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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s EndI finished Uncharted 4 last night, and I’m in a real funk about it.

I’ve loved this series since game #1. That makes me an oddity within my ‘circles.’ While my twitter feed is full of folks gushing over Overwatch or Battleborn or Doom I don’t have the slightest interest in any of those games. I have friends who are playing Uncharted 4, to be sure, but I don’t get the sense that they LOVE the series like I do. I’m not sure any of them have played through all the other games in the franchise.

Naughty Dog is one of a small handful of developers who seem able to tell [what to me is] a really compelling story with characters that I really care about, and do it over the course of a generous, but not grueling, single player campaign. (According to the statistics screen, Uncharted 4 took me a little over 16 hours to play through.)

There are certainly games that deliver spectacle or compelling characters, and lots of RPGs tell a good story if you’re willing to devote 50 hours to extract it. But Naughty Dog just gets the mix so right. The only other developer I can think of that nails the mix so perfectly is Rockstar. Red Dead Redemption remains one of my all time favorite games.

I will miss Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher as much as I miss the characters from beloved books and TV series after they end.

I don’t want to talk any more about the story because I do hope folks will experience it for themselves, but I just need to gush about what a great job the team did. The voice talent is all top notch and you get the feeling there was real chemistry between the actors. The characters were beautifully flawed gems. It took me a while to warm to newcomer Sam but I got there after a few hours. The environments were truly breathtaking. Several times I said to Angela (who got hooked early and was there for probably 14 of the 16 hours I played, acting as co-pilot and puzzle-solver) that I’d love to meet the people who created these amazing spaces because they must have spectacular imaginations. There were so many “Oh shit!” moments and audible gasps from both of us.

Now admittedly in terms of gameplay, this isn’t the greatest series ever. The shooting is just OK. There’s a lot of climbing that I find super-fun but not all that challenging. There’s a lot of driving in this one and it was surprisingly fun. But the biggest issue with the gameplay is that there are times when I was so engrossed in what happens next in the story that I felt like the gameplay was interrupting me. 🙂

Y’know I guess it boils down to the fact that I don’t approach Uncharted games as games, really. I approach them as experiences. (Is that a vague enough term?)

I mean clearly these ARE games and you need to accept game weird-logic like the fact that a character who can throw a grappling hook 70 feet across a chasm while hanging to the side of a cliff with one hand can’t also throw that rope to a partner on a ledge six feet overhead. And of course there’s the dichotomy of Nathan Drake, the charming, wise-cracking and easy-going vagabond adventurer, and Nathan Drake, the dude who killed 600+ enemies during my playthrough (again, statistics screen).

Naughty Dog has said this will be the last game featuring Nathan Drake but maybe not the last Uncharted game. And I’d give Uncharted featuring another character (and I have a good idea who that character would be, and I’m sure you will too after you finish) a try for sure, but to me Nathan & Elena ARE Uncharted. Without them, I’d treat any future game as a new franchise.

It’s worth mentioning some awesome features that Naughty Dog gave us in this game. First, there are QTE’s that have you tapping a button many times. If you don’t like this kind of mechanic, there’s a setting that allows you to just hold down the button for these events. If you think that’s not a big deal than you don’t have arthritis in your fingers like I do; the constant rapid tapping of a button really hurts me fingers so I was happy they offered an alternative. They also gave us an amazing photo mode that lets you manipulate your screenshots in all kind of ways, including hiding the characters if you want. Last, the game seems to auto-save every time you pause. While I did save my progress manually at the end of every session I don’t think I needed to. I never touched the Load function.

Oh speaking of loading, did I mention the only time you see any kind of loading screen or break in the action is if you die. It’s a hard game to put down because it just flows seamlessly from start to finish, transition in and out of cut scenes and between characters without any kind of boundary event. Also they’re very generous with checkpoints so if you do die you rarely have to repeat much content. And if you get stuck for too long the game accommodates, giving you the option to pull up a hint, or perhaps by having an AI colleague point out something you missed. I also suspect, but can’t confirm, that the difficulty of a combat encounter eases up a tad if you die many times in one battle.

The whole experience just feels so polished and well-thought out, and my goodness the game looks amazing. And now that I’m done with it…I just don’t know what to do with myself. I feel like I’ve experienced the best that gaming has to offer and anything else is going to feel like a step down. Now CLEARLY I’m being hyperbolic and I’m still basking in the glow of having such a wonderful experience, but I honestly can’t think of another franchise that I’m looking forward to, at least not it terms of characters I want to spend time with, if you know what I mean. (And now a brief moment of silence for when Halo games told a compelling story about  Master Chief and Cortana rather than focusing on e-sports.)

