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The Slow Burn

EDLogo_PNGYou may recall my prior obsession with Elite: Dangerous. You may also have noted how Elite: Dangerous posts vanished with the speed of a Mafia informant. Like most games, I got sidetracked for a while, and never really made it back. I’ve tried recently to get into the swing of things again, but it’s just not happening.

I’ve not been so far from the source that I’m behind on news, though, and the announcement of Horizons has interested me from an academic perspective. Landing on planets is certainly a massive addition to the game, but what’s the purpose behind building that kind of gameplay? When I was playing regularly, I would defend Elite: Dangerous as a game where you made your own goals, much like it’s distant cousin EVE Online. But unlike the older relative, Elite has a lot of “things to do”, but absolutely no reason to do them that isn’t “earning money”. There was very little advancement beyond achieving new ranks or buying new ships, and not even the Powerplay update really solved that issue. Hopefully I don’t have to draw a diagram to show that adding planetary landings to a game which currently lacks purpose looks really good on paper, but I can’t see it as a driving reason to get me excited to play again.

Of course, I keep getting their newsletter, and each issue reveals more about Horizons and the plan for moving forward, and inch by inch, I start to pay more attention. In newsletter #91, they briefly mentioned that Horizons “will include an all-new game-changing loot and crafting system“. I don’t know what the loot system is about, but crafting? I’m a crafting fan, and crafting is one of the things that I do wish that Elite had. You can mine asteroids, but again, no reason aside from selling or fulfilling mission requirements. I’d assume that mining will play into crafting, and with the addition of mining drones in Powerplay, mining starts to sound like a really viable and purposeful game mechanic [Note: Check out the video below for more word on crafting].

Today’s newsletter (#92) mentioned a whole lot of new things coming with Horizons: 1:1 scale for planets and moons (and that alone should blow your mind, with the largest being “7 times the size of Earth”), the ability to carry and launch and even directly control fighters from your ship to aid in combat, multi-crew for ships including ship stations that can be manned by other players, and an avatar system that’s teased as the “first step” in future plans (of course, it’s worth noting that EVE’s Incarna update really turned off a lot of players, so we’ll see how this goes for Frontier).

David Braben and other Frontier staff were interviewed during EGX and talk a little bit about how Horizons will work, including how you’ll land on planets from space (without loading screens!)

Of course, there was a lot about Powerplay that I thought would be exciting, and which turned out to be kind of meh, and there’s also the fact that Elite: Dangerous still feels like a game developed by a group with OCD. A lot of things seem to be started and chock-full of a lot of promise, but many of them seem to be lacking in depth and even left for dead while the team keeps announcing and pushing new features. I’m hoping that Frontier either pulls up on the reigns at some point and back-fills those elements that are more anemic than their promise currently allows, or has a “master plan” that is slowly tying together seemingly disparate, almost incomplete systems by introducing new features.

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Unreal Tournament; Development Updates

Unreal Tournament


No one was more surprised than I was to find that there’s an updated Unreal Tournament going on right now, under our very noses. Epic is apparently getting all hip and following the recent trend of cozying up to the crowds by involving the community in the development of the latest entry in the evergreen arena blast-fest.

The site at (duh) lists a whole lot of ways that the community can get involved, from downloading the source code to making mods and maps. Thanks to the free release of the UDK and the amazingly streamlined development process that UDK and Unity have brought to the masses, modding and side-development is a hobby pretty much anyone can get into these days.

I’ve not gone down that route just yet (although the idea of making maps for a shooter, like I did in the old Doom days, is a heady proposition indeed), I did install the game and have played a few rounds. UT is exactly the same as it ever was, and that’s pretty damn glorious, evoking fond memories of massive LAN parties of days gone by. It’s certainly a change of pace from my steady diet of Destiny, what with UT‘s lightning-fast movement and insane close quarters fighting. Modern shooters look elderly by comparison, and it’s taking me some time to re-learn the frantic UT pacing so that I’m doing more than just firing ineffectively at the walls and floors.

The game is currently in “alpha” stage, meaning that there’s a lot that’s just placeholder art, but the mechanics seem to be in place. Last night I was talking about it with Big Daddy T, and we went looking for our favorite UT maps from yesteryear. My favorite of all time was CTF Hall of Giants, which hasn’t yet made it into this newer version, though I’m sure there’ll be both official and several community variations on it at some point as it was a pretty popular map.

Development Updates

My updates re: Project Universe have fallen off suddenly, and that’s mainly due to the fact that I’ve gotten T-boned by other, more pressing concerns. Autumn is kind of when everything battens down the hatches for the impending winter here in the North East, so there’s a lot of last-minute happenings by way of get-togethers and birthdays and the like, not to mention the fact that my daughter is now in high school and is back on the homework treadmill that usually requires parental input after we get home in the evening.

