Category Archives: Commentary

Out of this RimWorld

After hitting a lull in Final Fantasy 7 Remake motivation, I did the most logical thing possible with a $1800 prebuilt PC: reinstalled RimWorld. Admittedly, it had been a while.

While there has been two expansions released, the core experience has largely remained intact. I think the biggest thing that threw me for a loop was needing to build a wooden pen for animals. Previously, you could just “paint” an Allow zone for animals in an area, and herd them elsewhere by moving the zone. Probably a bit too abstract, sure, but it’s not as though the rest of the game is super intuitive.

The other aspect of the game that returned quickly was the demotivating sense of inevitability. And I don’t just mean those unfortunate events where the dice don’t land your way and your best sniper gets shot in the eye by a tribal with an arrow from 50m away. I mean when you hit Spacer tech and you’re starting down the charged barrel of endgame Civilization Conquest next-turning for the next dozen hours. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing certain about Randy RNG beyond your tears… but, also, kinda yeah there is. There is a point where all you’re doing is pulling the handle, and seeing if you’ve successfully installed a bionic spine into colonist #6, or if everyone gets muscle parasites an hour before a mechanoid cluster lands inside your base.

I’m currently on the fence regarding whether I believe the expansions would help. The prevailing wisdom is that the Royalty DLC adds a lot of new content, while Ideology adds more roleplay elements. Either or both could possibly help with that inevitable feeling. I certainly have no desire to caravan across the planet and/or DIY a spaceship – I did both years ago and that was enough.

But… we’ll see. It was a craving for a survival experience that led me to reinstalling in the first place, and RimWorld isn’t that. It’s adjacent, in a way. But once you’ve had your fill, that’s that.

Gaming Age: Survival

When you look at the general gaming zeitgeist, it’s clear that it goes through distinct ages.

  • RPG-elements
  • MMO
  • Battle Royale
  • F2P
  • Open world
  • Survival

We are currently in an age of survival. Not literally (OK, also literally), but of survival games. Which is good news to me as it is clearly one of my favorite genres, but even I have been surprised at the recent volume and game companies involved. Let’s take a look of what’s coming up according to PC Gamer.

Retreat to Enen (Aug 2022) is about becoming one with nature rather than chopping down all the trees. Forever Skies (Early Access late 2022) is survival and exploration in a blimp base above the ruins of Earth. I Am Future (2022) is another sort of “skyscrapers above the mist” setting but is supposedly more jolly in perhaps a My Time at Portia sort of way. Above Snakes (2023) is isometric survival with Native Americans in which you place down your own tiles to explore. Derelicts (TBA) is a 1-man developed survival game that looks like Satisfactory with actual survival elements. Sons of the Forest (Oct 2022) is a sequel to The Forest, ’nuff said. Nightingale (Early Access late 2022) is described as “Victorian gaslamp fantasy” and certainly looks cool, although it strikes me as less survival and more adventure/story progression.

That article was focusing on new survivals games that weren’t “chop wood, mine ore, repeat” though.

In the pipeline is an open-world Terminator survival game. Ubisoft is making Skull & Bones, which is Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag + survival. Wild West Dynasty is the next game from the publisher of Medieval Dynasty. Jagex is working on an open-world survival game based on RuneScape. ARK 2 is coming, featuring in-game Vin Diesel. My Time at Sandrock is a thing.

What kind of inspired the post though, was Square Enix announcing Harvestella, a “life sim farming game.” I know that farming sims aren’t technically survival games, but it’s kind of a wolf vs dog situation.

[Edit] I cannot believe I forgot the other example: Blizzard’s unnamed survival game.

The thing that I am discovering about myself through all this is that my tastes and predilections have not shifted much. That in of itself is not an epiphany, of course. But 11 years ago I wrote a post about Bean Counting and how I recognized that as the sort of root of fun I dig at in every game I play. For a long time, MMOs satisfied that desire. And regular RPGs like the Witcher, and several F2P games, and Open World games, and so on.

With Survival (and farming) games, I feel I have come to perhaps the purest Form of Bean Counting.

