No Man’s Sky Thoughts

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This morning was an absolutely glorious morning, in part because of a massive cold front that blew through over night.  It is suddenly 70 degrees outside with a lovely breeze, rather than the usual over 100 degree madness that has been happening for weeks.  As a result we decided to get up and walk over to daylight donuts for breakfast and then take it into the backyard and eat it on the patio.  After the generally shit week that I had, I needed this little bit of respite to maybe start to recover.  It is not that anything really went wrong… just the stress of entirely too much maximum level adulting.  The week was one with several adulting raid bosses, and the progress made on them were mixed.  However I am now happy to chill out on the sofa with a cat precariously balanced between my arms trying to find a way to snuggle while I type.  So far it is working but I have a feeling at some point she will wander off because my hands are engaged in something other than serious petting action.  Other than all of this… yesterday a game was released that I had been waiting anxiously for since it was first announced at E3 during the Sony PS4 reveal show, or at least I think that was when I first saw it.  No Man’s Sky promised to be the space exploration game for me.  Elite Dangerous looks awesome, but it is entirely too fiddly for my tastes.  I don’t want to have to care about learning to pilot a ship through the vast expanses of space, or learning how to dogfight when there is no “up”.  I just want a Star Trek away mission simulator that lets me wander around the cosmos and land on interesting new planets to explore.  No Man’s Sky seems to be exactly that, but before I get into the good parts I need to talk about the bad.

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Lots of folks are having trouble playing this game on the PC now that it has been released.  I am not sure what happened during the process of the launch but the “minimum” listed specs seem to have been thrown completely out the window.  I know Tamrielo has already returned his copy through steam because on his pretty hoss machine it simply would not give him more than 10 fps.  First lets go over the minimum specs that were released for the game.

  • OS: Windows 7/8.1/10 (64-bit versions)
  • Processor: Intel Core i3
  • Memory: 8 GB RAM
  • Graphics: nVidia GTX 480, AMD Radeon 7870
  • Storage: 10 GB available space

I’ve played it on two of my machines… first on my Laptop

  • OS:  Windows 10 64-bit
  • Processor: 4th Gen Intel Core i7
  • Memory:  16 GB RAM
  • Graphics:  nVidia GTX 960m

On this machine I had to bump it down to 720p/medium to get stable framerates in the range of 30 fps, with the occasional dip into 15 territory.  However nVidia experience claims that this machine does not meet the minimum requirements to play the game, whereas instead every single category above technically outstrips what the suggested minimums are.

My upstairs gaming machine has the following specs…

  • OS:  Windows 10 64-bit
  • Processor:  AMD fx-6300 3.5 ghz
  • Memory:  16 GB RAM
  • Graphics:  nVidia GTX 980

As one would expect the beefier graphics card means that I am getting significantly better performance, but not massively so.  I am running the game at 1080p/medium and I get severe dips from the 60fps to 30fps and it is extremely erratic.  What this feels like to me… is a game that was rushed to make last minute changes and is extremely poorly optimized for the PC.  From the sound of it… everyone that chose to get the PS4 copy seems to be just happily playing away.  Those of us on the PC are trying to find that precarious line where the performance to pretty balance is reasonable.  The biggest confusion point that I am seeing thought is having a big badass system doesn’t necessarily make a difference.  It is almost totally random who can and cannot run this game.  As a result I highly suggest you purchase the game through steam, that way if for whatever reason it does not work for you… you can return it to get a full refund.  I believe GOG does the same thing, but I have never actually returned a game there so I am not sure how fast or easy that process is.  Essentially this is definitely a “buyer beware” title… and if you simply want to play it without much fussing then I suggest you check out the PlayStation 4 copy.