When last we left the project, though, I was working on the pricing mechanism, and if I remember correctly it was working pretty much as intended. I do recall there being some flaws that I needed to address so that I could enact a test whereby I’d buy at one local station, fly to another local station, and sell the goods there for a profit. Being a victim of my own success, though, buying at one station and having the other station to sell to isn’t a guaranteee; I don’t know the buy/sell state until I get to the destination station, which is by design. I should make a mental note to create some kind of UI that will list the buy/sell status of all stations in the sector.

I’ve also managed to score a Blender course from, an awesome site for all kinds of tutorials. This class is from the same folks who created an absolutely mammoth Unity development course on the site, and I highly recommend both for folks who are new to either Unity or Blender (or both). I was spurred back to Blender after attending the high school’s annual open house. My daughter took a 3D modeling course at Harvard University this summer, and has a 3D modeling course at the high school this year. Both used Maya (and we have the free, three year student license for home use), so I figured that we could work at learning the basic modeling techniques together. Oddly enough, her semester project in the class is to create a space ship; I just happen to need a space ship for Project Universe. What are the odds?

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You Get What You Pay For: Sword Coast Legends


This weekend, Sword Coast Legends had it’s phase two head-start access for anyone who pre-ordered the game. This allowed pre-order folks to download the game engine and mess around with it. I qualified that with “engine” because the campaign was not made available for reasons spanning “we don’t want to ruin it” to possibly “it’s not done or refined yet” ahead of it’s September 29th release date.

I had been wonderfully excited for SCL since I first learned of it’s construction capabilities. I had spent a lot of time with Neverwinter Nights back in the day, creating all kinds of cool systems for games I had planned on making within the engine, although I never actually got around to making a game…just systems…but I still had a great time doing it. Based on what I was seeing with SCL, I had high hopes that I could once again find that level of enjoyment in creating stories, even if it’s within a narrow framework of a specific IP and with specific resources and assets.

The “DM tools” is kind of the nebulous name given to the non-player side of SCL, and encompasses two activities. The first is the “live DM”. Here, a fifth player can follow four other players around the game and manipulate the NCPs and creatures, possessing them and fighting as them with and against the party. The DM can also drop in new content on the fly, such as traps and new encounters. The second of these tools is the part I was really after: the construction kit.

I had watched some of the dev streams over the past few weeks, especially those focused on the construction tools. My initial, blind, back-of-the-box-blurb impression was that SCL would be a worthy successor to NWN when it comes to being able to build your own campaigns and modules. The live streams knocked that expectation down a peg or two, as it seemed that the toolset was considerably streamlined compared to the Aurora tools that NWN used. Each of the streams I had watched were pretty focused, or so I thought, on showing how easy it was to create something with minimal fuss, and each stream having the goal being able to set up a scenario for players to run through a mere hours before everyone was set to convene.

This weekend, I found that the easy mode wasn’t a choice; it was the only mode available during head start. I had to immediately banish any ideas that this was going to compete with NWN‘s ability to create a distribution-worthy campaign. There was no option to create unique maps; the system generated them based on some internal algorithm and then “baked” them so what you received is the only layout you had to work with. Outdoor areas were tiny. Indoor areas were almost insanely large, even when I specified that I wanted a “small” map. Placement of creatures was handled by using the floating d20, and in using that method, the only way to place creatures was by accepting a random sample the system provided. You could place individual creatures as you like without using the d20, though, and while you could create your own characters (NPCs and standard D&D racial types), the overall system felt like it lacked a sense of control. One of the worst realizations was that there didn’t seem to be a way to create in-depth quests. Everything I saw was relegated to a three-act “grant-advance-complete” structure, all of which ended only in giving the players an item, cash, or revealing a new location they could travel to.

Even the DM mode seemed to be impossibly under-powered, although I didn’t have a chance to actually try it out with live people. While I could possess NPCs and monsters, I couldn’t actually act as them. Possession seemed to be for combat only, not for using an NPC or creature as a mouthpiece to interact with the players.

Needless to say, I was terribly saddened. This was not the game I had been excited for. Even the actual gameplay was weak and uninspired, like a more shallow and repetitive version of Diablo. I gave it an honest shot, though; after my initial (angry) foray into the DM tools, I decided to calm down and sit down to actually try and work within the confines of what I had in front of me, but I couldn’t make it happen. There was always something about the results that didn’t  look right and which I couldn’t change, or some mechanism which was either way too much or far too little for what I felt I needed it to be in order to be satisfied with the outcome. At best, I figured that these tools would offer a decent method for making a module for multiplayer that relied on only the most bare bones of narrative reasoning. There’ll be no modeling of some intricate, Dragon Age level interpersonal intrigue here, but if you want to run yet another module whose purpose if for you to retrieve a lost item or to kill a named boss, you’ll be happy to know that SCL has your number.

But then I stepped back and realized that none of this is the game’s fault. It’s mine. I had expectations that really never fit with what the game was selling. Nowhere did SCL advertise (that I saw) that this was anything like NWN in terms of creative horsepower. I watched the videos and thought that they were cool and all, but that their limited interactions must be holding something back for release, or because it was unfinished, or it was just a focused presentation. I assumed there had to be more to it, because it’s always “go big or go home”, and there’s no way what I was seeing was big enough to not get this game sent home. My impressions were all about what I expected, not what I was actually witnessing.

