NBI 2016 – Kill Hippy GIFs With Fire

The topic of animated GIFs came up in the NBI Discord this morning so I thought I’d write a little bit about it.

I hate animated GIFs.

That is all.

No, really, I hate them. I lived through the 1990s World Wide Web, so I have vivid memories of the days when every advertiser put obnoxious blinking animated GIFs in every web ad, making every web page into some crazy dystopian night-time Las Vegas scene with blinking neon signs in every direction. (There was an early Futurama episode that captured this very well–I think it was A Bycyclops Built For Two.) It was horrible. It was so bad it birthed the entire ad-blocker industry.

Then there was Geocities, where every web page had an animated opening-and-closing mailbox for an email link and an animated construction-worker-with-a-shovel icon to indicate the page was still under construction.

Not to even mention that from a technological standpoint, it’s really a horrible format. I’ve written code to read GIF files (back in the 1990s). It’s the silliest way to encode an animation in the entire world. It was tolerable when all the animations were hand-drawn 16-color pixely creations made with Microsoft Paint, but now everyone makes full motion video animated GIFs, and I stagger to think of all the wasted bytes going into those files.

So I still have a possibly PTSD-related visceral reaction to animated GIFs. Something like: Nuke them from orbit. Kill them with fire. Drown them in … I dunno, water I guess. That kind of thing.

I don’t remember when or why animated GIFs came back into web culture, but I was never consulted about it and if I had been, I would not have approved it. Maybe this is the real issue that separates the Old Internet Generation from the Young Internet Generation. Get off my lawn, you damn hippy GIFs.

That being said, the entire issue for me could be solved with one simple checkbox in my web browser of choice: Do Not Play Animated GIFs Until I Tell You To. Yet for some reason, presumably a secret pact between the Big Animated GIF Lobby and The Web Browser Consortium, that most basic of user interface settings remains missing.

Oh, wait, I just Googled how to disable animated GIFs in Chrome and apparently there’s an extension for it. Sweet! Nevermind. :)

I shouldn’t get too excited, though. It doesn’t fix the Twitter app on my Android phone, which feels no shame in showing every animated GIF in the world without my consent, forcing me to disable images entirely. (Twitter looks very different when you turn off pictures btw–it’s mostly a gibberish of hashtags and links.) Nor does it fix any other app on my phone, which is apparently a territory that remains under the exclusive control of the Young Internet Generation.

P.S. I’ve really amused myself with the notion that future generations will be divided not by liberal or conservative political issues, but by how they perceive animated GIFs.

P.P.S. Okay, some animated GIFs are pretty cool. But it’s like 1 in 1000.

NBI 2016 – Thoughts On Blogging

nbi2016

The first rule of blogging is not to blog about blogging. However, June is the Newbie Blogger Initiative here in the game blogging community, so this is the month where we throw out all the rules, talk about the craft of blogging, and try to recruit and encourage new bloggers.

I technically started blogging in 1998, when I put some random notes up on my first ever web site, unless you count some Quake match updates I posted on the clan’s page in 1997. I didn’t really start blogging with any regularity though until about 2002 or 2003. The point is that I’ve been at this hobby for a while now, so I have at least a little sense of the landscape.

For the most part, starting a blog is fairly easy. Grab a free account on WordPress or Blogger or whatever and just start posting. The hard part is getting anyone to read your blog–a topic I clearly haven’t yet mastered–but generally speaking you do this by posting comments on other peoples’ blogs, posting on forums, posting on social media, sending out blog links to an aggregator like @mmoblogosphere, or participating in community events like the NBI.

Do you have what it takes to be a blogger? Almost definitely. All you need is a little bit of time to write, and the courage to post what you write. If you’ve ever posted comments on someone else’s blog or written forum posts, then you are already 90% of the way there. Even if all you’ve ever done is read blogs, you’re probably about 50% there. Avid readers tend to excel at writing, too.

