regardless of any of the circumstances we could handle whatever was coming at us together as a team.  So ultimately I hope for each of you that you have someone in your life that makes you better than what you are alone, and that as a team you can take on the world.

Value of a Hot Shower

This is going to be one of those posts that likely has no image… or at the very least a completely non-sequitur image.  It always feels weird to say “own a house” when in truth the bank owns it and you are just paying it off very slowly.  However that is in fact the correct term, and the biggest problem with that equation is that you are on the hook when things go horribly wrong.  At this point our house has had most everything major replaced but there are still a few outliers that exist from when the house was built in 1979.  Yesterday morning things went horribly wrong and the end result was me taking a very very very cold shower.

For a few weeks we had noticed reduced water pressure in the shower on the hot side and the fact that it was no longer blending the hot and cold water.  This lead us to take very quick showers because the water reached scalding temperatures, but was something we more or less were living with.  The goal was to somehow make it to spring break and then deal with it then as my wife could be around the house to schedule someone to come check it out.  As of yesterday morning however we had no water pressure on the hot side and the only option was a very frosty shower experience, which I opted for…  my wife being the smarter of us figured out some other solution.

Now we do have a shower upstairs in what is more or less the “cat bathroom” and where we keep the litter boxes.  The only problem there is we have never actually used it and while I have this awesome Tardis themed shower curtain up there…  we never actually got a proper shower liner to turn it into a functional experience.  This has since been remedied in case we were stuck using that shower until we were able to sort out what was going on.  The truth is when I was confronted with the ice cold north of a full on cold shower on a 15 degree outside day…  I completely forgot about the upstairs option.

Our heating and air company also does plumbing work, so we opted to call them and see if they could work us in.  I did have a fairly busy day of meetings, and my wife decided she was going to get a sub and take the afternoon off so she could deal with that.  They originally had us scheduled for some time late afternoon around three or four.  I got a call at 10:20 in the morning saying they had an availability if I could meet them there…  so as a result I wound up rushing home and taking the afternoon off anyways.  The fact that we were both ultimately going to be off at the same time was a bit of a blessing but at first it seemed annoyingly redundant.  However with my wife needing to get a last minute sub, we didn’t want to cancel and ultimately screw someone out of a job.

When the plumber got here…  he took one look at our 1979 original shower faucet and quite honestly didn’t want to touch it.  In modern systems there is a water shutoff valve that goes to the shower and allows you to turn that off separately.  In our house so many things were done in a less than intelligent manner, and as a result the only way to shut the shower off is to shut the entire water off to the house.  Even this is its own hassle because we have no water main shutoff in the house and instead have to turn it off at the curb.  Basically his concern was that he would get into the shower and be unable to fix it….  and have the whole thing basically disintegrate in the process leaving us with no water at all to the house.

His assessment is that we had something jammed inside the shower valve, and that it more than likely came from the hot water heater which in itself says proudly on the unit that it was made in 1974.  His remedy was that we ultimately needed to replace the hot water heater to keep this from happening again, and replace the shower.  The problem with the second part of that equation is that it would involve either tearing out the existing fiberglass shower surround…  or ripping into the wall of our bedroom that backs up to the shower.  They would be able to handle cutting the hole, installing a shutoff system and a new shower…  but we would need to purchase our own shower fixtures and get someone to take care of putting in an access panel when they had finished.

This was less than a simple process because for the hot water heater… we had to schedule another person to come out and give us the estimate.  Thankfully they could come out yesterday and around 1:30 or so they popped in for literally less than ten minutes and via an iPad app emailed us an estimate.  Once you added everything up…  the shower work, the hot water heater, bringing things up to code and getting the end product inspected it tallied roughly $3000.  There was a lot of sticker shock in that equation as well given that a hot water heater at a big box store is in the $500-600 range.

This set us down an alternate path, because if we were looking to spend that sort of money…  we wondered what just replacing the shower and having a contractor take care of all of it would cost us.  My wife put out a message on Facebook and one of her friends that she trusts mentioned that her brother was a contractor.  We called him to see if we could get an estimate on what it would take to just replace the downstairs shower completely given that we have never really liked it.  It turned out that while he worked in other towns, he actually lived in our town and could swing by that afternoon.

