January 2023

The last couple weeks of January have been a hellscape for me so this month’s recap is gonna be short because my brain is just absolutely fried. And I better post this early over the weekend because I might not have time during the week.

Last Month’s Games

Genshin Impact is what I’ve been playing most. It has become, for me, that familiar comfort game that is just a way to escape from the world when you’re too wired and too tired to sleep and your brain is going 1000 RPMs and you just feel shattered and disconnected from the world. Which is how I’ve felt most of the time since mid-month. I’m back to doing some exploring and there are just some wonderful things to discover in this game. Lately it has been The Chasm which I thought was just a small area but oh boy, was I wrong. It doesn’t look that big on the map but the map doesn’t show how far down it goes. Great design. Loving it. Loving Genshin again.

The Witcher 3 is still sitting there waiting to be played and I keep saying “I’ll play that as soon as I’m done with Genshin for the day” but then I never get done.

Immortals Fenyx Rising is dropped. It just doesn’t grab me the way I need to be grabbed just now.

Final Fantasy 1 completed. Steam says I spent 23 hours in this game. About the first 8 were on PC, the rest was all on the Steam Deck, mostly playing in bed. Unpopular opinion: it wasn’t that good. At least not for me. I quickly became over-powered due to the constant random encounters I had to fight through while stumbling around lost. For the 2nd half (at least) of the game nothing could really threaten me, until I got to the last boss. There the difficulty spiked hard and I wiped a few times (first time I’d wiped in the game) until I read a guide. Beat the boss, now I can say I played it. Uninstalled and moving on.

Wasteland 3 dropped, just because the console version wasn’t great. The game itself seemed solid but the console port had some technical issues with button presses not registering, or sometimes registering twice. Or I’d think it hadn’t registered so I’d press a couple more times trying to get it ‘take’ and they’d all register at once and I’d confirm something I didn’t want to confirm. Still want to play this one, just not on console.

New Games This Month

Shapez was a random discovery that I had a good time with. Good enough to generate not just one, but two posts!

Pillars of Eternity landed on my plate this way: as mentioned I tried Wasteland 2 on console and it wasn’t great, But I really had the urge for a party based RPG. I tried the Pillars of Eternity Console Edition and it actually plays really well, but its a text-heavy game (if you dig into the lore) and I hate reading text from across the room. So then I decided to start it on Game Pass PC. Why didn’t I go back to Wasteland 3 if I was going to the PC anyway? Because I’m flighty, that’s why! Anyway I was really enjoying this until the January shit-storm landed on me; I hope to get back to it if/when things ease up.

TV

Mythic Quest S3 ended, leaving me sad. Glad to know it has been renewed for a 4th season. This is one of my favorite shows of the past decade. I just adore it.

The Witcher: Blood Origin got so much hate and so many bad reviews but we enjoyed it. Sure it wasn’t life changing or anything, but it was a fun fantasy adventure. I mean, it has Michelle Yeoh in it. That alone makes it worth watching. It told the story of The Conjunction of Spheres in a way different from what I’d sussed out of the books I’ve read (I haven’t read them all), but that’s OK. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to be flexible about how stories are told in different mediums or at different times. A fresh, somewhat different, take on a familiar tale can be fun. Granted, younger me would shake his fist at the screen and yell “That’s not how it was in the books!” but younger me was a punk.

Star Trek Voyager still plodding along. Thank goodness they added Jeri Ryan to the cast as Seven of Nine or I dunno if we would’ve made it through. We’re late in season 6 with one more to go after this.

Willow was a big disappointment. I really enjoyed the first couple of episodes from the point of view of it being a classic “fellowship heading out on a quest” tale, and I loved the music. The first episode ended with Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” sung by an artist I’m not familiar with: Sir Jude. I was pumped after episode 1 but the show got worse and worse after that and turned into a very CW-like show. Perhaps it was popular with young people but I cared less and less about the characters as they developed. I’m really sick of teenagers in all my fantasy shows. A better show featuring Hurdy Gurdy Man is Britannia.

Doom Patrol was a hit in our house for seasons 1 & 2 but we’re in season 3 now and neither of us have a clue what is going on. Really the only reason we keep watching it is that it is SO damned weird we just want to see what comes next. But it’d be great if at some point (we’re on episode 7 of S3 at the time of writing) they pull a plot together from all the threads floating around.

