Grab Bag for the Week of 6/9/2017

Posted by on Jun 9, 2017 in Editorial, Featured, Scopique Plays, Video

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.

Originally I thought “hey, I could make animated splash screens for streamers!” or even “now’s the chance to get that animated intro for my In The Car video series that I’m kinda not really doing anymore!”. As far as the splash screen goes, I figured that there aren’t too many designs that would work without being annoying. Maybe the most animated thing we could use would be a countdown timer (which I went and made using Javascript), but otherwise…meh. Upon further reflection, I can’t think of any kind of decent composition to fit in with the motif of the In The Car.

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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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.


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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Hot Interstellar Commerce Action

Posted by on Oct 3, 2016 in Scopique Plays

Hot Interstellar Commerce Action

Because Star Citizen is moving along slowly, I’ve gone back to Elite Dangerous to get my space simulation quota filled.

So far, I’ve only been taking missions for item transfer. The mission board offers all kinds of wonderful work, but my focus has been on the “here’s some items we want delivered to another station in another system” kind of jobs for a few reasons. First and foremost, they’re easy. I just have to accept the mission. Second, there’s no additional work on my part because the items that need to be moved are placed in my cargo hold. With a Lakon Type-6, I have 100 “units” I can take, which means I can usually take more than one mission — assuming they’re all in the same area. Third, there is a penalty for not completing the mission, but it’s relatively small: usually a few thousand credits. The only risk to not completing the mission (since the time is usually exorbitant, like 24 hours real time) is getting blown up.

My current most profitable routes start in Kamocan, at Littrow Gateway, which is my de facto home base because it’s where my ships are parked. I’m eagerly awaiting the next update where we can get our ships delivered to other stations, because as much as Littrow Gateway is nice, I’m kind of in the armpit of the galaxy and might like to move somewhere closer to the action. The latest round of missions have me transporting items to Shou Gu Wu (my bad, not the actual system name, but it’s something like that), which is two jumps away with a full cargo hold, one jump if I’ve only got limited goods to move. The thing I’ve noticed, though, is that I’m almost guaranteed to have one mission change objectives on me mid-stream. This means that the destination of at least one set of items is going to require me to either bring them somewhere new, move them to their location faster, or in a bizarre twist, explode a named NPC. That last one usually means said NPC is going to come after me, which is a problem considering I don’t have any weapons on my ship in order to conserve mass and power. That means I have to submit to interdiction in order to get my frame-shift drive recharged faster, continuously hammer the afterburners, and bob and weave using my thrusters until I can activate the FSD. So far I’ve gotten blown up once, but since then I’ve upgraded my thrusters to make me faster, and fixed my controls so I can actually use afterburners.

I’m thinking of moving closer to the Pleiades, because that seems to be where the bulk of alien encounters are happening. Right now (as of this writing), there’s a community goal in Maia that I wouldn’t be able to reach in time, but considering that this region seems to be the epicenter of whatever is going to go down once the aliens make an actual appearance, it might be worthwhile to get out there and get a front row seat for the carnage. But Maia and other systems are quite a ways away from where I am now, which means I’d need to dedicate a lot of time to getting out there, and it would only be worth it if I could get my other ship out there as well.

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Scopique Plays – ULTIMA ONLINE Pt 2: Our First Quest

Posted by on May 23, 2016 in Scopique Plays, Ultima Online

Scopique Plays – ULTIMA ONLINE Pt 2: Our First Quest

When Ultima Online first launched, there were no quests; it was a pure sandbox which required players to “make their own fun”. Technically, this was a roleplayer’s dream, and many people took advantage of the free-form environment with game-like mechanics to create a world of their own.

As MMOs became more achievement-centric, it seems that UO had to roll with the punches by adding in quests. Good thing, too, because the initial quests we take in this video help to guide a new player towards some activities that will help him get better before he heads out into the untamed wilds of the main continent.

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Scopique Plays – ULTIMA ONLINE Pt 1: Getting Started

Posted by on May 16, 2016 in Featured, Scopique Plays

Scopique Plays – ULTIMA ONLINE Pt 1: Getting Started

Ultima Online was my first “modern MMO”, and as such hold a very special place in my heart. Now, almost 20 years after its release, the game is still in operation, but I’m under no illusions that there can ever truly be a “homecoming”. Both the game and myself have moved on from the circumstances that surrounded our initial introductions. Still, we’ve got a history, UO and I, and that’s certainly worth a little bit of nostalgia.

In this video series, we’ll be starting over: fresh character, new environment, and an ongoing narration the mixes the memories of the original UO and the realities of the modern day game. In this first video, we’ll be looking at character creation, setting up shop in New Haven, the “new player experience”, and talking a little bit about UO in general.

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Scopique Plays – Balrum Pt 1: Basic Alchemy

Posted by on May 9, 2016 in Scopique Plays

Scopique Plays – Balrum Pt 1: Basic Alchemy

Balrum is an isometric, single player “survivalbox” RPG with a narrative component. I originally heard about this game from Jeremy Stratton of Zero Friction fame, and while I had held off on purchasing it, I decided to jump on it this weekend.

The game reminds me a lot of Spiderweb Software’s games such as Avernum and Avadon series, as well as the venerable Geneforge games. If you’re familiar with Spiderweb’s output, then you’ll find a lot to like in Balrum, and if you’re not as familiar, then this game might make you a fan.

I decided to start a “Let’s Play” series with Balrum to see if A) I could set it up well enough, and B) could stick with it. The game seems like a pretty natural fit because there’s a lot to do as a survivalbox game, and can be broken out into discrete “episodes” of activities.

This intro video is rather long (about 50 minutes), and hopefully future episodes will be limited down to 30 minutes. I’ll also try and drink some caffeine before I record the next video.

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