Within a few minutes of him being there, he decided that we should just try and fix the problem before getting entangled in a bigger project.  He balked that the plumber was unwilling to work on this unit and figured it was far better built than he had given it credit for.  So he started dismantling the shower faucet all the while my wife and I were hoping things would end up being okay.  He got everything taken apart and sure enough… there was a little bit of what looked like paint or maybe thin plastic that was jamming up the valve.  With some tweezers he extracted it and then for good measure turned the water on to blow out any other debris.

This caused some minor flooding…  but only because the water shot out so hard that it bounced off the back wall of the shower and out through the crack in the door and onto the floor.  My wife and I hurried scrambled to get some towels to soak it up but in the grand scheme of things it was a minor hazard to deal with given that the problem was actually being fixed.  It took a bit longer to reassemble than to take apart because lining up the screw holes was a little awkward.  However within thirty minutes start to finish we had a working shower again.

The funny thing is… he didn’t want to take any money for the work he has just done.  We had to basically force him to take some because ultimately his few minutes of time that he thought nothing about…  saved us from having to deal with $3000 at that moment.  This morning I took the best shower I have taken in years, and it is funny how much better a day goes when the little things like that are working as intended.  I think the best part of yesterday is that we now have contact with a really excellent contractor and handyman type for when we need him in the future.

At some point we really would like to properly remodel the bathroom, and I am sure when we do we will give him another call.  However for the moment he was absolutely our savior in being willing to take on something that scared the hell out of both of us.  Sure we still need to replace a hot water tank and sure we probably should make it so that you can get into the shower from our bedroom via an access panel.  All of those things though can now be carefully planned instead of pure blind reactionary mode, which is a huge positive as far as I am concerned.

Backlog Madness

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The image does not necessarily go with today’s post, but it happened to be in the recently uploaded images that I have not used on my blog so it is seeing some duty here.  I had one of those nights where I attempted to go to bed early… and just wound up waking up every few hours leading to very fragmented sleep.  However coffee heals all wounds and in the grand scheme of things I seem relatively cognizant and “mostly functional”.  As a result I don’t really have much that is pressing to talk about this morning so I thought I would venture off into the arena of things I want to do but may not actually ever do.  I am really great at coming up with ideas…  I am pretty horrible at actually following through with half of them.  I only really feel guilty about this… when money was spent to “prepare” for doing the thing.

One of those long reaching goals is to actually utilize this website that I was introduced called Grouvee.   It seems to have been designed as a way of tracking the games you have beaten… which in truth is not a thing I give a shit about in the least.  I am bad at finishing games.  I will often times get to within a few hours of finishing and then just lose all desire to continue playing it, because I know that when I actually finish…  the experience will be over.  What the site does that I am interested in however is that it has the functionality to import all of the games in your steam library and track weather or not you have spent any time playing it.  It also has the ability to create shelves to divide up your games, and do manual data entry for the services that aren’t steam.

The challenge is that right now because of circumstance more than desire…  I have a collection of games spread out among multiple storefront platforms.  The vast majority of my games are on Steam and have an exceedingly bloated number thanks to the fact that I tend to be a habitual purchaser of Humble Bundles.  In second place is Playstation Network because I have been a Plus member for several years now and use the website to claim all of the games at once…  regardless if I actually intend on playing them.  In third place would be Microsoft Xbox Live or whatever the hell they are calling that platform these days…  in which I have been similarly nabbing the games with gold titles every month.  Then we drop down to probably Good Ole Games or GOG as they prefer to be called these days…  which used to be the only place to buy a bunch of classic titles I wanted to revisit… and also is the home of my Witcher 3 copy due to a video card promotion.  Lastly we have Origin… the network no one actually wants to use but has to if they care about Bioware games.

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There are two main reasons why I care about this website at all.  The first is… if I can ever get everything imported into the system I think it might be really cool to start using the [Tell Me What to Play] button when I am feeling lost and uncertain of what sounds good that day.  I have 300 MBps internet, so can download pretty much any game within a few minutes and it might be interesting to force myself to play some of that backlog.  The second reason why I care about this site…  is I am wondering if maybe just maybe I could figure out a way to retrieve my now playing list on my blog from the playing shelf on Grouvee.  I’ve not sorted out how I plan on going about that, but if I do… I will be sure to post a how to.