I always maintain that “games don’t suck”, that any non-technical flaws we attribute to the game are results of our own misplaced expectations, and this is a perfect example. I had expected a spiritual successor to Neverwinter Nights in both gameplay and toolset, but Sword Coast Legends is neither. It’s its own game. As a single player game, it’s terrible; as a multiplayer game with a DM looking over shoulders, it’s probably pretty damn good. It’s more Gauntlet with an Overlord than it is Baldur’s Gate. The tools are more to support extensibility than they are for creating sweeping narrative experiences, but considering there was nothing that I could see that indicated that SCL was even about sweeping narratives, the tools work towards the purpose they were intended to work towards. This is a multiplayer dungeon crawler with dynamic, real-time interaction by a (somewhat) all powerful DM…basically, it’s original D&D.

I can’t say that I don’t still harbor a bit of resentment at SCL not being more than it is. I had hoped that it would build upon NWN‘s legacy, or even Star Trek Online and Neverwinter‘s “Foundry” tool set (which is more powerful than the tools found in SCL), but that’s an unfair comparison and shouldn’t detract from what SCL will be bringing to the table. SCL looks to be a good game for those who want the tabletop experience of D&D but don’t have a local group or are daunted by or uninterested in virtual tabletop gaming. In fact, SCL is more akin to a souped-up virtual tabletop program than it is a game, and even the limits observed in SCL (like not being able to talk through a possessed character) can be gotten around with come creative thinking.

Now, before I close out on this hopefully more-positive-than-not note, I wanted to add that my turn-around not only came to me when I realized that I needed to put my money where my mouth usually is and think of the game based on what’s in front of me, but also because I saw a few folks on the official forums talking about how the game might be purposefully missing some key features beyond just the lack of the main campaign. This gives me hope that there’ll be an update waiting for the 29th that will address at least some of the disappointments I have with the product. Even if those posts were just wishful thinking, I’m hoping to be able to try the game as it was intended to be used: with others in a traditional dungeon crawl scenario and a DM at the helm.

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Round And Round We Go – Repeating Content in Destiny


I feel like I have a lot of well-worn tag-lines trailing after me. “I suck at math”. “Geeks today have no idea how good they have it”. “I’m not a psychologist”. Those kinds of things. I throw them out almost verbatim when the need arises, so I should probably see about making macros for those phrases.

Generally, they don’t need their own topic, but I received a “challenge” of sorts from Talyn328 to write about why I normally dislike repeating content in games, but have no problem with it in Destiny.

For those who aren’t on the Destiny train, the game is a hybrid of a lobby shooter — where you return to “hang out” and shop in between missions — and an open-world FPS. The “open world” is divided into planets in our solar system (and the moon, and the Reef, an interstellar junkyard at the system’s edge). If you stick to the story missions, you’re dropped off at a starting point and must traverse the map to get to your objective. This usually involves retracing your steps over and over as your goals move further and further from the starting point each time. You’re also not limited to “one and done”; you can cycle back and re-do missions at your leisure. There’s also raids and strikes (dungeons) that you can party up or queue for, and patrols that allow you to just wander the map and pick up ad hoc missions.

There’s a lot of repetition in Destiny. The worst of it is probably the Cosmodrome on Earth, simply because it’s the first zone you enter, and is one you return to over and and over as you progress through the story, patrol, and attempt to fulfill bounties (long-term assignments for XP). After the first few drops to any zone, you quickly learn where mobs congregate, their usual composition, and what the best weapons are to counter them. Basically, it’s the epitome of what I should detest: ultimate repeating content.

I had to think about why I am enjoying Destiny so much, even to the point where I’m eschewing other games — even PC games.

Missions Versus Roaming

Missions are the reasons you have to go to a specific location. Roaming is just hitting up a map to see what’s going on there. The missions are a necessity because you only unlock different planets as you progress through the story, so you can’t skip it. If you want to get to Mars, you need to complete Earth, the Moon, and Venus first. The first time around I can enjoy it for the novelty of it all. Subsequent returns — either by repeating the mission or by revisiting those zones for a free roam — are all about stretching the legs with technique.

Freedom to Try Something New

There’s a mission early on in the game called The Last Array, and it’s the bane of my existence. You have to activate a communications array on Earth to allow a defensive AI to communicate with satellites, but as soon as you turn it on, your position is swarmed — swarmed — by enemies. There’s standard enemies, fast-moving paper mache enemies, and tank-like enemies. A whole bunch. And a drop ship that fires on you. The first time I did it, I died many times. The second time I managed to make it through. Third time I had two friends with me. Last night I did it again — with an over-leveled character — and it was a piece of cake. But even though I didn’t fear for my life on the last attempt, I still had fun. My tactics were different. My weapons were different. I had months of skill now that I could utilize.

Being able to go back to a situation and trying something different is interesting to me. If it’s no longer a surprise, then I feel more comfortable with the content. The first time I might work really hard to stay alive, but once I get the lay of the land, I find I’m more cavalier with my tactics.

