Category Archives: Commentary

The Wishlist, part Welp

I was expecting the Epic Sale to be weeks away still, but apparently it started today. Also, apparently inflation (or lawsuit fees?) come for us all:

Instead of getting a flat $10 off any game at $14.99 and above, you get 25% extra off.

This is technically a better deal when the baseline game you are buying is more than $40. Everything else is a worse deal. For example, Rogue Lords is on sale for $16.24. With the historical coupon scheme, it would be $6.24, but this new scheme means it is $12.18. The one extra nuance though is apparently the new scheme will allow you to get the 25% discount as long as your entire cart is above $14.99 rather than individual items. Risk of Rain 2 is discounted to $12.49, for example, which normally would not receive any extra discount. In the same cart as Rogue Lords, you save… $3.12.

Hey, I’ve done dumber shit for, well, not less but not much more than that.

In any case, it’s extremely disappointing that basically every game on my wishlist is $2.49 more expensive than it was six months ago during the Winter version of this sale. Two-fiddy many not seem like a lot, and perhaps it isn’t in the grand scheme of things, but in my head I turn those numbers into other games I could have bought.

Anyway, this is how my wishlist breaks down in this sale:

  • [$37.26] Final Fantasy 7: Remake Intergrade
  • [$22.49] Cyberpunk 2077
  • [$22.49] Red Dead Redemption 2
  • [$18.74] Horizon: Zero Dawn Complete
  • [$15.74] Satisfactory
  • [$9.37] Risk of Rain 2
  • [$37.49*] God of War
  • [$40.49*] Dying Light 2
  • [$18.74*] Wildermyth
  • [not listed] Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
  • [not listed] Elden Ring
  • [not listed] NeiR: Replicant

The prices with an asterisk are games not on sale aside from the bonus 25% (Dying Light 2 is 10% off, I guess). I’m actually rather surprised about the bottom three games simply not existing on Epic. I’m not aware of any exclusivity agreements with Steam, and part of Epic’s whole deal was supposed to be a better dev cut of the action, so… what? How is something like Elden Ring not on here?

After some sticker shock at the “buy all the things” total, I pared it down to the four horsemen:

So, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Cyberpunk 2077, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Horizon: Zero Dawn.

I had things like Risk of Rain 2 and Satisfactory in there and some other off-wishlist games like Days Gone and Far Cry 6, but I had to face reality a bit. Given those main four games (and nevermind my existing library), when would I have the time to be playing anything else? I suppose it’s possible that Epic’s next sale is an even worse deal than this one, but that is a risk I am just going to take. This way, I can see where things stand by the end of quad-AAA production experiences, not feel guilty for occasionally tooling around in random indie games, and see what ends up popping up in Game Pass.

And that’s it. See you in six months.

Interlude

When it comes to music, I have a System.

Stage 1 is Acquisition. My ability to discover new music is very limited, as I did not have much of a commute even pre-pandemic for radio, and I typically listen to NPR besides. Therefore, I pretty much only hear snippets of songs from random Youtube clips, memes, or Indie-Rock playlists. Once I do hear something I like, I immediately try to locate the entire discography of the group “just in case” there are other songs I may enjoy. The amount of times this has worked out for me is small in the aggregate, but when it has worked out, I ended up finding some of my favorite songs of all time, so it’s worth it.

Stage 2 is Sifting. I have a dynamic playlist called Unrated that will display every song in my library that does not have a 1-5 Star rating. Once a rating is decided, it drops from the playlist and I continue down the list until my queue is empty. Roughly speaking, ratings mean:

  • 1 Star – To be deleted
  • 2 Star – Song is “useful” for some other purpose (e.g. memes, D&D, comedy clips)
  • 3 Star – Baseline level of good, would enjoy this randomly being played
  • 4 Star – Very good song, catchy, meaningful
  • 5 Star – Devasting emotional payload

To give an idea about distribution, I have 3270 songs in the 3-Star category (80%), 721 in 4-Star (18%), and just 100 in 5-Star (2%).