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Now that all of that is out of the way…. the game is really pretty and feels like you are exploring alien worlds.  It has this feeling of minecraft, starbound and elite all throw together in the a mixer and some weird hybrid came out of the process.  The key thing that stood in the way of me playing Elite or Star Citizen… is that my player fantasy has nothing to do with flying a ship.  I could give a shit about actually flying anything… and would be perfectly happy just taking “taxis” between planets.  What I want is the exploration of new and interesting places, and that is the fantasy that NMS hones in on.  There are going to be folks that complain that this title is entirely too “walking sim” for them, but the couple of planets have all been filled with rich and interesting environments for me to explore.  Right now my biggest problem is the lack of inventory, and lack of understanding how to increase said inventory.  There is just so much I don’t know how to do, and so many items I pick up that I don’t have a clue what they are even for.  What is the most interesting to me is the fact that when you encounter an alien race, you don’t know how to communicate.  You learn language through finding these knowledge stones, and each of them teaches you a single word in another language.  Now I have yet to see what actually happens when you know some words… because I absolutely lost faction with a race by patting them on the head.

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The coolest moment so far has to be when I finally repaired my ship, and decided to lift off of the planet and out into space.  I watched as the horizon got darker and darker until all of the sudden I broke through the atmosphere and could see the stars around me.  Similarly awesome was the moment when I realized that landing on this planet… I had to be super careful about my angle of entry.  If you come in too straight you absolutely start to burn up in the atmosphere damaging your shields in the process.  So that mean’t I had to skim along carefully descending slowly enough to avoid taking damage, but that also meant that this was no means a quick process.  There are consequences of pushing off planet, and I burned through all of my fuel on the first planet using my ship to explore.  Each time you thrust off the surface it takes resources, ones that you cannot easily replenish without significant time spent exploring… which in itself costs resources because the environments are usually hostile and stress your life support systems to where they need recharging as well.  There however is a central loop that I find enjoyable of exploring and gathering and exploring and gathering.  In fact last night I absolutely lost two hours of time playing this game.  Not that I was aware that I spent time… but I thought I had maybe spent fifteen minutes playing, until I looked up and realized that two hours had passed.  So if the issues of the launch can get ironed out, I have a feeling that this is going to go down as one of those Minecraft like experiences that just keeps building upon itself.

So final advice is… pick it up definitely. However if you have a Playstation 4, you might lean towards that for your purchase.  Otherwise definitely purchase it through a provider that is going to allow you to return the game on PC if for whatever reason it does not like your machine.

Pokemon Go Frustrations

Bad Polling

A few days ago I did yet another one of my super-non-scientific polls about Pokemon Go.  I got far fewer results than I had hoped but in the end got 38 total votes… and you can see the results here.  Ultimately I was curious to see just how well Pokemon Go is doing among my twitter timeline a little over a month after the initial release.  I knew my usage of the app had morphed a bit, and I was curious to see if everyone else had as well.  The slight unfair comparison here however is that with the staggered launch, some folks like most of South America just literally got access to the application.  As always I tried to create a bunch of categories that summed up what I thought of as the possible endpoints… but ultimately missed a few.  The results look something like this.

  • Actively “Catching Them All” Every Day – 11 Votes (29%)
  • Only Playing When You Go Someplace New – 5 Votes (13%)
  • Playing Rarely if you Remember – 10 Votes (26%)
  • Still Installed but not Active – 6 Votes (16%)
  • Uninstalled:  May Check Later – 2 Votes (5%)
  • Uninstalled: Got It Out of System – 1 Vote (3%)
  • Never Tried It: Not For Me – 3 Votes (8%)
  • Never Tried It: Still Interested – 0 Votes (0%)

Now I have no baseline here, because I should have taken a poll like this shortly after the launch, but it feels like that rarely playing number is probably higher than it would have been early on.   For me personally I am in this awkward place of still playing, but not nearly with the same gusto that I once did.  The attraction of Pokemon in the first place is the collection of new and interesting “mon”.  So when I play the actual game I spend most of my time capturing critters either to keep in my own collection or to wonder trade them off just to see what I might get in return.  The first few days of playing Pokemon Go felt like this, with me constantly finding something new and interesting around every corner.  However at this point I have caught 85 of the 150 Pokemon available in Pokemon Go and of that list…  Ditto, Mew, Mewtoo, Zapdos, Articuno, and Moltres are largely just myths at the moment.  That means I have roughly 60% of the 144 that are reasonably available right now.  Even then you have to discount the fact that Mr Mime, Khangaskhan and Farfetch’d are not available to me in the United States, which drops the total of available Pokemon down to 141.  Then you factor in the fact that I am in a Grass Type dominated area and pretty much every Rock and Fire type Pokemon is rare as shit here… and can pretty much only be summoned with a Lure or Incense my total reasonable list of available Pokemon shrinks further.

