Weekend Recap for August 30th

We are slowly, slowly creeping up on October and the start of cooler weather. I desperately miss living in a place where September means crisp Autumn days, but here in the middle of North Carolina the best you can ask of September is to please cool it (ha!) with the 90F+ temperatures. Sadly, September doesn’t always listen. This weekend the heat index was over 100F and today is supposed to be even hotter. Lola and I had a tough weekend with the heat just unbearable and her so torn between “I really want to go outside and explore” and “I am a dark colored dog melting in the blazing sunshine, help me cool off.”

With the obligatory griping finished, let’s get started.

Movie Night — This week we watched Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf, an animated Witcher movie on Netflix. This was a prequel of sorts that focused on Vesemir’s story before Geralt came into the picture. (Vesemir is Geralt’s older friend and mentor, in case you’re not up on all the lore.) I love the Witcher IP even if I’m not as thrilled with the games as most seem to be, and I really enjoyed Nightmare of the Wolf. I have questions but I won’t ask them here because spoilers (the movie just came out last week). I was worried @partpurple wouldn’t like it as much, but she enjoyed it quite a bit as well.

Family TV — We usually watch something during our lunch break and lately we’ve been doing a re-watch of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I don’t think either of us has ever gone back and watched the series in the order it aired. It’s been fun with lots of “Oh I’d forgotten about this!” moments. We just crossed into Season 2 which seems a lot better than Season 1, at least based on the first couple of episodes. Evening viewing has been Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I’d watched a couple of seasons of this solo, but @partpurple hadn’t see it at all. After we’d enjoyed The Bad Batch we decided to go back and catch up and we’ve been glad we did. We’re watching them in chronological order which is a bit of a hassle but makes the storylines much more cohesive than I remember them from my first viewing. Oh, and What If…? and Star Trek: The Lower Decks continue to delight every week.

Reading — I’ve started book 7 of The Saxon Stories, The Pagan Lord. Uhtred’s temper has gotten him into hot water with the King and the Christian church, so he is once again on the move. Uhtred is in his 50s in this book, and there are 13 books in the series and I’m really curious to see what kinds of exploits he gets into as he grows even older. I read somewhere that The Last Kingdom Netflix series (based on these books) is ending in part because they couldn’t figure out a good way to show Uhtred as an old man when the actor who plays him is, of course, still quite young.

Gaming — I mentioned yesterday that I’d started A Plague Tale: Innocence and I got HOOKED so that’s where I spent most of my gaming time this weekend; I finished it last night. It’s supposed to be a fairly short game but it still took me almost a week to play through it. I might do a post on it. It was one of those games with a strong narrative that gets kind of ruined by a difficulty spike at the end. I don’t know why game devs do this in story-based games. They get you hooked, you’re having fun playing and enjoying the story and then “Oh, you want to know how it all ends? Well we’ve got some trick final boss fights you have to figure out first.” I very nearly walked away from it, and I’m talking about the last 5% of the game. I went from “This is a 5 star game!” to “Would hesitate to recommend” based on the gameplay changes at the very end.

That irritation may fade with time. I loved the setting, loved the characters and the voice acting and thought the story was pretty good. There were some changes I’d make besides the ending. In particular on console at least, the game uses a ‘weapon wheel’ UI, and many of my deaths came when I was fumbling with the wheel and an enemy closed a gap and killed me. Your character basically only takes 1 hit to kill. In a game like this where combat isn’t really the main point, I think having things slow down while you use the weapon wheel would serve the audience better.

Also after the Great Controller Debate of ’21 I wanted to play a FPS on the Xbox to see if I could understand the complaints about that controller. Since I’ve been wanting to finish Far Cry New Dawn anyway, I went with that. Weirdly I’m still able to pull off long-range head shots using a cobbled together pistol even with the Xbox controller. Huh. 🙂 I can’t say I’d blanket recommend Far Cry New Dawn; the tone is borderline offensive (depending on what character you are hanging with) and the pacing is strange. It can be hard to get from Point A to Point B just because so many random/semi-random events are constantly spawning. Those encounters are FUN mind you, but after a while they get in the way of you progressing through the story. I once again hope that Far Cry 6 is a bit more serious in tone.

