He must’ve been awfully bad at golf.

Last week, from a professional standpoint, is hard to describe without using the word “cluster.” I would probably take a mulligan on it. It’s part of why there weren’t any posts from me last week. I think I know where it all went wrong, too. Around this time last week, I forgot my thermos, you see. My thermos serves double duty as morning life-giver and lunchtime Ramen Water Measuring Apparatus. So I’m already fucked up from a lack of coffee, and I decide to go hit up the local food truck for eight bucks rather than the ramen I already have and paid a quarter for. Anyway, get home, end up with nasty food poisoning, stomach’s cramping like mad, whole nine yards.

Then we’re in bed, and we hear the dog barf, not hard since he sleeps beside the bed about a foot from my ear. I’m trying very hard not to throw up in the first place, dog isn’t helping, Diana goes and cleans it up. In the middle of cleaning it up, she knocks over a glass in the kitchen. I hear it roll to the edge of the table, then fall off. This thing detonates. It absolutely pulverized, a jet of glass about six feet in every direction. It’s after midnight at this point. I have to hold barf-dog while Diana makes an attempt at getting the glass out of the bedroom carpet. A lint roller is quite good at it, it turns out. It’s after 1 at this point, I’m still feeling very ill and need to be up in four hours, Diana is pretty much done. We decide to both take a sick day. And I don’t regret it, it was the right choice. I’m just bummed that I’m totally out of sick leave for a while. I have like 90 seconds of sick leave left and a doctor’s appointment tomorrow.

We spent several hours of the sick day training, I was teaching her some introductory HTML, CSS, and PHP.

Harder to justify, though, was missing the train the next two opportunities I had. That was just being a lazy asshole, and not very clever either. Yes, I’d rather sit on the couch all sleepy and miss the train, so I get to drive up which requires actual manual doing of things. I don’t even go back to sleep. I don’t get it. Rational awake me doesn’t get it, but irrational half-awake me things it makes total sense.

Friday was a joke of a day, a half-day thanks to “Seasonal Observances.” I was able to script away some work that needed automation for a long while, I’ll probably put that script up as a short post to bluesoul.me.

It just felt like a disjointed week. I was irritated with myself for having to use the sick day, then irritated with myself for needing to drive up three days out of four. It’s needless wear and tear on my car, and it’s needless risk to myself. Plus, I could be doing something in that time. like writing these pieces, or playing something.

The thing is, it’s my fault. Sometimes I have a hard time taking blame when blame is due. It’s well and good for others to hold you accountable, but there also needs to be self-accountability. To say, “yup, I fucked up, that’s on me.” Nobody really likes being blamed, even when there’s no evading the truth of the matter, but it’s necessary. There’s no growth without accountability. If you went your whole life being told that everything you did or said was correct and nothing was your fault, you’d end up insufferable and stupid.

I got some Cities: Skylines in over the week. I’ve got a new city up to pop. 32,000 or so right now, the trouble when you’re a modern city trying to get away from dirty industry is balancing unemployment with overeducated workers. It’s great to have this nice-looking city, but when unemployment is 26% it’s hard to grow the population, and building businesses that hire at the appropriate educational level needs a lot of overhead and infrastructure in place. It’s a great game.

There’s also a telltale grid pattern on my touch-screen. I missed Puzzle Quest.

And yesterday, on a whim, I jumped into FIFA 13. I haven’t bought one since, if you don’t care about rosters or their card game there’s very little reason to buy the new one each year. I’ve never been any good at the game outside of playing as a striker. In my head it’s like, “Oh, it’d be a lot of fun to play as a left center back, really intense meaningful action” and it ends up being player vs. controls, and player vs. camera, and what should be intense is merely frustrating. The whole combination of “camera automatically rotates, and you must magically know which way it’s going to rotate because your directional controls are relative to the camera” is an abominable control scheme nine times out of ten.

Maybe they fixed that in 16. I kind of doubt it.

Wouldn’t you not want to never not pass up this deal?