I Choose You Venonat #257!

What this means in practice is that I end up going weeks without seeing anything new.  Since finding new things is my core reward cycle in Pokemon, it really drags down my desire to keep playing.  There also seems to be a huge gulf that you fall off into after level 20.  I am just shy of dinging 21, but it has taken roughly a month of casual capturing to get me through the level.  I wish the app kept general stats of how many of each Pokemon you have caught because I am absolutely certain that if you added up the number of Pidgey and Zubat caught… they would together be around one thousand… with Zubat making up the lions share of those.  That is the core problem I am having is that I would say at least 60% of the Pokemon that I see on a daily basis… I cannot really muster the care to even try and catch.  This means I still get vaguely excited when I see my hundredth Venonat or Doduo because they aren’t yet another Rattata.  Even then I have caught enough of each to evolve four into Venomoth and three into Dodrio.  The other big challenge that I am having is the extreme heat going on right now, which severely limits the amount of time I am willing to go out hunting for critters.  The heat index the last few weeks has been hovering in the 110s, and that really is not conducive to going out and catching them all.  So instead I am mostly limited to checking my phone quickly when I pull into a parking lot, or on my way walking into work.

There is also still the problem that a lot of the world is a complete and total wasteland with nothing interesting in it.  We talked about this a bit on the podcast, but the game only seems to reward you for going to places literally everyone else is going.  So that means once a hot spot is found, then that becomes the prime real estate that EVERYONE goes to… which only cause the problem to snowball.  There is an open air mall here, and a handful of parks… that are sheer madness over lunch with people hanging out in the cars idling with the AC on near the pokestops that have lures running on them.  The game favors high cellular activity so much, that most of the rest of my area is completely devoid of anything of interest apart from random basepop trashmon.   The other main issue with this is that the game fails to capture the exploration aspect of the original source material.  In Pokemon I knew that going out into new areas, meant that I would be getting a new mix of the available critters.  So simply going over a zone, meant that while I might have 40% of the Pokemon be something I recognize, there would be 60% that were new and interesting.  That simply does not relate to the real world version with Go, because no matter any amount of reasonable movement around my area provides me a significantly different assortment of “mon”.  I can and have traveled an hour in roughly every direction from my home base… and still see exactly the same mix.  This tells me that their “regions” are just too large and generic, and there are not that many valuable sub region feature sets identified.  Oklahoma is a grassy wasteland to Niantic, so for the most part we get exactly the same assortment regardless if we are hanging out at a lake, or in the rocky canyon maze of Chandler Park.

High Pop Zones

I feel like at some level they decided that the games works well in San Francisco and New York… so it must work great everywhere else.  The problem there is the bulk of this country has nothing in common with San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, etc.  Most of the country is not a high population center, but instead a tapestry of smaller cities and wide swaths of countryside.  In those places the experience is miserable.  I have it far better than so many of my friends, but still it is maddening to roam around and see three things on the new “sightings” radar, and none of them are actually interesting.  There are so many reports that Pokemon Go usage is declining… and I can absolutely see it.  The game is extremely fun for the first few weeks, but once the new wears off… if you are not one of those players motivated to go out and capture gyms…  then there really is a constantly shrinking pool of interesting game play.  Right now as it stands they need to seriously adjust the reward systems in this game, and tweak it so that if you happen to go someplace that literally no one has ever gone before…  you should be rewarded with something awesome at the end of that journey.  The game itself is about getting out, exploring and more than anything moving.  Right now I feel like it does an extremely poor job of incentivizing me to leave my house, because if in my walk I only encounter two Pokemon it feels like a waste of my time when I could simply be chilling out and playing some other game.  They need to find a way to reward players for going to big social hubs, but also find ways to make it rewarding for players to get off the beaten path.  As always I am curious to hear your own thoughts.  I didn’t include any screenshots because I always hate trying to integrate in cellular format vertical screenshots into a blog that tends to favor landscape mode.

