You can’t actually take the screenshots using ShareX, because it doesn’t support full screen applications, but it has a feature where it will watch certain folders and upload any new files to wherever you want. (It defaults to imgur, but there are a zillion different options.) This is exactly the kind of functionality I wanted.
I added all of the folders where MMORPGs save their screenshots and viola, every time I save a screenshot, it automatically uploads to my imgur repository.
The main reason I wanted something like this is that I usually write my blog posts far, far away from my gaming PC, so I never have access to any of my screenshots when I need them. Having them on imgur allows me to embed them in posts at the time I write them, as opposed to trying to remember to add them in later, which I almost always forget to do.
I had fun with the WoW Zone Events aka. Invasions over the weekend.
But first, the biggest news from my weekend was that I finally moved all my furniture from the old rental house into my new house. I achieved my goal of picking the hottest day of the entire year to move. I believe it was upwards of 95 degrees Farenheit with a heat index of 105. (Google tells me that’s 35 and 40.5 Celsius, but that doesn’t sound nearly hot enough to me.) The temperature reading inside the old house was 92 by the time we left. Since I am not currently dead, I must have stayed sufficiently hydrated.
But enough about that. I re-subbed to WoW on Friday night because I kept reading about these pre-expansion Invasions. They sounded a lot like Rift Zone Events, which are pretty fun, so I thought it was worth $15 to check them out. I logged in to find that my talents were reset and I had no idea how to play my 100 Hunter anymore. This is not surprising, because it happens basically every time I log in after being away for a while.
I’m no expert but this time it seems like they’ve really pared down the number of rotation keys, because now I think I’m down to three abilities with Beast Mastery. I’m probably doing it wrong though. (I routinely forgot to summon my pet, so that’s how good I am at playing the Hunter right now. Not that it matters, because you can almost auto-attack everything and still succeed in WoW.)
Friday night I went through the Broken Shores quest thingy, which was kind of cool I guess. I literally had no idea who any of the characters were in that story so I had zero personal investment in it. I must be the worst WoW lore consumer in the world because I kept seeing all these people doing these heroic things and I kept asking myself, "Am I supposed to know or care who this is?" The answer must obviously be yes, but I sure didn’t. The only name I actually recognized was Sylvannas, but it took me quite a while to remember where I knew that name from. (From the early levels of playing my Undead Warlock ages ago.) Perhaps they should have put a refresher course in one of those cut scenes at the beginning for people like me who only pop into WoW for a month or two every couple of years.
Side gripe: I found it kind of annoying that the cut scenes were in a lower resolution than the actual game video.
Later I learned that most of those names in that Broken Shore event were found in my Garrison, which explains why I didn’t recognize them, since I stopped playing WoW about the time I finished my Garrison. I hadn’t even built a Shipyard. Strangely, when I looked around my Garrison, it seemed like there were quite a few more people there than when I last left it. It looked like a thriving metropolis. I guess it expanded while I was gone.
It wasn’t until Sunday that I got to experience my first Zone Event aka. Invasion. In short, they are fun. (I hate to be a smug sarcastic bastard about it, but seriously, if you like the gameplay in these WoW Invasions, you might want to check out Rift.) I picked up a bunch of item level 700 welfare epics for my Hunter (previously I think I was somewhere around item level 580-something). In typical WoW fashion, the events are really easy, except for when you get killed for no apparent reason. But since the Invasions typically take place right on top of a graveyard, it’s no big deal.
Then I discovered the true purpose of the Invasions: Leveling alts. I spent a little time playing my Mage (73) and Warlock (43), participating in one or two events each, trying to figure out how the new specializations and rotations work. Again, I feel like everything was simplified. It’s like they really, really want you to play one specific way with these updated specializations. Any skills that deviate from the baseline are gone entirely. Also am I crazy or can I switch between the 3 specializations at will now? I think you used to have to pick only 2 of the 3. Maybe I should, like, you know, read the patch notes.
At any rate I give the Pre-Expansion Invasions a thumbs-up. For me, they’re going to be a nice way to grab some levels for my alts without having to resort to dungeons or questing. I like doing group events without having to know or care who I’m playing with. Actually I wish they would make these Invasions a permanent addition to WoW because they were my favorite things to do in Rift. Unfortunately Rift’s population is too low to sustain the zone events everywhere now, but even in these dark days WoW still has a comparatively huge population to support something like that.