Influenced by Tipa and Bhagpuss, I installed DC Universe Online and woke up a long dormant character. I keep trying to play this game on the consoles and it just looks so incredibly bad I can’t stick with it. On PC though, while it certainly looks dated, it is much better. I didn’t play for too long but did have fun and I’ve left it installed to revisit as time permits.

As for the two MMOs I’m currently subscribed to (FFXIV and ESO on Playstation) I of course didn’t log into either all weekend. Typical me.

Next weekend is a holiday for many of us in the US. I get 3.5 days off. Office closes at 1 PM on Friday, then Monday off. I’m REALLY looking forward to the extra time off, but for now it’s time to slog through one more stupidly hot work week. We can do this!

Microsoft Rewards Points

Today I want to talk about the meta-game I’ve been playing the longest: Microsoft Rewards Points (MRP). MRP are Microsoft’s way to try to incentivize you to use their products like Bing and Game Pass. You can learn about the program here.

I have three primary ways to earn MRP. The first is by visiting https://rewards.microsoft.com/ every morning while I have coffee. There I do the “Daily Set” which is some mix of clicking links and taking quizzes. A lot of these are ‘no-fail’ situations where you get points just by trying, but if you want to be sure you get max points you can check the MicrosoftRewards reddit. I find doing these Daily Sets kind of amusing just from the point of view of learning trivia-level facts and stuff.

The second way I earn MRP is via the Microsoft Rewards app on the Xbox. This is somewhat similar to the above system, and often asks you to “Check out this featured game” or something equally trivial. (Selecting these tasks takes you to the store, but you don’t have to buy the featured game in order to earn points. Just visiting the store page is enough.) Other times you’ll be tasked to do something like earn an Achievement in a specific game or selection of games. In fact there is a daily task for earning an Achievement that grants you 50 points. Overall this is another fairly mindless way to earn points.

The third and most interesting way I earn MRP is via Game Pass Quests. This is where things get fun. There are daily, weekly and monthly quests. The daily quests are boring and always that same: 1) log into the Game Pass app, and 2) play a Game Pass game. The weekly and monthly quests are more interesting. They task you with doing specific things in specific Game Pass games (at least some of them do). So “Drive 1 KM in Game X” or “Kill 10 enemies in Game Y” or “Play an online match in Game Z.” These are usually fairly quick to complete (though there are exceptions). What I enjoy about them is they prompt me to play games I usually wouldn’t play, and sometimes I find games I really enjoy. For instance this week one of the quests involved A Plague Tale: Innocence. I accomplished the quest objectives pretty quickly but by then I was hooked on the game. Now I’m going to finish it!

The point of all of this is to amass MRP so you can exchange them for various goodies. My preferred goodie is store credit. A $100 Xbox gift card can be redeemed for 91,000 MRP, which sounds like a huge number given some of the tasks reward 5 or 10 points, but they add up more quickly than you might expect (accumulation is helped by various “double points” events and other promotions). I’ve earned over 400,000 MRP since starting with the program. I don’t really track things but at least once a year I cash in for a $100 gift card.

It wouldn’t be worth it if earning the points was bothersome, but for me it has become a game in and of itself. I look forward to Tuesdays, which is when the weekly quests come out. What has made this even better/easier is Xcloud since a lot of the games can be played via streaming, meaning you don’t have to install them to complete the quest. The daily sets on the web are either inoffensive and quick, or they’re quizzes which are kind of fun for me to do because I enjoy trivia.

Anyone with a Microsoft account can sign up and start earning points, but it is when you’re a Game Pass member that the system gets really interesting. If you have Game Pass you might want to check it out!

Concerning Controllers

Yesterday I got into a spirited conversation on Twitter about game controllers. Apparently people have opinions.

This honestly came as a surprise to me. I use game controllers all the time. I use Xbox controllers and Playstation controllers and Stadia controllers and Switch controllers and… I don’t really think about them very much. If you don’t use game controllers, a lot of the spirit of this post (that people have very different reactions to peripherals) could also apply to keyboards. There are people who are PASSIONATE about keyboards and spending $300 on a keyboard makes complete sense. Then there are people who’re completely fine with using the $10 keyboard that shipped with their PC. (I’m somewhere in the middle on that debate.)

