Line 6 Spider V 30 Practice Amp

I bought a new electric guitar amp! Finally. I haven’t had one since around 2001. It arrived from Amazon yesterday.

I settled on the Line 6 Spider V 30 for $200. It’s a little 30 watt practice amp. I wanted something I could simply turn on and go, as opposed to something like RockSmith on Steam which takes about an hour to load and has that dreaded input delay.

I was undecided between the Spider and a Fender Champion 40 for the longest time. Historically I’ve stuck with “traditional” brands for musical equipment, but I went out on a limb and got the high-tech newcomer. (To me, brands that entered the music scene after the 90s are still “new.”) My main deciding factor was that the knobs looked cooler. :) Also, the Line 6 has a USB output so you can record direct from it, which will come in very handy for me.

If you’re not aware, a “modelling amp” differs from a traditional amp in that the “sound” is largely created by a computer DSP instead of the inherent characteristics of the speaker and cabinet. They are more versatile but purists might argue they are sonically inferior. It’s the first one I’ve ever owned, and so far it sounds fine. In today’s pop music world where people cheerfully accept songs with instruments that sound like they were recorded at the bottom of a rusted metal garbage can with a cheap 80s Radio Shack tape recorder mic and too much gain, I doubt anyone would notice the sonic impurities. It’s a small trade-off to get a lot of fiddly buttons and knobs on the front to satisfy my need to change the sound.

If you’ll permit me a bit of nostalgia, the last electric guitar amps I owned were these monstrosities:

The top amp is a ~60 watt H&K tube amp I bought in roughly 1993. The bottom one is a ~60 watt Crate tube amp I bought some years later when the H&K started to die. (Later I fixed it.) Both were around $400-$500 each, considerably more than the Spider. They worked but I was never really in love with them, since they didn’t have a wide variety of sound possibilities. They were traditional amps with a single speaker and cabinets tailored specifically for electric guitars. It may not look like it, but they weighed a frickin’ ton and they were a huge pain to carry around. I sold both of them c. 2001.

As it turned out I didn’t use them very much. When recording, I used preamps and pedals to get the tone I wanted, and I used an H&K Red Box amp simulator gizmo to record direct to the mixer. First I had an ADA MP-1 tube preamp, which I loved. (I sold it c. 2001 and I wish I hadn’t.) Later I had an ART SG-1 tube preamp and effects box, which I also loved. I threw it away in c. 2013 because of various wear and tear that made it a door stop. I still have the Red Box though!

I also had a little acoustic guitar amp for a while, too. I can’t remember the brand but it was kind of cheap. I used it with pedals as an electric guitar practice amp but it wasn’t very good for that. I think I threw it away around 2013. (I got rid of lot of stuff in the great moves of 2001 and 2013.)

Anyway, now I can practice playing guitar again, and even record some music! I just need the mental determination to build up calluses.

Week of Movies

I’ve been in a very passive media consumption mood for the last week, so I’ve spent most of my free time watching movies instead of playing games. Here’s what I’ve watched in the past week or so:

Amazon Prime

Oasis. Pilot for a stylish science fiction series. A priest is requested at a struggling offworld human colony. I always find it interesting when people of faith are portrayed as something other than stereotypical villains, especially in science fiction. This priest is a little too far on the stereotypical “cool guy therapist” anti-trope side, though, but hey, it’s a step in the right direction.
Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation. Popcorn flick. It was okay. Good stunts, as usual.
Terminator: Genisys. Popcorn flick. It was terrible. #NotMyTerminator
13 Hours. Story of the Benghazi attack. I expected this would be a typical Michael Bay seizure-inducing flick, but it was remarkably reserved. I question the details of the film, but overall it “sort of” matched what I had read of the incident and was better than I expected. The entire film I was distracted by the fact that John Krazinski looked exactly like Zachary Levi from Chuck.
The Battle of Chosin. Documentary on a disastrous Korean War battle that I had previously not known about, and the entry of China into that war. I watched it because I wanted to know more about how we got to where we are today with North Korea, and the roots of that are very much in the Korean War. It was a good documentary, but a terrible event.
Hornet’s Nest. Documentary following two embedded reporters during the Afghanistan War and an intense battle with the Taliban. Initially I watched this to understand more about the conditions of fighting in Afghanistan, but as it went on I felt it was more important simply to bear witness to what those guys went through. (Incidentally, Sand Castle is another good movie about the Afghanistan War–it’s a drama but it presented the political situation pretty well.)
Apocalypse Now. I’d never seen it before, and it’s been on my “I should watch that someday” list for ever. It was okay. Some parts were good, other parts seemed to be drowning in pretentious cinema or like you had to be high to enjoy it. Not surprisingly, young Martin Sheen looked exactly like Emilio Estavez from Young Guns.