I’ve also been watching a lot of YouTube. I’m finally appreciating “Let’s Play” content when I kind of want a gaming fix but I’m just too tired to play myself. Granted I tend to fall asleep while watching, but that’s OK too.

Reading

Not a thing. 🙁

So there ya go. January done, February to come. Hoping life can go back to normal soon.

Shapez Was Fun, But I May Be Done

I mentioned that I’d stumbled upon a game called Shapez over the holiday break. It was my first factory, or automation, game and I really enjoyed it for quite a while. I feel like I’ve played it a ton but Steam says it’s been less than 13 hours. Still, for as much fun as I’ve been having, it might be time to move on.

What I enjoy about the game is figuring out the layouts to make the various required shapes. Building these elaborate series of cutters and painters and mixers and layer-ers is really fun. What I don’t enjoy is then having to duplicate these “machines” over and over in order to generate the numbers of items required. For instance right now I’m on level 17, and I have to deliver 20,000 of the requested shape. I either have to just leave the game running like an ‘idle’ game, or I need to duplicate my assembly line a bunch of times.

I’m currently generating 1 of the required shapes/second, which if my math is right, means the game would have to run for about 5.5 hours to meet my goal.

Here is what I have to make:

Here is the machine I have built to make these. I can’t fit the whole thing on one screen. I’ve added arrows pointing to the finish shape rolling off the assembly line.

That’s not even the whole thing, which I have to zoom way out to show:

Now to be fair, this ‘machine’ is wildly unoptimized. Given that I’ve generated about half the required number, I’m going to assume I’ve been playing for a few hours since I built it, and I’ve learned a lot about optimizing machines since then. I could probably at least double the output but still, that’s 2 hours & 45 minutes of running time even if I’m generating 2/second. [Edit: I fired up the game to take some screenshots and in fact did quickly optimize it to 2/second.]

Thing is, now that I’ve gotten a taste of this kind of game, I kind of want to move on and try some others. I don’t really have any issues with Shapez, aside from one.

Check out this image:

In a still image you can see that there are 2 similar but different shapes running on these belts. But look at it in motion:

When the game is in motion, my poor old eyes can’t tell these shapes apart, and there is no Pause option. [Even without all the artifacting that snuck into this video.] This wasn’t an issue early on but as I’ve earned upgrades the belt speed has increased considerably to where it is now hard for me to follow what is going on. This probably isn’t an issue for most gamers (who’re generally younger than me) AND there IS a mod that adds a speed control, apparently.

But again, this ‘factory game’ world is like a brand new candy shop and I don’t want to stick to just eating grape lollipops when there are so many other flavors to try. So I think this is the end of my time with Shapez for now. The developer is trying to secure funding for Shapez 2, and if that game becomes a reality I’d definitely be back for it.

It’s really a spiffy little game and well worth playing. It’s $10 on Steam and there’s a free demo.

Razer announces Razer Edge cloud-gaming device

Razer has a new Android/Cloud gaming device coming out. At first glance, it looks like a cell phone with one of those game controller adapters clamped on, but in fact it is an Android tablet with a game controller adapter clamped on. 🙂

I think it’s pretty cool.

Logitech has a similar device and when it came out many people told me I was a FOOL for being interested in it. A FOOL! The nerve. “Just get a Steam Deck” they said (this starts at the same price, $400 US). Kidding aside, for a lot of people (maybe even most people) I would concur, but the benefit of this device, for die-hard cloud & Xbox gamers, is (presumably) longer battery life, it’s lighter (401 grams vs 669 grams), and the screen is 2400×1080 (vs 1200×800 for the Steam Deck).

I love my Steam Deck but like 90% of the time I use it as a cloud device, streaming from my gaming PC or the Xbox. I can definitely see enjoying something like this, assuming the controls are top notch. (The similar Logitech device apparently has some iffy analog sticks.)

Would I trade my Steam Deck for one of these? Nope because I have gone from a cloud gaming enthusiast to someone more cautious about it. But for someone who doesn’t have a gaming PC or a library of Steam games, but who does have Xbox Game Pass and plays a lot of Android games? Then this might be a great fit.

Heck now I’m actually thinking about watching YouTube TV in 4K on it. That would be sweet. But surely I don’t need TWO handheld gaming devices. Wait, make that 3; I keep forgetting I own a Switch.

