Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Okay, Who's Using the TARDIS Again?

I kid you not.

No more than a few minutes after I posted a brief "go have fun with Battle for Azeroth!" post, THIS shows up in my INBOX:

Even down to the Redbeard part.

It keeps going and going, but you get the point.

When did Blizz start reading PC?

A Gamer's Wish

It kind of goes without saying that this is kind of a big day for WoW players.

I just wanted to wish them best of luck in playing Battle for Azeroth, because the whole point of playing is having fun.

Monday, August 13, 2018

A Gamer's (Other) Pastime

I've been doing some tinkering over the past week or so on my system, because that's what a computer nerd does I suppose. The reason for these little tweaks were patches to my Radeon RX 470 graphics card that fixed the performance issues I saw after the last Windows 10 Creators Update.* I figured that if those patches did the trick, maybe this six year old PC can still pull its own weight for a few more years without needing major upgrades.
Apparently somebody is a Corsair fan.
From pocket-lint.com.

The system is what was in 2012 a top tier i7-3770 system, although with a slower hard drive, a mid-tier graphics card, and a good 1080 resolution screen. Don't get me wrong, it's light years faster than the old 2007-era 32-bit Intel Core Duo (running Vista, no less) that it replaced, but I realized that eventually the i7-3770 would be eclipsed by faster CPUs with better surrounding architecture. Honestly, I didn't think it would take this long, but I'd argue that's the state of PC development these days. Unlike my experiences at the turn of the Century where the brand new AMD Athlons were top of the line for a scant 6-8 months and totally eclipsed after 2-3 years, the i7-3770 based system has only recently been knocked off of the "recommended" specs for PC games.**
Even PC cases have come a long way
from when I started building machines.
From Gamers Nexus.

Obviously the machine still functions perfectly fine for non-gamer activites, although my wife complains a bit about the loading performance when I start it up***, so if I had to perform major component upgrades I'd be very likely to keep this system as primarily her system and just build a new one for myself instead.

However, what really caught my eye were my experiences playing games that you'd think would have major issues stressing the system but actually don't.

I figured that newer MMOs, such as ArcheAge, Wildstar, and ESO, or regular games such as the aforementioned Rise of the Tomb Raider or Mass Effect: Andromeda, would have issues with the old PC. Much to my surprise, however, none of those games --after accommodating the increased loading times-- stressed the PC much at all. A good part of that is, I believe, due to my insistence on sticking with 1080 resolution rather than trying to run on 4K; without the 4K performance sync to push the RX 470 to its limits, my PC has an easier time of it than it ordinarily would have.**** But I also think that the biggest difference between the newer and older games is the architecture behind the games.

Nope, no problems here. Go figure.
From origin.com.

Take LOTRO, for instance. At 11 years old, it is a fairly ancient MMO by today's standards, and you'd think that a top end PC whose guts are 8 years old (but a 2 year old graphics card) would be able to run this at max settings without an issue. However, the lag when you enter into graphics heavy zones with lots of toons, such as Bree, LOTRO struggles on my PC. I pulled up the Windows Resource Monitor and ran LOTRO with it in the background for a little while, just to see what the results were, and I discovered that while LOTRO wasn't stressing my CPU much (about 15-20%, so it was active on one core most likely) or the GPU, it was hitting the hard drive and network quite a bit. Some network activity is to be expected, it's an MMO after all, but the amount of activity suggested that LOTRO was busy getting data from the network servers and then either transferring it to my disk or memory. Even if it was placing the data straight into memory (and the GPU), LOTRO was referencing data on the disk to an extent that wasn't necessarily the case in other MMOs. Back in 2007, Turbine likely decided to utilize their own version of memory swap to get around the 32-bit memory limitations, and in the age of 64-bit PCs this isn't necessary. However, the old architecture remains, and you only notice it when your PC bottlenecks.

In SWTOR, released in 2012, a similar issue is the case as well. The Windows Resource Monitor showed that my GPU was pegged when I ran about Alderaan --the locale that has caused the worst performance issues outside of an Ops run for me*****-- and CPU was at 25% (likely an entire core). The thing is, the RX 470 was sitting at 1 GB of memory utilization when it had 4 GB to play with, so it was being artificially constrained. It's only when I pulled back on quite a bit of the graphics resolution that the GPU was no longer pegged, but the CPU was in a near constant state of activity. This suggests that a CPU upgrade would help a bit, but with only one core being utilized, there's only so much that motherboard/CPU upgrade can do.****** Again, SWTOR is an older game that needs to be rearchitected to spread resources around to take advantage of newer PCs' capabilities.