I bought Doom when it was half off on Steam a while back and have been playing it here and there. I’m not quite sure what to make of it.
On the positive side, it’s a beautiful game, and it runs beautifully on my new gaming PC. It’s suitably fast and violent and hard on Ultra Violence. The chainsaw had me giggling like a kid when I found it. (Remember how the world thought the original Doom was over-the-top gruesome? Pretty funny to think about now.)
On the bad side, Doom has annoyingly long load times. This is a trend that I don’t like in newer generation games. I want to double-click the icon on the desktop and be playing in less than 30 seconds. Doom takes minutes to load up (on my new PC!), which makes me not want to click on that icon. Not to mention how long it takes between dying and respawning, a process that is supposed to be instantaneous in these kinds of games.
A game called Doom from id carries with it a certain expectation, and that expectation is running and gunning. But I feel like it strays too far from those roots. There will be 10 minutes of exciting shooter gameplay when you enter a new area, but it’s often followed by 10 or 20 minutes of trying to puzzle out where to go next or fiddling with weapon mods or worst of all, listening to 5 minutes of exposition from some unknown persona on an intercom. That’s not a component of shooters that I find enjoyable. It’s the, you know, shooting that’s the enjoyable part.
I’ve only played a few hours so maybe I’m missing something. (I wouldn’t expect a Doom-style game to be super hard to figure out though.)
Regardless, I’m still having an overall positive experience and plan to finish it.
Welcome to another installment of Snap Judgment, where I fully evaluate every nuance of a game after playing it for less than an hour.
I downloaded and installed the latest malware … I mean, Asian import MMORPG … Riders of Icarus. I kid, I kid. But it asked me to reboot to finish the installation, which makes me wonder just what kind of rootkit it put on my system. Not to mention the extremely suspicious Nexon anti-cheat monitoring software that runs in the background. But I guess that’s the standard for Asian games now, because ArcheAge had one, and I think Blade and Soul, and maybe some others I can’t remember. I assume they’re all capturing my passwords and sending them to China, and not doing anything to prevent cheating.
Icarus itself is the most average an MMORPG could possibly be. The graphics are average, the sounds are average, the animations are average, the classes are average, the cut scenes are average, the story is average, the combat is average. If I had to give a nod to one thing I’d say the music was pretty good.
While I personally find the concept of flying whales pretty cool, there wasn’t nearly enough of that in the first 45 minutes to make me want to continue playing. Everything about the initial experience was … completely average, well-trodden MMORPG territory. Nothing in there made this game stand out from any other fantasy MMORPG.
Anyway, check out the video, so you don’t have to bother installing it.
TLDR; I’m enjoying Black Desert Online, and I think it’s worth $30. If you like crafting, it’s well worth $30. It’s not your grandfather’s MMORPG, though, and it takes some time to get used to it.
I mentioned on Twitter that I didn’t understand why people were drawn to The Division, and it occurred to me that I should explain why I’m drawn to Black Desert Online, in case anyone is looking at the BDO hype and scratching their heads.
It’s not the combat or the classes, and it’s not the leveling experience or the questing or the story. I consider those parts fairly average for an MMORPG. (Although I’ve grown to find myself weirdly interested in what the deal is with that Black Spirit.)
No, it’s the gathering and crafting and by extension the trading systems where this game excels.
But even more than that, what impresses me most about BDO is the way they’ve managed to bring something brand new into the MMORPG genre. This game is really a mashup of an RPG and a city-builder game. Once you press ‘M’ to open the map, you’ve transitioned to a completely different, Civ-like game. The way you hire and assign workers to build up your production empire reminds me a lot of Banished, which I loved. That’s the main thing that excites me about Black Desert right now.
That, and the fact that you can spend 50 hours playing and barely use any class abilities or fight any monsters.
I had the same sort of reaction to the trading in ArcheAge, which is undoubtedly coloring my BDO experience. In the first few months it was all very exciting to have the ability to build a farm and grow things and make trade packs and sell them in distant lands by riding a donkey across the dusty roads of the world. Those are things you don’t usually get to do in an MMORPG. Now it’s been ramped up and improved in Black Desert.
I’ll admit that newness is usually what attracts me to a game. Something I’ve never done before, or something done better than what’s come before it. I know there’s a lot of MMORPG nostalgia flying around the blogosphere right now, but from my own perspective, any time a new game comes out with a new or better mechanic in it, it’s cause for celebration. And BDO has a lot of new ideas in it. (Some of which are terrible, but that’s another story.)
