All Things Civ

Posted by on Jan 15, 2018 in Editorial

Me too, The Thinker. Me too.

During the last Steam sale, I contemplated picking up Civilization VI, but reviews were kind of meh. I owned Civ V so I booted that up instead. While I’ve never been a big Civ player (not since the early days), I maintained interest for long enough to investigate Civ VI for iPad*. The game can be downloaded and played sort of for free: you play as a random civilization, and (as I learned recently) the game doesn’t save, and you only get so many moves. Figuring that having a mobile game that I actually enjoy, and which isn’t some cutesy neutered version of its actual self, I looked into buying it but quickly decided not to, as it’s priced at $59.99.

That’s pretty ballsy for a mobile game. I didn’t jump on it when it with 50% off that price on PC, but my reluctance is more than that. $60 for a mobile game doesn’t seem right. I’m sure part of it has to do with being trained to equate “mobile” with “low price point”. Some would go so far as to claim equality between mobile and “low-quality vs value”, which is sometimes legit, but in this case, we’re talking about a full Civ game with (as far as I can tell) no punches pulled. Surely there’s $60 worth of game there if there’s $60 worth of game in the less-mobile version, yes?

The thing that got me in the end, though, was how fickle the mobile ecosystem is. Apple has already gotten in trouble for purposefully degrading performance over time as they patch their customers towards a hardware upgrade. Since they make their money selling hardware, I can’t imagine that they’re going to back off this practice, especially considering the tepid outrage surrounding their admission. While Civ VI runs passably well on my Mini 4, I can’t be certain that this is going to be the case in two years, or five, or ten. I know that in ten or even fifteen years I’ll be able to play Civ VI on the PC, so if I didn’t want to paly 50% the $60 price on that platform, I can’t see how $60 on the iPad is a better deal.

 

* The Ars article states that the game was $30 at launch, which I think is STILL too much to pay for a mobile game, although it does straddle a kind of fence; if I had a more up-to-date iPad, I’d pay $30, but right now $19.99 would be awesome; I would totally do $20, and then consider the DLC later to make up any differences. Also, the article claims that the game will not work on any version of the iPad Mini, which is false. I don’t know if the article got it wrong, or if Aspyr Media patched in performance tweaks later, but the game runs just fine on my Mini. In fact, the iTunes listing includes several devices that the article claims are not supported. Would have been nice for Ars to amend their article to jive with the facts.

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Star Citizen 3.0

Posted by on Jan 3, 2018 in Star Citizen

Star Citizen 3.0

Last night I was able to get into Star Citizen and do what had been promised: Get in my ship, fly to and land on a planet, the get back in the ship and fly home. Without loading or artificial downtime. Mission accomplished.

Originally, I had been having issues where my “inner thought system” was broken on occasion. This system allows players to press the “F” key to hover over an intractable element in the game world and receive a floating menu of interaction options. To open a door, for example, hovering over the door access panel will float the word “Press” which you can click to “press” the button. This system is key for several mechanics such as oh, say…getting out of the initial habitation module you start the game in. Also, for opening the hatches of your ships so you can climb aboard. For a while there I hadn’t been able to leave my cell. Then after spawning a ship on the landing pad, I couldn’t access the hatches. This is a Known Bug with a few Workarounds, and last night I happened to trigger the proper sequence of Workarounds for this Known Bug which allowed me access to my Constellation. After that, it was off to the races! Sort of.

First step is to get into space, so I had to leave the landing pad and get underway. In Elite Dangerous every action I might need to take with my ship is mapped to my X52Pro HOTAS and my Elgato Streamdeck. I rarely need to take my hands off the controls to do anything, including navigating menus. With Star Citizen, however, things are significantly more complicated when flying, so I don’t have everything mapped to the flight stick quite yet. Hell, I’m not even sure what most of the bells and whistles in Star Citizen do. Thankfully, taking off is as easy as engaging the vertical thrusters (SPACE), pulling up the landing gear (N), and then using the HOTAS throttle to move out.

Getting anywhere in the universe requires the use of the MobiGlas, a virtual wrist-mounted HUD that serves as your in-game menu system. I dislike the MobiGlas for one reason: it’s too transparent, allowing background noise to seep through, which muddies my ability to see anything. Careful positioning against a black background (i.e. “space”) helps, but seeing as how a lot of interaction requires the MobiGlas, I hope they fix this. Picking a destination is kind of simple: open the map, find a named waypoint, and use the quantum drive to get there. But not everywhere is available. The larger the item in the universe, the easier it is to see on the map, and that’s based on how far you are from said item. If you want to travel from Port Olisar to the moon of Daymar — which is what I did last night — you can. Once you get there, however, you’ll see a lot of waypoints through the cockpit that do not show up on the MobiGlas, and that’s another issue.

