Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Spinning in Circles


While I'm still trying to figure out where to take my next vacation, my cabin fever needs a snack to tide it over. Grand Forks, North Dakota (the closest major city to me) recently completed a bike loop that circumnavigates much of the city. So I loaded up the bike into the car and dragged my support team along for the ride.

Everdog and Mrs. Everwake putting up with my hobbies.

It's about 20 miles long (~32km) and seems to be about my limit of what I can do in one stretch of riding. 20 miles isn't a terrible stretch for a newer rider, but my problem is that I'm a bit slow. It seems most newer riders move along at about 15 miles/hour (~24 km/hour). I usually clock in about 8 miles/hour (~13 km/hour). If I want to do a long distance bike journey, I need to speed up a bit. 

So I set out on yesterday's journey with a goal of completing the loop at around 10 miles/hour (16 km/hour). Here's how it went:


Of course I did. 

Weirdly enough, when I check my stats for the ride this morning, it actually says I hit 10mph on the mark. Perhaps science released an update to math over the middle of night. 

They never release patch notes on these things.

In my defense, some of it is the bike. I hate to say it because it sounds like I'm blaming the controller for losing a game but hear me out. It's a commuter bike, not a touring bike. It's heavy. It might have been a battleship in a former life. It's ability to climb a hill is equivalent to before mentioned battleship.  Going above 20 miles/hour on this thing and it starts making noises you don't want a bike to make. Sitting on the bike seat is only mildly more pleasant than passing a kidney stone. 

It is sturdy though. It chews up miles without complaint. On a long bike ride I am quite confident that I will break before it ever does. Buying a fancy, carbon-fiber, purpose-built, adjusted to my measurements bike will probably improve a lot about my experience. But with bikes still being ultra expensive at the moment, I think it still makes sense to do my learning on this bike and then upgrade when I have a bit more skill and conditioning to bring to the table.

I also need to double check my insurance actually covers a more expensive bike.

Nonetheless, I'm trending in the correct direction and I'm confident that I can begin tackling longer rides sooner rather than later. I may be slow, but I am stubborn and have a great capacity for self-inflicted pain.

Bonus picture of a gopher that chattered at me while we both waited for the light.




Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Stuck in the Middle With You


Yes I'm stuck in the middle with you,
and I'm wondering what it is I should do.
It's so hard to keep this smile from my face.
Losing control yeah I'm all over the place.

-Stuck in the Middle With You
Stealers Wheel (and not the Beatles, as I just learned)


There's a downside to living in the middle of the continental US. There is largely nothing to do here. 

That's not really true. But one often needs to drive a fair ways to do something. But that's okay, because I'm in the mood to go adventuring. And with the world slowly rising from its slumber, my options for actually doing things again has increased tenfold. And I am paralyzed with indecision.

I have created a vacation backlog. 

How do I always do this?

It's not enough that I have a video game, book, and TV backlog. I need to overthink and ruin the act of leaving the house.

Actually, I think this one is a bit more understandable. Trips require planning, packing, and a lot more money than buying yet another bundle of games. Spur of the moment trips are still doable, but the whole living in the middle of nowhere thing makes options limited.

There are some practical difficulties. Mainly, the Everwake Family only has 1 car and Mrs. Everwake needs it just often enough for work that I'd feel guilty absconding off with it for a week at a time. Public transportation in the US Midwest is ... not really a thing. Flying is expensive. We do have a passenger railroad nearby. But it's destinations are limited and its pricing makes it essentially just a slow airplane. At a certain point, I'll need to suck it up and finally purchase a second car. Although the used car market in the US is crazy expensive at the moment, so that was probably a decision I needed to make two years ago.

I'm also having difficulty really nailing down a destination. The wife is busy with work so my next trip is likely a solo one. But I'm stuck in a place where I want to go someplace interesting, but not too interesting and wish I had waited until the wife could come along. 

A nice long bike trip is sounding like the correct move. It mostly solves the transportation issues and the wife is too smart to think crippling exercise is a vacation. But I lack confidence in my ability to pedal the long distances between towns in the Midwest. Thru-camping could be a choice, but carrying a whole huge bag of camping gear is maybe more of a logistical effort that I can handle at the moment. I want to keep things reasonably simple as I'm learning. The more factors I add the more of a chance of something going wrong.

