Sunday, July 13 2003

D20 initiative cards

A lot of folks track combat order in D&D with index cards. I don’t know who the first person was to think of making custom index cards with a pre-printed form on them, but I first saw it at The Game Mechanics web site (great people, unfortunate choice of names).

I had just gotten back from a con where we’d run a four-party adventure with a total of five DMs, 24 players, and umpteen monsters, and the freeform index cards we used just weren’t good enough. I didn’t like the actual layout of the TGM cards, but the concept is great, and the rotate-for-character-status mechanic really improves the flow of a large combat.

My response was, of course, to come up with my own layout, adding fields and spot color to make them more useful. Along the way, I decided to increase the size from 3×5 to 4×6, greatly increasing the available space. TGM’s original cards, along with instructions on how to use them, can be found here; their forums also have several lengthy discussions on the subject.

My latest version is here. Several people have argued for a double-sided 3×5 version, and I’ve prototyped one here.

Printing Note: Acrobat has two settings that can make it annoying to print odd-sized documents: “shrink oversized pages” and “enlarge small pages.” Turn them both off if you want the cards to come out the right size.

Custom RoboRally boards

I think everyone who ever played RoboRally has toyed with the idea of making their own boards. Indeed, a quick Google will turn up dozens of sites devoted to fan-made boards and editing tools. I tried using a few of them, but the tools were clumsy and the results uninspiring.

So I did it in Adobe Illustrator, and my first original board looks like this.

(Continued on Page 96)

Monday, September 1 2003

Arcana Unreadable

Picked up a copy of Monte Cook’s Arcana Unearthed over the weekend, in case our group wanted to try it out sometime (D&D 3.5 went over like a lead balloon), and discovered that, while Monte may have learned a great deal from the rules mistakes in 3rd edition D&D, he has definitely not learned from the layout mistakes.

  1. the font is smaller, with a small x-height.
  2. the headers stand out less from the body text.
  3. the body font uses lower-case numbers (similar to web font Georgia, for those who aren’t up on type jargon) so they blend in with the surrounding words.
  4. new sections still start in the middle of a column, so you have to hunt for things like character types.
  5. the index, while comprehensive, is set in italic sans-serif, so it’s extremely hard to read.
  6. the index is also set with negative leading, so the page numbers in multi-line entries overlap slightly.

The only nice thing I can say compared to the WotC D&D books is that the page backgrounds aren’t crufted up with “spiffy” graphics, so you have black text on a white page. That high contrast, along with the generous leading, are all that saves it from complete unreadability. 3M Post-It Flags are all that can save it as a reference manual; you’ll never find anything quickly without them.

He does offer it as a PDF, which would be great if it weren’t for the tinyfonts. I suspect it would be quite readable blown up to fill a 20” widescreen display, but not on anything smaller. Blech.

Updates: I’ve found some more layout errors to be annoyed by.

(Continued on Page 1559)

Monday, September 8 2003

Big food

A relatively constant factor in my life is the weekend gaming/cooking session with friends. We have a large stable of entertaining games from companies like Cheapass, Steve Jackson, and (pre-Hasbro) Wizards of the Coast, and an Xbox or two. The recipes come from a variety of sources, including my still-under-construction online cookbook, built from assorted MasterCook-format archives.

This weekend was at my place, which gave me an excuse to do some massive house-cleaning and show off my newly-completed landscaping. Since I had so much cleaning work to do, I insisted that the meal should be relatively simple, which meant steaks.

(Continued on Page 1576)

Sunday, October 26 2003

A glowing victory

Things not to do in Civilization III: detonate 270 ICBMs in one turn, blasting every other civilization back into the stone age (or at least to cities of size 3 or below).

Why shouldn’t you do this? Because the resulting global warming took fifteen minutes to resolve. That’s fifteen minutes each turn, for the rest of the game. Fortunately, there were only a few turns left, as my Modern Armor rolled across the countryside razing cities. Then I signed peace treaties with the survivors.

Belatedly, it occurred to me that this is the sort of behavior that the folks in Berkeley and Hollywood are expecting from the current administration.

Sunday, January 4 2004

Casino poker lessons

How to annoy the guy who’s slowplaying pocket aces: flop a full house with 43 unsuited.

Saturday, February 28 2004

What a difference a few years makes…

This from the people who basically invented the concept of the Asshole Player-Killer:

“EA owns your gold, your swords, your characters — they are all just digital bits. If your entertainment is to destroy other peoples’ entertainment, you’re going to be tossed.”

(in fairness, I should note that they pretty much dumped the entire UO team sometime after all of my friends gave up in disgust)

Wednesday, March 3 2004

LucasArts buries Sam & Max again

For the first time in quite a few years, I was looking forward to a LucasArts game release. Naturally, they just cancelled it. No doubt they’re focusing their efforts on tie-in games for the next crappy Star Wars flick.

Oh, well; they didn’t need my money anyway, right?

Wednesday, March 31 2004

Poker women

Darn it, kids today just have it too easy. Do you know how hard we had to work in college to get women to play poker? Okay, we were actually trying to get them to play strip poker, but still.

Some of the reactions suggest that it may be a short-lived fad, but judging from the spring-break crowds in Vegas this year, it’s a big one.

“It is crazy on campus,” said Rachel Dorfman, a University of Georgia sophomore who often plays poker for hours with her Sigma Delta Tau sisters. “It is absolutely the thing to do right now.”

I can’t complain, though. I feel sorry for the Vegas old-timers who had to suffer through the days when there might be only one woman in the entire room. The only downside to this trend is that women tend to be very good at reading men, giving them a distinct advantage at the table. I don’t even like to think about the advantage that pretty women have…

Of course, no story that mixed college and gambling would be complete without the twin specters of targeting students and addiction. I love this quote:

The 18- to 24-year-old age group has some of the highest rates of gambling addictions, said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.

Good luck finding actual statistics on the NCPG web site, though, and you’ll find even less about the differences (both psychological and financial) between different types of gambling. Not surprising, since they’re hardly the bias-free concerned-citizen watchdog group that the story presents them as. A quick Google reveals that NCPG recently got nailed for antitrust violations for trying to monopolize the lucrative problem-gambling treatment market.

Monday, September 6 2004

ConQuest note

A quick pointer for the people attending ConQuest who asked about our initiative cards. The PDF file is here. Be sure to shut off the page-resizing options (called shrink oversized pages and enlarge small pages, last time I checked) before printing.

Thursday, October 21 2004

Traveller PDF mapping

Sunday was a pretty slow day, so I wrote a Perl script that generated PDF hex-maps for use in the Traveller RPG (we’re starting a D20 Traveller campaign soon). I also integrated star-system data from the standard SEC format that’s been passed around on the Internet for many years, and I’m adding an assortment of features as I find time.

Currently it prints at the sector, quadrant, and subsector level, in color and b&w, on paper sizes ranging from 4x6 to 11x17. All the heavy lifting is done with the PDF::API2::Lite module from CPAN, which has a straightforward interface.

Update: I seem to have pretty good page-rank with Google, so just in case there’s anyone else out there who’s trying to set a clipping region with PDF::API2::Lite, the magic words are:

#create some kind of path, like so
#clip to it
#start a new path

Note that this doesn’t seem to work with the alpha 0.40 versions of the PDF::API2 distribution. I’m using 0.3r77.

Sunday, November 14 2004

Still waiting for Java

Gamer friend Scott just discovered that the reason he was having so much trouble with PCGen under Linux was that the JVM was defaulting to a rather small heap size, effectively thrashing the app into oblivion when he tried to print.

Now, while it’s true that PCGen is as piggy as a perl script when it comes to building complex data structures in memory, it’s still fundamentally a straightforward application, and yet it exceeds the default maximum heap settings. He had plenty of free RAM, gigs of free VM, and here was Sun’s Java, refusing to use any of it unless he relaunched the application with a command-line override. Doing so not only fixed printing, it made the entire application run substantially faster. Feh.

I’d noticed a slowdown with recent versions of PCGen on my Mac as well, but Apple was good enough to compile their JVM with defaults sufficient to at least make it run completely. Sure enough, though, increasing the default heap settings makes it run faster, by eliminating a whole bunch of garbage collection.

In other words, with Java, Sun has managed to replicate the Classic MacOS annoyance of adjusting memory allocation on a per-application basis, and made it cross-platform!

PCGen is still the only major Java app I have any use for on a regular basis, although there’s another one that has recently entered my arsenal of special-purpose tools, Multivalent. I have no use for 99% of its functionality, but it includes robust tools for splitting, merging, imposing, validating, compressing, and uncompressing PDF files, as well as stripping the copy/print/etc limitations from any PDF you can open and read.

There’s another Java application out there that might join the list sometime soon, Dundjinni, but first the manufacturers have to finish porting it from Windows to the Mac…

Wednesday, February 23 2005

They had me at ‘Ohayou’

Okay, the gameplay looks pretty standard. The graphics are colorful and well-rendered, though, and one of the screenshots suggests that you’re not limited to (literally) pedestrian locations, but that’s not what won me over about this video game based on the R.O.D The TV anime series.


It was the title, ElePaperAction.

Sunday, June 12 2005

Morons of Azeroth, number 37

“Hey, I’m a shadow priest! I don’t want to get stuck healing all the time.”

“Dude, you’re the only healer in the group, and we’ve already died three times.”

Friday, July 8 2005

Photoshop tips

Apropos of nothing, I thought I’d mention that the two most recently posted pictures here were resized in Photoshop CS, using the new(-ish) Bicubic Sharper resampling method, available in the Image Size dialogue box. I hadn’t seen any mention of it until about two weeks ago, and had been using Mac OS X’s command-line tool sips for quick resizing.