The site as a whole has been described as a “Goodreads” for games, and that seems pretty apt.  I know I originally was introduced to the site through Jasyla who I believe actually uses this site for its intended purpose of tracking what she has finished.  For me…  it might just be useful to let me realize that I already have a game through PS+ or Games with Gold and I really should not buy it when it is being sold for $4 on steam.  In theory since I left it off the list… I should add in my physical game libraries and the digital games I have on the Switch and 3DS.  Mostly I have tried to move away from physical games, in part because I just like having whatever I want available and on tap without having to swap a cartridge or disc.  If Grouvee seems like a useful site you might check it out… and feel free to friend me.

Wolcen Alpha Thoughts

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This weekend was a largely chill en devour that focused on lots of gaming while either upstairs in my warm warm office, or downstairs snuggled into a blanket on the sofa. It was my original intent to spend lots of time hunting monsters with friends, and I did in fact manage that for a bit Sunday afternoon. I also managed another goal which was to craft the Horizon Zero Dawn set of Palico gear which Kenzie is currently wearing. It admittedly feels a little weird at times to talk about Kenzie in game versus Kenzie the real life cat, but I still feel like if you didn’t name your Palico friend after an actual cat you are a monster. The other big happening of the weekend is that I dove head first into a game that I had been wanting to try for a bit.

Wolcen Lords of Mayhem is an Action Roleplaying Game that draws its inspiration from Diablo 2, Path of Exile and to some extent Diablo 3.  It’s funny how a genre that largely spawned from a single came can branch and wind up fairly divisive.  There is an entire community that feels like Diablo 2 was the ideal version of the game, another that feels like Path of Exile is the true successor to the throne…  and a whole other group of people that care nothing about that noise and happily play Diablo 3.  Wolcen is this weird amalgam in which I can see some of the best traits of each of those camps, as well as pulling in some other games in the genre like Titans Quest and its eventual successor Grim Dawn.  Essentially it is a good start at trying to build a brand new modern ARPG.

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The game itself is completely gorgeous, which admittedly was the first thing that I noticed about it.  I stumbled onto this game when D3 community YouTuber Rhykker did a video talking about it.  I have been trying very hard to avoid playing alpha/beta/early access games because they tend to sour my impression and excitement when the final product is released.  However when I saw the game play I promptly threw that rule out the window and slammed my $19.95 on the table to join the testing.  Firstly please note the game is very much an alpha build and in my short time playing it I have encountered all sorts of bugs including being hit by a monster a few times and having it teleport me back to base without actually dying.

This is absolutely a buyer beware sort of experience, but for me at least I felt like I wanted to help fund the games development because they have some pretty big plans.  They are even brave enough to post their long term roadmap in the form of a Trello board for the backers to look at and comment on.  Similarly there is a community Discord available as well so folks can leave bug reports, comment on game play and leave feature requests.  The little bit of time I have spent roaming around the chat channels have made me realize that the game already has a super devoted following.  As far as the lineage of this game goes… it is my understanding that it originally started out as a mod for the game Crysis designed to allow folks to create an ARPG on the CryEngine.  From there it turned into a Kickstarter project called Umbra, and then at some point the name shifted to Wolcen which I find insanely awkward to pronounce.

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What makes the game extremely interesting to me is the fact that there are no classes.  You start as either a Male or a Female character with pretty robust sliders and character creation options.  From there your character becomes whatever you want it to be in the form that everything is treated like a spell…  be it a melee attack or an orb of lighting being hurled at the target.  How you begin to spec out your character determines how effective you are going to be in your goals.  Not surprisingly I have largely focused on melee with a sword and shield build designed to get in… dish out a bunch of damage then use the games active dodge system represented by the green pips above the skill bar to get out safely.

Admittedly it does not always work because the monsters in this game hit super hard and involve a lot of movement to be able to take them down successfully.  I spent some time streaming Sunday morning and died over and over to all sorts of silly situations, and with no difficulty slider currently…  it could get frustrating if you are not willing to keep throwing your face against this game.  As far as speccing your character you are given a combination of the traditional stat based system that allows you to allocate points each level into the core areas that you want to be improving.  On top of that each individual skill has its own tree of sorts that largely involves you choosing one of two options…  with one focused on efficiency and another focused on either dealing more damage or increasing the effect of your attacks.