Stage 3 is Assignment. Once everything has a Star rating, it goes into my Group Work dynamic playlist. It is here that I assign it a “Grouping” category. I base these off of colors that correspond to mood:

  • Clear – no particular mood
  • Blue – melancholy, pathos
  • Green – mellow, unobtrusive
  • Red – songs that make you drive faster on the freeway
  • Yellow – Up-tempo, driving beats
  • Rose – relationship songs

Once this last piece of metadata is complete, songs that have survived the gauntlet are automatically sorted into dynamic playlists. If I want to chill and do some work? Open the Green playlist and hit Random. Roadtrip? Load up Red and press Play. Want to just feel sad for a while? Blue. This has worked out much better for me than traditional playlists, as sometimes I forgot to add new songs to old playlists. Plus, some songs fit into multiple moods, which I can handle by giving them multiple Grouping labels (“Green, Blue”).

To be honest, I have no idea if this is convoluted or not. My default assumption is… Yes. But I haven’t really heard how other people tackle this sort of thing. Surely everyone has playlists of some kind, yeah? Do people just use Spotify these days? What is your System? Partially because I’m curious, and partially so I can determine what improvements (if any) can be assimilated into my own.

Addendum: Program-wise, I am using MusicBee as the player on PC, and Rocket Player on my phone. I used to use iTunes on PC and synced things easily with Rocket Player, but at some point that method failed and I could never figure out why. So these days I just bulk copy/replace files on the phone periodically.

Acquisition-wise, TPB used to be good enough, but these days I just rip from Youtube.

Misadventures

You didn’t think buying a premade PC would be easy did you?

Confirming that it boots up.

Well, it was pretty easy, actually. What has not been easy is the business of migrating my life.

The thought process was that the prebuilt came with a 1TB NVMe SSD and then I would just move my two existing SSDs from my current machine over into the new one. Since they are already labeled as “Data” and “Games,” with corresponding contents, it would make for what I imagined to be an easy move. The first thing that tripped me up was the fact that my C:\ drive (a third SSD) had games installed on it too. So, I spent most of the afternoon copying over ~90 GB worth of files to the Data drive with the intention of moving them back to the C:\ drive of the new computer.

Once I cracked open the case of the new PC though, I became very confused.

In short, there really didn’t seem to be any obvious bay drives or cages or whatever the fuck you call “place where you stick SSDs.” I mean, there were places where I could kinda sorta maybe see an SSD fitting, but not how it was supposed to fit. The internet was fairly useless in this regard, as was/is Cyberpower tech support who, as of the time of this writing, has still not responding to the ticket I submitted. All I wanted to know was A) where are SSDs supposed to go, B) what the shit these plastic things are supposed to be (presumably related to affixing SSDs), and C) is it true that there is only one SATA port on this motherboard?

That last apparent fact really threw my plans into disarray, as I wouldn’t be able to bring over two SSDs like I planned. The subsequent surprise that the Data drive was, in fact, an old-school HDD this whole time barely registered.

Feels like a “3 Seashells” situation.

So, Lesson 1: it’s actually very important to pay attention to what the motherboard of your PC looks like, even if that seems like the least exciting piece of the machine.

Lesson 2: Likewise, pay attention to your case. Every damn one seems to have a window on the side these days, which means everything else is getting stuffed out of sight or miniaturized out of existence.

Incidentally, both are lessons I should have already learned from a prior misadventure a few years ago with buying a washer & dryer. Our old top-loading washer stopped working, and the issue was fried electronics that would have cost $200 to replace just in parts. Considering the dryer took 2-3 cycles to dry towels anyway, we opted for a new washer & dryer combo. We did our research, we compared prices, we shopped around, we got a good deal. The thing that we didn’t account for? Which ways the goddamn doors open. They are both front-loading machines and the doors open towards each other. Huge pain in the ass moving clothes around. Can’t really swap positions because of the drain pipes and the dryer vent, and the washer door is not reversible so… yeah. The little stuff matters.

In any case, I reexamined my available options for the PC. The motherboard technically has three NVMe slots, but one of them is behind the huge, honking RTX 3080. So, maximum, I could have one SATA SSD and one additional NVMe SSD. Decision? Throwing my hands (and cash) in the air and purchasing a 2TB NVMe SSD for about $200. Getting a 1TB version would have saved some money and put me on par with my current setup, but… well, my current setup is one without a lot of AAA games installed. And what this experience has taught me thus far is that I don’t really have a deep desire to be spending my precious free time fiddling around with computer components.

Seriously, how could I have not known I still had a HDD installed after all these years? That was where Guild Wars 2 was installed! I never questioned the loading times, but now it all makes sense.