Netflix

Jaws. Never seen before. It was pretty good. Better than I expected a movie from the 1970s to be.
The Siege of Jadotville. Dramatization of a Cold War incident that I’d never heard of before, about Irish soldiers trying to defend a town in the Congo during the 1960s.
Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden. A dramatic recreation in the form of a documentary. It was okay.
Tropic Thunder. Parody of Vietnam War movies by Ben Stiller. It was funny, but it was the kind of humor that you’re ashamed to be laughing at and would probably not admit to anyone that you thought it was funny. :) Generally I prefer my humor to be a little more subtle, and this movie kind of hit you over the head with it. Still, it was better than I expected it to be.

FFXIV – Yo-kai Grinding

I’ve had a Yo-kai Watch in my inventory for a while, but I never knew what it was for or where I got it. I remember finding it in my inventory, and I kept looking at it, thinking, “What the heck is this thing for?”

Well it turns out that I must have accidentally done the Yo-kai Event quest in 2016. I have no memory of that, but when I went to find the Yo-kai quest-giver in Ul’dah the other day, he/she/it was nowhere to be found. I went to the Gold Saucer, followed the crowd of people, and found the Yo-kai vendor, which I must have already talked to in 2016 too. I even had the Yo-kai Medallium book, and one Yo-kai Medal on one of my Retainers.

I’m not much into minions (especially these extremely weird minions) but if nothing else, this Yo-kai Event is a great opportunity to level some alt jobs. People are out in droves grinding FATEs right now. Basically all you have to do is equip the Yo-kai Watch and participate in FATEs in low-level zones, and you earn one Yo-kai Medal per FATE. But more importantly, you get experience points! Oh, and you can purchase the minions from the Gold Saucer vendor with the medals.

I don’t know what these things are supposed to be either.

Once you have Yo-kai minions, if you equip the watch and summon a minion and participate in FATEs in the correct region, you earn Legendary Yo-kai Medals (at I’d say roughly a 30% drop rate), with which you can purchase weapons from the Gold Saucer vendor. The weapons have no stats and are kind of silly-looking, meant only for glamouring. You can find the correct region to farm by consulting the Yo-kai Medallium book (in your quest item inventory).

So some of my Labor Day was spent getting two weapons: The White Mage staff and the Bard bow. I gained a White Mage level (up to 56) and a Dark Knight level (up to 40). Sadly, neither White Mage or Dark Knight are particularly well-suited to FATE-grinding. Instant-cast ranged damage is your best bet for FATEs, which means you see a whole lot of Bards, Machinists, and Red Mages out there killing everything before you can even get to the mobs. Thankfully it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to get a silver or gold medal in a FATE.

Games Played – August 2017

Final Fantasy XIV slipped to third place in August, behind LotRO and, amazingly enough, Guild Wars 2.

  • Lord of the Rings Online – 45 hours
  • Guild Wars 2 – 27 hours
  • Final Fantasy XIV – 21 hours
  • Subnautica – 2 hours

All tied for 1 hour or less: Destiny 2 Open Beta, Dark and Light, Secret World Legends, Dark Souls III, WildStar.

 

Destiny 2 Anti-Hype

I tried out the Destiny 2 PC Open Beta Tuesday night. I’ve never played Destiny before or even seen it or read much about it.

It was incredibly easy to install and play through the Battle.net launcher. I just clicked on the “Install” button and less than an hour later it was ready to go.

