Friday, April 16, 2021

I'm Your Handyman

For the past week I've been perusing peripheral options for my gaming activities. Oh, yes, I've been playing games too*, but my mind has been on other things

Perhaps it's the weather, but I've turned my attention to such projects as what it would take to repair the deck --likely replacing about 10-15 deckboards-- as well as finish the paint job that was so rudely interrupted by my knee injury. Once the decking is repaired, then I can focus on making some stands for the plant containers on the deck as well as getting a replacement gas grill.** 

All of this means spending some money.

Some of it is obvious --wood for the deckboards, etc.-- and some not so obvious: if I want to get a quicker result in replacing the decking, I have to purchase a power miter saw. I have a manual miter box, but it takes much longer to cut. I looked into power miter box rentals last year, and the price of the rental was enough that if I use the saw for more than one trip it is more economical for me to just buy a decent quality inexpensive power miter box.***

There are other projects that require spending some money too, such as getting the carpet cleaned. Last year in late Summer, I discovered that rental places were refusing to rent carpet washers, so if I wanted a carpet cleaner I have to buy one myself. And believe me, our carpets could use a good cleaning.

So yeah, there's a lot of stuff like that on my mind. And that has been creeping into my game playing, too.

***

Before you even think about it, let me make one thing clear: I'm not gonna turn into a streamer. 

Sorry, that's not my thing. And while I'd love to have a nice studio setup, likely combining it with a music practice room in the house, that ain't happening. We don't have the money for it, and if we did we'd get other repairs done first. 

So while the concept of getting an A/V setup going is very tempting, if for nothing else to indulge any music recording I'd like to perform****, that's not possible at this time.

Instead, I've been focusing on what I can do to improve my in-game interactions. 

Yes, I've got a wireless headset that I use. 

The Logitech G933 Artemis Spectrum.
Pic is from PC Magazine, likely
originating from Logitech.

 

And especially when I have to get up and move around a bit from time to time, yeah, it's a lifesaver. Not the greatest sound quality for music, but it'll do for both work and gaming. Build quality is good, and while it doesn't do noise cancelling, I've only had to crack it open to put tuner cleaner in spots once.

However, if people in the house try to talk to me, I'm not likely to hear them. When working, that's not an issue, but if I'm gaming I'd like to hear them. Because for some reason as soon as I put that sucker on in the evening to go play, somebody in the house just has to have a conversation about something. It's like magic, I swear.

So while the oldest mini-Red was around, I borrowed her Blue Snowball Ice microphone to use while I raided. It solved the isolation issue, and in a bizarre way it solved the "hey, I need to ask you something" issue. Apparently when I started using it, people did NOT want to be heard talking to me while the mic was up and running, so they saved their discussions until later.

(Genius!)

The Snowball is a pretty unassuming microphone, but it's not mine, as it follows the oldest mini-Red back and forth from college. So, I thought, I could just buy my own microphone and just do what I need to do without relying upon pestering my daughter for hers.

It's never as easy as it sounds, right?

I have since gone down the rabbit hole of USB microphones.

Indeed. This is just a small portion of
the available microphones. And the article
this is from only highlighted one (!) of
these mics. From Techstunt.

I can honestly state that I have no idea just how much time I've spent researching USB microphones, but I now know enough to realize that the most popular mics out there, the Blue Yetis and Snowballs, may not be the one for me. 

There's a time and a place for tweaking a microphone's gain and whatnot to make things just perfect, but when I want to just get going quickly that can suck. Especially when the software that comes with the mic (like the Blue Yeti Nano or X) deliberately has the gain set too high by default. And while I'd love to take advantage of extra mic patterns, the reality is that I won't need them any time soon. So it kind of boils down to the sound for the get up and go.

I'm not going to pass on the Blue Yeti's just yet, because the main competition in my mind is the Elgato Wave 3, and I cant seem to effing FIND one out in the wild to make a physical comparison. I hate going in blind like that, but if I want to buy a Wave 3, that's likely what I'll end up having to do.

And even then, there are some others out there, such as the Rode NT-USB Mini that's caught my attention as well.

Geez, I hate making a decision here.

***

The mic aside, I've been hoping to fix up our PC desk. The sliding keyboard + mouse part has a laminated fake wood look, and that cheap laminate has been fading away. I figured that now was as good a time as any to get it replaced with a nicer laminate so I didn't have to use a mouse pad when gaming. 

But boy is that going to be annoying to find. 

Kind of like this but without the
wood/MDF. From Cabinetmaker Warehouse.

 

I've already been to a couple of hardware stores and struck out, so I think I may have to go to a woodworking specialty store, such as Woodcraft, to find what I need. 

***

My old backup solution has bit the dust. It was a Seagate Go system, long out of date, and now the hard drive died, and a replacement didn't work at all. Which sucks. 