More info on Razer’s site

Header image source: Razer.com

Tiny Tech Tinkering Titillates

I might have been a bit over tired when I came up with that headline but I’m leaving it, by gum!

So a while back I bought a 2 TB SSD for the Playstation 5. Why? I have no idea. Because I’m dumb. I don’t need that much space but it was on sale. This was back last summer. Anyway I bought it, and swapped out the 1 TB that I already had in there. That 1 TB SSD has been sitting on my desk ever since.

My gaming desktop, in the meantime, has a .5 TB SSD and a 1 TB HDD. Whether it is because games just expect an SSD these days, or if the PS5 and Xbox Series X have spoiled me, loading times for games I was running off that 1 TB platter drive just seemed dreadful. Obvious solution, repurpose the 1 TB SSD that I’d pulled out of the PS5.

It could have been as simple as opening the case, plugging the drive into an available m.2 slot and be off and running. But it wasn’t that simple. My motherboard didn’t have a 2nd m.2 slot. Turns out you can get a PCI card that provides an m.2 slot so I ordered one. It came and I opened the case again and… hey wait a minute, I don’t have a PCI slot either. Well, not one that I recognized. Apparently motherboard design has changed in the maybe 15 years since I last cut my knuckles on the guts of a PC.

It turns out I had a “single lane” PCI slot, but I’d purchased a “4 lane” PCI card. Fortunately it was like $13. Back to Amazon I went and found a single lane adapter card (this one was like $8). That worked. Mounted the SSD on the card, stuck the card in, turned the system on and…. nothing.

OK let’s check the BIOS. Restarted the machine, held down DEL. No BIOS. Tried again holding F2. No BIOS. F1? Nope. F10? Nope. How the hell do I get into the BIOS? New learning opportunity. You can access it via Windows when all else fails, by using Advanced Startup in the System->Recovery options.

Finally got into the BIOS and yup, the drive is showing in the BIOS so what could be wrong… oh wait, it’s formatted for the PS5. Duh. On to the Disk Management app. This at least still looks the same as it used to look, once I remembered that it existed. Took a few minutes to format it, create a partition and assign a drive letter and voila! Now I have 1.5 TB total SSD space.

But here’s the dangerous bit… doing all this was, dare I say it? Fun. And kind of satisfying. And now I kind of want to do more. I’ve been seriously considering building a PC. I figure part of the frustration of working on a PC is that while you’re working on it, you don’t have a PC, right? But if I build a SECOND PC it should remove all that stress and frustration and it could be fun. I mean there was a time in my life where I really enjoyed tinkering in the guts of a PC. It’d be really nice to learn about all the new tech and stuff.

Really the only drawback is that everything tech-related is so damned expensive these days. Like I guess I could build a really cheap gaming PC just to build it but then what? Stick it in the closet? So I’d really want to build an upgrade to what I have (an i7-9700F @ 3.00GHz and an RTX 2070 SUPER GPU) which I’m assuming wouldn’t be cheap.

So I probably won’t do anything other than live vicariously through watching YouTube PC build videos. Maybe when I hit those lottery numbers…

Why the heck does everything have to cost money!?

Shapez, a Gentle Intro to Factory Games

A long time ago in a galaxy… well, in this galaxy actually, I was ‘strategy gamer guy.’ Before we had home computers I entertained myself playing SPI and Avalon Hill wargames (y’know, the ones with a paper hex map and cardboard chits) so I guess the transition to strategy games on computer was pretty natural for me. In fact at Strategy Plus Magazine, during my stint there, I was Associate Editor of Strategy and War Games.

Somewhere along the way, I kind of dropped my strategy things and turned into RPG guy. I guess I’ll blame MMORPGs for that but the point is, it’s been quite a while since I dabbled in strategy games. But again, now I have a Steam Deck which means on some level I’m a PC gamer again, and I’m watching a lot of “Best Games on Sale on Steam” videos and I learned there are whole new genres of strategy games, including factory games. I realize I’m the last one to learn this, but bear with me. I was finding these games intriguing but kind of daunting.

Then I learned about Shapez. Well actually I learned about Shapez 2 which is in early access, but this led me to Shapez which is a super minimalist factory game… I think. If I’m understanding what a factory game is, anyway. It’s also a puzzle game which I guess most factory games are?

Anyway, it’s pretty darned wonderful. I mean I’ve only played it for a few hours but given that it costs $2.99 US until January 5th, if I never go back to it again I’ll feel like I got my money’s worth. Also there’s a demo if you just want to give it a try for $0.00 US.

