Normally when I don’t post anything it’s because of a general blogging malaise (bloglaise?) but this week it’s because I’ve been both forgetful and super busy.
Battletech Backer Beta
I haven’t played Battletech proper in maybe 20 years or so but it’s a franchise that’s always been at the top of my lists of Franchises I Love. I owned the original box set, read the Technical Manual until it literally fell apart (I rebound it with string), read all the Stackpole books, and even drew a game board on my parent’s concrete basement floor so my brother and I could play with our Transformers. As Time does, I found myself with less time to play, and fewer people to play with during the Dark Ages between when I was in high school and when the Internet became a viable way to meet up with folks. I played the Mechwarrior games on PC, and tried Mechwarrior Online a few times but the random nature of other people’s play styles didn’t do it for me. I wanted the old-school Battletech lance-vs-lance tactical gameplay again, so while I bought the Anniversary Edition box set a few years ago (never played), I was all over the new Battletech game from Harebrained Schemes, helmed by the originator of the BT franchise, Jordan Weiss.
The KS backer beta arrived last weekend (when I was stricken with the plague), but I’ve only played two rounds so far of the single player game. If you have been waiting for an honest BT implementation, this is your candidate. Even though there’s obviously work to be done in several places, the game is playable. I have yet to win a game, having lost my second round to an armless enemy who headbutted my center torso to death. Still, it instantly brought back long-ago memories of all of the variations of Battletech that I had played, which means that it’s the real deal as far as I am concerned.
Motion Graphics Update
I have no fewer than two consecutive posts about my motion graphics learning, prior to this post. Since that last update, I’ve done almost nothing with it. Looking back on the initial attempts I realize that I have a long way to go in being able to create something to be proud of, but even attempting to use the things that I have made, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not sure I have an actual need for this.
I might keep it around for a while, but I haven’t continued with the video lectures since last week. I might need some of the other software that comes with my Adobe CC subscription, but $50 a month is a real headache just for eventualities.
Wombatical! The Wombats Get Serious About Streaming
The Big News, then, is that since Imzy closed down and a few of us moved over to the Combat Wombat Discord server, we’ve been a lot more active as a community. The real-time nature of Discord is great for communication, but not so great for other productivity, and is part of what’s kept me from updating this site.
See, in the wake of the migration, several folks have decided that they would really like to get into streaming. We had evaluated Mixer (formerly known as Beam) for its low-latency and co-streaming functionality, but several folks weren’t convinced that Mixer was set up to accomplish all of the same things that Twitch could in terms of features and moderation. While it might be easier for smaller streamers to get noticed on Mixer due to the lower population there, it might also suffer from a lower population because people are so mentally invested in the idea that Twitch is where people need to be if they want to take the hobby of streaming seriously (at least as seriously as far as getting viewers goes). Several people outside our circle have even been heard remarking that they would refuse to watch a live stream unless it was on Twitch.
Needless to say, several of the Wombats have now been testing the streaming waters on Twitch. So far Stargrace has been attempting to stick to a schedule when the real-world isn’t making demands, and Girl_vs_MMO has been working around her own real-life schedule to get some streaming time in, and Arislyn has popped in from time to time as reality allows.
I have yet to get online, myself. Instead, I’ve been preparing. Lots of preparing. Like…a shitload of preparing. I considered whether my preparations were really just delaying tactics or whether they were actual steps that would help me make a smooth yet entry-level attempt…whenever I got around to pushing the button. I upgraded by webcam to the c922, which has the background removal (sans green-screen) built in. The verdict: works OK, but it all depends on — wait for it — lighting. Not sure if I’ll use that feature or not. I also have the Stream Deck, whose Twitch integration isn’t really all that great when you get down to it. The weapons of choice for enhancing the streams have been narrowed down to two: Ankhbot, which is a desktop app which allows for all kinds of stream management options, and Streamlabs, which handles certain remote notifications (followers, subs, hosts, etc) and handles donations for Extra Life, which we do. In addition, I’ve found a “theme” for my channel that I think I’m happy with, reflecting my love of space, sims, and space-sims.