As for the digital migration, that is still ongoing. Several years ago, I bought an external hard drive “docking station” thing in an effort to try and save my wife’s data when her laptop died. Basically, you can chuck any hard drive in the plastic cage, SSD or HDD, and then connect it to another computer via a USB 3.0 cable. It worked. So, that’s the play: install the NVMe SSD into the new computer, unplug the old computer, plug in the new computer, and then (temporarily) remove all the hard drives from the old one and transfer their contents via the docking station.

And because I like doing things the hard way, I am first making a fresh backup of my Data drive to an external SSD that I have around the house for exactly this purpose. Well, that, and because I am vaguely concerned about this 11+ year old surprise HDD dying mid-migration.

So that’s where I’m at. Hopefully the next update will be about how everything went perfectly, and that I was finally able to see a game, any game, at max settings and that it was all worth it.

Battlestation: PC Acquired

About 10 years ago, I bought my current PC. In that time, I pretty much only added a few extra SSDs and upgraded the graphics card from 560ti to 970 to 1060 (via warranty). I have had the same i5-2500K processor, the same 8GB of RAM, and the same motherboard the entire time.

Well, I just put in an order for a new prebuilt when a good deal presented itself:

  • Intel i7-11700KF
  • 32GB RAM
  • RTX 3080 (10GB)

After tax, the total came to $1842. That’s more than the $1260 I spent on my rig back in 2011… although inflation means it really cost ~$1600 in today’s dollars.

The decision was tough. In fact, I have been mulling over the thought of canceling the order and getting a similarly beefy machine with a 3060ti instead for ~$400 cheaper. The idea would be to save that money and put it towards a replacement GPU in the Fall when the 4000 series cards come out and presumably obsolete the 3080.

But you know what? I kinda want to be done.

Assuming it arrives in working order, this PC will meet all the needs of every game that I had been putting off for the last few years. Cyberpunk 2077, Red Dead Redemption 2, Horizon Zero Dawn, FFVIIR. All of which I am planning on purchasing during the next Epic Summer Sale where they should be 50% off + $10 coupon. Having a 3060ti would make them playable at 1440p but otherwise put me in that awkward scenario in which I either play them with the hardware I have at the time, or sitting on them until I get the 4000-series card. Not that that is even guaranteed to be widely available! If I’m waiting until the Fall, I may as well wait for the Winter Sale instead… and so on and so forth.

If you think that’s exhausting to read, imagine being me.

So, yeah. It’s done. And that is certainly worth X dollars all by itself.

LFD? What LFD?

Not to belabor the topic of WoW Classic and LFD, but Rohan brings up an amazingly relevant point:

The real irony here is that Retail sees far less use of the Dungeon Finder than Classic would. Mythic and Mythic Keystone dungeons don’t use the Dungeon Finder and automatic group creation, they use the Premade Group Finder. So really, the only people using the Dungeon Finder are people levelling, people doing dungeons to finish quests, or people gearing up a little at the very start of an expansion. Otherwise everyone is doing dungeons the old-fashioned way, even having to travel to the instance entrance in the world.

I think it would be difficult for even the more ardent Classic purist to be upset over a Premade Group Finder compromise. It allows you to advertise a PUG to your local server community without needing to spam Trade chat. What would the counter-argument possibly be? Yeah, it didn’t exist during Wrath, but LFD did so… are you an originalist or no?

To be honest, I completely forgot about the Premade Group Finder because A) I’m not playing WoW and B) I had less than zero interest in Mythic dungeons when I was playing. I would still prefer an LFD system overall for less serious content though, especially for those on smaller servers. Sometimes you just want to press a button and get group content. If it’s good enough for PvP, why not PvE?

Borrowed Power, Borrowed Time

The Blizzard devs have been on a bit of a interview circuit since the reveal of the next WoW expansion. Some of the tidbits have been interesting, like this particular summary (emphasis mine):

  • Borrowed Power
    • The team reflected on the borrowed power systems of the past few expansions and admit that giving players power and then taking it away at the end didn’t feel good.
    • As they thought of a way to move forward without borrowed power systems, they realized that the only talent system used to fill those gaps by giving you something new every expansion that would not be taken away at the end.
    • The goal of the new talent system is to grow on it in further expansions with more layers and rows.
    • They want the new talent system to be sustainable for at least a few expansions and what to do at that point is an issue to solve then.

In other words, Blizzard recognized the failings of the “borrowed power” system – after three expansions! – and decided to bring back talent trees as a replacement. All while acknowledging the reasons why talent trees failed in the first place… and simply saying the equivalent of “we’ll jump off that bridge when we come to it.”

