VR: I’m running out of time

My first VR experience was Dactyl Nightmare, somewhere around 1991. I went into an arcade and a technician was just setting the machine up. Since he was still tweaking things he let me play around in it for longer than my $5 or $10 was supposed to get me. I was astounded. I was swept away. It was like the best acid trip ever. I wanted more.

Over the years I’ve dabbled. At one point I cobbled together a home VR system using a Mattel Power Glove and Sega 3D glasses from… the Saturn maybe? I played handball in my bedroom. It was pretty neat but also pretty damned low-res/laggy. I think I was running this on a 386sx PC, if that dates it for you. Y’know that might have even been before Dactyl Nightmare.

Since those days I’ve mostly been waiting for VR to arrive. Last year I took the plunge and got a Playstation VR system and that has been pretty fun, but let’s face it, it’s a bit limited in terms of resolution, given the power of the PS4 driving it. Plus it’s a bit of a chore to set up since the PS4 is in the living room. There are cables that get in the way, and the camera needs to be just so which means perching it on a stool in the middle of the room. I enjoy it and don’t regret the purchase but honestly I don’t use it as much as I would like just because there is so much ‘prep’ that has to happen before I turn it on, and because of how intrusive it is (for Angela and the doggo) to have cables strung across the room.

Lately I’ve been looking to upgrade. Right now there seem to be three ‘active’ options: Oculus Rift, the HP Vive and Valve’s Index. Both the Vive and Index require setting up sensors around the room; this makes them less than ideal for our current living space. That leaves the Rift S or the wireless Rift Quest. The former would connect to my PC tucked away in a corner of the kitchen, out of everyone’s way. The latter is wireless and seems to be pretty much “pick up and play.”

Problem is, both these systems still have limitations and flaws. I keep thinking “I should wait for the next iteration.” The tech will improve and/or get cheaper, support will become more prevalent. If anyone were to ask me, I’d say keep on waiting for VR to ‘arrive.’

Problem for me is, I’m old. I recently had my eyes checked and the doc wants to bump up my prescription (which happens every year). Recently had my ears checked and confirmed that my hearing is going. It’s age-related so there’s nothing to be done to fix it. My body seems to get stiffer every day. My hands hurt if I manipulate things for too long. Getting old sucks, make no mistake.

So I’m wondering how much time I realistically have to enjoy VR since it is kind of an ‘activity.’ Can I afford to wait another 5 or 10 years for the next jump in VR technology? How much blinder and deafer will I be by then? How much worse will my arthritis be? Plus I don’t want to end up on a “funny” YouTube video titled “Elders Try VR.” I mean, I’m already as old as a lot of those “elders” are. /fistshake

I’ve been having these internal discussions with myself more and more as the fact that life is most definitely finite gets in my face again and again. Yeah its depressing but hey, this is my life. If I have things I want to experience, it’s time to set about experiencing them. But…what if VR tech leaps ahead two years from now? I won’t be much worse in two years than I am now. I can wait for that, right?

Hmmm. If anyone finds the fountain of youth, give me a call. OK?

Viral Questionnaire responses

So that rascal Belghast pinged me on a viral questionnaire that is making the rounds. His purpose seemed to be to poke me to see if my blog software still works, given how long it has been since I posted. It does!

The idea is that I answer 7 questions he sent, then I’m supposed to come up with 7 new questions and send them to 7 other bloggers. I’m not sure I know seven other bloggers that haven’t already been tagged, though, so I’m going to be a spoil-sport and just answer Bel’s questions. Also see question 2. Anyway, here goes nothing:

  • What is your earliest memory?

I grew up in a fishing community. We ate a lot of shellfish and used the shells to “pave” the driveway. The adults would just toss the shells out there and drive over them and it was like poor-man’s gravel, I guess. Anyway, I was maybe 3 years old, walking across this (I guess I had tough feet back then) and I stepped on a shell that had a yellow jacket in it and got stung. All I remember is that I got stung, cried a bunch and got carried inside. My next memory is from years later so this must’ve had quite an impact.

  • What is something that you have lost in your past that you would love to have today?

This one hurts to admit, but it’s my imagination. I used to have a really vivid imagination but it has faded with time. In some ways I blame video games for that. A lot of my ‘imagination time’ was spent on making up some kind of story behind the games and activities I enjoyed. (I was effectively an only child — my brother left home when I was six — and there were no other kids in my neighborhood so I spent a lot of time playing alone.) Then video/computer games came along and they gave me both the activity and the story behind it. Or maybe it is just part of getting older? Anyway when I fire up Minecraft or The Sims (something that lets me create) I just tend to stare vacantly, devoid of ideas. And I could no longer write fiction if my life depended on it. I just don’t get the ideas like I used to.