Now, to find the time to actually get out and stream…
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I am currently suffering from long weekend withdrawal, as I enjoyed the normal weekend, a successful cookout on Memorial Day (despite the rain), and an additional “clean-up/mental health day” off on Tuesday. While I did get to spend some of my Tuesday cleaning up after the festivities on the previous day, I would have felt the day had been wasted if I wasn’t able to get some quality basement time.
Per my previous post on the subject, I have spent a good amount of time watching instructional videos on Udemy and am now at the point where I cannot simply sit by and do nothing but watch someone else do cool stuff. I upgraded my Adobe Creative Cloud subscription to the buffet plan, and over the weekend I installed After Effects. While I am positive that I haven’t yet gotten anywhere near knowing how to do all the best, most useful stuff according to the video series I’m watching, I have learned enough to get started.
My first stab was to animate “my logo” which I had created in a fit of inspiration, a discussion of which I’ll save for another day. Here’s the original logo:
My thought this time around was to have the runes around the edge rotate slowly, while the internal “Scopique” would sear itself into mid-air like some kind of magical script. Overall, things weren’t too difficult: the rotation of the runes was easy enough, and although the searing of the letters didn’t quite pan out, I delved into the pit of “special effects” and found a light-beam application that I added to the lettering.
The major roadblock I experienced with this was that After Effects is not Photoshop. Compare the original design (which I like) to the recreated version in the video (which is tolerable for a freshman effort) and you’ll notice the difference. The video version doesn’t have the same…I don’t know…visual complexity that the still does, and the static blue-and-red fire (which I really like) look kind of stupid as static imagery in a video. At any rate, I tried to recreate the logo exactly in After Effects, but wasn’t able to, so this is where it stands. I don’t know that I’ll use this video anywhere, but it was a good first try.
The original purpose of learning After Effects, as you might recall had you read the first post in this series, was to create the background crawl for any videos that I might decide to create when I’m sick with a debilitating fever and can’t make rational decisions. This was actually more difficult (for me) than one might think.
Originally I’d tried working with individual words in After Effects, lining them up, duplicating the line several times, and applying animation to each line such that they move in different directions at different speeds. Speed in animation is my mortal enemy, as is math in game development. Make the timeline too long and things move slowly; make it to short and things move way too fast, all compliments of the “frames per second” concept coupled with the rate at which you want the video to run (etc etc etc). I wanted this animation to loop so I didn’t have to worry about how long it’ll run, which meant that I needed it to be long enough to loop, but not so long that it takes 15 minutes for one rotation. And it had to loop back so it appeared seamless.
In the end, I made a line of text in Photoshop and saved it as an image and animated that because I thought it would keep the moving parts to a minimum. I also had to apply a “time warp” effect to each line to control the speed, since my timeline manipulation had proven rather fruitless and frustrating. Like my “Scopique” logo, the results are just barely north of acceptable.
Just a sample posted on Mixer.com as a test.
Finally, I wanted to create a “splash” screen for streaming. These are what people see on the stream channel before the stream goes live to show people that the stream is actually active and that they have time to hit the bathroom/pantry before the show starts.
For this project, I wanted to follow a “cybernetic” theme, so I looked up “cybernetic UI” on Google Images and found one that I kind of liked. For some reason, the motif of concentric, misshapen circles is a cybernetic trope, so I went with that. At first, I started working the design in Photoshop, but then pulled up short: Illustrator would be a lot better for this kind of thing, really, because I was noticing jaggies on some of my circles that Illustrator would nuke. I spent about 10 minutes with Illustrator before I realized I have absolutely no skill with Illustrator, so I forced myself to work with what I had in PS. I figured out how to import PS layers into After Effects, and after a few hours of cleaning up my design, got the circles into AE, centered, and animated. I then needed to create a sufficiently cyberpunk-esque background and managed to gin up something that would probably get a solid B- in an “Intro to Cyberpunk Art” class (I grade on a curve).