Everything changes, and that includes gaming. I’m sure Uncharted 4 cost a ton to make and I’m not sure there are that many of us who love single player games left. Heck even GTA V skipped single player DLC in favor of producing multiplayer content that Rockstar could monetize. I’m not saying single player games will go away, but I think we’ll see fewer and fewer lavish single player productions like the Uncharted series. Damn, I’m going to miss this series.

Heck maybe I really HAVE seen the best that gaming as to offer, at least in terms of my own personal preferences. Farewell Nathan and Elena, and thanks for all the wonderful adventures.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Greetings loyal readers! It’s been quite awhile, eh? I’ve been playing ESO on the consoles almost exclusively for the past few weeks, but nothing worth sharing. Just grinding out crafting writs and working my way through the quest lines. Not blog-post worthy but I’ve been having fun. When not playing I’ve been watching a lot of ESO videos of builds and stuff.

So what does this have to do with esports? Listen I know you all love Twitch and watching people play League of Legends for big cash prizes. I like to watch some LoL from time to time too. I think we’ve established that broadcasting game matches is a Thing that people like.

But now it’s time to move beyond that and expand the offerings on Twitch and the like. What I want to see now are professionally commentated dungeon runs from MMOs. I came to this decision when two vectors crossed in my brain. First, when I haven’t been playing ESO I’ve been re-watching Log Horizon, which is an anime that takes place in an MMO world. I really enjoy the (faked) battle scenes when the gang is doing raids. It’s fun watching them puzzle out how to bring down bosses even though, y’know none of it is real.

And I’ve also been reading JZH Gaming’s blog lately. He posts videos of his ESO dungeon runs. This is the last one I watched:

I like this video for a lot of reasons. First, it’s a speed run so it doesn’t go on for hours. Second, the leader guides the group through the dungeon in a calm way. The rest of the gang also acts like, well, adults. No one is screaming or playing dub step over their mike. It almost feels choreographed and I feel like I’m not only watching a team take on a challenge but I’m learning a bit about this trial, too. Third and much less significantly, this was done on the PS4 version of the game and I have some platform pride over it. There’s this stereotype that console gamers are all potty-mouthed children and it’s cool to see this group overcome these obstacles while maintaining their composure. I wanna be friends with these people!!

But it is hard to hear what the leader is saying at times, plus she’s busy playing so doesn’t have time to elaborate. Which led me to imagine a Twitch channel that had professional commentators who could follow a group through a dungeon and give a kind of play-by-play of what is going on, in the same way that good LoL commentators can help viewers understand the details of a LoL match.

Of course before that could happen, the game developers would have to add some kind of spectator mode so the commentators have the tools to show off what is happening. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could watch a group take on a dugneon boss and flip back and forth between what the tank is doing, and what the healer is doing?

Eh, maybe I’m dreaming. But I think it’d be cool. But until the rest of the world catches up with my brilliance 🙂 I’ll keep watching JZH’s videos and hope he does more runs with this bunch. If you have some favorite dungeon run videos, why not post links in the comments. I’m not looking for “more dots” and Leeroy Jenkins. I’m looking for a team working together “professionally” to get a job done.

I find videos like this kind of inspiring. They make me want to play ESO better.

marquisLet’s get something straight right away. It’s pretty clear that Gearbox’s new game Battleborn is primarily intended to be a multiplayer game in the same vein as Blizzard’s Overwatch and Boss Key’s Lawbreakers. As a primarily single player gamer I’d normally ignore all three of these titles, but Gearbox has gone the extra mile and added Story Missions that you can play alone. I wanted to see if there’s enough to this mode to make the game worth a purchase, and the open beta (running now on PS4 and starting next week on Xbox One and PC) gave me that opportunity.

I know my buddy Chris will be angry that I’m ‘reviewing’ an unfinished game but my intention is to talk about broad design choices rather than bitching about the fact that there was a queue to get in. (Which is all I’m seeing at some sites…people please pull your heads out of your collective asses; you WANT there to be queues when a beta test is running because it means the servers are being stressed and the developers are gathering data they can use to make the launch go smoothly.)