Bicubic Sharper is much better than the standard Photoshop resizing, sips, or iPhoto. It’s particularly good for rendered images with fine detail. I’ve been working on a Roborally tile set for Dundjinni, creating my basic floor texture with Alien Skin Eye Candy 5: Textures. Dundjinni expects 200x200 tiles, but Eye Candy renders best at larger sizes. Resizing down from 800x800 using the straight Bicubic method produced an unusable image. Bicubic Sharper? Dramatically better.

I found the tip in a discussion of photo-processing workflow, which makes sense. For a long time, photographers have been making Unsharp Mask the final step in their workflows, because if they sharpened at full size, the slight softness introduced by resizing for print or web use would force them to use Unsharp Mask again, which tends to look pretty nasty. Integrating it into the resizing algorithm takes advantage of the data you’re discarding, reducing the chance of introducing distracting artifacts.

Saturday, November 19 2005

A new low in gaming lawsuits

I’m sorry, but this is bullshit so raw that even a Democratic presidential hopeful wouldn’t touch it:

The parents filed a suit against Blizzard Entertainment on Wednesday, saying their son jumped to his death while reenacting a scene from the game, the report said.

What scene would that be? The one where you deliberately send your character off the edge of a cliff, knowing that he’ll die when he hits the ground? Or did he leave a note saying that he was going to teleport to the top of the Twin Colossals and try out that cool new Parachute Cloak he picked up at the Auction House in Gadgetzan? Or did these loving parents just not pay enough attention to their kid to notice that he was suicidally depressed?

If this cash-grab fails, no doubt they’ll turn up a witness who claims that the kid was shouting “Accio Firebolt!” on the way down, and sue J.K. Rowling next.

Saturday, December 31 2005

The wrong spam to send to a D&D player…

Subject line:

First-level designers available for you

Personally, I want designers with more hit points.

And here’s the pitch, straight from “Doug” (Joerg Wempe of Bad Hersfeld)

Corporate image can say a lot of things about your company. Contemporary rhythm of life is too dynamic. Sometimes it takes only several seconds for your company to be remembered or to be Iost among competitors. Get your loqo, business stationery or website done right now!

I think anyone who buys a loqo from this man is crazy…

Tuesday, January 31 2006

How to make anime dubs sound better

Force your audience to listen to these video game dubs first…

Friday, February 24 2006

Remembering Zork, Haiku Edition

the quiet forest
a white house stands before you
you see a mailbox.

climbing the dark stairs
you were eaten by a grue
GET THE LAMP next time.

(maybe more later…)

Monday, May 29 2006

Con report

I had an epiphany this weekend at KublaCon, sometime before we ran Rory’s usual monstrous Dwarven Forge MasterMaze D&D adventure (this time with added “live” roleplaying).

I do not like cons.

I do not like gamers.

I particularly do not like loud, clueless, obnoxious, asocial, grotesquely obese, unbathed gamers whose greatest ambition in life seems to be saving money on a hotel room by sleeping on a chair in the hallway. Cons are full of people combining at least two of the above characteristics, frequently more.

In truth, I don’t much like people in general. I’d like to use the term “energy vampires”, but it looks like the woo-woo pop psychology cranks have already sucked it dry of meaning. Besides, they seem to think that only some small minority of the population consists of soul-draining monsters, whereas for me, there are very few people who do not eventually wear down my thin veneer of sociability to reveal the cranky bastard within. And I can only recharge when I’m alone.

[our event went surprisingly well, by the way]

[and a lot of cute JAL stewardesses stay in that hotel…]

Monday, June 12 2006

World of Warcraft ganks my DSL modem

[update 8/9: The ActionTec GT704 that I replaced my SpeedStream with has been rock-solid with WoW; I haven’t had a single disconnect since I started using it]

[update 6/21: I scrounged up a different brand of DSL modem, and preliminary testing suggests that this one doesn’t have the same problem. Current working theory is that excessive packet fragmentation is causing the ethernet port on the Speedstream to choke.]

I recently started playing WoW again, after a lapse of several months. I like the game, but I really hate the way it crashes my DSL modem when I turn in quests.

This is not my imagination. Frequently, the act of turning in a quest disconnects me from the Internet, forcing me to power-cycle the modem. It happened five times this morning, as I was running my Orc Warlock through some low-level Crossroads quests. Turn in quest, lose connection, power-cycle modem, log back in, repeat. It’s not the volume of data; I can flood the line with BitTorrent traffic for days, upstream and downstream, without the line going down. I think that since I got the current modem, it’s lost connection maybe once every six weeks.

Except when I play WoW. I’m stumped. And despite the fact that I know I’m not crazy, I can’t think of a way to explain this to SBC tech support that would result in useful support.

[update: more details. I’ve now repeated the crash using the PC version of WoW, and it’s 100% consistent. Turn in a quest, power-cycle the Siemens Speedstream 4100 (running in bridge mode with firmware, upgraded from today without fixing the problem). Even the direct web-admin connection goes down.

To my astonishment, SBC tech support believes me. It took a bit of doing, but I managed to get to a second-tier support guy who spoke sysadmin, and we spent half an hour on the phone diagnosing the problem. There is no evidence on his side of the modem crashing and failing to resync, or of other problems on my line. What may in fact be happening is that the uplink port on my switch is crashing, not the DSL modem at all. Connecting directly to the modem and turning in a quest worked once, but I didn’t have any other quests to test further with.]

[update: I’ve been wanting to upgrade to a gigabit switch for a while now, so I did that today, replacing the 10/100 that was connected to the DSL modem. I was able to turn in three quests without a problem, and just as my confidence started rising, the fourth quest crashed the modem. To do more serious testing tomorrow, I’ll have to move the G5 into the same room as the modem, so I can easily try with and without the switch in the loop. I’m coming to believe that it’s simply the LAN port on the modem that’s flaking out, not the software actually crashing. Supporting evidence is the fact that it’s still up enough to detect the disconnection of the phone line and reconnect when I plug it back in.]

Friday, September 29 2006

Sad, really

A 1.25GHz G4 PowerBook plays World of Warcraft far better than a 2.0GHz Intel Core Duo Macbook, even with 2GB of RAM, even with the video settings set lower on the MacBook. Civ IV, on the other hand, runs fine, something that’s not true on the G4. There’s got to be a bug in the video drivers, because that just doesn’t make sense, even with shared video memory.

[and why did I buy a MacBook instead of a MacBook Pro? Partially because I already have gaming hardware at home (and, at least for now, a work-owned MacBook Pro with 2GB of RAM), partially because I wanted the slightly smaller form factor and increased battery life, partially because Sony launched the α100 with a 135mm f/1.8 Zeiss lens…]

[by the way, I replaced the stock drive with a 160GB Seagate from OWC. I never even booted off of the supplied 60GB drive; I just moved it into an external enclosure and copied everything over with SuperDuper!]

[Update: I expected the problem to be related to the variety of shapes and textures used for player-character armor and weapons, so that having more people around made the performance worse. Nope, it’s geometry. I can run through a crowd in Undercity at 15 f/s, but I can’t stare at a single complex building (such as Light’s Hope Chapel, with no players in sight) without the frame rate dropping to 4-5 f/s. The crowds of people around the bridge in Ironforge aren’t what slows the MacBook down to 2 f/s; it’s the buildings themselves. The game is perfectly playable away from architecture.]

[Update: Damn. I mean, damn. I just finished putting the latest Boot Camp beta on the MacBook, and tested WoW under Windows. The frame rate was 3-5 times higher, across the board. Exact same hardware, exact same game settings, ridiculously fast. So I turned the settings up, restarting every time to see when it would choke, and found myself riding past the bank in Ironforge at 10 f/s with every setting at maximum, on Saturday night at 9pm. I realize that a reliable OS can’t let random drivers get as chummy with the hardware as Windows does, but damn. “Dear Apple. Fix this. Love, J”.]

Thursday, December 14 2006

Dear Microsoft,

Please make the Xbox 360 Music Player more modal, with deeper menu trees and more confusing navigation. I understand that this may be difficult, but after using your current release, I’m sure you can manage it. Your goals should be to use as little of the screen as possible to display information about my music, and to double the number of keystrokes and screen transitions required to construct a playlist.

[Update: please also make it even easier to accidentally wipe out a new playlist while editing it.]

Tuesday, December 26 2006

The Idolm@ster

Just search for it on Google and Youtube. It’s terrifying, in a “do I really need a Japanese Xbox 360 right now” kind of way. If you find yourself downloading the 720p version of the trailer from that German torrent site, all hope is lost.

[Update: this site seems to have the best set of screenshots showing the gameplay. I like the dialogue in this one:

The Idolmaster


[Update: holy crap, that page is a giant cesspit of Javascript, weighing in at nearly 240K of code, and maybe 2K of actual HTML content. I was initially curious how much overhead the trendy-annoying JS image display code was adding (72K if it’s the only thing prototype.js is used for, 21K otherwise, plus the overhead of actually calling it, which makes the HTML basically unreadable), but now I’m wondering just how painful this site is for anyone with low bandwidth and an older browser.]

Sunday, March 4 2007

WoW, look at all the time I’ve wasted…

So, the new World of Warcraft Armory is up….

Detailed data seems to come and go, even if all of the characters have logged in today, but that’s why they call it “beta”.

It’s interesting that someone, somewhere, has copied our Alliance guild name on another server. “Defias Rod and Gun Club” is pretty distinctive, and all we can think is that some of our friends have made alts there.

Most of my character names are unique on all the worlds. A bunch of other people have used Krina and Zenra, but of the ten who’ve used Ikariya, I’m the only one playing a Draenei. Since the only reason I picked the name was its association with tentacles, it’s surprising that someone would use it with another race.

I’m actively playing Zenra and Nishtir right now, and I’d be playing Komusume more if they hadn’t cut off the free server transfers to Arathor right before most of our Horde guild made it over. I’ll probably have to do a paid transfer back to Bronzebeard, because our petition to move the rest has been ignored.

