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Xbox Streaming; Skyforge Fails Continue

Xbox Streaming

ill_disconnectedMy one big hope for Windows 10 and Xbox One streaming was that I’d be able to carry my Surface Pro around with a spare XB1 controller, settle down anywhere in the house, and play games from the XB1. Sadly, I have to report that it’s been an abysmal failure in that respect.

First off, though, I have to say that streaming to my desktop is absolutely stellar. I can sit at my desk doing other things so that when I get a notification from a friend that they’re LFM I can join them without leaving my seat. It’s a small victory, though, since my Xbox is only about 30 feet from my desk and I could just as easily walk over to the couch, but it cuts both ways: I’m no longer tethered to either the desk, nor to the couch; I happen to spend more time at the desk, but the option to go where I want to is is there when I want to make such a decision.

The “dream option”, though, is a bust. The wireless connection doesn’t work worth a damn. I’ve tried sitting next to the router (again, at the desk), sitting upstairs in the living room, and even on the top floor where I’ve got a wifi range extender installed. Every single time I can connect, but am quickly booted with a message that the console is unreachable. Sometimes it’s immediate, sometimes I’ve been able to get a game started, only to get disconnected once the action starts. It could be the Surface Pro’s wifi; I don’t have a Windows 10 enabled laptop in the house to test with, but that just means I don’t have a Windows 10 machine to use in any capacity unless it’s hardwired into the network.

Skyforge Fails Continue

#TicketWatch2015 update: It’s been two fucking weeks since I put in my ticket for my wayward CE with My.com/Allods. Two fucking weeks. My original recounting of the situation found me upset that it took two days for a response. Since that time I’ve received responses, but most of them amounted to steps apparently designed solely to draw this clusterfuck out to slapstick proportions. As of the middle-to-late last week, my request had been transferred to a “senior specialist”, a position I can only assume is populated once a month, and only on days that end in an “X”, and it’s been sitting there ever since.

I hate to keep bringing this up, because contrary to popular belief, I don’t like to complain, but the only time I see the ball moving down the field is when I publicly bitch at the Skyforge team via social media. If it were almost any other case that didn’t involve money paid than I’d be content to let the situation work out: the game is playable, I still enjoy it, but I handed them money and I have yet to receive the goods in exchange after two fucking weeks. Add to that the ticking clock of expiring Premium time, and I don’t think I’m out of line in my anger.

Every time I think this situation is moving in the right direction, it stalls, and my respect for My.com/Allods as a competent business heads downhill faster than a cliffside house in a mudslide. It’s mind-blowing how badly this company is fucking up this request. I don’t know what’s involved, process-wise, but I’m absolutely certain it’s not rocket science. If a company can design and program an MMO, it’s not out of the question to expect that they could manage a baseline level of customer care. My.com/Allods cannot do this, which simply blows my mind.

 

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Windows 10

windows-10-logo

Windows 10 was released yesterday, to great fanfare relatively little fanfare. We users on Windows 7 or 8.x have been staring at that tray icon that allowed us to reserve a free copy for several months now, and although there was no official time given for the release to be made available, we  were stuck staring at the icon waiting for the “go” signal to pop. Apparently for some/many/most, it didn’t, which lead to a whole lot of shared links where folks can kickstart the process themselves or download the ISO and install it that way.

I upgraded my Surface Pro 1 yesterday from an MSDN copy extracted to a bootable USB stick. However, the Surface was having issues booting from the stick, so I just used it as mounted media and installed it the old fashioned way. I wasn’t expecting a lot of gain because of the aged Surface hardware, but I was very surprised: it ran better than 8.1, and both the desktop and tablet mode were comfortable to use on a tablet…the exact opposite of the 8.1 experience on the desktop with an OS obviously designed for a touch input. I still need to download Surface-specific drivers and fiddle with things a bit; I booted it up this morning, or tried to…the battery was dead, and it had been at 100% as of last night. Apparently the power saving features aren’t set properly for the tablet.

The desktop situation was another matter entirely. I started the process when I was home for lunch, and when I left work the PC was ready to go…sort of. Windows 8.1 had been upgraded, but the video was wonky and the secondary monitor wasn’t online. I logged in and tried to right the ship, but there were all kinds of hardware driver popups going on that frustrated the hell out of me, and it was then that I remembered that I had never wanted an upgrade anyway. I wanted a fresh install.

The solution I had heard for this situation was to upgrade 8.1 to 10, and then use the Restore feature. One of the best parts about Windows 8.1/10 is the “flatline” ability. Rather then reformatting your hard drive and installing from a bootable USB/DVD, doing a baseline restore will effectively reset everything to factory settings which is more or less like a reformat and reinstall. You have the option to keep your “perishable” items (My Documents, Videos, Music, etc) and just reset the system, or to go nuts and carpet-bomb the whole thing. I opted for the urban renewal package, since I had already backed up the perishables.