The irony that this is what player-written guides provide — which I detest — is not lost on me, except that in this case, I learn about the situations myself, most certainly with errors in my trials. That is a rewarding feeling you don’t get from internalizing someone else’s guide and it makes success feel so much better.


I belong to a cadre of folks who believe in the idea of grouping, but who rarely get around to doing it. Sometimes we might PUG it, although that’s a tactic of last resort.

This time around, I have been playing with my brother and a friend, and we’ve been trying very hard to not out-level one another so we can get through the meat of the story. It’s been working exceedingly well, and has allowed us to complete the base game. We’ve started on The Dark Below, and have House of Wolves and The Taken King content to look forward to.

Having people to group with helps iron out repetition as invariably someone will get a mission or so behind and will need to catch up. For those who have already completed it, it’s XP and loot, and since we’re helping out a friend, it’s never a wasted trip.


Progression in Destiny is insane. As someone who is progression-minded (another macro phrase), it’s very important to me. Seeing missions drop away in the rear-view is awesome, but feeling more powerful is also awesome and makes me excited to play again soon.

Whether it’s something updated in TTK or just a matter of learning how to “game the game”, progression has been pretty rapid. There’s only (now) 40 levels, and in one session last night I got from level 25 to level 27 with the barest of effort. In fact, I was completing the low-level Earth story line with a level 25 Warlock, and still managed to get two levels of progress.

Patrol Missions, Bounties, And Exploration

Sometimes I don’t want to worry about completing missions but still want to shoot aliens in their alien faces, so I’ll pick up bounties and head to where I need to go in order to fulfill them. I like this part a lot for a few reasons.

First, the act of aggression involving slaughtering hostile aliens is just fun. Like, the level of fun you get out of making a match in a match-3 game, if  you can draw that mental parallel. I’ve found that when I’ve got the time to take time, I self-challenge anyway. Can I get nothing but head shots (aka “precision kills” in Destiny parlance) on a group? How quickly can I eliminate a group of seven to ten enemies? If they’re all clustered up, how many can I kill with a single shot? How well can I toss a grenade?

Bounties kind of codify this over a longer term, which can be completed specifically by focusing on the bounty requirements, or simply by letting it happen in the course of completing other objectives. I’ve got a bounty currently to kill 30 enemies with primary weapon precision shots. I also have and have had bounties to kill x numbers with grenades, or melee kills. I find bounties and patrols to be really fun because they’re quick and lucrative, help speed the progress, and can be a very low-key way to play without pressure.

I’ve also learned that there’s a lot of places on the maps where I haven’t ever been. They’re not in any stories. They’re usually in caves or downstairs in bunkers, or around corners that don’t look like corners until you’re right on top of them. There’s a whole lot of places to see that I don’t even know exist, which is insanely exciting for me, since “exploration” in MMOs is only one player-written guide away should you not want to put in the effort.

The One Thing That Kills It (and Me): Dying

have noticed my perchance for repeating content in Destiny before Talyn brought it up, and I’ve also realized my Destiny Achilles Heel, and that’s dying.

I have to say that I haven’t been making a habit of it. I do still die and I do still get stressed each time I do. The first time I tried The Last Array, for example, got me so tense that by the third consecutive go, I had a headache and my shoulders hurt like I’d been thrown out of a window. When I tried soloing the “level 10” Fist of Crota with a level 24 Titan and died several times, I had to give up for the time being because I was getting frustrated.

I can’t not be annoyed by the setbacks of dying, so repeatedly not dying is always a plus. I’m sure someone is going to question the idea that not dying equals more fun than being challenged by overcoming the threat of constant death. I never said I wasn’t challenged here; just that I’ve been getting better at cheating death. I come close a lot of times, which makes the fast-paced lightning rally to overcome the obstacles that much sweeter, and the game so much more fun.

Compared to Other Games

What bothers me about repeating content in MMOs? It is primarily MMOs where the repetition seems to really wear me down, so let’s talk about that.

MMOs are pretty massive as a rule, and seem to get more massive with each expansion. To me, they feel very…hmmm…I want to say “linear”, but not necessarily in the theme-park way. They tend to expand out, by adding more horizontal real-estate with new zones, missions, and so on. Destiny, on the other hand, crams a lot of content into smaller areas and has you revisit those areas for different purposes; they seem to do more with less. Even their expansions have just added new missions to the existing zones (TTK notwithstanding). Plus, there’s all those undiscovered niches out there, including digging deeper into a vertical map system. Being in a lot of enclosed spaces also cuts you off from the rest of the zone, giving you a feeling that each corridor is a world unto itself, compared to open zones where you can see far off in the distance. MMOs seem to be enamored with their own sense of scale in an attempt to impress or impart upon the player the gravity of their journey (a la your own personal Lord of the Rings sized epic).