I was about to mention that the older machines run on DirectX9, but I don't think that's as much of an issue as at first glance. Age of Conan runs perfectly fine in either DirectX9 or DirectX10, and switching between 9 and 10 in LOTRO doesn't have an impact. And I do play GW2, which runs in DX9, and the only issues I have are loading. Once the zone or locale is loaded into memory, everything plays fine.

***

So what does all this mean? Basically it means to stop worrying and just relax. There's only so much you can do without doing a complete rebuild, so fretting over whether an 8 year old PC can handle games at highest resolution without hiccups is a bit of a fool's errand.

That doesn't mean that a guy can't dream or tweak (or whatever). It does mean that I'm likely going to have to build a PC of my own, because the Old Battleaxe isn't going to give up the ghost anytime soon, and I can't see my wife saying "Yeah, we need to upgrade the PC" either.

If anything, getting faster internet speeds is what she'd want, and in a few years that'll take care of itself with the mini-Reds all off to university. (And that will cause it's own problems.....)





*And here I thought the performance issues were long term degradation of the system. Oh well.

**Rise of the Tomb Raider had the i7-3770k as the "Recommended" setup in 2016, and I can't imagine that in 2018 that's still the case. The specs are TBA at this time, however.

***Replacing the old had drive there with a SSD or a hybrid would help out a lot, but I'm not so sure I want to do that if it means a ton of work breaking the old hard drive into a SSD for the OS and traditional hard drive for games and other applications.

****If I'd go with a 4K monitor, I'd want one big enough to really appreciate the 4K difference, such as 32" or larger. But I'm not about to blow that sort of money on a system at this time, because priorities.

*****Yes, I've been in Ops runs before, almost totally during special events. Don't look at me like that!

******I kind of expected there to be disk activity like LOTRO has, but that wasn't the case. My old Barracuda was doing a good enough job of keeping up with the system, although I did notice that when Chrome was on in the background but only when SWTOR was running I saw disk activity while I was running at around 9/12 GB of RAM. Once I killed Chrome, however, the disk activity vanished. As another test, I killed SWTOR instead of Chrome, and still the disk activity went away. Therefore, the two combined must have led to some disk swap activity.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Blindsided

Last week I did something that I thought I would likely regret later: I downloaded The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) and created a character. I'd bought the game back during the big Steam midyear sale, and I really wanted to know whether the 90 GB download size was going to be worth it.

When I start a game, I don't dip my toe into the water gently. I jump into the deep end of the pool.* I was a bit concerned that after my experience with Stardew Valley, where I played the game constantly as much as I could, I was going to have a hard time pulling myself away from ESO. When you add in the "Oooo, shiny!" aspect to the game, not to mention that it was GenCon weekend and I had Twitch cast to our television, I was being bombarded with gamer stuff.

I feared overload.

Well, I didn't get gamer overload, but I found that ESO is a pretty interesting game.

I'd bought the game --which included Morrowind-- so that meant that a new player starts in Morrowind itself. I had no real preconceived notions about starting zones and whatnot, so I kind of shrugged and went with it.

As I expected, the initial questline sucked me in, but I noticed that there were hardly any side quests, so I was a bit confused. Then I made it to my first decent sized questing city, Balmora.**

There were several size quests, including a main questline that kind of dominated my time in the city, but what I didn't expect was that a small side quest, The Memory Stone, would suck up all of my attention.

And all the feels.

***

For older WoW players, there's the questline in Wrath about Crusader Bridenbrad, who had come down with the plague and had gone off into isolation to not be a danger to anyone else. Try as you might, whatever you try to help cure Crusader Bridenbrad of the plague doesn't work. In the end, the Crusader dies, but the Naaru intervene so that after Bridenbrad can be brought into the Light.

Knowing that the questline was made to honor Brad Bridenbecker, brother of Blizzard VP Robert Bridenbecker, who died from cancer in 2007 makes the questline all the more moving.

Well, ESO has their own moving questline in The Memory Stone.

From gamecritics.com.

It seems such a simple request, really: go take a "Memory Stone" to absorb an old Dark Elf's memories so he can pass them on to his estranged children. But the thing is, those memories pack a hefty emotional punch. And then the ending...

It's the sort of questline that will resonate the most to parents attempting to reach out to their adult children, trying to get them to understand how things turned out the way they did. In life, we don't get to have the do-over or a "roll a new character" that we do with games. You handle life on the fly, adjusting to whatever is happening, and some of those choices made at the time can seem cruel or callous later. But that's life: we frequently make the best of the situation we're in.

