Monday, December 31, 2018

Two Down, One to Go

I finished the Daggerfall Covenant questline playthrough on my main last night, making that two of the three factions completed in Elder Scrolls Online. While I still have another entire faction's quests to run through, I found the following interactions between factions interesting:

  • Ebonheart Pact -- Attacked/invaded by Daggerfall Covenant, Attacked by strike teams of Aldmeri Dominion
  • Daggerfall Covenant -- Attacked by strike teams of Aldmeri Dominion
And that's it. A slaver ship that sells slaves to House Telvanni is involved in one localized quest location, but Telvanni isn't part of the Ebonheart Pact. There's also another "spy" episode in which House Telvanni is implicated, but again the Ebonheart Pact again comes up clean when it comes to interfaction fighting in the questlines.

I have to wonder whether this observation holds up with the Aldmeri Dominion, so we'll see.

One last item of notice: High King Emeric came off as a conniving asshole in the three faction meeting that leads to the Coldharbour section of the questline, and I was willing to bet that he looked much better to a member of the Daggerfall Covenant itself. After having played through the entire Daggerfall Covenant questline, I can conclude that yes, he does come off much better in that questline, but he also still comes off as an asshole in that cross faction meeting.

Oh well. Some people never change.

Friday, December 28, 2018

A Musical Friday Post

In case a prior post didn't make it plain, I'm a fan of Stardew Valley.* Therefore, when The Doubleclicks posted this cover of the Stardew Valley Theme, I knew I had to post this.

*Who did I marry? Penny, although I seriously considered Leah.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The 16 Year Itch

The oldest mini-Red is back home for winter break after her finals*, and practically the first thing she did after arriving was to get together with some friends to go play SWTOR.
Although this isn't the Smuggler I've heard
so much about, I've been told that the Mini-Red's
friends created toons that would qualify for the
Fashion Hall of Shame on the Hawtpants of the
Old Republic blog.

I must have done something right.


Our main PC, the one I use for gaming, is over six years old now. At the time, the i7-3770 was pretty much the best processor you could buy, and while I skimped on a few other parts of the build I definitely made sure the processor would last. And last it has.

However, that also means that the hard drive and other components are six years old as well, and I've grown a bit nervous about the hard drive in particular. Sure, I back up data to an external drive on a regular basis, but if you've ever had to deal with a hard drive crash it's not what I'd call fun. Therefore, I'm looking at replacing the hard drive with an SSD and adding another HDD for the pictures/movies/whatever storage.

That ought to keep the PC active and running for a while.

However --and you knew this was coming, right?-- I'm planning on building a replacement over the course of the next year or two. Not to replace the main PC in general, as it'll be perfectly fine for what my wife uses** for the next 4-5 years at least, but a separate PC that I'll be able to use for gaming going forward.

I have a small confession to make: I've not built a PC from scratch since Windows XP was the current version of Windows.

I used to build and rebuild PCs back through the 90s, mainly to keep our old 386/SX20 486DX33 486SX66 going, and yes, I was one of those people who would spend hours perusing the telephone directory sized Computer Shopper on a monthly basis. However, after the Windows XP machine's motherboard failed in 2007 I priced out the cost of replacing it directly with a prebuilt vs. building it myself, and I was surprised to find that it was more cost efficient to just buy a computer with Windows and MS Office already installed as opposed to building one myself.

Yes, I know that in general this is still the case, but after dealing with the HP Phoenix for the past six years, I think I'm ready to go back to building one myself. The reasons are pretty straightforward:

  • I control what goes in the machine.

    I didn't realize just how much I missed controlling the hardware when I was trying to see if I could tweak the system. The machine has all the prerequisites for handling overclocking, except for the motherboard. If it were me selecting the components, I'd have bought a motherboard that could handle overclocking. I might not have tweaked anything, but I prefer having the option to do so.
  • The price of MS Office isn't a limiting factor any more.

    Since Microsoft is pushing people into MS Office 365 as a subscription service, I've been moving in the direction of using either OpenOffice or Google Drive. I've no reason to get a new version of MS Office when Office 2010 on the main PC still works and I've got free options.
  • The cost versus performance of the components hasn't changed that much over time.

    Back when I last built a PC, the performance of the components kept changing drastically on a yearly basis. In 1999, I bought one of the first AMD Athlon PCs, and for a brief period of time I owned one of the fastest PCs in the world. Three months later that was no longer the case. After 2-3 years, the Athlon was showing its age to the point where it wasn't keeping up with the new games at all.

    The i7-3770, however, is in a different situation. Three years after it was built, it was still a fine performer. And now, six years after it was built, it has finally slipped off the recommended requirements for the latest games. We're not talking the minimum requirements, but the recommended requirements. By contrast, that old Athlon was off the minimum requirements for a lot of games by 2005-6.

