E3 2017 Day 2: Microsoft

By Shamus
on Jun 11, 2017
Filed under:
Video Games

It’s day 2, which means it’s time for Microsoft to shuffle out on stage and play another round of “How Do You Do, Fellow Kids?”

They’re expected to show off the new Xbox hardware. I’m looking forward to getting angry over the part where they once again fail to apologize for Games for Windows LIVE. I’m anticipating that they will follow that up with a bit where they pretend like there’s nothing wrong with the Windows Store.

I’d embed the Twitch stream, but for some idiotic reason the Twitch player always auto-plays. That’s obnoxious. So instead you’ll have to settle for this link right here.

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E3 2017 Day 1: Electronic Arts

By Shamus
on Jun 10, 2017
Filed under:
Video Games

Like I said yesterday, I’ll be watching the E3 stream and writing about it. I’m not sure which particular stream I’ll be watching, though. A half dozen different outfits are running their own stream, and I’m not sure which one will be the least annoying. I’ll figure it out once the show starts. For now I’ll be keeping an eye on the YouTube stream in one window and and playing Starbound in the other. (The Spacefarer Update just came out.)


Link (YouTube)

I don’t expect to have a lot to say about this particular presentation. EA seems to have killed off or mutated all of the games I might care about. But we’ll see if they have any surprises.

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202020767 comments? This post wasn't even all that interesting.



E3 2017: Intro

By Shamus
on Jun 9, 2017
Filed under:
Video Games

As in the past, I’m going to be watching the livestream of E3. But this year instead of adding my own commentary on top of the show (which made it easy for ME to miss things, or to make it so I would drown out the presenters so YOU miss them) I’m just going to live blog it.

E3 is such a strange beast. There are three groups involved, and they all want different things:

The Publishers

In 2016, Ubisoft hired professional dancers to show us how fun their dance game is when played by professional dancers.

In 2016, Ubisoft hired professional dancers to show us how fun their dance game is when played by professional dancers.

The publishers want to get the biggest bang out of their marketing dollars by making announcements at this point of maximum public interest. All eyes are on E3. Well, not really “all eyes”. The vast majority of “gamers”Whatever THAT means. ignore E3. But the core audience is keenly interested in it. These people are the big spenders, early adopters, and platform loyalists, and with the right touch their enthusiasm can be harnessed to generate even more hype.

So the publishers invest a lot of money trying to control the narrative. They want favorable coverage with timing they control. They want everyone to buy as much as possible, as soon as possible, with as little scrutiny as possible.

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Arkham City Part 20: Theatrics

By Shamus
on Jun 8, 2017
Filed under:
Batman

And so we come to the actual ending of the game. Batman glides down from the Wonder Tower explosion and Clayface-Joker gets on the JumbotronI imagine Hugo Strange had a hard time justifying the cost of his ten-meter outdoor flatscreen TV in the Arkham City Budget. to taunt him in front of all of Arkham City. Joker has his girlfriend, and he wants Batman to come to the movie theater.

First Batman has to work his way to the theater through a nest of snipers who are all covering each other. They’re lining the canyon of dilapidated buildings leading up to the theater entrance. The game is not messing around at this point. Even on easy difficulty, these guys can kill Batman pretty quickly. Nearly every sniper is covered by at least one other sniper, and so if you’re sloppy and try to attack the wrong guy you’ll get shot several times in the attempt. You need to probe around the edges and find someone who isn’t covered.

It`s tough to get a screenshot that shows off all the guys without getting shot in the process. Trust me, there are a lot of guys.

It`s tough to get a screenshot that shows off all the guys without getting shot in the process. Trust me, there are a lot of guys.

It’s not a difficult puzzle, but it’s a slow one to unravel because after you take out one sniper, you often have to travel several blocks, all the way around to the other side of the canyon to get behind the next vulnerable target. The whole time, Joker has a gun to Talia’s head and is taunting Batman. It’s a good thing Joker is so much fun and Mark Hamill is so delightful in the role, because otherwise this would be really tedious.

Once inside the theater, it looks like Clayface-Joker is planning on shooting Talia in front of Batman. Then we get one of my favorite lines of the whole game. Batman stops short and says, “Let’s just talk about this.”

On one hand, this is a really good line because it underscores the fact that Joker has all the power here. Batman doesn’t have any plans, any tricks, or any gadgets to get him out of this. Batman came here because he had no other choice. On the other hand, this moment would be a lot stronger if Batman hadn’t spent most of the night bumbling around with no plans and no idea what was going on. It’s not like he’s suddenly without a plan. He’s still without a plan, only now the stakes are higher.