Nyarne is mothballed due to the regular game of “nerf paladins” that the developers love to play; apparently the kids who enjoy ganking other players are annoyed that it’s hard to kill a paladin, so they whine until the devs respond with the nerf bat. Feh.

Harlaath is mothballed because I enjoy being arcane-specced, and they’ve found a new way to screw up Arcane Missiles while leaving the old misfire bug intact. Double feh.

Krina is viable, but if I’m going to play a pet class, I like warlocks more. Hunters occasionally have to stop and drink, while a good warlock never runs out of health or mana.

As for Ikariya, I enjoy the new Draenei quests, and killing Hogger and VC never gets old, but I’ve done the low-level quests so many times that I burn out easily. I can rip through Elwynn, Westfall, Redridge, etc at ridiculous speed, but it’s not as much fun as doing something new.

Wednesday, September 26 2007

Expose breasts before entering

A Chinese online game is enforcing gender in character creation. Want your online avatar to be a girl? Prove you’re a girl. Using a webcam.

In their next release, players will be required to provide proof that they’re elves, dwarves, trolls, warriors, wizards, thieves, heroes, assassins, or demigods before they’re allowed to select anything but the “geek living in mom’s basement” character class.

By the end of the year, they plan to require all characters to be exact replicas of their players, leading to 1000-man raids on the Lord of Cheetos and endless camping of the Valley of Free Porn.

Sunday, October 28 2007

Hey, wait, I can play this!

I knew I’d find a use for my Xbox 360 sometime: Portal. I’m trying very hard to hold off until after we finish the building move and I get back from Japan, but I doubt I’ll be able to resist, between the trailer, the 2-D Flash version, some of the many gameplay videos, and this:

Sunday, June 8 2008

Black boxes blech!

Who came up with the idea of using black boxes full of white text as the universal character-sheet format? I just took a look at the new 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons character sheet, and there they are again! It’s like these people have never heard of chartjunk, or, more significantly, inkjet printers that bleed.

The designer at least had the good sense to use nice thick fonts in the reversed-out sections, but its still a huge inkblot, and the layout of the key data is an assault on the senses. I’m also surprised that someone would go to the trouble of using Adobe InDesign to lay this out, and then not bother keeping the text grid consistent between columns.

There are sure to be third-party character sheets, some better, most worse, but if Wizards actually delivers their promised official online tools, and they don’t completely suck, almost everyone will use them, which means their official character sheet will dominate. Pity.

Wednesday, June 11 2008

On Piracy

Back in March, Shamus Young suggested practical ways software vendors can deal with piracy. Step number 5 was “clean house”: as with movies, most of the widely-traded pirated copies of games come from insiders, not retail customers who’ve disabled DRM on their copy and uploaded it.

Supporting evidence for this claim? I just saw the official honest-to-prepress PDF file for the just-released 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook. I’m sure WotC will sell plenty of copies of the book, but I’m also sure a lot of people will be downloading this PDF version for free.

[Update: heh; some downloaders have outed themselves by posting rules complaints and questions based on the PDFs, which apparently are not identical to the printed books. The files that leaked out were not the “gold masters”, as it were.]

Tuesday, June 17 2008

Expect to see a lot of these…

Today was the public pre-release of the Spore Creature Creator. Lots of people are going to be making critters and posting pictures and videos of them.

Here’s my only contribution for the foreseeable future:

sample Spore creature

And here’s the video, which works in some video players, but not others. (Quicktime with assorted plugins, but not Quicktime as a browser plugin, for some reason; also, no VLC)

I like the way that the children are chibified.

[Update: the web site claims 71,860 creatures uploaded in the last 24 hours. Oh, yeah, you’ll be seeing a lot of these.]

Wednesday, June 18 2008

One in every crowd…

A short visit to Sporepedia.

The creator:
500000753443 Lrg

The artist:
500000752060 Lrg

The specialist:
500000751545 Lrg

One in every crowd:

(Continued on Page 3008)

Thursday, June 19 2008

More Spore

I couldn’t resist linking to this one. Eeeeeevil.

Monday, June 23 2008

4th edition Dungeons & Dragons

Braving the heat on Saturday, we gathered at Scott’s to try out the new D&D rules, using the commercial 1st-level module that’s available. We had fun, we felt vaguely heroic, and we narrowly avoided a TPK, so I’d call it a success. The occasionally-subtle, usually significant rule changes didn’t interfere too much, and many of them contributed to making for more dynamic, exciting encounters. We’ll play again. With a cleric.

Character creation was annoying. As usual, the rules are scattered across dozens of pages, and with so much that’s new, you really need to read up on how things work to understand the decisions you’re making. Due to the poor layout of the rules and the character sheet, it would have gone very slowly if I hadn’t already run through the process several times and taken notes, including page numbers.

The game can run very smoothly if the DM has a summary sheet of the characters’ defenses and passive skills, but the supplied “combat cards” are just a cargo-cult imitation of the init cards I and others designed for 3rd edition. They’re slightly more useful than tracking combat on a sheet of scratch paper, but have no value for handling situations like “everyone make a spot check” or “make a saving throw… okay, nothing happened”.

The character sheet wastes a great deal of space on trivia, while leaving you little room to record information that’s needed in combat. For instance, there’s no place to record the range of a ranged weapon or the area of effect of a power. A few fan-made sheets have turned up, but I’m not impressed. We’ll have to make our own, and we’ll definitely have to design a useful combat card before the next huge event at Kublacon.

Here’s my character-generation cheat-sheet (pdf). Hopefully it will clarify the process a bit for others.

One more note on character creation: we decided to try the new point-buy system for stats. It was fairly easy to use, but there’s just something un-DnD-ish about min-maxing your stats, so I decided to knock together a random generator that produced N-point characters. Unfortunately, doing that well is more work than simply generating all possible N-point characters, dumping them to a file, and selecting one at random, so I did that instead. It turns out that there are exactly 118 22-point stat arrays.

Friday, June 27 2008

4th Edition D&D: character sheet and combat card

[Update: character sheet updated after playtesting; also added extended powers page for wizards and high-level characters]

I’m still tinkering with these, and I haven’t even started on the creation/leveling worksheet, but I think they’re a solid version 1.

The official character sheet has a lot of problems: first, it’s cluttered with ugly header boxes; second, a lot of the space is devoted to calculating values; third, a lot of information that you need during play is either on page 2 or just plain missing.

My goal was simple: put everything you need during combat on the top half of the first page. That leaves half a page for recording all other useful information, and frees up the second page to be a coherent worksheet for character creation and leveling.

The half-page rule also gives you a clean design for a combat-tracking card that can be used for monsters as well as players. This is always useful, and critical for large con events (we run 20-30 players, and the finale is always a massive player-versus-player battle). I actually started with the 4x6 combat card, and then expanded the design into an 7.5x10 layout that can be printed on both US Letter and A4 paper.

Here are the PDFs: character sheet, combat card.

Sometime this weekend, I’ll adapt my character-creation document into a proper worksheet that can be used to maintain the other two.

[side note: I’m working in Adobe Illustrator CS2, and the best way to get a small PDF file is to “save a copy” as EPS, then open it in Mac OS X’s Preview app and save. The only semi-downside is that it clips the bounding box to the objects rather than generating a full-sized page.]

Okay, this would be annoying

In the Yumeria anime, Mone, the #1 Strange Cute Girl, has a very expressive one-word vocabulary. It never occurred to me, however, what a pain in the ass that would be in the associated adventure game.

Thursday, November 13 2008

Dear Electronic Arts,

Spellcheck != editor.

Spore Teaming

[from the iPhone version of Spore Origins]

Thursday, December 11 2008

A little birthday present from Blizzard…

[if you don’t play WoW, you won’t get the joke…]

I’ve been leveling up a Death Knight in World of Warcraft. Like many people, I put most of my talent points into Unholy, so I have a ghoul pet. They’re pretty disposable, and they get random NounVerber names from a relatively small list of thematically appropriate elements. I’ve had a few amusing names show up, but today’s was absolutely perfect.

(Continued on Page 3188)

Friday, December 19 2008

Who do you hire?

You are Sony. You are having an event to celebrate a cool new Playstation 3 game. Its name? Little Big Planet. Which celebrities do you hire to emcee the event?

The littlest woman and biggest man you can find, actress/singer Mari Yaguchi (4’9”) and kickboxer Hong-man Choi (7’2”).

Little, Big

Sunday, March 8 2009

The truth about Death Knights…

In the new World of Warcraft expansion, Death Knights are a playable class of formerly-dead, formerly-enslaved minions of the Big Bad. Even freed of their loyalty to the evil Lich King, they’re, um, not very nice people, specializing in pestilence, disease, corruption, raising the dead, and assorted other unsavory hobbies.

Naturally, this led 99.94% of the customers who created one to choose a grim, death-y, stupid name. I went a different route. In the previous expansion, the race of draenei were added to the game with “Hollywood Russian” accents, so I created a female draenei with a name that used the accent to project her cheery outlook on after-life: Vanakudl.

The armor available for the first ten levels made me wonder if I shouldn’t have named her HelloSailor, but eventually she acquired a grim, cold-blooded killer look that just wouldn’t do. So I followed Arthur’s advice and made her an herbalist, sending her around the world to gather flowers.

This morning, I was presented with a bit of commisioned fan-art:

(Continued on Page 3283)

Tuesday, April 14 2009

Dear Blizzard Entertainment,

Your understanding of the BitTorrent protocol is seriously flawed. I’m watching the Connection Info window for the current World of Warcraft patch, and its behavior is, to be kind, pathetic.