Answering the same question from a completely different point of view, I’d say the ocean. As I said, I grew up in a fishing community but it was also in the Hamptons and we were in the ocean constantly during warm weather. I really miss that and would love to have it back.

  • What is the last piece of media (book/movie/video/whatever) that really moved you emotionally?

SPOILERS: Has to be Avengers: Endgame, for a couple of reasons (and I should point out that I just watched it last weekend for the first time). I’ve never been a HUGE comic book fan but when I was a kid I’d get Marvel comics mostly for Stan’s Soapbox. Stan Lee was the first adult that felt like he was talking to me, not talking down to me. My father died when I was young, my mom eventually re-married someone I never respected. In a weird way Stan Lee was my prevalent father-figure. When he died I was crushed, and somehow seeing some of the long-time Avengers being phased out kind of reinforced that feeling. So the movie both reminded me that Stan is gone, and removed from the playfield characters I’ve “known” since I was a boy.

  • What was your favorite childhood “character” (comic/movie/literary/etc) and has that changed over the years?

This one is tough. I guess I’d have to say James T Kirk. He was, at the least, the character that I watched over and over again. I mean look, he traveled through the stars, won every fight, got every woman he chased, but he wasn’t just a warrior; he was a diplomat, too. And having Spock as a friend, who I was also drawn to because he was so damned smart, just made him even better.

I dunno that I have a favorite these days. I am now more drawn to worlds and ensembles of characters than to individuals. I love Tolkien’s world, but I can’t point at a single character and say “THAT is my favorite.” I enjoy TV shows, even bad ones, that have a crew of characters who get along, watch each others backs, and have fun together. I think that might be a reflection of being such an introvert. I don’t have friends of my own so I enjoy watching other groups of friends.

  • What are you looking forward to the most in the second half of 2019?

Hmm, I can’t think of a damned thing. Getting closer to the election that has some small chance of turning this ship around. Gaming-wise, nothing has me really fired up. I’m looking forward to new consoles, but that’s next year. I guess I’m really curious about how well Stadia will work.

  • What is your greatest fear and has it changed as you have aged?

Jeez Bel, you don’t pull any punches, eh? My greatest fear is being helpless. Always has been. Like being broke and unable to provide for myself. Or having a lingering illness where I need people to look after me. Really I hate having to ask for help or HAVING to rely on others. (Which is slightly different from having people offering to help me with something just because they actually WANT to help.)

What keeps you engaged in a community over time and where do you feel the most at home?

I’ve yet to find a community that I can stay engaged in, so for the first part of that question, I just don’t know. I feel most at home sitting on the couch alone (well aside from my doggo) playing a single player game. Thankfully Angela gets this and is willing to give me that “alone time” on a pretty regular basis. I’ve tried, over and over, to get involved in online communities, but really most people irritate me unless I keep them at arm’s length, so thus far I’ve always failed to make the online community thing work.

So that’s my questions answered! Hopefully I’ve been a semi-good sport. I just don’t know 7 other people to tag even if I HAD 7 new questions, which I don’t. Every chain has a last link, I guess!

A new identity

TL;DR version: I changed my identity to Nimgimli on a bunch of services so if we’re friends and you see that pop-up, it’s just me. Now here’s the LOOONG version:

Finding a ‘handle’ to use online can be tough. You wouldn’t think I’d be struggling with this given I’ve been online for something like 40 years at this point, but here I am.

Way way back on GEnie and Compuserve I had 2 handles: CaptCook and JadedGamer. The first was because at the time I was a cook and I admired the historical figure Capt. James Cook. The second was because I fancied myself a game critic and thought it made me sound edgy and authentic (hey, I was young).

Of the two, JadedGamer stuck. When the Internet started taking off as a mainstream thing I had a site called The Jaded Gamers Pub which I ran for years under the name Jaded and for a long while that was how I was known. When Xbox Live came online 16 or 17 years ago I grabbed that gamertag for continuity.

By the time the Playstation Network came online, this blog existed. I tried to get Jaded as my PSN name but it was taken, so I used Dragonchasers instead. The Dragonchasers name is intended to reflect both the literal in terms of the kinds of games I most played (fantasy RPGs where often a dragon was an ultimate baddie) and an homage to one of my favorite movies, Knightriders

Knightriders was about a group of people trying to re-live/re-invent Camelot in modern times. They were a traveling band that put on a jousting show, only instead of horses they rode motorcycles. It starred a young Ed Harris as Billy, their would-be Arthur and the person who most believed in the dream. In the movie at one point an exasperated Billy describes his quest as “chasing the dragon” which I adopted as an expression that meant searching for a nearly insurmountable challenge or dream and trying to attain it. [Of course these days Chasing the Dragon is a heroin term.]