The journey in an MMO seems to be stretched over a period of time and distance simply for the sake of keeping players playing, which is especially important for games which have a subscription model. Getting to level 40 in Destiny is proving to be limited pretty much by my availability of time to sit down and play. In an MMO, the distance between level 1 and whatever cap there is — often times measured in decades — just takes so damn long. I have to complete maybe 20 quests in an MMO to get one or two levels, whereas in Destiny I can level up practically per mission with the right combo of mission and bounties. For some that may be too quick, but for me it’s just right.

And I guess Destiny doesn’t complicate things with busywork. I’m a fan of certain MMO systems like meaningful crafting, housing, and certain diverting mini-games (like WoW‘s pet battles), but any intense staring at those systems and I start to obsess. Since those systems rarely contribute to the overall progression of the character, my need to see progression takes over and I start to feel that I’ve gotten off-track. Destiny does one thing: shooting fucking aliens. I don’t even have anything else to divert my attention, and so I’m extremely focused on doing just what the game offers in whatever form it offers it.

Finally, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel in Destiny, whereas I rarely see it in an MMO. In MMOs, the slog is too long, the diversions too many, and the grouping (with people I can stand) is too few and far between, so getting to the level cap is a Herculean force of will for me, and therefor rarely happens. With Destiny‘s progression-friendly design, I know it’s not a matter of if I get to the cap, but when, and that’s a goal I’m excited about.

Conclusion (i.e. tl;dr)

Shooters have never really been my primary genre, even when I was younger and my reflexes faster than they are now. I don’t do well with pressure and tend to “spaz out” at the controls. I also tend to favor precision over speed, which ends up putting me in a place where I’m easier to hit. But I’m getting over that, thanks to Destiny (and to lesser extents games like Borderlands and Defiance) and as a consequence I’m starting to appreciate shooters more and have more fun with them.

My desire to not have to repeat content still remains. Due to the size and general linearity of most MMOs, there’s really no way to avoid repeating content unless you only roll a single character and stick with it — amazingly, that’s what I do 98% of the time. I’m not an altaholic mainly because I really do not like having to re-do content that I’ve already completed: there’s nothing new to it, no new-content smell left, and at that point it’s less of a “gee whiz” set of things to do, and more of a stark reminder that from this point on, the slog though the maps as I attempt to progress towards the vicinity of the level cap is filled with nothing new under the sun…60 – 100 levels of nothing new under the sun.

Destiny is quick. I can get going fast (despite abysmal loading times) and keep going. Loot has become plentiful, so I’ve got new toys to look forward to. Leveling is ultra-fast, which is very important to me, and there’s really no “preferred” way to level. I could do missions, patrols, strikes, raids, or bounties and still get XP and still gain levels at (what seems to me) equal rates. When all tasks move at similar speeds — or at least seem to — then I’m like a kid hopped up on sugar in a candy factory: everything is exciting, no matter which way I run.


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LocalCon 2015, and The Darker Side

GraniteCon-2014-Black-Canary-Harley-and-Red-HoodOn Saturday the family and I (myself, my wife, daughter, and my brother) went to the local “Granite Sate ComicCon” (ComiCon? ComicOn?) which is held at the Radisson in (semi) beautiful downtown Manchester. On a scale of “collector’s basement” to SDCC, I’d say this rates much closer to the former. This year’s claim to fame, though, was Billy Dee Williams in honor of the “Year of Star Wars“. We also hosted Larry Wilcox (“CHiPs” for those old enough to remember), Dawn Wells (From “Gilligan’s Island” for those who are even older), and a few other, more comic-con worthy guests. There’s also local and semi-local artists and authors, and booths selling all kinds of geek stuff.

I don’t have any pictures, sadly, since we did a basic circuit of the floor, and then went off to get lunch. Thankfully it wasn’t too expensive to get in for one day. The intent of a “comic book convention” was, of course, the artists and authors and the guests, but since my daughter is a budding cosplayer, one of the real draws was for her to see other cosplayers “in the wild”. We had attended the Boston Anime Con earlier this year and there were plenty of cosplayers there, especially anime cosplayers (which is my daughter’s particular focus), but the more she sees them in action, I’m hoping the more comfortable she’ll be in participating (she didn’t dress up today, though).

But we sat outside the building this afternoon, since we had fantastic weather today, and other attendees had the same idea. There were a lot of people outside, milling about, coming and going, and a lot of them were cosplayers. I was watching them while hanging out there, and I thought something weird:

I’ve been a lifelong geek, before it was “cool”, and still am today. I write a blog on video games. I wear geeky clothing (even to work, where no one probably knows what the heck it all means). I go to these conventions now that I have folks lined up to go with, and now that they’re semi-near me so I can travel to them with minimal expense. But watching those cosplayers, standing out in the courtyard of the building, about 500 feet from one of the main streets in the city of Manchester, I realized I would never be as hardcore as those folks.