With any halfway-rational client, this would be one of the healthiest swarms on the planet right now, but all I see is an endless stream of connections with other machines that all have data that the others want, but refuse to share. If you were doing anything right, I’d be frantically throttling my connection, because I’m sitting on a 100 megabit pipe with 99.9% of the patch. As it is, I’m occasionally uploading at 8 kbps for 30 seconds or so to a machine that then disconnects, and that’s enough to give me a 1.22 ratio.

Thursday, October 1 2009

The biggest problem with Champions Online…

…is that I only have eight character slots. I could spend weeks just creating cool-looking characters, posing them in various in-game locations, and taking screenshots. I’ve only owned it for three days, and I’ve already used up six slots. And that’s after throwing away several things that didn’t work out.

The game is fun, too. There are some rough edges, but it’s quite playable.

The character generator is insanely complex, but there are some reasonable canned options, overridable theme colors, lockable randomizers, a big undo stack, and the ability to not only save your designs, but send them to a friend. I can see a small cottage industry of designers springing up to help people create cool superheroes.

[Update: I wanted to really turn up the graphics settings, so I rebooted my newer MacBook Pro into Windows and tried it. And I can crank up almost all of the options and still get a smooth framerate. BUT it looks like crap because of a lighting issue in the latest patch that blows out all light colors when you’re near a non-diffuse light source (like, say, “sunshine”). I thought it was my drivers at first, but it’s busted on the other machine as well; I didn’t notice right away, because there’s not a lot of bad lighting in the tutorial missions or in Canada.

Second problem: I’d forgotten that Windows doesn’t work with Japanese keyboards, unless you select the right keyboard type during the initial Windows install. Seriously, even with Vista, you can’t say “the keyboard I just plugged in has a Japanese layout, you know, the kind with an Eisuu key and nothing to the left of the ‘1’”; all keyboards that don’t come with their own special driver are assumed to be the same as the one you installed the OS with, and none of the suggested hacks I’ve found works. For more fun, unless you buy Vista Ultimate, you can’t even select the Japanese keyboards while installing an OS purchased in the US. Ultimate is cheap for me, but come on, that’s stupid.

I’ve learned to cope with it in VMware sessions, but playing a game where some keys are in the wrong place and others don’t exist just doesn’t work out. I’ll have to use an external keyboard to play on this machine.]

Sunday, October 4 2009

Random good, random bad

The character designer in Champions Online offers a ridiculous level of customization, so much so that it can be difficult to find some of the parts. Sometimes it’s because they’re only available with a specific parent part, sometimes just because they’re buried under three levels of pulldown menus. One of the best ways to find the part you’re looking for is with the randomizer, which can be used to replace anything from the highlight color on a single part up to a complete rebuild of face, body, and costume.

You can spend hours tweaking everything about your character until it’s just right, or you can click on the randomizer until it throws up something that doesn’t suck, and jump into the game. Of course, one man’s superhero is another man’s eye-searing disaster (and, yes, you can).

Sturgeon’s Law definitely applies to character design, deliberate or random. I’ll post screenshots of my creations soon, but here are two examples that show exactly what the randomizer can come up with, good and bad.

[click on the image to see close-up and side views]

(Continued on Page 3425)

Monday, October 5 2009

Meet The Disfunctionals

Warning: this post is pure self-indulgence, being a gallery of my Champions Online character designs and the backstory I’ve come up with for each of them. It’s not on par with Shamus’s efforts, either serious or silly (parts 1, 2, 3, 4), but what it lacks in prose style, it makes up in… well, nothing, really.

Many pictures follow, each linked to an expanded view of the costume.

(Continued on Page 3426)

Wednesday, October 7 2009

The Fairness Doctrine: City of Heroes

Since I’m having fun with Champions Online, it seemed only fair to mention the competition, City of Heroes/Villains, which not only has a free trial, but also a Mac client. I tried it out before purchasing CO, and after a few days and a few characters, found no enthusiasm for continuing. Despite the completely different genre, the game it most felt like was Anarchy Online, which I burned out on soon after it launched.

You can, as Ubu demonstrates, make some very nice, detailed characters. You can customize the visual effect of their powers in quite tasty ways. You can jump into the game and start beating up muggers and purse-snatchers with those powers. In fact, you have to, since they’re fifty feet from police headquarters and most characters are stuck “jogging heroically” (as Shamus so aptly puts it) for quite a few levels. I lost interest because that’s all you seem to do at low levels: attack loitering gangs of muggers and get killed with a lead pipe by anonymous punks. Level up, and you get to attack different loitering gangs of muggers.

I’m sorry, but I created a nine-foot-tall amazon who summons gale-force winds and blasts of ice, and I resent being done in by a purse-snatcher. Even if he’s a level nine purse-snatcher. As far as I can tell, the only variety at low-levels is that some of the muggers have been reskinned into “trolls” and “butchers”. Same weapons, same tactics, SSDD. And they respawn in about a minute in the exact same location with the exact same mix of shooter/slasher/puncher. I’m sure there’s a compelling game at higher levels, but the out-of-box experience is a dull, derivative grind.

Lovely characters, though. Here’s the one I liked the best:

(Continued on Page 3427)

Friday, October 16 2009

Undeath From Above

As I learn more about powers and combat styles in Champions Online, I find that many of the choices I made early on are sub-optimal. You can retcon your powers for a price, and the price isn’t outrageous at early levels, but since I’m still learning, I want to stick with my choices as long as possible, and try to make them work.

Case in point, The Cybernetic Librarian has mostly Sorcery powers, with two early slots spent on healing and shielding to avoid the damage that she was taking at low levels. Her major single-target ranged attack takes a lot of time to charge up, likewise her ranged AoE damage/stun. But she still gets into trouble when a large group of henchmen are spread out and plinking away, so I picked up a power that summons three zombies who freely attack anyone attacking you (March of the Dead).

Turns out the single-target attack (Eldritch Blast) has long range, and when fully charged can take out a henchman in one shot, from beyond his aggro range. The AoE stun (Condemn) is also slow to charge, and only affects things very close to the target, but if you attack from outside aggro range, everything moves towards you to attack, and they tend to bunch up enough to allow stunning several. And the zombies? They get summoned at her current location, and if she’s flying over a group of villains high enough to avoid aggro, they drop to the ground as soon as they appear.

They take some falling damage, but they don’t start fighting until something attacks her, so the villains ignore them. So the new strategy for outdoor fights is to fly right over a group, airdrop the zombies, one-shot a henchman, then move into range and gather them up for a stun. The 28 seconds that the zombies last provides plenty of damage and distraction.

Friday, October 30 2009

The first hit is free…

…this weekend, anyway. Champions Online is offering people a chance to try their game out for free, from 10am Friday through 10am Monday. If I weren’t already playing, I’d start.

Even with the bugs, imbalances, and graphics glitches, even with the inept proofreading and occasionally 7th-grade-level writing skills, they’ve built a game that’s an awful lot of fun to play. With a few months more polish and playtesting, it will be even better, but it’s worth a look today. Honestly, I’d pay the monthly fee just to play with the character designer; the fact that the combat system is dynamic and exciting is a bonus.

Speaking of the character designer…

(Continued on Page 3438)

Tuesday, November 3 2009

Champions Online: That’s Just Super!

Lane Carter didn’t think much of Supers. Heroes were chumps; villains were creeps. So what’s a girl to do when an alien death-ray backfires, granting her super-speed and super-strength? She managed to keep the strength a secret for a while, but after the incident with the baby and the tiger cage, her speed gained her fifteen minutes of unwelcome fame.

Okay, so she got a nice writeup in the papers, and a big thank-you from the parents, but she also had to register with the feds, listen to boring speeches about Responsibility, deal with the suck-ups who insisted they’d always been her Best Friends, and learn to cope with the Internet. The bloggers were only a brief annoyance, and the way-too-personal edits to her Superpedia page were quickly reverted by the editors, but the basement-dwelling mouth-breather who called her “Fast Lane” and wrote hardcore lesbian “team-up” stories was too much. She thought his scooter looked much nicer as an ashtray.

Once they found out about her strength, the recruiters showed up:

  • “Join your ‘team’ and fight for justice? How about ‘no’?”
  • “Become your ‘henchman’ and help you take over the world? Is your stupidity contagious?”
  • “Be your sidekick? Oh, come on, did your Mom make that outfit?”
  • “You want to give me ‘special training’ and a ‘unique costume’? Put it back in your pants, creep.”

The worst part was that she liked her new powers. She could explore the City any time of the day or night, zipping past terrorists, gangsters, aliens, and creepy middle-aged men without being noticed, and if someone did try to mess with her, well, a girl who can toss an SUV like a softball only gets hassled once.

If only there were some legal, rational way to use them to make a decent living…

(Continued on Page 3439)

Wednesday, November 4 2009

Hero meets Villain

[What really happens when heroes and villains interact? In Champions Online, we don’t have the opportunity to chat with our adversaries. There’s some random speech bubbles and the occasional monologing cut-scene, but no real dialogue.]

“I’m not a super-villain.”

“You have a lair.”

“I have a lab.”

“It’s hidden in a deserted warehouse.”

“The lease was cheap.”

“It has security cameras and electrified doors.”

“In this neighborhood? I should think so.”

“It has multi-level interior defenses, including pit traps, gas bombs, and little flying robots with lasers.”

“I like my privacy.”

(Continued on Page 3440)

Sunday, November 8 2009

SuperMacro, to the rescue!

[no relation to the ancient Borland SuperMacro product, which we once used to automatically navigate the swamp in Leather Goddesses of Phobos. clap, hop, kweepa]

Like most MMOs, Champions Online has some built-in macro support. It’s fairly primitive at the moment, but there are certain key-bindings that I want for all characters.

(Continued on Page 3441)

Saturday, November 21 2009

Dear Blizzard,

Today I finally converted my World of Warcraft account into your new, one-ring-to-rule-them-all account system. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the email address I gave for my new, unified login name is “”. You sent me a confirmation email that my account had been converted, and that my new login name would be “n***”.