Years went by and my “Jaded” tag on Xbox Live started to chafe. The gaming community changed and EVERYONE was jaded/cynical and I stopped seeing being jaded as a positive thing. At the same time I was constantly being hassled by people who wanted to buy the gamertag from me. One day I got a very polite request from someone and decided “Ah screw it, I’ll just give it up.” I switched it to “Traellan” which is the name of a character I had in Dark Age Of Camelot.

There’s no special meaning behind Traellan other than I liked the sound of it and it is easy to shorten to “Trae.” I got it wherever I could and tried to homogenize around it, with mixed results. Yesterday Sony finally started letting us change our PSN names so I charged off to get “Traellan” there too, but it was taken. Damn it!

So in a fit of pique I decided to change everything again. Now I’ve gone with Nimgimli which is, in my mind, based on a goblin character from an old fighting game. I had to turn to my old pal Irata to remember the name of it. The game was called Iron & Blood: Warriors of Ravenloft and the character I remember as Nimgimli was actually “Nym Pymplee the mad goblin” which is a less appealing name. But if you watch this clip, to me it still sounds like Nimgimli:

The good news was “Nimgimli” was available pretty much everywhere. I now have it on Steam, Xbox Live, Playstation Network, Twitter, Twitch, and Origin. So far. I like it because it’s a little silly, easy to shorten to Nim, and isn’t loaded with any kind of meaning. It’s just a name. So if you see a mad goblin show up in your game or timeline, it’s probably me.

So all this talking about me has me curious about you. Where’d your handle come from? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Anthem VIP Demo

In Fort Tarsis Anthem is single player 1st person

You’re probably going to be reading a lot of blog posts and seeing a lot of YouTube videos about technical issues with the Anthem Demo. That’s not what this post is. I generally had a good experience (a few glitches here and there) and I was playing the demo more to get a feel of what the gameplay loop would feel like. I’m also going to assume you know what Anthem is since it’s hard to avoid seeing articles about it these days.

All I’ll say about the technical stuff is, Bioware seems to be owning it and is communicating about it while fixing things. I’m glad these issues are being uncovered now instead of at launch.

Personally, I’m having a blast with the demo and I can’t wait to get my hands on the full game. I’m not sure how ‘hardcore’ Anthem is going to be but I’m not hardcore. A casual-friendly game where I can fly around in an exo-suit and explore and harvest and fight is just fine with me. In fact it is ideal.

The Bioward Codex returns only this time it’s called the Cortex

I’ve been jumping between Xbox One X and PC, and on PC between mouse and keyboard and controller. For me, controller is the way to play. Flying with the controller feels intuitive and fun while I keep flying into walls using the keyboard. Probably just takes practice. If you play I would urge you to wear headphones because the soundscape in this game is amazing. The “whomf!’ of your suit’s jets when you dash really adds to the experience and headphones convey it best.

So far I think my favorite way to play is on PC with controller but streamed to the Shield and the 60″ TV, though that only works for solo/PUG stuff since I don’t have a voice channel playing like that.

There are a few interesting design decisions that Bioware made that I wanted to highlight. First, while you’re out in the world, you don’t see the experience you’ve acquired and when you get loot all you can see is what rarity it is. It is only when you get back to base that you’ll find out what you’ve earned in that mission. Bioware made this decision to help with the pacing of MP; basically they wanted to help the ‘flow’ of the mission by removing a reason for players to stop and rummage through their inventory every time they got a drop. I’m fine with this decision but have seen some folks who are frustrated by it.

Sweet, sweet loot

The second decision I’m less sure about. You don’t get experience from randomly killing stuff. You get experience from accomplishing goals and earning Feats. Feats can and often are connected to combat — stuff like “Shoot 20 enemies in their Weak Spot” — but you can only earn a Feat once per “Expedition” (which is a catch-all phrase for any thing that takes you out into the world).

I’m unsure about this system because Bioware has built this huge world that is positively crawling with dangerous enemies, but there’s no real reason to fight them (remember, you can fly away from anything). The ‘smart’ way to play is to just fly past everything to your objective and fight only what you need to fight. There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s just not my personal ideal way to play a game. I love roaming around ‘grinding’ experience by fighting random things. So we’ll see.

I know Bioware is most known for its single player game and the company has said that Anthem can be completed solo. I did try this out. It’s a little weird because you have to set your session to Private in order to solo a mission, but when you do the game scolds you, telling you Anthem is best played Multiplayer. After you insist that yes, you really DO want to play Solo you can. I personally found Normal difficulty tough but do-able Solo (the Demo is fairly early in the game, I should point out, you start at level 10) and am happy to report Easy difficulty is, well, Easy to solo.

