Category Archives: Commentary

Blaugust Clean-up

Thank god that’s over. Nothing quite like getting into the spirit of blogging by burning yourself out with thirty-one daily posts.

I’m halfway kidding.

It was a fun experiment, but I’m doubtful that I’ll participate next year. While there is still some possibility of long-tail shenanigans, my mid-month analysis seems correct:

The numbers, minus the numbers.

The numbers, minus the numbers.

In other words, in terms of pageviews and visitors, daily posting still resulted in 10% less views than the peak in May. Which, incidentally, was a month that saw eleven (11) posts. Perhaps that is not quite as fair a comparison given how August is certainly 16% higher than both June and July. Then again, I posted 11 and 13 times in those months, respectively. Talk about diminishing returns.

The thing that is up rather markedly are comments:

Probably the better blogging indicator.

Probably the better blogging indicator.

As I mused two weeks ago, I am not entirely sure whether the uptick in comments is due to the shotgun effect – more posts makes it more likely you post something people want to talk about – or from the nature of the Blaugust event itself, or a complete coincidence, or what. The thing I do know is that pageviews are one thing, but comments can actually challenge your arguments, change your worldview, and even comfort you with camaraderie. All things I definitely appreciate.

Not worth posting daily for that though, Christ.

Anyway, I have a birthday and Metal Gear Solid 5 to enjoy this week. So, see you… maybe Thursday. Or whenever the hell I feel like it.

*sigh* Feels good to say that again.

The Best of In An Age, Vol. 1

[Blaugust Day 31]

If you are looking for the best, most philosophical, endearing, poignant, expertly written posts for In An Age, then look no further.

That’s right, they appear here, at the top of InAnAge.com, two or three times each week depending on when I feel like dropping epiphanous bombs. Subscribe or add to your RSS reader of your choice, and you’ll be notified every time the light shines forth from my bushel. Which, again, is all the goddamn time. Worst… bushel… ever.

If you’re not up for reading nearly 800 posts though, here are the Top 5, in no particular order:

Wirehead

This post is actually somewhat topical given how it was originally written about my feeling of “offness” whilst playing Guild Wars 2. The term “wirehead” has came to represent any game I play obsessively but ends up making me feel empty when I turn it off. Favorite line from the post: “Playing Guild Wars 2 feels like going to Disneyland ahead of the apocalypse.”

Entitlement

Despite the years, I still consider “entitlement” to a be a trigger word for me and a Godwin’s Law for videogame arguments generally. The best summation of my feeling on the word ended up coming from a more recent follow-up post: “When you use the word “entitlement” as a pejorative, all you are doing is asserting that someone has unreasonable expectations about something, without actually bothering to offer an argument or explanation as to why it is unreasonable.”

The Problem With F2P and Microtransactions

If there was one other  concept I wish the whole of the internet knew and understood, it is that of Consumer Surplus. While the F2P and microtransaction ship has long since sailed, the idea of Consumer Surplus is still useful in moderating the insanely anti-consumer sentiments that crop up in gaming discussions with disturbing regularity. This particular post isn’t the best one on the topic, but it’s the first, and it explains what Consumer Surplus is. For the others, just click on the Consumer Surplus tag.

My Issues with the Bioshock Infinite Plot

Oh man, Bioshock Infinite. It’s been over two years since I wrote that post, but I still stand by every argument made and presented. Simply put: if you liked Infinite’s plot, you’re wrong. Case closed.

Established Fact

Speaking of arguments, I’m still rather fond of this one. At the time, the internet was discussing why WoW was losing subscribers in Cataclysm despite the (established) fact that the actual cause was the increase in dungeon difficulty. Incidentally, I consider that post and a few others from that time period as the beginnings of my (one-sided) rivalry with SynCaine.

________________

There you have it, the Top 5 posts from In An Age. While the newest amongst them is April 2013, my original list had at least 25 entries mostly pulled from the Philosophy category. In fact, that’s the place I recommend going to if you enjoy my writing at all and yet somehow have failed to keep current with my steady stream of genius. Priorities, people; work on them.