This would be a nice little touch of security, except for the fact that you sent the email to, making it pure theater. Next you’ll be asking me to take off my shoes and empty my water bottle…

[to be clear: the problem is not that they sent email. That was expected and desired. The problem is that the body of the message pretends to “protect” my login name by masking it, in a message sent to the email address that is identical to that login name]

Monday, February 1 2010

WoW performance on the S12/ION

Fledge asked about the gaming performance on my ION-equipped Lenovo S12. At the time, the only benchmark I had was that it was possible to ride an epic mount around in Dalaran one evening at about 6 frames/second, but there’s really nothing you can do to get decent performance in Dal, on any machine; WoW just can’t handle a big crowd of people.

So, a more realistic test. Last night, I created a brand new level 1 human warlock named Lenova and ran her up to level 7. My framerate never dropped below 18 fps in the starter area, and averaged 24 fps there and in Elwynn Forest. It dipped to 14 briefly when I went into Goldshire (duels and a crowd), averaged 40+ in the mines, hit 12 in the main square of Stormwind (big crowd), but stayed a steady 15 outside the bank in Ironforge (moderate crowd). I even watched the character-intro movie, and it only had a few moments of choppy framerates; for the most part it was quite smooth, as was the gryphon flight back from Ironforge to Stormwind.

I had the visual effects settings pretty low, obviously, but this was at a full 1280x800, with the music and ambient sound on.

[Unrelated to gaming, but I like the fact that Win7 on the S12 is automatically switching to hibernate after the machine has been asleep for a few hours, and correctly resuming.]

[Update: we just tried the Star Trek Online headstart, and just flying around in space, we could get 10+ fps; once we entered a space station (which had a rapper as background “music”; word to my Federation homies, blech), it dropped to 5-6 fps, and lowering the resolution didn’t help much. The Atom just doesn’t have the guts, even assisted by an ION.]

Thursday, March 25 2010

Context matters

“You strap your Prosthetic Leg to your back and head out for some adventure.”

Wednesday, May 12 2010

This was a triumph…

To celebrate the release of Mac Steam, Portal is free until May 24th, for both PC and Mac.

[Update: also, Torchlight is half-price for the weekend, and although it doesn’t sync saved games between Mac and Windows, it at least runs well on both. User-made mods have some issues on the Mac side, including differences in how the engine compresses data, and how it handles mixed-case filenames. Still fun, though.]

Thursday, July 29 2010

Context Matters, Part 2

“Congratulations. You’ve moved your unit.”

Tuesday, August 24 2010

Old School

Now this is cosplay that separates the gamers from the noobs.

(Continued on Page 3610)

Tuesday, September 7 2010

Tera: a breath of fresh air?

So, the new kid on the MMORPG block will be Tera. All I want to know is, how did they make it so far without realizing that they named one of their races potpourri?

Did I say “fresh air”? I meant “air freshener”.

Thursday, September 16 2010


Recettear is a silly, fun, and surprisingly deep game about being the shop owner in an RPG adventuring town. Windows-only, and allergic to most netbooks due to the mostly-invisible use of heavy 3D graphics (honestly, it looks like it should run on ancient hardware, but somehow all sorts of crap is getting linked in), but worth booting up a VMware session or less-anemic laptop for (my Lenovo S12 w/ION handles it just fine).

Full review when I can manage to stop playing it for a while…

Short take: extensive free demo, clean enough for kids, earbug-worthy background music, full English translation with limited Japanese vocals, unusual default keyboard controls, no DRM if you don’t buy through Steam. Gameplay mixes customer relationship management, Econ 101, and casually-paced dungeon-crawling. The only time you can’t just save and come back is in the middle of a dungeon, but there are town portals every five levels.

“Capitalism, ho!”

[The Japanese developers were also responsible for the brilliantly-named ElePaper Action]

[Update: okay, not 100% kid-safe…]

(Continued on Page 3625)

Thursday, October 7 2010

Recettear, still going strong

Finally unlocked Griff, which gave me access to The Lapis Ruins. Also, a revelation: this game is what you’d get if you put a 7-11 and Seven of Seven in a blender and set it to “puree”.

Friday, December 10 2010

Dear Blizzard,

I know, I know, you had to cut some corners to get Cataclysm out the door on time, and I’m sure you intend to fix all (most) (some) of it as soon as everyone gets out of the hospital. And some of it is hard, like quest phasing, or getting armor to fit onto werewolf bodies (the Bravo Company headband is particularly bad, I must say), but some of it should be easy, and can be done by liberal-arts majors who would be happy to have a job working with prose above the level of “would you like fries with that?”.

So, for the lengthy and generally quite entertaining Azuregos chain in Azshara, please find someone who knows the difference between “route” and “rout”, and “discrete” and “discreet”. A good interview question is to ask them about the difference between “affect” and “effect”, and if you don’t understand the answer, hire them.

Also, “lost on the throws of love”? What is this, a wrestling game?

Wednesday, December 22 2010

Recettear on sale!

Steam is having a big Christmas sale. Recettear is 66% off. This game was worth full price, so it’s now three times as cool.

[Update: okay, now only 50% off, still worth it. The daily specials are daily, it seems.]

Friday, December 24 2010

Dear Blizzard,

Of all the things to adopt from other games, the unskippable, uninterruptible cutscene that advances the “story” with wretched dialog and worse voice acting was a poor choice. I pay to play your game, not watch NPCs run a third-rate school play.

#1 offender: the final quest line in Vashj’ir to unlock the dungeon. Poorly conceived, poorly written, poorly implemented, confusing, and way too fucking long.

#2 would be the multiple Indiana Jones “homages” (ripoffs) in Uldum, which are not even a little bit as cool as you seem to think they are. The only reason they don’t make #1 on the list is because they’re broken up into several different quests, and sometimes you actually get to participate instead of just watch.

Honestly, if you’d spent less time scripting these abominations, you’d have had more time to make sure that all the other quests actually worked, especially the way-too-many vehicle quests with mechanics that you’ll only ever use once. You might even have been able to write some original story and dialog instead of relying on an endless stream of really lame pop-culture references. I’m sorry, but when a shaman tells me to “check out the big brain on Braddock”, I don’t laugh, I wince.

Thursday, December 30 2010

But she’s not named “Florence”

A werewolf in a dress? Of course she’s an engineer!

Female Worgen

Sadly, engineering goggles currently look stupid on worgen, and it takes a long time to reach the point where you can build your own flying machine, but a wolf’s gotta have dreams.

Tuesday, January 4 2011

Ding! “Grats”

Recettear has sold over 100,000 copies. Both the original developers and the English localizers deserve every penny.

Thursday, May 5 2011

Portal 2, everyone else 0

I didn’t actually finish the original Portal, mostly because when it first came out, I didn’t want to buy The Orange Box for Xbox 360, and didn’t have a Windows gaming setup. When they gave away the Mac version as part of the Steam release for that platform, I got it, but ended up playing a lot of Torchlight instead. I knew the concepts from playing the Flash version, and of course I heard the song and watched a number of videos of the hilarious dialog and interesting puzzles.

Portal 2 was a day-one Mac release, so I bought it, played it all the way through, and loved every minute. Even the relatively few places where I got stumped (generally because I missed a subtle visual clue or got myself turned around and jumped back the wrong way). My biggest complaint would be not being able to locate the [spoilers] in the one and only timed section; the scene is sufficiently visually chaotic that I didn’t see them arriving, and then only had audio clues to work with, which weren’t terribly directional. And, of course, it was timed, so I had to do it again.

Sadly, there’s an entire second game that I can’t play at all until I get one of my friends to buy the damn thing and finish the single-player campaign. It’s great that they made a two-player co-op game with a real story, but quite frustrating if you don’t have anyone around to play it with. And the idea of playing it on Steam with a stranger just repulses me. The thing I hate most about online gaming is making my fun dependent on the maturity and intelligence of a stranger, going all the way back to the unrestricted griefing and player-killing of Ultima Online. There are non-sociopathic gamers out there, but if I want to be social in a game, I prefer to be in the same room.

Now, as for the common speculation about how you can “scientifically” explain how portals work, well, after the end of the single-player story in Portal 2, you’d not only be killing catgirls, you’d be committing furry genocide.

Oh, wait, some people might like that idea…

(and, yes, after finishing it, I went back and played the first game all the way through, including the advanced maps; it deserves all the praise it’s gotten)

Sunday, May 22 2011

Portal 2+2

Scott and I ran through the co-op storyline today. Lots of fun, although we got stuck good and hard twice, once because we simply couldn’t figure out how to combine the available portal surfaces to get the second player across, and the second time because the solution we came up with was so complicated that we knew we had to be overthinking it and missing something simple (“no, that really is how you do it”).

As usual, it was a lot easier with tablespeak than it would have been with any manner of chat session.

Pity they couldn’t come up with a way to work more Cave Johnson dialog into it…

[Update: belatedly, it occurred to me that the people who are claiming they solved the co-op puzzles alone, only needing a partner to satisfy the “both present at the exit” requirement, are full of shit. For some of the puzzles, getting one player to the exit is relatively easy; the actual challenge is getting the second one across. That was the exact situation that stumped us: I made it to the exit, and could no longer create the portals that Scott would need to use the same method; we had to figure out a different path to the top, using both sets of portals.]

Monday, August 1 2011

Imminent Death of Productivity Predicted

The English adaptation of Chantelise is out. Free demo, 10% off through Friday. From the folks who brought you Recettear

Friday, September 30 2011

“Are you a god?”

I must say, I’m enjoying playing a Massively Zero-Player RPG; the best part is that I reliably outgear all of my friends.

Wednesday, January 4 2012

Smugglers get the coolest ship

In the new Star Wars MMORPG, characters get a starship of their own when they finish the first story arc for their class (typically level 15, but if you’ve been doing instances and side quests, it could be later).