Everything seemed A-OK at first. The initial issue was with the sound. The headset and mic (plugged into the on-board audio) seemed to be OK, but my X-Fi card power the desktop speakers wasn’t working. I couldn’t get any Creative drivers to acknowledge that I even had hardware installed. I fought with it for a while, tracking down unofficial drivers and all that, but eventually just removed the hardware from the Device Manager and let it find it again which seemed to do the trick.

The more obnoxious issue was that my network connection would only stay online for 15 minutes at most. I’d have to reboot, and use that variable window of time to track down an answer. Some other people had the same problem, and the common thread was that most everyone reporting similar issues had a Broadcom NetLink on-board Ethernet controller. My system is pretty old — circa 2009-2010 by my reckoning — and it’s an Alienware. Alienware didn’t have drivers due to the age of the thing, so they kicked me over to Dell’s website. I downloaded the “official” drivers for the network controller from their support site, and that cleaned up the issue. In the end, it wasn’t a terrible situation, but it was made significantly worse by the fact that I couldn’t stay connected long enough to research and solve the issue without rebooting several times in between. As quick as Win 10 is to boot up, my BIOS still takes forever to post.

So, is it worth the update?

A lot of people are genetically wary about upgrading Windows any time there’s an upgrade to be had. First off, I’ll tell you that if you upgrade your install, you can roll back to the previous version if you don’t like the new one for the first month after install. There’s an option in the same place you find the Restore to go back to 7 or 8.1, no questions asked, and all you lose is time. I’m of the mind that to get the best performance you should flatline the system, but that’s a choice you can make after you decide whether or not you want to stick with it. Upgrade it, play with it, and either keep it as it, go for the flatline version for maximum cleanliness, or roll back to your previous OS if you don’t like it.

I’ve not studied the blogs about the inner workings of the OS, but from my understanding and starting with Windows 8, the OS has been designed to work with the least common denominator, which is tablet hardware. To do that, the OS has to be able to perform with minimal specs: lesser processors, lesser RAM, and smaller hard drive space. Having used it on the Surface, I can say that it works very well. When you take that same core codebase and put it on a high powered desktop or laptop, you’re going to get performance boosts because of the expanded leg-room. Windows 8 ran pretty good; Windows 10 runs really good.

Here’s some bullet points, because otherwise I’m going to end up with 5000 words that no one will read (assuming you got this far in the first place)

  • Start Menu: I’ve never personally understood people’s infantile attachment to the Start Menu, so I never really missed it in Windows 8 since, you know, I learned to use the Search box. But for those who whined, the Start Menu has returned in a more familiar guise, while also retaining some of what you apparently hate so much.  It’s now more of a quick launch option which allows you to pin application tiles to the fly-out portion for quick access. I like this mechanic because it reduces the reliance upon the Desktop as a shortcut dumping ground, and the Taskbar as a quick launcher.
  • Notifications: Awesome feature! Sometimes toasts fly in from the side and you miss them, but they’re all archived on the right side of the screen. You can access this center by clicking on the speech bubble next to the clock in the system tray. It also includes shortcuts to several nice features, mostly useful for mobile/tablet/laptop users. You get info on friends who come online, email, scheduled appointments, system messages, and probably a whole lot of other things that you should know about.
  • Edge: I’m really hoping people will give it a shot and not automatically carry over the Internet Explorer Hate, but I also hope that people will stop being snarky assholes and I am routinely disappointed on that front. I used the Edge browser extensively yesterday while trying to troubleshoot, and performance was fast and solid. The only issue I noticed was that because it has a different agent reporting type, websites can’t/don’t recognize it and/or will purposefully exclude it because it’s a Microsoft product. Otherwise, I think it’s a pretty good improvement over what we had before.
  • Cortana: How many times have we shouted at our PC and wished it would do what we’re asking it to do? Now it can. I messed around with Cortana using my webcam mic, and the results were pretty damn good. She can open apps, set notes and reminders, check on news and weather, and probably other things. What she doesn’t do is interact with the Xbox App, which we’ll talk about…now!

The Xbox App was originally incarnated as Smartglass, and was supposed to be a “tablet companion” for the Xbox wherein  you could play, say Halo Whatever on the TV and have your Smartglass app display a map. A good idea in theory, but when you’re trying not to get shot up, taking your eyes off the screen to refer to another device is the best way to ensure that you will get shot up.

On the desktop, however, the merging of Xbox with Windows brands is moving ahead. In theory, the Xbox App is the Windows 10 “Game Center”. It’s not quite Steam and won’t replace it any time soon: there’s a link to the Games section of the Windows Marketplace, but it offers more of a hub experience than Steam does.

The first benefit to the Xbox App is the GameDVR. If you have an Xbox One you’ll understand this, but for everyone else, the GameDVR can be set to constantly record action in a recognized game so at any time you can have the XBA save the last 30 seconds, one minute, 5 minutes, whatever. You can then “share” this video to XBLive. Since it’s local to the PC, you can also archive it, upload it to YouTube, post on social media, and so on. The GameDVR features also include flat out hot-key recording and screenshot abilities. I really wish Cortana could interact at this level, because the Kinect allows you to shout at the Xbox to save a video clip. Not allowing Cortana to do that is a massive oversight, IMO.