    Why the change? Advances in processing power have come at a more incremental rate, especially the last several years, and AMD's Ryzen architecture has propelled them back into the performance game with Intel and given PC builders a good alternative to Intel at a great price for performance. Intel may still be the gamers' processor of choice, but AMD is now a viable option, particularly once their 7 nm Ryzen 3rd Gen architecture ships in 2019.
Given all this, I've started getting the itch to build a PC once again. So if you'll excuse me, I'm going to start perusing the enthusiast web sites/YouTube Channels while I dream a little.

*Finals are stressful for anybody, but for a Music Performance major, the jury cranks the stress levels up to 11. For the uninitiated, a jury is a performance you give before either the entire department or a significant number of them that determines whether they believe you fit enough to continue progressing in your music career. Think of it as a Masters' Thesis defense, but every semester, and you get the idea.

**And for gaming in general.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

You're Almost Old Enough to Drink

Twenty years ago on December 21st, 1998, a computer RPG by a little known software company named BioWare was released to the world. That computer RPG would go on to revolutionize and revive the Western style RPG.

Happy birthday, Baldur's Gate!

One of the many classic lines from Baldur's Gate.

And another....

And the source of the best quotes in the
game, Minsc (and Boo)!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Because Walking into a Throne Room in Full Plate is Just Normal

Silk and Barack stood in the corner, talking quietly. Barack was hugely splendid in a green brocade doublet, but looked uncomfortable without his sword. Silk's doublet was a rich black, trimmed in silver, and his scraggly whiskers had been carefully trimmed into an elegant short beard.

"What does all of this mean?" Garion asked as he joined them.

"We're to be presented to the king," Barack said, "and our honest clothes might have given offense. Kings aren't accustomed to looking at ordinary men."

Durnik emerged from one of the rooms, his face pale with anger. "That overdressed fool wanted to give me a bath!" he said in choked outrage. "

It's the custom," Silk explained. "Noble guests aren't expected to bathe themselves. I hope you didn't hurt him."

"I'm not a noble, and I'm quite able to bathe myself," Durnik said hotly. "I told him I'd drown him in his own tub if he didn't keep his hands to himself. After that, he didn't pester me any more, but he did steal my clothes. I had to put these on instead." He gestured at his clothes, which were quite similar to Garion's. "I hope nobody sees me in all this frippery."

--Pawn of Prophecy, by David Eddings

One thing I've puzzled about over the years is how a toon in an MMO (or RPG) interacts with leadership in-game. Now, I don't mean the local constable or even some minor noble, but rather a titular head of government or a leader of the military*.

Unless you're starting off as some sort of noble (or ex-noble), a character in an MMO or RPG is simply not important enough to draw the attention of any ruler of any game universe. Now, if the size of the ruler's country is tiny, yeah, there's a better than average change that Durek The Smasher might actually have met the King of Tinyacropolis.** However, given the insularity frequently found separating the nobles/upper class from the common folk, your not very likely to have any real interaction between the classes other than in a master/servant (or worse) situation; drinking with Prince Hal ala Shakespeare's two Henry IV plays ain't very likely, and even if it did happen Prince Hal would deny it did happen once he ascended to the throne.

So why does your toon end up hanging around kings, queens, Great Mages/Wizards, and other leaders of the world?***


I've mentioned in the (far distant) past that I consider this scenario --found in MMOs from LOTRO to WoW to SWTOR and ESO-- something that you see right out of David Eddings' series The Belgariad. The story revolves around the most powerful people in the game world, the faction leaders and whatnot, and they go off and have adventures along with any protagonists/narrators.

While I really love The Belgariad --having read it as a middle school student right as it was released-- I do recognize that the main players in the story really shouldn't be doing what they're doing at all, and instead having other people do the work for them. Think about it this way: if you were at a university, how likely would it be that the best football player were a cousin of the President, your advisor is Elon Musk, your Resident Assistant is a combination of Black Widow and Jeff Bezos, and you happen to be dating Beyonce and Jay Z's daughter? Oh, and that all of these people are incognito, too?

Yeah, I thought not.

But at the same time, this sort of thing eventually ends up happening in a lot of MMOs and RPGs. And that's not even counting the Mary Sue-ism aspect of your toon, either, rising over the course of a very short time to being the counselor and best friend of the most powerful people around.

This whole scenario is pretty damned unlikely to me.
When the Skeptical Kid meme has more
caution than Amalexia or Emeric.