It was not quite as easy to configure though. It gave me exactly one opportunity to adjust my video settings and then I got a class selection screen. The class descriptions gave very little indication of the kind of mechanics to expect so I randomly picked the first one (I can’t even remember the class name). After picking a class, the game launches right into cut scenes and then into the game. There was no character customization, but that could have been a limitation of the beta.

My first complaint surfaced right away. I was trying to record my play session with OBS Studio and the default video settings did not record. All I got was a black screen in OBS. I fiddled with the OBS settings with no luck. I have no trouble recording most other games, but Destiny 2 decided to make things difficult.

Since I didn’t want to spoil too much of the game before I started recording, I tried to exit out of the cut scenes to get back to the main menu. No such luck. Once it starts, you’re stuck with it. I had to ALT-F4 to exit the game to try again.

When I started the game the second time, it no longer asked if I wanted to adjust the video settings. It went straight into the class selection screen and then on into the cut scenes. I tried again after ALT-F4 a couple of times but there were no menus anywhere to change any settings.

Eventually I gave up and skipped past the two cut scenes until I got to the first playable section, where it drops you on a burning ship or something in the middle of a battle. Then I could bring up a menu and fiddle with the video settings. I tried changing to fullscreen windowed, but still couldn’t record.

As a last resort I setup a new scene in OBS to record the whole display, and it finally worked. This is the first “modern” game that I haven’t been able to record with the standard Game capture plugin. It was very annoying.

I started over again so I could watch all of the cut scenes. I think I was supposed to geek out over Nathan Fillion but when I heard his voice coming out of a robot face I kind of rolled my eyes. Another sarcastic robot doing comic relief in a sci-fi motif. Never seen that before!

I thought I also heard Lance Reddick’s voice as well–the black FBI agent from Fringe with the very distinctive voice. (IMDB research confirms this.) (IMDB research also confirms that the woman’s voice sounded familiar to me because it was none other than Gina Torres, so it’s a big ol’ Firefly reunion.)

I played through the single-player campaign. The story made no impression on me. They made zero attempt to draw the player into it. They just dropped you into a setting and said, “Here, everything’s exploding so go save the day… because … well, that’s what you do in shooters.”

The combat was very smooth but completely ordinary. The only thing I could see to distinguish this game from any other shooter was the double-jumping jet pack thingy. Personally I thought it was a bit too slow and floaty but I could get used to it.

One nitpick: I did not like how the iron sights shifted the gun all the way from the right side to the center of the screen. It felt like an extremely unnatural shift in perspective. In real life, you don’t bring the gun up from your right side to stick it under your chin. You raise the gun up a little and tilt your head to the right.

For comparison, below is Far Cry 4, a very polished shooter. The change from one position to the other is less dramatic, and the change in the basic shape of the gun is far less noticeable. (Yes, these kinds of things matter to me and can have a huge impact on my perception of a game.)

Anyway, I finished the Destiny 2 campaign with very little trouble. I died once in an area that looked like it phased from a single-player area into a multiplayer “public quest” area. I was warned to get inside a protective bubble and then literally one second later I got killed before I could even take a step toward the bubble. It’s always a great feeling in a shooter to get killed without even having a chance to fight back.

The phasing was kind of neat, I have to admit. It was a 100% seamless transition from being by myself to being surrounded by a few other players, defending a checkpoint. And when I left the area the other players disappeared.

The Big Bad at the end made a really dire speech about stealing light that made no sense considering the complete lack of context I had for the story. He sounded like Mr. Burns with his plot to cover up the sun and it was a bit silly.

I didn’t try any of the other PvP or Coop options after finishing the single-player campaign. I spent a total of about 50 minutes playing before logging out with no compelling desire to return.

I know I’m going to regret this, but: What’s all the hype about? I didn’t hate it, but Destiny 2 looked and played like every other shooter. You run around, you shoot things, and numbers fly out instead of blood. I found myself thinking more than once, “The Division open beta was better than this.” And I didn’t really care for The Division that much. (It wasn’t terrible either, it was just … average.)