 

Division Thoughts

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Busy Week

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The last few days have been unexpectedly busy, which is at least a little unfortunate since The Division launched late Monday night/early Tuesday.  Work as always gets in the way of my fun, but even more than that there have been various activities that I needed to be coherent for.  On Tuesday I had a blast doing the Kings Fall raid in Destiny, but that also meant a night that I could not really devote much time to Division.  Last night I had the World of Warcraft raid, and we managed to duplicate our progress from the previous week… this time with fewer ringers.  Granted we still had ringers… just about half as many as we did the previous week so the progression felt more “real”.  Today I took off work because I am having to coordinate the delivery of a dumpster.  Then tonight, Friday night… and Saturday afternoon we will be cleaning out the garage which is our spring break project.  It is going to be awesome to reclaim that space because for the last decade it has been a space where we just threw anything that we wanted out of sight.  So there is an old dresser out there, a couple of benches… countless insanely large boxes that we didn’t want to haul to the recycling dumpster at that moment.  So in theory I think most of it will go really quickly.  The only major concern I have is that I also know there are various chemicals out there as well, and have no real clue what to do with those.

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All of this said I have still been trying to squeeze in as much Division as I possibly can during the week and have managed to hit level eight so far.  I’ve been loving the insane amount of clothing that I have managed to pick up while wandering around.  With all of the options I have cobbled together an outfit that feels uniquely me… in a way I have not experienced in a game since The Secret World.  The only problem is… the character models themselves are pretty limited.  See the glorious beard that I am wearing?  That beard is only available for a single face…  which seems insane considering that I might want to have a beard like that on any model.  A similar situation is the state of glasses in this game…  I ended up going with the round Lennon lenses because they were the only ones that I felt actually fit my face.  There were however zero options for actual glasses… like corrective style which I would have happily put on my character instead of permanent sunglasses…  even in the middle of the night like the above picture.  These frustrations however are relatively minor, and after not being able to get into the game on opening night…  I’ve played pretty reliably ever since.

Rewarding Exploration

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One of my favorite things in video games is to wander around unfettered by obligations and just explore the world.  This is my Bethesda games are such crack for me, because I can absolutely jump off the beaten path at any moment… and am generally rewarded for doing so.  One of my subtle frustrations of the beta was the fact that so many areas like the sewers and subway system seemed to have no real purpose.  In the live game however… these locations are chock full of interesting encounters.  On Tuesday night I was playing for a bit ahead of the Destiny raid, and popped into a sewer… largely because in beta these served as ways to get over to the next city block pretty easily.  However while down there I encountered a chest that notified me that I had discovered a gun runners cache or something of the sort.  When I opened it up, it had a very nice level 4 blue SMG that I have yet to be able to replace at level 8.  I feel similarly awesome when I wander through abandoned buildings and explore them looking for treasure, and this time around it is great that I am not constantly hitting walls that I cannot cross into other areas of town.  Sure there are absolutely some places where I really should not be yet due to my level…  but I like that the game lets me go there anyway.