I haven’t played a smuggler far enough to see their ship, but thanks to an incomplete feature/glitch in the game, I was able to run around inside one. All of the ships have a bridge, bedrooms, a conference area, a lounge, a cargo hold, and a “talk to your boss” holocommunicator.

But only the smuggler ship has a head in a jar in its cargo hold. Also a giant caged beast and someone frozen in carbonite, but head-in-a-jar is the real prize (pictures). And it’s not even a random head-in-a-jar; it’s apparently a tie-in to the Knights of The Old Republic game.

(The glitch? I was grouped with a smuggler who needed help on the final class quest to get the ship, so after the cutscene, we were both transported onto it. Except we were on different copies of it, so we couldn’t interact, and when I flew it to a different planet, she stayed behind in her copy. When I landed, I was in my own ship. What I should have done was try flying a space mission, to see if I got to fight using her ship model as well.)

Oh, and while there are plenty of “shoot the engineers and release on time” issues with the game, it’s quite playable and fun for folks who like their gaming casual and interactive, but pretty brutal on hardware requirements. Their server/client architecture needs a lot of optimization to handle a room full of people, and the client has a lot of rough spots that can make it perform poorly on computers that can handle maxed-out settings on Skyrim.

Thursday, May 24 2012

Dissonance, cognitive

Generally, I do not expect to learn about upcoming features in a video game from Forbes.

Thursday, September 20 2012

Torchlight 2 review

“No time to write, must get back to playing.”

Wednesday, October 3 2012

Best T2 drop so far

I’ve had a hard time finding an upgrade for my Engineer’s primary weapon:

Torchlight 2 Blackfang Bludgeon

Friday, October 12 2012

“Out of memory” as a generic error

After the most recent patch, Torchlight 2 refused to launch due to “out of memory” errors. It seemed related to having mods installed, since it was still playable without them. The only mod I had installed was one I created as a test (a one-liner that slightly increased magic-item drop rate in random Mapworks maps), so this didn’t affect my gameplay at all, but I was curious enough to try to debug it.

Was it a change in how it handles mods? Had they added bounds-checking to keep people from doing things like increasing the drop rate? Had they introduced a regression in their archive-file-loader, or maybe fixed an old error that third-party archivers tripped? Etc, etc, etc.

In the end, the problem was simple, yet completely unrelated to memory: I had shared the data directory, mounted it from my Mac, and copied the archive files over, convincing Windows that I had a file open. I had made my mod on the Mac, since all the current tools are Python-based, and I saw no point in either setting up a Windows Python environment or using py2exe binaries downloaded from random web forums.

The error-handler in their startup code just assumes it ran out of memory when anything goes wrong. Hopefully their debug builds are a bit more precise.

Thursday, November 8 2012

Moral clarity in Skyrim

While sitting at home being sick and miserable, I loaded up Skyrim and tried playing a more magic-oriented character (short version: mages are very squishy in the universe of the Elder Scrolls). Along the way, I picked up a quest that I didn’t do on my previous run through the game, The Break of Dawn.

In this quest, the goddess-like being Meridia commands you to become her champion and reclaim her temple from the undead forces of the necromancer Malkoran. This is a pretty typical dungeon crawl, and that’s the problem. SOP in a dungeon crawl is to steal anything that isn’t nailed down: spellbooks, potions, chests of gold and gems, offerings, divine relics, contents of burial urns, and of course, everything carried by your vanquished foes.

Except this time you’re looting the temple of the goddess who not only gave you the job, but also lifted you thousands of feet into the air to ensure you felt properly motivated. And in addition to all the usual things to loot, the place is full of the Desecrated Corpses of her worshippers, and they were all loaded with cash, easily ten times as much as the undead monsters you have to wipe out. There are so many of them that in some places you have to kick the emptied husks aside to reach the next batch.

As soon as you finish the job, before you can stagger off to the nearest NPC vendor, she lifts you high into the air again, and thanks you for cleaning her the place out.

Friday, January 4 2013

Easter Eggs from a Parallel Universe

Litigate 3: Ambulance Chase minigame.

Forget everything you’ve heard about pushing blind men into oncoming traffic. EEPU has the scoop on a sure-fire way to unlock the hottest minigame of the year!

Start by going to the Courthouse first thing in the morning. Save outside a few minutes before they open, then go in and check the Job Board for a process service run to St. Agatha’s Retirement Home. If you don’t find one, reload and look again. Accept the job, head straight there (use a taxi if you’ve got enough cash or have used last week’s Whiplash! tip to get unlimited free rides), bribe the duty nurse with a pack of Lucky Strikes, and head toward the elevators.

Serve the papers first, then go down to the basement and look for box of oily rags. Move it next to the furnace, then exit the building quickly. Wait by the front gate, and within twenty minutes the air will be filled with smoke, screams, and the sweet, sweet sound of sirens. Now put on your running shoes and go chase those ambulances!

Next week: finding the hidden porn in Plato’s Cave!

Sunday, November 17 2013

Queen’s Blade, The Live

Queen’s Blade, the ecchi anime, was based on a set of game books featuring art by popular character designers, with rules from the old Lost Worlds game books.

To attract a new audience, the latest set features photos of popular cheesecake models such as Ayaka Sayama, who takes the role of Captain Liliana.

Queen's Blade The Live, Captain Liliana
Ayaka Sayama, out of her pirate gear

No Bodacious Space Pirates were harmed in the production of these books.

Wednesday, August 20 2014

Bullied by the 1%

From the basic rules in the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons:

You can play a male or female character without gaining any special benefits or hindrances. Think about how your character does or does not conform to the broader culture’s expectations of sex, gender, and sexual behavior. For example, a male drow cleric defies the traditional gender divisions of drow society, which could be a reason for your character to leave that society and come to the surface.

You don’t need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender. The elf god Corellon Larethian is often seen as androgynous or hermaphroditic, for example, and some elves in the multiverse are made in Corellon’s image. You could also play a female character who presents herself as a man, a man who feels trapped in a female body, or a bearded female dwarf who hates being mistaken for a male. Likewise, your character’s sexual orientation is for you to decide.

Therapeutic role-play rarely mixes well with gaming, and SJWs are no fun at (or in) a party.

Update: how would I write this, to get the point across without bullshit gender-studies jargon and really stupid examples? (note that I’ve added back the first and last sentences, above. I originally left the first one out because it was the only sensible part, but then I read multiple complaints that it was still too “binary”; I added the last sentence just for completeness)

There are no sex-based restrictions or penalties in D&D; you are free to create your characters as you imagine them, and role-play your choices.

Friday, March 13 2015

Good Robot lives!

Shamus Young’s Project Good Robot is now on Steam Greenlight.

Monday, June 15 2015

Porn Rock 2: Electric Boogaloo

Anita is the new Tipper.

Funny how this sort of thing always comes from the Left. It’s almost like they want to silence everyone who disagrees with them.

Speaking of which, I found concept art for the new Scarlet Letter that will be worn by despicable sinners matriculating in the fall:

X and y chromosome 007

Friday, July 10 2015

No Man’s Sky?

The publicity push is starting for the upcoming game No Man’s Sky (link goes to Wikipedia, because there’s even less information on the official site). Having watched the E3 videos and the first two of the IGN videos, as far as I can tell, here’s what it’s about:

Every planet in the galaxy is ruled by robots who will kill you for defending yourself from hostile aliens or attempting to exploit local resources. They permit non-invasive “exploration” of their property, even allowing you to gain credit for “discovering” and “naming” their planets and creatures, although they’re sure to react negatively to names like Cocktopus and Titsworld.

The demos certainly look gorgeous, but they make it clear that any “unknown” star system you “discover” will instantly have a space station, a claims office, and a fleet of killer robots that will hunt you down for strip-mining or for shooting native life, even accidentally or in self-defense. That kind of undercuts the whole “explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations” theme, even if it does mean that you can immediately jump back into the pirate-shooting and galactic-trader parts of the game.

I don’t know if it’s going to be fun, and the graphics suggest it will require serious hardware, so my initial interest in the concept is kind of waning.

[Update: nailed it.]

Dear Risen 2 marketing person,

I get what you were trying to say, but…

“… raging titans have devastated the world and pushed humanity to the brink of existence…”

Monday, September 21 2015

Naming your plague

I’ve been killing time with Plague, Inc on my phone recently, and after trying out a few names for my lethal creations, I think I derive the most amusement from calling it Kittens. As in “Kittens is about to wipe out the human race.”

And in the process of looking up their web site, I discovered it’s on Steam for Windows, Mac, and Linux now.

Update: “Hello!Project” makes an excellent name for a virus. As we know from my costume archives, they mutate rapidly. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get them to spread if you start in Japan. Must be the “no boyfriends” clause.

Saturday, November 14 2015

Dear Bethesda,

I’d like to express my astonishment that my 3.5-year-old gaming laptop seems to play Fallout 4 just fine, despite a graphics card that’s roughly 80% as fast as the minimum requirement (GTX 560M vs. GTX 550Ti). Not at anything approaching maximum settings, of course, but it still looks great at 1080p. I kind of wonder how my character will look on a modern machine, though, since many of the adjustments in the designer didn’t seem to do much.

Admittedly, it’s been upgraded with 16GB of RAM and dual SSDs, but still, usually I’d expect to have to reduce the resolution and turn every setting to near-minimum. The game decided that “medium” settings were appropriate, and it’s working out so far.

[Update: after (mumble) hours of play, the primary performance problem is selection lag in the VATS combat display. If this screen were a little less dynamic, I’d be able to select targets before they move into cover or melee range. As it is, I’ve had to turn the difficulty down to compensate.]

