January Gaming Goal recap

Well we’ve made it through 1/12th of 2017. Huzzah for us I guess.

This month I tried an experiment: setting up a list of gaming goals to aim for. I feel like I did pretty good:

1) Get the last achievement in Microsoft Solitaire.
Did that. 100% complete. I am a solitaire sensei. Or something.

2) Keep going with weekly Fairy Fencer F and No Man’s Sky sessions.
Yup, though I made little progress in either game, to be honest.

3) Finally finish the Diablo 3 campaign.
Did it, it sucked.

4) Play the heck out of the For Honor beta.
Meh, not really. That said, the reason I wanted to play it a lot was to be SURE I really wanted to buy it at launch. After playing a bit I was pretty sure I didn’t want to buy it at launch. I just don’t think there’s enough game here to justify a $60 price, and I’m disappointed that they don’t have dedicated servers and instead are relying on peer to peer sessions. Also I’m pretty focused on my backlog and saving money and I want to save my $$ for Horizon Zero Dawn at the end of February.

The point is, once I’d decided not to buy For Honor at launch, I didn’t feel compelled to force myself to play it a lot. Mind you the matches are fun but it doesn’t feel like a $60 game to me.

5) Play some Battlefield 1 matches
I played a few and remembered my biggest issue with the game. I like the open conquest mode because I like big teams so my mediocre abilities leave me lost in the middle of the leaderboard list. But they take so gosh-darned long. I played a few matches, both of which took 30 minutes or so and both times by the time the match was over I was late for doing something else.

I need to only play Battlefield 1 when I know I have a lot of time open, but when I have a lot of time open I usually want to sink into a good story-driven game so… I guess BF1 really isn’t for me. I do still need to play the campaign, though.

All in all, I’d give myself an A- or maybe a B+ on hitting my goals.

That said, I’m not sure gaming goals are for me. I played Diablo 3 because I said I would. I wasn’t enjoying myself but I pushed through because I’m stubborn. I wonder if I’d set it aside to play when I really wanted to, would I have enjoyed it more?

I think, in retrospect, I have enough things that I “have” to do in my life without adding more to my to-do list. It’d be different if I could just let them slide but once I announce a goal it kind of gnaws at me until I do it. Even if I don’t do it. I feel a little guilty that I didn’t play more BF1 and For Honor, for example.

So while it was a fun experiment, I think I’ll leave the goals to other bloggers. I do enjoy reading about them. Just not having them myself. ūüôā

Weekend recap: The End of Mordor and COD Modern Warfare

I’ve rarely been so appreciative of gaming as I was this weekend. With all the shit going down in the world, I spent about half my time reading the news and half my time hiding in a game. Games take me away from the stress and anxiety of the real world in a way neither TV, books or movies can. I just lose myself, and wow did I ever need to lose myself this weekend.

And I finished not one but TWO games. WHO AM I? The first was Call of Duty Modern Warfare Remastered, which I’ve been poking at here and there without really talking about it. But my PS4 Pro hard drive is full (!) and so I wanted to finish off COD so I could delete it for now. I don’t have a lot to say about this game. I didn’t hate it, didn’t love it, it was just there. I mean it’s a fine game, just not really in my wheelhouse. I like fantasy and sci-fi settings more than modern day ones. I will say the campaign didn’t pull any punches. Spent some time trying to decide if I wanted to do trophy hunting and I don’t think I like it enough for that.

The other game I finished was Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. I absolutely LOVED this game. I’ve put about 25 hours into it to get to the end of the story, and it was a really good story too. But I love the setting and the gameplay so much that I don’t feel at all done with it. The same statistic that told me I was about 25 hours in also says I’m only 50% through, so there’s tons of side quests, collectibles and other things to do and I’m not ready to leave Mordor quite yet. My intention is to keep it around to dabble in until I get bored with side-questing.

Great game. I really hope we get a sequel.

Now I have to decide what I want to attack next. Maybe Far Cry Primal. Maybe Titanfall 2. Maybe something else will grab me. I think I’m going to be spending a lot of time over the next 4 years trying to lose myself in games so I’m glad I have plenty to choose from!

