Monday, June 17, 2024

Meme Monday: Scheduling Memes

I thought about having this Meme Monday cover one of the things people love to do during Summer, which is go to the beach.

Well, I started collecting a few of my memes I'd left over that cover this, and realizing I needed some filler, I went in search of some more RPG or MMO beach memes.

Given what I found --sometimes I can be quite naïve, particularly where fandom is concerned--  I think it's safer going to Plan B: trying to schedule an RPG game!

This is highly topical, since my game group that plays 3-4 times a year is having some difficulty with that Summer scheduling slot. We were supposed to play this coming Saturday, but conflicts by several people kept this from working. So... we worked on our July schedules, and... No go there either.

Oof.

So, it's a work in progress.

Yeah, that's another way of putting it. From d20.pub.


In a post-pandemic world, this actually works.
From Pinterest.


Heh. From Facebook's DnD_Memes.


Hey, it's better than nothing!
From Pinterest.


Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Speaking of Pandora's Box

Long time blogger Kurn has tried out Follower Dungeons in Retail WoW recently, and wrote about her experience with it on her latest blog post. To say she was impressed with the NPC groups she had is an understatement.

My original comment on her post, that it was a technical solution to a people problem, is likely the most obvious take. After all, MMOs in general --and WoW in particular-- is infamous for toxic behavior toward tanks and healers in instance and raid groups. This solution, presented in Retail, is an obvious way toward allowing people to see group content without actually fixing the toxicity itself. 

The more I've thought about it, however, the more I wonder whether this will become the ultimate goal toward making an otherwise dead or empty location in an MMO feel alive. 

If you go to a place such as Silvermoon City or The Exodar --both out of the way cities that first saw light in WoW's Burning Crusade expansion-- other than a few bank alts and some new toons running here and there both cities are dead.

Blizzard tried to make them seem more alive by having a few groups of NPCs roam both cities, but the paths followed and statements made are pretty much on repeat. There are similar instances of in-game NPC interactions throughout Azeroth that are gradually more elaborate but still on rails throughout all of the expansions I've played. While I give Blizz credit for trying, it isn't even close to what it's like to having a real vibrant community.

If you hop over to Guild Wars 2 and Divinity's Reach, that's a bit more of what I believe Blizzard is attempting to do. By comparison, Divinity's Reach is a lot more "alive" with NPCs --namely that there are more of them around so that the place feels less empty-- although NPC interactions with the game world are still pretty limited. 

But what if you programmed NPCs to act more like what you find in Follower Dungeons, but interacting in the game world itself?

You know, a step or two away from Westworld...

It's from Pinterest, but it's a screencap
of HBO's Westworld.

Of course, Westworld is what you'd get if a Renaissance Faire were entirely composed of robots who never broke the fourth wall (or never were aware there was a fourth wall).

The bane of MMOs isn't toxicity, but apathy. If there's nobody to interact with, the main selling point of MMOs is dead. But if a game company can fill a game world with NPCs that interact with the game world as if they were real players (minus the toxicity) then you can negate the worst problem of the MMO genre.*

It's a tempting proposition, isn't it?

And holy crap, I just realized how this could be used in "adult" MMOs. (Again, just like Westworld.) 

Yikes.

Whether or not we like it, I think that there will be some game companies that will move video games toward truly immersive experiences, with NPCs that interact in a more lifelike fashion with each iteration of generative AI. 

And I'm not exactly sure what I think about that.




*I guess the bots would quickly follow suit and up their own game, wouldn't they?


EtA: Corrected a sentence from "to to" to "to do". Got all that?

Monday, June 10, 2024

Meme Monday: Age Disparity Memes

No, I'm not talking about what is colloquially known as "robbing the cradle", where one adult has a relationship with a much younger adult. It's more an issue with Fantasy as a genre in novels, movies, and video games. Inter-species romance aside --and I have issues with that as well-- there's the issue of age disparity in relationships. 

Hell, never mind relationships, there's the issue of skill level disparity:

From REIQ.

But yes, relationships.

The Doctor: You can spend the rest of your life with me. But I can't spend the rest of mine with you. I have to live on, alone. That's the curse of the Timelords.* 
 
 

That. Pretty much that. So... some of those memes.

From imgflip.



I wish I knew who did this meme; it's great.



Obviously this person never knew about
Beren and Luthien. From Owlturd.
(Really? Sheesh, what a name.)