Speaking of which, there are many kinds of bloggers, but a lot of them are writers. (I would count myself in that group.) For them, blogging is merely a convenient publishing platform for the writing they might otherwise do in a vacuum. If you have any kind of passion for writing, fiction or non-fiction, you are automatically a perfect candidate to be a blogger. (In fact if you have any past writing experience I wouldn’t even call you a “newbie” blogger.) Blogging is just about the easiest way to practice writing and perhaps even more importantly it’s a great way to practice having people read and react to your writing, which in my experience is the more grueling part of writing.

(That’s not to say you have to be a great writer to blog. Blogging is extremely informal.)

As a blogging newbie, you may find yourself hoping your blog is successful, but I would caution newcomers that the concept of “success” is very ephemeral in the blogging world. You can define success by the number of hits you get, or the number of dollars of ad revenue you make, or by the number of comments you receive, or any combination thereof. But I have observed that most newcomers are pretty disappointed with their blogs when they try to track those things early on. I know I was.

By the way, stop now if your only goal for blogging is to make money. Nobody is making any money by writing a blog. The best you could hope for is that your blog might give you some exposure which might lead to a content writing gig somewhere else, but the chances of that are slim and content writers tend to get paid quite a bit less than a living wage anyway.

One piece of advice that is often given to new bloggers is that whatever else you do, you need to post often to build and keep an audience. There is a certain amount of truth to that, but I’m not sure it applies as much today as it did in the early days of blogging. Back in the dark ages, people had to make a conscious choice to load your blog in their browser to find out if there was any new content there. The “update often” philosophy was borne from the fact that if people went to your site but didn’t find anything new, they would lose interest, forget about you, and go somewhere else.

Today, however, I think a lot of people will just drop a link to your blog into their favorite RSS program, or follow you on Twitter or some other social media. In other words, I don’t think readers spend a lot of time visiting web sites any more to find out if there is new content to see. Readers now get an instant notification whenever new content is available, so even if you only post once a month, people will still see it.

As a side effect, for better or worse, I invest very little time on the look of the web site itself (by which I mean the theme, the widgets on the sides, etc.), and make the assumption that everyone is reading my posts through an RSS feed or some other mechanism like that. It’s just my opinion of course, but a lot of the time spent on the fonts and layout of a blog page is wasted. I tend to go for a minimalist look that is easily readable in case people reach my site through Google searches.

A constant source of consternation for new bloggers is what to write about. (It’s particularly concerning when you’re also told that you have to post a lot.) It’s very common to think that you have nothing to say, but that should never stop anyone from starting a blog. Believe it or not, most bloggers tend to steal topics from other bloggers or news sites. :) By which I mean that we’ll see something interesting on another site and then write our thoughts about it as a blog post. Most bloggers (including me) tend to have a long list of other blogs they read for inspiration.

As far as the more inside-baseball aspects of blogging, there are a lot of mundane details that you’ll probably want to learn eventually, and which I’m sure are abundantly documented elsewhere in the NBI, but I wouldn’t worry about it too much at first. Things like how to optimize your posts and titles for search engines, how to end your posts with a question to encourage readers to comment, and how to make sure your posts have pictures so that they don’t look weird in aggregators. I find those aspects of blogging to be very much a chore and I often ignore or forget them.

So to summarize, blogging is cool! All the cool kids are doing it! You should totally do it too.

nbi2016discord

@newbieblogger2

Overwatch Snap Judgments

I finally have a chance to talk a bit about Overwatch, which I played for roughly an hour or two during the open beta.

My first impression was horrible, because I played it on a Sunday night, which is usually my least favorite time of the week, considering that it’s the time when I’m forced to face the reality of going back to work the next day. Last week was a particularly onerous week because it was my last one on the dying project, so I was anticipating a horrendous week of panic and anxiety from me and everyone else who would be left behind after I’m gone.