But today is about controllers. The folks I was talking to HATE the Xbox controller. Like, it seemed as though their feelings were strong on this topic. It took a while to get them past generic gamer responses like “it sucks” to start to understand what they hated. One thing that came up was that the d-pad on the Xbox controller is too loud. That surprised me so much that I went and grabbed an Xbox controller and pushed the d-pad around. “Huh, what do you know, it does make a clicking sound.” I muttered. I had never noticed it. Of course now I’ll never not notice it so my friend owes me a beer or something.

The other issue that both friends had was that the sticks on the Xbox controller are too “loose.” I tried to understand this. I grabbed a Dual Sense and an Xbox Series X|S controller and wobbled the sticks on both and they felt the same to me. If anything, the Dual Sense felt looser but it was a really subtle difference. Then I was told that you only notice it while in-game and that FPS are hard to play on the Xbox. As someone who plays FPS on the Xbox this left me really confused.

Talking more, one friend who loved the Xbox 360 controller hated the Xbox One controller, and that same friend hated the PS3 controller but loves the PS4 controller. If only he could’ve seen my blank stare because I was like “Wait, they feel different?” Now remember, I play console games every damned day, and I switch between consoles frequently, sometimes several times a night. I just don’t notice these changes.

I don’t have any great revelation to share, I just thought it was really interesting. Maybe I’m just not a good enough gamer to care?

But as long as I’m on the topic, here is MY comparison of the PS5 Dual Sense controller and the Xbox Series X controller. These are the aspects that do matter to me:

The Xbox has removable batteries. I spent $20 to buy a charger and 8 batteries, which gave me enough batteries for both the controller and various TV remotes. I only need one controller and I always have a fresh pair of batteries sitting in the charger.

The PS5 controllers are rechargeable. My past experience with the PS4 is that over time they hold a charge for shorter and shorter periods. Because of this I felt I needed to purchase a second controller and a charging station for the PS5, total cost around $95. I make a point to rotate the controllers to try to ‘wear’ the batteries evenly. It’s a pain in the ass, but over the course of the PS4 generation I think I bought 4 controllers as batteries kept essentially failing (going from full charge to dead in 30-40 minutes).

Physical Comfort:
First, this category is SUPER personal. What is comfortable for me might not be comfortable for you.

The PS5 Dual Sense feels ‘harder’ to me. Like I feel like I’m holding a very rigid piece of plastic, and towards the end of a long gaming session the outer edge of the grips start to cause pain in my hands in the area between the base of the pinky and my wrist.

I find the Xbox controller very comfortable and I can hold it for more time than I ever have available to play games, and not have any pain.

The Dual Sense controller is kind of a marvel. The haptics can be almost startling. There are times when it feels like there’s a little creature inside the controller scratching to get out. I love the added immersion of (as an example) different guns having different trigger tensions. Another example is being able to feel the terrain your traversing via the slight vibration in the controller changing.

Now I don’t think haptics are for everyone. In a lot of cases they make games harder. Sometimes my trigger finger actually gets tired from having to work to pull the trigger due to increased tension. Fortunately you can turn all of this off, but I LOVE the added immersion.

The Dual Sense also has a speaker and a microphone. Some games make great use of the speaker to enhance your experience. I’m not sure I’ve seen the speaker used. I guess in a pinch you could use it for voice chat but I’m guessing the quality wouldn’t be great. Honestly haven’t tested it though.

The Xbox controller has none of these bells and whistles. With the Series X we finally got a share button. The Xbox controller (including last gen) has some “advanced” rumble features but honestly I’m not sure I’ve ever really noticed them, or I’ve been using the controller for so long that it’s become so normal that I just accept them. Remember the Xbox Series X supports Xbox One controllers so effectively this is a last gen controller, with the one addition of the Share button (which Playstation has, and had last gen).

And…that’s really where my comparison of the two controllers ends. As far as functionality I really don’t notice much difference between them. The Dual Sense haptics is huge, but if I’m playing a PS4 game that doesn’t support the new haptics…it’s just a controller. Like every other controller.

Am I broken? Does everyone else have strong feels of this vs that controller?

Game Trailers and Other Terminology

After almost every big gaming press event there’s some discussion of the trailers that are shown. Among other topics, we question how much we actually learned about the game from the trailer. Scopique and I touched on this topic very briefly in the comments to yesterday’s post but I thought it might be fun to unpack things a bit.