The image at the top of the post is pretty early game, this is an hour or so in.

So basically you have a “HUB” and arrayed around it are piles of various shapes. Squares, circles, stars, etc. And you are given the task to move X of shape Y into the hub via building conveyor belts. It starts really simple, but then you get tools to do things like slice shapes in half, spin them, paint them, combine them and so on. So maybe you need a 1/4 blue circle and it has to be the top right quarter of the circle. So you start with a circle, run it through a slicer, run the resulting half circles through a second slicer, maybe rotate the resulting quarter circles to get them to be top right corners, and then run that through a painter. Or maybe do the paint first, then slice it up. You figure it out!

This might be a case where a quick video is worth 1000 words. Here’s my “machine” in motion:

You can see that painting really slows things down, causing quite a few backlogs. I’m still trying to figure out a way to improve that.

While you’re achieving whatever goal has been set for you, you can also unlock upgrades, such as faster speed, via delivering other shapes to the hub.

I don’t think there’s a fail state so it’s all pretty chill. There’s no economy to worry about so you can erect and tear down conveyor belts to your heart’s content. It’s almost more a toy than a game, but I’m finding it super fun, particularly for $3. And I feel like I’m getting my feet wet so I can take on more elaborate factory games in the future.

Recommended! Oh, and if you miss the Steam Sale, the regular price is $10 which still feels like a good deal.

This is the same game state as the image above but ‘zoomed out’ to show how big the map is. Most of it is still untouched.

I Need to Stop Gaming

Ha, that title got you, didn’t it? Well it’s true but there’s a lot of context around it.

I’m on my last day of an 11 day break from work. It has been lovely, even though I’m still a little miffed that I had to use vacation time to get the time off. And I am NOT looking forward to going back tomorrow.

But I’m already digressing, so let’s table that talk about how much I hate my job and how depressed it makes me.

Over the break I did a lot of gaming (though somehow I don’t feel like I made much progress in any of my games). Thing is, there was definitely a little bit of unhealthiness in why I was playing. It was almost like I swapped in work responsibilities for gaming responsibilities. Like maybe I just wanted to take a nap, or watch TV or something. But that didn’t feel “productive” so I’d boot up a game instead.

Which, logically, is ridiculous. Gaming isn’t productive. I mean I guess if you’re a “content creator” it is, but for folks like me who game strictly as a hobby, it’s not productive and not SUPPOSED TO BE productive. It’s supposed to be relaxation and enjoyment. And if my brain is craving a marathon of old Cheers episodes instead of playing Genshin Impact, I should go and watch Cheers. But I don’t because that would be “wasting time” whereas playing Genshin isn’t (but of course it is…at least on the same level as watching TV is. I’m not sure EITHER is really wasting time if doing that activity is bringing me enjoyment).

So I need to figure out how to manage this. How to let this huge backlog of games sit and collect digital dust if what I really want to do is go down a YouTube rabbit hole or just sit out in the backyard watching Lola chase squirrels.

But the other side of this equation is that there are SO MANY games I WANT to play, and time is so very limited. I am really struggling how to balance this huge pile of games I want to experience with other things I want to (or have to) do, given a finite amount of time to do things in.

I used to be a terrible “game grazer” in that I’d flit from game to game and make little progress in any, and almost never finish a game. Then I decided this was wasteful. Of money, or of content, I couldn’t really articulate. So I started making a much more concentrated effort to finish the games I started, or at least commit to putting a significant amount of time into them so I could get the ‘full experience’ that the game offered. And for a while that make me feel better.

But maybe I’ve taken it too far. Given that new, interesting games come out all the time, there literally are not enough hours to complete all the ones I am interested in. Like maybe if the game development industry screeched to a halt TODAY and never published another game, I MIGHT have time to finish all the games I wamt to play, before I die or lose the capacity to game. Might. I’m not sure. I mean I could drop dead tomorrow or stay alive, sharp and alert for another 20 years.

So I gotta figure this out. After all I don’t owe anyone anything, and no one cares what I do. I could really quit gaming as of right now and it wouldn’t have any impact on anyone but me. So I dunno why I obsess over it like I do. Maybe it’s that I have no other hobbies and being a gamer is so much of how I self-identify? Like sometimes I wonder “People who don’t play games… what do they DO with their time?”

