Posts by Scopique

Transparency and Star Citizen

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Transparency and Star Citizen

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  • Funding ladder which lays out how much they have collected, and what each tier “unlocks”
  • Monthly studio report which explains what got done and is pulled directly from their internal work-tracking systems. The report is broken down by sub-studio and details work both accomplished and what’s setting them back (Note: link was to the report current at the time of posting).
  • Production schedule report lists the next steps in development which will eventually become the subject of a future month’s studio report.
  • Letter from the Chairman which is Robert’s platform to talk about what got done and what’s still left to do.

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Sadly, almost 2000 words into this post, and with all of the material that RSI is putting out to show people that they’re not all just partying in Cabo with the money, people are still going to be angry and accuse them of shady dealing. These people don’t like RSI’s funding method. They don’t appreciate the fact that stupid amounts of money can’t dilate time and make things happen faster (remember, RSI tried to bring tons of people on board to move quickly early on, and it was a disaster). I suspect a lot of people are upset because the game is too ambitious, and these people think that RSI is just throwing more features onto the pile as they accomplish previous milestones. These people will readily point to Elite Dangerous as how to get a space sim game out the door on schedule and without rampant feature creep, although really this is a false equivalency considering what little Elite does in release and what SC does already in alpha. Maybe some people are even just pissed that this system seems to be working despite people’s best efforts to stay mad at it. They can’t back down now lest they lose face in their communities.

This is the nature of the Internet, circa 2017. Progress is being made on Star Citizen, full stop. Its there on their website in several forms, on YouTube each week, and is something everyone who pledges can get their hands on in the form of the alpha client. As someone who is in for a pound I’m in the group that would really love to have the game right now, of course, but as someone who is in for a pound I don’t want the game as is; I want the game as promised. That being said I’m also flexible; I know that Roberts and team(s) have a massive amount of knowledge on game design and development, and have been learning more as they go. If they say they can’t do something that was promised, I’m OK with that. I’d rather they focus on what they can accomplish or what they think they can accomplish rather than holding things up as they stumble through possible solutions just to tick boxes on someone’s contract. The good news is that they seem to be accomplishing a lot of what they did promise, even when they admit that it was a difficult problem to solve. Even better, once this project is done and their studios disband (as all game studios seem to do), this knowledge will disseminate into the larger development pool so that other teams won’t have to struggle with the problems that RSI is working on. A “good” Star Citizen is certainly not cheap, and it’s certainly not fast, and I’m OK with that especially now in light of their frequent updates being made available to everyone — not just those who have backed the project.

I’m sorry if you can’t understand where I’m coming from. I’m not using 2500 words to try and convince myself that I didn’t waste money. I check in on their progress every week and because of it, I feel the momentum of the project which can’t be felt by those who stopped paying attention once they had made up their mind that the project is a failure or a scam. If you’re on the fence, dig through the RSI website; unlike a lot of game company sites their front page is filled with updates, behind the scenes, and lore entries. There is literally a ton of information from behind the screen doors of the company being put out there for anyone who wants to look at it. I do urge you to look at it, especially with an open mind, if you are skeptical or otherwise have no horse in the race. I can’t predict the future, of course; this project may absolutely crash and burn, but that’s the same risk any company takes and none of them are bulletproof. Most, however, go down in flames without the kind of transparency that RSI has adopted, and if you want to understand where the company is going, do your own due dillgence and don’t rely on groupthink. Read the articles. Watch the videos..

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The Black Box of Decision

Posted by on Apr 14, 2017 in Editorial

In the days when all we had were newspapers and magazines, radio, and TV, we had to wait until the morning, evening, or late evening to find out about them. Because of the timing aspect we that we didn’t know stuff but we also knew that if there was anything to know, we’d get around to it eventually when publications arrived on our doorsteps or we tuned into the 6 AM, 6 PM or 10 PM news broadcasts. The Internet changed that and receives a fair amount of legit criticism for being too “on” because broadcasting something as it happens doesn’t give us the time to figure out what it means, why it’s happening, or reflect on the lasting impact.

This is why I find it really bizarre when companies are so obtuse. Even though I’ve spent most of my life without the Internet (although that will change in a mere few years), I have become so used to getting important information and reasons accompanying my news stories that when I don’t the stories seem stupid, pointless, and nonsensical.

