Another Part of the World…

  By Shamus   Nov 23, 2014   173 comments

In the Unrest postmortem, someone kicked off a discussion about cost-of-living and the advantages of living outside of the USA. As someone who has worked from home for most of his professional life, this is something I’ve thought about a great deal.

Back in the dot-com days – before the bubble burst – the entire idea of Silicon Valley drove me crazy. Great, tech jobs are plentiful and pay is astronomical, but the cost of living is equally astronomical, everything is crowded, and your commute is likely going to be murder. I can understand why a person might dare to live there, but I could never fathom why a company would choose to live there. The cost of doing business is sky-high, real estate is high, labor costs are SUPER high, and California is notoriously difficult and expensive with regards to regulations and taxesThe linked site is the first search result. I’m not endorsing it politically. Even if you think California “isn’t that bad”, the people who usually run companies DO think it’s bad.. Why not locate somewhere nice but cheap, and simply pay relocation costs? Assuming you’re a small company (say, a dozen employees) you could easily move to some nice but affordable little suburb and make back those relocation costs with lower overall costs of doing business. (Or, you know, start a new company in one of those places.)

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The Last of Us EP24: Not The Monkeys!

  By Shamus   Nov 21, 2014   51 comments


Link (YouTube)

I want you to imagine crossing Colorado on horseback. Now imagine a situation where you have to go THROUGH a building and can’t go around it. I can’t accept it. That’s Loony Tunes. I mean, other people cross the country, right? This university isn’t the sole choke point between east and west. Having Joel and Ellie run out of food or water and forcing them to scavenge would have made for a FAR better excuse for this than having them enter a zombie den and be unwilling to go around.

And while I’m re-writing the game, here is how I would have handled the raider fight in the last episode:

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The Last of Us EP23: Raider Radar

  By Shamus   Nov 20, 2014   64 comments


Link (YouTube)

I just want to say that I think our team has devised the best Agent 47 fanfiction to date. I’m so happy we could achieve this together.

Like I said in the episode, these “bandits” in the woods are a lot less objectionable than the ones in Pittsburgh, or the ones that assaulted the power plant last episode. It’s a small-ish group of guys and we’re (possibly) invading their territory. The group is small enough and mobile enough that they could plausibly forage for a living.


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Minecraft: Modder’s Advice

  By Shamus   Nov 20, 2014   83 comments

I know for a fact that at least one Minecraft mod author reads this blog, and I’m willing to be there are others lurking. So I thought I’d use this space to offer some armchair game design advice.

By nature this advice is going to be really subjective. If you disagree with it, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad modder. But I offer this viewpoint as someone who has spent thousands of hours in dozens of modpacks. I know my way around the world of Minecraft mods, and I’ve seen a lot of stuff that works and a lot of stuff that doesn’t. If you’re going to disregard this advice, make sure you’re doing so on purpose. Even if these details aren’t important to you, it’s probably important to some portion of your players.

1. Don’t spam the World With New Resources

You know you’ve got too many mods installed when stone becomes a precious resource.

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The Last of Us EP22: Hail Hydro!

  By Shamus   Nov 19, 2014   99 comments


Link (YouTube)

In this episode we run into some rock-solid acting, backed by skilled dialog, supporting some great storytelling, supported by a complete mastery of themes and tone.

And then we fight bandits.

I know we mention the ending in this episode. I’m hoping we can hold off on discussing the ending until it gets a little closer. I don’t want to get to the last block of episodes and feel like we’re all repeating ourselves and everything has already been said. Particularly since there is so much else going on right now. This episode is dense with stuff to talk about. For example…

Joel brings up an interesting topic when he’s talking about the hydroelectric plant. We’re a civilization of specialists, because the sum of human knowledge is orders of magnitude larger than any one person could ever learn in a lifetime. If 99% of us die, we’re certainly going to lose a lot of that. But what parts would survive, and how difficult would it be to fill in the blanks?

With no proof on my side, I’m going to assume technologies like smartphones are over for the time being. The screens, batteries, interface, protocols, satellites, security, software, chip fabrication… the device itself represents the best of the best of our ideas, and it’s only a small part of the larger system required to make it go.

But taking few steps back, I wonder how we’d do with early 20th century tech. Keep in mind that a car needs more than just a mechanic. A mechanic is nothing without tools and parts. Parts have to be precision machined and that process requires electricity. And you need the raw materials: Plastics, metals, petroleum, glass, rubber. Some of that would actually be easy to get: Just recycle the millions of cars that have rusted into uselessness. Sure, you could scavenge auto parts from the old world for a while, but a generation into the new world you’re going to need to be able to make stuff from scratch. And if any part in that long chain of knowledge is lost, the whole thing collapses. You might end up with tons of recycle-ready steel to make parts and a viable supply of mechanics, but nobody knows how to design and machine an engine block from the raw materials. Or maybe nobody knows how to get the steel hot enough so that it can be worked.


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Minecraft Projects

  By Shamus   Nov 18, 2014   62 comments

My work week begins on Sunday. Write a columnI COULD write a column before this, but I don’t like to write too far ahead, because news can change and render the topic moot or my comments out-of-date., edit the Diecast, write the Sunday post. Generally in that order.

But for whatever reason, I was almost inert this Sunday. No column this week. The Diecast was late. I just… meh. I think I spent all my Ubisoft outrage in the Diecast and didn’t have any left for fueling a column. (Plus, it’s not like I haven’t done that rant before.)

So… can we talk about Minecraft?

The GLSL lighting mod looks great outdoors, but kind of falls apart inside of complex structures.

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Diecast #81: Ubisoft Sucks, Framerate, PAX

  By Shamus   Nov 17, 2014   95 comments


Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Rutskarn, Josh, Shamus, and Mumbles.