I also kind of think these subscription services like Game Pass and PS+ Extra might not be good for me. There are SO MANY GAMES waiting to be played with more added all the time. I might be better off if I had to purchase every game I wanted to play, since I’d think longer and harder about whether I REALLY wanted to play that game. Of course I come to this conclusion at a time when my Game Pass subscription is pre-paid into 2025!! LOL

But for sure I need to find a way to let myself watch Cheers with my free time if watching Cheers is what my brain wants to do.

By the way, I can’t remember that last time I saw an episode of Cheers; I’m not sure why I decided to use that as my example. 🙂

Puttering with PC Gaming

For a number of years now I’ve been a console gamer. I mean I have, and always have had since buying my first Atari 400, a computer capable of decent gaming but at some point I started finding the simplicity of turning on a console and flopping down on the couch much more enjoyable than tinkering with settings while spending another few hours per day in an office chair.

The Steam Deck has really shaken up my life in some positive ways. Honestly I don’t even USE it a ton but I love the damned thing and the knock-on effect of having it is that I pay more attention to the PC gaming world. There are (as y’all know) just a ton of games that come out on PC that never make it to console, and for some genres mouse and keyboard is just so much better than a controller. (I know for a lot of you a controller is always inferior but I’m talking about my personal preferences and a controller at this point just feels totally natural to me.)

The Deck also has me reevaluating my opinion of Valve. I have never liked that Steam dominates PC gaming like it does. This isn’t a feeling really specific to the company; I just didn’t want any single entity to have so much control over gaming. But with the Deck, Steam’s benefits start to outweigh those concerns.

And finally, with the Deck being so hot it feels like finally “controller support” isn’t an anomaly in Steam games any more. Maybe this change isn’t new but it is new to me. I used to try, once every few years, to bring PC gaming to the TV to get the best of both worlds but it has always come with its own set of issues, generally having to do with winding up with a keyboard and mouse on the living room table cluttering things up.

The other day I dug out the Nvidia Shield, which I had purchased for GEForce Game Streaming (which Nvidia is about to drop, by the way). Back then Steam Link was kind of a glitchy mess (for me at least) but Game Streaming worked pretty well. It didn’t really stick at the time, though, because too many games required me to jump up and run upstairs to the host PC to click a button or type something in. Also the controller that came with it wasn’t great and I had trouble getting 3rd party controllers to pair and stay paired with it. It didn’t take long for the Shield to wind up in the Closet of Forgotten Tech.

Fast forward to today. GEForce Game Streaming is being phased out, but Steam Link has gotten so much better. I will say I attempted to use the Link app on my Samsung TV, which was terrible, and even tried it on my Chromecast With Google TV, which worked better but suffered from input lag. But on the Shield, which has a pretty beefy CPU for a streaming device, it works great. Somewhere along the way 3rd party controller support got better so now I can use an Xbox controller. Steam Link now offers a “virtual mouse” option for those games that require a mouse click here and there (I wouldn’t want to play a whole game using it) and generally everything just works really well. My only real complaint is that my PC runs stuff at 1080P and when that gets blown up to a 65″ 4K display it looks a bit ‘soft’. I need a better monitor because my PC is capable of more than 1080P but I don’t have a monitor with better resolution.

The other thing I want now is Steam Controller 2.0. Basically a controller that replicates the track pads on the Steam Deck, and maybe the back paddles too. I think this is something that Valve wants to eventually offer (I think I read that somewhere) but for now they’re so focused on the Deck that there are no concrete plans.

So now I have an ecosystem where I can play a Steam game on the PC, or on the TV in the living room, or on the Steam Deck. Same game, same save file. To be fair this isn’t really new, not even to me (I can do the same with Xbox or Playstation via in-home streaming), but it is new for me for PC games and it makes the whole experience more appealing. At least in theory. I’ve spent a lot of my holiday break getting stuff set up and watching a ton of YouTube videos about PC gaming but so far I haven’t really PLAYED many PC games. I have some ideas about why that may be, but I think I’ll save them for another post.

December 2022

December has been a bit of a strange month. I guess that may be true for a lot of people, what with the holidays and all. But I feel like I’ve just kind of flitted around and haven’t really gotten deeply involved with anything. Having the Steam Deck has been a pleasing distraction as I’ve messed around with it a bit, and the knock on effect is that I’m paying attention to PC gaming again. I haven’t really PLAYED many PC games but over the holiday break I started watching a bunch of YouTube videos about great deals in the Steam Sale, as well as watching lots of gaming-related tech videos.

