Friday, May 31, 2019

May is over!, oh and Conan Exiles...

Damn!  It's like May 31st and I haven't posted all month.  Sorry about that!  I've been a bit busier than I would have envisioned, building a desk, some fencing, odd jobs around the house and gaming of course.  I'll have to try harder to maintain this thing.

May has been filled with a couple of games occupying my time, mostly between State of Decay 2 and Conan Exiles.  I had received a copy of Exiles through my Humble Bundle subscription which I highly recommend if you are a gamer with a wide range of tastes.  The bundle is $12.99 CDN per month and you always get far more value than the monthly fee, plus you help out various charities. 

Anyway, Conan Exiles... Well, ok,  I have to admit that when teh game came out I was totally not interested since I don't typically enjoy wide open PVP, (Player Vs Player), games that do not have a logical purpose.  For example, Dark Age of Camelot had real vs realm PVP, so there was a purpose, Conan Exiles was every man/woman for themselves for no other reason that to slay other players, which is a premise I just don't buy.  Wide open gank-fests, for no other reason that you can, is to me: A) illogical, B) beyond distopian, and C) Just frigging lazy development.  Mostly A and C though.  here's my reasoning.

The game starts with your character nailed to a cross in the desert, left to die.  Suddenly, Conan himself cuts you down, gives you some water and walks off into a sand storm.  The land is harsh and EVERYTHING is hostile.  Now I may be some kind of idiot, but when you run into other exiles wouldn't it make more sense to band together, pool resources and not just to survive but thrive?  In the game everything you run into, with few exceptions, will try to kill you.  They don't even take your stuff when they do, rather they just hang around where you died.  I can understand animals doing that, but the humans should at least rob your corpse, and for that matter the carnivorous animals should at least take a bite or two from your succulent flesh.  Alas, they do not.  mostly though, it's the unrealistic brutality I have issue with.  When it comes to other players on the official servers they, largely, behave the same way and that seems very counter productive to me.

Beyond Distopian:
Everyone in the game is either a thrall, read slave, or a murderer.  I mean come on!  No friendly NPC's, (Non Player Characters), except one guy who shows you how to clap and then drones on about nothing in particular.  Such a society couldn't survive for long or we'd all be living this kind of life in the real world.  Even in the conan movies this was not the norm.

Lazy Development:
Yeah I said it.  I think that the devs simply built an arena shooter game with swords and bows when it could have been so much more.  I should take a moment here to qualify what I find lazy.

The art work is fantastic, the programming seems to be really solid and the networking is similarly great, but these things, while important, do not a complete game make.  Games need some sort of direction other that a Rinse and Repeat cycle, which I call simply an RnR game.  RnR type games are very lazy to me as there is no story to uncover, no compelling reason to engage in the game systems, or no systems in place beyond fighting and farming.  Conan Exiles is an RnR game to me unless someone can point out some compelling reason it isn't to change my mind.  According to the Steam service I have almost 100 hrs played in the game and I haven't found anything yet to convince me otherwise.

If you are a real Conan fanatic you might find that the game suits your tastes, but for me it's a solid "meh".  I do like the building mechanic in it and that's pretty much all I play it for these days and that is only because I have the gear to run my own private server to keep the riff-raff out.  If I had to score it on a scale of ten, I'd give it a 6/10.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

State of Decay 2

It's no secret to those who know me that I enjoy a good zombie shooter and survival games, so when you combine the two I'm usually in.  A friend of mine asked me to join in on State of Decay 2 and I didn't hesitate. 

In State of Decay 2 you are the "leader" of a group of survivors with the goals of keeping the survivors going in your base along with "helping" others in the area all the while dealing with the undead hordes.  Normally I'd be overjoyed at the premise and have that itch to play as much as possible.  Unfortunately, there are some issues with the way the game is constructed and played. The biggest issue has to do with multiplayer.  I am fine surviving n my own, however, survival is much more enjoyable with friends.  State of Decay 2 has that aspect, but it's a little weird so perhaps I should back up a little.

In single player mode you run around the map looking for supplies to strengthen your base and appease the people who live there.  Weapons, modifications and rucksacks of base supplies are the bread and butter of existence.  Finding this stuff and dragging it back to base will allow you to grow the community and expand your facilities.  Players can choose which of the base inhabitants go on these hunting excursions and you will need to change up which character is active fairly often as they become tired and need to heal from wounds and disease.  I actually love this mechanic, because it keeps things fresh with each character having their own strengths and development.  Add to the mix the various help requests and the ability to add people you encounter to your ranks and there's a pretty solid survival aspect to this game.  Multiplayer is the same-ish with some weird differences. The biggest differences in multiplayer are the storage system, base supply, crafting and healing. 