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Gilbert

  By Shamus   Nov 16, 2014   74 comments

At some point I mentioned that Gilbert Hiltman, the protagonist of my novel The Witch Watch – was named after my great-grandfather. I’ve always been fascinated by grandpa Gilbert. I’ve recently obtained some photos of himMom got some photos and she’s been posting them on Facebook. so I thought I’d share. I never even knew these existed until now.

It turns out I’ve got some English ancestry in my family tree. The running joke in the USAActually, I think the joke is over now, but when I was a kid people still obsessed over this. is that everyone claims to be English colonists that overthrew the British but we’re actually mostly Europeans that immigrated at the turn of the twentieth century. I assumed this was true of me as well. Not that I care one way or the other. I was just betting on the averages. I assumed “Heginbotham” was some horrible Anglican butchery of a German name. I figured some Hanz Hegunchbachataluntz arrived on Ellis Island and “Higenbotham” was the best the immigration officer could manage.

But no. William Heginbotham immigrated from Jolly old England in the early 1800’s. I don’t know why he left home, why he came here, or what he did to earn a living.

(You’ll notice the name spelled “Higenbotham” and “Heginbotham” here. I can find examples of both spellings in my notes and I don’t know if it’s a typo or an official change somewhere along the line. For the record, “Higenbotham” is how it’s spelled in newsclippings and “Heginbotham” is how everyone pronounces it. This is less confusing than other immigrant names, which would often fragment a single name into multiple spellings. The same family of immigrants might end up named Baer, Burr, and Barr, depending on numerous factors such as handwriting, immigration, mail delivery, and feuds.)

Eventually William had a son, who he named after himself…

Taken during the Great Mustache Uprisings of the 1800’s.

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The Last of Us EP21: Escape From Pittsburgh

  By Shamus   Nov 14, 2014   98 comments


Link (YouTube)

Once again the game demonstrates how bad it is at setting up fights with humans. What’s the deal with this moron sniper? Does he really sit in that sniper nest 24/7, just waiting to shoot random families as they attempt to pass through?

Hey idiot, how about you put up a sign to warn people away BEFORE they drop down off that wall? How about you just POINT your guns at people and TELL THEM to leave, rather than expending precious bullets on a risky firefight? And while we’re at it, what’s the point in telling people to go back the way they came when you KNOW it’s physically impossible to do so? Even if you’re so amoral that you’re willing to gun down travelers who don’t mean you any harm, and so stupid you can’t see the value in trade and news, this is still a completely bone-headed approach to security. You are deliberately putting people in a position where they will have no choice but to shoot back.

But of course the only reason this guy acts this way is because he’s a videogame monster. And I could swallow the idea that one lunatic would just snipe people for giggles, but this is yet another village of bloodthirsty buttheads who only exist because videogame.

The only thing less plausible than these raiders is the idea that we could possibly prevail against them. Even allowing for their complete lack of strategy, the idea that two men and two children could charge head-first into this fortified sniper nest is ridiculous.

And speaking of strategy, how stupid are these guys? Let’s see…

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The Last of Us EP20: Suck Less

  By Shamus   Nov 13, 2014   43 comments


Link (YouTube)

This part of the game is so much stronger than Raiderville. The sewer tunnels are filled with environmental storytelling and detail. The neighborhood just outside is packed with tension, worldbuilding, and little moments of character development. Lots of time and attention was given to how the world would look and feel: The anti-looting messages. The feral dogs. The grass growing up through the streets.

It all works so well. This really is the game at its best.

Which makes it all the more perplexing that the immediately follow this up with more stupid raiders. But we’ll talk about those guys next time.


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Top 64 PC Games: Final Thoughts

  By Shamus   Nov 13, 2014   71 comments

The most important lesson I gleaned from this project is that while the lists are shallow, they’re actually a ton of work. Just compiling and sorting a list of 64 takes a long time, and writing a couple of paragraphs about each one takes even longer. The final product is about 10 or 12k words, but the work involved felt more like 50k. It’s one thing to write 10k words on one topic, but quite another to keep changing topics. Every couple of paragraphs you have to stop, do a fresh round of Google searches to get the history and context right, then scrounge up some kind of screenshot, then write the words. Then spend hours endlessly fussing with the orderingHey! This game is a big deal. It should be near the top of the list. Actually, I have less than 100 words to say about it. Maybe it should be further down the list..

Having done all this, I’m surprised these “Top X” lists get done at all. Not only is this kind of labor intensive in a hours-worked-to-words-written sense, but it’s actually really tedious work.

But the other thing I learned from all this is that these lists really don’t mean anything. My list isn’t really meaningful except as “List of Top 64 PC Games Played By Shamus Young that He Felt Like Talking About.” There’s a bit of value in that from the standpoint of trivia and curiosity, but it tells you more about me than it tells you about videogames.

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Last of Us EP19: Condemned to Pittsburgatory

  By Shamus   Nov 12, 2014   79 comments


Link (YouTube)

These idiot raiders are just too much. They’re willing to expend all these lives, all this gasoline, and all these bullets, for what? To kill an adult and a kid? They’re not even trying to rob us! They’re just trying to kill the player because this is a videogame. And we’re still not done with these assholes.

My suggestion:

Remove everything between the initial ambush and the moment we meet up with Sam. Replace all of that with zombie fights. It would still be a gameplay slog, but at least we wouldn’t have a city of ten thousand well-fed raiders with infinite bullets and an insane lust for pointless murder. If that middle section was removed, then the raiders might seem like a small group and we wouldn’t spend so much time scavenging around their homes and noticing all the ways in which their community makes no damn sense.


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