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Lastly you have the “Gate of Fates” or what I tend to call it the Sphere Grid, which is a sequence of thematic choices you make as a character in how you want to build it out.  Now when I said there were no classes in this game… in theory that is probably a lie because you could think of the skill trees presented on this grid as classes.  On the inner ring you have Arcanist, Guardian, Legionary, Thief and Hunter.  On the second ring you have Elementalist, Warden, Maleficent, Gladiator and Trickster.  Then on the third ring they have a single tree so far called Assassin, but I fully expect that their goal is to keep expanding outwards.  What makes this interesting is there is an NPC in town that allows you to rotate the rings connecting up any first tier tree to any second tier tree.  So as a result right now my Legionary tree is rotated to meet up with Gladiator and in theory your “Class” becomes the combination of which trees you choose to mash together.

Admittedly it was in the sphere grid that Path of Exile largely lost me as a player because it kept expanding…  and keep seeming more and more like nonsense.  However with Wolcen it feels more manageable because essentially I am making one of five choices… each time I move outwards on the grid and can feel pretty happy to just stay within those lines.  There are a lot of things not messaged well in the game… including this sphere grid.  So for example I did not realize I could rotate it until I had already started putting some points into Guardian.  That said it doesn’t necessarily feel like those points were wasted either because I am getting the blended effect of both trees at the same time.  I would imagine late in the game you would have more than one tree fleshed out on each of the rings…  and as such keep tweaking the subtle nuance of your character design.

Essentially I broke my no alphas rule… because I really want to see this game come to fruition.  What is there right now… has an awful lot of potential and I can see how it could be turned into serious competition for the Diablo 4 throne.  I will always love Diablo and the action rpgs that have spawned out of it.  I’ve spent many an hour playing games like Titans Quest or even the MMO variants like Devilian.  Already Wolcen has managed to capture the essence of what makes a Diablo style game good… all the while taking this raw material and blending it into something fresh feeling.  They are taking the genre into an interesting direction that combines the accessibility of Diablo 3 with the madness of Path of Exile to produce something that I think will have staying power.  I fully expect that this is going to be one of those games that I keep popping back into as new features are added.  I am sure it is still a few years away from exiting early access, but the product that is there already feels good to play.  If you are so inclined and are willing to deal with a slightly buggy product… I highly suggest checking it out.

Fall of Gigantic

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This morning I want to take a little bit to talk about a game that I used to have a lot of faith in…  that just announced they were closing down the servers this coming July.  This game was originally announced at Pax Prime 2014 and I first got my hands on it during my very first Pax…  the inaugural Pax South 2015.  To say they were the belle of the ball was an understatement… they had the biggest booth and also had really awesome media and tournament suites upstairs.  On the floor of the convention they had computers set up to have constant running multiplayer battles and in order to make this all work… had called in this legion of devoted fans to help ease the new players into the experience.  I managed to get in to the press suite on the first day and was completely blown away with the game that I had seen.

You have to understand this was pre-Overwatch even being announced, let alone releasing and taking the world by the storm.  This was also pre-Paladins being a thing…  so the only experience similar was Smite which was a fairly faithful port of the MOBA genre to a more player point of view experience rather than the traditional top down isometric.  The biggest challenge out of the gate was what to call the game…  we largely referred to it as a MOBA but even then… it didn’t quite conform to that concept.  The characters were really the part that stood out because they were vibrant and animated extremely well…  you had some that played like a traditional shooter and others like The Margrave pictured above that felt very much like an MMO tank.

It felt extremely fresh and when I left Pax I was super excited to the game launch.  They had their press game on point giving out these really cool thumb drives that were super detailed vinyl/plastic versions of the games logo…  that then had an executable you could run that would connect out to their ftp server and grab whatever were the freshest media assets available.

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On Day two I managed to sneak everyone that was attending from AggroChat into the press suite again to do battle against other folks attending the media demo.  The above image wound up on the Motiga twitter account and I am super grateful someone took a picture of us playing.  Side note… we completely trounced Angry Joe and his entourage, in part because we had devs and community folks constantly trying to help us ease into playing the characters.  Basically I went away from Pax South 2015 singing the praises of this game and was super pumped when I got my email a few weeks later getting into the alpha/beta program.

The excitement sorta died off however once we started actually playing the Beta client due to the lack of reasonable matchmaking.  What seemed so damned polished at the show… was a carefully cultivated image.  The actual experience was anything but, and largely focused on logging into the beta voice server and convincing people to group up with you…  then dropping to a  private channel and trying to join on each other and queue as a complete group.  That said I did this a few times and Lonrem helped ease me into this community a bit, but it felt like too much hassle for me at this point when I am not really even a big player of this sort of genre.  My stance had been that I would come back when things were a bit more polished and I could queue on my own without need of the very manual matchmaking.