The point is that there were no circumstances in which I would have enjoyed Overwatch or any other game when I played Sunday night. And indeed, I did not like it when I first played it. I found it too cute and every character annoyed me in some way. As far as gameplay, all of the worst aspects of FPS “advancements” over the years are all right there, easily accessible–snipers, grenade spam, insta-kills. Basically, in the modern shooter, all the emphasis is on killing other people without any regard to whether you live or die. In the old days, there was value in staying alive because the longer you stayed alive, the more ammo and powerups you collected and thus the more enemies you could defeat. Not anymore. Now there are no more health and armor powerups laying out in the level. Now it’s all about spawn, die, spawn, die, spawn, die, and if you’re lucky sometimes you can one-shot kill some other people in the back before you die.

Yes, I’m very cycnical about modern shooters.

So yeah, I didn’t like Overwatch at first because it’s more of the same bad things that have crept into shooters for the last twenty years.

I was completely prepared to never play Overwatch again, but then they extended the beta another day, and I thought I should probably give it another try on Monday night, when I wasn’t in such a terrible mood. Everyone on the Internet was saying it was great, after all.

Well, I’m still not going to buy it, but my second opinion was better. The game became 100% better as soon as I turned off the character voices. I tried some other classes and some of them were fun. However I noticed that most of the fun involved things like turrets and grenades and basically all of the cheesy tactics that I hate in shooters. The rocket launcher class which I should have loved turned out to have a crippling flaw of having to reload, which of course leaves you 100% vulnerable during that time.

I did not find the game modes particularly innovative. It was your basic capture-and-hold and escort maps. I didn’t see any capture-the-flag, which in my opinion is still the best esports-style game mode around. It seems criminally negligant to leave it out of a game that’s supposed to be totally focused on esports. (Why would you NOT include a game mode that is so easy to watch for viewers??)

Of course I have to insert the obligatory comments about how pretty and smooth the game runs. But that’s not a stand-out feature in a game these days, especially a shooter.

I find the reactions to Overwatch very interesting so far. I’m utterly blown away by how many traditional MMORPG players are jumping into Overwatch. I can only assume it’s because they think that because Blizzard made it, or that it started out as Titan, there must be some RPG elements. Perhaps predictably, though, most of the responses from those people, while positive overall, are focused on how much they want to know about the stories of the characters and the world in Overwatch. Those kinds of things just don’t exist in team shooters, and it boggles my mind that people thought it might be otherwise. When I played Overwatch, it never even occurred to me to wonder or care anything about my “character.” Honestly character classes in shooters just get in the way. When you’re playing Overwatch there is little or no indication that you’re even playing a character. I mean, it’s first-person. You can’t even see yourself.

I am curious about all the comments about how “approachable” Overwatch is. I can only assume it’s the artistic aesthetic that makes it approachable, because it doesn’t look like a typical military shooter. From a gameplay perspective, however, it did not appear any easier to play than any other shooter. Old folks are still going to get owned by college kids who spend all day honing their muscle memory, and probably after Overwatch has been out a few weeks, it will be utterly pointless to try to catch up to the power curve. (There was an aimbot mode on the Soldier 76 class though. :) I saw nothing in the game to deal with that particular issue, which is the number one issue that plagues all shooters in my opinion. The idea that it has support classes is not going to change that, either. From what I saw, there is no doubt that the support classes are completely superfluous. A healer or two is not going to do anything to stop a team with a lot of aggressive players on it, and the good teams are almost guaranteed to be based around offensive classes.

Speaking of teams, let me talk about another trend I saw continuing in Overwatch. I’ve seen this in many other shooters, too. When I’m playing, I don’t care one whit about whether my team wins or loses. There is no incentive whatsoever to think strategically or help my team win when I’m playing with a bunch of strangers. The only thing that matters is my own individual performance, and I saw nothing in Overwatch to change that basic tennant of team shooters, which has been a problem (for me, at least) since the late 1990s.