I'm spinning my wheels and procrastinating. And it feels terrible. It's a hydra of malaise. Every time I make an effort at answering one question another 3 pop up. Eventually my brain just short circuits and I move on to something else. Usually lunch.

My goal for today is to make some decisions and pack some bags. I might just have to figure things out on the road.

I know the concept of a games backlog is pretty common, but I guess I hadn't realized I was doing it in other facets of my life as well. Is anybody else dealing with something like this? And I guess, has anyone had success in dealing with this?

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Return of Blaugust: Revengence

For the first time in the history of this blog, a prediction that I made actually came to fruition. 

Three and a half months ago, in my last blog post, I wondered how my new vaccinated status would affect my gaming. Would my newfound ability to leave the house again drive me away from digital worlds into the real one?

The answer was very much yes. I put probably 20 more hours into Persona 5. My D&D group finished up it's campaign in a couple of sessions. My Among Us group fell apart as we all returned to normal life.

But Blaugust actually shows up at an opportune time. I'm actually sitting at my PC again due to a combination of extreme summer heat and Canadian wildfires turning our air into poison. Out of the frying pan and into the fire if you will. 

But the 'digital break' has been good for me and I'm ready to reengage with the Blaugust community. I'm excited to be back again and judging from the explosion of my RSS feeds so are all of you. 

A minor programming change.

I've dropped the "Internet" from "Everwake's Internet Adventures". Quarantine really blurred the lines between my online and offline personas. Like all of us, my social life was essentially moved online for the past year and a half. 

But reconciling the "online" and "offline" sides of my personalities was genuinely tough for me.

I think it was Among Us that highlighted it for me. I played with a rotating group of 8-14 real life friends in a game that's about lying to and murdering people. Modulating my aggressive competitiveness with not wanting everyone I know to hate me was difficult. I was not always successful at it.

But ultimately, it was fine. I play to win, but I do play fair. I'm not  and there weren't really any hurt feelings out of it. I have the same relationship I had with everyone before the pandemic.

I've always felt I had to hide that part of my personality away; that it wasn't fit for public consumption. This was true even back in school. I played in competitive baseball leagues. My high school team was a non-competitive rural school playing other small, rural schools. My friend's really never saw the competitive part of this personality. There was never a "need" for this, it just happened that way. It became a habit.

When I stopped playing serious competitive sports, that split transferred over to my new outlet for such feelings: online gaming. Additionally, this was the early to mid-2000s, the beginning of social media outlets that explicitly linked your real name to an online presence. I began working in the political realm around this time and it became obviously clear that I need a separate third identify as well, distinct from my "real life" and my "gaming life".

As Bilbo said to Gandalf: "I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread."

Of course I've not experience anything that anybody else hasn't. We all don different masks for different contexts in our lives. But during the pandemic I really began thinking about these different but disparate parts of my personality. What bits are the "real" me? And if I merge the three together, what is the ultimate result?

I don't think I want to juggle three different me's anymore. And so for the past couple of months I've been approaching my life in a bit of a different way. For this blog that means erasing the boundary between the digital and the organic. More hiking photos, more stories of my personal life, and likely a different change in tone. But, it's still a gaming blog at heart, ostensibly an MMO one at that.

Air Quality Index - Red is bad.
 

Although if the world keeps catching on fire we might not see much difference in the content of this blog at all.

Monday, April 19, 2021

On the Eve of Freedom

There is a meta-achievement in World of Warcraft for completing all of the season-recurring holiday events in the game. I finally finished it in 2019, after about 8 years of being stuck on it. I had all the requirements done but one, the associated sub-achievements for Brewfest, the Oktoberfest proxy in the game.

It's when I realized that when the leaves turn brown and the air gets crisp, I'm rarely in the mood to stay indoors and play video games. The spring is a similar time for me; the weather is just too good.

This year has been different. Most of last year too. The obvious reason. Not only am I playing more video games this spring, I'm currently playing 5 of them:
 

  • Persona 5 Royale
    • My "main" game at this time. It's a JRPG with some strong dungeon crawling. Sorta. You spend most of your time working part time jobs , reading library books, and chatting with your friends to increase your stats. I just leveled up my Knowledge stat from Oblivious to Learned. I'm hopeful to do the same in real life one day.