Case in point: Nintendo, the great Cypher of Reason in the games industry, has opted to discontinue their short-lived NES Classic all-in-one retro console. This was a big hit with gamers when it was announced late last year and was impossible to find for the Holiday season. In fact, it’s still in short supply, unless you really want one and are willing to pay scalper prices on eBay. When news of this discontinuation came across the ‘tubes yesterday, people were pissed. The sentiment was pretty much the same: Nintendo doesn’t want a slam-dunk sale, and they must hate both money and customers. Of course, we don’t really know why they decided to look at the demand and step back; they claim that this product was never intended to be a long-running thing and that this announcement was always in the cards. But Nintendo is notorious for either misunderstanding demand, purposefully shorting their own supply chain, or just being monumentally incompetent and tone-deaf. While we get some kind of excuse, the reason and outcome are so idiotic that we can’t help but think we’re being shafted in some way.

In thinking about this I was also reminded about a product that I used to use called Forge. This is an app that silently records your gameplay and allows you to carve out clips of up to 30 seconds in length that you can share with friends. I say that I “used to” use it because while I really liked its initial incarnation, the decision-makers changed it once to compete with Twitch (didn’t work), and then again into some other kind of chimera that’s not fully realized. To me, the Forge team has no idea what the heck they want their product to do, and because of that can’t convince me why I should use their product. I’m not bitter about removing features I liked or their attempts to enter a saturated market with essentially no ammunition; I’m just confused about the indecisive direction changes and am not willing to put effort into supporting a product that’s all over the board. If the Forge team could tell us what they wanted to accomplish, and actually stuck with that plan, I’d be willing to give them another shot, but there’s been little to no communication in this vein as far as I’ve been able to see. They’re either playing it by ear or are purposefully keeping their plans close to the vest, which in my opinion is hurting them more than it is keeping them safe.

Commercialism in the 21st century has become a game of one-upmanship where the consumer is a spectator who doesn’t understand what he or she is witnessing, and no one involved in the game is willing to explain the rules. Companies are paranoid that someone is going to beat them to the punch before they can file a patent or trademark, so lips are sealed…yet we’re expected to get hyped over scraps of information that *surprise!* may or may not actually make it to the final product — if we get a final product at all (thanks, Kickstarter!). For the most part, we play along because we’re dazzled by the fancy footwork and the roar of the rest of the crowd, but how many of us have been left with a feeling of unease and even remorse once we’ve had time to digest what we’ve been a part of? That sucks. I think the relationship between the consumer and the producer is heavily weighted in favor of the producer, which is a problem we as consumers have gotten ourselves into with eyes wide open. Technically there’s nothing pushing companies to change; Apple doesn’t do focus groups, and yet people work themselves into a consumerist coma and are grateful for the privilege of buying whatever the company produces. So I call it wishful thinking that companies were more transparent and up front about their reasoning behind some of the decisions that they make. I know it would help me feel better about entering into a relationship with a company, and I think the company could feel better about customer loyalty that didn’t involve underhanded tricks like proprietary hardware, walled gardens, and patent trolling.

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Oops! And Other Tales from Stellaris

Posted by on Apr 12, 2017 in Featured, Scopique Plays, Stellaris

Oops! And Other Tales from Stellaris

Stellaris is a 4x Game of Unusual Size (4GoUS — F’go-us?) and like a lot of 4x games, no scenario is ever over quickly. I firmly believe that short of treating utter defeat as the first item on your to-do list, a single game will last for several hours whether you like it or not. Considering the point and the attraction of 4x games is the strategy of expansion and neighborly relations, you’d better like it.

Willfulness aside, it is possible to back yourself into a corner where the game becomes painfully difficult to the point where you might wonder if you’re looking down the barrel of an embarrassing defeat. For me, 4x games tend to devolve into an arms race where my neighbors know all the right levers to pull to get ahead, while I’m hanging out in my backyard tossing the football around without a care in the universe. That leads to people showing up on my doorstep with armaments that I can’t hope to defend against, and I inevitably end up losing.

Playing Stellaris last night I found myself behind the 8-ball in terms of resources. My energy budget was at 0 or occasionally in the red. Suddenly, my food supply tanked and we were living off rations. I had more than enough minerals, and while I wasn’t gaining influence, I wasn’t using it either. What all this means is that I had the minerals necessary to expand — to build ships and outposts and such — but I didn’t have the maintenance currency — energy — to keep it all running. That meant I was holding off on doing much of anything. Occasionally I’d get brave and would send construction crews out to other solar systems to construct outposts and mining platforms where I could score some additional energy income, but it was a balancing act: everything I built required upkeep, so I had to do ugh-math to ensure my projects would net more e-credit than they would cost.