Anyway I’ve been looking forward to Anthem for a long time and I’m happy to say the demo just has me even more excited. I feel like this is going to be one those games that I play a bunch at launch, then return to whenever a big content update drops. That’s kind of my pattern with Destiny and The Division and I feel like Anthem is going to go into the same ‘bucket’ as those games. Can’t wait for launch!

Doing an about-face on social media

For the last few months I’ve been really down on social media. I found that too often spending time on the various services wound up depressing me rather than being a positive experience, so I vowed to give it up. I checked-out of Discords (where I’d been most active), stopped logging in to Facebook, vowed to never read comments on articles and avoided Reddit. Twitter was the only network I stayed active on and I tried to do my best to pull away from that.

At first I felt great. I had a lot more free time and felt a lot less stressed. I became an anti social-media zealot, telling anyone who would listen that it was toxic.

Except there was one catch. Without social media, there really was no one who would, or could, listen. As time went by I started to feel cut off and kind of lonely.

See, I’m more or less a recluse, by circumstance rather than design. I work from home, 100%. I don’t make friends easily and since moving to North Carolina really haven’t made any. I have Angela of course and she is terrific but other than her I can go days without talking to another human being (depending on how many work meetings are happening at the time). Since I work and she doesn’t, her job is to do the shopping and run errands so I never really have reason to go anywhere. I walk the dog, of course, but in the winter it’s generally dark and we don’t run into other dogs and their people as much as we do in spring/summer/fall.

Anyway, point is without any social media I was feeling really isolated. So I’m re-thinking my plan.

In 2018, I tried, with modest success, not to engage in topics that frustrate/annoy/sadden me. And by “engage” I mean that literally. I wrote plenty of irate responses but never hit “send” on them. I wasn’t 100% successful with this but I feel like I did OK about it.

In 2019 my goal is to try to find a way to just let these topics slide past me without them bothering me. Because I was bothered in 2018, I just didn’t get into arguments about things. I still felt down about them, which is where my ‘toxic social media’ feelings were coming from. I’m just not quite sure how to accomplish this “let things slide” idea.

In the past week or two I’ve tried to be more chatty on Twitter and tried to engage people on topics that I take delight in. Suddenly Twitter is becoming a source of pleasure again. Maybe it’s just a matter of having more good stuff than annoying stuff in my timeline?

I mean, I don’t want to seem like I’m sticking my head in the sand here, but the things that used to get me riled up were often really trivial. I’m cautious about giving an example because I don’t want to start a debate since that kind of defeats the purpose, but here is one that I don’t think I saw any of my friends said.

There was a thought circulating before the holiday that said something like “If you’re depressed and alone this year, don’t worry, things WILL get better.” So that seems like a positive message to a lot of people I guess. To me it just seems dismissive. You (random person who sent this) can’t know what the situation of the person reading your message is. Maybe they’re losing a battle with cancer. Maybe they’re older and have been watching friends and relatives die off. At some point in life, things will probably NOT get better. Mostly I think my problem with this ties into ageism (an issue I’m getting more and more passionate about). Young people think everyone has all the time in the world and it isn’t so.

Anyway, not to go into a long rant about that. My point was, I didn’t engage in any of these discussions because I KNOW that the people saying this were trying to be kind and positive, so what benefit could come from me going after them? But it did get to me. In 2019 I need to learn to just let stuff like this wash over me and not get me riled.

If I can do that, I think I can use social media as a way to feel more connected to other people. I still need to find “my tribe” but that’s a topic for another post.

Xbox One X and my weird graphics fetish #FirstWorldProblems

I’m in a tough spot. You see Assassin’s Creed Origins launched today. I pre-ordered it on the Xbox platform to get the pre-order goodies (I love the Assassin’s Creed games, aside from AC 1 — yes I know its cool to hate the series but I’m too old to be cool), but the reason I chose Xbox over PlayStation was because I wanted to use it as a test platform for the Xbox One X. How much better will games look on the XBX than on the PS4Pro? I need to know.

Problem is, XBX doesn’t come out until a week from Tuesday. Now I have to either not play my new game, or play it on a less than optimal system. Decisions, decisions.

Look, I’m not a hipster millennial. (Is that a thing or do you have to be one or the other?) I LOVE great graphics. I remember when EGA was a big deal and no, I don’t want to go back to those times and play pixel-art indies. Fie on that. I say again, FIE! Give me gorgeous high resolution graphics AND gameplay I love. It’s not too much to ask, at least not until single player games die.

And yes, let’s nip the inevitable discussion in the bud: I realize PCs offer the very best graphics available. For reasons that could occupy a whole other blog post, I am no longer interested in gaming on the PC. Please just accept and understand that everyone is different and for ME personally, PC gaming is off the table.