The storage system is designed to avoid griefing, I think.  How it works is that you have two storage systems, one for base supply and a personal stash.  The base supply system is where you deposit rucksacks of elements to keep the base running and assist with crafting and any rucksacks deposited in multiplayer are deposited in the base of the game host, i.e. the person whose game you joined.  It does seem reasonable until you have to craft or heal one of your characters, because you can only draw on the base supplies from your own game.  This way, if you just start the game and join someone else to play you won't be able to do these things if you haven't built up your own supplies in single player.  On one hand I can understand why this is, because you can open a multiplayer session to random people and they could bleed you dry of resources, BUT, and it's a big but, you can also lock the multiplayer session down to friends only.  I think that friends only games should be able to share resources.  This really annoys me.  To me it's just lazy game design to not have a permission system where the host can allow friends to draw on their resources.  The next thing that annoys me is the game distribution system.

The game is only developed for Windows and is distributed like an XBox application.  To play it on a PC you have to sign up with a Windows account on the Win 10 XBox applet.  This does piss me off since you have to now sign into your desktop using a Windows PIN or account logon.  God! I hate Microsoft.

Finally, would I recommend this game?  Well no I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who is thinking about it and doesn't want to have to set up a Microsoft account.  If you are an XBox fan-person, then it's OK, but to anyone else I'd stay away and not bother.  If you are on an operating system other than Windows 10 then it's a hard pass.  Don't even try to get it running in Wine or PlayOnLinux.

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Black Hole Madness

Today I'd like to discuss the recent black hole image making the rounds on Media, because the supposed "news" sites and channels are, once again, butchering the truth.  Yes, this is an astounding scientific achievement, but journalists are just not getting it right.

First, the picture is NOT of a black hole.  Sorry to disappoint everyone, rather it is the shadow of a black hole and the light around the shadow is not a disk of light, but the light being warped by the warping of 3+1 dimensional spacetime.  This light isn't visible light that you can see with your eyeballs, but invisible light in the radio end of the spectrum.  I'll try and provide a better explanation.

So the black hole exerts such a powerful gravitational field that is literally curves space and time.  I understand that it is a difficult thing to visualize and is typically shown as the black hole causing a bend in a rummer sheet.  The analogy does, kind of, get the point across, however, it's still a two dimensional representation.  Readers need to extend the idea to our three spatial dimensions.  Length, width and height are all warped toward the black hole's event horizon. 

The event horizon is the area near the black hole where nothing that crosses is can ever make it out.  An observer outside the event horizon would probably see no light for a distance outside the horizon as all light would be heading toward the horizon and not outward toward the observer's eyes and instruments.  Beyond that space some light would be flung away from the area outside the black hole.

Ok, got that?  I hope so...

Now about the light.  It is light in the sense that we are seeing detected photons, but the wavelength is outside our visible range and into the radio part of the spectrum.  Why not look at the visible light?  Well there is material around the black hole being accelerated and ripped apart as it migrates toward the event horizon.  As this material accelerates it heats up generating all sorts of light from many different wavelengths, visible light included.   This material is transparent in the radio part of the spectrum, so radio waves can pass through some of it.  If we looked in the visible part of the spectrum we would simply see a bright, amorphous blotch which wouldn't really tell us much.  Looking in the radio part of the spectrum shows us a great deal.

Around the event horizon, material is heading in all directions.  Some circles around, some passes in front and some spirals inward.  We cannot see the radio light directly in front, because it is all heading toward the event horizon or spinning/spiraling around it.  This means that the matter and generated photons are not heading toward us, hence the blackness at the center of the image.  The doughnut of radio light we do see is coming from behind the region of the black hole. 

Very massive objects all warp spacetime and light from behind that passes close enough can get kind of sling-shotted around these objects which is a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing.  What we see in the image is pretty much just that.  Light generated behind the black hole is lensed by a region of severely warped spacetime near the event horizon.  Since the light comes from behind what we are seeing is a shadow of the area around the black hole.  The area of blackness is about 3 times the diameter of the black hole.  Ok, so big deal.  Is that it?  Actually there's more.

If you examine the image you may notice that it is dimmer near the top and brighter at the bottom.  This difference in brightness is due to doppler effect where the stuff at the top is moving away from us and the stuff at the bottom is moving toward us.  All this information fits very well with theory and contributes to confirming some of our understanding of how the universe works.