So.... I might have to invest in a real backup system, like a Synology NAS, because my internet connection isn't good enough for me to consider backing up everything to the cloud. And I scouted the costs of 2-bay and 4-bay NAS devices, and yi-yi-yi.....

Very nice, but the price....
From Synology.

 

***

And, at long last, there's the speakers.

 

   
Back in the day, this was da bomb.
Pic from Amazon.
 

The speakers I'm currently using are the now ancient Altec Lansing ADA-305 woofer and satellite pair. Back in their heyday (circa 1999) they were considered the best speakers for the PC, but 22 years later their age has been showing, particularly in the crispness of the the highs and the overall sound. I've been contemplating making my own pair of speakers with a subwoofer, but I've also been considering just replacing the drivers for the satellites and see how that works. Either way, this is the one area that I refuse to skimp on, because I love listening to my ripped CDs when I sit nearby, working.*****

***

So, there's a lot of other things to consider moving forward, and by comparison my gaming is actually a nice diversion from all this.



*After a week of regressing and not being able to kill K'T, we one shot him this past Monday. And to while away the time, I started yet another game of Stardew Valley. For the record, I always think I'm going to choose someone else, but I typically end up picking between Penny and Leah to romance and marry. Probably because both remind me of my wife.

**While I love using my Weber kettle grill, using charcoal grills on wooden decks is typically not a smart move. And since my primary location for using the charcoal grill is on the driveway (for safety reasons), with the mini-Reds now sharing a third car we don't have as much space as we used to. Hence my interest in gas grills. This time, I'm getting a Weber gas grill; I've had Coleman and Sears/Kenmore gas grills, and I've learned my lesson. If you want a grill that lasts, get a Weber.

***And yes, those exist. Ryobi and Kobalt are two brands that make decent inexpensive models, but you have to check them out to see if they'll work for your situation. Seriously, it's worth it to do some hands on testing.

****I was a radio DJ back in college, and for a span of 5-6 years in the late 90s-early 00s I helped to run the sound at the Cincinnati Celtic Music and Cultural Festival.

*****My work laptop can't access anything in my home network, from printers on down, because of the VPN that the laptop uses. Oh well.


Thursday, April 8, 2021

Enriching a Life Well Lived

The arts are what makes life worth living. You’ve got food, you’ve got shelter, yeah. But the things that make you laugh, make you cry, make you connect – make you love are communicated through the arts. They aren’t extras. 

--Barack Obama

The idea of taking up art as a calling, a profession, is a mirage. Art enriches life. It makes life worth living. But to make a living at it—that idea is incompatible with making art.

--John Sloan (Yes, he was an artist. Go figure.)

 

As part of the Vanilla/Classic WoW quest chain for Tirion Fordring, he sends you into Stratholme to find a painting his family sat for years ago. The reason is to remind Tirion's son, who has effectively been turned into a cultist by the Scarlet Crusade, of his family's past life and what honor truly stands for. The questline is a tragic one, but for me it's notable because the focus of one particular quest is on an object of art. 

There are a few quests that require you to fetch and retrieve a book, and there's a notable quest that involves a flute in Felwood, but far and away the arts aren't found in the Azeroth a player interacts with. Sure, there's the background music at inns and other locations, paintings on the walls, and other reference pieces, but almost literally nothing interactive. Unlike LOTRO, a player can't learn a musical instrument --or play a class that uses music as its magic-- and unlike Elder Scrolls Online or SWTOR (or many other MMOs) you can't purchase a house and decorate it as you please. The most you can do is transmog (in Retail) or take up some of your precious bag space for a roleplaying or hangout outfit.*

It is not a controversial statement to say that when WoW was designed, the arts weren't exactly high on everybody's mind.

I completely understand the whys of that, because when you're creating a game of epic fantasy you're more concerned about a lot of other things (like making sure mechanics actually work) than how the arts impact the denizens of the game world. That being said, given the dedicated art department that Blizz has for WoW and its other games, especially for the look and feel of a specific class, race, zone, or whatnot, you'd think that there would be advocates for the art that a player has input on.

***

I hear their passionate music
Read the words that touch my heart
I gaze at their feverish pictures
The secrets that set them apart

When I feel the powerful visions
Their fire has made alive
I wish I had that instinct
I wish I had that drive

--"Mission" by Rush, from Hold Your Fire


The reason why I'm so passionate about the arts and MMOs is because art inspires me. I love to read RPG materials, not just for the game rules/settings/adventures, but because the art inside the books stirs a desire in me to do more and be more than just a character playing a game. I'm one of those people who has to have music on at all times, no matter the genre**, because music is the backdrop of my narrative life. About the only times I don't have music on at work are when things get so serious that I have to devote all of my resources to something. Or, as one of the mini-Reds once told me, "Dad, when you turn off your music, put in earplugs, and hunch over your laptop, that's when we know shit has just hit the fan."