And leave it to Spidey to have the
last word. From Reddit's r/dndmemes.




*From School ReunionSchool Reunion. the third episode of the revived Doctor Who's second season.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Me and My Big Mouth

After that post on my upcoming deck project, I've been reading up on the building code for said deck. 

And I've found a few problems.

You know how I mentioned that I had no idea how the deck passed inspection because of the slope of the stairs? Yeah, I found that if there's three or more steps in place then a rail has to be there. That 3 steps is kind of critical, because the north steps have only one step, and a very steep one at that, so I guessed right and that they avoided needing stair rails there because of the lack of steps and barely making the minimum slope for the steps. Still, it's not optimal.

However, I did find out that the gap in the balusters around the deck was required so that a 4 inch sphere could not pass through the gap. Not because they don't want a ball falling off of the deck, but a toddler being able to stick their head through the gap.

And the gap in our balusters is 5 inches. 



/sigh

While I was measuring, I also found out that our railings were 35 inches high, while the code minimum for the railings is... 36 inches. That may sound bad, but I can actually make 36 inches by changing a few things on the rails. I was going to rebuild them anyway, but it is annoying.

I mean, really? REALLY? How close
can you get and still mess this up?
But yeah, putting a 2x4 or 2x6 on top
will push me over 36 inches.


For a few anxious moments I thought the length of the deck railing wasn't up to code either, as the "how to" deck books I was reading mentioned a 6 foot maximum length between railing posts, and ours were a maximum of 6.5 feet. It turns out that the building code for the county states a maximum length of 8 feet, so I don't have to do major surgery on said deck. 

And at least the spacing on joists is 14 inches, not wider than the absolute minimum of 16 inches.

Rebuilding the rails isn't that big of a deal, and I'd been considering it anyway as the railings had been out there, exposed to the elements, for 35 years. However, if I'd have needed an extra 5 or so rail posts, that might have been enough to require a rebuild.

And a reinspection.

/ugh

What I've decided to do is do what I can right now that is most important, and that is to redo the deck boards themselves. After that, if I've the time and money, I'll fix the north steps, the skirting, and the west steps in that order. Last on the list will be the deck railing, because a) it's been like that for years so an extra year won't hurt, and b) I don't have little kids who could stick their head through the railing. (Any more, anyway.)

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Time Past

I was eating dinner out with my oldest last night, and talk turned to MMOs. We'd discussed LOTRO for a bit --she mentioned that our house was out of storage-- and about several of the changes made to legendary weapons. Because of the changes, you didn't have to swap out your weapon every so often; you could keep that same weapon as long as you wanted. 

"I still have my original weapon," I mused. "I doubt I'll ever get rid of it."

We covered some of the other changes made to the game over the years, as she'd continued to play LOTRO actively long after it became a niche event for me, then we discussed another MMO we'd played a lot in the past.

"I miss SWTOR," I said, "but that bug keeps me from playing it."

"The companion bug?" she asked.

"Yeah, that one."

"I have that bug too, and it drives me crazy."

"It's the only game I see where a companion just simply does not keep up with me over time. I typically last as far as Alderaan until I can't stand it any more."

"That's a shame," she replied, "because I loved the story in Alderaan."

"I used to think it was a problem with the Radeon graphics cards," I added, "but when we bought my current PC it runs on an NVidia card that's far more advanced than anything we had in 2012 and it still does it."

"I wondered if it had something to do with server congestion."

"There was more server traffic back then, so I have no idea what the problem is. I have seen it on two separate installations of the game, and now three if you're seeing it too. It's not like Bioware hasn't made games with companions before or after, so I don't know what the issue is with this one single game of theirs."

After a brief pause, my oldest added that if there were Classic SWTOR servers ever created, she knows several people who would jump at the chance to play those again.

"Like your brother?"

"Yeah, he disliked how easy the game became."

"I miss the difficulty," I said, taking another bite of my salad. "The Consular end boss in particular was originally really tough until they nerfed it. And even after it was nerfed it was a hard fight."

"Remember the final zone in the Tatooine story?" she asked. "You kept going through this long maze until you got to the end, and now it's 'you take an elevator and you're there.'"

"Yeah. Or remember accidentally touching something out in the field and discovering that was a World Boss spawn point? Or when you'd be assembling a group to take on a World Boss and someone from the other faction would run up and cause the WB to spawn, grabbing it for the other faction?"