The second is a friends list. If you have Windows 10 and play a lot of games on the PC, it may seem odious to you to have to sign up for a free XBL account if you don’t have an Xbox. Because of the integration, however, you can see other Windows 10 gamers — and XBox gamers as well — in the XBA friends list. This allows you to see what they’re doing (game wise, or Xbox wise), message them, and start a party with them.

Parties are what I had high hopes for, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t deliver. I saw my brother playing Destiny last night (on the Xbox), so I started a Party (on the PC) and invited him. When he joined, we were able to use voice chat, cross platform. I’d hoped that you could use this feature not just been PC and Xbox but also between PC and PC, and while I haven’t tried it, I’d be flabbergasted if it didn’t work that way. The PC to XBox Party is pretty stellar, because it doesn’t matter where you are, you can connect with anyone, anywhere (within the Microsoft gaming ecosystem).

And of course there’s Xbox One streaming, which is the icing on the cake. In short: it kicks ass. It seems to be leagues better than the PS4 to PSTV streaming experiences I’ve had. All you need is a USB hookup to an XB1 controller on the PC, an XB One (duh), and ideally a wired connection (I’ve not tried it wirelessly, but plan to via the Surface). You connect to the XB One using the XBox App, and then choose Game Streaming and you’re off to the races. Controls are pretty solid, with no noticeable lag in my tests. Your network may vary, but the implications are that you could be working on a boring ass spreadsheet in your home office because the spouse or kids are on the only TV in the house. But you see your friends are having a great time on the Xbox One, shooting or racing or Tetris…ing…whatever kids do these days. Just plug in the gamepad, fire  up the Xbox App, and remote-start the XBox One, and you can be right there with them (don’t forget to save the boring ass spreadsheet, though).

Some downsides, then, to be a bummer. Some people don’t have an updated XBox App, and it doesn’t seem to want to update. This is not a Windows Update situation; it’s a Windows Marketplace situation. Open the Windows Marketplace app and root around for updates, or just search for “Xbox”. That should allow you to update (and you might find other day-0 app updates as well).

During the reveal, it was shown that the XBA would pick up on all kinds of games you had installed, including those downloaded via Steam. I had no such luck. One or two of them were identified, and you can search for games you have installed if they are installed outside of Steam (like Skyforge), but simply being recognized for listing purposes doesn’t actually register the game as “official” with the XBbox App (and Skyforge) couldn’t even bring up the Game Bar that allows for screenshots and video hot-keys.

The bigger bummer is that for all of the coolness of GameDVR, if the XBox App doesn’t organically recognize the game you’re playing, you’re limited to what you can do with the content. Some games will allow you to Share the video and images on XBL, but most won’t because they won’t be seen as “official” games by the system. You can still work with the local saved media (so no more wondering where those screenshots are saved), but you’ll have to “sneakernet” it to your social network of choice.

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Numenera – Sulka Jackeen

[Here’s a narrative background of my character, Sulka, who is a “clever jack who fights with panache”]

For 32 years, Sulka was nothing special to anyone. Comfortable with his family, ill at ease with friends, terrified of strangers, he spent a too many years working hard to remain anonymous if not invisible in public.

He worked as a stagehand at a local half-shin theater that produced knock-off versions of popular Charmondian fare such as “The Gilded Tower” and “Assassins In The Palace”. Sulka’s penchant for blending in worked in his favor as he stayed in the shadows along the catwalks and under stages to aid the thespians and add to production values, but his position also afforded him one conceited advantage: living a life vicariously through the comedies and tragedies that he witnessed each night.

During his tenure as “stagehand’s apprentice” to a kind but impatient Mr. Wa-Halum, Sulka studied not the actors and actresses that played out their scenes below and above him, but their characters, the bigger than life personalities which were so different from his own, and when he was left alone after the performance to sweep the handbills and discarded wrappers from the aisles, he would re-enact his favorite scenes upon the empty, unlit stage.

He learned to handle a sword. To flatter a lord. To entice a lady. To catch a rogue in a lie and to avoid being caught in one himself. There, alone, Sulka was everyone he had never had been: smooth, composed, skilled, and desired, at least until he awoke from his dream, locked up behind himself, and went home for the night.

*   *   *

It was after one of these particularly satisfying recreations — “The Courtship of A Certain Young Lady” — that Sulka’s life was altered in ways he could never have imagined. He had taken a well used shortcut from the theater to his home, thinking of nothing in particular except on how he wished he could impress a beautiful woman like the way Larender impressed Fanthi in the second act, when he was struck by a sudden rise of temperature born on the back of a strong and unexpected wind. It whipped through the alleyway, disturbing debris and buffeting him as he tried to make his way through. The onrushing force was almost physical in nature, at times like the palm of a hand pushing against him, and again like a million tiny stings. He pressed through, laboring as if moving in slow motion, and when he reached the mouth of the alleyway, the onslaught simply…stopped.