In ye olden tymes, game trailers were, well, short videos that showed a game being played. Everyone understood what a game trailer was. Over time though, as graphics improved and budgets swelled, a lot of games started having elaborate CGI intros or cut-scenes. From there it was a short skip to showing CGI as the trailer. I get why devs did that; the CGI could be finished way before gameplay was complete and ready to show.

I get why they did it, but I (and other gamers) weren’t so thrilled. We watched trailers to see how a game played, and these CGI trailers told us nothing. I did (and do) find them enjoyable just as little micro-stories but they do absolutely nothing to inform me as to whether or not this is a game I’d like to play.

Rather than walk back from showing CGI trailers, the marketing teams just made up a new name. “Today we have the world reveal trailer for Game X!” the announcement will say. World reveal can mean anything. Sometimes they say “Tonight is the cinematic trailer for Game X!” This tells us that a CGI movie is coming up but no gameplay. At least with this term we know what to expect. But what we gamers are really listening for is “We have the GAMEPLAY trailer for Game X!” Ah, OK that’s the good stuff. That’s what I need to actually inform me about a game.

Thinking about this led me to chuckle to myself about another loaded word: Exclusive. Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo used to throw ‘exclusive’ around willy-nilly. Sometimes it meant actually exclusive to the platform making the announcement, but usually not. Eventually to protect themselves (consumers started calling them out), the marketing teams forked this one too.

So now when S/M/N says a game is Exclusive to P/X/S (Playstation/Xbox/Switch) it generally actually means it will only be out on that platform. True exclusives are pretty rare these days and mostly come from 1st part studios from S/M/N.

The first forked exclusive term is Timed Exclusive. This means a game is coming out on one console first, then it’ll follow on others and on PC after 6 months or a year (or some other period of time). I don’t think marketers love this term. I feel like if you were talking to them IRL they’d kind of say “Timed” under their breath and then shout the “Exclusive!” part.

A lot of games will come out both on PC and a console. These curiously get tagged as “Console Exclusives.” Microsoft has a lot of these because Microsoft is more interested in selling games than hardware, but Console Exclusives are fairly common on all three platforms. I realize this terms sounds like the opposite of what it means. Console Exclusives come out on PC? It sounds better when you stick the console name in front: Xbox Console Exclusive. The intent is to say “This game is exclusive to the Xbox Console and won’t be out on other consoles and we’re just going to ignore that the PC exists, OK?”

You could combine those too. Maybe you have a Timed Console Exclusive. This means the game comes out on one console and PC on Day 1, then on other consoles at some later date. But again, that “Timed” word is in there and we do not want!

Thus was born “Console Launch Exclusive” which really means pretty much the same thing as Timed Console Exclusive. It means a game will launch on one console before it launches on other consoles. And again, we’ll pretend PC gaming isn’t a thing.

Those are the terms I can think of, but if you have others drop them in the comments.

It all just seems so silly. Did I really have to spend 5 paragraphs defining ‘exclusive’? Also, maybe I’m projecting but do gamers really want exclusive games? I guess maybe some do. I see stories about fans getting all pissed off when Sony games launch on PC, for example. I don’t get it. I want every game to take full advantage of a platform’s abilities but beyond that, put your game out everywhere so everyone can enjoy it.

This is Where My Gamescom Opening Night Recap Should Be

First I have to let you in on a little secret. I write most of my blog posts the night before I post them. I’m not a morning person at all so the idea of getting up and writing a blog post is just…horrid. So really I’m writing this Wednesday night. This is how the sausage is made!

Second, work was a hot mess of headaches on Wednesday. I was super busy troubleshooting and meeting all day. When I was done I was irritable and tired.

OK with that out of the way… Geoff Keighley’s Gamescom Opening Night was yesterday and I watched it, but you might have to as well if you want to know all that went down. It aired at 2 PM local time so I couldn’t watch it live. But y’know, how “live” was it anyway? Watching it after it streamed was good because I could fast forward through bits I didn’t care about (new Super Monkey Ball game, yet another Lego game).

I was taking notes at the start, then I opened a beer and put down my pencil. Honestly I didn’t miss too much because I felt like the show was really front-loaded in terms of announcements. They claim there were 40 games there, plus half a dozen or so during the pre-show. I didn’t count. I did, however, almost nod off a time or two.