Runners-Up:

Enjoy Continue enjoying.

How Not to Get Money

[Blaugust Day 28]

Much like Steam before it, CrunchyRoll has completely supplanted any desire of mine to pirate its product – in this case, anime. It was really a combination of things, as it was getting annoying finding anime torrents with more than 4-5 seeders, having to download 10+ GB worth of show that you’re going to end up deleting anyway, bad fan subs, missing episodes, and so on.

#Firstworldpirateproblems, truly.

Then here came CrunchyRoll with streaming content, professional subbing, and even simulcasts if you wanted to pay for Premium. If you didn’t want to pay, you could still watch the shows of your choice, with ads. Ads which, incidentally, are completely blocked with AdBlockPlus such that they barely register as a flicker on the screen.

Originally, I think I was tricked into subscribing for CrunchyRoll Premium in that they were holding the final episode of the show I was watching hostage. It might have been legitimate, in that the show just ended in Japan, and Premium users get access to the latest episode at least a week before it goes “free.” Whatever the reason, I signed up for the “free trial” of Premium and then stayed subscribed ever since. I consider it a fairly good value overall, especially since I can watch everything in 1080p. You wouldn’t think resolution matters in hand-drawn content, but you would be surprised. Or maybe that was just me being surprised.

I usually watch 1-2 episodes of some random show or another during dinner, which means I can plow through an entire series in a week or two. This wasn’t a problem, until it kinda was: I had watched just about everything ever recommended to me… that plays on CrunchyRoll.

Now I wanted to watch Steins;Gate. Enter FUNimation:

Spoilers!

Spoilers! …not really, this is episode 2.

Which, incidentally, plays anime through Hulu.

Have you ever been in a situation where a friend or coworker was really shit-talking someone bad, and you nod your head, but in the back of your mind you’re thinking “Surely some of that is exaggeration. Nobody is that awful.” And some time passes before you encounter that person, so you sorta forget about them. Then you finally meet them and realize “holy shit, they really are that awful! I regret everything!”

So, yeah, Hulu.

Are you serious?

Are you serious?

I heard Hulu was bad with ads, but my mind is still reeling from this encounter. I was trying to watch Steins;Gate, which is already hard enough to follow without two minutes, forty seconds of unskippable ads every four minutes of show. I understand that that’s “normal” television show content-to-ad ratios (22 min of show, 8 of ads), but that is also precisely why I don’t watch television. I have never bought cable my whole adult life and hopefully never will.

Really, you almost have to experience this abomination for yourself:

How about no?

How about no?

Apparently AdBlockPlus will block some ads but not others. I could not verify it for sure, but I’m also convinced that the timer resets sometimes when I’m Alt-Tabbed and it tries to cycle into another ad that it cannot display. At least, it certainly feels that way. Or perhaps I am so used to, you know, the internet that waiting 150 seconds for the content I want to load simply feels like an eternity.

Like CrunchyRoll, FUNimation has a Premium version that supposedly removes the ads. Given how much shit I’ve heard about Hulu, and how Hulu expressly states that “Some shows will still serve ads to subscribers,” I have little inclination to believe them.

So congrats, FUNimation/Hulu, for being goddamn annoying enough that this becomes a better alternative once again:

Just in time.

Just in time.

It took about 35 minutes to download that. Or about four episodes worth of Hulu advertising.

Adventures in Hardware Installation

[Blaugust Day 27]

Remember that GTX 970 card I ordered? It arrived Tuesday, but tonight was the first time I had a chance to dedicate to sweating bullets installing it. I’m not sweating because I’m nervous around electronics, I’m sweating because if something goes wrong, I’d be out a lot of money when alternatives were available. Plus, it’d be an embarrassing story, like failing your driver’s test 2-3 times when you’re the high school Valedictorian.

…you know, as a hypothetical example. I’d feel real bad for that guy person. If they existed.

In any case, I cracked open my PC case and started poking around:

That's right, I paid the extra ~$30 for professional cabling. 

That’s right, I paid the extra ~$30 for professional cabling.