The Last No Man’s Thursday for a while

One of my “gaming goals” for January was to keep up my weekly Fairy Fencer F and No Man’s Sky sessions. Thursday night was No Man’s Sky night and since last night was the last Thursday in January I’ve hit that goal.

But I think I’m now done for a while. I felt like the Foundation Update really injected some nice new gameplay into No Man’s Sky and it kept me entertained for a while but now I’m growing frustrated. There’s one particular material (Rigogen) that I’ve been searching for during my last 3 sessions and no luck. I know it’s an underwater plant. So step 1 is to find a planet with oceans. I feel like maybe one in 5 planets I discover has oceans. Then the ocean has to be deep, I think. I’ve only found 2 planets (since I started looking for Rigogen) with deep oceans. And of course there has to be plant life underwater, and both the deep oceans I’ve found have been devoid of plant life. Nor have I ever seen Rigogen on the galactic trade system.

Part of the problem, I’m sure, is that I’m only playing once a week so “3 sessions” is 3 weeks for me. Basically I’ve spent most of January looking for this stuff. ūüôā

I have a few other goals; I wanted to upgrade my warp engine and spiff up my ship. I have a list of materials I need to do that but I haven’t found any of them either. In fact I feel like my last few sessions have mostly been finding the same planet over and over. Different climate sure. But same materials. If you want Emeril or Iridium, I know of a dozen planets full of the stuff.

So time to push No Man’s Sky to the back burner again. I’ll revisit it either when the next big update comes out, or after enough time that the thrill of entering a planet’s atmosphere for the first time returns again. It’s all become too routine for me right now and is feeling more like a chore than fun. That’s a clear sign it’s time for a break.

Embracing the backlog

For many years I’ve been an “over-purchaser” of games. By that I mean I bought more games than I had time to play, and often pre-ordered them to boot. I’d pre-order a game months before launch and then when it finally launched I’d play it for a night and set it aside. Silly. I guess it was some kind of retail therapy for myself. Buying games was fun and I told myself I was supporting the developers (which was true but I’m not sure they all needed that money ahead of time).

Last fall we got the news that our health insurance was getting significantly more expensive, and that meant that our already stretched budget was going to get very tight indeed. I realized I was going to have to become MUCH more selective about buying games. I was really bummed.

I snagged quite a few games in Black Friday sales but haven’t bought anything since, as far as I can recall. And in the roughly two months since this budget crunch hit, I’ve kind of switched from seeing it as a burden to seeing it as a blessing.

I feel like I’m getting a lot more enjoyment out of games now that I see them as a kind of finite resource. When I was buying sometimes a few games a week, games were like a river. I scoop up some and have a taste but I was never going to consume them all so they seemed disposable and kind of devoid of value. There was always another coming so the game I was playing was only going to be on my radar for a few days.

Now I think of my games as a cornfield to be harvested. Still a big job, but if I stick with it eventually I might harvest all the goodness out of this field. (I guess today is metaphor day.) At the same time, each game has value because there’s not a constant flow of new titles coming in every week.

Because I don’t flit from game to game as frequently I feel like I get more from each one. What I get isn’t always good (see my bitching about Diablo 3’s story mode) but my understanding seems to always go deeper. I can articulate what I like and don’t like about each one and I feel like I have a more balanced view of every game I play. Even games I love have rough spots, and games I don’t like almost always have some nice bits tucked in there somewhere.

My backlog is enormous. I haven’t scratched the surface of my PS4 backlog yet, and then I have the Xbox One backlog which is nearly as big. And if somehow I get through that, there’s the PS2, PS3, PS Vita, Nintendo Wii and Nintendo 3DS backlogs. And then… Steam. Yes back in the day I was like so many others; when the big Steam sale hit I’d buy and buy and buy. I have 310 games in my Steam library. I’ve finished approximately 0 of them. Many of them I haven’t played at all.