For my first story mode mission I let the RNG pick a character for me and wound up with Marquis, a dapper faux-British robot with a sniper rifle, time dilation bubble and robot owls that attack enemies. Think of a horribly twisted C-3PO with weapons and you’ll get the general idea. Off I went to fight Isic, a maniac disembodied head in a robot suit that has an extensive lair for us to infiltrate.

Gearbox has put a lot of work into building out a huge selection of heroes to choose from. They list 25 on the site now and I think at least 5 more are confirmed to be coming in the weeks and months after launch. They’re all kind of twisted in some way; these are the people that brought us Borderlands after all. It’s worth noting that the same kind of humor is in Battleborn; lots of sadistic comments from the head baddie, directed at both the player and the evil henchmen. If the humor in Borderlands bugged you (~raises hand~) the humor in Battleborn probably will too. And vice versa.

Taking a page from MOBAs, Battleborn starts you out with a level 1 character and you gain levels during a match/mission. Each time you gain a level you get to pick one of two tweaks to your base skills. I really liked the trait “Time Killer” that caused enemies in my time bubble to take damage. There’s a ton of stuff to pick up as you play, but rather than the constant rain of weapons in Borderlands, here you’re picking up various currencies and short term boosts like speed buffs. Some of these currencies you spend in a match to buy gizmos from dispenser units, others I think are used to augment your character with permanent benefits (or cosmetic items) between matches.

It all sounds really good on paper. But sadly I have to say I didn’t find Battleborn to be very much fun to play. And again, I’m talking about playing it as a single player game. You can do the Story Missions co-op with friends which I imagine makes them much, much more entertaining. I wish I could tell you what was wrong with the game but I’m no game developer. From time to time Marquis will kill someone and quip “That felt curiously un-satisfying.” and every time he did I’d nod my head in agreement. It was all curiously un-satisfying for me too. I realize this isn’t very helpful, but let me tease out a few specific issues.

First was the length of the mission. It took me something like an hour to play through and while you can pause the game, I didn’t see any way to save your progress. If I can only play when I know I have a solid hour ahead of me, I won’t be playing much. (I have the same issue with Epic’s Paragon MOBA which I’m also testing, by the way.) I know there are plenty of folks who play competitive games that run this long, so this is definitely a personal issue. Actually all of these will be personal issues.

Second, even though it’s a story mission, it feels like a combat arena. So while you progress from section to section, it still doesn’t feel in any way like a story. It’s just a solo arena, really.

Third, the boss encounters take forever. I get why this is; if a boss is meant to be fought by 1 person or a party of 4, it has to be a big encounter. If a solo player could kill a boss in 3 minutes a party of 4 would steam-roll over it and not even notice it was a boss. So the solo player is left spending a lot of time whittling down the boss encounters. Oddly they weren’t particularly hard. I died 3 times during my story mission but never to one of the bosses. To me they just felt kind of tedious.

Fourth, the loot system. I guess I miss that rain of new guns from Borderlands. Getting a wad of credits just doesn’t feel as satisfying. But Battleborn isn’t a shooter-RPG or an anything-RPG. It’s at its core a competitive MP game and since your character progress persists between single player and multiplayer missions, letting solo players farm missions for awesome weapons would probably cause a balancing nightmare.

So what’s the common theme here? All of these issues would either be mitigated or would vanish completely if I was playing with a group of friends. With the company of other players the mission would go faster, the bosses would die quicker, and I’d get my entertainment from interacting with friends and not miss that there’s not much story to the story missions. I think the loot issues would go away if the missions were over quicker and I could get to the between-mission stuff to spend some of those currencies.

Bottom line: I applaud Gearbox for putting in a single player mode, but I think it’s a mode for us to use now & then when no friends are around. I don’t think the story missions are enough to make the game worth purchasing if you intend to play it solo. I DO think it’ll be really fun game to play with your buddies, though. Think of the solo story missions as a side-show to the main event of MP co-op and competitive matches and you’ll be good.

Here’s a random 5 minutes of non-boss fighting. I’m playing on Normal difficulty and even though I clearly suck, it wasn’t overly difficult. This is pretty early in the mission and you can see I’m still figuring out what things I should shoot to get loot and such.

Had a friend ask me how Dead Star is. My answer ran so long I decided to post it here. Apologies in advance for the rough post. I have to be at work in 2 minutes.

Dead Star is available on PC and PS4 and there is cross-system play (which you can disable if you only want to play with folks on your platform).