Last Month’s Games

Pentiment completed, and got a blog post.

Genshin Impact is back in rotation but once again I’m ruining it for myself by being fixated on the “Battle Pass” and playing to advance that rather than playing to enjoy the game. Not sure how I can break myself of this habit. I still haven’t started Chapter 2 of the story, for example.

Dying Light 2 got an update that includes a ‘prevent motion sickness’ setting, which led me to reinstall it. The setting in fact helps, so after making a huge announcement about how I am DONE with that game…I’m back to popping into it now and then.

Gotham Knights is, I guess, dropped for now. Haven’t played it at all recently, but I DO want to get back to it. I was liking it well enough, I just get so easily distracted.

Spiritfarer I guess I have to admit, is dropped. This was an Indie darling in 2022, I think, and I kind of like it but the pace is just so slow.

New Games This Month

Steamworld Heist completed. I’ve been poking at this on the Switch for months. Maybe years. It’s kind of a space opera. You control a crew of Steambots on a series of missions. Movement is turn-based but shooting requires aiming a wavering gun at the enemy. It was a pretty good game that, for me, overstayed its welcome a bit. Might have been due to how I play games, since I kept trying to keep all the characters leveled up which meant replaying missions over and over. Once I started getting bored I just focused on 4 characters and moved through the game fairly quickly. I ended up finishing at something like 26 hours when Howlongtobeat says it should take 12.5. So yeah, just me being me.

Geralt rides past a hanging tree.

The Witcher 3 got that Next Generation update so I decided to start it up again. I’m TRYING not to get distracted and do a ton of side quests because the last time I had a go at The Witcher 3 I got bored out of my mind because I became so over powered. That said, I noticed there is now an option to Scale Enemies and I don’t know if that is new or just something I never noticed before. As I write this I’m in Crookback Bog so still pretty early.

Immortals Fenyx Rising is a game I bought at launch since it was made by the team who made Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, a game I simply LOVE. But Fenyx is a lot more puzzle-based which I wasn’t expecting, and I bounced off it pretty hard. Now I’m giving it another go, starting fresh and knowing to expect the puzzles. I just got going with this one in the past week so we’ll see if it sticks or not.

Wasteland 3 is a game I’ve started a few times but never made a lot of progress in. Giving it yet another go. I mentioned I’ve been watching a lot of PC gaming videos on YouTube and they’ve created an itch to play something turn-based and tactical and Wasteland 3 seems to fit the bill. I’m playing it on the Xbox, but it is on Game Pass for both Xbox and PC and I’m a little conflicted. It definitely plays better with mouse and keyboard but I spend a lot more time gaming on the TV than I do on the PC so… we’ll see.

Final Fantasy, the pixel remaster, is my first Steam Deck game. I actually started it on the PC a while back and picked up where I left off but, boy howdy they don’t make this easy. There is no kind of quest log or anything and so I have NO idea what I’m supposed to be doing. I finally had to look at a walkthrough and I’m using that as my external quest log. You forget how hard these old games could be in unexpected ways!

TV

The Peripheral (Amazon Prime) was really good. It’s run by the same folks who did West World on HBO and has kind of that same trippy vibe. But it’s also the kind of show I don’t want to say much about because you should discover it all for yourselves!

Mythic Quest S3 (Apple TV+) has been quite enjoyable. Love this series.

Star Trek Voyager continues plodding along as our lunchtime viewing. I find it all really uneven. Some episodes are decent, some are super cringy. But you probably know this already. Who hasn’t seen Voyager?

The Essex Serpent (Apple TV+). It’s (I’m guessing) late in the 19th century and the fishing village of Essex is in a panic over a mystical/mythical serpent which may or may not exist. Meanwhile in London, well-to-do Cora is freed from a horribly abusive marriage by way of her husband dying. An amateur naturalist, she gets it in her head to go to Essex to determine if the serpent is real or not. She finds a village still in the throes of dark age religion, with the exception of a handsome vicar who tries to re-assure the villagers that the serpent is not real. He is constantly undermined by another religious figure (I was never sure of his rank) who preached fire and brimstone and claimed the serpent was sent from god to punish the villagers for their sins.