"I remember that. Or those Heroic 4 zones out in the field. They're all 2+ Heroics now."

"I haven't set foot in a Flashpoint since they changed the design so that you didn't need a healer or a tank," I confessed, "and you have those self-administered healing points scattered around the instances. But boy did I love the original Flashpoints they had." 

"Yeah."

You know you're getting old when your daughter starts reminiscing about how things were back in the day, I suppose.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Who's Playing This Game, Anyway?

I'm not a big fan of guides.

Yes, I'll use them from time to time if I'm stuck and multiple hours of beating my head against a wall hasn't yielded any results*, but by and large I'll avoid guides and walkthroughs and the "correct" way of doing things. 

That is both the joy and curse of doing group content in an MMO: everybody has their own opinions, but if what you do is different than what is considered optimal, are you simply wasting other people's time? 

For the average random group or raid, the answer is likely yes, you ARE wasting people's time if you're not doing your best. And for those people, 'doing your best' means following the correct build and performing the correct rotation in an optimal fashion. 

It's the "Sure, you can do whatever you want, but it had better be what you're supposed to be doing!" conundrum, embracing the concept of freedom for all until it starts to impact your own freedom to complete things as quickly as possible.

I think that's partially why I tend to stop worrying about completing quests when I'm with people who are 'questing together': my idea of fun and questing is different than other people's, so in the name of expediency I just kind of tag along as 'hired muscle' and go back and do the quests at my own pace later. 

Well, Josh Strife Hayes has been playing Mass Effect on his stream, and apparently some people have been telling him "he's doing it wrong" or "you need to do X next". Josh kind of squashed that one really fast.


Yeah, I'm on board with Josh here.

He articulates my issues with guides and guide culture very nicely, without me having to add any extra commentary to the matter.

***

On a semi-tangent, Runescape streamer and content creator J1mmy created a video about 3 months ago that kind of blew up:


Now, you have to settle in, as it's a 42 minute video, but considering that he'd never played WoW before but was familiar with MMOs (courtesy of Runescape), I found it fascinating to watch. He does have a very dry wit, and it's very much worth a watch. 

I also found WoW PvP streamer Xaryu's reaction to it very interesting as well, as he points out that the problems that J1mmy highlights are not easy ones to fix. 




Do I have answers to the problems? I'll be honest here: no, I don't. And to be fair, I'm not exactly sure if a significant portion of WoW's fanbase believes there even are problems that can't be fixed by a good expansion and the presence of Chris Metzen. Kind of a 'wave your hand and make all the issues magically go away' sort of thing. 




But what J1mmy and StarCraft streamer Day9TV (see above) found in their initial exposure to WoW highlight is that we, as gamers who have played MMOs in the WoW and WoW clone subgenres, have too many blind spots about the game that only become apparent when someone outside of the ecosystem tries to play. 

When I saw a neighbor try WoW for the first time --during Cataclysm in 2011-- and he got totally flummoxed trying to figure the story and everything out, I understood. All of the richness to the story of Azeroth is wasted if it's not presented in an understandable manner to a new player. And the problem is compounded by almost 20 years' worth of additions to the base game. **

Maybe what's needed is an expansion that absolutely, positively presents itself without a single iota of reliance upon prior expansions or even the base game for the story. If you cut out the albatross that is 20 years' worth of lore, you stand a chance of making this particular expansion's story more understandable.

It's a thought, anyway.

Just how would you do that?

Beats me, but whatever they come up with surely has to be better than t-shirts proclaiming "What Sword?" as an in-joke for Legion veterans. I kinda get it, but if you asked me any details beyond "There's a sword out in a zone that was untouched by Cataclysm", I'd simply make some stuff up.

And that highlights a bit of a problem for WoW. Modern WoW is made for people who play WoW already, not people who may in the future play WoW. 




*And, I might add, when I'm out of ideas. While inaccurately attributed to Albert Einstein, I am a big believer in the credo "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." So, if I find myself doing the same strategy without making any changes, just hoping that "I'll get it right this time", after a certain point I'll cave and go look at a strategy. For the record, I haven't done that yet in Baldur's Gate 3, which is kind of amazing given how much I have to police my feed and usage of social media.

**Before you ask, yes, I don't like the modern story very much. I really haven't liked it since about Cataclysm onward, and now having gone back and played Vanilla and BC in their Classic incarnations, I don't like Wrath's story much either. That being said, just because I don't like it doesn't mean that Blizzard should simply give up and not bother trying to make the story understandable for new players.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Meme Monday: Summer Memes

Because it's June, and hence it must be Summer...