*   *   *

For the next week, Sulka endured the most violent sickness of his entire life. At first this father blamed him for faking it, but his mother quieted him by the third day when they both saw that his maladies were real. Weakness, vomiting, a strange rash that presented itself as bright red splotches across his entire body, a fever that would not break, a thirst that could not be quenched, and a hunger that would not abate; all of these symptoms came on at once and Sulka was certain that he would die. At home, certainly, as he had not strength to die anywhere else, but aside from that, very much as he had lived: alone, unknown, and inconsequential.

On the last day of the week, he awoke with only the hunger and thirst remaining, and finally rising from his bed he proceeded to devour the entire contents of the family pantry before cleaning himself, dressing, and heading into the city to seek more sustenance. It took the better part of the day for him to finally feel that he had eaten and drank enough, and when he returned home his parents were both pleased and puzzled at his sudden change of fortune.

*   *   *

Sulka returned to the theater only to find that Mr. Wa-Halum had given his job away. The elderly man explained with genuine regret that yes, the company had heard that someone had taken ill, and that yes, no one was sure who exactly, except for the stagehands who knew Sulka by name, but he couldn’t expect the company to wait him out, could he? The show, as they say, had to go on, and that meant that they company needed a replacement stagehand. Dejected despite feeling physically better than had had in a long time, Sulka thanked Mr. Wa-Halum and made his way out of the theater. There, in the aisle that ran from the double doors to the stage,  he passed Keeli Thumford, the beautify young actress who played the role of Fanthi.

“Hello,” she said as they passed, her with a quizzical look, he with his eyes customarily downcast. “Are you new to the company?”

Startled for a moment — and later he realized, only a brief moment — Sulka paused and looked deep into her eyes. He could see something there, something he never thought he would see: her, seeing him. “No, I’ve actually just now been let go.” His response surprised him; rather, his steady hands, the rhythm of his heart, the clarity of his speech…this was not him, yet he somehow knew that it was.

“Oh!”, Keeli replied, herself taken aback a bit. “I thought I knew the company, but I suppose I was…unfortunately…wrong.”

Sulka caught a sight, suddenly, as Keeli responded, and he paused. It was quite clear: a dilation of her pupils, a quickening of her breath, the pulse that ran the length of her neck. This was new; this was amazingly exhilarating.

“I was with the stage crew,” he said…and before he could stop himself, added with a smile “I’ve been working above and below you for years.”

Why he said that out loud and why he was unable to check himself, he could not say, but he did not regret it when Keeli blushed and smiled herself. She brushed her hand across the top of her stage gown without subtlety. “Well, Mr…?”

“Jackeen,” he supplied.

“Well, Mr. Jackeen,” she continued. “It’s been a pleasure having you over me, and beneath me, all these years. I wish you luck in your future endeavors.”

It seemed like a sensible thing to do, so bowed low as the actors did, and offered a “Good day, Ms. Thumford” as he made his way out of the theater with his head held high.

*   *   *

What was this change? Where did it come from? Sulka made his way home, unconcerned with the fact that he was now unemployed, but circumstance provided him the opportunity to focus on this strange personality that now inhabited his body. So many years had passed in relative solitude and now it was like he had been set free from some sort of cage and allowed to roam uninhibited through the world.

He turned his feet towards the marketplace, not his usual route, but oddly because he wanted to experience being among the crowds. He stood in line for services he had no intention of procuring simply to engage those who had business there. He loitered in public places easily striking up conversations with passers-by and miraculously wasn’t looked at as insane or as a vagrant. He seemed to know what to say to whom, and when and how to say it to put a person at ease, to make them laugh, to keep a conversation going, or to end it on his terms. He was sure he would have been able to move anyone to tears as well, but he considered that to be indecorous for a public place on the most amazing day of his life.

Over the next few weeks Sulka spent all of his time expanding his experience with his fellow citizens. He started out small, with conversation in queues, but quickly desired more interaction with a greater number of people. He considered returning to the theater and to Ms. Thumford with is newfound confidence, but he felt that acting would be a waste of his talents. Actors faked being interesting; Sulka knew that he was, even if he couldn’t put a finger on the why or when he came to this conclusion.

Instead, he dove into crowds and aligned their gazes to himself with witty conversation and slight theatrics that only became more pronounced over time. In a stroke of brilliance, he obtained a rapier with the last paycheque and set about practicing the feints and thrusts as he had seen them performed on stage. He considered himself quite good for someone with no formal training.

*   *   *

It was during an engagement along a pier that Sulka came to understand his new trajectory, thanks in part to a woman, and Ieros deLeon.

Sulka had become quite the personality around town. He was greeted with a firm handshake by men, and sly smiles and sidelong glances by women. He engaged with both young and elders, switching between their concerns without any effort. One day he found himself holding court among some of the city’s dilettante population when he felt someone grasp his arm, forcibly turn his head their way, and plant their lips firmly against his.