I suppose it’s possible that if you’re on the winning team, you get more experience points or something, but I just can’t bring myself to care about experience points in a shooter. That’s not what shooters are supposed to be about. Shooters are about shooting, and working together with your teammates to score more points (or whatever) than the other team. At least, until COD came along and corrupted everything with their progression systems and unlocks.

That’s probably a different tangent though. But hey I’m sitting here at work with nothing to do, and now I have a Bluetooth keyboard hooked up to my phone, so I can just type and type and type all the live-long day. Editing is still a bit of a problem though.

To wrap up my thoughts on Overwatch, I would say that if you’re new to team shooters you could do a lot worse. It’s colorful and fast and exciting. However if you’re a team shooter veteran, you’re going to run into the same problems you’ve seen a million times before. I myself will not be buying it unless it goes on sale. There are plenty of cheaper or free-to-play options out there for getting a quick shooter fix.

New

I am writing this post on my phone while I sit in my new cubicle at my new job, which is not so much new as it is different, in that I have only moved about 15 yards away from my old cubicle which I left Friday. I moved from an old and dying project where I constantly had to deal with the world collapsing around me to an equally old but at least stable, funded project where I will only be responsible for a straightforward set of requirements.

Of course, due to general buraeucratical issues too numerous and insane to keep track of, I probably won’t have a PC to work on for I expect about a week. I am not complaining about this one bit. There is nobody complaining to me, looking at me for answers to impossible problems, or asking me about what the future might hold for them or their careers. It’s heavenly. And it leaves me with a lot of time to sit here and try to figure out how to type on a phone.

For one thing, when it’s hard as hell to edit your sentences, it forces you to plan them out in advance, which has never been something I’ve been good at. (See every video I’ve ever recorded.) Maybe this will be good for me in some way.

Or maybe I can just find that Bluetooth keyboard at home and bring it with me tomorrow.

In terms of games I have nothing new to report unless you want to hear more about Dark Souls III. I’ve started a new playthrough with a Sorcerer build, which is fun but of course you can never re-capture the magic of that first blind playthrough of a Souls game.

Sadly I have not even logged into a single MMORPG since April 11, although I did at least patch up BDO in the launcher last night. I want to play SWTOR and LOTRO but not until I’m done with DS3. Like many people I suppose, I’m scared LOTRO will shutter before I reach the endgame. I’m still mired at level 50-something in the Mines of Moria, feeling like it’s the slowest leveling game in the universe.

I hear all of the rumblings about the demise of the genre and I saw Aywren’s post about the demise of blogging about the demise of the genre (whose link I cannot insert at the moment because God knows how to do that on a phone), and I guess I am only reinforcing that perception by talking about Dark Souls, but I don’t consider myself a representative sample.

As far as blogging it’s been very light from me because I usually do that in spare moments throughout the day, and as referenced above I haven’t had any of those in the past 6 months or more. Starting today, that might finally change.

As far as MMORPGs I don’t think it’s as bad as we think, it’s just that we’re between cycles right now. And I personally think the genre and its fans are collectively coming to grips with the realization that we can no longer expect WoW to drive the industry. What does the world even look like when Blizzard no longer invents exciting new features to put into its MMORPG? When Blizzard makes a frickin’ shooter that attracts MMORPG players? Who knows?

Also bloggers are always attracted to new shinys and once you’ve played an MMORPG for about a month, it’s no longer new.

Dark Souls III First Playthrough Complete

image

I finished my first playthrough of Dark Souls III Sunday morning. I think it took around 84 hours and 87 levels, using a Knight build based mainly around strength and vitality. All bosses defeated solo, although I almost cracked and summoned help on the Twin Princes. (After the rather dismal experience I had with the Dancer of Boreal Valley, and when it looked like I might be heading in the same direction with the Twin Princes, I did summon help twice, but both times I died very quickly, which I took as a sign that I should stick with my original plan to get all the bosses solo on the first playthrough.)