But the arts are what I truly enjoy in life.*** Sure, I love sports, especially college basketball, and I enjoy building things,

I built these last Fall for my wife's old
80's era all-in-one stereo. Replacing the crappy
old speakers that came with the system was
like night and day.

but I don't have the talent or time to devote to the arts. I can wander museums and look at the art, but I can't paint or sculpt. I can immerse myself in music, but I can't play worth a damn. Acting? No thanks; I listen to voice actors and watch plays/shows/movies and think "I can't do that. I can't fake emotions like that. Hell, I get embarrassed role playing in pencil-and-paper RPGs." 

And the Great American Novel this blog ain't. (Just sayin'. Doesn't hurt my feelings any, because I recognize my limitations and work within them.)

***

Art also provides a starting point for a player as well. It presents a new player --who may be uncertain about wanting to play-- with the ability to say "You're welcome at the table; you can play someone who looks like you."

If I'm in a fight, I want this guy on my side.
From the D&D 5e Players Handbook.

Or they can give you a sense of what a player can do.

I never realized it before, but the female
Halfling here bears a vague resemblance to
Anna Kendrick. Or maybe I need more sleep.
From D&D 5e Players Handbook.

And yes, there's the eye candy art as well.

What, you thought I was going to
use Seoni? Geralt works fine, you know.
Besides, Geralt is one of those people who
I think of when I say "I'm not gay, but...."
From The Witcher trilogy.

People draw fan art of their favorite characters, their toons, or even scenes from a gaming session all the time. And if I tried posting some here, I'd have a real problem picking a representative sample from the tons of fan art available. Perusing Deviantart alone can suck hours of your time. But if you ever watch Critical Role, you'll note during their breaks the fan art they post... Oh the fan art.

***

Because of all that, the overall lack of an artistic outlet in some MMOs can be a bit jarring at times. Some work within the limitations and create fantastic work, such as Kamalia of Kamalia et Alia and her fashion sense. Her Sunday on the Promenade series on transmog outfits alone are worth a perusal, even though I play Classic and don't have access to transmog. (Me? I'm happy when I don't select blue shirts and a blue jacket to go with my blue jeans.)

Others work with what they have, saving a set specifically for hanging around an MMO city.****

But there are times when I wish a WoW toon could make music all on their own in the same way that you can in LOTRO. The 5 PM EST band on the Gladden server still plays regularly just inside the western entrance to Bree, and it would be nice if something such as that were available on other MMOs. Or have a space of your own to decorate, like you can find in LOTRO, SWTOR, or ESO (oh boy, the options you have in ESO). 

Such as it is, we have to make do with our own efforts outside of MMOs.

Maybe I should try my hand at painting. I already had a couple of discussions with one of my fellow Mages about watercolors, and he positively geeked out on me and provided me with a ton of info to get started. I know going in I'm going to suck, but if I work at it maybe I can finally draw/paint an image I've had in my head for a while, of Card wearing regular clothing, with her nieces and nephews, heading to the pond close to the farm to go fish. Her face is relaxed; she's grinning at the nephew she has perched on her shoulders, while Carys and the others are cavorting around because they're all excited that Aunt Cardwyn is taking them on "an adventure". And perhaps in the distance, Kit and Kerisa are already there, sitting and fishing, glancing over their shoulders with amused expressions at the ruckus. It's not a "go slay the dragons" image at all, but a simple picture that reflects the humanity of a toon.



*That's not counting the pirate and other costumes people can transform into, courtesy of holiday events.

**Well, I'm not a fan of most country music, and hip hop commands my attention in a way that distracts from anything I'm working on, so I rarely listen to either. Although I will say that Cardwyn's nickname in raids is now primarily "Cardy B". And because of that I now point out that the "B" stands for "battle rez".

***Oh, for pete's sake, I do love my wife and family, so don't go there.

****I have two now: the "Vixen Set" which features the Spider-mage robe, and an "Out Dating" set, which has Card wearing an evening gown. I should make one with a full Tier set, even having helm and cloak on, just so I can look like a Mage and drum up some consumables and/or portals business. I can't remember who said it, but a friend in Classic mentioned to me about a month ago that when they wear a full T2 set they get a lot more business.


Friday, April 2, 2021

So That's How We Looked

Okay, I still haven't figured out how to post the video like you can with YouTube --and I blame poor tools by Blogger here-- but here's a link to our K'T kill, as streamed by Mirsh. 