I can’t honestly say if the show was bad or if I was just so angry at my work day that any sense of objectivity went out the window.

Here’re the few things that did catch my eye.

The show opened with a trailer for the new Saints Row game, called, as best I can figure, Saints Row. I’ve never really connected with Saints Row games because they all seem super dude-bro in tone, but this time out it seems like the devs have realized that the gaming audience is diverse and we don’t all like to play as human fist-bumps. (The image at the top of this post is your crew this time out.) The trailer was CGI, but at the very end of this segment is a few seconds of gameplay, which looks just as over-the-top as we expect from a Saint’s Row, but the vibe seems very different to me. In a good way.

The other new game that caught my attention was a new Marvel game, Midnight Suns. No gameplay (again) but it’s being done by Firaxis and they’re calling it a tactics RPG. Given the studio, I’m hoping for and expecting Xcom: Marvel Superhero edition. I remember seeing Wolverine, Dr. Strange and Ghost Rider in the trailer. We’re supposed to see actual gameplay on Sept. 1st. Here’s the CGI trailer though it doesn’t even HINT at what the gameplay will be like.

We got some release dates. Halo Infinite is coming December 8th, and Horizon Forbidden West is coming Feb. 18, 2022. Also Horizon Forbidden Dawn got a 60 FPS patch on PS5 so might be time for a replay.

The “creator of Lara Croft” has a game coming out called Dream Cycle that goes into Early Access on Steam on September 7th.

Jett: The Far Shore intrigues me even if I can’t quite figure out what is going on. At least we see some game play, and it’s coming October 7th so not long to wait.

And…that’s about all I have. Oh, they mentioned the next big update for Valheim is called Hearth & Home and then backed it up with an animated trailer that told us nothing. It’s coming September 16th though so we can try it then.

The last spot, the final big reveal slot, was devoted to the Director’s Edition of Death Stranding which seemed like a weird choice because while it has added some stuff and now will look better on PS5, it still is just a refinement of an existing game. Keighley loves Kojima though, so in a way this made the show feel like a Keighley production. Back to Death Stranding Director’s Cut: I’m not completely convinced the additions will make it better. Seems like more combat now, and gadgets like thrusters so you can just jump down a cliff. Hmph.

Again, maybe it’s because I’m tired and in a lousy mood, but I wasn’t too impressed with the show, quite honestly. But I’m not trustworthy! Don’t listen to me. Watch the whole thing for yourself!

Xbox at Gamescom 2021

Gamescom 2021 starts today but Microsoft got a jump on the show by having their event yesterday. I watched it and thought it was pretty good, though not at that “you gotta watch this!” level of hype-ometer-busting excitement.

If you missed the show and don’t need some sorry old man recapping it for you, here is the full presentation:

Too busy to devote an hour+ to watching? Great, that’s my cue!

OK Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. If you tuned in for game announcements, you had to be disappointed. The only non-indie (?) title they showed that I’d not heard of was Stray Blade, a 3rd person action-rpg featuring melee combat in a fantasy world. It’s coming in 2022. Here’s the presentation, snipped from the above video.

Stray Blade looks in my wheelhouse with lots of exploration and the kind of combat I enjoy but it’s early days. I’ll keep an eye on it though. Oh, the image at the top of this post is from Stray Blade, courtesy of Microsoft.

The other new game announced was Into The Pit, an indie rogue-like. I’m kind of over rogue-likes right now so I almost forgot about it, but here’s the trailer for that one.

Everything else that was showed was stuff we knew was coming (though some titles, like The Gunk, we haven’t heard much about). The show started with Dying Light 2 (out this December) and ended with Forza Horizon 5 (out in November). Both are looking great so far. Halo Infinite was nowhere to be seen, which seemed odd.

Some news items that caught my interest:

Xcloud, Microsoft’s game streaming service, is coming to Xbox consoles this holiday for Game Pass Ultimate members. This seems like a no-brainer and I wonder why it has taken so long, but now Xbox One owners will be able to play Xbox Series X|S games on their console (at 1080P) via Xcloud. Also, given the limited drive space on the Series X|S I can certainly envision uninstalling some games and just playing them via Xcloud inorder to save space, or ‘sampling’ GamePass titles via Xcloud before deciding to download them. What I’m really curious about is whether I can hook up a mouse and keyboard to my Series X and play PC Xcloud titles on the console.