This past weekend Sony was running a $5 Flash Sale. They had a bunch of games on sale for $5 (or less). I dutifully started looking over the list, figuring this is a great opportunity to score some deals. And there were a few games on the list I wanted to play someday. I even d/led a couple of demos. But then I thought about that backlog and the fact that if these games are on sale now, they’ll probably be on sale again in the future. No need to enlarge the backlog today. I didn’t buy anything.

I’m pretty proud of that. Instead of downloading 3 or 4 new games I’ve kept enjoying my current rotation of Shadow of Mordor, No Man’s Sky and Fairy Fencer F. I still want to go back to do some more Tomb Raider Trophies, then I have Watch Dogs 2, TitanFall 2, Final Fantasy XV, Battlefront 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare all vying for my attention.

Even More Mordor

This past weekend I spent a lot more time in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. The more I play this game, the more I like it. I want you to play it too, if you haven’t, so I’m not going to spoil anything major, but in general terms here’s what I learned this weekend.

The basic concept here is that you’re a ranger, Talion, who is guarding the Black Gate. This happens, best I can put together, between the events of The Hobbit and those of Lord of the Rings. Sauron has returned to Mordor but hasn’t really started his war on Middle Earth yet. Talion gets killed but rather than staying dead he merges with a wraith.

In gameplay terms, this gives him some magic-ish abilities and explains why he can respawn after he gets killed.

I thought I was going to spend the game in the map area that is revealed early in the game (which was fine…it’s a big area) and that it would basically be just me and my wraith pal (and this isn’t just a nameless wraith, you learn who he is as the game goes on, I just don’t want to spoil).

But no, there’s more. This weekend I moved on to a whole new area, probably the same size as the initial map. This is a big game! The new area is a little more green than the space you spend the first parts of the game in. I also have met some other characters who’re on the same side as Talion.

Again I’m deliberately being vague. But it’s a bigger game than I thought it was and the story is more interesting too, at least for a Middle Earth nerd.

As Talion gets more upgrades and skills I feel like the game is getting easier. I remember when facing a single warchief was really dicey, but yesterday I took on three at once and eventually won. My biggest fear at this point are warchiefs that use ranged attacks since they can whittle down my health before I can clear out their minions to go at them.

I’m also spending a lot more time mounted, which is fun too. That’s gotten a lot easier too.

But easy doesn’t mean boring. It’s the kind of game that makes you feel powerful and skilled. But in order to keep you modest, the story missions spike the difficulty a bit so you’ll need to earn those. I’m finding the difficulty level to be about perfect.

Just a great game so far. A big game though. I think I’m something like 35% done with the story after all this time.

When does Shadow of Mordor 2 come out? I’m excited to play it, if it exists!

And of course as usual, I took no screenshots ūüôĀ

Back to Mordor once again

After finishing Diablo 3 Story Mode so I could unlock Adventure Mode and do all the fun stuff that comes with it… I’d had enough of Diablo 3. I did poke my nose into the Diablo 1 rebuild and decided you can’t go home again. It’s cool that they did it but I can’t see spending a lot of time playing a deliberately janky (even if that’s authentic) game.

So after my nightly Let It Die run I fired up Shadow of Mordor. Took me a while to get the feel of the controls back and I’m still a little rusty, but after a while I was back to killing warchiefs.

I’ve talked before about the weird difficulty system in SoM. When you die (so when you fail) orc warchiefs grow in power (so the game gets harder). Well now I’m finding the converse is true to some extent. When you kill warchiefs they get replaced, often by lower level orcs. I was taking out random warchiefs pretty easily, though the “story mission” elite guys still gave me some issues.

I’m so glad I re-discovered this game a while back. I’ve gotten much farther than I ever have before and I’m really enjoying it. I’m playing on the PS4 Pro in the “4K” mode (which has a dynamic resolution that varies between 1728p to 2160p dynamic) and the game looks gorgeous in a dark, dismal kind of way.

(These images were shared via Twitter so have been down scaled because I forgot to copy them off the PS4.)

I can’t believe I bought the Game of the Year edition for $10. I’d almost feel guilty about it if I hadn’t already bought the GotY Edition for Xbox One (also for $10) and the standard edition at full price when it came out!