I threw in “LOADING…” and “Stream will be starting shortly” text in the final version (not represented here), and…that was all. I was hesitant to add too much to this video because the rotating circles are moving a bit faster than I’d like, and felt that additional animation on the screen would be like making conversation in a silent room simply because the silence was too much to bear.
Overall, I am moderately accepting of my initial efforts. While I managed to get real close to what I wanted to accomplish with each, none of the efforts are what I’d put into a portfolio if I were hell-bent on getting a job as a graphics animator some day. I still have about 200+ videos in my lecture series to watch, at which point I will have to re-watch the whole things and take notes on technique along with ideas on how it could be used beyond the specific tutorial examples being presented.
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As if I needed to add another log to the pile of “stuff Chris is interested in trying”.
I watch the Last Week Tonight clips on YouTube every Monday, and aside from watching the actual content of the video, one thing that caught my eye was the design of the video. Look at this still:
I think we’re pretty used to a full-screen video when we watching them online. But the LWT video — the parts we pay attention to — don’t fill the screen. Look at the left side. Notice that sidebar that’s lying beneath the image of the pug. If I’d embedded the video, you’d see that the words “Last Week Tonight” are scrolling from right to left on several lines, in several shades, at different speeds.
I want to be able to make something like that. I don’t stream much, and I don’t record and produce video, but I thought that being able to make video intros, outros, and motion backgrounds would be a cool skill to have that could allow me to make stuff for people who do stream much and who do record and produce videos.
The problem is that for all of the stuff on the Internet, getting a straight answer on certain things is fraught with roadblocks. I haven’t been able to find anything that would help me learn how to do this. Scratch that: I haven’t found anything that doesn’t lead to Adobe After Effects or Premiere Pro that would help me learn how to do this.
I sub to the “photographer” level of Adobe Creative Cloud because it includes access to Photoshop for only $9.99 per month. Unfortunately for hobbyists, renting a single app from Adobe costs $19.99 a month. Paying for two — Premiere and After Effects — would be $40 (yay math!), and since I’d have to switch off my current plan in order to get Photoshop as well, it’s now up to $60 per month. That’s kind of expensive, although still cheaper than the days when we had two options for acquiring Adobe products: pay massive sums or pirate them.
That’s why I’m thinking that the $49.99 per month buffet for all Adobe products on offer isn’t such a bad deal for someone who wants at least three Adobe CC products. Yes, I know, Outraged Internet Citizen: $50 a month is still a lot for renting software. It’s people like me who enable companies to keep doing this. No way in hell you’d even consider this. Etc. To be honest, this is partly why I haven’t actually done it (yet). $50 is a lot to pay per month for access to this software. This professional grade, battle-tested, industry standard software.
What’s really stopping me is that I have absolutely no idea how the hell to use the video editing and production software. I know I need it because repeated hits on Google for “how to make an animated text scrolling background for video” brings up so many mentions of After Effects and Premiere Pro that you’d swear Adobe bought the rights to the entire first page of results. The downside is that there’s nothing approaching formal instruction in those results. If I were paying $50 a month for this software, I’d want to learn to use it properly…not through some random dude’s YouTube video on how to do one specific thing.
I have a purchased a lot of videos on the instructional site Udemy for Unity and a few other tools. Their video series are usually pretty good, and I’ve got their site open on another tab so I might buy the course (for $10), watch it, and see exactly what I could do with the software. If I feel comfortable enough at the end that I could accomplish the kinds of things I’d want to accomplish, then $50 a month would be an investment. Considering there have been plenty of times when I’ve bought games at full price that I’ve never played long enough to get my money’s wort, I don’t think I can really turn my nose up at a sub price like that.
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I just wanted to start off with a shout-out to the Elgato Gaming Twitter account team. After yesterday’s post which featured the image of my custom Elite Dangerous button icons for the Stream Deck, I got a cold-Tweet from them.
I followed up with a snarky response about how I wish they actually worked, which kicked off a little back-and-forth which netted me a pre-release version of the next software update for the device to test to see if it would help my in-game detection issue (spoiler: not yet).