And speaking of PC games on console, Crusader King 3 is coming to console. What?! They are calling it an “adaptation” rather than a port, so it’ll be interesting to see how much they have to simplify things to make the game playable with a controller. I mean I assume that’s the challenge. I’ve never gotten very far in CK3 on PC because it makes my brain hurt.

Really, that’s all the big news. A bunch of Humble Games are coming to Game Pass, and MS Flight Simulator, Wastelands 3, Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2 all have expansions coming soon. (I don’t mean to sound dismissive about these expansions. Learning about them had me hankering to play both Wasteland 3 and State of Decay 2.) There was a segment on Age of Empires IV (out this fall for PC) and Psychonauts 2 (out today!).

As for me personally, I’m excited for Forza Horizon 5 and Dying Light 2, but I was excited for them anyway. And I haven’t played an Age of Empires game in forever so I’ll give Age IV a go, I’m sure.

There’s another event today, “Opening Night at Gamescom” or something like that. Its being hosted by Geoff Keighley of The Game Awards fame, so it’s not sponsored by any one company. Hopefully we’ll see some new games revealed at that event.

FOMO and Pressuring Ourselves to Like Something

Over the past few days I’ve seen two people take to Twitter to talk about how they were struggling to find the fun in games that are widely popular. I won’t out the people, but the games were Hades and Final Fantasy XIV. It’s really hard to tease nuance from a Tweet and it is super easy to mentally add a tone that isn’t there, but to me both people seemed to feel a little sheepish (or maybe frustrated?) about their reactions to these games.

Maybe that’s just me projecting because, OMG do I ever feel sheepish when I share feelings like this. And for me it happens a lot. I just don’t get what others see in some games (or even genres) and it makes me feel like an outsider. Everyone is happily chatting about Game X and I want to be a part of that conversation but then I play Game X and it’s just not fun for me. If I push through, then I just get annoyed with the game and myself.

I give great advice to others who feel this way (I don’t listen to it myself): “Games are for your enjoyment. Play what makes you happy. No one cares what you like or don’t like.” That last one always sounds way more harsh than I mean it to be. But it is mostly true, right? Unless you are an “influencer” who has enough followers to sway the chances of a game’s success or failure, your liking or not liking a game doesn’t really impact others in any significant way.

None of that advice really helps with that feeling of missing out and being outside of a conversation, though. I have no good advice to help with the FOMO, at least not in terms of wide-ranging social media “conversations.” If you have some quiet time with a small group of individuals you can ask them what they like about the game. Not in a “convince me” way but in a “share what you enjoy” way. There are times when you can draw great happiness just from other peoples’ enjoyment of a thing, even if that thing isn’t for you. For example @partpurple LOVES Animal Crossing in all its forms. I don’t care for it in terms of playing it, but it makes me so happy listening to her talk about all the fun she gets from the game. Her excitement and enthusiasm are infectious. So I second-hand love Animal Crossing even if I feel pretty “meh” about it first-hand.

Can we teach ourselves to like something? Certainly there will be times in our life when we encounter something that is an ‘acquired taste’ which — once you have acquired that taste — we may come to love, but I’m not sure it happens very often in video games. For sure I have ‘bounced off’ a game once or twice then come back later and loved it, that seems more about the particular headspace I’m in at a particular time, or even about a game that’s been improved via patches and upgrades. I don’t think that’s the same as making a deliberate attempt to ‘find the fun’ and convince yourself you love a game right here, right now. If someone has a trick to doing this, please share. To me, the video game heart wants what the video game heart wants.

So no huge revelations from me today. Just have fun when you’re playing games. If you’re not having fun, stop playing that game. If all your friends are talking about it, try to listen to their stories as stories, not as an enticement to go do what they are doing. Find your joy where it lives.

Weekend Recap for August 23rd

Another weekend come and gone. This one was a weird one for us. We lost power Thursday night, though it was restored by midnight. Somehow that still threw our Friday out of whack. I’m amused at how ‘delicate’ we are. I can remember going weeks without power due to hurricanes when I was younger and while it was certainly inconvenient, we just kind of rolled with it. These days, 6 hours without power made us crazy. Of course back in the old days not every activity I did required a screen, so there’s that.