I grew up when being a geek wasn’t something you advertised, but even now that I’m an adult, and believe that people can generally go fuck themselves with their contrary opinions on the value of being a geek, I still harbor some vestigial reluctance to go as far as cosplayers do. I can understand “professional” cosplayers who have name recognition, because they (probably, I dunno) get paid to show up and associate their brand with the event they attend, but 99% of the people I’ve seen do it because they love it, and they love to show it, and they have zero issues with people thinking ill of them. That has to be an incredibly liberating feeling. Not only that, but there are all kinds of people — gender, size, shape — that cosplay how they want, and because they want. No one is going to shame them into feeling bad about their choice of character or their craftsmanship. They all have some serious dedication to their art, and to the geeky lifestyle.

I’ve written about it before, but I’ll reiterate it here: sometimes I wish I’d been born later in life, because while I have the extended experience in the field of Geekology, there’s baggage that I (and others like me) carry that I think prevents us from reaping the full benefits of our long-term dedication. I don’t know that we should pat ourselves on the back and say that “we fought for the privilege of others” to go out and cosplay with confidence, but I think that had I been born later my circumstances would probably be different having grown up in an environment where this kind of activity isn’t as “weird” as it would have been when I was younger.

*  *   *

I had written the first half of this post on Saturday night while the idea was fresh in my mind, but this addendum is being added on Monday morning because I’m still angry about it.

Sunday my daughter was invited to her friend’s house, so my wife and I dropped her off after our weekly breakfast with my father. Her friend lives in Manchester, and I think we’d consider her parents to be friends of ours, or at least very close acquaintances,  which means we always end up chatting with them after my daughter and her friend have gone off to watch anime.

Let me see if I can summarize what lead up to what I want to talk about: My daughter and her friend are both interested in cosplay. There’s an anime convention coming up in Manchester in October that my daughter’s friend and another friend were planning on attending. However, my daughter’s friend got herself grounded, and her punishment was that she can no longer go to this convention. OK, that’s a good summary. This story lead us into talking about cosplayers.

My daughter’s friend’s parents (we’ll call them The Parents for short) have a very dim, very…let’s say offensive view of cosplayers that they freely related to us in that tone that tells you that they expect you’re in on the joke and are going to naturally agree with them. They said that they always viewed those who dress up for these events as emotionally stunted people who couldn’t let go of their childhood. Basically they stopped short of calling them “mentally retarded”, but the insinuation was there. They then tried to divide me from them by saying something to the effect that even though I play video games and “wear Spider Man pajamas” (which I don’t, but I’ll relate the story that sourced that gem at another time), I was an otherwise normal, well adjusted human being.

I think that’s what they said; I couldn’t really hear very well over the sound of my rising blood pressure. Under every other circumstance with The Parents, I keep my mouth shut when they go off on one of their tangents (they’re pretty vocal Conservatives, and I don’t care to get involved in political quote-discussions-unquote, no matter what), but this time I kind of let them have it. I was proud of myself; I didn’t use any swears. But I told them that they were way off base. Cosplayers are normal people who are very passionate about their hobby, and are very talented and dedicated. They form communities with communities, they make friends, trade tips and stories, and they don’t do it because they’re unable to function at an adult level. Some people do it professionally, and get paid for it. Their craftsmanship is top-notch, professional special effects/professional costumer grade that could be on TV or in movies, and they do it on a budget that makes ILM look like it was run by the government. Even the street-level cosplayers who we saw the day before, whom I’ve seen at PAX and Anime Boston, put a whole lot of time an effort into their craft. It’s really no different from people who fix up old cars, or (gawd help me) those who paint themselves up for football games. It’s all about creativity and expression, not about some feeble-minded clutching of childhood.

Even now I’m still pissed off about it: that they are so ignorant, and latch on to the first and easiest possible explanation they could bother to come up with as a blanket rationale for how to refer to a legion of people. To make it worse, my people from my community who love the same things I love, and who have the balls (literally and figuratively) to express their creativity and love of their hobbies in ways that make even me feel like a poseur. It also made me angry because this is the kind of attitude that surrounded me when I was growing up, although this time it was carefully neutered in an attempt to not be directed at me, and delivered in a faux-conspiratorial manner assuming that I was in on the joke this time. It was still the same hate and the same bullying and the same narrow-minded ignorance, just covered over by a pitifully thin veneer of “adulthood”.

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How Good Does Good Need To Be For You People?


There was a time when I’d admit to being a casual FPS fan. It’s enjoyable to shoot pixels as a way to blow off steam, but my heart had been firmly dedicated to the long-form gameplay of RPGs. Strangely, as I get older I find I have less patience for the reams of virtual paper enlisted to carry an RPG story to a conclusion, which somehow translates to wanting to spend more time shooting monsters and aliens in their ugly-ass faces. Time spent equals practice, and practice equals improvement, so while I can’t see myself ever getting on the Call of Duty bandwagon, I am a HALO fan, and I have recently been playing a lot of Destiny, enjoying myself, and improving my skills (at least in PvE).

Looking forward to The Taken King expansion, it’s the first expac for an FPS that I’ve ever pre-ordered. Despite the line that TTK will “improve”, or in some people’s estimation, “salvage” Destiny from the failings of 1.0, I bought the expac simply because I like Destiny full stop. I get to log in, take up objectives, and shoot aliens as I pursue those objectives.

