ARK – Another Chance In The New Year

With the start of the new year, I decided to give ARK: Survival Evolved another chance. So many people rave about this game, in streams, podcasts, and blogs. I had a lot of bad feelings to overcome, but I figured it was possible that I was the one who was wrong about it. So on January 1st, I fired up a single player game, determined to play until I “got it.” I ended up playing about 18 hours over the holiday weekend.

What I call my Beach Base on the northern edge of The Island.
What I call my Beach Base on the northern edge of The Island.

I will refrain from writing at length about the poor graphics programming over at Studio Wildcard, Instinct Games, Efecto Studios, and/or Virtual Basement LLC*. I’ve covered that before. I choked down my outrage over having to reduce the rendering settings to nearly the lowest, blockiest, homeliest settings there were to achieve something resembling 60 fps. (The last time I had to lower my resolution from the maximum my graphics card could handle was sometime around the time of Quake and Quake 2.)

But enough about that. I’m trying to be positive here. I spent a couple of hours figuring out how to find wood, thatch, stone, and flint, craft a pick, build a campfire, kill some penguins and dodos, chop up their corpses for raw meat, cook the meat, craft some clothes, and generally stay alive. The crafting and survival aspects of the game are done fairly well. Perhaps not as good as some, but probably better than most.

The biggest key to surviving in ARK, of course, is running away from large carnivorous dinosaurs, saber-tooth tigers, and giant gravity-defying birds until they (hopefully) lose interest. You also have to hunt for berries and meat almost constantly. The survival, crafting, and gathering parts of the game are fun and interesting, although admittedly once you get it figured out it’s not difficult to get to a place where you can survive indefinitely**. You can last forever on berries, a torch, and the occasional cooked dodo.

That’s where I’m stuck right now. I can survive indefinitely, but I can’t really do anything. I setup my own private LAN server so I have The Island all to myself, and I’ve built up several different bases along the north coast so I have places to go after I respawn. Because inevitably after I venture out to try to tame dodos or explore further, some big monstrosity comes along and one-shots me and it’s back to the drawing board.

The leveling curve in ARK seems slow, but maybe that’s my imagination. After 18 hours I got to level 15, mainly from the experience gained by crafting and gathering. Killing things is somewhat rare for me, since at this point there aren’t many things I can kill with my meager little stone axe and spear. Dodos, penguins, trilobytes, and sometimes the little compys (I call them tinysaurus) are about all I can reliably kill. Running away is often the better choice. (Except with raptors and t-rexes, which I can’t outrun.)

Still, I have to admit that the game has its hooks into me now. It’s very addictive–the kind of game where you look up at the clock and realize you’ve just spent several hours playing without realizing it. For me, that might turn out to be a detriment to playing in a cooperative or multiplayer environment, because it means it’s very time-consuming to advance in ARK. People of the Internet who have more spare time to play are going to have a big advantage over more casual players like me. I’ll come into the game with my spear and dodo pets and everyone else will be using assault rifles and flying spaceships.

ARK has issues beyond the rendering speed, too. Some aspects of the user interface, like the inventory and hotbar system, are rudimentary at best and require a lot of dragging and dropping. (Drag-and-drop has been a crutch for lazy interface designers since the beginning of time–a pet peeve of mine.) At this point, though, with the amazing success of the game, I doubt they will do anything to improve it. They have to please the masses now, so they’ll spend their time adding new dinosaurs and holiday events. Gamers quickly adapt to terrible interfaces when they enjoy the gameplay. (Reading over the patch notes basically confirms this hypothesis.)

But overall it’s a lot more fun than I originally gave it credit for, and I now understand why everyone likes it. The real question now is whether to keep playing it or stop until it’s actually finished.

* Why does this game have four different developers? Is that why it’s such a technical mess?

** At least until a pair of Sabertooths moves into your base camp, kills your dodo army, and runs you out of town.

Game Developers Aren’t Slaves

A while back I saw this pro-GamerGate post and had a flashback to my days in the political blogosphere. I’ll save you the time of reading it: It’s a long, very well-worded piece of propaganda disguised as anti-propaganda. (You know you’re reading propaganda when you come across the word “indoctrination.”)

Destroy this mad brute

The part that really made my jaw drop was this:

Never forget that you [developers] are here to please the gamers, they are not here to please you, validate your beliefs or prop up your ego.

That statement could not possibly be more wrong. Game developers are not prostitutes, servants, or slaves, as not just suggested there but stated outright. Game developers are artists, craftsmen, and businessmen. They create a product or service, and it is up to you the consumer to decide whether to purchase it or not, the same way you decide to buy a couch or a television. Or more accurately, the same way you decide to watch a movie or buy a book.

That sentence up there, in my opinion, is the very crux of the problem with a lot of crowd-funded game supporters (otherwise known as angry mobs). Most of them seem to feel that donating some money to support a game buys them ownership of the developers themselves, as if they have literally purchased slaves in some Mereen marketplace.

Full disclosure: I’m a software developer, so I have a very strong pro-developer bias. It absolutely infuriates me whenever a user feels that they own the developer as much as they do the software. “I bought your software so you have to do what I tell you or else!”