Anyway, let’s get started.

Movie Night — This week we watched The Suicide Squad which we’d heard a lot of good things about. It didn’t resonate as well with us. @partpurple almost called it but she started enjoying it more after the half-way mark. I liked it more than she did, but it certainly wasn’t a favorite. I can chuckle at over-the-top gore for a while, but two hours of it got old. My favorite character was Sebastian, and for those who haven’t seen it, he is a rat. Like, a literal rat. I think that says enough about my feelings towards the movie.

Family TV — The highpoint of our whole week, in TV terms, was Friday night watching episode two of What If…? on Disney+, and episode 2 of The Lower Decks on Paramount+. Both were really good. We’re really impressed by the voice casts (as well as the stories) on What If…? and this episode of The Lower Decks had us howling with laughter. Both are animated shows. What If…? is a series of stand-alone alternate history shows for the Marvel Universe, and The Lower Decks is a comedic Star Trek spin-off about the lives of lower ranking crew on board a star ship. When The Lower Decks was announced I was sure I would HATE it since I’m pretty serious about Star Trek, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

Reading — Copy/paste from last week. Still on book 6 of The Saxon Stories series from Bernard Cornwell.

Gaming — I had a dumb gaming weekend. Thursday I finally re-subscribed to Final Fantasy XIV, but about 10 minutes after I did that the power went out. Friday I spent getting clients upgraded/installed on both PC and PS5, and tried to figure out where to roll a new character to get my feet wet. There is really no need for alts in FFXIV but the last time I came back I was so intimidated by the jobs and systems I’d forgotten about that I just bounced off completely. This time I decided I needed a new character so the game could re-teach me things and let me ease back in more gently.

Then I noticed that thanks to QuakeCon, the Elder Scrolls Online Blackwood expansion was on sale. I already own the expansion on Xbox but don’t know anyone else who plays there. I did have a friend playing on Playstation though, so even though I’m not nearly as advanced on that platform, I sprung for the expansion and a month of ESO Plus.

So now all of a sudden I have TWO MMO subscriptions. I spent a bunch of time researching a build for my ESO Dragonknight, and getting all the settings tweaked, plus doing the quest to get one of the Companions that Blackwood added.

And I started a new character on the Zalera server for FFXIV and got him rolling along, but now I’m kind of more interested in ESO. Typical me. I hate the forced grouping in FFXIV for dungeons. Social anxiety really spikes. ESO has grouping for dungeons too, of course, but they are optional and nothing is gated behind them (plus once you get powerful enough you can solo a lot of dungeons in Normal mode). What makes things worse for FFXIV is that if I play on the console (which is where I prefer to play) I run into the problem of no communication since, y’know, no keyboard.

I guess my next step is to get a cheap wireless USB keyboard for the PS5. It’d be useful for both FFXIV and ESO.

And because I guess I was operating under the delusion that we have plenty of disposable income these days, I ALSO bought the update/upgrade for Ghosts of Tsushima on the PS5, but thus far I haven’t even touched it. Clearly I need more gaming hours in my day!

So that was the weekend. Now we have another super hot week to get through, but September is ALMOST here. Also Gamescom is this week so there should be some gaming news to talk about to get us over the finish line of Blaugust.

Hope you’re all doing well!

My Cord Cutter Solution for Watching Football & Football

I don’t watch a lot of sports, but every year around this time I get the itch to watch some English Premiere League Football and some NFL Football. Two great, vastly different sports, one name.

Problem is, I don’t have cable. In prior years I had Playstation Vue and then YouTube TV, both of which are more or less cable replacements, only without the hardware and the contracts and the terrible customer support. I canceled YouTube TV because it was just too expensive ($65/month) for the amount we used it.

This year I decided to try something different. First I signed up for Fubo TV, which got its start as a streaming network devoted to sports. One of its draws was NFL games in 4K. Oh hell yeah!

Fubo has a few tiers but for the sake of simplicity, let’s say it too is $65/month (that’s the cheapest tier). I signed up early this week and it was fine but that price was nagging me. Would I watch enough of the footballs to justify it? I also tried watching some “replays” of various events but a lot of them didn’t allow fast-forwarding. Well, I say “a lot” but what I mean is, of the 3 I watched, 2 didn’t allow FF’ing. Maybe I was just unlucky. Anyway I don’t THINK that’s an issue if you “record” a game or event. Oh and those 4K NFL games? It was just a few throughout the season. I wound up canceling Fubo before my week-long free trial expired.