In November of 2014 the oxygen started being drained out of the room… when Blizzard announced Overwatch.  While these were not exactly the same…  they were definitely similar enough feeling to be serious competition.  I told myself that all Motiga needed to do was get to the market first… and develop an initial foothold.  The experience was interesting enough to keep people engaged if they could just launch.  In February of 2016…  Motiga went through a massive round of layoffs and this is really the first signs that maybe the future wasn’t nearly as bright as we might have hoped.  They did a deal with the devil at this point… securing additional funding from Microsoft in a trade for console and windows 10 exclusivity…  forcing them down a path of the Windows Store instead of something more mainstream and actually used by gamers…  Steam.  This also cut them off from being able to do some sort of Steam early release program that has been effective for a lot of games as they worked out the kinks getting them to market.

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I kept expecting to hear an announcement that Gigantic was going to be releasing… especially with the support from Microsoft to help them get across the finish line.  I went through the hoops to convert my original Gigantic beta account to a Windows Store beta account and downloaded the game to give it a go.  The only problem is…  the game didn’t feel anywhere near as fresh and unique as I remembered it.  I was now standing in a world where Paladins had also released in a pretty widespread beta program and Overwatch was constantly looming over its shoulder.  Additionally while match making was a thing… the player base had dwindled to a point where I had to sit there waiting for fifteen to thirty minutes to get a match.  When I did…  you had one of two options… the map that was awesome and tuned… and the map  that was way the hell too big and had some memory leak issues.  Once again I put the game away and thought “I will try it again at launch” because honestly I thought surely there had to be a launch window just around the corner.

Things got more complicated in May of 2016…  when Motiga announced that it would be inking a deal with Perfect World to become the official publisher of Gigantic.  We all knew the writing on the wall with this one…  it meant they needed more money and this was a way of obtaining it.  This erased that Windows store exclusivity…  but also probably watered down any support Microsoft was willing to give.  Additionally it set up a scenario where the player base was forever going to be fractured.  One version of the game would be working with Xbox One and Windows Store users…  and another version of the game would be running through the Perfect World Arc client.  Overwatch released in May 2016 and Paladins in September 2016…  triggering an arms race of companies trying to create their own version of this new genre that was being branded the “Hero Shooter”…  all without even a potential date on the horizon for the launch of Gigantic.

When it finally launched in July of 2017…  it was the textbook definition of too little too late.  It released on Windows Store/Xbox One and a version that ran on the Arc Client available through the Perfect World store or Steam.  At this point unfortunately…  nobody really cared.  I’ve never actually played the released version of this game because while I filled up a hype balloon at Pax South 2015…  over the course of the next few years a bunch of tiny punctures drained every bit of it away to where I was left with a flaccid balloon that could never be inflated again.

Amazing little gem of a game whose light is dying along with its playerbase.

The above quote is from a review on steam… and I feel like it sums up Gigantic as a game nicely.  It was in fact an amazing idea and it was doing a lot of things that were revolutionary for its time…  but the constant failure to launch caused everyone who was once interested to eventually fade away and start playing something more viable.  Multiplayer games live and die by the player base… and once you lose the trust of a large core of gamers…  there is absolutely nothing you can do ever to get it back.  I have to admit I sort of mourn what might have been when it comes to Gigantic.  I still feel like it was a great game concept with extremely interesting characters…  the problem is…  Overwatch did everything better except for the core concept of having two gigantic monsters duking it out for control of the map.

Motiga was a really cool company, and I hope that each of the folks that managed to hang on through the end…  find a good home in another company where they can bring their interesting ideas to a game that actually has a chance.  I feel like both Microsoft and Perfect World kept the balloon afloat for way longer than it would have were they not in this story…  but in the end we wound up with a really complicated sequence of event and a fractured player base which is a critical fault for any game.  This is by no means the complete tale of this game or some gripping piece of journalism, but instead just my personal experience as I watched and hoped that they would get their shit together and make it work.