Another thing that attracts me is the complexity of the game itself. I think it’s because I’m one of those weird people who actually enjoys figuring out complicated things, so I’ve loved experimenting with clicking on all of the buttons and reading all the descriptions and studying the crafting manuals and figuring out which things are beneficial and which things aren’t. (Sometimes it’s hard due to translation issues though… like a description will say something restores Energy but it means it restores Stamina.) It’s like I’m “leveling up” my own brain as I play. I’ve gone so far as to turn off all the chat functions so I wouldn’t see anyone answering questions, and I’ve avoided all but a few Google searches so far.
The launch itself was very smooth for me. (But then I didn’t have any pre-order items, which I understand a lot of people had trouble claiming.) I haven’t experienced any launch queues or lag. I haven’t seen a single gold spam. I also haven’t seen any botting behavior, but then a lot of automatic behaviors are built right into the game (AFK fishing, auto-running, etc.). It’s an interesting strategy to combat bots by building the botting behavior right in. :)
So that’s why I like Black Desert. It’s well worth the $30, in my opinion. I’ve already gotten my money’s worth and it’s only been a few days.
As with all MMORPGs, though, the question is will I still be playing a month from now? Will there be any future updates to this game? Will Daum fix any of the terrible translations? Will Pearl Abyss expand on the classes? Will there be anything to do once I’ve amassed a personal fortune from hauling crates of potatoes around? Will the game turn into a total unplayable gank-fest after PvP kicks in? Who knows?
Of course, what would a post about an MMORPG be without some complaints?
I was reminded of this after listening to @Syp on the MassivelyOP podcast: The first couple of hours of playing Black Desert Online is like being dropped into the middle of a bad dream or somebody’s acid trip. It’s got possibly the worst new player experience I’ve ever seen in an MMORPG. The opening cinematic makes no sense. The first NPCs speak in disjointed, poorly translated English, and sometimes they talk over top of each other. The NPCs say one thing verbally while the text says something completely different. Windows pop up all over the screen, covering each other, obscuring important text. It’s a bit like pop-up ads back in the 90s. It’s the worst. You just have to embrace the weirdness or power through it. I didn’t really start to “get” the game until a good five hours into it.
I initially had a lot of trouble with clutter on the screen. The “Simplify UI” setting helped a little bit, but it doesn’t do as much as I might like. For a while I turned off other players’ names. Eventually I think I just got used to the clutter. It needs a lot more settings to let you customize player nameplates.
My biggest complaint and disappointment about BDO by far is the complete lack of variety among player appearances. I mean, this game has the most amazingly detailed character creator ever seen, but unless you zoom way into people’s faces to examine their eyelashes, everyone looks identical. One sorceress might have white hair and another might have purple hair, but they’re all the same from the neck down. (Hair color choices are pretty weird, too, there’s very few “normal” choices.) The only variations in the costumes are a choice between Free Outfit and Cash Shop Outfit.
This point was hammered home for me when I saw Murphy’s tweet of his wizard’s face and I did a double-take. He looked exactly like my wizard!
Okay, maybe not exactly like mine, but it was close enough for me to blink.
And I spent a lot of time giving my guy a broken nose and a weird-looking eye. Pointlessly, it turns out. The only thing you can do to make your wizard look different from other wizards is to disable the hat display. (Which I did. But now everyone can see my weirdly extended, apparently double-jointed neck.)
BDO wreaks havok on my time-tracking software, though. It’s going to say I’m playing 24/7 because you have to keep it running all the time. :)
One weekend I got the idea that it would be simple for me to write a hit video game, make tons of money, and leave my day job*. I’ve dabbled at writing games now and then since I first learned programming back in the 80s, so this is nothing new (I have yet to actually complete a game, though). Anyway, I started reading up on popular 3D game engines. From what I can gather, there are basically two choices: Unity 5 or Unreal 4.
I started with Unity, looking at tutorial videos. I liked what I saw right away. The IDE looks nice and clean, the framework is well-organized and easy to understand, code is written in C# (which I use in my day job so that’s a big plus there), the tutorials are thorough. From a developer standpoint, I don’t see how a game engine could get much better.