Meanwhile, I have Middle Earth: Shadow of War on the PS4 Pro. Love the game. But then someone did a comparison of it on the XBX and the PS4 Pro and it looks better on the XBX. This was from a demo at a show so it’s hard to say if it plays better, but it clearly looks better thanks, presumably, to the addition video ram in the XBX (as compared to PS4Pro). You get higher detail textures on the XBX; the Digital Foundry guys suspected they were loading in 4K textures created for the PC that the PS4Pro didn’t have the memory to handle.

So now I find myself not wanting to play Shadow of War on the PS4Pro anymore. I keep thinking I should rebuy on XBX…but I want to play it now. Plus I had a Nemesis to import on the PS4 since I completed Shadow of Morder on that platform (got the Platinum for it, in fact).

So now I find myself replaying Shadow of Morder: Game of the Year edition on the Xbox One so that I can have a nemesis to import into the Xbox version of Shadow of War IF I decide to re-purchase.

Because 4K! And HDR! And better textures! Also, for AC Origins, Dolby Atmos, but I need to buy the $15 headphone app for that since I don’t have Atmos audio in the room.

I mean, let’s be clear. These are nice problems to have. Too many great games that look too good. Am I right? I just really want to get the XBX in my hands to make sure I like it. Mostly I worry about how loud it is, and if the UI is finally snappy. Though already the most recent update to the Xbox UI seems faster than the old one.

Eh…. maybe I should play the Switch until November 7th. Ha! That’s a joke. I was being silly. I don’t play the Switch. The Switch collects dust.

Learning Japanese (sort of)

They (I don’t actually know who ‘they’ are) always say that learning a second language is supposed to be a good brain training exercise and a few times over the years I’ve made a half-hearted attempt to learn Japanese. Mostly it was because I wanted to play imported games and/or watch anime in the original language, but I never got very far. Japanese is HARD (for me at least). First of all they have 3 (maybe more?) written languages: hiragana, katakana (??) and kanji. So before you learn what the words mean, you need to learn the ‘alphabets’ so to speak.

Disclaimer: I am not a linguist so it’s almost 100% certain I will get some/all terms wrong in this post.

About a month ago Duolingo added Japanese to its Android app and kind of on a lark I downloaded it and started ‘learning Japanese’ and I put that in quotes because a month later I know some of the hiragana and if a Japanese teacher said to me — very slowly and with perfect enunciation — “Nice to meet you” I would probably understand. Or maybe I’d just think “I know that phrase but can’t recall what it means.” More likely the latter.

Still though, I’m actually enjoying the process. My latest project is figuring out the Japanese eShop on the Switch. Next week there’s a demo of Monster Hunter XX hitting the Japanese eShop so I set up a Japanese Nintendo account so I’ll be able to download it. Of course the store is mostly in Japanese. I’m sure I could stumble through it but just for grins I decided to try to translate some of the words.

The first word on the left menu was “NEW” and I translated that one pretty easily.

The next word was ランキング

I knew I’d learned some of these characters but couldn’t bring them to the front of my brain so I went looking at hiragana charts and couldn’t find any of them. Y’know why? Those are katakana symbols. In fact that was when I learned that katakana was different from hiragana. So once I knew that, it was pretty easy since katakana is used for ‘borrowed’ words from other languages. The characters in order are pronounced RA N KI N GU. It means exactly what it sounds like: ranking. So basically this is a listing of games my ranking, or most popular. (What helps a lot is I know pretty much what to expect because this is an e-shop for games.) I was pretty proud of that.

The next one was harder: もうすぐ発売

So the first thing is, I’m copying and pasting these characters from other websites. Different websites in this case which is why they’re kind of mis-matched. The characters on the Switch aren’t exactly the same. I guess fonts are a thing no matter the alphabet you’re using. So this one is a combination of hiragana and kanji. The hiragana part was pretty easy for me. Translated into romanji (Japanese sounds spelled out in the Roman alphabet) it says mo u su gu. Then I put mousugu into a romanji to english translator and I get “soon.” Given that this is the eShop it’s pretty obvious this is the “Coming Soon” list already but I want to do the full translation.

Looking up the kanji characters is HARD. I mean it isn’t hard if you look them up from this blog post because you can cut and paste them, but I was looking at them on the Switch, which may as well have been a piece of paper. I found Jisho.org which is super cool. It lets you look up kanji characters by ‘radicals’ which are the parts of a kanji character.

So for the first character, I first selected the “legs” from the bottom half, then the crossbars. That narrowed the selection of potential kanji characters down enough that I could find the one I wanted. Here’s a pic (click it to make it big enough to see):

You can see that those two ‘radicals’ were enough to help me find the character, labeled #3 above.