Really, that’s all I’m looking for. I’m not expecting some kind of life-altering, transcendental experience that’s going to elevate me to some kind of karmic other-plane through the masterful confluence of story, graphics, and mechanics. People have complained that Destiny is lacking in story like it’s some kind of primal sin, but it’s a FPS, not Shakespeare. How people can ding a FPS on a lack of or a lackluster storyline makes little sense to me. If people really care that much for narrative, I might suggest Divinity: Original Sin or Pillars of Eternity, because what those games lack in face-blasting shotguns they make up for in deep, complex stories.

I wonder if people are just trying to sound smarter than they are, as if transcending the perceived confines of the product somehow makes them appear thoughtful and learned. I’m never deaf to legitimate opinions on factual, broken elements, like how the loot table in Destiny seemed to be way off the mark, but where exactly do people set the goalpost such that a game that’s all about shooting aliens and which delivers on that promise is still considered to be “mediocre”. Mediocre at what? It’s a shooter; you shoot stuff, and last time I checked it does that pretty well. Medicore in getting you to care why you’re shooting stuff? I can tell you why: because you have laundry to do. Because you had a long, stressful day at work. Because the kids are asleep and the S.O. is asleep or out with friends. I can’t imagine that anyone in the history of anytime bought an FPS because they wanted to be wowed by the in-game reasons why they had to take up arms.

Topics like this one are entirely subjective, and that’s something else I’m not deaf to. Everyone’s had different experiences that lead them to the lives they lead in the present, and those experiences include the shaping of the things that they like and dislike as well as the limits of what they’ll sit for and what they won’t. Personally, I like Destiny because of what it actually does, not what PR wants me to think that it does, or because I have low or high expectations of what it is or what it should be. I don’t believe in dinging a game because it doesn’t live up to a set of personal, immovable expectations. I always do believe that no game “sucks”. When we feel that we don’t like a game it’s really only because our expectations outstrip what we’re presented with, and because we’re unwilling to reconsider what we can get and want to get out of the game that we have in front of us. The way video games are marketed, there’s always a purposefully placed gap between what we’re told the game will be and what we want the game to be that’s left to be filled with speculation and hopes (the “hype”), and even if that gap is very narrow, we want what we want and woe be the product that doesn’t fit into the mold of our desires. But games simply are as they are when we hold them in out (virtual) hands; if we don’t like that, then thank gawd there’s a virtually unlimited selection out there we can look to for satisfaction rather than waste our time playing games we don’t like.


Postscript: Before someone wades in here with a Powerpoint slide they created about what’s “broken” with Destiny or tries to equate “ungood” with “broken”, know that they’re not the same thing. If a game has technical issues, then that’s a problem, but it’s a problem that can be solved. The unfortunate side-effect of the Internet on gaming is that games can and are released with issues, and with the knowledge that fixes can be deployed at a later date. That’s the reality we have to live with. Issues that can be fixed with a patch are not damning in the same way that people tend to throw a product under the bus because they’re unwilling to reconfigure their expectations on how the game is designed once the product moves from “extrapolated beliefs and ideal game desires” and in the realm of “this is what it actually is”.

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Dat Long Weekend

wooooo-murica-23052[1]Monday was “Labor Day” in the U.S., which of course means that most of us working class folks had the day off from work. It also the official unofficial end of the summer, so maybe now we’ll see fewer people bitching about the availability of pumpkin spiced everything.

Saturday night we went out with friends for dinner, and Sunday we visited some friends at their family camp on a lake, bringing the kayaks and taking their party boat for a spin a few times. By Monday morning, I was glad I didn’t have to wake up for work, but being the age I am, I was wide awake early that day despite the terrible night’s sleep (so much for fresh air an exercise).

But, being Labor-less Day, my most high profile contribution to GTD was the loads of laundry I threw into the washer. The rest of the time was spent between different games, making dinner, and a nap thrown in for good measure.

Val Royeaux Can Kiss My Ass

Totally on a lark, I fire up Dragon Age: Inquisition on Monday. Like many games, there was a specific point at which I’d abandoned this one, and in this case that point was at the ball in Val Royeaux. For those who have spared themselves this travesty, let me explain: you and your band of warriors, mages, and thieves must put aside your weapons, dress up in your fancy suits, and skulk around this 17th century French analogue in support of the current Empress of Orlais. You do this by ensuring she’s not murdered, because that’s what conscientious guest do in this world, I guess.

I suppose BioWare get’s some props for dropping an interesting shift of mechanics into the middle of the OCD gameplay that is the various zones you’re asked to stomp through, closing rifts and stealing from the locals to support your progressive movement, but while at the party you’ve got a meter that represents your absence from view. If you’re running around in the off-limits parts of the palace for too long, this meter shrinks, and if it runs out you’re thrown out of the party. You replenish the meter by hanging around the pseudo-French snobs at the event, listening in on their gossip, and generally “being seen”. You’re supposed to be the guest of honor, so your absence is noted, and I guess that’s pretty special.