He was barely able to register what was going on, enveloped as he was in the surprise and the scent of some woman who had just imposed herself upon him. The crowd that encircled him hooted and hollered their approval, but it was short lived. Almost as quickly as she had attached herself to him, this stranger was forcibly disengaged by a man who radiated the most controlled anger Sulka had ever seen in his life.

“Forgive me, friends,” the man said with a smile and a sudden shift in temperament that Sulka was sure the crowd had missed. “My sister has been at the bottle a  tad bit early this morning, and she seems to become quite the escape artist when she’s into her third draught!” He smiled and gestured widely, with the range of aplomb that Sulka recognized as entirely theatrical and not the least bit on the up and up. The crowd, however, was in for a shin and laughed when they ascribed this woman’s behavior to being an errant drunkard. This straight out of a second-rate matinee, Sulka thought. Something is going on here, not the least of which is this man stealing my thunder.

“Believe me when I tell you, friends,” Sulka said, striding into the center of the crowd that enclosed the stranger, the woman, and now himself. “This woman is certainly not the least bit under the influence.” He rubbed his to lip with his fingers, examining what he wanted everyone to believe was the remains of her lipstick. “Of alcohol, at least.” He stared down the now agitated man as the crowd whooped it’s approval.

“In good faith, friend,” the man said as he shot a sympathetic gaze to the woman who struggled in his grip. “She’s not well in the head. She sees things not as they are. She called a gull her sister once. And she can’t tell the difference between a prince…or an ass.”

The crowd ohhhed, sensing that this theater was escalating right before their eyes, and without a script.

Sulka smiled, raising his hands in mock protest. “I’ve always considered the ass to be a noble beast, friend,” he said, and the stranger tilted his head with interest. “Princes wave their scepters around for attention,” and Sulka gestured at the man. “But the ass,” he said, hooking his thumbs into his belt so as to draw attention. “Actually knows how to use it.”

The crowd burst into laughter, and even the woman chuckled a bit, but the stranger allowed a brief cloud to pass across his face before releasing his captive. She stood her ground, but the stranger slowly approached Sulka. “You have quite the wit, friend.”

“I feel it’s my duty to make up for what others lack. Friend.”

“I see you’ve got yourself a blade. Do you consider yourself adequate enough to use it?”

The two men drew their weapons as the crowd backed off, but not away.

“I’ll let your sister decide,” Sulka said, and the two men crossed swords as the crowd cheered them on.

*   *   *

That was the unfortunate start of a long standing rivalry with deLeon, the only person who could match Sulka scheme for scheme, performance for performance, and bombast for bombast. It wasn’t very long before Sulka — and, he believed, deLeon as well — started to think that the universe had somehow welded their two fates together. No matter where Sulka was, there was deLeon. No matter what kind of operation deLeon was running, Sulka opposed him. They were like two sides of the same coin: back to back and impossible to separate.

There was very little work outside the theater for someone with Sulka’s talents, but he couldn’t escape the reality that he was exceedingly good at convincing almost anyone to see things his way. At first he was content with the adoration, but soon it turned towards the physical, and then the financial…sometimes both. As a consequence of his dealings, Sulka found himself constantly on the move, not just to avoid the ramifications of his actions but also in search of newer, greater challenges. And every step of the way, there was deLeon, acting as a foil, or as competition for the same resources, but always ahead or just behind Sulka himself, not matter where he found himself.

Not every destination required a score, however. Sometimes a layover in an anonymous locale was all that was needed to recharge, and on this day the port town of Bellhollow would serve that purpose.

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Light at the End of the Tunnel

KelielOlivar_Skyforge_01

It seems like my Skyforge woes are coming to an end.

Last Tuesday I bought the CE but while logged in under the wrong account. I filed a ticket and didn’t hear anything from My.com/Allods until I posted my first post and tagged their Twitter account. It took a few more days (over the weekend, and through server issues on their end) before I posted again, which once more garnered a response on the ticket. They said that they could transfer the CE to my proper account, but I’d be restricted on my accidental account (which is unused anyway), so I told them that I agreed to those terms.

I just received an update to the ticket asking me to hold on for the transfer, so it looks like they’ll be moving the CE to my proper account. I don’t expect that they’ll refund my lost week, though; That’s OK. I’ve had Premium access for the past few days anyway, and before that they had server issues that prevented anyone from playing, really, so I haven’t missed out on all that much.

I really do hate to rely on “Twitter-shaming” to get a response, though. On some levels, I feel bad about writing these posts and having to rattle sabers in an attempt to get things moving, but saber rattling has apparently done the trick. I’m still sad that it had to come to this, because I do feel that there’s a minimum level of customer service that we can come to expect in 2015 that was simply not present in this situation. But all’s well that ends well, and the point of contacting the service department was to obtain a resolution. I’m very close to a resolution, and will be happy to put this behind me and get back to playing.

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Numenera – What Is It?