Finally, this image really does not convey the amount of effort involved in receiving this bit of confirmation.  Sure, it's not enough to move from theory to fact in out understanding, but the sheer amount of effort needs to be acknowledged.  It took a lot of very smart and dedicated people, something like 200-ish, and cooperation from 20 countries not to mention a lot of radio telescopes to get this data.  I am personally amazed at this effort and look forward to what the data can tell us once fully analyzed and the experiment repeated.  Exciting times!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Astrox Imperium

Another day, another early access game.  Today I am going to post about Astrox Imperium which is a game I've been following for a while now.

Astrox imperium is a single player space game set in a unique universe developed by Jace Masula ( game home page found here).  The game features open world exploration, mining, faction interactions, fighting, market play, missions and fleets.  It is reminiscent if something like Eve online, but players can experience the feel without the headache of unwanted PVP action.  Ive spent a few hours in the game to find myself pleasantly surprised with it.

First there's the developer who also goes by the handle "momoguru".  The developer is extremely responsive to well thought out criticism.  This does not mean that he will fulfill every request, rather it does mean that he will evaluate and fix, or tweak, things that need it.  A responsive developer is something we don't experience often enough in the gaming industry.  I have to tip my hat to Jace and the people helping on the forums as they are very responsive, active and positive.  Kudos to you all. With that said we should look at some of the features of Astrox Imperium game play.

Getting started can be a wee bit daunting as the tutorial missions in the beginning are a bit weak, in my opinion.  This should not be taken as a large negative though as it really isn't that big a problem if you are willing to just try things and in the worst case just start a new play through.  I think this will be expanded upon since the developer is mainly concerned with bugs, play balance, and streamlining systems, which is good and will make the core mechanics much better although they are pretty good now.  Starting ships and skills are quite capable and sufficient enough to get you going.

Different play styles are easily accommodated with the engine as it is.  Personally, I like to try them all, so I am starting out as a miner in order to build up a cash reserve and transition to a bounty hunter.  I will admit that I had a really hard time at first making any space bucks as a miner in the starting ship, because the quantity you mine and what the starter ore  sells for was just too small.  I was able to overcome this by purchasing the first fleet skill and hiring a mercenary miner who had a MUCH larger ship to mine for me.  With a merc to mine I made bank in no time flat.  My advice to beginners is buy the first level of fleet skill, hire a merc miner and hit the large asteroids for fast, early cash.

Modding is another important feature built into the game from the beginning.  The developer has included all the modding tools they use into the game and accessible from the start menu.  I feel that such things are extremely important in sandbox style games to enhance the experience and longevity of game play.  The addition of the modding tools allows players to tailor their experience to their liking and flex their creative side which is a thing sorely lacking in AAA games.  I could write a whole other article on the subject, but I'd I will stop myself there.  Kudos again to momoguru for thinking of this.

Last, but certainly not least, is the price.  Astrox Imperium is a steal at around $15 USD.  There is so much content and potential in this game that I almost can't believe it is so inexpensive for the amount of effort put into bringing it into early access and the continuing effort now that players can grab a copy of the game.  I sincerely hope that the developer has every success both financially and personally with this effort.  May the release of the game be everything he hoped for and then some.  Well done!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The "computer" industry

I've literally grown up through the "computer revolution" and I am quite dismayed at the direction it is heading.  I can remember waaay back before the average consumer could even think about having a computer in their home, yes, back to when having a transistor radio was on the cutting edge.  In those days computers were the exclusive purview of government and universities and took up rooms, or buildings, worth of space. Along came the late 60's to early 70's and calculators.  The miniaturization revolution had begun.

My first look at a computer came in the form of a rather expensive, for the time, calculator.  My calculator was an old Texas Instruments jobbie and I can remember tinkering around with calculations in an attempt to get it to do something other than simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, essentially looking for boundary conditions that made the brain in it freak out.  Fun and geeky times.  Calculators became more powerful and started rocking those cool, new liquid crystal displays, memory and more functions just as the first hobby computers came out.

Fondly, I remember the first real computer I ever laid eye on.  This computer was some variety of HeathKit with a 2 digit display that could do some hexadecimal math.  It only had a very basic set of keys and just the 2 hex digits for display.  In modern terms it was barely a computer, but to me it was cutting edge and I used it at every opportunity I could.  The programs were small and you had to understand the architecture pretty well to get it to do much.  To me this was just awesome and it is where I discovered my affinity for such things.  Not long after my school came into the possession of an early Apple computer with an actual CRT display. My God, the power.  Still programming in Hex and accessing the hardware directly this was a heady time.  More systems were hitting the market and schools were picking them up, computer clubs were forming, and we students were really diving in and "hacking".