You know, I’m actually going to transcript that part from Ion Hazzikostas for posterity:

And I think we’ve built this system… you know, I mean, could we sustain that for 20 years? Probably not. But we don’t realistically… we think of, you know, there’s a – there a horizon of sorts where you want to make sure this will work for two or three expansions and then beyond that it’s sort of a future us problem. Where so much will have changed between now and then we can’t… it’s not really responsible for us to like, you know, make plant firm stakes in the ground. And if we’re compromising the excitement of our designs because of we’re not sure how they’re going to scale eight years from now… we’re doing a disservice to players today and eight years from now won’t matter if we’re not making an amazing game for players today.

I don’t technically disagree. When you have a MMORPG with character progression and abilities that accumulate over time… at some point it becomes very unwieldy to maintain every system introduced. Not impossible, just unwieldy. It reminds me of when CCGs like Hearthstone or Magic: the Gathering start segmenting older card sets away from “Standard” and into “Legacy” sets. Want to play with the most broken cards from every set ever released? Sure, go have fun over there in that box. Everyone else can have fun with a smaller set of more (potentially) balanced cards over here.

Having said that… is it really an insurmountable design problem?

My first instinct was to look at Guild Wars 2, which recently released its third expansion. The game is a bit of an outlier from the get-go considering that there is no gear progression at the level cap – if you have Ascended/Legendary Berserker gear from 10+ years ago, it is still Best-in-Slot today (assuming your class/spec wasn’t nerfed). That horizontal progression philosophy bleeds over into character skills and talent-equivalents too: whatever spec you are playing, you are limited to 5 combat skills based on your weapon(s) and 5 utility skills picked from a list. You pick three talent trees, but those trees don’t “expand” or get additional nodes. The only power accumulation in GW2 is in the Mastery system… which is largely borrowed-power-esque, now that I think about it.

So GW2 is doing well in the ability/feature creep department. For now. Because that’s the rub: ArenaNet is on expansion #3. WoW is on expansion #9. Are we prepared for six more Elite Specs per class? Outside of it being a balance nightmare – which is hardly ever ArenaNet’s apparent concern – I could easily see more Elite Specs being slapped onto the UI and nothing else of note changing. So the problem is “solved” by never granting meaningfully new abilities to older specs.

And… that’s basically the extent of my knowledge of non-WoW MMOs. Surely EverQuest 1 & 2 have encountered this same issue, for example. What did they do? I think FF14 is accumulating character abilities but not yet hitting the limit of reasonableness. EVE is EVE. What else is out there that has been around long enough to run into this? Runescape?

Regardless, it’s an interesting conundrum whereby the choices appear to be A) not grant new abilities with each expansion, B) have Borrowed Power systems, or C) periodically “reset” and prune character abilities before reintroducing them.

Idles of March

I am once again experiencing a long stretch of gaming ennui.

Guild Wars 2, which had hitherto commanded a solid portion of my daily gaming allotment, fell off a cliff in the weeks leading into the End of Dragons expansion. There were really three things in play. First, I was beginning to question “the point” of my toil – as good an indication of any that one has shifted from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation. Second, I could not readily commit to which version of the expansion to purchase. This remains a barrier even now, because when I do log in I see items in the Gem Store that are enticing, which suggests I should buy the $80 version of the game (which comes with gems). Surely buying the standard $30 version and then buying gems separately is the worst of all worlds. So… I do nothing.

The third reason was actually recently addressed: I was not certain whether End of Dragons was to be the last GW2 expansion. Who wants to grind things in a “dead” MMO? Well, ArenaNet announced they are working on a fourth expansion. Whether it is coming in 2 years or 4 doesn’t matter so much as that it is coming at all.

Beyond all that, I am actually playing a lot of different games. Not the ones I committed to in December, of course. I completed Undertale, but then hit a wall with SOMA insofar as trying to decide whether I wanted to keep playing with monsters on or off. I (used to) own all of the Silent Hill games and enjoyed all of the Resident Evils through the years, but I’m not a particular fan of the helpless horror genre. Dead Space and Prey? Good. Amnesia and Alien: Isolation? No thanks. The anxiety and thrills feel cheaper than, say, from a roguelike or at the end of a long raid-dance sequence – I either one-shot the area or get killed enough times to abstract the encounter into a puzzle.