The hardest part of the 560ti removal was the damned power cables. In addition to having some sort of devil-spawn locking mechanism, they felt like they were super-glued on the card. Worrying about static is one thing, but the true nightmare to me is all the wiggling, pushing, and (cringe) bending of hundred-dollar electronics that sometimes becomes necessary.

Unplug, damn you!

Unplug, damn you!

After much consternation, I managed to unseat the power cords. At which time I unboxed the GTX 970 with the care of holding some distant cousin’s infant that they just threw into your arms like some kind of crazy person. Here is a comparison shot:

A slight bit smaller.

A slight bit smaller.

Incidentally, that gross-looking stuff in the sink is dust from inside my computer case. While I do periodically clean with a can of compressed air, in my immense wisdom it appears that that cleaning never extended to the video card’s fans. Absolutely filthy, man. I’m surprised the card never burst into flame. Now that I think about it, I’m not entirely sure how safe it was these last four years to have those dumb stickers stuck on the top of the circuitry. I had been assuming it was kosher since it came like that from the shop, but I never really did double-check…

Installing the 970 was pretty easy, by the way. Push it into the slot until it clicks, hand-tighten the case screw and then plug…

God. Dammit.

God. Dammit.

Turns out that when you upgrade to a smaller card, and the designers move the power plugs to the side for no discernible reason, you’re going to have a bad time.

So at this point, I start an increasingly desperate bid to cut the zip ties inside my case to free up more power cable slack so I can plug the damn thing in. First, kitchen scissors. Second, a sharp knife in a sawing motion. Third, the Swiss Army Knife I typically use to cut open packages. When that didn’t work, I tried the scissor attachment of the Swiss Army Knife. Success! I ended up having to cut through two zip ties to get enough slack to plug it in.

And here I am, having finished taking the card for a test drive:

I am speechless.

An actual comparison.

I feel better about this investment already.

Time-Soaking

[Blaugust Day 26]

Weirdly enough, I find myself back to playing Battlefield 4.

It all started when I was reading the comment section on a random Kotaku page, and someone mentioned that BF4 still had 100,000 people playing, whereas Battlefield: Hardline (the more recent game) had 15,000.

After looking it up myself, the numbers are indeed around those ballparks, but it’s a bit misleading:

As DLC, Hardline ain't doing bad.

Taken 8/25/15 at 10:30pm EST.

As DLC, Hardline ain’t doing bad. Then again, it ain’t DLC.

In any case, I had an itching for some shooting, so I queued up the Origin download, then the BF4 download, then the China Rising DLC download, then got in 5 minutes of gameplay before bed. The next few days after that though, I’d say I was back to my old pattern of soaking up my free-time with games that ultimately don’t matter. And I don’t like it/can’t get enough of it.

I know I’ve talked about it before in this space, but I have a huge love-hate relationship with these sort of games. By “these games” I mean games that are more entertainment than experiences. When I finish playing Battlefield 4, I awaken as from a fugue state, disorientated… and empty. I had fun in the moment, and the moment passed. Which is great if I were simply interested in killing time between meaningful activities, but I’m not. This is my life I’m whiling away. Surely there are better games for it? Games that leave you with something.

Sometimes I just don’t know. Metal Gear Solid 5 comes out in less than a week; I have not even started playing Metal Gear Solid 4. Not that they’re chronologically connected in any way, but still. I could be playing that! I should. I should be plowing through Pillars of Eternity for that matter. I actually am making more progress through that game, methodically, but progress just the same.

What is it about these sort of games – BF4, Civilization, roguelikes, etc – that simultaneously seduces and sickens me? Is it because they are more fun than “traditional” games? Is it because they are more approachable time-commitment-wise? Do I just secretly delight in frivolity? Or perhaps the cognitive dissonance stems entirely from my misplaced sanctimony for “real” games that “matter?”

I wish I had an answer. Because then I could just type that, and be back shooting faces in BF4.

Hearthstone Dilemmas

[Blaugust Day 24]

For all the the derision Hearthstone might get for being coin-flips and “dumbed down” and such, sometimes you end up facing a straight-up agonizing dilemma. For example, this game from the other day:

Embarrassment of choices.