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Nan o’ War CH13: Debrisbiscuit

By Rutskarn
on Jun 7, 2017
Filed under:
Lets Play

So I think I’ve grasped the core strategy behind winning naval battles, if strategy’s not too grandiose a word for “having some bombs.” And now that I’ve got a ship that wasn’t designed for running mail, I’m happy to get past all this fussy tutorial-area low-grade busywork and just get to the horse racing already. I mean, what gives? I’m hours into this 18th century pirate sandbox and I haven’t seen one goddamn racetrack yet.

But oh boy, I sure have been hearing about “the races” from every single Suspicious Man I’ve been to thus far. It is literally the first dialogue I encountered in the game. Like, here’s a small sample of things I learned after I found out that the Caribbean(!)’s secret underground racing circuit was being held in Fort Jacob:

  • Where to hire a crew
  • Where to find jobs
  • How most of my skills work
  • How to sail a ship
  • How to fire a cannon
  • That I have made a terrible mistake
  • What a “hanger” is

So you know what? Let’s see what the fuss is all about. Get ready to watch some nameless awkwardly-costumed NPCs trot around a track and bet imaginary money on the arbitrary outcome, because that is almost certainly what we’re in for. I mean, did they just have a track they used for testing horses and they figured they might as well—

Weevil my biscuits, they actually made a racing minigame. They took a clunky knight simulator and made a clunkier pirate simulator and then threw in a racing minigame. Obviously, we are going to drop everything we’re doing and play the racing minigame.

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201333 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.



Patreon: Year Three

By Shamus
on Jun 5, 2017
Filed under:
Landmarks

It’s been three years since I took ads off my site, stopped taking side-jobs, and began treating this blog like a full-time job. As in the past, I’m taking this anniversary as a chance to look back at the previous year, appraise my output, get feedback, and discuss future plans for the site.

Skip the next section if you don’t want to know about my financial situation. The short version is that things are about to change, and I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

Personal Finances

That internet money!

That internet money!

I know this is weird. I was raised in a world where it was considered extremely rude to mention or ask how much anyone was making. Those were different rules for different times, and I see the need to relax them here where I’m making public appeals for support. At the same time, this still feels really uncomfortable to me. Old taboos are not easily overcome.

In the early days of my Patreon, I made a quasi-joke funding goal of $1,160 as “minimum wage”. The idea being that once people give that much, I’ll be making as much as someone who works full-time at a minimum wage job. It turns out that this is not the case.

What I found out the following April is that the income I get from Patreon is very different from income I get from an employer. Like, I have to give the IRS about a third of all my Patreon money.

Yes, actually a third. Yes, I’ve been to a tax preparer. Yes, we’ve checked the laws. This is really the case. Yes, I’m deducting that stuff you’re about to suggest. Yes, this seems really high for this country. I’ve had this conversation a dozen times and people simply refuse to believe it.

The rationale for this seemingly borked system is this: Let’s say you work for Corporation Z. They make a bunch of money. They pay taxes on it. Then they take some of what’s left over and pay YOU, and you pay taxes on THAT. This tax I’m paying on my Patreon income is simply both of those taxes combined, so that things are… fair. (Because otherwise I’d have an advantage over the corporation, right?)

At this point you’re about to get mad and jump down to the comments. “How come [some rich person] pays a lower percent of their income as taxes than Shamus does?!? This is an outrage!” I know it feels good to jump on your political hobby-horse and rock vigorously around the room, but honestly the entire topic is beyond tedious to me. It feels like I’ve just been run over by a car and a bystander rushed over and began ranting about how those IDIOTS at city hall need to DO SOMETHING about this crosswalk. You can’t imagine my apathy towards political discussions right now. Really. Don’t test my patience on this. I know you think you’re helping, but… no. Don’t go there.

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7 Bits of Misguided Advice

By Shamus
on Jun 4, 2017
Filed under:
Rants

I love YouTube creator CGP Grey. He’s one of the best things on the internet. His video on Lord of the Rings takes the dense and often dry work in the Silmarillion and turns it into a fun little cupcake of knowldgeIt’s a shame Peter Jackson couldn’t do the same with The Hobbit.. His video on Internet Germs is a perfect explanation of why Twitter has been transformed from the platform food and pet blogging into a global symposium of Horrible People and Their Ghastly Opinions. His video on Americapox explains why Europeans didn’t catch horrible plagues from Native Americans. Maybe that lesson is common knowledge now. (Is it?) But this has bugged me since I was in grade school, and it wasn’t until that video that I felt like my question had been properly answered.

But he made a video that annoyed me. So now I’m going to turn on him, as you do on the internet.

Last week he released a video titled 7 Ways to Maximize Misery 😞, and it contains advice built atop ideas that are presented as universal truths, but are actually quite situational and dependent on the person.

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Nan o’ War CH12: Bomb Voyage

By Rutskarn
on Jun 2, 2017
Filed under:
Lets Play

The downside of playing on the difficulty where you don’t automatically save when you quit is that—without getting too technical about the mechanics—you don’t automatically save when you quit. So that grand victory that took five hundred precise mouse clicks to score took precisely zero to foul up. My finest moment just unhappened.