But here was a curious thing. Once I found it I looked it up and translation was “departure; departing (from …); departing (at time …)​” [Definitions are coming from Jisho too.]

Was I wrong about this being a Coming Soon section? Was it a “Leaving Soon” section? I pushed on!

I used Jisho again for the last character and it means “to sell” which made sense in the context.

But here is where it all got trippy. So literally this string is saying Soon Departing Sell. But why would Nintendo be removing games from their store, that doesn’t make too much sense so early in the Switch’s life. So I dug a little further, and it turns out those two kanji characters together have a different meaning. 発売 = “sale; offering for sale; release (for sale); launch (product)​” If you think about “departing” and “releasing” you can kind of wrap your head around how these could be so similar. If you release something it departs from you, right?

Anyway so now we have confirmed what I initially suspected, that this says “Coming Soon” or I guess more technically “Releasing Soon.”

What I don’t know, though, is how I would have figured this out without the context of this being the Switch e-shop. If I’d just read it on a wall somewhere I would have translated it as something like “Won’t be on sale for much longer” which is pretty much the opposite of what it says.

I just find this all super fascinating. Will I ~ever~ be able to read/understand Japanese (I don’t even dream of being able to actually speak it)? Probably not. But just translating words is turning out to be one of the most interesting ‘puzzles’ I’ve encountered lately.

2017 Gaming Resolutions

I’m not generally one for New Year’s Resolutions but this year circumstances are kind of guiding my hand. 2017 is going to suck for us. First our lease is up in July and we’re going to have to move since they want to renovate the apartment. They’ve been going through the entire complex doing this, dislodging some residents who’ve lived here for decades, so while I’m not taking it personally, it’s a major inconvenience. I’m old enough that moving means hiring someone. My days of humping heavy furniture up and down stairs are behind me, and Angela is in even worse shape for that kind of thing. So moving is going to be both a headache and a big expense. In fact we’re going to start packing up some stuff as soon as the Christmas decorations come down just in case we find a new place before July and have to move in a hurry.

Money is going to be tight this year because of that, and because our health insurance is going through the roof. Between the two of us we’re paying about $800/month on health insurance now. Mine is through work and went up about $40/month this year, Angela’s is through the ironically titled Affordable Care Act, and it jumped $125 or so from 2016 to 2017. So now we need to cut $165/month from other areas. We’re going to cancel cable and that will cover about $75/month of it, but the rest will have to come from cutting down on fun stuff, including games. Of course the big wildcard in all this is: how much will our new rent be? We’re looking at moving to a town outside the Raleigh area to see if we can save that way, but we can’t go so far out that we don’t get decent Internet since I need that for my work. It seems like rents go up just outside the city and then start going down as you move further out into more rural areas.

So enough depressing myself, here’re my fairly un-specific gaming resolutions for 2017:

Play games longer — I’ve already started doing this. For years I’ve been a real ‘grazer’ when it comes to games. I buy a ton of them and play most of them for a short time, basically until the novelty wore off or until some new shiny caught my eye. I very rarely finished games. I’ve been changing that habit in 2016 though. I’m not only finishing more games but in some cases continuing to play past the end of the narrative. I’ve found that many games seem to have 3 stages: The shiny new game phase where you’re learning the major systems and everything is fun. Then the ‘mid-game’ phase that can feel a little rote (and that’s where I previously would bail). Then finally the “Expert” phase where you’ve played enough that you start picking up on subtleties that you missed earlier, or maybe enjoying aspects that you’d kind of overlooked… I’m finding it hard to quantify this, but I know that I’m finding my interest in games seems to start high, then fall, then ramps back up the more I play.

Buy fewer games at launch — I need to resist the hype surrounding new games and buy far fewer at launch. Not only will this save me money since prices drop so quickly, but these days many games improve in the months after launch as the developers fix bugs, tweak performance or add features. Since I virtually never play games twice it just makes sense to wait for these improvements before purchasing and playing a game. I’ll still get a few titles at launch: stuff that is primarily multiplayer for instance, since you want to be competitive and play when the community is most active. Also a few select titles that just feel special to me: Horizon: Zero Dawn for instance.

Blog when I have something to say — This is a bit of a tangent, but I just recently re-opened this blog and already I’m feeling a little like I’m in a rut, mostly because I’ve been trying for daily posts even when I’m not really feeling it. So in 2017 I’m going to cut back and just do posts when I have something I want to share

And that’s about it. Here’s hoping 2017 sucks less than I expect it to. But I doubt it will.