About 15 minutes before I knew I had to shut down, lest I find myself unable to wake in the morning (I am immune to the dreaded “one more round” disease), I was looking into my food shortage. In Stellaris, planets are divided into tiles. Each tile is either empty, a natural producer of food, energy, minerals, or other resources, or is blocked. Your people (called “pops”) will be “born” or will migrate into open tiles. You can drag pops around to put them into tiles that you want them to work. My focus was on ensuring that all my food tiles were populated and that the farms in those tiles were sufficiently upgraded to the best produce-enhancer I could build.

Wait…

Something wasn’t right. I was upgrading hydroponics labs in food tiles, but…there were tiles producing natural food which didn’t have hydroponics labs in them. Placing a machine in a tile with a matching resource type increases the output of that resource type. Here I was, starving and every-deficient because I hadn’t been placing even the most basic producer buildings on my natural resource tiles. I had been spending pretty much the entire game operating a growing empire with no more resource production than what I found laying around on the ground. That’s like operating a government funded only by the loose change found under seat cushions or in the street gutters.

Now, however, I have two other colonies which I need to start upgrading, but I have reached the food storage ceiling despite cranking out more crops. My neighbors have become belligerent and the diplomacy screen shows them as being technologically superior to me. I fear that my remembrance on how to play this game has come too late to save my ass, which wouldn’t be a bad thing necessarily as a looming defeat would allow me to start up a new game where I could do things correctly from the start.

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Here There Be Dunces

Posted by on Apr 11, 2017 in Tabletop and Board

Here There Be Dunces

I think that part of the allure of tabletop roleplaying games, for some, is the ability to get their inner Tolkien on and create an entirely new world. Sometimes this happens by accident, with years and years of roleplaying just layering the places and people and histories, but other times it’s someone’s raison d’etre for approaching TRPG in the first place.

There may be historical precedent for approaching TRPG from this direction; Tolkien, the Grandfather of High Fantasy, has created the most enduring, most influential world-setting of all time, and it’s because of Lord of the Rings that we have Dungeons & Dragons. As a creative medium, it stands to reason that the hardcore players or TRPGs would want to take a crack at Tolkien’s legacy with their own approach, at the very least so that the setting they base the adventures in doesn’t seem as Middle Earth as some of the D&D settings.

I was a member of this camp. The allure of creating a new world from the ground up was not only attractive but functional. I could decide everything that had happened up to the point where the players entered the scene, but more importantly, I could arbitrate stuff as time (and gameplay) went on. Even when a party plays an adventure in Faerun or the world of Greyhawk, their exploits can be woven into the homebrew legends, but there are still constraints backed by years and years of source materials, wikis, and ardent fans who would insist that canon not be exploited and modified. Custom world building gets around this by giving the GM the power to Make Stuff Up on the fly and to have it added to canon on a whim while also have some idea of the constraints regarding what can, cannot, or did happen over the course of gameplay.

Recently, though, I’ve been trying to get away from the idea of creating the entire world ahead of time, or in aiming for the end game and working backward to create the adventures. After wrapping up our D&D game and looking back on how things went, I realized that there just wasn’t enough player freedom available. The module was partly to blame, and I was also partly to blame for sticking so close to the module. On the other hand, would I have done much different had I been running a homebrew adventure? I am fairly certain I would have picked an end game condition, a starting position, and then setup up scenarios, encounters, puzzles, and interactions that would lead the players to that end game configuration as a way of making my job easier. The result would have been just as much “on rails” as any pre-packaged adventure, except without the benefit of it having been created by a professional.

Last night I was taking notes on a Call of Cthulhu one-shot module that I had purchased for Fantasy Grounds. Being a one-shot means that it can be run from start to finish in a single sitting*, but more importantly, it can be used as a jumping off point for other adventures whether they be pre-packaged or homebrew. In thinking about that fact last night, I opted to take as many notes as I needed in order to keep the information straight and to ensure that the NPCs don’t suddenly change personalities, but that’s where I stopped. I wasn’t going to pre-configure paths that the players could or should take in order to get to the end of the module. What should happen instead is that the players drive the story, and when the story is done, find a scrap of what’s left when the dust settles to use as a jumping off point for…something else. It doesn’t really matter what that “something else” is at that point because the players should do the investigation and in doing so, build the world based on what they find, when they find it or when they need to know it.

 

* One sitting is dependent upon how much time the group has to devote to playing. Our D&D sessions were only 2 hours, so a one-shot adventure would have had to have been extremely short, especially if there was combat involved. Thankfully, CoC doesn’t rely on combat, and 2 hours might be doable for this particular module.