Let this be a life lesson, folks! Don’t savescum halfway. Punch your pitons of destiny into every inch of that mountain of tribulations. Just captured a ship? Treat yourself to a save. Found some buried treasure? Why not save! Won a battle with the hardtack shits? Save that game.

The prospect of beating those smugglers again and regaining all the extra crew and funds and levels and backup ships is daunting. It’s so daunting, in fact, that I’m going to skip it and just go attack a War Brigantine instead.

What’s a War Brigantine? Let’s start with “twice the size of my ship.” Let’s move on to the modifier, “War.” As in, “In this brave new world of naval trade and exploration, we killed half a forest so some upper class twit could feed fishes the hard way and we dare you to try stopping us.” You know what my ship’s qualifying word is? “Large.” As in “Large Sloop.” As in, “As far as sloops go, this one’s large. You could almost fit a pool table on here.”

Jesus. Here goes nothing.

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201030 comments. (A twenty-sided die has 30 edges.)



Arkham City Part 19: Wonder Tower

By Shamus
on Jun 1, 2017
Filed under:
Batman

We’re nearly to the end of this series and I still haven’t talked about the stealth encounters. I’ve been waiting until now because the best stealth encounter in the game takes place pretty close to the worst one and I thought they’d make for a good contrast.

Stealth Encounter

It`s easy for us to see Batman, but in the fiction of the game he`s supposedly hiding in the dark and foes can`t normally see him up here.

It`s easy for us to see Batman, but in the fiction of the game he`s supposedly hiding in the dark and foes can`t normally see him up here.

A really good stealth encounter is one where you’re constantly having to observe enemy patterns and change your approach in response to enemy action. A bad one is where you crouch in the same spot for a long time and wait for the mindless AI to walk into your ambush.

Batman games are really good at providing the kind of dynamic behavior that makes for good encounters:

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Messages from Spammers Part 6

By Shamus
on May 31, 2017
Filed under:
Random

Wednesday’s usual Nan O’ War episode will appear later this week. I was going to post about the latest talk from John Carmack, but I feel like that kind of post needs to simmer for a few days. So rather than leave this spot blank, I thought we might look at the work of a new spammer to the site.

All of the messages in this post arrived from the same IP address, and all of them within a few minutes of each other. All of them bypassed the various spam filters and appeared on the site where the public could see them. (I manually took them down once I spotted them, obviously.) They managed to properly handle the “Check here if you’re not a spammer” checkbox. They managed to spoof Akismet, which is my main software-based defense against spam. They also successfully got by the common stuff like keyword filters. One or two of them almost got past the ultimate filter, which is my human brain. That’s a pretty good night’s work for a spam bot. (Or perhaps a shameful night’s work for my spam filters.)

Let’s meet our first contestant…
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Zenimax vs. Facebook Part 5: The Verdict

By Shamus
on May 30, 2017
Filed under:
Column

When the Zenimax vs. Facebook trial ended, Zenimax was awarded $500 million. Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that. But let me do things backwards and start with talking about Carmack’s reaction to the verdict.

Disclaimer: Like I said at the start of this series, I am not a lawyer. This is a complicated case and I am not an expert on the law, VR, or corporate contracts. I’m working with incomplete records of complex events where there was often more than two sides to every story. I’ve done what I could to be accurate, but this series is intended as opinion commentary, not authoritative historical record.

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Factorio: What’s in the Bottle?

By Shamus
on May 28, 2017
Filed under:
Video Games

In Factorio, you build machines to harvest raw resources like iron ore or crude oil. Those resources are carried by conveyor belt or pipes to other machines that refine the raw materials into production-ready materials like iron plates and petrol. Those are then carried to other machines that turn them into machine parts. Those parts are then carried elsewhere and turned into a final product.

And then things get strange.

You might use that product directly. If the product is something like a conveyor belt or a robotic arm, then maybe you’ll carry that crap around in your inventory and use them to build more stuff. But the other thing that products are used for – and indeed the fate of the vast majority of manufactured products – is to be turned into science bottles.

Science bottles are yet another product. They look like little glass bottles of liquid of varying color. You have your conveyor system deliver them to science labs, and then the bottle is magically turned into research. The bottle vanishes from the world and you gain a little bit of progress towards your next research goal. Once your labs consume enough science bottles, you’ll unlock a new technology.

The early science bottles are fairly simple and can be constructed in just a couple of steps, while the late-game bottles require complex factories and vast quantities of resources.

This idea of turning raw ore into a bottle of colored juice and then turning the juice into knowledge is pretty silly and it’s obviously something you’re not supposed to think about. But we’re going to do it anyway.
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