Here’s my answer to my friend’s question of how it is, and what it is:

To answer your question about Dead Star, it’s a competitive twin-stick space shooter with some MOBA elements.

I think everything has a different definition of MOBA though. Here everyone starts at level 1 at the start of the match and you gain experience by gathering and delivering ore to space stations, by taking over enemy and neutral stations, or by combat.

Each match takes place on a map with a handful of hexagonal space sectors, each sector has a space station. Each team starts with 1 station and the rest are neutral. You take over a station by destroying its defenses and then hanging out near it while a timer counts down. Delivering ore to a station you control will level it up and improve its defenses. You win by occupying all the stations that border your enemy’s home sector. Once you occuWhen this happens it starts the count down of a giant space cannon that eventually destroys the enemy’s home base. You can win by destroying it manually too but I’ve never seen that happen.

There are 3 classes of ship (a fast and weak scout which has a bonus when it comes to taking over a station, a slow but powerful frigate, and an in-between class that carries more ore than the other classes) and ‘brands’ of ship to pick from. You can take a selection of any 3 ships into a match and can spawn in on any of the 3 when you die.

At the end of the match you get components that you can use to augment your ships; I’m still figuring that bit out. And you level up as well. I’m up to level 5 I think. And I think max is 15. I don’t think levels have any direct bearing on your gameplay; they just indicate how long you’ve been playing and collecting components to augment your ships with.

There are 5v5 and 10v10 matches, I’ve only ever had the smaller ones spawn and they take 15-20 minutes most of the time.

I like it, but my only issue is most battles seem pre-determined pretty early. If you screw up at the start of the match it seems to be hard to catch up, and of course if you have people on your team doing something dumb, forget it. Like one match I had a guy who seemed to think he was on the other team and he kept attacking his own team (there’s no team killing so he wasn’t doing any damage, but he wasn’t helping either).

Anyway, it’s free for PS+ and it’s a quick download. You should check it out.

I think I’m in one of those gaming funks that most of us fall into now and then. Most of this week I’ve spent doing daily crafting writs in The Elder Scrolls Online (I got my new XB1 character to 15 and we’re supposed to do a dungeon run on Monday and I didn’t want to get too far ahead of everyone else so haven’t been adventuring) and…that’s about it. I’ve popped into The Division and even Forza 6 a couple of times but neither is holding me.

Mostly this week I’ve been watching TV (the excellent PBS series Wolf Hall) or fiddling with a new laptop that my job sent me. I work from home and generally use my own gear, but a few idiots have been working from their virus-ridden home machines and uploading contaminated files to work data repositories, causing major headaches for IT. So new policy means I have to stop using my machine and use the machine they gave me. “Moving in” to that machine took a couple of days. Too much stuff!

I got to pick the machine I wanted, within reason, and decided on a 15″ HP Spectre x360. Since my co-workers use stupidly expensive Macs I was able to upgrade the x360 a bit, and got 16 GB of RAM and a dual core i7 processor. The IT Director threw in a stylus to use with it, too. Even with the upgrades, my machine was still cheaper than the Macs she usually has to buy. It doesn’t have discrete graphics so it is definitely not a gaming machine, but it doesn’t have to be for this purpose. The screen is really nice (though I didn’t ask for the 4K upgrade) and both touch and the trackpad work really well. I actually prefer it to my Surface 3, to be honest.

I’ve also been watching some videos from Microsoft’s Build conference, which has me kind of itching to build something.

I used to semi-panic when games started to hold no interest for me. They’ve been my primary hobby for so much of my life. But I’ve gone through this phase enough times now that I know that’s just what it is: a phase. In a few days or a few weeks I’ll be enjoying the heck out of games again.

But until then, the blog will probably be a bit quiet.

No sooner had a snuggled down into the warm embrace of Black Desert Online than my friends got pumped for The Elder Scrolls Online. Well hell, I’m down with that, I love TESO! But one small fly in the ointment…they all wanted to play on Xbox One and I play on PS4.

Once more into the breach! Because I am crazy, I already owned the game on XBox One, but I took advantage of a sale on Crowns to pick up the new Thieves Guild expansion, as well as the older Orsinium expansion.

My only character on XB1 was a level 7 dude that was just a random mash-up of race, class and stat points. My goal now was to get to grouping level (say 12+) ASAP and ideally to catch up with Talyn who was in his low 20s. I decided to roll a Daggerfall Alliance character since I’m nost familiar with that faction, and followed one of Deltia Gaming’s builds (a stamina templar).