By the way, not to sound like an SJW whiner, but when my character is in full power armor, how is it that random raiders know which gender-based slurs to use? Is it the dainty way she swings her minigun?

#1 complaint so far (with only a few minor crashes, one instance of getting stuck between a counter and a table, and having to use the console to get an NPC down off the roof) is trying to find all the bodies after a fight in order to loot them.

#2 would be that having the compass and enemy-finder at the bottom of the screen causes a bit of neck strain. It would be much easier to use if it were at the top.

#3 would be the dog, constantly interrupting my looting by wandering in front of me and intercepting keystrokes as commands, falling from high places, and running in front of automatic weapons. Honestly, this pup makes Lydia look positively graceful. I think I’ve used about twice as many stimpacks on the dog as on myself.

PS: the PipBoy App for iOS doesn’t seem to work at all. I don’t think it’s actually sending packets, since tcpdump sees nothing at all coming from its IP address, and it’s allegedly broadcasting to find machines running the game. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could manually enter the IP address, as your help page falsely claims I can?

Saturday, November 21 2015

Dear Fallout 4 gun artists,

No, you can’t “spin the cylinder” on a double-action .44 magnum revolver. This is one of only two things that have broken my immersion into the gun-porn weapon customization in the game, the other being the use of a PPK frame for the Deliverer unique weapon (a suppressed 10mm).

I’m willing to suspend belief for everything else, because it either looks silly-cool or does horrible and/or amusing things to my enemies.

PS: bought a gatling laser and Big Boy. Those “cleanup on aisle one” missions are a lot quicker now.

…which is good, because the lack of variety in Radiant quests is getting a little annoying. That chick in Sanctuary is way too needy, easily responsible for 2/3 of my requests. Hopefully the patch will include some randomization.

Speaking of patches, the game just played the cylinder-spin sound and hand movement when I drew my 10mm semi-auto. Oopsie.

[Update: I got it to give me the spin again (frequent if you draw the .44 in first-person), and it’s actually shown already cocked when you spin it. Someone is really proud of an animation that doesn’t even make sense for a single-action revolver.]

Wednesday, November 25 2015

“Don’t get cocky, kid.”

The encounter designers for Fallout 4 love to scatter mines and boobytraps around. That’s in addition to giving your enemies an infinite supply of grenades and molotov cocktails, and arming the occasional raider with a nuclear grenade launcher (that whistling sound as they’re incoming is tied with the beeping of an approaching Super Mutant Suicider for my “ohshit” reflex).

Still, most of the time you get sent out for a Cleanup On Aisle One (“defeat $BADGUYS”, “rescue $SETTLER”, “clean out $NEWTOWN”), you don’t need a lot of radiation protection on your armor. You can line your Tuxedo with ballistic weave, pull out your trusty tommygun, and earn some caps by busting caps.

Then you run into someone who’s scattered a few of these around their base:

Nuke Mine

If you see one of these before stepping on it, retreat and put on your best anti-rad suit before returning; the people who use them have other glowing surprises waiting for you, too.

In other news, here’s my current list of most-wanted mods for the game (official or third-party):

  1. Face-Saver: let me copy/paste any human face. It’s hard to make your character look good, and every hand-designed NPC in the game could be used as a starting point.
  2. Just Tell Me Who To Kill: hit a key to skip past the long, repetitive NPC dialog at the start, middle, and end of every quest or vendor interaction. You could do this in Skyrim, but in F4, you have to wait through every speech before being given the opportunity to respond, or to receive credit for the quest. And if they wander off in mid-sentence, you have to do it again.
  3. Don’t Stand So Close To Me: NPCs shouldn’t speak their stock lines unless you’re right next to them, facing them. Having Danse in your settlement is like an endless stream of Brotherhood propaganda sound bites, and Marcy Long is going to get fragged some night to put an end to her constant bitching. Worse, if an NPC is standing near you when you activate a crafting station, they’ll keep spamming you for the entire session; the default placement of the weapons station in Sanctuary practically guarantees this.
  4. Searchable Map/Inventory: ’nuff said.
  5. Money Ain’t Junk: put pre-war money in the Misc category so it doesn’t get recycled for crafting.
  6. Planet Of The Hats: add the ballistic weave modification to more hats. Right now, the only one I can find that accepts the mod is the Trilby, which is a great hat, but doesn’t go with every outfit. Something colorful to go with the Summer Shorts would be nice (since it leaves the arm and leg slots free for additional armor…). Bonus for adding weave to the upgraded version of the Silver Shroud costume and its matching hat.
  7. Make ’Em Glow: highlight lootable corpses the same way the power armor mod highlights active creatures.

[Update: #3 = No NPC Comments, #5 = Hey That’s Not Junk. Something I didn’t have on my list, but definitely like, Faster Terminal Displays (the long pause after unlocking/disabling something is still there. I tried one of the additional-music mods, but it was “poorly curated”, to put it kindly.]

Thursday, November 26 2015

Important F4 safety tip

Do not wear power armor when starting the quest The Nuclear Option. The only “workaround” is to revert to your previous manual save. (my autosaves and quicksaves somehow ended up all being after the critical point, and this is not uncommon due to the way the save system works).

The other glitch I ran into getting to the final quest involved Tinker Tom’s piloting skills; somehow the “land the vertibird” trigger failed to go off, and he kept flying in a straight line, right off the edge of the world. Fortunately, the autosave had no opportunity to wreck that one, and I was able to just redo that one quest stage.

Friday, December 4 2015

Threat or party?

From a recent roadside encounter in Fallout 4:

“You can tell yourself whatever you want, but you’re leaving here naked or horizontal. Your choice.”
     – Brother Andrew

He demanded that I hand over all of my possessions, so I started with the bullets.

Skyrim versus Fallout 4

Skyrim is an open-world RPG with a story, Fallout 4 is a story-driven RPG with an open world.

The first time I finished the main story in Skyrim, I really just wanted to clean it out of my quest log. I was massively over-leveled for it, having done lengthy quest chains for multiple factions, as well as an insane number of one-off quests and general explorations. When I finished saving the world, I still had at least a dozen quest chains queued up, plus another dozen miscellaneous quests. And I knew about a bunch more that I hadn’t even started.

The first time I finished the main story in Fallout 4, it was because I really didn’t have any other quests to do. There were the randomly-generated “cleanup on aisle one” quests from Preston, the occasional chatty NPC handing out tips, and a few location-dependent radio signals, but the vast majority of them were isolated quests in a single location. Some have multiple stages, like the town of Covenant or helping Travis, but they’re still pretty short. Even the main faction quest lines are pretty short and straightforward, and there are fewer factions to choose from, which largely become exclusive after you reach a certain point in the story (“if you accept this quest, you will become enemies with faction X”).

Recording voice for every quest option, for both PC and NPCs, is likely the main reason there are fewer quest chains, but the quests that do exist also tend to be less discoverable. For instance, I was inside a building when the (spoiler) crashed, and had no idea what Nick was chattering about. I wouldn’t have gone looking for it if I hadn’t seen it mentioned on the forums. Ditto the full suit of the best power armor, the gun that doesn’t need reloading, Vault 75, etc, etc. I still haven’t made it to the Atom Cats garage or the USS Constitution.

Bottom line, Fallout 4 works pretty hard to keep the main story moving, and if you stay on the rails, you may not even know how much content you’ve overlooked. Skyrim, even before the DLC, gives you so much to do that you may not even remember that there is a main quest.

Tuesday, March 22 2016

DOTT Returns…

Day of the Tentacle Remastered is out now on GoG, Steam, etc.

Dott remastered

Coming in 2017: Full Throttle Remastered.

Tuesday, April 5 2016

I’ve got a Good Robot…

…and I’m not afraid to use it. Shamus Young’s Good Robot is now available on Steam.

[Update: buy the version that comes with the soundtrack; it makes great background noise at work, and reminds you to get home as soon as possible so you can kill robots.]

Tuesday, August 2 2016

Gotta gold-farm ’em all

  1. Create gmail account.
  2. Use it to sign into Pokemon Go.
  3. Power-level using a GPS-spoofer to constantly “visit” areas densely populated with pokestops.
  4. Sell account.
  5. Profit!

It looks like the folks at Niantic didn’t have anyone onboard with experience at handling the inevitable issues with running an MMO. Besides just trying to reliably run a 24x7 online service for the biggest mobile game launch ever, there’s “my friends started at launch, and if I want to train at gyms and take them over for my team, I need a well-stocked high-level character”. People foolish enough to start playing the game now cannot compete (you get nothing if you can’t win a fight, and you can’t beat critters with 10x your combat points), which means the only portion of the game open to them is the basic “gotta catch ’em all”. Which they made more difficult in the latest release, rapidly using up your precious supply of pokeballs, primarily acquired through microtransactions (2.76-5 cents per ball).

If you’re near an area with a lot of pokestops (or spoof GPS to visit them…), you can pick up balls and other goodies for free, but there’s nothing even vaguely fair about their distribution around the world. It more or less comes down to how many people in your area tagged locations in Niantic’s previous game, Ingress. In my neighborhood, that means a handful of badly-painted transformer boxes, fountains (one of which is allegedly in the changing room at Marshalls), entrance signs for public parks, a sandwich shop, and some benches at a golf course. In downtown Palo Alto, it means “at least three pokestops per block”.

The team has promised that Real Soon Now they’ll be introducing inter-player trading, which means even more opportunities for professional farmers running on hacked platforms. Hopefully before that gets too far out of hand, Niantic will hire a few clued-in MMO veterans with the estimated $10,000,000/day they’re grossing.

Monday, August 8 2016

Editing Fallout Shelter saves with OpenSSL and JQ

I’ve been playing Fallout Shelter for a while now, first on my phone (until my vault got big enough to crash the game constantly), then on an iPad Mini, and now also on Windows, where despite its tablet origin, it doesn’t support multi-touch on my Surface Pro. Fortunately, the keyboard controls are so nice that I don’t mind.