In any case, I do not particularly want every post between now and Summer to be an Impressions piece of whatever indie game I take for a spin. So, I have been writing next to nothing. Which is probably worse, on balance. Hmm. This is what I have been playing recently:

  • Black Book
  • FAR: Lone Sails
  • My Friend Pedro
  • Outriders
  • We Happy Few
  • Sunset Overdrive
  • Sheltered

That last game, Sheltered, is really a sort of Fallout: Shelter-esque time-waster that nevertheless sucked 6 hours out of me and reignited a burning need to collect random garbage in survival crafting fashion. Unfortunately, I have pretty much played everything in the genre already, and what’s left will remain unpurchased until Epic’s Summer Sale. A mere 50% off doesn’t do it for me anymore: I need 50% + $10 off.

So, that’s my life at the moment. How are you?

Stand with Ukraine Bundle

Humble Bundle has a new mega bundle for $40 with all of the proceeds going to Ukraine relief. Since I was browsing through the list anyway, here are what stands out:

  • Satisfactory
  • Metro: Exodus Own
  • Sunset Overdrive Game Pass
  • This War of Mine Own
  • Slay the Spire Own/Game Pass
  • The Long Dark Own/Game Pass
  • Ring of Pain Own/Game Pass
  • Starbound Own/Game Pass
  • Supraland Game Pass
  • Wizard of Legend
  • Vagante
  • Wargroove
  • Warsaw
  • Superhot Own
  • Pathway Game Pass

The above aren’t all the games, just the ones I would have been interested in. For example, Back 4 Blood Game Pass is one of the “headliners” but I have no interest in Left 4 Dead-esque games these days.

As you can see though, a large number of these games are currently available via Game Pass. While pure value isn’t the purpose of the bundles, I do think it’s worth pointing out that this will be much more heavily weighted on the donation side of things. That said, a few of these games – like Starbound, for instance – are better off in a more permanent library where you can easily mod them. So there’s that.

It’s Getting Tempting Now

Still in the market for a new computer, then start seeing deals like this:

Laptop with a RTX 3070 and 165Hz IPS screen for $1400, shipped from Walmart of all places. Less than a month ago, a prebuilt PC with the same specs was running $100+ more. I wasn’t in the market for replacing my PC with a laptop, but now? Hmm.

That said, 512GB SSD is untenable when I’m already rocking two additional SSDs (1TB and 500GB) in my PC. So right off the bat I’d have to pony up $100-$200 more for a 2TB upgrade for the laptop, voiding warranties in the process. Plus I’d probably want to get some kind of cooling stand to put the thing on. Finally… there really isn’t much of a use case for the mobility it would offer. The option to take it places is one thing, but 99% of the time it would be sitting on my desk making loud fan noises as I play Game Pass. And even if I did take it somewhere, it isn’t as though it’s actually mobile – I would be much better off with a cheap tablet and emulators or a Switch or whatever.

In any case, video card prices are recovering to a large degree, and I am expecting things to continue getting less expensive as we head into the Fall and start seeing the 4060/4070 release. I am not necessarily planning on waiting 8+ months to replace my current PC, but if it takes that long before a good 3080 prebuilt hits ~$2000, then maybe I continue waiting. It has worked up to this point.

Monitor Acquired

A few months ago, I was talking about wanting to upgrade my battlestation. It’s been a few days, but I have since bought a new monitor and have been putting it through the paces. And I’m here to confirm that… my chicken/egg dilemma was correct.

I went with the LG 27GL83A-B, which is a 27″ 1440p 144Hz IPS panel monitor. I bought it off Amazon when it was on sale for $279.99, but it has since crept back up closer to its $379 MSRP. My previous monitor was already 27″ but it was just a 1080p 60Hz VA panel. If you don’t speak monitorese, the short version is that I now have a 2K monitor that is actually capable of displaying more than 60 FPS.

if my PC can output more than 60 FPS.

Thing is, my computer (graphics card, CPU, etc) has not changed in any way, but now it has to output 43% more pixels. So while the colors are absolutely poppin‘ on the screen, some games end up looking worse because I’ve had to downgrade textures and other settings to maintain acceptable framerates. That’s the chicken/egg dilemma, and I chose the egg.

Now we wait for a passably decent Prebuilt PC with a good graphics card before I can get maximum value. With the rumors of Nvidia’s 4000-series coming out in the August/September range, I’m somewhat hopeful that either the 3080 card becomes a bit cheaper or possibly just leapfrogging directly to 4070 or whatever.