At first I felt a slight bit of resentment for “having” to start all over to play with these folks but y’know, I just love TESO and before long I was in love with my new character and enjoying myself all over again. It didn’t hurt that the Xbox One community seems very healthy; there were people all over the place.

One of my favorite aspects of TESO is that it is so group-friendly, and I mean group, not Group. In other words, there’s no kill stealing or anything, so you can and often do find yourself working with another player without any formal announcement that you’re going to do so. That happened to me several times over the weekend when I found I was working on the same questline (apparently) with another player and we just started traveling together. I started hanging back and throwing heals (not that my spec is a dedicated healer) and DOTs and I let the other player(s) lead the charge while I kept them from worrying about their health levels. After some variable amount of time we just drifted in different directions. Never exchanged a word.

That’s my kind of multiplayer gaming, honestly. Sometimes someone will cheer or something (using the emote system) but that’s about it for communication. TESO has proximity voice chat on consoles (no text chat yet) but I find people rarely use it out exploring and mostly just use it to be annoying in towns.

Since I was being pretty determined about leveling I wasn’t constantly over-level for the areas I was in (something that often happens in the game thanks to me roaming around gather crafting materials and stuff) so some of the open world mini-bosses were a real challenge. After dying I’d just hang out and wait for another player or two to come along and I never had to wait long. Again, working together without entering in a Grouping contract. I love it.

Of course in spite of promises to myself not to do so, I started crafting because I am incapable of running past mats without gathering them, or running past a crafting station without poking it.

Anyway it was a good weekend and I ended up somewhere in level 14. We’re tentatively doing our first dungeon next Monday so I’m comfortably prepared for a level 12 dungeon, but it’ll be nice to hit 15 and get the 2nd weapon slot open (bow and dual wield for me).

I haven’t forgotten BDO but it’ll be there when I’m ready for it. That’s one of the joys of subscription-free MMO gaming. You can play when you want without feeling like you’ve wasted your cash. So I’ll continue to be an MMO vagabond and go wherever the winds blow me.

I promise I’m not going to write boring blog posts about Black Desert Online every day, but I did want to share some stuff I learned in case any other newbies stumble onto my blog.

1) Thanks to a friend of Stargrace I learned how to disable those annoying ‘banner’ announcements. In settings -> game if you scroll down there’s a big swath of checkboxes for Notifications. These are all “opt-out”; in other words you check the ones you DON’T want to see. I turned off most of them and now instead of seeing constant adverts for in-game stuff I don’t care about, I can see Black Desert Online’s beautiful world.

2) I finally noticed the “Edit UI” option in the main menu. In my defense it doesn’t seem to be there when you’re very low level, but I’m sure I’ve overlooked it a few times. That let me hide that odd palette of suggested key strokes that floats around the middle of the screen.

3) I took the time to write down controller button bindings because they are non-traditional (and yet work well). So for example one of the face buttons is bound to Left Mouse Button, but the left trigger is bound to Right Mouse Button. The right trigger is bound to Shift. Pushing in the left analog stick is the same as hitting the frequently used R key, while pushing in the right stick is Q. And so on. So my Heavy Attack that is performed by pushing both mouse buttons is X+L2 (on an Xbox controller) while I have some kind of shield charge that is Shift-Q which winds up being R2+Right Thumb Depress. It sounds odd but it all works pretty well since the timing isn’t super-precise.

Once I had these bindings written down so I could glance at them to refresh my memory, combat with a controller got really fun. For me, who is primarily a console gamer, fighting in BDO with mouse and keyboard felt like a random button-pressing activity and I didn’t care for it. But fighting with a controller, dancing around enemies and unleashing devastating (well, for level 10) attacks, is super fun.

Next I need to write down my skills and the combos needed to activate them. I still think they throw too many skills at you too quickly and I know I have some I just never use.

At one point last night (and I only actually played for about an hour) I was down to a single quest given to me by the evil black cloud (who has grown an alarming set of teeth) that had me fighting a level 15 mob with a group. I was level 11 and me+groups=avoid at all costs so instead of following the bread crumbs to my inevitable death, I set that quest aside and just wandered around practicing combat. Eventually I wandered into a village and all kinds of things opened up. I now have quests that will teach me about gathering and crafting, I got some storage space, and a bunch of other things I need to play around with next time I’m in game. I also spent my first Contribution Point unlocking (is that what you call it?) a farm that I recognized the name of from reading my friends’ posts. I guess I can grow some taters there.