I saw one of the dumber attempts at deceptive advertising today by Comcast. Really, the sort of thing that makes you wonder where that “most hated company in America” title came from. In looking at internet options for the area of the house we’re looking at buying, their site gives the breakouts; you get 5Mbps for this much, 25 for this much, 75 for this much, 150 for this much…and 2000Mbps.

Wait, what? 2Gbps service? I mean, as a professional nerd, I don’t even have to look at the terms and conditions to know something stupid is being presented. For non-nerds, nothing in your house has the capability to go past 1Gbps for download. So what Comcast is doing here is listing the 1Gbps down, the 1Gbps up, and adding them up to get 2Gbps to make them look twice as good as Google Fiber, even though it’s the exact same service. This is the only one in their lineup that they present in such a manner. The others are only your download speed, and this one is download + upload.

The thing is, it’s $300 a month. It’s gigabit internet. Who are you trying to deceive, Comcast? The one demographic that immediately sees through your shady bait-and-switch, nerds that want gigabit speeds and are only going with Comcast because Google Fiber isn’t in their market yet. I’m one of those! And I’m not impressed or amused.

I played a fair bit of Cities: Skylines yesterday for the first time in a few months. The last few cities I built made use of the Unlimited Money/All Buildings Unlocked mods that come stock with the game (and a big thanks to Colossal Order for that and the Steam Workshop integration). Going back to a standard playthrough, it was rather liberating because you’re dirt poor in the early game, you can’t build out a perfect cookie cutter city with beautiful interchanges and traffic circles. You build a little bit, make do, wait for some more demand, make some more, wait for some more demand, and so on. It’s what gives your cities their character (as well as their traffic problems). Not having the choice but to just jump right in changes the whole complexion of the game, for the first few in-game years anyway.

I made a rich-person district high on a gently sloping cliff with a great view of the city and the bay. The bay’s half full of shitty water because we weren’t fancy enough for a sewage treatment facility for a while, but it’s improving. It was pretty fun switching from the perfect gridlines that makes your places look like any other sprawling suburbia hell, to the freeform tool along a hillside. It looks like a community for the super-rich, which was exactly the point. Just gotta get the poor people out of there, now. I added tax hikes for the district and all, maybe they’ll take a hint.

New-U? No U.

So I finished up my first playthrough of Borderlands 2 yesterday, after about 3 weekend sessions. I have a few thoughts, and some of them are spoilers, so if you haven’t already been spoiled on a 3-year-old game, uh, watch out.