The Memory Stone hit me like someone had dropped a ton of bricks on my head. I'm not ashamed to say that I teared up at the end, because it's a parent thing. No, it's a life thing, and people who go through life will understand why such a small side quest had such an outsized impact on me.





*See: WoW, Stardew Valley, SWTOR, etc.

**Not to be confused with Balmorra from SWTOR. And yes, for the purist you go through a very small village and then head straight to the capital, THEN out to Balmora.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

WoW Intersects with D&D. Film At Eleven.

As a promotion for WoW's Battle for Azeroth, the website The Nerdist is having a Celebrity D&D livestream event tomorrow, featuring Brooklyn 99 actor Terry Crews.
Yeah, this guy. From Wikipedia.

Alas, the only video promo that I've found is on Facebook so far, but it does look like it could be fun.


EtA: And heeeereeee we go!

Terry Crews Joined us to Battle for Azeroth on our Newest CelebriD&D

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

And Lo, the Gamers Descended Upon the Midwest

It's that time of year again....


GenCon Indy is back, and for those of us (like me this year, alas) who can't make it to the 51st edition of the gaming convention, you can still watch via some livestreams.

BoardGameGeek (boardgamegeek.com) and sister sites RPGGeek (rpggeek.com) and VideoGameGeek (videogamegeek.com) will be having all sorts of activity on their sites, as well as livestreaming at the Twitch Site BoardGameGeekTV (www.twitch.tv/boardgamegeektv). Here's a link to their tentative broadcast schedule.

If you want to watch some of the other goings on, such as the opening ceremonies and whatnot, there's GenCon's own Twitch pages at officialgencon (https://www.twitch.tv/officialgencon) and genconstudio https://www.twitch.tv/genconstudio). For the schedule, here's a link to GenCon's Live Streaming Stage page.

The geek site founded by Felicia Day, Geek and Sundry, is going to GenCon as well. Among the events they'll be hosting will be a Critical Role Live session on Friday, which will also be livestreamed on Geek and Sundry's Twitch page (www.twitch.tv/geekandsundry).

I'm just glad that I do work from home most days, so I can have GenCon coverage in the background while I'm working away and not have to worry about getting a visit from the network team complaining about me sucking up the bandwidth at the office.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

History Repeats Itself, Part Whatever

The latest kerfuffle to shake up the MMO world while I've been away was the firing of two GW2 employees after getting in a Twitter spat with a GW2 streamer.*

It's a bit more complicated than that, as Reddit, bots, and ArenaNet upper management got involved. Having the specter of the Gamergate Squad raising hell didn't exactly help, either. The net result, however, is very clear: upper management of ArenaNet sided with the customers and fired Jessica Price and Peter Fries within a day or two of the kerfuffle.

Given the crap that keeps showing up in my YouTube "suggested feed", you'd think that people are ready to start shooting over this incident. This is Gamergate all over again, with one side harassing and threatening Price and Fries (and yelling about how GW2's narrative sucked anyway) while the other side is yelling about how terrible ArenaNet behaved in throwing the employees under the bus after having said that they'd be supportive when Price was hired. It's gotten to the point where you can find out which side a website is on just by reading the titles of the articles and not have to refer to the content**.

I'll be up front in that I felt that Price and Fries were thrown under the bus by ArenaNet, because I've seen this sort of thing happen in the larger "non-gamer" world, so that saddens but doesn't shock me. However, I also feel that ArenaNet's behavior --specifically President Mike O'Brien-- shows just how much the gaming world is completely dependent upon streamers/bloggers/vloggers/etc for their business plan.

***

In the early 90's, I worked at Radio Shack, and one of the first things I learned while working there was that the dictum "the customer is always right" was a lie. The customer was not always right, and frequently the customer didn't know anything at all about what they wanted to do***. There were also plenty of times when somebody brought in an item as a "return", showing obvious signs of hard use and/or breakage, and when we refused the return the customer complained through corporate until a regional director told us to eat the return.

I mention that story because ArenaNet's behavior is entirely predicated on trying to keep as many people happy as possible because they can't afford to piss off one of the influencers in gaming space and wrecking their business plan.

Influencers, or rather influencer marketing, is the type of marketing that focuses on getting a few targeted customers --the influencers-- to rave about your product. Think of the influence that PewDiePie has by virtue of his 64 million subscribers to his YouTube account, and you can see why game companies would want to court PewDiePie for his (hopefully good) opinion of a game they're developing. If you can get an influencer to promote your game, you're getting what amounts to free advertising. If an influencer pans your game, that's bad press you can't afford to have.