No Man’s Thursday: Space Poop

Once again nerdy noodling cut into my gaming time last night. This time it was creating a bootable USB stick with a Linux distro on it. Seems like it should be easy but it turns out there’s a lot of trial and error involved. Depending on the computer, the thumbdrive type and the distro you’re trying to use, I guess. All I know is I’ve created 4 different supposedly bootable thumbdrives so far. I don’t think any one of them works on all the systems I’ve tried it on.

I did feel pretty good about finally getting a “Live” Ubuntu thumbdrive to boot and using the included disk partitioning software (GpartEd) to resize the linux partition on my dev server. When I set that system up a few years ago I was just playing around with linux so only devoted 100 GBs of space to it. (Did I really just say “only” 100 GBs?) Now that I have clones of 7 or 8 of our sites running on it, plus lots of backups, I was out of space. Didn’t really want to wipe the drive so I was happy this worked out.

Yesterday I installed Ubuntu with the Unity desktop on my old Lenovo laptop. I don’t really like Unity and I thought I could just install whatever desktop I wanted, but after Googling around I’m getting mixed signals. Some people say its fine to replace the desktop (I was looking at Mate) and others say you’re better off re-installing after finding a distro that has the desktop you want baked in.

So I’m considering Option C, which is to just install Linux Mint with the Cinnamon desktop instead of Ubuntu. I run Mint on my dev server and it feels pretty comfortable to me, but some things work slightly differently than they do on standard Ubuntu. Since all our websites run on Ubuntu I feel like it would behoove me to get more used to the Ubuntu way of doing things. So we’ll see.

Anyway on to gaming.

I might be almost done blogging about No Man’s Sky. I’m still enjoying the game a lot but I’m not sure how to talk about what I’m working on without it sounding boring and NMS is such a magnet for haters…I don’t want to give them any ammo to attack the game with.

I started off last night talking to my employees. The armorer says he’s done everything he can do for me, which is a little disappointing, but the others are keeping me busy.

I need to find something called Rigogen in order to make Copper Wiring, which in turn I need to make Circuit Boards, which is something my Construction Expert is waiting for. I Googled Rigogen and apparently it is found underwater. Since I started searching for it I’ve only found one planet with water and it was pretty shallow. No Rigogen there. Huge ‘bubbles’ of Emeril filled with water though. I almost drowned in one of them!

What’s a little annoying is that I stumbled upon a moon with ample deposits of copper (and gold) but I can’t use that copper to make copper wiring. Silly videogame logic.

I need to go in search of more Condensium for non-ferrous plating, also for circuit boards. I know where to get that, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

I need Coryzagen to make glass with. Haven’t really started looking for that yet.

My farm is coming along. I have a few ‘crops’ growing and two more I’m working on. One requires Albumen Pearls which are always fun to collect because whenever you take one, the local sentinels freak right out. Probably because these pearls are actually some kind of chrysalis for some kind of life form.

But what I spent a lot of time on last night was gathering Coprite. You get that from “overfed animals.” Yeah it’s space poop more or less. Pre-Foundation Update feeding an animal just resulted in it digging up small deposits of random materials. It was hardly worth it once the novelty of having a short-term animal friend wore off. But now if you feed them they make Coprite, which I basically needed as fertilizer for some crop the farmer wants. The other material I need for this crop comes from carcasses. Since I’m not a MONSTER I wasn’t about to start shooting the animals I’d just been feeding so I decided I’d collect this stuff from aggro animals.

I finished the night on a moon that had both aggressive sentinels and aggressive animals; I was attacked as soon as I jumped out of my ship. So next time I play I should finish gathering all that up.

Other than that it was business as usual. Learning new words, fighting pirates, scavenging. I found a derelict ship but since it only had one more ‘slot’ than my current ship I decided to skip it.

See? It all sounds really boring, but actually my gaming time flew by and I was sad when it was time to quit for the night. I do think one night a week is a nice frequency for NMS though; it feels fresh and fun every time I log in (and it gives Hello Games time to get the next update out before I leave the game behind).

My tech nightmare

This week I offended some ancient technology demi-god somehow, and I paid the price.

It all started Wednesday when folks were talking about LOTRO. I was wondering if my old characters still existed so I fired up Steam and installed the game. When it finished installing through Steam I fired it up and it did that thing where every damned Steam game seems to need to install C++ libraries and assorted other things. In this case ANCIENT versions. Then it had to patch. Then I let it download high-resolution textures.

When it was finally done I started the game, with the intention of literally taking a screen shot of my characters to share on Imzy. I had no intention of actually playing the game. LOTRO started, my primary monitor when black. Stayed black. I could hear sounds but they were broken and stuttering. So I jumped over to monitor #2 and right clicked LOTRO and picked Close Window and nothing happened. So I hit CTRL-ALT-DELETE and nothing happened. Task manager wouldn’t come up. Vexed, I held down the power button on the machine to kill it. And that’s when trouble really began.