  • The Gunzerker is a ridiculously fun class. You get to play at any range, and while there are bonuses available to pistols, you’re not locked into them by any stretch. The bullet regeneration makes it feel like a whole new game, in a great example of addition by subtraction. By removing the concern of running out of ammo, it relieves a fairly pervasive stress that permeates the whole game, particularly after about the halfway point, where they throw numbers at you and start increasing quantity as well as quality of foe.
  • Mal in Eridium Blight gave me a pistol called the Fibber. There are a lot of variants of this gun, as is the Borderlands way. I got a hell of a variant, though. It’s a pistol, but it shoots a very slow moving blast of pellets like a shotgun. In my case, they’re also slag rounds, and the damage output is in the area of 8-10k per round at a time where SMGs are doing 200-400 damage a round, and shotguns are doing maybe 3k. Point-blank, this thing was absolutely lethal. It took care of the Jack fight, which I could tell would be a hell of a fight if you came in underpowered, in well under a minute. For that matter, it took care of every boss fight from the moment I got it onwards pretty much by itself, or gunzerking with another slow projectile weapon, just making a wall of sluggy slaggy death.
  • I have some gripes with the use of death as a plot device in this universe. When a rather important character dies in a cutscene, it’s from one shot to center mass. Like, I’m pretty sure I had a 500-ton gorilla-man jump off a cliff and land on my head. It was a minor inconvenience, but I think it barely broke my shield. One shot to center mass? Call that a light snack. Like, there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of these Hyperion New-U stations scattered around the world. In fact, there’s one not a hundred yards from where this takes place. Oh, and one person dies from one gunshot when some others survive being in a cargo plane that’s hit with a fucking moonshot, the same moonshot that they use to make sure the Warrior is really dead, with nothing more than a little limp? Get the fuck outta here.
  • I’m very ready for True Vault Hunter Mode. All the boss fights were too easy on normal mode. The Bunker, Saturn, Jack and the Warrior were all downed on the first try, solo, with no deaths. Come to think of it, the only boss deaths I had were from the stretch from Bloodshot Bunker/Ramparts to Friendship Gulag, with Mad Mike and W4R-D3N. And Captain Flynt. So all in the early game. What’s keeping me interested is a video I saw of a maxed out Gunzerker with extra points in Inconceivable and 5 Shots or 6, using the Sham with rockets and basically getting to fire two rocket launcher machineguns with infinite ammo. That’s rad as hell. Once I experience that, I don’t know what I’ll do. Might play a Psycho. Krieg amuses the hell out of me.
  • I have a shitload of Golden Keys, well over 250 of them. And no gun has been better at the time than stuff I managed to pick up through normal gameplay. Two legendary grenades, two legendary pistols, a legendary shotgun, and the Fibber I mentioned above. But I’ve gotten very lucky with shields and relics from it. I love that they’re still releasing codes, even though it’s not even the newest Borderlands game.
  • If you picked it up like I did, fucked around to level 10-15 and put it back down, play a dang Gunzerker. It may have been the most fun I’ve ever had with a shooter.
  • Jack ended up being an interesting character, and the story becomes very troubling if you consider that he might be telling the truth about Angel. But when you look at how Hyperion and Opportunity operate, it’s obvious that he’s at least untruthful in some areas and more than a little bit of a sociopath. I didn’t feel great through the final monologue. But he wouldn’t give a shit about Pandora or the people in it if there wasn’t Eridium there. Given that this is only five years after the first Borderlands, it makes you wonder about the timing of things with him and Angel, if he was telling the truth. It’s a pretty cool story, lots to think about.

I’m probably bad at StarCraft, too.

So I saw the post yesterday on reddit on how Google’s AlphaGo AI beat a world-class Go player for the second consecutive time. This is a big deal given that Go has a rather intractable nature, it’s as much felt as analyzed at the top level. It also reminded me that I tried to learn Go like a year ago.

While I understand the rules, the aim of the game, and more or less how to score it, I’m missing something rather important, which is understanding the context of why I would want to, or not want to, make a particular move. How to defend myself, how to spot an attack before it gets out of hand. I’m so bad at this part of it.

For reference, the ranking system in Go starts with 30 Kyu at the bottom of the tier, it counts down as you get better, to 1 Kyu, then there’s 1 Dan, and it starts counting up. So 30 is the bottom, to be clear.

According to this Go AI, I am 32 Kyu. That’s like, bizarro world bad. I’m that goddamn bad. The game is spotting me 4 turns, and I still blow it most of the time. I was twice given four black stones at the start of the game and lost by 89.5 and 88.5 points. To compare, it would be like if you were playing basketball, and you were given 40 points at the start of the game, then lost 129-40.

I am 8-23 with an average play of 32.1 Kyu. I mean, it’s better than the Sixers. But it would be like if the Sixers were still this bad against, like, an elementary school. I don’t actually know at what age the average Go player was this bad. Five? Probably.

What the fuck? I don’t think I’ve ever struggled so much at a game. I’m not great at chess, I don’t play it much, but I’m around an 1150 Elo. That’s better than most 5-year olds, anyway.

I think I’m going to plot my record over time and my rating and see if things ever get better. I don’t know if they will.

Unwinding on Pandora

For about a month now, I’ve been telling myself that I want to pick up a new free-to-play MMO. I knew most of the usual suspects, and that they wouldn’t really do what I wanted. I did download the fan-service MMO known as TERA, and I was showing Diana each of the characters and classes you could be while laughing my ass off. She, however, was the most pissed I’ve ever seen her about a video game.