If you’re interested I recorded the whole thing and I’m putting it on my YouTube channel, all 96 parts.

Dark Souls is a very alt-friendly kind of game (in the sense that the gameplay is completely different depending on which weapon you use and how you build your stats), so I plan to play through again with a sorcerer build and a dexterity build. (Or perhaps I might combine those two, since my sorcerer is currently tearing up the Undead Settlement with a rapier.) Naturally I missed a bunch of things the first time through, including about 5 optional bosses and a few areas, so I’ll be looking forward to uncovering those things.

It also makes me want to play Dark Souls 1 and 2 again, too. Have I mentioned how great these games are? They’re really great, if I haven’t mentioned it.

Okay, that’s the end of my Dark Souls evangelism.

But oh my god you guys Dark Souls is teh greatest!!!

That being said there are a few things that I found troublesome about Dark Souls III:

Disconnects. The absolute worst thing about Dark Souls III that I hadn’t seen in previous games is that when it disconnects from the network, it throws you out of what you’re doing and sends you back to the main menu. Yes, including in the middle of boss fights. Though it didn’t happen to me, it could have happened as I was swinging the final blow that would have otherwise ended the fight.

Crashes. It crashes a lot. I mean, not like ten times every play session but it crashes a good once or twice a week, which is a pretty bad track record in my opinion.

Lag. The network play is very laggy, far worse than previous games. I assume it’s because everybody in the world is playing now, but still. It sucks every bit of the fun out of the online play. The completely seamless online play was one of the best features of previous games.

UI. While the tool belt is a very nice addition in DS3, there are still some areas of the UI that are a bit clunky. For example, they still haven’t worked out how to let the player efficiently crush a lot of souls in your inventory at once.

Dark Souls III

Fantastic game and a worthy sequel. Nothing new or radically different, mind you (except a mana bar), just more of the same, excellent quality gameplay in different yet somehow familiar settings. Visually it resembles the first game more than the second one, in my opinion, but at the same time it’s got its own bleached-film style. My only complaints so far are that I seem to get stuck on terrain a lot and sometimes the camera is more wonky than I’d like.

The new FireLink Shrine.
The new FireLink Shrine.

If you’re someone who hasn’t played any Souls games before and you’re wanting to start with III, be aware that this game does not pull any punches. It is much more like I than II, in other words. I encountered the first boss about 25 minutes into the game, at the end of an extremely sparse tutorial area, leaving you very little space to practice before getting thrown right into the fire. There is also a very tough monster in the tutorial area. Practice your blocking, dodging, and stamina management. :)

Dark Souls II is a friendlier introduction to the series, in my opinion. It at least gives you some time to learn the controls before throwing you up against the bosses. (I can’t really recommend the PC version of the original Dark Souls because it’s a pain to get it running. Whereas you can install and play II right out of the box.)

P.S. The Knight starts with a 100% physical block shield!!! That’s a huge improvement over DS2. :)

Low Energy Gaming Week in Review

The past couple of weeks have been really trying at work. I’m in the process of training other developers, writing documentation, and frantically trying to tie up loose ends before moving to another project in May. It involves spending pretty much all day every day doing things that I’m not particularly good at, i.e. interacting with people, leading, making decisions, and generally trying to be a role model for everyone who stares at me with big round eyes wondering what to do after I’m gone. It feels a bit like acting in a play.

The point is that I haven’t had much energy for gaming. I haven’t given up on Black Desert Online per se, but I don’t login very often and I don’t do any offline activities which means that I’m falling farther and farther behind. It’s not a big deal of course since it doesn’t cost any money, but the less I play, the more I realize that I don’t “need” to play it and the less inclined I am to log back in. (To be honest, it’s hard to see what to do next even if you just want to go hit some monsters for a while, so I just stand there staring at the quest list for a while and then log out.)