Yeah, I get that. Even our youngest
is going to be a senior at college this fall.
From Imgflip.

I should try this.
From someecards.


Alas, mine will be the latter.
From imgflip.


Uh... I've heard of overkill, but...
From Pinterest.


Friday, May 31, 2024

My, How Things Have Changed

I'm one of those people who end up gravitating toward a standard way of playing, and despite my willingness to try different strategies I end up following the same old path.

Take Stardew Valley, for instance.

Yes, I actually used Cardwyn for this
particular playthrough, because here her
name is kind of unique.

Despite all of my best intentions, the sheer volume of games that I've played there with variations of Redbeard as my character's name can look pretty daunting. The current playthrough I'm doing is yet another permutation of my own name, and yes he has red hair and a beard.

Another quirk of my Stardew Valley games is that I end up with a similar layout of crops and animal habitats. Not because it's the most efficient, per se, but because the crops are grown close to the shack I live in and I clear that area first. The next area I clear is a path leading to the woods to the south, so I stick the animals in a fenced area over there.

Kind of like this.


And so on, and so on.

Finally, although I make a point when I start each game to tell myself that I'm going to try to romance other NPCs, I pretty much always end up selecting Penny or Leah. This is not an accident, as both of them have qualities I see in my wife. That they are both redheads is kind of a cherry on top of the sundae, so to speak, as I've a thing for redheads.*

In spite of that, I have at one occasion or another romanced almost all of the other eligible candidates out there, just to see what their storyline is like all the way to the end.

There's been a few major updates to Stardew Valley since I last played, and it seems that Eric Barone has make some dialog changes to the characters. While the main cutscenes up through to 10 Hearts is unchanged, the dialogue when you talk to all of the NPCs has been expanded by a bit. While it's not a complete overhaul, for a few NPCs it does make a measurable difference.**

Okay Leah, I get the hint. Have you been
talking to my doctor or something?


It made Haley more interesting, which surprised me.

Haley, for those who haven't played the game, is the stereotypical popular blonde girl who is pretty superficial. If you've ever talked to someone in high school who looks on you with active disdain for not being 'with it', that's Haley. Of the romanceable NPCs in Stardew Valley, she and Alex are tied for the most vain and disliked by me. Yes, I know that some people might think similar things about Shane or Sebastian --or early Abigail interactions-- but being not one of the popular kids in real life meant I had a similar visceral reaction to Haley and Alex when I first began playing. 

In this most recent run-through, I was expecting to pretty much stay with the tried and true, but early on I noticed that some of Haley's most annoying commentary had been trimmed (or I'd gotten lucky and avoided it) and some of her new commentary wasn't all that bad. (By her standards, anyway.) That intrigued me, and when you combine that with her Spring birthday she ended up with more hearts than she usually gets in one of my playthroughs. 

Well, I thought, she doesn't seem quite so stuck up as usual, so I figured I'd let the chips fall where they may and let the game progress naturally. 

As usually happens, my traditional romance partners caught up and passed her, but Haley did hold her own, so when decision time finally came for me --selecting which NPC to turn from a friend to a romantic partner-- it came down to Penny, Leah, Abigail, and Haley. The two tried and true, the adventurous wildcard, and Haley.

In the end, I selected Haley.

I'm pretty sure this is one of the new dialogue options.
The Winter clothing definitely is new.

I was quite surprised how much she'd grown over the course of the game, and she really blossomed into a caring woman. Her 14 heart cutscene** really showed she's no longer a shallow person, and that she had the drive and initiative to do something without making that something all about her. While she still enjoys the beach and makeup and whatnot, there's a lot of caring and depth to her now that I'd never seen before.

Who knew?




*Yes, my wife is a redhead.

**I'm aware that Stardew Valley has a ton of mods out there for it, ranging from mild to risqué to converting the game into a mathematical exercise that a WoW add-on user would love. Among the mods out there is one that changes the dialogue of the NPCs, and I suppose that is the inspiration for some of these changes that Eric made in Stardew Valley.

***If you haven't played the game in a few years, yes, there's now a 14 heart cutscene for married companions.

EtA: Corrected grammar. They're their there...

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

It's Just Something To Do

Meteorological Summer begins this week in my part of the world, and the weather has had its share of humidity and thunderstorms the past few weeks.