Embarrassment of choices.

My choices were the following:

  • Coin + Harrison Jones. This was my first instinct, as it was cute and probably the only value I would have time to enjoy against Eboladin (e.g. Aggro Paladin). The play drops a 5/4 creature on my board, destroys my opponent’s weapon, and draws me three cards.
  • Mind-Control Tech. This will cause me to randomly gain one of my opponent’s minions. There’s a 25% chance of nabbing the 2/2 with Divine Shield, and leaves me with a 3/3, which is a huge swing. It unfortunately wastes 1 mana unless I Coin into Hero Power, and has a 75% of just nabbing a 1/1.
  • Mind-Control Tech + Coin + Wrath/Hero Power. As the above, but spending the Coin will allow me to cast Wrath (choosing the “Deal 1 damage + draw a card” option) or Hero Power, to pop the Divine Shield on the 2/2 in case I didn’t steal it.
  • Coin + Sludge Belcher. Drops a 3/5 creatures with Taunt on the field, which summons a 1/2 creature with Taunt when it dies. Theoretically, my opponent would need to run all his creatures and his weapon into the Belcher to kill it. Of course, my opponent would also have 4 mana in which to respond to the Belcher as well.
  • Swipe face. It’s a YOLO sort of play that deals 4 damage to my opponent and 1 damage to all his creatures. Meaning it will kill his three 1/1 creatures and pop the other’s Divine Shield. My opponent would still have his 1-damage weapon, a 2/2, four mana to spend, and me with an empty board.

So, which one would you do? If my deck matters, it’s Ramp (Ysera) Druid without combo.

…did you pick a course of action yet?

…okay. Like I mentioned, I went with Coin + Harrison Jones. On the opponent’s turn, he cast Blessing of Might on the 2/2, turning it into a 5/2, summoned another 1/1 dude with Hero Power, and went face with everything. On my turn, I committed such an egregiously bad misplay that I’m legitimately embarrassed to type it out. What should have occurred was my Swiping the opponent’s face, destroying all his 1/1 dudes plus popping the Divine Shield, followed by trading my Harrison into the 5/2. Instead, I did that backwards. So, really, it was so bad that it was two misplays, as I could have recovered by Swiping the 5/2 directly at least. But nope.

Needless to say, I lost that game.

And actually, I probably would have lost the game regardless. The remaining sequence of the game was him casting Charge creatures and going face every time – the extra 5 damage taken unnecessarily would not have made much of a difference when you’re sitting at 5 HP to his 30. The only healing in my deck are two Ancient of Lores, and drawing those before getting Arcane Golem’d or Consecrated and such would itself be a coin-toss.

The funny thing to me is how, even in Magic: the Gathering, the best play is the one that gives you a chance to win. If you just play based on the cards in your hand and the ones on the board, you can lose sight of the Window of Victory as it slowly slides shut. If your best chance to win is to commit to a costly attack and top-deck a burn spell the next turn… then do that. If you draw something else, oh well, you were going to lose at that point anyway.

My best play for the above game would have been MC Tech and hope I get the 25% chance to nab the 2/2. Perhaps my opponent would have played different cards the following turn, but I’d have two decent minions and Swipe for the next. Or Belcher. Or Harrison. Or, at that point, dropping a 5/10 Taunt creature on turn 7, sealing the game until and unless my opponent draws into an Equality (assuming Eboladin even runs that). In this scenario, I was not avoiding the risky play that could backfire, I was making the same risky play and choosing the 0% chance to win option.

There are probably deeper games out there than Hearthstone. Games in which you can encounter these scenarios without the coin-flips being so naked obvious. But just because there are coin-flips, doesn’t mean there is nothing one can do to maximize their chances at success.

TL;DR: when in doubt, MC Tech.

I (We) Did It

[Blaugust Day 22]

A (realistically unnecessary) GTX 970 graphics card is on its way.