My biggest worry, though, is that it won’t scale well. It seems perfect for small, simple games, but what about a large, complex, multi-tiered, multi-player game? What about a full-blown MMORPG with millions of players? What about a twitch game where maximum performance is vitally important? Will all that overhead that makes the engine so simple to use eventually slow down the game’s execution? Will the developer have to spend all of his time optimizing and tweaking and even replacing things to get around the limitations of the engine? Will all the abstraction layers keep the developer from truly optimizing the game? I don’t know the answers to those questions.
There is also a somewhat disturbing amount of designer-style editing that can be done in the IDE, at least in the tutorials. I equate it to ASP.NET development. There are a lot of nice visual web designers and drag-and-drop gizmos and data binding tools in Visual Studio but I sometimes (ie. almost always) find it faster and easier to write out code by hand for large-scale projects. Dragging-and-dropping something once or twice is okay, but dragging-and-dropping things a thousand times is a nightmare of maintenance issues. I hope there are code equivalents to all of the automatic stuff that happens when you drag-and-drop things around in the IDE.
Still, it’s a pretty popular engine. I looked over a list of games that use the Unity engine and found some fairly impressive results. The Forest is a beautiful game that runs pretty well, about which I once wrote: “Whatever engine this game is using should be used for all future MMORPGs, in my humble opinion.” Guns of Icarus also looks fantastic. Sir, You Are Being Hunted is a fine game. Besiege and Kerbal Space Program don’t focus on graphics but they are really fun. Shroud of the Avatar, which I haven’t yet seen in person, looks pretty nice in screenshots and videos.
And they are all indie games. I suppose now that I’ve looked into Unity I can see why smaller and/or newer teams would want to use it. It’s got a very low barrier to entry. I can easily see brand new programmers stepping out of college right into Unity.
Next I looked at the Unreal engine. I gather that Unreal is the more “pro” option that big budget AAA studios use. I don’t know if that’s because it’s actually better or just that it’s been around longer and is more entrenched.
I ran into problems with the Unreal engine right away. The first problem is the tutorial videos. They aren’t good. They definitely assume you already have some knowledge about not just object-oriented game engines, but Unreal itself. They don’t walk you through a logical process of building a game from start to finish but rather skip around in somewhat puzzling directions. Most of them assume you have a huge library of 3D assets lying around waiting to be imported as well.
Then there is C++. That automatically gives it a much steeper learning curve than Unity. I’ve been around the programming block a few times so C++ doesn’t necessarily bother me, but it definitely gives me pause. I’m just one person, and writing C++ is time-consuming. Yes, it’s fast and efficient and exactly what you want to use to write games. But with so much of the computationally-intensive work done by the engine framework or the graphics card, it leaves mainly game logic for you to write, and there’s a lot of overhead to deal with in C++ just to write a bunch of if-then logic.
Since there is almost no chance of me actually completing a game, let alone getting it into a marketable state, I figure I should make things easy on myself and use the simple framework. That’s definitely Unity 5.
Now if only there was an easy way to make 3D models.
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.
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.
I’m sort of trying to merge this and my horribly neglected writing blog together. Maybe. I don’t know. My “branding” is all messed up right now. Also I haven’t written much lately.
Anyway, one of the things I tried to do on the writing blog every now and then was talk about books I’d read lately and what I learned about writing from them. So that’s what this post is.
I have a subscription to Audible where I get two credits a month, and I usually forget to download anything until I get close to the maximum number of credits, at which time I have to pick a bunch of semi-random selections to download. Historically I’ve always stuck to SF&F or horror books but lately I’ve been trying to read more mainstream stuff and/or things that I wouldn’t normally look at.
By the way I don’t consider audio books a substitute for reading, but I personally am enthralled by a good narrator reading something, even if the story isn’t that great. Also audio books are a great time-saver because you can multi-task while listening.
I note the point of view and tense of the writing below just so I have a record of it somewhere. I have this theory that everybody is writing first person books now because today’s authors are yesterday’s bloggers and that’s all they know how to write. An alternate theory is that today’s authors know that today’s readers are used to reading so many bloggers who write in first person.