Of course, Novelty is also important… otherwise I would be playing Minecraft and calling it a day. And so I feel it rather fortuitous that I happen to be living through this age, and its embarrassment of survival riches. If you don’t like punching trees or watering plants, well, I’m sorry. I’ll just have to horde crafting supplies enough for the both of us.

The Future(s)

Thinking about the future is hard. Sometimes because it is difficult to forecast, and other times because it inspires existential dread. If you’re not up for some of the latter, feel free to Abandon Post!

On Reddit I have subscribed to r/Collapse and r/PrepperIntel. I am not a prepper or doomer, per se, but I do find it useful to have an increased awareness of potential hazards. For example, I have rebuffed all casual suggestions that we move to Florida. Besides the fact that it’s Florida, climate change is going to hit there especially hard between extreme weather events and salt water intruding up through the limestone into the aquafers. A sea wall ain’t going to do shit about that. And while it’s possible that I won’t live to see that level of disaster occur – I will be around retirement age at 2050 – why would I want to set down roots somewhere where my son will have to sell the family house to Aquaman?

Then you have the other side of the (Bit)coin with Mark Zuckerberg steering Facebook into spending $10 billion this year on metaverse and VR. Regardless of how you feel about any of those nouns, it’s amusing to see such a commitment towards something entirely dependent on, well, non-collapse scenarios. Europe is going to have a tough time heating homes this winter, but sure, let’s pour some R&D money into beaming ads directly into peoples’ eyeballs. Perhaps Zuckerberg is a fan of Ready Player One? Or perhaps he just wants something to help pass the time in his climate bunker.

OK, maybe I’m further along the doomer scale than I thought.

It’s hard to be optimistic in the current, ahem, climate anyway. We’re days away from a Supreme Court judgment on whether and how the Environmental Protection Agency is able to tackle climate change at all. Within the next two years, we could theocratically theoretically be under conservative rule just in time for them to try tax breaks or repealing healthcare to refill Lake Mead before the Hoover Dam goes offline. Almost makes you want that Great Salt Lake bomb to go off sooner than later, eh?

Also, don’t move to Utah. Or any previously-desert State. That desert is coming back.

It’s reasonable to ask the follow-up question of “WTF, mate?” There’s no particularly satisfying answer. Maybe we get a fusion energy breakthrough that allows us to power through some massive carbon geoengineering moonshot. Maybe they find Hillary’s emails on Hunter’s laptop and it’s revealed the leftist climate agenda purpose is to sell Priuses, and there’s nothing at all to worry about having CO2 at 421ppm like it was back in the Pliocene era, 4 million years and 25m+ higher ocean levels ago. Or maybe, I dunno, the sun stops shining so bright and we can just continue doing whatever we want.

For what it’s worth, I largely continue to behave as though there is a future out there that isn’t too unpleasant. What else can you do, right? As an Absurdist though, it makes me laugh a bit when Todd Howard starts talking about upcoming Bethesda games. Starfield is in 2023, then it is pre-production Elder Scrolls 6, and then Fallout 5 after that. Where does that put a Fallout 5 release, mid-2035?

Something tells me that we may not need Metaverse goggles for that one.

Upcoming Game Pass List

A few weeks ago, Microsoft had a presentation regarding some of the upcoming Game Pass titles. As someone who ended up purchasing 12 months ahead at a steep discount – not quite the $1 deal, but way below market – this is relevant to my interests.

  • Grounded (full release)
  • Persona 3 & 4 & 5
  • Slime Rancher 2
  • ARK 2
  • Diablo 4
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2
  • Starfield

Only typing out the ones that interest me makes it seem… well, not as many.

Nevertheless, I continue to appreciate Game Pass insofar as it removes any convoluted parsimony when it comes to titles large or small. For example, I had Hardspace: Shipbreaker on my radar for a while. No dilemma about whether to have bought it for cheaper in Early Access – been playing it for hours for free*. Same with Grounded, which is a survival crafting game right in my wheelhouse. Then you got the larger titles like Starfield, STALKER 2, and Diablo 4. The latter of which was surprising until, oh yeah, Microsoft is buying Activision Blizzard.