NBG

Numenera is a “next gen” tabletop RPG from esteemed RPG luminary Monte Cook. I say “next gen” because it’s a kind of post-Dungeons and Dragons style that does away with the list of stats and numbers and replaces game play with descriptions and role-playing. FATE is another example of what I’d consider in this category.

The concept behind Numenera is that the world is in it’s Ninth Age, taking place millions of years in our future. The world has been destroyed and recreated many times, with civilization sometimes barely getting out of their own Stone Age, and other times becoming so technically advanced that their creations qualify as “magic”. In the Ninth Age, those who inhabit Earth are constantly uncovering mysterious artifacts from past ages, and they call these items Numenera.

The interesting thing about this system is that it’s not genre-locked. Technically the setting deals with concepts of technology, techno-magic, and magic, but that doesn’t mean everything is either cyberpunk or high fantasy. It could be both, or something else entirely, and those concepts can exist side by side. It’s also very weird. Do an image search for “Numenera”, and see the kinds of things that pop up. Pretty much all of those concepts fit the setting, no matter how bizarre they might seem to us in the 21st century.

Since everything is meant to be mysterious, the game encourages GMs and players to really suspend disbelief by never meta-gaming anything, even to the point where the GM is encouraged to describe “a thing” as if she herself had never seen it before (try it! It’s not that easy!). For example, a laser gun which we might call a “blaster” or “phaser”, has no name in Numenera. It should be described as it’s seen: a handheld object that spits out light when you press a button, and sets distant objects on fire.

Because of the unusual nature of the system, it can be difficult to wrap a head around, but from a player perspective the game is relatively simple to work with. There’s very little dice rolling, what stats exist do so mainly to provide framework rather than to act as a real measurement of progression, and players are encouraged to really RP the hell out of the situation; sometimes, that’ll be all there is.

I started this category because I’m finally getting around to being a player in a Numenera play by post game. I had tried to set one up myself a while ago, but it kind of fell apart. This time, though, I’m happy to not be in the driver’s seat, since it’s been…almost 30 years since I’ve been a player in an RPG.

I’ll be posting odds and ends here that coincide with the game happening over at Tavern-Keeper.com. Some of the stuff I’ll post here so as not to “clog” the channels over there, unless I get the OK to post them somewhere there as well (for historical purposes).

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Still Waiting; End of the Line; Revisitation

Still Waiting

patience-virtueIt’s been a calendar week since I filed my ticket with My.com/Allods for my CE purchase of Skyforge. After my last post hit Twitter, I RT’d it and tagged their news account, which earned a response and action on the request. The ticket was picked up and moved into their queue, but it’s been sitting there for several days now in that state.

I still stand by my earlier assessment that My.com/Allods needs to seriously up it’s customer service game. This is patently ridiculous for a service company to take this long to get around to addressing a situation. From my perspective — my personal, this-is-MY-issue perspective, of course — when dealing with a free to play game, you’d think that handling the purchasing issues of a customer who enjoys the product enough to want to spend money on it would be a tad more important than the weight they’ve assigned to it. Here’s a customer who actively spent money when they really didn’t have to, and spent it on the higher-priced item to boot. Doesn’t it make sense to cultivate those kinds people so that they don’t have a bad experience when they file a ticket regarding the money they just paid to you? I can tell you this: I’m really not interested in spending any more money with this company at this point. I like the game still, very much so, and even though I know the transaction would go through just fine next time and not require this customer service disaster to repeat itself, I don’t want to reward these people for “a job done” by throwing more money at them.

They did have back-end issues at the end of last week which I know took their attention elsewhere. I’m sure other tickets were on hold during that time, and I logged in on Sunday to find three free Premium days credited to my account in what I assume is recompense for the game being unavailable to everyone on Friday/Saturday. I’m willing to give them a slight extension for that since it affected everyone, but to be honest, unless the outcome of this ticket is to transfer the CE to my proper account and start the clock over on my now-missing-a-week-of-Premium-time 60 day allotment, I’ll be done with Skyforge. I enjoy the game, but their customer service has been so poor that it’s affecting the way I see the entire experience.

End of the Line

This past Saturday my friends and I held our annual LAN party in beautiful downtown My Basement. As usual, we stocked up on beer and other booze, people bought or made snacks, and everyone hauled their heavy-ass PCs and monitors across town lines for a few hours of lag-free community gaming.

Except we really didn’t enjoy a few hours of lag-free gaming. We started off with the homemade Caribou, then started mixing specialty beers that we grabbed from a menu at The Holy Grail. After that, we played Strike Vector, and that was about it for community gaming, really. We spent some time playing Forza Horizon 2, and Rocket League on the consoles, but as far as a “LAN party” goes, it was mostly party, very little LAN.

I think this effectively signals the end of an era for our home-based LAN party. Our group hasn’t been playing much together recently, and that should have been a sign. Normally we play together every other Monday, but the summer brings interruptions to routines that makes it difficult to find a groove, and I don’t think there’s really a lot out there that we’re all interested in playing together. Some of us are playing Destiny on the XB1, but not everyone has an XB1. Some of us are playing other games on PC, or not at all.