(I have real problems with place-names in this game for some reason. The first two villages are, I think, Olvia and Velia and for some reason my brain constantly confuses them. So I can’t recall which one I was in, but there was a dock there and I assume lots of AFK fisherfolk.)

So things are coming along. I’m really happy that I tried combat with the controller. It changed the combat system from “Meh” to “OMG SO FUN!” for me. Now I feel like I just want to go hit things with my sword instead of doing all the crafting and farming that I initially signed up for!

After my self-inflicted morning of pain trying to get Black Desert Online to run via streaming to the Steam Link, I finally got to play the game yesterday afternoon and evening. What a feeling of dĂ©jĂ  vu I had! Not because BDO is similar to other games, but because my initial reaction was just like that of so many other bloggers. I feel like I could steal someone else’s Day 1 post and paste it here and it would reflect my experience almost perfectly.

I was overwhelmed and kind of confused. The UI was an abstract painting done with letters and symbols splattered across my screen. The combat system confused me (still confuses me) but so far seems redundant anyway since you can just spam attacks and kill early game enemies. There was an evil cloud bossing me around making me feel like I was playing the worst kind of theme park MMO (y’know the kind of game where you never have to make a decision on your own) but it was dragging me through maps strewn with icons that have to mean something to someone.

Honestly if BDO was truly free-to-play AND I hadn’t read a lot of blog posts about it, I might’ve just given up on it. But everyone is now writing about quest logs stuffed full of things to do, and lots and lots of systems that completely ignore quests. I know this stuff is out there but I guess I just haven’t gotten to it yet. I’m only level 10-ish, and you go from level 1 to level 5 in your first 10 minutes or so of playing.

My new character is a warrior, which means (for now at least) sword and board. He’s learned a bunch of combat skills and as best I can figure, some of them get bound to hot keys and others are bound to key-combos. I say ‘as best I figure’ because I haven’t used most of them. Even his most basic attacks are bombastic spectacles of flames and sparks, and early game enemies are tiny woodland creatures. Usually I can’t see them or their health bars and I often keep attacking long after they are dead. Then I loot their corpses, one by one, hitting R to open the corpse and R again to take what is in it. No area loot feels so old-school. It’s like I’m playing BDO on my abacus!

My initial feeling is that combat looks badass but feels pretty trivial, though again, I’m level 10, and anyway I have a zillion MMOs with good combat. I didn’t come to BDO to fight things, I came to become a capitalist or something. I came for the crafting/strategic parts of the game that I know will show up before too long. Combat felt a lot more fun using a controller than the keyboard and I’m glad I have that option.

I did stick a toe into the Amity system since I was kind of at a loss as to what else to do when I got done button-mashing my way through beetles, foxes, wolves and imps. The Amity system is kind of like a CCG only the ‘cards’ are bits of knowledge you find through exploring and talking to people. It seems like something that will be quietly fun once I get a good collection of knowledge to work with.

I also need to use a Contribution Point (which I think came from questing) to unlock a Node. I’ve read a lot about Nodes but for some reason I can’t figure out how/where to go to unlock one. I thought I’d open the map and do it from there but the map intimidates the heck out of me. I need to come to grips with the iconography of it because aside from the icons of people on it, nothing makes a lot of sense to me.

One of my problems is I have no sense of place. You initially spawn into the game in a tiny village (I think it’s tiny), but the tutorial system has you almost immediately ‘auto-run’ to a quest. Surprisingly that quest takes you to the next town/hub/place and since I auto-ran to it I feel a little bit adrift. It’s like the difference between driving to a new place and taking a cab there. In the cab you’re just kind of idly looking out the window and not really paying attention to where you are. There were people in that spawn-in village so I guess at some point I should go back there, if I can figure out where it is. I didn’t take note of the name of the place but I think it’s NW of where I am now (the Western Gate something).

Another goal is figuring out how to turn off the ‘banners’ that pop up across the top of the screen telling me that two guilds I’ve never heard of have gone to war somewhere, or that something is for sale on a market I have no access to, and even more importantly find a way to turn off the random key prompts that constantly tell me I can use Q to sit down (as I’m running through a forest) or that CTRL switches between mouse cursor and movement (something you pretty much have to learn in the first 2 minutes of playing).