The other part of that post that I found pretty insulting was the implication that gamers are idiots who will instantly fall under the spell of whatever hidden message a game developer puts into their game. If that were true, then politicians would be right to ban violent video games because impressionable gamers will become violent after playing one, right? If you say gamers are so impressionable that they’ll turn into liberals after playing a game with a socially-conscious message, then there’s nothing stopping them from turning into serial murderers after playing Doom. Next up on the Gamergate agenda: Book-banning and record-burning!

I agree that it’s not a game developer’s job to teach morals, whatever they might be. Same for authors and movie-makers. But I strongly disagree that a game or a book or a movie can teach any morals. That teaching is much more effectively done by parents, social circles, and individual soul-searching, and those things will always trump whatever a game is trying to say.

Gah! This is why I stopped writing about politics. It’s too stressful.

Posted on Blaugust Day 11. Read all of my Blaugust posts here.

Identifying As A Gamer, Erratum

I’m not entirely sure what happened, but somehow WordPress posted two different versions of my last post. The RSS feed and the front page shows one version, but the post page itself shows a newer version. I think maybe ScribeFire did something to it. Anyway, I added a paragraph to my answer for question 20 at the last minute and this is what it was supposed to say:


20. Do you identify as a gamer?

Only while playing games and around other gamers. I generally don’t talk about games with “normals” because they think at best it’s weird and at worst it’s self-destructive.

I guess this question is aimed at uncovering my thoughts on the whole “real” gamer controversy. I can understand the need to believe that how one spends their time is important, and I can understand the competitive urge to be better than one’s peers, but I think I’ve outgrown all of that when it comes to video games. The only people that I think deserve to be put into a niche of their own are those kids who fly around the world playing in e-sports LAN tournaments and such.


To further elaborate, I didn’t mean to suggest e-sports tournament players are “real” gamers. I just meant that they are different in the same way that I would classify professional tennis players as different from people who play tennis with their friends on a weekend. The goals are entirely different. One is trying to make a living, and the other is just trying to relax and have fun. Sometimes those things overlap, but in my negligible experience with online gaming tournaments, there’s nothing relaxing about playing solely to win.

‘Cannot Be Tamed’ Gaming Answers

Okay, okay, here’s my answers to the Cannot Be Tamed Gaming Questionnaire. I found many of these questions pretty silly. I feel like writing my own questionnaire with hard-hitting, insightful questions like, “If you were a ferret, what kind of video game controller would you use?”

1. When did you start playing video games? 2. What is the first game you remember playing?

Somewhere around 1980-ish. I don’t remember if I had an Atari 2600 or a TRS-80 Color Computer first, though.

The first game I remember playing (i.e. that was good enough to make a lasting impression) was either Dungeons of Daggorath or a co-op asteroids-clone called Color Meteroids where one person controlled movement and another person controlled firing. (Both CoCo games.)

3. PC or Console? 4. XBox, PlayStation, or Wii? 

PC.

I have a PS3 that is still in a moving box unpacked. Even when it was hooked up, all I did was run the Netflix app. At one time I had planned to get an Xbox One but now I think I would get a PS4. I’ve heard the PS4 controller is better.

5. What’s the best game you’ve ever played? 6. What’s the worst game you’ve ever played? 

Who remembers that? For me, it changes all the time. The best game I’ve played in the last couple of months is The Witcher 2. I remember thinking that Bioshock Infinite was the best game ever, but now I barely remember it. Half-Life was a game-changer when it came out. Quake, QuakeWorld, and Quake 2 were the best for a while because I played them “competitively.” Ultima Online was the best for a while because it was the first MMO I ever played. Then Asheron’s Call was the best because it was better than UO.

The worst game wouldn’t even register for me because I generally don’t play games I don’t like. I remember being extremely disappointed with the co-op in the original Baldur’s Gate, though.

7. Name a game that was popular/critically adored that you just didn’t like.

Call of Duty multi-player, any version. I can’t keep up with the kids anymore. Also, I found the introduction of RPG elements into shooters pretty annoying because it made people who played longer even more impossible to beat.

Oh, Lineage II is another one. I quit as soon as I saw it was a click-to-move game.

8. Name a game that was poorly received that you really like.

Recently, ESO. At least until I stopped liking it hehe.

I don’t know if it was poorly received so much as unknown but I like Mortal Online in small doses. It gives me that UO nostalgia feeling. It’s hard to play a full loot, free-for-all PvP game in limited time blocks, though. You really need big chunks of time when there’s the risk of losing everything.

9. What are your favourite game genres?

RPGs and Shooters. Although as I’ve gotten older I don’t play very many shooters, partly because of aging reflexes and partly because every shooter has been basically the exact same game for the last fifteen years.

By the way, I credit Dungeons of Daggorath (mentioned above) with starting my love for both RPGs and Shooters.

