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The Slow Weekend

The only real gaming I was able to do this weekend was a little bit of the Guild Wars 2 expansion beta, and some Skyforge.

Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns Beta Weekend

GW2-logoThe GW2 beta was something I told myself I wouldn’t do because A) I trust Anet to work things out, as I haven’t personally had any issues with GW2 sans expansion, and B) I didn’t want to ruin anything for myself later. But I’m kind of glad that I did jump in because I’m sensing a trend either with Anet, or with my ability to comprehend what the heck is going on.

I created a revenant character at level 80, but didn’t like it in the least. Deleting that guy, I created a level 80 ranger so I could get a taste of what post-80 would be like for my main character. I started off in the Silverwastes, an area I generally like because of the capture and hold mechanics of the various camps out there, and plowed through the zone until I got to the actual start of the expansion content that started with the whole business of the defeat of the Pact army and the defection of a good chunk of the Sylvari.

The actual starting zone for the expansion is well documented in screenshots and videos, and I assume that if you’re at all interested in the HoT expac you’re familiar with the new jungle setting. This is where I started to get lost, much like how I was constantly being turned around in Dry Top even without the sandstorms going on. I ended up in the tree village of the Itzel. There we had to tackle several zone missions like collecting grubs to feed the starving population. Unfortunately, it was bugged (no pun intended) and we couldn’t get the system to register more than 2/5 baskets filled. I then managed to find my way back to the jungle floor and saw that zone chat was going on about needing more people up on top of a mesa, so I swung my way up there to find a group of folks trying to take down a compliment of Mordremoth’s larger minions. Unfortunately, the spawn would never stop and the progress wasn’t kicking over, so folks kind of drifted away from another buggy system.

Yes, it’s beta, so I was A-OK with these things not working. I was confused, though, by the zone, which is entirely the fault of my crappy sense of direction. I also wasn’t sure how the Mastery system worked until I parsed it from the chat window. Post level 80, any XP you earn doesn’t go towards your level, but goes towards a zone mastery. The “level 81” mastery you get in the first zone is the basic gliding. As you level up through that zone, you unlock other aspects. However, when you move to another zone, I believe you have to start over again to unlock those individual masteries. I didn’t even get my gliding in the course of the weekend, so I’m not sure if I’m misunderstanding the zone differences, but I was glad I understood it, and got the lay of the land (so much as I did) before the expansion actually launches.

Skyforge

I didn’t spend a lot of time with Skyforge this weekend, though, mainly because I was out of the house most of the time. I am now in the cycle of “log in to deal with minions”, collecting their spoils and sending them out on new missions. It’s kind of a waste of the Premium time, though; I’ve just not had the time to put into it.

Errata

Saturday was a really nice day so we took the kayaks out to the Nashua River. It’s a fairly slow-moving river with sparse population along the banks and a whole lot of algae and other aquatic plant life. We were out for maybe two hours, but came home with some injuries: sunburns, a strained tendon in my elbow from hoisting the kayaks to the roof of our van, and a dead cell phone.

Even though we were out on the water, I didn’t want to be incommunicado should something terrible happen so I had put my phone in a zip lock bag and stowed it in the sorta-sealed-but-not-really hatch on my boat. When we got back to shore, my daughter noticed that the bag had some water in it, and that my phone was pretty soaked. Later, I couldn’t get the device to stay active; it would reboot itself constantly. I put it in a bag of rice when I got home and left it there overnight, but when I checked on it the next morning…nothing.

After our usual Sunday breakfast meeting with my father, we headed to the AT&T store and sat around for about an hour until our number came up. I had already been eyeballing the Galaxy S6, and when I related the situation to our sales rep Erin, she suggested the “active” edition, which has built in drop proofing, waterproofing, and all that. I opted to go that route, only to be told they were out. So I opted for the standard S6, but they were out of the 32GB. I don’t store things on my phone, so the 64GB was just overkill, and the additional $100 was just making it worse. But my wife said that so long as I don’t try and upgrade my phone before this contract is up, we might as we do it since I’d be phoneless otherwise, and we just can abide by that.