Not saying Game Pass is worth subscribing for everyone. I have literally 22 games installed right now though, not counting what I’ve played this year or the larger titles I know I don’t have time for.

But you know what? Let’s make that list. Here is what I have installed:

  • Citizen Sleeper
  • Death’s Door
  • Dreamscaper
  • Eiyuden Chronical: Rising
  • FAR: Changing Tides
  • Firewatch
  • Grounded
  • Hardspace: Shipbreaker
  • Infernax
  • Loot River
  • Nobody Saves the World
  • Octopath Traveler
  • Ori and the Will of the Wisps
  • Sable
  • Skul: the Hero Slayer
  • Solasta: Crown of the Magister
  • Superliminal
  • TUNIC
  • Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion
  • Unpacking
  • Unsighted
  • Vampire Survivors
  • We Happy Few

I have only played the ones underlined. There’s a risk of leaving so many unplayed in that games frequently leave the service, unlikely to return. At the same time, there are only so many hours in the day. Plus, if I wanted to play something, would I really have let it sit on my hard drive for months?

…Yeah, actually, my preferences are whimsey-based more than anything. Whatever. I’m working on it.

Too Early to Access

Early Access games are such a double-edged sword, right?

Conceptually, they are pretty brilliant. Games are risky projects that typically only give you a chance at profits years after development. With Early Access, you can release whatever you have handy – “Minimum Viable Product” in the gaming parlance – and gain money while you finish building out the rest of the game. Plus, sometimes you might actually get a piece of actionable feedback from the customers that changes the direction of the game. Win-win for the developer.

For me personally, Early Access games are Lose-Win at best.

I do not typically replay games. Between Humble Bundles and Epic Store giveaways and being a periodic MMO player, I have accumulated a largely insurmountable stockpile of games that makes it difficult to “justify” playing even ones I like a second time. So when I do buckle down and play an Early Access title, whatever stage of development it is in is typically the only version I experience. Which can sometimes be fine – not every game makes it out of Early Access. But many times I recognize that things are not fine, as I end up experiencing a worse version of an incomplete game that would have been a lot more fun had I waited.

There are a few exceptions to the rule. Well, one and a half: roguelikes and survival titles. Roguelikes, by their very nature, are “replayed” many times. I started playing Slay the Spire back when there were just two characters, for example, and continue(d) to play it now that there are four. Oxygen Not Included, RimWorld, and 7 Days to Die are in similar boats… that encourage or at least don’t punish re-boating.

Some survival games land further away from the roguelike spectrum and otherwise do not necessarily lend themselves towards repeated play. I have zero desire to play Valheim again, for example, until it is much closer to final release. Is there much of a practical difference between Valheim and 7 Days to Die? It’s hard to articulate, but the latter is more viscerally entertaining and a more varied experience. Both have procedurally-generated maps and such, but how many different bases are you going to create in Valheim really?

I bring all this up because a really, really want to play My Time at Sandrock. Which, you guessed it, just hit Early Access last week. A sequel of sorts to the original My Time at Portia, it has everything I want: basically being a sequel to a game I already put 108 hours into. Everything except… not being done.

What is the current state of the Early Access version?

“Early Access will begin with the single-player story model: players will be able to play some of the first act of the game’s story and have access to romance and friendship missions as we implement them.”

I can’t do it. Even if I imagined that I would pick one of the townsfolk to romance that had already been implemented, the “risk” is too great. “Risk” being uncharitably defined as making a choice that could result in a less satisfy gaming experience in the likely-only opportunity to play the game. Which is neurotic, I know, considering developers add choices to games to allow the opportunity for more people to enjoy themselves. But this brain meat is what I’m working with, so… yeah.

Incidentally, the other reason I’m bringing up this topic is because I was clued into a pre-Early Access game called Life Not Supported that’s basically Raft in space. As in, floating around and picking up space trash to build a space boat. Which reminded me that I spent 8 hours in Raft and enjoyed it and got the itch to play some more only to find that it is still in Early Access itself. And there’s a dev blog from January saying that Chapter 3 is delayed and they’ll be retooling the whole game once it comes out and I’d be better off not playing it until that occurs. At least, that’s the implication. Sigh.

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?