I had another abortive search yesterday, not ready to go into the clunky mess that is EQ1. Landmark is dead, never having made it out of Early Access. I was getting a bit irritated, honestly. So I decided to deconstruct what it was that I was after. Interesting combat, not too grindy, good progression, lots of loot.

Probably just as important, I had to consider what I didn’t actually want from an MMO. I can’t play anything that needs a daily, or even weekly, commitment. Simply not enough hours in the day right now. I’m not actually doing this for the social aspect. Or, more precisely, I’d rather be social when I feel like it, and solo the rest of the time.

It turns out, the game I was looking for was Borderlands 2.

It really does scratch the particular itch I had. For being one of the go-to examples of the “loot grind,” there’s actually pretty much no grinding required, you can outpace the main story just by doing the side quests in a timely manner. It’s got nearly unlimited replayability, with lots of New Game Plus options. Multiplayer is opt-in for drop-in play. And it’s ready for me whenever I get back to it. It’s not free, but I’ve had it for ages and it never really stuck before. This time it stuck, like I knew it could. And the story is actually pretty good so far! Not getting that out of a lot of the F2P offerings.

As one minor irritation, it will occasionally drag major ass graphically. Even my GTX 970, rendering a three year old game, would have times where it would drop below 5 FPS. No idea, it seems to happen with some shock weapons and lots of enemies, which is most of the game right now. But that’s less than 1% of the time, normally it will chug right along.

 I gotta say, the feeling of progression through BL2 is quite rewarding. Each level is meaningful. At the same time, the loot is quite diverse. I had a Level 4 legendary grenade do well for me all the way to Level 21. I had a Level 14 legendary pistol only stay viable for about five levels.

There’s a lot more I like about the game that I haven’t gone into. I’m very glad it occurred to me to pick it back up.

This probably isn’t entirely coherent. I wrote it at 6:30 in the morning, and on my phone, no less. Normally this is my Pokémon Alpha Sapphire time on the train but I wasn’t feeling up for it today. 

Tales From Skyrim, Vol. 1: Farilon’s First Day

17th Last Seed, 4E 201:

My name is Farilon, and I’ve just arrived in Skyrim’s port city of Solitude, having departed from Sunhold on Summerset Isle. I am determined to outdo my jackass of a cousin, Lathenil, who you probably know as the author of the Rising Threat series. Truth be told, he is a lying fraudster, never once in danger from the Oblivion Crisis. But that is a story for another day. I’ve arrived in Skyrim to begin exhaustive research on the alchemical properties of the local flora and fauna, and from this research provide practical formulae from commonly available materials. I do not intend to go up against sabrecats, hagravens, giants, mammoths, or anything more menacing than a mudcrab or skeever, and I ask that you, reader, do not either. No potion is an acceptable substitute for not putting yourself in danger in the first place.

(Player’s note: Farilon is a novice alchemist with a chip on his shoulder but little experience to his name. He’s almost entirely incapable of taking care of himself; he buys his food from the inn and would not handle sleeping outside well at all. He starts the game in Solitude thanks to the “Live Another Life” mod with a starting inventory of 25 gold, 2 bottles of water, a loaf of bread, a sweetroll, a small dagger, and one set of fine clothes. Mods are tracking his hunger, thirst, sleep deprivation, warmth, dampness, basically all the things that one would really have to deal with in life. He starts with 30 Alchemy, 26 Illusion, and 21 Conjuration, but no spells. He will likely be spending some of his earnings on buying spells from the court wizard in Solitude.)