It's also nice to know I'm not the only one who curses while raiding. Good thing the kids are much older, or I'd go crazy trying to censor myself. But somewhere, I think my Grandfather would be proud of me for cursing as much as I do.*

I've always wondered how I sound in raids in Discord, and now I know. You can hear me at the tail end just before the kill saying "We've got him!! We've got him!!"

I can't help but confess that I was focusing on where I was on the screen, hoping that I don't look too much like an idiot. I can't stream, because if I did you'd see my head was on a swivel, constantly looking for those banshees as they bore down on us. And it's not a lot of fun once you hit Phase 2 and you're trying desperately to conserve as much mana as you can for sheeping while wanding and pacing out your potion consumption. 



*A quick story about my Grandfather. During WW2, he and several other people in his division were promoted to Corporal. As they all stood in line, a Captain marched up and down saying "I made you, and I can break you." My Grandfather, never one for tact, piped up and cracked, "If that's the way you feel about it, you can shove it up your ass!!"

My Grandfather was busted back down to Private quicker than you can say WTF...


EtA: Fixed the link. Whoops.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Give the People What They Want

(If you get a chance, go listen to The Kinks album of the same name as this title. You won't be disappointed.)


MMOs, by necessity, are a limited slice of an invented world.

As much detail a dev team can put into a game world, there are going to be gaps. Some are massive, such as the lack of religion being prominent as a divisive element,* and some are more subtle, such as the lack of music and the arts in people's lives. 

I was thinking of this when I read Bhagpuss' post about how the Guild Wars 2 devs tried to artificially create player hubs when the players had organically established their own hubs. It's a good post and well worth reading, and as you'll see my really short TL;DR doesn't scratch the surface of its detail. I don't play GW2 enough to comment on that specific MMO, but it did give me fuel for thought concerning other MMOs.

The most prominent of MMOs, World of Warcraft, has the recurring theme of conflict between Orcs and Humans at its center. This is artificially propped up by Blizzard, even though the most popular expansions (BC, Legion, Wrath) all center around the two factions joining together against a common threat. Expansions --or portions of them-- that emphasize the conflict tend to not be as well received**. However, Blizz keeps pushing the conflict because.... It's the core of the game. Or something. Although if you asked me what the core of WoW was, it's that "Old Gods are bad and the source of all evil. HP Lovecraft rules."

Still, it also seems that Blizz attempts to do the same thing that GW2 has been guilty of, which is to create a new player hub for each expac. Or, in the case of Cataclysm, an artificial attempt to re-establish the faction capitals as the primary hubs in the game. 

It's not like ArenaNet and Blizzard are the only guilty ones here. Standing Stone has created new hubs with each expac in LOTRO, and Bioware the same in SWTOR. To an extent, I can understand the need to create central hubs in new territories, and they become the hub of activity for each expac. But at the same time there's no reason in a Fantasy or Science Fiction MMO that you can't just have a gamified way of allowing players to simply return to the hub of their choice and bounce back and forth from wherever "the front" is. 

I guess my whole point is that instead of observing what the players are doing and trying to change behavior by artificial means, why not let the players do their own thing? 

***

I do realize that there is a game out there that does just that, and it's called EVE Online, but EVE takes the "give players the latitude to do what they want" and opens up to an "anything goes" environment.

That sort of game isn't for everybody.

EVE is definitely not for the faint of heart.
From giphy.com.

 

And yet, looking over how Blizzard has implemented WoW from expac to expac, I can't help but think that Blizz has lost a lot of what made the original Vanilla (or Classic) implementation of the game so great: you can wander around and make your own way without being railroaded into a specific path. That doesn't mean that people haven't figured out optimal paths for everything --there's a reason why boosting services are so popular in Classic-- but to experience endgame content you aren't limited to a very specfic path. To experience Naxx, you don't have to have gone through AQ40, for example, and vice versa. About the only limitation those two have is that you have to have at least gotten a decent amount of T2 gear from BWL, and even then it's not a strict requirement. I'm living proof of that.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Some games, however, you can't not have various hubs. With the events of the War of the Ring as a backdrop, LOTRO can't avoid having hubs in various locales. And SWTOR has hubs on each planet you visit as a necessity, since traipsing across the galaxy is not a simple thing. But an Azeroth or Tyria? They have no such limitations. It's all up to the devs to observe the players and reinforce their preferences rather than trying to redirect them, because artificial redirection doesn't always go well.



*This is merely an observation, not an indictment. Many of the longest running conflicts over the centuries have been fueled by religion, so the absence of those types of conflicts in MMOs do tend to stand out. And as many conflicts are driven by religion, an equal or greater number use religion as an excuse for something else (such as Albigensian Crusade, which was merely an excuse of the northern French nobles to invade Languedoc in the south of France).

**Battle for Azeroth as the primary example, although the complaints about that expac are much much more than just "artificially creating conflict".

***Besides, you always have your ship to hang out in.