We’re also not getting any younger. Back when LAN parties were the rage among the geekerati there was a movement to make PCs smaller and more compact by stuffing mini components into shoebox sized cases, but that’s kind of fallen by the wayside unless you’re creating a set top box. People have resigned themselves back to the old cinderblock high performance desktop, and while the monitors have thankfully been reduced in size, the PCs themselves aren’t getting any lighter. They’re redesigned to stay where they’re put, and not be carried around from desk to car and back again, not to mention the parsing of the rats nest of cables that needs to be dealt with when returning home.

I think I’m going to advocate that next year we forget the PCs. We’ll have consoles for anyone who wants that, but otherwise we can try tabletop gaming, or even just cards. And booze.

Revisitation

Last Friday I had some coffee. Nothing special, right? I made enough to split the product into a mug in the morning, and have an iced coffee later in the day. When later in the day rolled around (about 3-4PM), I broke out the remainder and that was that.

Except…not exactly. I got really nervous. Really jittery. My head was swimming. Thinking that I should probably eat something, the family opted for Chinese food so I went out to pick it up. Sadly, that did little to cut the buzz. I figured I’d best try and lay down and see what happened.

Nothing happened. I got out of bed after laying there for a few hours and went downstairs to the PC at about 1am. The thing about starting something at 1am under these circumstances — being wide awake with no chance of sleep on the horizon — is that I know I have time, but no desire to start anything that I had installed. I noticed the GoG downloader listed there, so thought I’d revisit my library, and decided to install Neverwinter Nights Diamond Edition. 

I’ve been watching the Sword Coast Legends livestream recaps where they’re showing off the campaign building features, and it’s made me remember the days I spent with the NWN toolset creating stories and working with the fantastic scripting system that powered the game. This time, though, I opted to just play the game; it’s one of the (millions) games I’d never completed, so why not?

On one hand, the game holds up well. Of course, it’s a product of it’s time, so the character models have more angles than curves (both male and female), but the gameplay is solid. Sometimes I get it in my head to play a game, and then once I start I realize that I don’t actually want to play that game, but I plowed through the intro up to the point where I had to head out into the city (2:30AM), and by that time I was feeling a bit tired. I had to consider whether or not to keep going for just a bit longer, or to use this as a natural stopping point. Considering I had taken Friday off to clean the house and set up for Saturday’s LAN party, I figured I’d best try and get some sleep.

I still haven’t fired up NWN since that morning, and it remains to be seen if I actually will go back to it again. I might; I should. NWN is in my top five games of all time, and I suppose that means I should give it a real shot with an eye towards completing it.

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Customer Service in the 21st Century

Customer-Service-WordcloudI beg the pardon of those who’ve heard me go on about this for a few days now, but I’d like to talk about customer service and expectations in the Internet Age.

For those of you old enough to remember, customer service was limited to a sales associate, someone at the returns counter, or someone on the other end of the 1-800 number listed in the manual. If you ever had a problem with a good or a service, your options were limited by the amount of time you could spend with someone who might be able to help you. If you wanted to find an item, the sales associate could help. If you wanted to return something, the person at the service desk could help. If you needed to order a missing part of straighten out an account, the 1-800 number representative could help. The biggest issue with this setup was that if you couldn’t get your issue straightened out while you were talking with the customer service person, there was very little additional recourse. There was no escalation, and because everything was done face-to-face (or face-to-telephone-receiver), there was practically no paper trail to refer to for your experience.

The best — and worst — part of the 21st century Internet culture is that customer service has become a stand-alone industry. If you’re selling something, then customer service should be standing shoulder to shoulder with consideration on how to handle distribution and delivery, manufacturing, and compensation for employees. We’ve got an unprecedented level of consumer-producer interaction through websites and social media. “Off-shoring” allows any company to set up service centers around the globe so that customer service is a 24 hour gig now, and sub-industries exist strictly to create and support “customer relation management” (CRM) software that helps producers foster better, quicker, and more reliable relationships with their patrons.

All of this wonderful power has made us expectant, though. We’ve come to assume that the “always on” economy means that we should never have to wait longer than an average attention span for feedback on our customer service requests. Email is instant. Posting a ticket to a support website takes no time at all. Social media is practically in real time. Consumers want satisfaction when they have issues, and while the Internet can provide the cannon from which rapid responses can be fired, companies aren’t always up to the challenge of being able to light the fuse.

*   *   *

As I had mentioned in an earlier post, I’m really enjoying Skyforge. I figured that since I spent money on ArcheAge and didn’t care for it, buying into SF was a no-brainer.

On Tuesday morning I purchased the “Wardens of the Wasteland” collector’s edition from their website. That night, I logged into the game, ready to take advantage of the boosts that came with the purchase. However, I didn’t see any CE applied to my account. I went to the website to check the store page, because when I had made the purchase earlier, the “Buy” button had turned to an “Acquired” label. This time, however, the button only said “Buy”. I had the PayPal receipt so I know the transaction went through…where was my product? I filed a ticket through My.com’s support site, and continued to investigate on my own, searching through the forums and their anemic self-serve support site.