Anyway, there’s time. Now that I plunked down my $30 I can play forever without spending another dime if I don’t want to. Coming into it I knew BDO wasn’t going to be a game I mastered in the first day (or the first week or month, for that matter).

Oh! I almost forgot two super-important (to me) details. First, aside from gold spammers, chat has been decent. Not that I pay a lot of attention to it, but when I have glanced at it what I haven’t seen is people flaming each other over nothing. Second when you encounter another player there’s an option called “Intro” or something like that. I peeked at a few of these and twice what I found was an invitation to role-play! That delighted me. Not that I’m much of a role-player myself, but I’m something of a role-play fanboy. I’ll happily skulk around the periphery of an RP session just to hear what folks come up with. Crikey I’d almost forgotten roleplaying existed in MMORPGs, so I was really happy to see that.

This map hurts my brain!

This map hurts my brain!

Last week I ranted about how I wished I could play Black Desert Online on my TV in the living room. Then a few evenings ago I stumbled on a Reddit post about getting the game running through Steam and then using In-Home Streaming to pipe it elsewhere.

And so my willpower crumbled. Yesterday I purchased a copy of Black Desert Online. So far I’ve mostly had headaches. First I couldn’t get the store to work in Chrome. Switched browsers and bought the game. Then I started patching and left for the afternoon, and the patcher crapped out about 3 seconds after I walked away from the system, as far as I could tell. It was late last night by the time I got a chance to play. I built a Berserker who looked rough but OK in the character creator, but stumbled around like a muppet in game. So I deleted him, only to find out it takes a DAY to delete a character. He’ll finally be gone sometime after midnight tonight.

This morning I created a new character (at least they give us 4 slots) and got him logged in, then I set to work getting the game running through Steam following the steps in that link above. Unfortunately Step 2, “Make sure you enable the Steam Overlay. This is required to recognize the controller.” isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. I bounced around a bunch of links before I found a system that worked for me, outlined in another reddit post.

So at that point I could launch BDO from Steam, open the Steam overlay and close it again, and everything seemed peachy. Going back to reddit post #1 I proceeded to the final step. I started streaming from the Steam Link. I’d already attached a bluetooth keyboard, wireless mouse and a PS4 controller so I was set for controls. I minimized Big Picture and alt-tabbed over to BDO and the game was running. I could move around as expected but… I had no audio.

Three hours later and about 40 trips up and down the stairs, I still have no audio. I’ve found posts where people claim they don’t even really use Steam. They start the stream, minimize Steam and just launch BDO normally. That works for me too but still no sound. Basically Steam refuses to transmit sound to BDO or the desktop or, I suspect, any non-Steam game.

[Update: I should point out that when I stream bona-fide Steam games, sound works perfectly. It just seems to be when I get outside of the Steam ecosystem that I have problems.]

So I’m stumped. I’ve found plenty of posts from people who say that they have this working in a number of ways but I just can’t get it to work. When the stream starts, Steam mutes sound on the host computer and is supposed to pipe it to the client. It does do the mute thing, and I’ve even tried unmuting sound on the host but it doesn’t help. I just want a straight pipe to the Steam Link; I don’t care if audio continues to play on the host.

I figure there’s a setting somewhere that I’m not finding but like I said… 3 hours of trying different things. Life is too short. I guess I just flushed $30 down the toilet, at least until someone smarter than me comes up with a solution.

Anyone have any experience with this? So very frustrating (though in fairness I’m trying to do something not officially supported by Steam or BDO).

[SOLVED: OK this is embarrassing. I discovered the problem and it was all me. I mentioned I hooked up a wireless mouse to the Steam Link. When I did that, I picked the Link up to plug in the wireless dongle for the mouse, and I guess I jarred the HDMI cable loose. It FINALLY dawned on me, after hours of messing around, that the Link wasn’t making any clicks or anything while I was moving through menus, even before I connected to the host PC. Which finally led me to think about why it was totally silent and finally went to what should’ve been Step 1: check the cable connections.

Boy am I embarrassed but at least it is working!]

Earlier this week Sony opened up Playstation Vue, its streaming TV service, to everyone in the US. This isn’t quite the full bundle that they offer in a few select markets (where they offer live network TV) but it’s also cheaper, starting at $30/month for 55+ channels (there are also $35 & $45 plans offering 70+ and 100+ channels, respectively). You can access Playstation Vue through a PS3 or PS4, an iPad or iPhone, an Amazon Fire TV or Fire TV Stick, or through Chromecast from an iOS device. Sadly neglected are Android and Roku users, for now. Also it seems odd to support iPad and iPhone but not Apple TV. At least not yet.