I wanted to put down on the moon, specifically at a mining outpost. To do that, I need to use several navigation points displayed in orbit around Daymar. Making little quantum hops between these, I could position myself on the correct side of the moon and begin my descent. Again, unlike in Elite Dangerous, there’s no indication that planetside waypoints are facing you or are on the other side of the body; you kind of have to guess based on general distance.

Descent to the surface is going to be a chore, especially for the impatient. I took the shallow approach, skimming the atmosphere on my way to the mining outpost. Thankfully, there’s afterburner cruise mode, which allows you to get up some high speed so long as you’re traveling in an unaltered straight line. I could have hit the waypoint at a steeper incline, but that would have required me to know exactly where the mining outpost was…see the previous paragraph for issues with that. Interesting feature: I started my descent on the daylight side of the moon, but eventually flew into the shadowed dark side as I approached. Nice feature.

Daymar is a rock, so there’s not a lot of features to talk about. However, as I got within 3000m of the mining base, I could easily tell that it was sheltered in the lee of a cliff, so I slowed my approach and crested the mesa to find the outpost shrouded in darkness but with all the lights on. I tried to contact the air-traffic controller for permission to land, but there was no response; the base is apparently not hooked up to the ATC system quite yet, so I set down on an empty landing pad.

The outpost was deserted. With nothing going on out there, it makes sense that there’s no NPCs and no players; I picked it as a destination Just Because. I disembarked my ship and wandered around the camp for a while, popping in and out of the various habitation modules that made up the outpost. Overall, it had that LV-426-like feel to it, with high winds whipping dust across the landing pads, and the only light coming from the high-intensity light pylons scattered around the grounds. Being an “armistice zone” I was unable to draw my weapon, so I was essentially safe from any griefers who might come around.

With the tour done, I headed back to the ship. Because I was on the dark side of the moon I had no clear line of sight back to Port Olisar, so I had to fly away from the surface for a while before I could set the station as my destination. Upon arriving, I had to wrestle with ATC. Previously, we could set down on whatever pad we wanted, but in the interest of keeping traffic moving, Olisar now has a landing request system which directs you to a specific pad. My problem was that I didn’t see the landing indicator. My other problem was that I didn’t know that once you got the go-ahead, you had to lower your landing gear in order for that indicator to show. It took me two tries and help from a friend to get myself back down to the station safe and sound.

Exciting, no? No, not very. However, this “simple” transit forms the backbone of the actual game. Being about space, spaceships, planets, moons, and stations, being able to walk out of a station and get in a ship to fly to another destination is probably 75% of what everyone is going to have to do in the game. Being able to do that now (finally) is a Big Step in the Right Direction for Star Citizen. Thing is, flying from station to planet isn’t the only thing I could have done. I could have taken some missions which are system generated. Basic cargo moving is in place, and since I have a cargo ship, that sounds like something I might try. But quantum interdiction is also in place, so I’d need some compatriots to man the turrets or fly guard duty. These are the things that players will be doing most of the time in Star Citizen when they aren’t sitting around shooting the shit in the station bar. Or just shooting stuff somewhere.

I won’t get into the reasons why I believe in Star Citizen because I’m not interested in a fight. I’m enjoying 3.0 — when it works because it’s an Alpha version and I know what that means — and have seen the progress made on the game. Yeah, it would be nice if it were further along, but progress is progress, and I’ll take what I can get for the time being.

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Routine Maintenance

Posted by on Jan 2, 2018 in Editorial

After having taken a two-week vacation from work at the end of the year a few years ago, I vowed never to do so again. The levels of boredom reached epic proportions. Sadly, this happened again this year as a result of a “use em or lose em” pile of vacation days coupled with a lack of desire to actually get out of bed in the morning. I maintain my regret, though. Vacations are nice, but seeing as how we’re A) in the aftermath of the Holiday Season and there’s little money to spend, and B) it’s supernaturally cold outside here in the NE, there’s not a hell of a lot to do during vacation.

“Play games!” you might shriek in an unnaturally shrill voice that surprises even you. I tried, but the general ennui that I was suffering before vacation was only amplified by the prevalent lack of routine. In getting up at the crack of Whenever, maybe eating breakfast, brunch, or lunch depending on the hour, taking care of whatever in the house is making noise/smelling weird/impeeding locomotion, then maybe lunch, linner, or dinner, who knows what falls in between? TV? Reading? Naps? Errands? Occasionally, gaming? I merely went where the spirit moved me, which unfortunately wasn’t in a gaming direction most of the time, and when I did sit down to play something, I was absolutely uninspired by literally everything within my reach.

As many can understand, I dreaded coming back to work after being away for so long, but I was also looking forward to it because my work schedule is a known quantity in my life. I can schedule things to happen according to that routine. I don’t know if it’ll allow me to want to game any more than I did before the vacation (I suspect not), but at least I can now have a time slot for most everything in my life again.

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