Solitude is a solid-looking town of typical Nordic architecture, the guards and the commoners at the wharf are nearly all dressed, at least partially, in furs. Rumors abound in the Isles about Nords being just a step above howling barbarians, and I’m none too impressed so far. I make my way up the quay and into the city proper, when the gate guard tells me to keep my nose clean, or I will end up like Roggvir. I have no idea who or what a Roggvir is until I enter the city just in time for a public beheading! Apparently some tumultuous events have occurred while I was at sea; the high king of Skyrim was killed by one Ulfric Stormcloak. There was some babbling about duels and the old way and other archaic nonsense before the former gate guard was removed from his head. I could not bring myself to watch as the headsman swung the axe. Shaken, I look around and find the two buildings I was looking for are right near the gate, the inn and the town apothecary. I introduced myself to the innkeeper and the proprietor of the apothecary, one Angelique. After a leisurely meal of cooked beef, I now head back out the gate to begin harvesting ingredients.

I have arrived in the town of Dragon Bridge, just down the main road from Solitude. I have harvested numerous mountainous flowers, red, blue and purple. I also picked common lavender, some puffy thistles and a handful of berries, which a local identified as Snowberries. A deadfall tree was home to some brown mushrooms, Mora Tapinella. The locals all seem to be involved in the lumber industry, should money ever become tight I may be able to chop wood or make myself useful in some other way. I make it to be mid-afternoon, so I have ample time to return to Solitude and begin concocting potions.

(Player’s note: I am adding waits to his attempts at alchemy; it will take him 30 minutes per potion crafted, regardless of success. As his skill increases, the number of potions per hour he can make will go up.)

I write from the table in the inn, well into the late hours of my first day in Skyrim. My initial attempts at combining ingredients were, to be blunt, disastrous. As I had an overabundance of the purple mountain flowers, I decided to try combining them with each item in my satchel and catalog the effects. The first attempt was a failure with no apparent effects. So was the second, and the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh. But the eighth attempt yielded an interesting sample! Mixing these common purple flowers with Snowberries appears to have properties suitable for resisting the cold, a huge boon given the climate here in northern Skyrim. Angelique, who was watching me toil for hours, noted my successful brew. “That’s a fine potion you’ve put together,” she remarked, and paid me 26 gold pieces for it. I don’t necessarily want to consider that 26 gold pieces for four hours of laborious alchemy puts me at a distinct loss compared to the simple lumberjacks down in Dragon Bridge. No, I’m doing this for the good of all, or at least I must tell myself that occasionally. The innkeeper is an exercise in frustration; I find his food to be good and reasonably priced, but his drinks are exorbitant. Not wanting to part with 16 of my hard-earned gold pieces, I toured the city looking for a fountain, and did find one, and filled my water bottles for tomorrow. I also found some new plants and ingredients in the city, including nightshade, which all men know possess strong poisonous properties; best to save these until I have a known use for them.

I go to bed. I do not intend to leave the city tomorrow, instead studying the fruits of my harvesting from today.

(Player’s note: I intend to skip ahead several days with the next chapter.)

Ogre Game Labs: A Proposal

(This is intended for one person, really, but I thought I’d put it on here so you all could see a new project I’m wanting to work on and maybe express some interest.)

Myself and several other members have a particular interest in designing games, and enough new online tools have emerged recently that I want to pursue the thought of an extension of the OGREs. The Ogre Game Labs would be something a little different from a traditional chapter, as membership in it would be as temporary or permanent as the OGRE choosed, though they would need to first be OGREs to make use of the Game Labs.

The Ogre Game Labs has a few immediate goals and a few stretch goals. Immediate goals are:

  1. Provide a resource for game designers to get support in the designing of their game, through (mostly online) playtesting, consulting with other game designers, working with people that have experience in online game designing tools such as Vassal (www.vassalengine.org), Roll20 (www.roll20.net), and Magic Workstation (www.magicworkstation.com).
  2. Provide a way for gamers to get involved at the ground level of new games and designers/design teams. They can find a game concept that’s of particular interest and volunteer to playtest games, or find a group with a similar schedule. One resource will be that all OGREs will be able to set their availability by day of the week, and this will be public. By joining the Game Labs you opt-in to being contacted by designers who are available when you are.
  3. Answer some basic questions on copyright law as it pertains to card, board, and video games. Not legal advice but links to useful resources on how you are protected (and not protected) as a game designer.