10. Who is your favourite game protagonist?

My favourite [sic, hehe] is whatever I’m playing at the time. There’s a long list of protagonists I’ve liked: Altaïr* and Ezio from Assassin’s Creed, the Mass Effect guy whose name I can’t remember off the top of my head, Booker from Bioshock Infinite, Lara Croft in the latest Tomb Raider reboot, the girl in Mirror’s Edge whose name I forgot, some of the Grand Theft Auto characters, the guy from Saint’s Row 3 and 4.

I’ve been fascinated by the people who have responded to this question with “me.” (e.g. TAGN, Belghast) At no point do I ever think that “I” am in these games I’m playing, much in the same way I don’t think “I” am in books I read. Even if I make a game character from scratch, I’m building a character who is distinctly different from me. I might wonder what I would do if I were in the protagonist’s situation, and that might influence how I direct the game character, but that’s about the extent of my connection to the protagonists. (Though I suppose you could say there is some part of me in every character I create.)

11. Describe your perfect video game.

Easy to learn, hard to master. Never repetitious.

12. What video game character do have you have a crush on?

Ha! What a silly question. Maybe the red-head in Dragon’s Age.. Leliana? Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite? Much like novels and movies, if a part is written well, the viewer/reader/player is going to form some kind of attachment to the character. For me it ends when I finish the game, though.

13. What game has the best music? 

I don’t know about “best” but this question reminds that I thought it was super cool that Nine Inch Nails did the soundtrack for Quake.

Video game music unfortunately doesn’t make much of an impact on me, which is weird because I love movie soundtracks. Very often I turn off game music so that I can watch television at the same time.

14. Most memorable moment in a game: 15. Scariest moment in a game: 16. Most heart-wrenching moment in a game:

All of these would come from Olden Days when I played Quake matches with my clan in tournaments. The times we barely won, the times we almost won, things like that. I remember being scared to death in the very first “competitive” match I played, which was a 2 on 2 Capture The Flag match. We came from behind to win that match, so that would be a great candidate for most memorable moment in a game, too. One day I still hope to convert some of these old, old Quake match demos into YouTube videos.

17. What are your favourite websites/blogs about games?

See blogroll. And there are probably tons that I’ve missed because I’m terrible at blogrolls, sorry.

18. What’s the last game you finished? 

The Witcher 2.

19. What future releases are you most excited about? 

Currently, The Witcher 3.

20. Do you identify as a gamer?

Only while playing games and around other gamers. I generally don’t talk about it with “normals” because they think at best it’s weird and at worst it’s self-destructive.

21. Why do you play video games? 

Because it’s cheap and fun. Duh. :)

* Yeah that’s an umlaut, baby! Also a test of utf-8 compatibility.

Un-Learning Invert Mouse

I decided to learn to play without the Invert Mouse option.

I’ve considered doing this for a long time, but the final straw was wanting to continue checking out ArcheAge without getting a headache. But you know if you’ve ever tried to change this setting that you need to turn it off for every game at the same time. It’s not something you can turn off in one game but leave on in another game. Once you begin the re-conditioning process, you can’t go back, or you will perpetually remain confused.

If you’re considering doing this, you should know that when you first start playing with the Y-axis reversed (by which I mean not reversed), you spend most of your time either looking at the ground or looking at the sky, pushing or pulling uselessly at the mouse trying to correct it. This is normal. Keep working at it and after about 5 or 10 minutes, you should get it through your skull that no matter how much you push the mouse forward, you’ll continue to look directly upward, and then you can begin the real re-training process.

It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible. As of this writing I’ve completed three nights of non-inverted play. I can keep my view more-or-less looking the right way while I’m walking around. My reaction time is terrible though. I end up moving the mouse one way from muscle memory, recognizing it’s the wrong way, and then moving the other way. It’s a lot more problematic in combat, and I still end up looking too far up or down, and it’s hard to do "fancy" moves like running around behind a mob while keeping my view looking down slightly from overhead. Trying to aim in games with a reticule is downright comical.

But eventually I’ll get there. I remember having a similar learning curve when I changed from arrow keys to +mouselook and ESDF back in the days of Quake. It took over a week to be comfortable with it back then. (This time, though, I’ve got nearly 20 years of muscle memory to overcome, not just a couple of months.)

Which Fingers for WASD

I’ve always wondered something. Most of the world uses WASD for their keyboard controls, right? I’m assuming so because that’s how every game is pre-configured. I, however, use ESDF for my keyboard controls, so I have to change the defaults on every single game I play. I am not bitter about that. Mostly.

I chose ESDF when I re-did my Quake keyboard binds way back in the day because it seemed like the natural choice, because my ring finger, middle finger, and index finger naturally rested on SDF anyway. If I needed to type a quick message, my fingers were right there ready to do so.

Here’s my question: Do people using WASD also use their ring finger, middle finger, and index finger? In other words, do they shift their fingers one key to the left of standard typing position? Or do they use their pinky, ring finger, and middle finger on ASD to maintain standard typing position? If the majority of people use their pinky to move left, then I could understand why it would seem normal for the default to be WASD. But whenever I use WASD, I have to shift my fingers into an unnatural position to play.

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p>It’s just an idle thought for the day. Perhaps next time I will ponder why everyone fails to use invert mouse like they’re supposed to.