It dawned on me that I had once logged into the site and the game two different ways. The first — how I had been playing SF — was using an email address-based login for a My.com account. The other method had been to log in using my Twitter account. Everything I had been investigating was done under the My.com account, so I logged out, logged back in with Twitter, and re-traced my steps. Sure enough, the store page said “Acquired” on the CE details page. I had made the purchase under the wrong account.

I updated my ticket with this information, and asked if there was any way I could get the CE switched to my “proper” account, or if not, could I be issued a refund so I could make the purchase on the proper account?

Here it is on Thursday morning, and I have yet to receive a response.

*   *   *

Is it wrong for me to expect a resolution in the span of two days? I’m generally an easy-going guy when it comes to turning these kinds of wheels. I understand that a ticket system available to thousands or millions of users is going to get swamped for all kinds of reasons, and the only recourse is to wait patiently for my name to be called. Ordinarily I’d be content to just play the game and hope I get a response in a timely manner. So expecting a resolution? I think it’s fair to allow time for a resolution. A response, however? Yes, I would expected to have received a response long before now, even just a “we’re looking into it” canned response would suffice.

There’s two factors at play here. The first is that I’m “burning daylight”, so to speak. The CE comes with 60 days of “premium time”, which boosts the loot rate needed to advance characters. The second is more ephemeral, and that’s comparing this experience to past experiences I’ve had with other companies.

Generally, my customer service experiences with game service companies have been positive. I’ve had responses in a matter of hours, even when I expected significant longer lead times (Wildstar, World of Warcraft). I’ve had dire situations where I was almost banned from a game, but had the decision reversed and all marks against me expunged when I explained my situation (Defiance and streaming through EA’s Origin client). In most cases I steel myself for a wait of several days, or to have my requests denied, but almost every time I’ve been giddy with surprise. When I want to sit down and play but can’t because of some situation that requires customer service intervention, it’s pleasant to know that companies are standing by to make sure that my lock-out-time is as short as possible, are reasonable, and flexible on the information (not always comprehensive) that I can provide.

Is it fair to compare how one company performs to the past performances of other companies? Absolutely. These companies do not operate in a vacuum. They are all basically small cogs in a universal machine of online gaming. Consumers are spoiled in many respects in that we have an “embarrassment of riches” when it comes to choosing which game or games we want to play; we can be as picky as we like and not worry that we’ll check-box ourselves out of options.

That includes customer service experiences. Ideally, we’d never have to use customer service, and most of the time customer service plays no part in our enjoyment of a game. When we do need to use it, however, I suspect everyone’s experience starts out the same: we gird ourselves for battle with intractable representatives who put the company ahead of the consumer and make our lives difficult in the hopes we’ll go away without costing the company anything. Most of the time it’s not that bad, I’d wager, and we’re at least satisfied with our outcome if not entirely with our experience.

But the best experiences don’t just solve our problems; they make us into repeat customers. Companies live and die based on repeat customers. Loyal customers who like the product can be loyal because of the product, but you never know how loyal until they have to use the customer service system. The experience that a person has with a representative or a process can erode even the most stalwart fan of a company. Just one bad experience can sour a person on a company for a long time, possibly even forever. Since we’ve been trained to not expect a good experience when we have to engage support, we’re so much more receptive to good or great support when we get it. Conversely, we’re also more willing to hold a company in contempt when we feel that we’re getting the run-around, if we get anything at all.

That also sets a bar, and this is where the question of fairness comes into play. Should all companies be judged by a “gold standard” of customer support? Again, absolutely. We’ve got choices, and when we feel like we’re not being taken care of, when we feel that a company is lax in responding to our problems with their product or service, then we as consumers have the right and possibly the obligation to help the industry “normalize” it’s relationship structure with consumers by supporting companies that value their consumers, and taking business from companies which have systems or cultures that allow customer issues to fall through the cracks. I’m purposefully trying to be diplomatic here: I do not believe we should default to “punish all transgressions” in a show of verbal violence. I’d rather companies that cannot keep up be made aware that better care is expected of them, and one way to do that is to take business to companies that can be held up as examples.

I’m hoping that My.com/Allods responds to my ticket before the end of the week. I suspect I have three options in this situation. The first and best is that My.com/Allods responds to my ticket soon, moves the CE to the proper account, or refunds me the cost. For that I could forgive a delay, and would gladly re-purchase the CE. The second and less palatable option would be to have to abandon my progress on my main account and start over on the secondary account. I’d still play, but I would be less than happy about it and would hope that I’d never have to contact their customer service department again. The third and most painful option would be to seek restitution through PayPal, shut down my SF accounts (if possible), and stop playing in protest. That I would rather not do. I accept that with my modus operandi SF will not be on my radar forever; I had hoped to get at least 60 days of enjoyable, stress free Premium gameplay from this purchase, but the longer this process takes, the less likely that is to happen.

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