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The problem with being so exploration based… is that I feel like I am getting absolutely nothing accomplished.  I can happily wander around the streets doing random encounters that I happen across for hours…  and then realize…  oh shit I really meant to be doing this or that objective.  I am slowly whittling down the objectives that I have open to me… and I think today I will work on some of the missions that involve rescuing this person or taking out that baddie.  I remember there being a whole slew of things around the Hudson camp that I did during beta that I probably want to go back and explore.  Granted I might be over level for them… but it should be fun in any case.  The big thing that I have to talk about this game is that while I kinda wish you had random encounters with other players…  after getting some grouping going I finally understand why that isn’t a thing.  When we were running around as a group the other night it was a VASTLY different experience to me wandering the streets solo.  With Ashgar and Tam, we were constantly running up against huge groups of mobs, and I have to say….  huge groups of cleaners are the absolute worst.  Those damned fire bombs that they throw out…  I guess I had gotten used to the looter smoke bombs not being that bad.  In any case I hope to do some more grouping over the next few nights, but at this point everyone is going to be massively out of my level range I fear.  I wonder how the game handles staggered level ranges…  I think a lot of the difficulty we had the other night was due to the fact that Ash and I were level 4, and Tam was level 8.  So I cannot imagine what it would be like with a larger disparity.  All in all however I am still enjoying myself and having a good time.

 

 

 

A Better Minecraft

Ash is Awesome

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I have a really huge wishlist on steam, in part because it is a nice way of tracking all of those games that I see every now and then that interest me.  Steam will remind me through their UI when they go on sale, and sometimes this is extremely handy.  However occasionally it has unintended consequences, like for example…  during Pax Prime my friend Ashgar somehow acquired a copy of the sandbox building game Creativerse.  The other night he handed me a key for it, and over the last few days I have been playing a significant amount of it.  I remember looking at the game and thinking “Pretty Minecraft” and honestly…  after playing a lot of it that title still largely applies.  Minecraft is a charming game, but it is also a fairly primative game.  The magic of Minecraft comes from the fact that it has been so easy to extend and create new types of experiences out of.  So in the meantime there have been lots of games that have come out providing a much more aesthetically pleasing experience.  Until recently I would have crowned SkySaga the king of this new breed of “pretty minecraft” games, but after playing Creativerse… I think maybe it is more fitting the title.

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When you enter the game you are asked to create a name for your character and choose a simple boy or girl avatar.  The game loses some points with me right out of the gate because these avatars really are not customized in any fashion.  From there you can set up your own private world or join someone elses, and similar to a minecraft server you can toggle different variables.  My world for example has PVP disabled, and I set a password…  but for the life of me I cannot seem to remember what password I set which will probably come back to bite me in the ass at a later date.  You are plunked into this pretty world with a power glove that allows you to pull blocks up from the ground, and a stick that serves as your default weapon.  The first thing I noticed was how generally difficult combat is because I died quite a bit trying to sort out which types of creatures I could kill and which I could not.  The other item that I finally noticed I had in my inventory allowed me to change my spawn point and plunk down a teleporter allowing me to pop around the world freely and teleport back to my spawn point later.

The Struggle is Enjoyable

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With Minecraft, from almost the first moment I set foot in game… I had resources that I could draw on.  There are wikis of every sort that contain detailed information about what every block does and how you can best use it in the game world.  So far I have not found anything similar for Creativerse, or at the very least when I google for anything… all that returns is a series of YouTube videos.  Since I don’t want to have to wade through a YouTube video to find the one nugget of information I need… I just started falling back on the things I know as true in Minecraft.  The basic logic of how the world works is very similar, but the primary difference comes in the actual creating of things.  Recipes in Creativerse are significantly more complicated than they are in Minecraft.  For example to create stone flooring, you need raw stone which is a given, but also stone rods and melted wax.  You get the melted wax by taking honey comb that you can only find way up high in the leaves of trees… and melting it in a forge.  The end result is this complicated sequence of chicken and egg scenarios where you never actually reach a point of equilibrium where resources no longer are a problem.  Coal for example is one of the basic resources needed in both Minecraft and Creativerse… but the primary difference is very early on in Minecraft I reach a point where I no longer care about getting Coal, however here since I have to use special expendable extractor items to harvest it… I am constantly searching for a new supply of both the resources to build more extractors and more coal nodes to extract.