  • Among Us 
    • Our weekly game with friends has been cancelled the last two weeks as our social group becomes more bold at socializing in real life again. No idea why America is getting another surge in COVID cases. Must be coincidence.
  •  Dungeons & Dragons campaign
    • I multitasked finishing my taxes during our last session. I found both experiences strangely similar.
  • Demon Soul's
    • It's ... fine. The lack of pause button makes playing a hassle. So does starting over from the very beginning of a level every time you die. Demon Soul's isn't grabbing me enough to become my "main" game, which means it'll be thrown to the wayside soon enough. It requires your full focus and attention, but I'm not convinced it's earned it.
  •  Outriders
    • I had to power level another character after my previous one was wiped out by the developer's incompetence. The game is fine. It's Diablo 3 as a third-person shooter with broken movement abilities. Mostly, it's something to do with my hands while chatting with friends. It's good at that.

(It seems I'm not alone in this matter; Bhagpuss just posted his own lengthy digital agenda [https://bhagpuss.blogspot.com/2021/04/who-invented-these-lists.html].)

But I suspect all 5 games to come grinding to a halt soon enough. Tomorrow is my last day of quarantine, or at least half-day if we want to follow the two-week period after my second dose down to the minute. My schedule for the week is packed with doctor's appointments, hair cut, dentist visit, etc. that have been put off for the past year. I also have dinner reservations with the wife for the fanciest place in town. A celebration of what was a difficult year for me but near hell-on Earth for her.

I'm curious to how my gaming will be affected by this. I suspect I'll still get a couple hours of Persona in here and there. We are close to the end of our D&D campaign so that will likely persist for another couple of weeks. But everything else gets shunted to the side as I learn how to use my feet again like an astronaut returning from space.

Maybe the Switch sees use again. It's been several months. I have the 'newest' re-release of a Mario title rented. That might get pulled out during a rest break of a long hike.

I also wonder, and am slightly concerned, that nothing will change. I'll use my newfound freedom to do what I've been doing for a lot longer than the pandemic's been on, and simply stay inside all day. I hope not, but it wouldn't be the end of the world. Being a shut-in is a bit different when it's by choice. 

Either way I think this blog might change focus a bit, as it often does. I might try to capture some of my real life wanderings instead of just my digital ones. I don't have much desire lately to offer my opinion on the latest bit of gaming news. Others do a fine job of it and I'm tired of talking at people. I think my favorite posts on this blog are me mostly just talking about my day. Whether it happens digitally or not.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Outriders - Ooof

 

I'm not a big fan of looter shooters. I like looting well enough. I've done quite a bit of shooting in my gaming career. But I find when games combine the two it often ends up being less than the sum of its parts.

But Outriders was actually doing okay in my book. It is, like all of these games, a very slow start. But a couple of hours in and my "Trickster" was humming right along and playing somewhat fluidly. It also helps that the class is really just a combination of "Spin-to-Win" Barbarian from Diablo 3 and Subtlety Rogue from World of Warcraft. Two things that I like! It also helped that I was playing with friends I haven't seen in over a year. I like them as well!

 



In fact the game is really just Diablo 3 with guns and a third-person perspective. The boss abilities are literally the same. The Torment system is the same. I mean if your going to steal, by all means steal from the best but maybe change a few things here and there, just to throw the people off the tracks.

Outriders doesn't have a lot of original thoughts. There are a lot of visuals that seem ripped straight from Destiny or Anthem. The snark versus snark grimdark dialogue could be verbatim from any AAA game in the past ten years. The shooting is a bit reminiscent of The Division, but the gameplay loop in general is much more aggressive and shines for it.

Unfortunately, Outriders is dedicated to following all the trappings of the looter shooter genres. It's broken at launch. I don't mean broken as in one spec is way more powerful than the others (although it has that), or glitches have been found that allow for insanely fast leveling and gearing (it also has that). I'm talking about being broke-broke.

I read the rumors on Reddit. At random times your character can be disconnected from the game, and when logging in again you find all of your gear missing. Even worse, you won't be able to log in to that character without getting immediately disconnected. The developers confirmed there was a problem but I didn't think a whole lot about it. Gaming forums have a tendency to ...amplify... the negative. I presumed actual data loss was a relatively rare phenomenon.