I made a few in-app purchases, because I like to pay what I think a “free” game is worth if I keep playing it. However, the items purchased are tied to a specific vault, so if you have 3 vaults and want to buy pets, you have to make three separate purchases; you can’t buy N pets and divide them between your vaults. Worse, if you delete the vault or the save file gets corrupted, you lose your purchases. For the final straw, the basic Lunchbox purchase is a total crapshoot, emphasis on the “crap”; you can spend real money and get nothing worthwhile. The only nice thing I can say is that the new Starter Packs appear to be guaranteed to have useful content, but if you buy an N-pack, they still all go to the same vault.

People quickly discovered how to read the file format and wrote a variety of tools to edit saves, but the most-recommended one runs under the Android emulator. I didn’t care about most of what the tools do, and I have an aversion to downloading anything that’s advertised as a cheat tool, because malware, so I poked around until I found the cleanest solution that used simple command-line tools. Specifically, OpenSSL and JQ.

After a little tinkering, I knocked together a simple (okay, it’s gotten rather elaborate…) bash script containing some common operations. Specifically, decrypt-and-pretty-print, convert to survival/normal mode, rename your vault, “buy” a bunch of lunchboxes and resources, and apply arbitrary JQ filter expressions from a file (for more complicated modding).

As for moving the files around, the PC version puts them in a quite sensible location. The iOS version is only accessible if you’ve enabled iCloud sharing, and then you have to go hunting in obscure sub-directories to copy a save from your iDevice, and to sync it back, the only way I’ve found is to copy it somewhere else, delete it from inside the game, copy it back (possibly increasing the last few digits of the filename), and then click the iCloud checkbox on the now-empty save slot (waiting a bit to give iCloud time to copy back and forth).

If I get motivated enough, I’ll sort through the Dweller data and make a tool to batch-rename them and sort out their relationship data (the game prevents direct incest, but after playing for a few months, I haven’t the slightest idea who bred with who). [update: turns out they don’t accurately track parentage. If a parent dies or is kicked out of the vault, the next person to arrive will inherit their id number, effectively adopting any children.]

Wednesday, August 17 2016

No Man’s Sky

[update: based on my testing, I’d say that the typical NMS “planet” is considerably smaller than Skyrim in square footage. And, of course, NMS has far less diversity in terrain and only one biome per “planet”. One simple test is to use the “crashed-ship upgrade” trick repeatedly on your starter world, going up to orbit after each swap and returning to a completely different region; count how many times the next transmission tower directs you to your original starting location.]

Going through the forums, reviews, gameplay videos, spoilers, and rants, I’ve come to the conclusion that No Man’s Sky is the Obama of video games: dazzled by the demos and convinced by vague, evasive statements that it will fulfill their heart’s desires, people blindly pre-ordered, and now they’re stuck defending something that can never live up to its promise.

On the plus side, Steam gives refunds. :-)

Procedurally-generated review of No Man's Sky

Most disappointingly, I was right; the NMS universe really is ruled by killer robots who occupy every single planet that you “discover”. And not only is there no depth to combat, trade, or exploring, the procedurally-generated worlds are maybe 10% as cool as the cherry-picked scenes in the demos.

Bottom line, think of it as an early beta of a 3D version of single-player Starbound, with no mapping functionality and only one scripted NPC on screen at a time (plus the sub-Spore procedurally-generated animals). And what passes for an “ending” is just a hastily-added NG+.

I went in with my eyes open, and wouldn’t have played it much if I weren’t too sick (still…) to do much else. It’s compatible with codeine cough syrup. Actually, I think it helped, since I had the patience to decipher the baffling and inconsistent user interface. Seriously, in a game where you walk/fly around entire planets, there’s no autorun key; you have to hold a key/button down constantly to move at a slow walk across the mostly-desolate wilderness, and another to toggle bursts of sprint/jump. People are now begging them not to fix the glitch where you hold down “walk”, toggle “sprint”, then press “melee” and press-and-hold “jetpack” to zip forward at high speed.

What went wrong? A lot of people have started trying to put it together, but it sounds like a combination of feature creep, a cash infusion from Sony that came with PS4-shaped strings attached, a sudden need to dramatically scale back and ship the damn thing, and Sean Murray talking out of his ass at every opportunity, in the classic “hey, guys, I just promised that we already do X; can we do X?” (for many values of X). Also, the primary QA was done by a Sony team for the PS4 platform, leaving them a bit under-prepared for the 200,000+ day-one Windows users.

Evidence for the big scale-back can be found in inconsistencies all over the place, but here’s a simple one: observatories. If you walk into one and solve the (trivial) puzzle, it will add a marker guiding you to an ancient ruin located nearby on the same planet. But the flavor text when you activate it still talks about locating things in deep space. And, by the way, the markers that get added by interacting with beacons, observatories, and transmission towers never go away; they’ll clutter your display even if you’re on a different planet in the same system. The only way to dismiss them is by walking to within a few meters of the designated spot.

Not recommended if you want the game from the trailers. Not bad for what it is, although it costs three times as much as the usual paid-beta indie game on Steam.

Wednesday, August 24 2016

This is their new feature?

Pokemon Go released an update. The big feature is that your team lead can advise you on the quality of your stable. Which turns out to be a set of canned phrases that are completely meaningless:

Candela: not so bright

This is looking more and more like a squandered opportunity, turning the biggest mobile-game launch ever into “remember that game we played for a few weeks?”.

(the joke here is that コイキング aka Magikarp is the most useless Pokemon of all, which is one of the very few poke-facts I know, along with what the dirty old man actually said when he saw Misty in a bikini)

[Update: this feature collided badly/hilariously with The Bloggess’ naming scheme.]

Saturday, August 27 2016

Spoiler: Sean Murray is Atlas

Also, epic troll:

No Man's Sky rubs your nose in it

Sunday, October 23 2016

Dear Sean Bean,

Tokimune does not rhyme with “Sailor Moon”. I’m sorry that the people who hired you for the Civilization 6 voiceovers didn’t provide a pronunciation guide for all the foreign words and names.

I wouldn’t mind so much, except that the load time is just long enough that I have to hear “tokimoon” every time I start the game.

Friday, October 28 2016

Skyrim Special Edition

The new 64-bit HD re-release of Skyrim for Windows is mostly a side-effect of updating the game to work on the PS4 and Xbox One. If you already own the game and all DLC on Steam, it’s free. Yesterday, the Spoiler Warning crew had an impromptu streaming session to show off how glitchy and unstable it was.

After skimming through their video, I gave it a shot, and my experience was completely different. The only two visual issues we had in common were excessively dark shadows outdoors (much worse for them) and a distant non-animated section of a river (which is apparently an initialization problem, because I later saw much more of the same river from a greater distance (up by Bleak Falls Barrow), and it was all flowing).

Josh is the bug whisperer, so it’s no surprise that he got crashes from attempting simple actions, but it was rock solid for me. And where he had terrible frame-rate pretty much everywhere, it was quite smooth for me at 1920x1280. The one potential explanation he mentioned is that he hadn’t updated his graphics drivers in a few months, whereas I did that a few days ago, but since this is the same engine as Fallout 4, that shouldn’t explain all of the problems he saw, and the forums are full of crash reports as well.

So, if you can get it for free through Steam, and you don’t mind playing the vanilla game with just the official DLC and no mods for a while (most importantly, without SkyUI!), then it’s a prettier Skyrim. Not as dramatically so as console players will see, but a definite visual upgrade. The “depth of field” effect that devs think is so cool is stupid, though; until games have eye-tracking, they have no idea what part of the scene I’m actually looking at.

In other news, there was a very small, unexplained patch to No Man’s Sky. The ~50 people who are still playing can’t figure out what it was supposed to accomplish, and no one’s heard from the developers in months.

Also, Civ 6 desperately needs some serious patching, for performance, balance, unit/city management, and fun. Between the intimately-close placement of opposing civs, zerg-rush AI, raging barbarians who upgrade their military faster than you can (I had barbarian anti-tank units show up while I was still trying to acquire the resources to create musketmen), and build times that obsolete your units before you even finish building them, you don’t have time to explore the game’s features. Your strategies are severely constrained, and they didn’t even bother to let you save preferred starting conditions; if you carefully set up the parameters for a game and get a terrible starting location, you’ll have to re-select each and every parameter to start over. And even “huge” worlds are tiny; the world feels like a county.

The AI is very sensitive to victory conditions, too. If, for instance, you want to focus on learning how all the military units work, and don’t want to spontaneously lose because of religion or culture, the AI will be laser-focused on a military victory, and zerg you even harder. Resource-starved? Don’t set the game to abundant resources, or the AI will… zerg you even harder.

There are also some really annoying bugs. If you research a military technology that obsoletes a unit, but you don’t have the resource to build the newly-unlocked unit, then you can’t build either. And at least twice, I unlocked a unit before unlocking the ability to see its required resource on the map.

Tuesday, November 1 2016

Parenting in Skyrim

After nearly 500 hours with the original Skyrim, I can’t really take the new Special Edition seriously; nice-looking, but been-there-done-that. I’m playing at the default difficulty level and not even bothering to level up. This means that dynamically-leveled opponents are trivial to kill, but it also means that there are plenty of monsters that can one-shot me. I had to run like hell to dodge the frost troll on the way to High Hrothgar, I stumbled across a skooma den filled with vampires and got my ass handed to me, and the less said about blood dragons, the better.

When I realized that a few lucky loot drops meant I could afford a house, I decided I needed to adopt a child. Specifically, Dorthe, the daughter of Riverwood’s blacksmith. So I became a werewolf, killed and ate her parents, assassinated the woman who ran the orphanage, and convinced her replacement that I’d be an excellent parent.

I think we’ll be very happy together.