This is a 6 episode limited series that quickly turns from an interesting mystery to a painful romance. The first 5 episodes are grim, but it doesn’t take long for the serpent to be forgotten in favor of watching Cora be horrible to the people around her, all of whom, for reasons that I never understood, seem to be in love with her. She encourages them all before friend-zoning all but the one married man in her circle of influence, breaking hearts left and right with apparently no awareness she is doing so. Then in episode 6 all the bad stuff goes away and suddenly it is rainbows and butterflies. Even the people who die seem to get a happy ending somehow. It’s all very bizarre. I loved the first couple of episodes that focused on Essex and the serpent but it quickly went downhill from there, with many mysteries just being dropped along the way and a very unsatisfying ending. I’d skip this one.

Bocchi The Rock (Crunchyroll) was a delight. Thanks to Rakuna for recommending it. It’s about a painfully shy girl who decides to learn to play guitar so she’ll be popular. She ends up joining a band. I found the show laugh-out-loud funny at times, but even though the main character’s social anxiety is the source of much of the humor, it isn’t mean, which is quite a feat. In the end it’s a funny, heartwarming show and I found every character very likable. I sure hope we get a season 2. This was my favorite show for this month.

See (Apple TV+) posits a post-apocalyptic future where (almost) everyone is blind. Sighted people are considered witches and are killed, because it was sight that caused the end of the world. We’re in the last season and for me I’m kind of hate-watching it, though PartPurple enjoys it more. It just seems really implausible. Every character seems to have some kind of sonar or something. It’s also super violent and has some really detestable characters. Jason Momoa stars and he gives it his all and kind of carries the whole show. I was happy to see Joe Flannigan and David Hewett are both in the cast; they were both Momoa’s co-stars on Star Gate Atlantis, which was, IMO, a much better show than this.

The English Game (Netflix) is a period piece about the beginnings of football in England. It was recommended by Bree TruLove or I’d never have found it. It was created by Julian Fellowes, who was also behind Downton Abby and The Gilded Age, so if you liked those you’ll probably like this. Good stuff.

Conversely The English (Amazon Prime) is a western starring Emily Blunt so I was pretty excited for it, but after I sat through 2 episodes I was done. It’s just one long trope. Skip it.

Reading

Aside from my annual re-reading of A Christmas Carol, no reading this month. 🙁

And so we charge headfirst into 2023. What new disaster awaits us this year? My Resolution this year is not to make any resolutions so I don’t have too much interesting to say about 2023…yet.

Finished Pentiment

Well I finally finished Pentiment, the recent game from Obsidian. If it is a game. I’m not sure. For the sake of simplicity we’ll call it a game.

Ahem. Pentiment is a 2D medieval adventure. Gameplay consists pretty much exclusively of walking around and talking to other characters. There’s no combat and no fail state that I ever encountered. There’re almost no puzzles. There’s very little in the way of exploration. Just walking, talking, once in a while examining.

There’s no voice acting, it’s all written. And when I say written I mean the act of writing out the dialog is animated, so you watch the letters appear accompanied by an appropriate sound effect (the nib of a pen scratching on parchment, most of the time.) Sometimes there are even typos that get corrected. This went from seeming pretty neat in the first hours, to being super annoying since it just kept the pace of the game so slow.

You can pet the dog, so you know it’s a good game

However, just the other day a patch dropped that includes a setting for the text to just appear instantly when you hit a button. That made the game SO much more enjoyable and in a way invalidates a lot of my issues. I had the most fun playing in the first couple hours while everything was fresh and new, and then after this patch hit when the pace of the game sped up significantly.

What really flustered me was that I couldn’t understand what impact the few choices I made had on the story or the world. There are points where you pick some kind of character trait, which gives you additional dialog options. But so what? Sometimes you’ll say something and a banner will pop up: “This Will Be Remembered”. OK, so what? And there were a handful of times when an interaction was tagged a Success or Failure. I failed all but one of these and… so what? There’s only one ending to the story from what I’ve read, so you’re always going to get to that same ending. I guess parts of the middle of the story can change based on your decisions. I didn’t like it enough to play it a second time to see for sure. The lack of feedback was disappointing to me. What did my choices impact? There’s no way to tell without a second play-through.