In those days the term "Hacking" did not mean anything evil.  Hacking was the term for taking things apart and probing their innards to discover how they worked and what cool things you could accomplish with them.  In short, we LEARNED a lot about computer architecture, programming and even pushed the boundaries of what these devices were meant by their manufacturers to do.  We were proud to wear the label of Hacker and we had a passion for learning and discovery.  These days the term Hacker has been co-opted in a negative light and most people equate it with criminal and that makes me rather sad.  However, I am digressing, but I thought it worthwhile to understand where I come from to make my point about the current direction of the computer industry at large.

Ok then.  so I come from the early days of computing where everything about our systems and devices were open and discoverable, yet today it seems to me that the overall direction is now the opposite.  Computers, and software are now subject to patent lawsuits, "ecosystems" are now a thing with many manufacturers, and the general push is towards disposable devices.

Take Apple for instance.  Here you have a company that puts on a happy, public face of cool hipsters, user friendliness, and ease of use, yet they will tell you if your phone won't start you need a new one.  They literally cannot fix much or even replace a battery and actively prevent customers from seeking out sources who can fix their gear.  Just check out Louis Rossmann's YouTube channel for info on that subject.  Apple isn't by any stretch the only company making disposable devices as the majority of smart phone manufacturers now glue everything in their phones making simple tasks like battery replacement impossible for customers.  I fear that computers are heading in that direction.

Look at laptops which is a classification where I include notebooks, ultrabooks and the like.  Contrast a laptop with a desktop, and I don't mean and "appliance" like the Intel NUC.  I call the appliances, because to me they are just that and have much the same issues as laptops which I shall spew on about presently.  Laptops are what I now term "disposable computers".  I call them disposable for the following reasons:

1) You have very limited upgrade and repair options.
2) As software becomes more resource heavy, the laptop only has a few years of useful life for most.

Let's talk upgrades now.  In a typical laptop you might be able to replace the main storage unit, or hard disk and upgrade the memory.  That is about it.  In a more traditional desktop, you can still replace all the guts from memory to CPU to graphics processor and over time keep the machine current.  if you want to keep a laptop or appliance current, well you have to get a new one.  Could laptops be made to be upgradeable?  Certainly.  That is an engineering issue, but it seems to me that corporate greed and consumer laziness spawned a business model that keeps us buying replacements and generating ever increasing mountains of toxic e-waste.  As evidence, just go to your local electronics store that sells computers and look at the ratio of upgradable desktops to laptops they sell.  You may be hard pressed to find a desktop in some stores these days.  This is one trend that upsets me.

Another trend that really makes me want to pull out what hair I have left is that of licensing and proprietary systems and software.  Back in the early days pretty much all information about those computers were made available.  Circuit and logic diagrams, processor and chip functions, manufacturer generated technical specs and documents actually came with many systems.  These days mainstream manufacturers tell you little to nothing and they sue each other over stupid things like rounded corners on phones.  So if you want to "hack", in the original sense", you can be subject to prosecution if you publish your discoveries for spilling trade secrets.  This extends to hardware and software, so you are expected to operate on the lack of information, or outright B.S. a manufacturer deigns to give you and be happy with that even if all you want to do is fix what you already paid for.  Very sad times indeed which leaves me feeling rather down about banking my future on the tech industry in general.

That pretty much sums up my feelings regarding the computer industry and has played a fairly major part in my decision to retire from I.T.  I am not someone who will take crap handed to me when I know full well that the barriers to achieving a successful outcome are purely artificial.  Please note that there is some light, not much, but some.  The Open Source movement is now not only concerned with software and is moving into hardware albeit slowly and with much resistance.  I do hope it makes major inroads into the public consciousness and that we see a return to those wonderful times when computing was open, information was exchanged freely, and when we were excited and proud to be called Hackers.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Far Cry: New Dawn Final Impressions

So, last night my gamin' buddy and I finished Far Cray new Dawn and I thought I'd follow up the last post with my thoughts now that the game is completed.  Warning! There be spoilers ahead.

I stand by the impressions of combat, driving, graphics and environment as they are great and the mechanics feel good.  Unfortunately I don't recommend it for the story.  In short, the story stinks.  The story is full of forced scenes that do not make much sense in how they unfold.  It may be that I have been influenced by having a spouse that is a writer, or that I am thinking too much about it, however I found myself watching the cut scenes and thinking "what the F***?"