I was noodling around with my next steps when it dawned on me: “Hey, we have Paramount+ so we can watch Star Trek shows.” Paramount Plus = CBS, so BAM I already have CBS NFL games sorted. Basically I needed CBS & FOX for most NFL games, and NBC for a lot of Premiere League games (specifically NBC Sports Network).

I looked at Sling a LONG time ago but for whatever reason it didn’t appeal to me, but now I took another look at it and it was looking better. First, they actually had a post about how to watch NFL games on Sling which I found pretty helpful. The “Sling Blue” service is $35/month, so $30 less than YouTube TV or Fubo TV.

I eagerly signed up, signed in and… no FOX channel. Turns out I’m in one of the TWO markets where there is no Fox affiliate offered on Sling. News flash: when they say “markets” the don’t mean the city they list, they mean anywhere that the team that plays in that city is considered ‘the local team.’ Ah well.

But for most of the country, Sling might be an affordable solution.

In the end I wound up signing up for Peacock+ ($10/month). It won’t help with NFL games, but it carries some of the English Premiere League games. Probably enough to keep me happy (I don’t have a particular favorite team in that league…yet.)

I think, to get me the rest of the NFL games, I’m going to sign up for NFL Game Pass ($100/season). This doesn’t offer live games, but it has replays of virtually ALL the games, and in fact you can watch them in a condensed format without all the down time. Watching this way, it takes an hour to watch the games. Granted I won’t be able to jump on Twitter and spew “DID YOU SEE THAT CALL!?” tweets to annoy my followers. That’s the downside. The upside is that I can watch the teams I WANT to watch, and not just watch the Panthers every week. My NFL heart still dwells in the Northeast part of the country. Sorry Panthers fans but hey, keep pounding!

Fallout 76 Custom Worlds: I Don’t Get It

Quakecon is happening as I write this. I wasn’t really following it because my FPS days are long behind me, but then a Tweet about Fallout 76 slid down my timeline. They’re adding something called Fallout Worlds. I do play Fallout 76 now and again so I had to go watch the YouTube presentation:

So the brief recap in case you don’t have time to watch the video: they’re adding custom world settings. Examples included build anywhere and unlimited ammo. Basically tweaks to the rules of the game so you can change up your experience. That sounds pretty neat…until you get to the huge caveat.

When you play on a Custom World, the game makes a copy of your character for that world. This is now a completely separate character and any progress you make does not translate back to the ‘standard’ worlds. Basically it is a one way cloning trip.

This feels to me like a Public Test Server where you can tweak the ruleset. I can see it being a fun diversion to go into a custom world with unlimited ammo and extra enemies and just blow shit up for a while, but long term I just don’t see the point.

Credit for this and header image: Bethesda.net

There are two ways to play on Custom Worlds. Every month Bethesda themselves will spin up a Custom World with some ruleset they find interesting. Anyone can play on these, and after a month they get shut down (and your character gets deleted) and a new Custom World with a new ruleset gets created. The one month duration is a starting point and they say they’ll adjust that to be shorter or longer based on player feedback.

If you’re willing to pay, “Fallout 1st” members (Fallout 1st is the optional subscription service for the game) can create their own Custom Private Worlds. Same rules apply: you get a copy of your character that, once created, stays on that world. I guess the difference here is you can leave that world up indefinitely and only play on it, which makes the system a little more appealing.

I’m still not sure the cost of playing on a custom private world is worth it. Normally you can play on your Fallout 1st Private World today, then decide to jump into the public server with the same character tomorrow. You can move back and forth whenever you want. But as soon as you make that Private World custom in any way, your character is locked there.

So yeah, I just don’t get the appeal, beyond a short term diversion to screw around with. I get WHY these limitations are in place. It’d be super easy to make a custom world and twink the hell out of your character and then go back into the public world super buffed. But because of that issue, I just don’t see why they’ve devoted the resources to creating this new feature.

Can anyone educate me? If you’re excited about the feature, please let me know why in the comments.

Custom Worlds is sccheduled to launch on September 8th.