I thought about this situation a bit after having finished the original ESO storyline for the Ebonheart Pact, and since I'm about a bit over halfway through the storyline for the Daggerfall Covenant this has been really bugging me more and more. You don't go from being a nobody to the King's trusted confidant and advisor that quickly. Hell, it's more likely that the King would take the credit and give you a token or trinket to essentially pay you to go away. After all, you're not from the upper class.

Think of one of the basic quest types that you find in an MMO: the delivery of a letter. Think of what is behind such a simple quest:

  • The ability to read.

    In a SF or modern setting, the assumption that everybody reads (or reads well enough) holds, but in a medieval setting that is not likely the case. If you're middle class or upper class, then yes, but if you're lower class...
  • The amount of trust the quest giver has in handing you the letter.

    This kind of goes without saying, but someone who "just shows up" and is given a letter to pass along sounds a bit fishy. Would you entrust a letter to a relative stranger? Would you simply stop a passerby and give them a letter to deliver? Or better yet, deliver tidings to the King? If you are truly a loyal subject of the King, why would you trust a delivery to someone who you may have fought a few battles with, but before that nothing was known?
  • The ability to even deliver the letter in the first place.

    It may be one thing to finally reach a destination and deliver a letter to a tradesman or a merchant, but quite another to deliver a letter to a member of the nobility. A tradesman may see you directly, a merchant may make you wait in an outer "office" room before delivery to a secretary or bookkeeper, but a noble? It's must more likely that you'll deliver the letter to a minor functionary, who will in turn hand it over to a courtier or advisor, and then the letter will be delivered to the noble. And if it was going to the King? The King would likely not receive the delivery in public, and if he did, he certainly wouldn't read it in public.
All that means is the simple "delivery" quest has the potential to be completely wrecked by reality.


Before you say "Hey Redbeard, you're missing the point. The entire point is to advance the plot and move you up the chain in the circle of nobility," I get it. Before you snort and say "Hey, you're supposed to be The Chosen One (or whatever)," yeah, I understand the why behind it. But to me, the end isn't as important as the journey itself.

If you're going to deliver a letter to a noble and you're not a formal courier, the noble's handlers aren't going to let you close to said noble. If you're as dangerous a person as you're supposed to be, it would be a short matter for you to assassinate a noble if you had that in mind, and believe me, the nobles know that.
Ah, Mel Brooks. You put it so plainly.

Besides, there's the Divine Right of Kings, and even in a Fantasy environment --especially so, given that the gods can be pretty active and direct in a Fantasy setting-- that means the nobility believe they have the supreme right to be where they are, and that anybody not of their ilk had better remember that.


Okay, so what's the point?

Well, the point is that a game's story can be better than what it is right now. Just because you don't get to meet with the king directly doesn't mean that the plot is shot to hell; I'd argue that because you have to navigate the bizarro world that is the nobility a story can be made much richer.

Instead of "deliver a letter to the King, who sends you out to deal with the next item on the plot", how about something like this:

  • Because of XXX, the courier has no choice but to give you the letter to deliver.
  • Along the way, someone tries to kill you or steal said letter.
  • Once you arrive, you're
    a) Not Believed and you have to try to prove you are who you say you are
    b) Believed, but you're sent to a room to be cleaned up and presented to a minor functionary who then makes you wait (via cutscene) and he provides you with a quest in return.
  • If you perform a few quests right, you're granted an audience with a higher member of the nobility. Maybe that person likes you and maybe not, but more quests are given instead of the King doing it directly.
What this does is provide that obscuring layer between you and the King. You don't know if you're truly acting in the King's interest, and the minor nobles say so, but what if they're the ones plotting against the King? Couldn't they be setting you up to take the blame if their plot fails, and the ire of a nation if it succeeds? Maybe you have to find a way to meet with the King without them acting as a go-between just to make sure. Or should you even trust the King at all? Does he have the interest in his kingdom at heart? Or is maybe your mind playing tricks, and you were the bad guy all along?

All of these little interesting plot points add to the richness of a story and allow the paranoia and class arrogance of the nobility/upper class to improve the story beyond the basics of "deliver a letter to the King".


In the end, I suppose, money is the critical part here. All of this extra work in a game means extra money spent on development, and software companies have to choose between plot development and extra time spent on enriching a story. If more time is spent on the main quest line, does that mean the side quests suffer?

Perhaps that's why in ESO at least, the side quests are frequently better written than the main quest line in a zone.

But another reason the way quests are is more a matter of fan service: some people want to play an MMO to see some of the key NPCs in action. A LOTRO fan wants to see Aragorn or Gandalf or Elrond; an Elder Scrolls fan wants to see Vivec; a Warcraft fan wants to pal around with Thrall or Khadgar. And for those fans, the more interaction the better.