Vexed by Vagrant

We (the company I work for) have a suite of sites that have been having performance issues. We’ve done a few optimization passes and they’ve helped, but not enough and we were seeing diminishing returns. Finally I got approval to beef up hosting for them. I was over-joyed because for once here was a solution to the problem that wasn’t going to be a big headache.

Boy was I wrong. I didn’t factor in that the newer hosting plan was running more recent versions of Ubuntu, PHP and MySQL. The ISP moved the sites for us…and they blew up. *sigh* Fortunately they were able to roll things back, but now it’s up to me to figure out how to get these sites running on newer software.

I didn’t want to update my dev server and potentially blow up a bunch of other sites, so I turned to Vagrant. I’ve been looking for a good reason to use it and this seemed like the ideal situation. I know the cool kids all use Docker now but I still haven’t really wrapped my head around Docker yet. Vagrant feels reasonably intuitive to me.

Soon enough I was off to a good start. I pulled down the ‘official’ (Canonical-supplied) Ubuntu 16 Vagrantbox, installed Apache, PHP and MySQL. Everything was looking good; it was serving pages through a forwarded port. The next step was to create a custom box from the server as it was running. The idea is that you create this Vagrant box with all the software configured the way you want it, then you can spin up identical virtual machines really easily. You can give a less tech-savvy co-worker (yes, they do exist even though I’m a NOOB) a copy of the box and with a minimum of instruction they can spin up an identical setup.

So I did that…and something went wrong. When I spun up a Vagrant VM from my box, I couldn’t SSH to it. Seemed to be an issue with the SSH keys or something. It wasn’t a complete train wreck…Apache was still serving pages via a directory shared between Windows and the VM, so I could have forged ahead but I knew that sooner or later I was going to want to SSH into the virtual machine for something.

Off to Google to find out what I’d done wrong. And oy, did I find a lot of info. I wasn’t the first one to have this issue, but some of the bug report threads started in 2014 and ran up to last week. I found a dozen or more fixes, none of which seemed to work for everyone. Most of the fixes involved SSHing into the VM using a username and password, which, I read time and time again, is vagrant/vagrant (obviously these aren’t production boxes). But try as I might I couldn’t log in with username and password. I could connect to the port so I knew SSH was running but I couldn’t authenticate.

I went further and further down the rabbit hole, eventually uninstalling Vagrant and VirtualBox and starting from scratch, all to no avail.

About 5 hours into this process, I found a new post about it. Apparently the official Ubuntu 16 boxes don’t use vagrant/vagrant as the username and password, even though they are ‘supposed’ to according to Vagrant’s guidelines. Instead they use ubuntu as a username and no one seems to know what the password is.

To say I was frustrated to learn this would be quite an understatement. The fix for the bug is apparently to use the v0rtex/xenial box which is set up with a vagrant/vagrant account. You can read more about the bug here.

So now I’m back to square one and tomorrow I’ll install a LAMP stack on the vortex/xenial box, then try packaging it again. Still think I’m doing something wrong with my packaging, unfortunately. Today was wasted by a bug that was preventing me from fixing a different problem, more or less. That’s going to look great on my weekly productivity report. /sigh

Maybe I should’ve tried Docker after all…

[Update: SOLVED (I hope)]

OK I finally got a working box, here’s what I did, based on the info in this thread.

You start in your existing VM — the one you’re going to build from.

config.ssh.insert_key = false
to the Vagrant file

vagrant up
to start the machine.

vagrant ssh
to SSH in.

Run these commands:

wget https://raw.githubusercontent.com/mitchellh/vagrant/master/keys/vagrant.pub -O .ssh/authorized_keys
chmod 700 .ssh
chmod 600 .ssh/authorized_keys
chown -R vagrant:vagrant .ssh

Exit your SSH session.

Now create your new box. I followed these instructions

For me the command was

vagrant package --base arcus_default_1484688088638_34762 --output ../arcusv2.box

where “arcus_default_1484688088638_34762” is the name of the VM I wanted to base the box off of..you get this from VirtualBox. And I was naming my new box arcusv2.box and putting it one level up in my directory tree.

Then create a new directory, move into it.