When I restarted the machine it blue-screened with an error of BAD_SYSTEM_CONFIG_INFO. Someone suggested this could be a video card issue, so I dragged the system out and swapped it with an old card I had. No help there. Swapped it back and started googling solutions. Tried various things for the next day or so. Some of them, like an extended chkdsk, took hours and hours to run. Tried to restore but Windows said it couldn’t find any restore points.

Finally found this solution online and it got me back to the desktop. Basically you’re replacing a bunch of files in C:\Windows\System32\config with backup copies.

So now I was at my desktop but my Start menu wouldn’t come up and everything felt really slow and sluggish. Virus maybe? Ran a bunch of checkers but found nothing. That was another few hours gone. Ever since installing LOTRO when the system starts up, about 20-30 seconds after I see a desktop, one of my monitors goes black for a few seconds. I see a ‘loading cursor’ and then the desktop appears, but with limited functionality (no Start menu, can’t open more than 1 file explorer window from the task bar, and some other stuff). I kind of feel like whatever this is, it’s undoing my fixes.

But at least I could get to my files. First thing I did was check to make sure my backups were up to date and…my backup system had quietly stopped working last June! Nothing since then was backed up. OK well I decided to back stuff up manually. Starting copying stuff to an external USB drive and it was going at like 18 Kbs and was going to take two days to copy, then it crapped out completely. USB was apparently out, but I could still copy across my home network to my Linux server. But first I had to clear out a bunch of stuff from that to make room.

I had to blow away a bunch of dev sites but freed up the space and starting copying my files to the Linux server. That was going to take a couple hours. 25% of the way through, I get an error that the PC can’t talk to Linux any more. I look at the Linux box and it was frozen. It has never done this, and had been running flawlessly for months. NOW it decides to crap out. So I reboot THAT and when I get it back online, the PC can no longer see it.

Interspersed with all of this I’m trying a bunch of things to repair the Windows installation but nothing is working. OK time to Reset the machine. By this time it’s about 4 pm Thursday. I start the reset process. It gets about 40% done and reboots to a black screen with a circle of dots indicating some process is happening. I let it sit like that for 7 hours. At about 11:30 I manually restart the machine and I get a “Loading Windows…” screen. Yay! I go to bed. In the morning I find that same black screen with the circle of dots. I reboot again and I get “Restoring files” and when that finishes I’m right back to where I started. The Reset failed.

At some point you start trying crazy shit. I read somewhere to unplug all USB devices. I do that and try the Reset again and it fails again. And for some reason when I re-attached the external USB drive I plug it into another USB port and… it works perfectly. So apparently one of my USB ports is blown. At least that means I can backup my files, so I do that. Now the pressure is off.

I try to reset or restore the system through a bunch of different techniques and none of them work. Half-way through this process, my main monitor stops working. Now to be fair this monitor has been a little wonky for a while. It would get stuck in standby mode and I’d have to cut the power to reset it. Now it’s frozen and won’t come back, but the thing is, it APPEARS to be working. So now I start to wonder how many times in the past days I’ve thought Windows was frozen but it’s just the monitor freezing. Anyway I crawl under the desk and disconnect that, and switch the backup monitor to the port that main monitor was using just to be sure it isn’t the video card connection.

So count so far: 1 fubar’d Windows OS, 1 fubar’d USB port, 1 fubar’d Linux service, 1 fubar’d monitor. All in the course of 3 days. AND my laptop has been acting up; the cursor keeps going nuts. Oh well.

Finally I just give in and install Windows from scratch. This works but I see a lot more partitions than I expect to see. There are 2 System Restore partitions, one that’s a few hundred megs, the other and about 3 GB. Then there’s another UEFI partition, if I recall correctly. Not being as up on Windows as I should be, I leave them all be. I hope I don’t regret that.

So now I’m re-installing apps and I’ve confirmed that my backup is actually running again. I ordered a new cheap monitor (money is tight right now or I would’ve just gone and bought a new system…this one is 6 years old) and a new video card because my Spidey Sense is telling me that my current card might have had something to do with this issue (sometimes when I start this machine it reports that the card’s supplementary power cable isn’t attached…in fact I replaced the power supply because of this not too long ago).

Hopefully it won’t take me too long to get everything back where it was. I’m going to have to re-create those dev sites on the Linux server, and I need to get all my tools re-installed on the PC and pull down all my work repos. And then the next thing I am not ever going to do is reinstall LOTRO! In fact I don’t think I’ll mess with installing games on the system again. I don’t play PC games and I just don’t need these kinds of headaches. Maybe games from the Windows Store since they are sandboxed and can’t bork your whole system.

Now I’m going to go give my game consoles a big ‘ol hug!