Annihilation: Southern Reach by Jeff VanderMeer. First person. I honestly don’t remember how I heard about this book (well, more like a novella–it’s pretty short). Perhaps I picked it at random. The audio performance is horrible (I swear the narrator sounds like Majel Barrett), so it’s probably better to get a printed copy, but the concept of the book was so interesting that I listened to the whole thing anyway. I wasn’t sure whether I was listening to a science fiction story or a Lovecraftian horror story. Maybe it was a mashup of both. In any case, it was mind-bogglingly different from any other story I’ve ever seen before. I don’t think anyone had a name, and I had no idea when or where the story took place. It’s tempting to get the other two books in the trilogy but when the first book of a trilogy is so short, it just makes me think the publishers are trying to milk more money out of what should have been one book. In any case the first book seemed like a complete story to me. Lessons learned: I could never write anything like this in a million years, so don’t even try. Also, no matter how much the writing experts try to get you to follow a formula, there’s always room to do something totally different.
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. Third person. I believe I chose this epic fantasy because it was an award winner or nominee or something. My goal is to read/listen to all the nominees and winners of the major awards, however I typically fall far short of that. Anyway I’m struggling to remember the particulars of this book now but I know I didn’t get much past the first chapter. There wasn’t anything wrong with it–it had a good hook actually, and it was decently read, but the topic of goblins and goblin politics just doesn’t interest me. Lessons learned: Politics isn’t for me.
The Cold Dish: A Walt Longmire Novel by Craig Johnson. First person. I got this because I recently discovered the Longmire series on Netflix, which I thought was a surprisingly good “police procedural” show set in Montana or some such middle-of-nowhere location (and it has Katie Sackhoff in it). I wanted to see if the novel on which it was based had the same effect on me. As it turned out, the the story did not hook me, and the audio performance definitely did not hook me, so I didn’t get much past the first couple of chapters. As I recall, it just felt like paragraph after paragraph of exposition with no indication of what the plot might be. Lessons learned: Sometimes the show/movie is better than the book.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. First person, present tense. I picked this one out because it was on the “best sellers” page and the blurb sounded interesting. It’s an excellent audio performance by three different readers and a decent mystery/suspense/whatever novel with interesting characters, however I felt like the “reveal” was telegraphed from a million miles away so it wasn’t much of a surprise to me. The very first sentences were riveting, though. It’s written in the same sort of breakneak-speed style as Hunger Games with very little description, which probably explains why it’s so popular. It also has three different first-person perspectives, one of which is from “before” while the other two are from “after.” I always find it interesting when different time periods are woven together. New writers are always warned to avoid multiple first-person perspectives, but it works okay here because a) each perspective was narrated by a different voice, and b) each perspective is titled with the name of the character to make it easier. Lessons learned: It’s okay to skip verbose descriptions of people, places, and things, which for me is very reassuring because I tend to skip over that stuff. Also first person, present tense is popular right now.
Memory Man by David Baldacci. Third person. Someone at work talked about how much they liked David Baldacci so I picked out this one at random, based solely on the criteria that it was the first one I found that wasn’t part of a fifteen-book series. The narrator was average at best, the writing didn’t seem like anything special, and the story was not all that interesting to me, so I only made it through four or five chapters (I stuck with it longer just to really give it a chance). The “gimmick” for the book was that the main character (a private investigator) sustained a football head injury in college and as a result began to remember everything in perfect detail. It wasn’t enough to make an otherwise ordinary former-cop-turned-private-detective-down-on-his-luck story special, plus person-with-perfect-memory seems kind of tropey these days. Lessons learned: Photographic memories and ex-cops aren’t that interesting to me.
Blood Song: Raven’s Shadow, Book 1 by Anthony Ryan. First and third person. This one had been in my library for a year and a half and I finally listened to it recently. I don’t remember why I picked it. The narrator was okay but the story didn’t grab me in the first two chapters. Whatever distinguishes this book from other epic fantasy books was not apparent to me in that time. (I’m also starting to wonder if I’m cut out for epic fantasy books any more–the beginning of most epic fantasy books is a spewage of names and places that make little or no sense until you get far into the book, and I just don’t have the patience for that anymore.) It started with a first person account of some prisoner arriving in some place. Then it went into what I presume is the main story of some Lord’s son getting sent off to some place with a bunch of other kids to learn something useful from some trainers. The Lord’s son was not a particularly interesting character, so I felt no particular desire to accompany him on his journey, and there was no indication that the Lord’s son had any particular goals that I might be curious about. And there were about fifty thousand new names, places, and things to learn. Lessons learned: Make characters interesting and/or give them goals right away.
P.S. It only occurred to me at the very end of writing this that I had created a “list” that could be used for Listmas 2015, so hey, here’s a list!