I actually missed having cover mechanics. The last shooter-ish game I played was Mass Effect Andromeda, which had completely seamless, natural cover mechanics, and I liked that better. It doesn’t feel very comfortable anymore to stand out in the open while people are shooting at me. :)

I get the impression from Twitter and other blog posts that this open beta is only showing a fraction of what will actually be in the game. Okay, well, what is the point of that? Isn’t this open beta supposed to sell me on the game? (We all know open betas aren’t for testing.) Isn’t it supposed to show me what’s new and unique about this particular shooter, to convince me to shell out $60+ as opposed to playing any of the perfectly good shooters that I already own?

I guess this speaks to the points that Scopique and Belghast both made in their posts: This was not a very good sales demo for me. I was interested in seeing why everyone is so hyped for this game, but after playing the demo, I have no interest in buying it. Not unless it goes on sale. (I said that about Overwatch, too, and to this day there have been no sales that I know of and I still don’t own it.)

Lockbox Expectations

While the rest of the world is probably posting about the Destiny 2 open beta today, I’m going to post about lockboxes, because I wrote this yesterday. I think it was Roger that said we bloggers could get a lot of good topics out of MassivelyOP’s Daily Grinds, so here’s another one:

What Do You Actually Expect To Get Out Of MMORPG Lockboxes? This particular Grind was inspired by Bhagpuss boldly claiming to like lockboxes (in a way).

I’m pretty sure that I’ve never purchased a lockbox in any game in my entire life, so I may not be the best person to ask.

But some games give out lockboxes as game rewards anyway. The most notable example that I can think of is WildStar’s Boom Boxes which they gave out like candy during open beta, but I think you could only open one a day after launch. I still have 63 Boom Boxes left to open. They sometimes have fun stuff in them but most of the time I was disappointed after opening them. They may not technically qualify as “lockboxes” though since I don’t think you can buy them anymore.

In GW2, I have a stack of Black Lion boxes and keys, but I gave up opening them years ago. I just drop them in the bank or ignore them entirely. I have no idea what might be in them, but I have a reflexively negative view of all boxes and bags in GW2 and I try to avoid them as long as possible. They explode into useless loot that fills up inventory slots and forces me to work to get rid of them. Bhagpuss’s description of spending a half hour clearing out inventory before and after any kind of event is very familiar to me, and one of the many things I could cite that drives me away from the game.

As for what I would expect to get from a lockbox: If such things existed in, for example, FFXIV, I would expect a (good) chance at receiving a reward similar to what I might receive as a drop from a dungeon or raid boss. I would also expect to see the odds of getting that reward before I bought the lockbox.

By the way, I think that it’s implied when we talk about “lockboxes” that we are referring to lockboxes bought with real money, directly or indirectly. I certainly don’t mind opening them if they are acquired through in-game means (subject to the above inventory management woes).

But I don’t buy lockboxes (or keys) and have no plans to ever buy one.

Subnautica

Last night I tried out an early access survival game called Subnautica. I bought it for $9.99 in the last Steam sale.

The premise of this game is unlike other survival games in that you play a big part of it underwater. The game begins with you scrambling into a “rescue pod” while your ship blows up around you. (I assume it’s some kind of spaceship.) The rescue pod lands in a big alien ocean and then it’s your job to survive, while your ship looms in the distance, burning and giving off radiation.

You start with something like SCUBA gear, so you dive underwater to locate resource nodes to build things, just like other survival games. Initially you can only stay underwater for about 45 seconds before you have to come back up for air. (The starting area is very shallow so it’s fairly easy to get back to the surface anytime.) You can build bigger air tanks so you can stay underwater for longer periods. In the few hours I played I upgraded my air supply twice and got up to something like 135 seconds, which is a fairly long time, at least in the shallow areas.

You have the standard food, water, and health indicators. Food and water is a bit trickier than other survival games because you have to catch fish and then “craft” the consumables. Catching fish can be a little frustrating because you actually have to swim after the fish and left-click on them to get them into your inventory, and they don’t sit still to make this easy. Once they’re in your inventory you have to swim back to your rescue pod and use the “Fabricator” (a crafting station) to convert them into things you can eat and drink. Catching “bladder fish” allows you to make water bottles to drink from. Other kinds of fish can be cooked up into a tasty meals. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and it can be a bit tedious but it’s at least a different mechanic from every other game.