The overall purchase decision was not as uncertain as I was perhaps making it seem. I actually have a birthday coming up in the next few weeks, and the only other viable present to myself would have been something like a PS4. Which was tempting, mainly because I technically “own” 34 PS4 games by virtue of PS+. But as I was going over the spreadsheet last night – hey, the PS+ interface is pretty awful and doesn’t let you easily sort games – I realized that majority of those titles were indie games that I already owned on other devices. The Vita might have given more value in that regard, but let’s be real: 99.9% of the time, I’m going to be in front my PC.

Once that last synapse fired, it was time.

Now was the matter of where to purchase it. In yesterday’s post, Whoom commented that Newegg had that same GTX 970 card I had been talking about for $309.99. Same as Amazon, but this time including the Metal Gear Solid V gift. Hmm… let me just compare that with the Best Buy deal again, this time with the 10% off coupon…

Uh... lol?

Uh… lol?

NewEgg it is!

Of course, the savings here is really just deferred taxes. Which I will totally pay next April. Absolutely. Not even a question. I will just pencil that in under… whatever the category is for voluntarily paying taxes for things the government will never realistically be able to figure out. Probably near a subsection B or another.

So there it is. Now, I just have to spend even more money buying games that will use the power.

Good Guy Best Buy

[Blaugust Day 21]

Just like with Amazon, Best Buy decided to look out for me by dissuading my GTX 970 purchase.

The amusing thing is I finally felt ready to pull the trigger, after all my prior dithering. The final push? Best Buy had the Zotac GTX 970 version up for $329.99 with a price match guarantee… and Amazon had the same exact model for $309.99. Sweet. So I’m going to price match the $309.99 and then whip out my trap card 10% off coupon. I balked previously at graphics cards that barely moved on price, but getting one at $279 is another matter entirely. Plus, the free game code included this time around is Metal Gear Solid V, which is actually something I want to play. So, technically, I’d be getting the video card for less than $250.

When I tried calling Best Buy yesterday, there was simply a recording that stated “due to circumstances beyond our control, we are unable to take calls at this time.” Uhh… okay. So I tried once again tonight. And, as I should have expected, the answer was “No.” Or more specifically, they weren’t going to do both.

Technically, I could still realize some measure of savings by using the 10% coupon: about $13 or so off the Amazon price. But here’s the thing:

Apparently made to order.

Apparently made to order.

There is no in-store pickup options available and the order takes 6-10 days to process. And it apparently takes tiny children an additional two weeks to hand craft the video card before it arrives at my door. Seriously, 25 days from order to arrival? The scenario is especially ridiculous if all I was doing was looking for the price match, considering this is the competition:

Amazon just makes the tiny child pull 16 hour shifts.

Amazon just makes the tiny children pull 16 hour shifts.

That little Prime symbol means it will be in my hands in two days. Two days. I could order a video card drunk and have it arrive while I’m still hung-over, depending on the bender I went on.¹ The days in which you could just price match Amazon are ancient history, myths spun in the abandoned break rooms of Circuit City and Blockbuster. Shipping and handling? GTFO. It’s 2015, people – if the UPS guy isn’t ringing my doorbell before I even click the purchase confirmation button, you’re doing it wrong.

Jokes aside, the sad thing is that Best Buy might end up having the last laugh on this one. The Amazon listing doesn’t mention the Metal Gear Solid V promotion, and the Nvidia fine print mentions that it’s only applicable through authorized sellers. Waiting an extra three weeks to save $13 is one thing, but waiting extra for ~$63 is another. Plus, it’s not exactly as though I need the card right now anyway. Hmm.

So… yeah. There’s another glimpse into the madness that is my method.

¹ Always express your crippling alcoholism² responsibly.

² This is a joke.

Portable Steam Machine

[Blaugust Day 15]

Remember when I was complaining about the Vita yesterday, and how I was never play though old games again anyway? I was about to add on a throwaway line to the end of the post about how the first company to make a portal Steam machine would make a lot of cash.

Well, turns out there’s one scheduled for a late 2016 release:

Smach, the company touting the portable Steam OS device, says the handheld will ship out during the fourth quarter of 2016. That $299 price (€299 in Europe) is apparently the device’s pre-sale price only. We’ve reached out to the company for more details on pricing.