In theory, this gives a company that free press and it builds goodwill between the company and the buying public. However, it also makes a company far more subservient to the whims of those influencers because of the outsized influence they have in many markets, gaming included. The ultimate influencer is, of course, Oprah Winfrey, who could turn a book hardly anybody was reading into a best seller just by a good word on her part.****

Remember how I mentioned that the customer is not always right? In this case, Deroir, the GW2 streamer and influencer, should have known better than to try to explain to a developer how to do her job. He may have thought he was having a discussion with give and take, but the tone came out as condescending to somebody who actually works in the industry. It would be like me trying to tell a brewer how to brew beer: I love beer, I know quite a bit about the brewing process, and I homebrewed beer for about 8 years. But that doesn't give me the level of expertise to go to brewmasters and contradict them when they talk about brewing beer.

And this doesn't even cover the mansplaining aspect of Deroir's response to Price's tweets.

At the same time, ArenaNet operated completely out of fear: fear that they'd upset one of their big influencers, that there was an EA level public relations disaster brewing, and that their business plan of utilizing influencers was about to blow up. So they threw Price and Fries --who came to Price's defense-- overboard.

To ArenaNet, the influencers were more important than their employees.

As for Price and Fries, they had to have thought in the back of their heads that this might be the end result of getting into a social media spat. I know I tend to keep just about all of my work related activities under wraps, and I tend to avoid dealing with social media --particularly Twitter-- as much as possible. Video game devs, however, are caught in a Catch-22: they're supposed to engage the wider community to engender "goodwill" and "interest"***** in the games they help to create, but frequently those sort of interactions can be insulting, sexist, and plain ol' mean. And you're supposed to grin and bear it. When you finally haul off and say what you really think --like what Price thought she would be allowed to say-- you're then called to the carpet for it.

***

Deroir and the cohort who joined in on the attacks on Price and Fries celebrated their victory, but I fear that in the long run they may have just changed gaming culture permanently. If you are a developer, why would you stick your neck out to interact with an influencer or the gaming community at large when you know that your company will never stick up for you in a dispute? If you are a gaming company, why would you want to risk the double edged sword of using influencer marketing if such a marketing strategy is so easily poisoned?

I'm sure that the Gamergate crowd is thinking that they can force game companies to return video games to being strictly a "boy's club", but my belief is that it will have a completely different effect. Game companies will become more shut in, letting a few carefully chosen PR or Project Manager personnel repeat talking points instead. While game companies can't stop streamers from streaming, they can keep their distance, which would be akin to giving streamers more of a cold shoulder than what they've come to expect.

I also believe the Blizzard portion of Activision Blizzard will remain the exception rather than the rule in keeping the doors wide open to their fans. The WoW fans are a notoriously fickle bunch --after all, I am one so I know something about that-- but they are also loyal to a fault.

The net result for this entire incident is that everybody lost. Even if you think your side won, that victory militarized the other side, and guaranteed the next fight will be even more vicious.

Alas, nobody is going to take the high road any more.





*To be honest, it all blew up right before I began travelling, but I wanted to wait and watch before deciding to comment. The last thing I needed was to start commenting while everything was hitting the fan.

**Or worse, the comment section.

***Once a guy came in looking to buy some new speakers to hook up to his stereo. After a few questions, I quickly discovered that the "stereo" in question was a cheap single unit that didn't even have any way to plug in external speakers. I told him that the speakers wouldn't work because he needed a way to hook them up to his stereo. The guy went away, and some hours later when I was off the clock he came back in and asked a coworker of mine if he could buy the speakers. "Sure," he said, happily ringing them up for a sale. The next morning at 10:05 AM the guy brought the speakers back saying he couldn't figure out how to use them. My coworker got the sale, and the return was on my numbers for the week, not his.

****I saw this in action when she promoted Graeter's, a (then) local chain of ice cream stores, on her television show. Graeter's was one of those gems that only the locals know about, and the quickest way to start an argument around town was to ask someone "Who do you like more, Graeter's or Aglamesis?" Well, the day Oprah promoted Graeter's on her show, our family went to our closest Graeter's for some ice cream. The staff at the store were absolutely bewildered because they were getting phone calls from far away as California to have Graeter's shipped to them, and when one of the customers in line mentioned they'd seen Oprah giving away pints of Graeter's on her show, everything made sense.

*****Did anybody have those two words in their buzzword bingo sheets? I hope somebody was able to yell "Bingo!" inappropriately while at work or something...