Obviously you know where this is going. Here is my character in his space underwear.

 


 

Even better, the developers have chimed in to let us know that not only is it likely weeks before we get characters playable again, but they will only be replacing epic and legendary gear. And by replace I mean with random gear. Not the gear you had. So when my dude emerges from purgatory, he will be doing so mostly naked and completely ineffective. Neat.

 



The looter shooter genre is very crowded. The action RPG genre even more so. Outriders had an uphill battle before all of this. We've seen games outlast their meme status before like No Man's Sky. But we've also seen them just die on impact like Anthem. It'd be nice if they can salvage this game and turn into something worth people's time. But I'm not holding my breath.



Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Assassin's Creed: Valhalla - The Singleplayer MMORPG

 

130 hours or so later and I've finished Assassin's Creed: Valhalla. It's a good, but not quite great game that contains too much padding and some inexplicable bugs. It contains a fair amount of character customization; of both the cosmetic and gameplay type. It has a bunch of gear choices that don't matter overly much. The open-world map is split into different zones with their own quest line. Each zone is gated by a gear score of dubious effectiveness. It's a gorgeous game with beautiful zones, a nice soundtrack, and a serviceable enough story line. There's some minor crafting. Technically, there are raids, albeit the pillaging kind and not the wasting your Wednesday because people can't stop standing in the fire kind.

I think I just played a single player MMORPG.

Which is how I play MMOs nowadays anyhow. Questing around without forced grouping for the inevitable dungeon quest feels great. Not worrying about competing for spawns, bad behavior in general chat, or inevitable server maintenance feels liberating.

I get that "single player RPGs" aren't some sudden innovation in the gaming industry. But I've never played a single player game that is so derivative of the modern MMO experience. Just about every game under the sun has stolen something from World of Warcraft. But AC: Valhalla is more brazen about it than most.

I suspect the appeal of AC: Valhalla is improved in an environment where it's basically illegal to leave my house. Where dealing with strangers feels more overwhelming when I don't have my own actual friends to fall back to. But I've been a lot about the idea of the right game at the right time. AC: Valhalla has a lot of flaws and the reviews around it's release cut into it dearly for that.

But, a big expansive, beautiful world begging to be explored. Clear objectives. Problems that can be overcome directly and with force? 

I'm in the mood for that right now.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Assassin's Creed: Valhalla - Pretty Pictures


For the past two weeks I've been playing Assassin's Creed: Valhalla. This was mostly spurred on by purchasing a Xbox Series X and then deciding what I was going to play on it. So I looked at the titles it had on launch day and sorted alphabetically. And frankly it worked out.

Admittedly, Valhalla isn't a revelation of a game. It's a bog standard late 2010s/early 2020s open world RPG. But I think it's quite competent at it and it's kept me entertain as I wait for the Minnesota winter to break.

I've nearly completed a 100% playthrough. Once I finish that up I'll write up more of my thoughts on the game. But I wanted to do something I often don't and make a screenshot post. I haven't been able to travel during the pandemic and I've needed virtual worlds to fill in that void for me. Valhalla's 873 AD England and Norway have scratched that itch for me; the game is beautiful.

 

The game is multiplatform and has been out for a couple of months now. It wasn't strictly necessary to play this on the Xbox versus my PC. At this point I'm not sure which is more powerful: my gaming PC with a RTX 2080 or my Xbox Series X. I suspect things are pretty close right now. But I figured this would be a nice game to get a feel for the graphics I can expect from the new consoles.

 


You can choose between some preset graphical options on the XSX version of AC: Valhalla. I run the performance mode which tries to keep things as close 4K and 60fps as possible. The other mode focuses on graphical fidelity and allows some framerate dips here or there. Smoother FPS always looks better to my eye.

 


The draw distance really impresses me. I suspect there is some graphical trickery happening at certain points to add in some environmental details that you can't actually get to the in game, but it's not really noticeable.

 


As with most Ubisoft games I play, the actual animations tend to be a step behind the environment. Not a huge deal graphically, but it does break the immersion.

Other graphic aspects are also lacking. In the picture below, the main character's hair would have looked bad in the original Toy Story. Let alone a AAA title in 2020. 



But I've sunk nearly 110 hours into the game thus far. I'm clearly enjoying myself. I look forward to talking about it more in the next couple of days.