Some stretch goals are:

  1. Provide connections to artists, graphic designers, distribution chains, game stores that would do further playtests. Make it a real one-stop place for a game designer no matter how far along the project is to completion.
  2. X-TREME STRETCH GOAL: I’ve toyed with the idea of designing a modular game engine in HTML5. We may be able to turn some games into something that the public can play, and if there’s enough selection of quality games, turn it into a monthly membership service.

I’m fairly flexible on the overall structure of the Game Labs, and I think people would take on some self-granted titles. Jesse Schell’s excellent “The Book of Lenses: The Art of Game Design” is very adamant about this fact: To become a game designer, all you have to do is say you are one. The games will come later, but it’s important to take on the role first. So there are some positions that anyone would be able to take (with no limit), and some permanent positions.

Director – Likely myself in the dual role of webmaster, responsible for the overall direction of the Game Labs. Catches all the requests that slip between the cracks (and assigns new positions if enough slip through the same crack).
Head of Development – The member with the most experience in gaming and rule systems, available as a last-level resource to ask questions of all sorts on game design. A sort of “Resident OG” position equivalent to a chapter’s Senior DM.
Project Coordinator – Provides designers with new subforums and blogs for their project, and passes on other technical requests to the webmaster. Also responsible for answering questions on the new designer process.
Chapter Liaison – One member from each OGRE chapter that want to use the Game Labs should have a Liaison that matches people up with projects, and helps raise awareness of the Labs as a tool open to all members.
Design Head, (game) – Self-granted position once a game is far enough along that the designer needs to start recruiting for playtesting. Multiple people can be heads of the same project if it’s a team, and team accounts can be made to speak as one voice. One person can be Design Head of multiple games.
Designer – Position granted on entry to the Game Labs. I considered making “Playtester” another option on entry but if you playtest, you are helping design, so you’re a designer first.

That’s just a list I came up with while writing this so I’m sure some things aren’t covered but it should give an idea of the structure and day-to-day operation. Chapter Liaisons, the Project Coordinator, the Head of Development and Director would make up a Board of Directors that would vote on issues every so often (Not sure how often, and it seems silly to decide on a timeframe before the project goes live.) I’m open to suggestions on term lengths and the like, but also bear in mind this is going to be almost exclusively online, so voting will be forum-based before a deadline (and likely count as an abstention if not submitted).

I can have a forum up at ogregamelabs.com within the week you all decide you want to go ahead with it. I’m excited to push this idea forward and maybe even make the OGREs known as a think tank for up-and-coming designers. I’m available for questions via email at daniel.tharp@gmail.com.

First World Dilemmas

My creative impulses are dragging me all over the place. I’ve got about a half-dozen projects I want to work on and I’m paralyzed with indecision. Maybe writing them down will help. In no particular order, I want to…

– Get started on the perfume I’m making for Eve.
– Play the hell out of some Skyrim.
– Make something in FL Studio. I don’t really have a hook in my head to start with, though.
– Finish configuring the netbook for emulator play. Yesterday’s testing was mixed. It’s fine with NES, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Sega Genesis, but some SNES games are choppy, particularly Super-FX enabled ones. N64 games were hit and miss, I was getting probably 50fps on Super Mario 64 but it choked up a big hairball on Goldeneye and Hot Wheels Turbo Racing. I haven’t bothered with my PSX roms. I haven’t set up Quickplay for my MAME roms yet as it’s quite involved.
– Get Quickbooks set up for Diana. She’s wanting to learn how to use it so she has another marketable skill for the future job search. The idea I had is that we can set up Shooting Star Perfumes as the business to learn with. It might get us back into making our own stuff.
– Eat the hell out of some pizza.
– Listen to some new albums that came out, particularly the new M83.
– Channel former blogging buddy Krooze L. Roy and review some old video games. I hope he reads this some time, because I miss the hell out of his writing, and I still want him to message me some time about Amplitude on PS2.

And even out of so many tempting options, the combination of pizza and Skyrim is a siren’s call I am unable to ignore. Bye.