I haven’t done much with combat because I haven’t yet crafted a knife, so I can only run away from hostile encounters. There are a few fish that launch themselves at you from pods attached to cave walls, and I saw another big, hungry-looking fish swimming around at night, but so far I haven’t encountered anything that outright killed me. Presumably the farther you get from your rescue pod, the more difficult the game gets.

Once you repair the radio in your rescue pod, you get radio signals that give you “quests” to do. The first one I got marked a location to investigate. I haven’t yet seen what happens when you get there because it’s in a location near the wrecked ship that’s inside a radiation zone. Apparently I need to craft a radiation suit before I can go there. (The wrecked ship is deceptively far away, too. It takes a long time to swim there and the water gets very deep and menacing around it.)

There is also a scanning mechanic where you can build a hand scanner and scan the underwater plant life and fish for information. I’m not quite sure what the purpose of this is yet but it’s kind of fun to try to scan fish while they swim around.

The biggest problem I’ve seen so far is–of course–inventory management. Every game ever has problems with inventory management so this shouldn’t be a surprise. You don’t get a lot of space to gather resources, and it quickly becomes apparent that you can’t just grab everything you see and stuff it in your backpack. You can make floating storage boxes but they don’t hold much either.

The second biggest problem is having to return to your rescue pod to craft things. Most survival games you can craft the basic, starting items on the run without the need for a crafting station. Not so in this game. You have to return to the fabricator and work through it’s somewhat tedious interface every time. It’s neat to see it working the first few times, but after that you don’t want to wait through the animations anymore.

I’ve played for only a few hours, but I have to say I’m intrigued by it. I like that they’ve put a different spin on the survival genre, and this seems to be the most evolved of the handful of underwater games I’ve seen. The game is very pretty, and it runs fairly well. It’s more polished than a typical early access game, and it’s obvious that it’s been in development for some time. I don’t know how much depth is here over the long haul, and I have some issues with the inventory management and the fabricator, but at least initially it’s worth checking out for $10.

Ashes of Creation Combat

I was looking around for something to write about today and stumbled on this MassivelyOP post about Ashes of Creation combat. I clicked on the video and started watching with no real interest until this one combat mechanic caught my attention.

But first, I don’t know who that Ziz guy is, but if he’s not a paid content creator for Ashes of Creation, I’ll eat my hat. He’s way too excited about this game not to be getting paid. It’s a huge turn-off.

The “combat” shown in the video is only combat by the thinnest of definitions: It’s the blonde woman in red we’ve seen before–apparently the only character model they’ve made to date–blasting a statue. While Ziz raves about how it’s the smoothest combat animations he’s ever seen, I’m thinking, “I guess it’s not bad but it’s hard to tell since there’s only like two animations.” Is it the greatest I’ve ever seen? No. Am I ready to throw my money at this game yet? Hell no. The fact that they got someone like Ziz to rave about completely ordinary features is a huge red flag to stay away, to be honest.

What really drew my attention was the casting bar at the bottom of the screen during combat.

Instead of a standard casting bar that fills in, it was more of an interactive minigame. There’s a section of the bar colored in red, and it was very obvious that the player was trying to hit their ability key when a moving mark got to the red section. (The red section moved with every cast.)

I thought, “Surely that’s just an experiment and they’ll patch that out before anyone actually plays this game.” Just as I completed that thought, Ziz starts raving about this “combo” mechanic as if it’s the greatest combat feature of Ashes of Creation! Apparently they are doing this on purpose. Apparently if you hit your ability with the right timing (inside that red zone), it activates an additional combo or something.

Now obviously I haven’t experienced this feature first-hand, but I just can’t see this as anything but a train wreck for combat and game repellent for casual MMORPG players. Can you imagine if you have to dodge ground AoEs and watch that stupid casting bar at the same time? What happens if you miss the timing? Does the spell fizzle? Or does it simply do less damage? What’s the difference in damage between hitting the combo and missing the combo? How is this going to work for melee classes? Or tanks? Or healers? What about lag? Bots? My brain just explodes with potential problems here. How are they not thinking of these things?

Anyway, I’ll be very surprised if that particular feature survives contact with large numbers of players and makes it through to launch day.