Games While I’ve Been Alive

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While roaming around the blogosphere yesterday I stumbled onto a post on Cheap Boss Attack.  This was apparently spurred on by a twitter thread that I did not originally see from a “The Well-Red Mage”.  The idea is pretty straight forward… go through the list of video game releases by year and determine what your favorite game for every year you have been alive was.  I thought this might be an interesting exercise so I took part in coming up with my list last night.  The only problem that I immediately saw is that I am part of what is realistically the first generation who can actually do this successfully.  The first commercial video games came out in 71/72 ish and even by the time I was born the list of available games in 76 was pretty short.  I of course had to rely on the wonder of wiki pages in trying to sort out what games were released in what years…  and unfortunately these pages were not exactly the most complete things especially from the late 90s onwards…  simply too many games to list.  So I started with the 1976 in Video Gaming page and moved upwards until we reach 2017.  There were several really tough spots that I agonized about…  but in the grand scheme of things I attempted to choose the game that ended up being the most important to me during that specific calendar year if I could remember it.  Now I am presenting the list without commentary.  I would love to see this thing gain legs and make its way around what is left of our blogging community.  Side note… yes I realize I am old.

  • 1976 – Breakout
  • 1977 – Combat
  • 1978 – Space Invaders
  • 1979 – Galaxian
  • 1980 – Berzerk
  • 1981 – Galaga
  • 1982 – Q-Bert
  • 1983 – Star Wars Arcade
  • 1984 – Marble Madness
  • 1985 – Super Mario Bros
  • 1986 – The Legend of Zelda
  • 1987 – Castlevania: II Simon’s Quest
  • 1988 – Ninja Gaiden
  • 1989 – Mega Man 2
  • 1990 – Super Mario Bros. 3
  • 1991 – Street Fighter II Arcade
  • 1992 – Wolfenstein 3D
  • 1993 – Doom
  • 1994 – Final Fantasy III (VI)
  • 1995 – Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millenium
  • 1996 – Diablo
  • 1997 – Castlevania: Syphony of the Night
  • 1998 – Fallout 2
  • 1999 – Planescape: Torment
  • 2000 – Diablo II
  • 2001 – Phantasy Star Online
  • 2002 – Dark Age of Camelot: Shrounded Isles
  • 2003 – Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
  • 2004 – World of Warcraft
  • 2005 – Everquest II: Desert of Flames
  • 2006 – Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
  • 2007 – World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade
  • 2008 – World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
  • 2009 – Borderlands
  • 2010 – Fallout New Vegas
  • 2011 – Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • 2012 – The Secret World
  • 2013 – Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
  • 2014 – The Elder Scrolls Online
  • 2015 – Destiny – The Taken King
  • 2016 – World of Warcraft: Legion
  • 2017 – Horizon Zero Dawn

There are so many games that are conspicuously absent.  Everquest for example was a pretty major game in my life, but I managed to play it for three years without it actually making it on the list because there were just more personally “important” games that I needed to give the slot to.  Similarly I would have though Star Wars the Old Republic, City of Heroes and Warhammer Online would have made the cut…  similarly Rift but in all cases there was something that summed up that year for me more clearly than those MMOs.  I am curious to see what your list ends up looking like.  It was a fun challenge to try and whittle down 41 years of gaming into a neat bullet pointed list.  Technically I probably did not actually start playing anything until around 1979-ish on my parents sears pong clone.  Similarly I didn’t start video gaming proper until around 1980/81 when we got our used Atari 2600 but prior to that any time I was around a stand-up arcade cabinet I was begging quarters off my parents.  I even remember one place we used to eat had a mechanical crossbow game of some sort that I loved playing.  It has been a crazy trip watching my favorite past time transform from three pixels moving vertically on the screen with a paddle control to these complex worlds that I spend so much of my life engrossed by.

Rough Night

I don’t have a whole lot to talk about this morning.  I am still struggling with whatever illness I started fighting at the beginning of the week.  As the morning went on yesterday my lungs started going to crap and last night I spent the majority of the evening chilling/unable to get warm.  When it came to actually getting a nights rest I failed in that department as well.  I went to bed around 9 pm ish and went straight to sleep…  only to wake up around 12:30 and be unable to get back to sleep.  I tossed and turned throughout the night while dealing with coughing spells all adding up to a very fragmented sleep cycle.  On top of that the last few evenings I have been struggling with connection speeds to my network at home.  I should in theory be seeing 300 Mbps and I’m only seeing something in the 10-15 Mbps range.  After spending an hour with chat services they are sending someone out to check into things…  and their only available slot was this afternoon.  So at the very least…  I only have to make it through half a day today as I took the afternoon off to go meet the cable troubleshooter.  As a result…  I just don’t have much to discuss this morning.  I made it to just short of level 60 on my Tauren Hunter, and in theory I will pick that process up tonight and enter the Burning Crusade content.  I am legitimately considering trying to eek out as much as I can from Blasted Lands to make the Burning Crusade journey a little shorter.  As it stands right now the worst part of leveling is BC/Wrath era and I sorta want to get those over as soon as humanly possible.  I am hoping that soon I will get back into the swing of things and be able to do normal posts rather than struggling with existence in the mornings.