Sunday was spent rebuilding my mobile footprint, which despite the providers attempting to make things easy, is really just a slog. Some of my purchased apps weren’t registering as having been purchased, so I had to push them to the device from the website. I had to go through the unfamiliar settings UI to find the various bells and whistles that needed to be turned on or off (supposedly the S6 has abysmal battery life out of the box anyway). I had to log in to various services. Worst of all, I had to cancel and re-subscribe to different authenticators. Thankfully I have my Battle.net restoration codes, and both Anet (for GW2) and Carbine (for Wildstar) got back to me within hours of my filing tickets to have the authenticators removed. HOURSOn a SUNDAY EVENING.

At this point I think I’m back to operating strength, so it’s just a matter of learning how much performance I can get out of this phone before I have to schedule charging time.

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Distributed Gaming

SteamStreamingDiagram

It seems the days of being tethered to your platform of choice directly are pretty much over.

The PC’s domineering distribution channel Steam has it’s in-home streaming option which requires you to have a Steam Machine* on the receiving end. Of course, you can also get a supported Nvidia card and it’s own set-top device to stream any** game to any other viewing rectangle of your choice.

The Playstation 4 has streaming to a limited number of devices. The Vita is one, although you have to contend with the remapping of the controller’s shoulder buttons to the back touch panel on the Vita, which is something you need to practice with. There’s also the PSTV, a slip of a box that can be hidden almost anywhere, sports the Vita’s UI, and can receive PS4’s signals.

Upcoming Windows 10 has XBox One streaming baked in. While Microsoft has gotten hammered in the past for tight coupling of products and services to their OS, I think this one is a real winner. The only problem is that you need to have a Windows 10 device connected to your viewing rectangle, so unless you invest in a dedicated box to hook up to your TV’s and monitors, you’ll be gaming on the couch (at the XB1) or at your desk (via Win 10).

However, in playing with the Windows 10 preview and streaming XB1 to the PC, I wondered what the options were for connecting devices to other TVs in my house. In essence, it’s not at all different from what you’d have to do for Steam’s In Home Streaming, since SteamOS can run on a PC. The PS4 streaming is a no-brainer: you just need to buy a bunch of PSTVs and connect them to the TVs in your home. But there might be a bit more work involved in streaming XB1 or Steam.

According to the FAQ on the subject, the destination device must have the following specs:

For best performance, we recommend that your Windows 10 PC have:

  • At least 2 gigabytes of RAM
  • 1.5-GHz CPU or faster
  • Network connection to your home network:
    • Best performance: Wired Ethernet connection
    • Good performance: Wireless – 5-GHz 802.11 N or 802.11 AC wireless access point
    • Limited performance: Wireless – 2.4-GHz 802.11 N or 802.11 AC wireless access point

My first choice was the Raspberry Pi 2. Microsoft has a Windows 10 “Internet of Things” (IoT) edition that will run on the Pi. The Pi itself doesn’t measure up to the “best performance” specs, which isn’t to say that it wouldn’t work, only that your performance might suffer. Upon investigation into Win 10 IoT, however, I learned that it’s not a “Windows 10” so much as it is the Windows 10 bedrock: the libraries and base OS, but no UI and therefor no features that would allow for streaming.

The next investigation lead me to the “PC on a stick”. These look a little more promising, such as the Intel version which features a 1.3Ghz ATOM processor, 2GB of RAM, built in wi-fi and Bluetooth, SDXC slot, USB 2 port, and 32 GB of onboard storage. The linked product comes pre-installed with Windows 8.1, which should qualify for a free upgrade to Windows 10. Other manufacturers are pumping out their own sticks with roughly similar specs:

While the specs on these aren’t a dead-match for the “best performance” recommendations for Xbox One streaming, they’re pretty close. With 32GB of on board space, and for those who support an SD card, you could even install Steam and have the device perform double duty Xbox One and Steam In Home Streaming. Of course, this is speculation based solely on the “on the box” specifications and requirements for the setup to perform; these sticks will not sport the best GPU, but it seems that both XB1 and Steam requires H.264 encoding and 1080p video support — which I believe these sticks do, though I’m not a hardware guy — so they just might work.

 

* “Steam Machine” meaning a machine running the dedicated SteamOS, or another system running Steam client (I believe)
** Not sure if there’s a laundry list of restrictions on the games you can stream via Nvidia’s “Shield” technology.

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