BDO Harpy Castle

For the record, at last count I was level 33, and the last story location I saw was the harpy-infested Delphe Knight’s Castle. That was a pretty amazing place. I can’t think of any other MMORPG I’ve seen with such a visceral depiction of a battle zone. (Except that the harpies completely ignore you unless you attack them.)

Instead of the brain-draining BDO, often I’ve chosen to play more “lightweight” games like Far Cry Primal. I like the Far Cry games overall, and this one is definitely a refreshing change of pace, but it’s nowhere near the “survival” game I was hoping for. (One day I will publish a post on the essential ingredients a game needs in order to call itself a survival game.) Still, it’s fun, and doesn’t require much thinking.

Far Cry Primal

I tried to get into Terraria for a few days, but I still don’t understand why that game was so popular a while back. (Someday, after a future Steam sale, I will probably say the exact same thing about Stardew Valley.) I find the interface and controls very clunky. I generally dislike overhead or side-scrolling games where you move with WASD. As far as the look of the game, I kept waiting for Lemmings to drop in and start walking back and forth. Anyway I managed to dig a big hole and lengthen my playing time from about 30 minutes to about 2 hours.

This week, I also returned to another low-energy game I picked up on Steam for $5 last year: Enslaved. One day I’ll write a post on it, or post the videos I’ve been recording of it, or something. It’s a fun, Tomb Raider-eseque puzzle-solving, jumping, button-mashing game with a dumb story, but I find it charming.

The highlight of this past week by far was the arrival of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Blu-ray. Coincidentally, a new Blu-ray player arrived at the same time, since, in this modern disposable world in which we live, it was far more convenient to buy a new player than to try to find and hook up my PS3. It’s the first time I’ve watched a Blu-ray in many, many years, and holy jeepers do those things look amazing compared to Netflix, Amazon Video, and the blotchy, grainy, distorted jumble of pixels known as Verizon FIOS Video-on-Demand. I recommend them. :)

The Weight of Black Desert Online

I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s accounts of their adventures in Black Desert Online, mainly because I feel like I haven’t done much “adventuring” in the game yet (by which I mean exploration). I’ve spent most of my time with my head down, running and riding back and forth between NPCs to finish “Life” quests. It’s a bottomless pit if you follow that route. I don’t think the quests ever end. And they are all essentially tutorial quests, teaching you how to make more and more stuff.

Don't know what this is but it doesn't matter because I need ash sap and pig's blood.
Don’t know what this is but it doesn’t matter because I need ash tree sap and pig’s blood.

My world thus far includes Velia, Heidel, and Glish. In Velia, my workers collect logs and ore and I occasionally raft out to sea for fishing (I still have two fishing quests to finish out there on the islands). In Heidel, I mainly store food for cooking quests. In Glish, I’ve recently setup an alchemy station. Though I’ve run out of alchemy quests for now, I’ve been assured that I’ll meet someone in Calpheon who will resume my training. (I don’t know where to find this mythical Calpheon I keep hearing about, though.)

I spend a lot of time riding back and forth between the above three towns, which is getting a bit frustrating. I feel like I’m wasting a lot of time on the road, instead of actually “doing” things. I also have to stop by my farm a lot to kill bugs and prune my plants, which is another detour to add into the mix. I don’t care for the farming system in BDO (at least compared to ArcheAge) but I can’t complain about free carrots for the horse. Somehow I even managed to get on the rankings board for Farming, which I assume must be a bug.

bdo_farming_rank
There’s either a major bug here or not very many people doing Farming.

The sheer magnitude of Life quests in the game is starting to wear me down, though, and I’m feeling a bit disillusioned. It’s exhausting to maintain forward momentum on more than one activity at a time. On weeknights when I get home from work, I’m increasingly tempted by the easy, straightforward gameplay of some of the other games on my desktop. (Like Far Cry Primal.)

I’m starting to think BDO is going to end up like Mortal Online for me: A game that I really like for its depth and complexity, but also a game that I just don’t have the time or energy to fit into an average day. At least not the way I want to play it.