Types of Players

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The photo of Belgrazer has absolutely nothing to do with this post…  I just felt like I needed some image to break up what would otherwise be a wall of text post.  Yesterday I made a post about the emotional labor it takes to be an organizer in a guild.  Then Scop and I went back and forth with a series of comments.  Firstly I don’t want it to come off like I was specifically making a post about him, or specifically directing my commentary at him.  He got to be the guinea pig because he happened to be the person responding.  The thing is…  I do get his down in the weeds point of view as a member wanting other members to respond.  It has just been in my personal experience that this doesn’t really happen unless someone is out there prodding folks into action.  One of the weird offshoots of this conversation happened in the private slack that the AggroChat podcast crew discuss things on.  Tamrielo a long time friend and similarly long in the tooth leader and organizer and I started talking about the various personalities we encountered.  I made the flippant comment that if I was pressed to do so… I could create a list of pretty much every personality I had encountered through leading guilds and raids…  and then walked away from the conversation to enter a meeting filled afternoon.  When I got out of said meetings he had done just that.  We went back and forth on a few of the points and there were a few cases I felt he had missed, but all in all he was pretty damned spot on. You can now find a revised list over on his blog that I feel is pretty close to whatever I would have cobbled together myself.  I don’t want to copy large sections of his post, but I do want to share the general bullet point list of types of folks we encountered.

  • The Socialite
  • The Drill Sergeant
  • Chill AF
  • Things Explainer
  • The Ninja
  • Side Projects
  • The Collector
  • The Griefer
  • The Devotee
  • What’s Going On Lately
  • I Got Mine
  • You Need Yours
  • My Dude
  • The Hiker and The Backpack
  • I’m Here, Now What?
  • Ready To Go
  • The Downer
  • The Positivity Cannon
  • Silent But Competent
  • Respect My _____

The thing is…  if I were pushed to do so I could probably rattle off names of players I have played with over the last two decades and tell you which of these traits they were focused on.  Most people are to some extent a “multi-class” of a bunch of these traits.  Similarly every single one of these has a positive version and a not so positive version.  “The Griefer” for example…  can be beneficial to a group by goading other people into reforming their habits or getting better at dealing with things at hand…  or they can just be a merciless asshole that only exists to sow the seeds of drama.  Similarly the “Things Explainer” walks a thin line between being overtly helpful when asked for assistance… and being a know-it-all that everyone wants to avoid catching the attention of.  The term “emotional labor” is a weird one but very apt and is often times brought up in terms of dealing with the emotional maintenance needed to keep a team going.  It is draining knowing that you need to treat each one of these people a specific way to get the results you actually want from them, and know that you are always walking a fine line between getting the positive version and the negative version.

The truth is over the years I have probably been at least part of each of these traits, and at this very moment in my life I have zero clue which one I actually embody anymore.  In most games I am very much “What’s Going On Lately” aka the “Content Locust”…  the person who swoops in and consumes the new content and then bounces pretty soon after that.  I think I have almost always been at least heavily multi-classes into “The Socialite” and “Chill AF” which is an odd blend but I definitely go through phases where I embody one over the other.  I am very much not a good “Things Explainer” because there are so many things I can do easily but could not necessarily tell you how to do them.  I feel like all of the traits that specifically focused on “competence” are not necessarily for me either because I mostly am just winging it the entire time I play a game.  I have “Collector” and “Side Projects” streaks but usually only after I have gobbled up all of the surface level content and am desperately trying to stay rooted in a game because my friends are playing it still.  Ultimately what I am trying to get at is that each of us have multiples of these traits blended together into the player profile that we ultimately are.  However your leaders…  the people who are out there watching for these things probably already have you pegged.  I am absolutely certain however that each person I talk to would probably slot me slightly different.  Regardless I highly suggest checking out Tams post because it contains a lot of good description of each of these types.