The Smach Zero — the Steamboy project’s new name — claims to be “the first handheld console to play Steam games on the go.” The device will play “more than 1,000 games” from Steam’s library on day one, with a hardware spec that will balance performance and cost.

Best part? MicroSD card slot. The rest of the specs are in the article.

To an extent, I almost wish for lower specs and not higher. I don’t want something capable of playing GTA IV on the go – I want something capable of playing the million and a half indie games cluttering up my Steam page. If I could boot this thing up during my lunch break at work, perhaps I would find the time to start playing games like To the Moon, The Walking Dead, and the Legend of Grimrock. The lower the specs, the less expensive the machine, the longer the battery life, and so on.

Incidentally, here is another article about the same handheld, this time with benchmarks:

  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011) on Low and 1280×720: 16 FPS
  • World of Warcraft (2005) on Medium and 1024×768: 43 FPS
  • Diablo III (2012) on Low and 1024×768: 38 FPS
  • Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (2013) on Low and 1024×768: 16.5 FPS

Technically those benchmarks are for the Radeon 8400E (or Nvidia GT 740M), which is the equivalent graphics card that this thing has. So, yeah, Skyrim is right out, and Diablo 3 isn’t looking too hot either.

That said, do you know what would play just fine? Civilization 5. And Total War: Shogun 2 (although you’d need at least a 64gb microSD card). And a whole host of other similar titles whose only question marks would be whether they’d be able to run in SteamOS in the first place. Details, details.

So what do you guys think? Would a portable Steam player excite you in any way?

Pillars of Eternity is Exhausting

[Blaugust Day 13]

As you might have noticed in the sidebar, I am finally getting around to playing Pillars of Eternity. The problem I am encountering though, is finding the motivation to play it for any particular length of time.

This is not an indictment of the gameplay or overall quality of the game necessarily. I loved the Baldur’s Gate series back in the day, and a return to isometric graphics is just fine by me. I’d say the most annoying thing I’ve encountered so far are all the useless Kickstarter NPCs which you can “talk” to but have nothing to do with anything. I have been trained by generations of RPGs to put a high importance on named NPCs, which makes these particular NPCs worse than useless. Luckily, I’ve finally recognized that these NPCs have a special colored nameplate and thus I can safely avoid being disappointed.

No, the primary problem is how… efficient I play games these days. If you present me with an isometric RPG map with a fog of war and a Tab key that highlights all the clickable objects, I am going to start at the edges and clear out the map 100%. I honestly don’t even feel like it’s a choice to do so – it’s a compulsion. What if there is a party member in that little patch of darkness? Or something to loot? Or some mobs I can kill? I’m not a completionist by any means, nor do I particularly care for achievements, but I just can’t seem to help myself here.

The end result is that I clear an entire map, face every possible encounter therein, and then head to a new one. And upon seeing that big square piece of darkness laying before me… I balk. “This is about as good a stopping point as any.” So I stop. Even if I’ve only been playing for 20 minutes.

As I mentioned, this compulsion seems unique to this type of game.

In my estimation there are a few likely causes that feed on one another. The first is basic min-maxing: there doesn’t appear to be respawns, so every missed encounter necessarily leads to a weaker party. No doubt there is more than enough mobs available to hit the level cap eventually, but I want to be more powerful now. The second is the fog of war mechanic itself, which is a pretty self-explanatory OCD itch to scratch. The third is actually related to the first, in that gold (or copper in this case) is a limited resource in a world without respawns, thus the majority of your gear will be found. Or missed, if one does not scour every inch of every map.

Breaking this habit will be tough, especially considering I did not even realize it was a habit until I starting playing Pillars of Eternity. Well, I knew beforehand that I dislike certain pattern-based puzzles simply because I can’t bring myself not to complete them in a ruthlessly logical (e.g. brute-force) way. If you show me something like the Minecraft crafting grid, I will start with one stick in the upper-left square, and continue moving that stick through every possible combination before adding two sticks, and so on. It’s like guessing luggage combinations by starting with 001 and working my way up.

Anyone else play games this way? And if so… how did you get yourself to stop?

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