This is the glossary you can consult to learn more about unfamiliar names/places/events

I mean, it’s a really good story (it’s a murder mystery). The location & time period are interesting, the characters are interesting, I didn’t guess the solution of the mystery until pretty near the end. There’s a neat interactive glossary explaining who various historical figures and organizations were. The writing is good. I wanted to hear the story. I just felt like the actual gameplay was so shallow as to just be a hinderance. I never really felt like what I was doing mattered. The story was on rails and no matter what I did, I’d arrive at the same ending that everyone else did.

I don’t know how long it took me to get through. My save file said something like 238 hours so I think it was counting all the time the game was sitting in Xbox Quick Resume or something. Howlongtobeat says the main story is 14 hours but I think it was longer than that. A review I read said 20-25 which feels closer to the truth, at least for me. I think if it had been 8-10 hours I would’ve enjoyed it more and maybe replayed it to see the results of my decisions, but 20 hours is too long for me to play it again. At least not any time soon.

This is one of those critical darlings that’s getting amazing ratings, but for me it was just OK. I would’ve LOVED it as a novel or a Netflix series. I probably wouldn’t have finished it if I hadn’t snagged the Steam Deck. It was a good game to play in bed before going to sleep, because that made it feel a bit more like a novel, if that makes any sense. Sitting on the couch essentially reading a story off the TV screen 10 feet across the room just isn’t a super engaging experience for me.

But again, that 1.8 patch changed things a lot, and I think if I’d played the whole game after that patch hit, I’d have come away with a much more positive reaction. So given that, I’d say check it out if you like the aesthetic and the historical fiction angle.

Steam Deck and Xbox: BFFs 4 Eva!

Header image: My Xbox Series X mirrored on the Steam Deck via in-home streaming. Sorry for the poor image quality. It’s tricky getting a shot that doesn’t have a ton of glare/reflections.

I finally got a Steam Deck and so far I’m quite happy with it. But there are a million reviews of the thing so I’m not going to bother.

As an Xbox gamer one of the first things I wanted to do is get the Deck and Xbox talking to each other. There’re two ways to play Xbox games on the Deck. The first is just using xCloud, the Game Pass Ultimate streaming service. Microsoft themselves have a post up on how to do this:

Xbox Cloud Gaming in Microsoft Edge with Steam Deck

I followed those steps and everything worked fine, with the one caveat that after the initial setup I had to reboot the Steam Deck before the controller would work while playing games (which admittedly is a pretty huge caveat).

Unfortunately xCloud has never worked that well for me. I think I am just in some kind of Azure dead zone or something. Stadia (RIP), Nvidia, & Amazon Luna all work well. But xCloud I’m constantly getting pixelation and stutter.

Greenlight running on the Steam Deck, ready for some Xbox in-home streaming from the living room Xbox

But I do have an actual Xbox of course, and I can stream from that just fine. But the Microsoft solution listed above won’t help with that. Fortunately the open source community provides. I found a few guides to get this set up but in the end this is the one I followed. It’s a video, unfortunately. Well maybe not unfortunately, this is a case where it being a video kind of helps for certain steps.

To summarize the process, you need to install two bits of software on your Steam Deck

1) AppImageLauncher & specifically the -x86_64.AppImage version. I used version 2.2.0. You just download it and run it from the console with the “install” parameter.

2) Greenlight, and for me specifically I used 2.0.0-beta2. Download the .AppImage version, drop it in the Applications folder that AppImageLauncher created. Add it to Steam as a non-Steam game, and you’re basically done, though the video goes into details like recommended controller configurations and so forth.

Greenlight can be use both for home streaming and for xCloud so if you’re going this route you don’t need to follow the Microsoft instructions for xCloud streaming.

Greenlight ready to stream some xCloud games to the Steam Deck

Fair warning, when you first start Greenlight you’ll get an empty window for a few seconds and you might think something has gone wrong, but this just seems to be part of the boot up process.

The only real issue I have so far is that Greenlight doesn’t seem to be able to turn the Xbox on, even from ‘Stand By’ mode. If the Xbox isn’t on I get an error. This isn’t too big an issue for me but figured it is worth mentioning.

Ideally I’d love to see Microsoft come out with an officially supported way to do in-home streaming to the Steam Deck, though so far Greenlight seems to work fine.

There are certain games, like Pentiment, that I just enjoy more when playing on the handheld. Pentiment has a lot of written dialogue and it’s more comfortable to read the screen from a handheld than from across the room.

So far I’ve barely used the Steam Deck to play Steam games. I’m having too much fun playing my Xbox games on this thing!