Do something like this to add the new box
vagrant box add arcusv2 ../arcusv2.box

vagrant init
to create the initial vagrantfile. Add
config.vm.box = "arcusv2"
config.ssh.insert_key = false

(obviously substitute whatever you named your new box for ‘arcusv2’)

And finally

vagrant up

And if you’re lucky like I was, the box will start up without authentication errors.

Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan has died.

I’m old enough to remember the first moon landing. What a time that was. Every kid wanted to be an astronaut. We drank Tang and ate Space Sticks and anything that was freeze dried. We built plastic models of the lunar module. It was the start of a bold new world of human exploration of space.

And then it all stopped.

Now there are just a handful of humans who’ve set foot on a chunk of rock other than earth. On Monday we lost one of those few, Gene Cernan. Here’s NASA’s profile of him. Rest In Peace.

There are now six people who’ve walked on two worlds:

Buzz Aldrin
Alan Bean
David Scott
John Young
Charles Duke
Harrison Schmitt

A sad day.

Diablo 3 story mode is an awful single player game

One of my gaming goals for this month is to finish the story mode of Diablo 3. I’m trying but my god is it a terrible game.

Now before my Diablo 3 loving readers come gunning for me, I’m talking specifically about the story mode that you have to clear before you can start doing Adventure Mode and Rifts and Seasons and stuff. In other words, all the stuff my friends love about the game is locked behind the requirement to finish story mode. I also am talking about playing single player mode today, long after launch. It may have been different when you played through it.

The issue here is mostly about balance. I guess this happened when they pulled the Auction House stuff out of the game and re-did the loot tables? In my game, played on Hard (and I realize in retrospect I should’ve turned up the difficulty) there has been virtually no challenge in the game because there’s so much good loot.

I haven’t made an effort to grind or anything (though I am something of a completionist) and when I got to the fight against Diablo in Act IV, just as an example, I literally just sat there with my thumb on the X button, talking to Angela while my character whittled down Diablo. The only ‘challenge’ was I had to keep in range of him. My gear gives me so much health regen that Diablo couldn’t hurt me.

When I first started playing my policy was to sell regular gear, salvage blue gear and stash yellow gear. Then I switched to selling regular and blue and salvaging yellow and stashing Legendary. By the time I got to Act V I’d stopped picking up anything that isn’t Legendary. My blacksmith has a ton of materials and I’ve never really had to use him. I have more gold than I know what to do with. Meanwhile sometimes a quest will give you a reward. The rewards are blue level items…that’s what was intended to be good loot at this stage, back at launch (I’m assuming). I’m so over-powered compared to these quest rewards.

Then there’re the NPCs. You get blacksmith, enchanter and jeweler well before you “meet” them in the story. I was totally confused when I met the enchanter in Act V after I’d been chatting with her since at least Act 3 in town.

The problem is that Diablo 3 combat is so simple that when it’s easy it becomes really tedious. Sometimes the screen will fill with a ton of enemies and it’ll be amusing just to watch stuff die, but running down hallways killing 3-5 enemies at a time is started to feel like work. I finally got to where I just run past things until I get a huge crowd then stop to kill everything.

I spent most of my gaming time this past weekend trying to finish Story Mode. I thought there were only IV acts and I was SO happy to kill Diablo. When Act V started, I almost sobbed. Even Angela was disappointed and she isn’t playing!!! Hopefully Act V is the end of it.

Now for all this griping, I do have hope. First of all, I’ve had fights in Act V that were an actual challenge. Times where I had to think and avoid attacks and even back off to heal. MUCH more fun than Acts I-IV were. And once I had character level 60 the loot seemed to kind of reboot. Now I’m getting gear as low quality as Blue stuff that is better than some of the legendary items I’m using. And I discovered there’s Green loot too. Who knew?

I really hope Adventure Mode is as fun as everyone says it is (and as fun as Act V is suggesting it might be) because Diablo 3 story mode is one of the worst games I’ve played in quite a long time. Mindless, tedious, boring… I can’t wait for it to be over. I see Trophies about completing Bounties. What’s a bounty? Maybe I’ll find out soon.