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The problem with Minecraft is ultimately that we know that game too well.  Within thirty minutes of a new game I can go find every resource I need to do pretty much everything I would want to do.  In Creativerse I feel more at the whim of spawn dynamics and hoping to find the right needle in the haystack to keep moving forward.  I’ve learned several things, like how to find Diamond, but I still cannot for the life of me figure out a way to get a reasonable supply of obsidian…  which is needed for most of the Diamond item crafting.  One of the nice things about this game is that as you collect an item it starts opening up your recipes for said resource.  Then by crafting sub components it will unlock further things that you can create with it.   Occasionally while out in the field you can find books or pages of paper that contain special “fancy” versions of existing items that you already know how to create.  As you go through the game you upgrade your weapon and powercells for your glove, that allow you to do progressively more advanced things.  However at no point even though I am swinging a magitek looking sword… do I feel like I have made combat any easier.  When I see a creature especially while delving deep into the earth… there is still a high likelihood that I am going to get faced rolled and add another “death statue” to my collection.  The game keeps giving you these rock idols each time you die… and I’ve started surrounding my base in them as a bit of a sign of honor.

Darkness is Dangerous

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Much like Minecraft there is a day night cycle and during the night things spawn that do not appear during the day.  For lack of a better term I am going to call these things “corrupted” versions of the normal monsters that you can find during the day.  When the sun raises they disappear just like they do in Minecraft.  One thing that is different however is during the night treasure chests also appear to spawn, and wandering around the countryside looking for them is much easier because they give off a glow that you can see for a large distance.  However to do this you also have to survive the onslaught of aggressive critters that are generally slightly tougher than their day time counterparts.  These treasure chests also often give you access to materials that you cannot find yet on your own and give you a bit of a jump start.  The problem being however… if you find an item in a treasure chest you have no clue where  it actually came from.  There has been a lot of trial and error and me taking on things just to see what sorts of materials they might drop.  Funny enough it took me a really long time to figure out how to get a reliable source of sinew which is used by so many crafts.

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While the game does not have the sort of food and water survival system that Minecraft eventually adopted and so many addons provided, it does have something interesting.  When you are exposed to dangerous conditions you start to see an exposure bar appear.  For example if you are roaming through the solidified Magma area, you will start see a flame gauge begin to creep up.  I am not sure what happens when the gauge reaches the top, but I am guessing you catch on fire and die.  Similarly in the above image you can see a purple biohazard gauge which is when I broke through into the “corrupted” zone.  Deep under ground I found an area that had a slight purple glow, and featured corrupted trees and all sorts of nasty creatures.  It has been extremely difficult to explore because I broke through into the cavern way the hell up into the air, and I can only spend so much time in there before my corruption creeps too high and I have to retreat.  I need to figure out how exactly you can fight these influences and see if there is a way to counteract the exposure gauge.  Similarly I went out exploring and found a tundra biome and the entire time I was there a cold exposure gauge kept creeping up.  With no real way to counteract it I finally had to teleport back to base.  The tunnel to the corrupted zone is deep under my base so I figure at some point over the next few days I will explore it further.

Speaking of Bases

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Almost all of my time so far has been spent underground, but towards the end of the night I started working on an above ground dwelling I can be more proud of.  For a long time I had a simple stone shack plunked out in the middle of the Savannah.  Last night I started raising walls for a courtyard and building a proper stone floor.  I am not sure exactly where I am going with it, but I just wanted something more noticeable while I am out roaming around.  I want to build some sort of a tower and place a beacon at the top of that now that I finally have all of the components to build one.  I am certain that once I build a white beacon it will start unlocking the patterns for different colors.  The building system is pretty intuitive, but it reminds me more of Trove than it does of Minecraft in that you toggle back and forth between building and combat modes.  Trove would honestly be my ultimate “minecraft-like” game if it weren’t for the simple blocks and insanely garish color palette.  I love the combat though, and that along keeps me coming back… I am just not that big of a fan of the building aspect.  Creativerse however seems to have that side of the equation for me, and if you also really like Minecraft, but are getting tired of its primitive client…  you might check this game out.  Right now it is $19.99 on Steam Early access, but supposedly if it ever launches it will be free to play.  They originally planned on being in early access for 4-6 months… but now it has been a little over a year so who knows how long it will last.