In the beginning, you are cornered by the twins and the obvious choices you have are to either open fire and try to kill them or jump off a cliff, but you don't get the choice, so you are forced to jump.  Now I'm not a jump kind of guy, so I would have opted to take the chance and wipe out the baddie leadership when I had the opportunity. Hell I had a light machine gun with a full belt of ammo when this happened.

Next time you are confronted with the twins it's just you, them and a hostage.  Again, I had an up-scaled LMG and a full belt, could I take a shot then?  Hell no.  They tell you to handcuff yourself so they can beat you.senseless and then kill the hostage anyway.  Yeah, I didn't see that coming (that's sarcasm by the way).  There's also a similar set of scenes with Mr. Seed and his son.

I don't like it when games are "on rails" where you are forced down a specific path.  It shouldn't be so difficult to engineer a couple of endings and allow some choice during the story cut-scenes that will affect the ending you have as the game winds down.  This sort of design laziness really does not make the game very open-world as was advertised.

So what about the open-world aspect?  It's extremely limited.  The outposts you have to take are few and easily taken while the "game world" is very small.  So you take over all the gang's outposts, after all you are supposed to be driving them out of the area, the story proceeds like you haven't taken over any completely ignoring what is actually happening.  I felt I was entering alternate dimensions half the time.  You can even find the prison where the gang takes all the people it kidnaps, but if you go there you find a little loot and zero people until the story decides you have to go there.

To conclude, I felt the game has very strong mechanics for combat, driving and environment but it falls down horribly when integrating the story with the "open world" aspects.  I could not recommend it as a AAA title at an AAA price.  My advice:  Wait for a sale if you still want to play it and maybe pay for it at 60% off.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Far Cry new Dawn - First Impressions

I recently managed to get Far Cry New Dawn for the PC today through a sale on the Humble store.  In short, I haven't laughed that hard in quite a while.  Oh, wait!  It's not a laugh of derision, rather I had some real FUN.

See, I have this friend who plays a LOT of games, and we really enjoy multiplayer and cooperative games together.  For the last few months all that was available were the "battle royale" style arena games, which I detest, so we haven't been playing together so much.  Since the game was on sale and my friend liked Far Cry 5, we decided to purchase it and I am very glad I did.

New Dawn is set something like 16 years after the end of Far Cry 5 and after a nuclear war, so start thinking along the lines of the Fallout series... kind of.  People of the area where the game is set are trying to start over with not much in the way of resources.  before they know it this "road warrior" style gang starts to bully and kill the inhabitants and take everything for themselves.  As the protagonists you are to help people, defeat the gang and are free to roam the game map as you like, really.  Anyway that's the premise in a nutshell.  What follows is my breakdown of the game's strengths and weaknesses.

Graphics:  These are great and even on low settings they are quite immersive.  I feel that they are quite sufficient and if there are glitches/problems I didn't notice any.

Gunplay:  Since this game is, essentially, a shooter I found that combat felt really smooth and organic.  Some of the weapons are really over the top, but it's not a reality simulator, so enjoy the craziness.

Movement:  Once again I found the movement to be very smooth and organic with the typical controls available (run, crouch, etc.).

Tasks/Quests:  Well, they are in there and you can do them.  Lots of side things to do or you can just run around shooting and looting if that is what you like.

Vehicles:  Probably one of my favorite parts.  There is a good selection of land vehicles pretty much right off the bat from ATVs to Semi trucks.  All the ones I tried during my stream felt good driving in first person view.

Wild Life:  This was pretty hilarious.  With the exception of deer, so far anyway, everything else is hostile to humans.  We were attacked by wild boars, a bear, feral dogs, a skunk and several turkeys.  Yes, that's right, turkeys.  One of my favorite moments during the initial stream was yelling out "turkey!" to my friend as it rushed him.

Weaknesses:  Hard to find right now.  Everything felt great, but I didn't take the game very seriously and it felt to me that you shouldn't do so.  There are probably a ton of bugs that I didn't notice.

Odd Notes and Summary:  Lets see... Overall, I had a blast.  I would tell people on the fence about the game to take the premise and story with a pinch of salt and immerse yourself in the game.  Most of all just have fun.  Try silly things and don't take getting whacked too seriously.  If you are looking for a combat simulator and want to act like you are in the military, then this probably isn't the game for you.  If you are looking for some over the top action, then hell yeah, go pick it up.  The sale on Humble has 2 more days to go.