I’m always hesitant to pester official Twitter accounts for tech support, although I know that they are the first line in many defenses, PR as well as support. It was really nice of them to keep up the dialog and to offer a potential solution on the off chance it might help out, whereas some other companies might have just told me to sit on it until they officially released the next update and let them know if the issue still persists. Elgato are good folks.
War on Drugs
I’m pleased to announce that my local friends have mostly all picked up Ghost Recon: Wildlands. We had five people online last night, first with a friend who had played for quite some time and knew the ropes, and later with a friend who was going through the initial mission while we were doing things like stealing helicopters and raiding prisons.
Driving around with the wind whipping through my hair
As a long time MMO player who has played with others as well as alone (mostly alone) I don’t think I’ve ever really encountered a game that had such a different attraction between with and without that GR:W offers. Alone, the game is incredibly boring. Your AI companions are competent, but they do their own thing as they are supposed to, but not always the way you’d like it. But being competent means that eventually you’ll get the job done.
Since games in the Ghost Recon series are notable for their brutality relative to other shooters, incompetence is part of the equation, which is why playing this game with friends turns it into a whole different ball game. We had a chopper blow up with us in it the other day because someone in the passenger seat released a drone at 5000 ft that hit the rotors and took us out. Last night, we crashed a chopper into a hillside but walked away unharmed. People get run over, cars explode, and miniguns take out gas tanks. It’s not as over the top as, say, Just Cause, but it’s still pretty amusing sometimes, and you don’t get that when playing with bots that are good enough to complete the mission. When they die, it’s frustrating; when a real team member dies, it might be frustrating, but might also be hilarious. While the ideas are serious, and while everyone is trying to accomplish a goal to move the ball down the road, sometimes you have just just laugh at the bizzare and absurd things that happen when playing with others.
“Anyone see a chopper we can crash?”
Another QA Pass, Please
I have tried to start Endless Space 2 a total of five times now. Three times, I attempted to start a game but was interrupted by something external. Twice, I attempted to start a game but was blocked by irritating bugs.
Both bugs show up in the tutorials, which has three levels in ES2 – None, Basic, and Advanced. Having played many 4x games, and Endless Space back a few years ago, I kind of know what needs to be done, but it’s the how that requires a refresher course. I opted to try the tutorials on both Basic and Advanced level, and each had an issue. In Advanced, the game asked me to “buy out” the research using Influence…without actually giving me any influence to buy with. In Basic, the game asked me to “buy out” my build queue…without providing a button to do so, or maybe without illustrating where that button is located (it ain’t where you’d think it should be, I can tell you that).
The research thing is legit; there’s a thread on the Steam forums about it. The build queue thing might be me being dense, but the tutorial — the aspect of the game that’s supposed to hold your hand and lead you to where you need to be — dropped the ball in pointing out the button’s location if the button wasn’t where it logically should have been.
Tutorials are optional, and I could make a go of it without either level but while a lot of stuff looks familiar, I’m rusty enough to require a refresher. Considering I sent my colony ship off exploring and couldn’t figure out how to get it to turn around and return to the system I actually wanted to colonize, I think I’m needing some hand-holding.
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Now that our deck has been completed, we’re spending more time outside than in. For me, this is a blessing and a curse; I am not made for the out-of-doors, but I’ve also not really been “feelin’ it” when I sit down to play something. I need to get back to the PSVR games I have, and also the non-VR PS games I have (including the upcoming Marvel Heroes translation for the PlayStation).
Saturday was spent mostly doing yard work. I have to dismantle the old stairs leading up to the original deck, so I did a bit of that. We also carved out a small garden section at the foot of the new deck stairs, so we had to get plants and mulch for that. I’m never more reminded of my housebound status than when I try and do intense yard work, and this was one of those cases.
Sunday we spent at the in-laws, celebrating a belated Mother’s Day because scheduling conflicts prevented us from doing so on the actual day. There’s really not a lot more to say about that.
Honestly, this is going to be the last dedicated post on the subject you’ll get from me. I am now officially defeated by the Elgato Stream Deck.