I managed to pick up the game where I left off, and actually completed the scenario in short order. I suppose the perspective of time off worked wonders and I think that is something I’ve understood subconsciously for a while.

Then I spent the next few hours running around in Skyhold because that place is too damn big.

Witty Subheading re: Wildstar

My time spent in Wildstar continues ahead of it’s F2P transition at the end of this month. My sub is still being paid, and I will decide if I want to keep up the cash flow once the transition is made. I’d like to see the benefits made flesh after the event, but don’t want to spoil it by installing the test realm client. It’s not that I think Wildstar isn’t worth it; Money spent on a monthly sub is money that could also be spent elsewhere when I don’t really need to spend it here.

In an unusual turn of events, I’m really focused on crafting. I haven’t been this focused on crafting in an MMO since Vanguard, I think. Most of the time with crafting, I get behind to the point where the elements I can construct lag behind what I can use and which have little to no use to anyone. Wildstar treats crafters better than in most games, too. There’s a work-order system, nodes are plentiful, and once you get your housing you can install a replenishing garden of resources that you need for your trade (and it just dawned on me: create alts, get housing, diversify trade skills, multiply the resource plots!).

I’m at the point now, however, where I need recipe drops from mobs to complete the first tier of Weaponsmithing, and I’ve just gotten to the part of Galeras where the Darkloam mobs can be found. They drop those recipes, I believe, so I’ll be killing indiscriminately once I find their enclaves. I still need to get recipes from Algoroc to complete that brand as well.

Why Do I Bother? Star Citizen and the Saitek X52 Pro

I’ve started playing Elite: Dangerous again because I felt bad about abandoning it so suddenly. I had logged in last week after several months of absence only to find that the political power I had pledged to had been kicked out of the system I was parked in, and I was now “wanted” because this system had been overtaken by a rival faction. Since I hadn’t actually done anything for the power, I quit them and re-upped with another, stronger power for reasons I’m personally trying to comprehend. All this Powerplay stuff has gotten me was a lot of traveling and a massive fuel bill, and I’m struggling to remember what I found fun about this game.

Naturally, I thought “well, maybe Star Citizen could help bridge the gap between overwrought control schemes and space sim action!” so I downloaded that again. It’s been a rocky road for SC and me. When it was just Arena Commander I had played few rounds of the drone sim, but since I’d never really R’dTFM I’d never played to it’s full potential. The keyboard and mouse scheme worked OK, but I really wanted to use the Saitek X-52 Pro I had purchased for the Elite: Dangerous / Star Citizen ecosystem.

I’ve noticed that SC has a hard time with what is (from what I can tell after spending all this time following up with Elite: Dangerous) a pretty popular and common HOTAS system. Actually, step back: it’s got a problem with all kinds of peripherals. I had to unplug a few other “controllers” from my system — the Xbox One controller, the Razer Nostromo — and disable the Razer controller software before I could even get SC to recognize the X52/P. Even then, selecting the X52 preset from the controller setup didn’t work according to the claims made on the back of the box. I had to download a custom XML configuration from the forums to get the stick working. And by working, I mean some semblance of usefulness that the default configuration doesn’t provide. Little things, like throttle control. At that point I was able to play around with a somewhat working control scheme, except the roll and yaw controls in SC are switched from what I’m used to in Elite: Dangerous. Problem is, I can’t seem to remap them in the options section. I think it has something to do with the custom XML file, because the HOTAS modification isn’t even available any more in the settings panel.

I played the training missions, but got tired of the constant hard-ass bro who was the flight instructor chewing me out because the fucking controls weren’t working as advertised, and once I got to the countermeasures part of the training and found that my correct use of the countermeasures weren’t advancing the lessons, I had to quit. It was just too frustrating to get things set up and working.

Both Elite: Dangerous and SC have specific selections for the X52/P. Elite: Dangerous actually labels in-game actions with the labels on the stick, which are alphabetical. SC labels them and refers to them in the tutorial (once it bothers to acknowledge that you have selected the X52/P as your controller) by friggin numbers which don’t correspond to anything on the actual, physical HOTAS. It’s all internal to SC‘s custom scheme, which made it all the more difficult to figure out where the hell buttons 2 or 8 were actually located on the stick, even with a monster of a cheat-sheet.

I know, I know: the game’s not finished yet. I also know that somewhere, someone is shrugging and just dying to tell me how they got it to work just fine, the Internet’s way of telling me I’m a stupid asshole for being annoyed by such a trivial, common-sense problem. I’m of the mind to let RSI do what they’re doing, because for such a monumental project I can only imagine that there’ll be a whole lot of polishing that’ll have to be done before it’s considered complete. Hopefully that will include shoring up the controller support. The game is beautiful, of course, and there’s a lot of fun gameplay peeking out from the issues I was having, I’m sure of it. I like the combat better in SC than I do the combat in Elite: Dangerous for some reason. I suspect it’s because of the same reason I was frustrated: it’s got more options, more bells and whistles, and uses way more buttons.

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