In fact let’s keep on with the bad news first: what’s not offered on the service. Notable gaps include CBS, though I won’t blame Sony for this since CBS doesn’t seem to share their content anywhere except on their own CBS All Access service. ABC, NBC & FOX are available in “On Demand” form, meaning you can’t watch live. The CW seems to be missing, as is BBC America. Also at least some shows are held back from the big 3 On Demand channels. Notably I couldn’t find Marvel’s Agents of Shield on Vue.

Personally we were bummed about BBCA and the fact that Nat Geo Wild is only available on the most expensive tier, but otherwise we felt like the service covered most of what we watched. The mid-tier adds a ton of random sports channels that we’d never watch (ESPN and ESPN2 are included in the base $30 plan) while the highest price plan doesn’t add enough that we watch to make it worthwhile. You should definitely check the channel lineups for yourself though. (I found browsing the channels was much easier on my PS4 than on their kind of crummy website.)

When you first log into Vue you’ll be able to watch whatever is currently on across all of your channels (minus ABC, NBC and Fox), and on the PS4 at least you can pause live TV if you’re willing to devote a chunk of hard drive space to that feature. You’ll also have “On Demand” access to the most recent 5 or 6 episodes of many (possibly all) shows. It seems to offer whatever the last 5 aired episodes were, meaning you’ll get a random selection if a show is heavily repeated, like my Food Network favorite “Diners, Drive-thrus and Dives.” In most (possibly all) cases this On Demand content plays exactly as aired, complete with commercials that you can’t skip.

To be fair this is exactly the way On Demand works on my Time Warner Cable service. There too you can’t fast forward and there’s a limited number of episodes available for many shows. So it’s no worse than cable TV, but no better either.

Now here is where it gets strange. If you mark a show as something you like, it goes into a category called “My Shows.” These shows automatically get ‘recorded’ to a cloud DVR where they are kept for 28 days. When you watch a show from your ‘DVR’ you can fast-forward through ads. [I should emphasize that all these details can vary from channel to channel or even show to show; I’m just reporting what I’ve experienced in a few evenings.] In my opinion, this is the way to use Playstation Vue, with the caveat that the Fast Forward system isn’t as smooth as it is with a traditional DVR. For instance my TWC-provided DVR kind of ‘bounces back’ a few seconds when I stop fast forwarding. So I see the ads have ended, the show has resumed, I stop FFing and the DVR backs up a few seconds so I don’t miss any of the show. Vue’s Cloud DVR doesn’t have that kind of functionality and it feels a little laggy. Also the image is lower resolution for a couple of seconds when playback resumes.

I feel like I’m saying a lot of bad stuff about Vue but I’m fairly pleased with it, really. I’ve been talking about canceling cable for a long time, but was hesitant because we do enjoy watching TV and a lot of the shows we watch are on History, Discovery, Syfy, the Travel Channel and similar cable channels, all of which are on Vue. Network shows (barring CBS as always) we could catch on Hulu, particularly with its new “Ad Free” option which is SO worth the extra couple of bucks/month to me. I think a combination of Playstation Vue ($30) and Hulu w/o Ads ($12), coupled with an OTA antenna for football season, would pretty nicely replace cable TV, which is costing me something like $80/month for pretty no-frills service (and that price is only after calling them every year to bitch about pricing, which gets old). It’s hard to say exactly how much I pay for cable since it’s bundled with Internet service and the bill isn’t itemized, so I’m guessing a bit.

You can also stream Vue on several devices at once, so I could be upstairs watching one show and Angela could be downstairs watching another, without any additional cost (TWC charges per set-top box for anything but basic channels). And of course with both Vue and Hulu, it’s easy to stop/start the services anytime without any headaches. So maybe in summer when we’re outside all the time we could just cancel one or both for a few months. I hate the cable company almost as much for how hard they make doing anything as I do for their pricing.

You can get a 1 week trial to Playstation Vue, but it does require a credit card and if you forget to cancel they’ll bill you after that week. It won’t be right for everyone (we happen to own 2 PS3s, 1 PS4, 1 Fire TV, and 3 iPads so we have pretty good coverage for Vue!) but for us it seems like a pretty good fit and one more reason to cancel the cable TV service.