I guess that there's no truly easy answer here. But still, I'd at least like to see things a bit more realistic than the current state of quest design.

*Although they are frequently separate in modern times, in prior centuries the leader of the military was also the leader of the country/empire. Sure, in the US the President is also the Commander-in-Chief, but I can't think of a President after Washington who led troops into battle as President.

**Or in a barbarian campaign where there is no overlord for barbarian clans, your clan chief is pretty much it as far as leadership goes.

***It kind of goes without saying that includes gods/goddesses/primal dragons/demons/whatever and their leading support staff.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Maximum Profit for Minimal Effort

I was skipping around on YouTube the other day, going from video to video with no particular rhyme or reason to it, when I came across this video from back in May 2018 by Falcon on Gameranx:

The TL;DR of the video is that EA doesn't understand that people want to play different types of games, and that EA is letting their own desire to promote a steady stream of monetization (via loot boxes and other items) get in the way of what might be really good games. As examples, Falcon pointed to games such as God of War --and tons of Nintendo games-- that were linear in design with a definite ending yet were also extremely popular.

The video was partially in reaction to yet another Star Wars game getting the axe after a lot of prepublication buzz, Visceral Games' untitled Star Wars game developed by Uncharted 1 through 3 Creative Director and writer Amy Henning. The idea that a linear, story based game wasn't going to "keep people coming back to it," paraphrasing EA EVP Patrick Söderlund, is what Falcon believed to be code for utilizing lootboxes and other monetization methods to keep milking the player base. And to be honest, I think he's pretty much dead on here.

The concept that a story driven, linear game wouldn't have people replaying it have honestly never played the Uncharted series, the isometric RPGs of Bioware, and the aforementioned God of War or Nintendo games. But these days, it's all about the money, because the business world is attuned to maximizing quarterly profits.


On the face of it, the desire from the major software houses to jack up the monetization by DLC and lootboxes (or even introducing mobile games which have tons of the "cash store" type of stuff) is amusing. After all, I do happen to know a class of video games that are pretty much tailor made for this sort of thing, and I'm betting you do too.

You know... This genre:

Ah, Thrall. Will the Green Jesus save us
with WoW Classic? (From

MMOs, that subgenre which is no longer quite so hot these days, is pretty much tailor made to separate gamers from their money on a consistent basis.

MMOs, that subgenre defined by World of Warcraft and their obsessive fans*, toxic world chat, and "the game begins at max level" ethos.

MMOs, that subgenre that game studios are refusing to touch with a ten foot pole.


The funny thing is, you can have both a satisfying linear, story-based experience in MMOs as well as a rich, wide-ranging world where you can wander at will (and there's always people who are willing to indulge in a cash store.)

As for the drawback of MMOs, it's the development costs involved. It is much easier to code the next iteration of Call of Duty rather than World of Warcraft. Because MMOs are so all encompassing, their development costs tend to skyrocket. Not so much with the more narrowly defined yet highly profitable annual Madden release.

Cheaper to make than Battle for Azeroth.
I went with Madden 15 because I refuse
to put a Steeler or a Patriot on the cover.
From Wikipedia.

In it's own way, EA is confirming the basic business ethos: build cheap, sell dear.** The article I wrote the other day about Blizzard is another pointed comment about the approach of modern software development to cut costs as much as possible and maximize profits any way you can, and here is a (frequently vilified) software development house that chose to eliminate a game that might have sold well but didn't have:
  • The latest hotness in game design
  • Maximum long term profit potential
  • Maximum output for minimal effort

This movement toward a more naked attempt minimize development and maximize costs is starting to remind me a bit of the lead-up to the Great Video Game Crash of the early 80s. Back then, in the interest of cashing in on the video game market, development houses rushed games to production that were cookie cutters in design, cheap to develop, and designed to maximize profit. The market was so flooded with games (and platforms) that people stopped buying new games, creating the push that started the avalanche. While the modern game industry has avoided a similar crash so far, there becomes a point of diminishing returns, particularly when gamers are going to be asked to buy new console platforms in the next couple of years. Eventually there comes a point where people say "okay, that's enough, I'm tired of the BS", and the industry suddenly has major issues.

We're not there yet, but eventually a course correction will happen. People will eventually say --in large enough numbers-- that we're tired of the treadmill and we want something different. And immersive. And something we don't have to continuously pay money for. Nothing lasts forever, but it seems that the major development houses aren't paying attention to that credo while they're laser focused on the next quarter's results.

*Full disclosure, I am one. I may not subscribe right now, but I do like the game. And besides, that comment was fully tongue-in-cheek, because MOBAs are even worse these days.

**Yeah, it's actually "buy cheap and sell dear", but the point is to create a product as cheaply as possible and sell it as high as you can.