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Cutting the Cord

Posted by on Apr 6, 2017 in Editorial, Featured, Hardware, Other Geeks

Cutting the Cord

Yes, it’s 2017, and I am just now getting around to seriously considering getting rid of cable.

Since we switched to Fi and reduced our cellular bill by 3/4* I’m feeling how good it is to make a change that returns money to me. Cellular was easy, as these services are an anti-consumer racket. What’s less easy for my household is wiggling out from under the thumb of Big Cable.

While providers like Comcast will tell us that we have options in our area — like satellite — the honest truth is that it’s not really an option. We have three technology minded people in our house, so we need fast, reliable internet access. I’m sure DSL has come a long way since I’ve used it almost 15 years ago, but it’s built on top of an aging infrastructure and can’t possibly match what we get from coax and fiber. We also really don’t need a home phone line. The bogeyman regarding home phones is that without a landline, we lose E-911 service, although I would hope I’d have the presence of mind in a crisis to do everything in my power to ensure that emergency services find me at an address I verbally provide to them. What has actually been impeding our investigation into cutting the cable has been TV, though.

My hobby is PC based; my wife’s hobby is TV based. Thankfully, I can get to any website using any internet connection, but getting the TV channels that my wife wants to watch isn’t so simple. Every network and broadcast concern seems to want to have their own walled garden (lookin’ at we, CBS!) for a fee. Considering how many channels we might want from an a la carte package and the sum of the prices of each walled garden, our spend would probably add up to as much or even more than what we might pay for cable right now.

Of course, there are services which bundle the channels that make themselves available for such bundling. Sling, Playstation VUE, and now YouTube TV provide a wide selection of familiar faces — but none of them offer everything. For example, local affiliate stations are going to be difficult to come by since these streaming services source from the national feeds. A few of these services offer tiers; the higher the tier, the more channels we get, but we might also end up paying more for a single channel we really want, in addition to getting 10 more channels we’ll never watch (for us, that would be the bazillionty sports channels that seem to be the foundation of all of these services). Since no single service offers everything we might want, the decision needs to be made: suffer without, or subscribe to multiple services?

Subscribing to different services means that we’re looking at platform availability. Most everything is available for Android, iOS, and PC, which is nice but is hardly a set-it-and-forget-it solution that competes with the eggs-in-one-basket cable box. The second best option is a device like the Roku or (*shudder*) Apple or Fire TV. A lot of the services are available through gaming consoles, but there’s a lot of overhead in navigating a console, and as much as I’d be thrilled to do so, I don’t think my wife will agree to buy another Playstation or Xbox for each of the TVs we need to broadcast to. Finally, a Chromecast would work in a lot of situations, but when all  you want to do is sit down and throw something on the TV, it’s not as convenient as a cable box when you need to bring out your phone, wait for it to connect, and then choose the supplier who has the content you want to watch.

So what’s the verdict so far? Apparently, PSVue seems to have the most channels we’re looking for, followed by YouTube TV. PSVue seems to work on Android, iOS, and PC, and of course, the Playstation, but also through the Roku, Amazon Fire, and Chromecast. YTTV works through Android, iOS, and PC, but beyond that, it only seems to work through Chromecast for TV broadcasting. Hopefully, that will change over time.

Then there’s the gravy. A lot of the broadcast services offer cloud-based DVR which is great as it allows you to record whatever, whenever, and watch it whereever you can access the service. This mean that when traveling in the US, we can take a Chromecast or Roku stick with us and have our familiar TV with us even in different broadcast markets. YouTube TV even offers Netflix-like sub-accounts so I could keep my DVR and favorites apart from my wife’s or my daughter’s.

At this stage, I’ve only been collecting information and haven’t yet actually tried any of these services. YouTube and PSVue have free trials, so I might take them up on those offers to see if we can live a month using those services — assuming we can find devices which work on the TVs we have. The kicker will be getting the family to remember to pick up the specific remote for the specific device to access the specific package which has the specific channels we want to watch when we want to watch them. It’s this scatter-shot distribution that is the biggest hurdle for cutting the cord for me, personally because while we might be able to replicate our preferred lineup, we have to span several services and possibly several devices in order to find what it is that we want in order to do it.

 

* At least for my wife and I. We still have to pay for our daughter’s line which is on the legacy carrier, but once the in-laws move off our legacy plan, our monthly bill will still be drastically reduced.

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