A lot of folks on /r/elgatogaming and elsewhere have said that they’ve been using the ‘Deck in conjunction with a utility called Auto Hotkey. This app is designed to allow users to write scripts that listen for special key combinations, which can then trigger actions such as adjusting your OS volume or taking screenshots and posting them to Dropbox. Because AHK works at a level which allows it to interact with a whole range of applications (when running as Admin), the plan is that Stream Deck can send these scripted hotkeys into the aether where they are picked up by AHK, which can then do what Stream Deck cannot: send keys to the focused apps.
As a developer by day, I’m open to the nuances of whatever scripting language you want to use, and AHK isn’t all that complex. I created a script which checks for Elite Dangerous and if it’s running, execute whatever key combo was sent. I managed to translate a chord into the game command to turn on my ship’s headlights, and that works…but nothing else does. The lights work 100% of the time, but everything else works anywhere between 0% and 2% of the time. That 2% is something that I’d seen people talking about: how the ‘Deck doesn’t always send commands on the first, second, or even 10th press of the button, but might consider doing so somewhere down the line. I had entertained the idea that my script was bad, but I’d tried several variations on the theme and recevied the same non-results every single time.
I made cool keys and everything! 🙁
Right now, I’ve given up on trying to make this thing do what I want it to do. Obviously, all of the OBS stuff works because that has a dedicated pipeline to speak through. I can launch apps like Elite Dangerous and its utilities, and I did manage to wire up the Windows Game Bar commands which is a good thing because it has a screenshot function that works on anything you tell it is “a game”. I also managed to get it to work with Discord so I can mute and deafen audio in the voice channels, although I’d love direct Discord integration so I could switch servers and even rooms using the ‘Deck. I also have buttons that control my OS volume, but that’s about all. Really, the screenshot, Discord, and OS volume buttons are the only regular commands this thing is going to send, making it a very expensive paperweight.
I hope Elgato opts to make it more of a universal app that does what Logitech and Razer, et al., can do, although given that their wheelhouse is dedicated to streaming, I don’t know if it’s in their interests to update it to do more than what little it’s meant to do: control your live stream.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands
As of right now (May 22, 2017), Humble Bundle has Ghost Recon: Wildlands on sale for 20% off. I saw this deal and sent it out to friends who have been happily subsisting on The Division Underground missions for the past several months.
I received GR:W for free with my video card, and aside from using it to put the card through its paces, I’ve not played it much. It’s not a soloist game, despite having a squad of NPC soldiers backing you up. GR differs from The Division in that GR games tend to be way less forgiving when you’re getting shot. When you finally make it to cover, then, the system is calling in wave after wave of reinforcements.
Teabagging Unidad corpses
I played it last night with my brother, and Mindstrike, and we learned a few things. First, you die quickly and often. Second, if you’re attacking a cartel-held property, kill everyone quickly or else you’ll be there forever and will probably find yourself back at point one. Third, there’s no coherent line-of-sight between where you start and where you need to go. We tried to figure out our next step in the narrative but ended up picking some of the worst random locations for new players to take on.
Still, it was fun. More fun with real people. I’m hoping more people snag the game before the sale ends, because I burnt out on The Division a long time ago, and would like to play something with people again.
This is my role in the team.
Endless Space 2
Endless Space is one of my favorite 4x games. Like all of them, however, I have never actually completed a scenario. Still, it served as inspiration for several features of my ill-fated “Project Universe” because I really like the way Amplitude approached the game.
Wandering through the stacks at Steam storefront, I literally stumbled across Endless Space 2. I think I knew this was A Thing, but like many things these days it fell off my radar.
I watched the videos on the store page and decided that ES2 was a solid follow up game. It seems that Amplitude has included a lot of cool new features, not the least of which are the addition of probes instead of scouts, a need to to research FTL technology to get beyond your meager local neighborhood, and a galactic “auction house” which allows you to buy and sell technology and ships for Dust, the game’s mysteriously magical currency.
I haven’t yet fired it up, but I’m looking forward to it. Amplitude is really an under-the-radar strategy developer (Endless Space, Dungeon of the Endless, Endless Legend, and other Endless universe games) that does consistently good work that I enjoy.
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