It also means that its time for building projects to kick into high gear.

That doesn't mean I don't repair or work on stuff during the Winter months, it's just that I tend to use power tools outside due to lack of space in the garage*, and if the weather sucks for some reason or another I tend to pass on doing outside work. Sawing outside when it's 32F/0C or colder tends to suck, and I'd rather not repeat that performance if I can help it.

I have decided that this year is the year I am finally going to do something about our deck.

Obligatory photo of deck boards that need replacement.


The old deck has been around since 1989** with a few boards replaced here and there by me about a decade or so ago, and while the bones of the thing are still in good shape I really need to go replace the deck boards themselves. I'd thought for years about replacing the wooden deck boards with composite decking, but while the price has come down it has remained high enough that I simply can't afford it. 

I have also discovered that the stairs for the deck, while probably up to code 35 years ago, are no longer good enough should I rehab this thing. 

So, barring any surprise financial issues, such as all the car repairs from last year, I'm going to fix the deck to make it usable once more.

***

I do have a plan here, it's just a matter of figuring out how to put it into motion. 

There are three big jobs:

  • Replace the deck boards
  • Replace the two sets of stairs
  • Replace the skirting
That last one was the one I was most concerned about, ironically enough. While I'd replaced deck boards before, I'd never really touched the skirting. The skirting that was originally used was wooden paneling, making the bottom of the deck look like it was a finished basement straight out of the 1970s, and that paneling has begun falling off as it deteriorated. I really don't want to replace it with more paneling, but I'm also concerned that by altering the skirting I might also be creating a problem with erosion under the deck.

I put some of the skirting back up just to take this pic.
About the best thing about the deck is that the main
beams and supports are in good shape.


Here, let me show you what the basic design looks like:

Yeah, I used MS Paint for this. Nothing too fancy.

The two sets of stairs aren't very large, only about 2-3 steps each, but they need to be brought up to code with better slope and adding rails + lighting. (I suspect the lack of the proper number of stairs and their steep slope were done to avoid having to add lights to the deck.) The deck faces West and north, while the south has a covered porch and the east is walled off by the back of the garage.

Our weather comes west to east, which means the skirting facing west gets the brunt of the weather. Replacing that (now dilapidated) solid skirting with anything more permeable, such as lattice, might allow erosion of the ground under the deck. That being said, I've also discovered plastic sheeting that was placed under the deck when I began removing the skirting. 


Boy, was I surprised when I discovered the sheeting.

I suspect that sheeting is to prevent erosion --or it could be a lazy developer leaving it behind-- but I'll talk to a friend who is the son of a builder, and he's built his share of decks and porches over the years. He might have an idea as to what's going on, and what I ought to do going forward.

Still, it's a project for me to work on, and I've been putting it off for about 5-6 years too long. 

***

Why now?

Well, I've already tackled one stair issue around the house this Spring, such as the so-called stairs from the garage to the house. I say 'so-called' because when I went to pull the old stairs away from the boards I discovered they came right off as they weren't secured in place. They weren't a singular stair at all, but rather a builder-made step-stool. Basically the builder did it rather than putting in the two step stairs that ought to have been there so he wouldn't have to put in a railing. Before you ask whether I'm being a bit asinine putting down the builder like that, the more I've worked on the house the more I've found really stupid things that were put in by the builder as cheap "corrections" to errors made while constructing the house. If it were me, I'd be embarrassed about some of this shit, but I'm obviously not the builder, either. 

Yeah, there ought to be --at minimum-- one
extra stair there, and probably two given the slope
of the yard. I have no idea how the contractor
got away with not even supporting the steps right
and merely sticking a brick under the stairs, which
sagged as the bricks sunk into the dirt over time.


But the biggest reason is that it has to be done. Full stop. The wood is rotting, and it's past the point of anything resembling safety. So, hopefully, I can get this taken care of correctly without needing to hire someone. 

There's also another motive: it gives me something to do.

When I had my six month checkup with my regular doctor, in addition to him telling me things are progressing well he prodded at me to go take some time off. Go on vacation. Relax. 

This was the same doctor who told me to not worry about work so much when I'm off work, in spite of the fact that I am on call 24 x 7 and that I have been woken up at 2 AM plenty of times in the past. I understand his point, which is to reduce my overall amount of stress, but I also couldn't explain some of the hobbies I do enjoy. 

Video games? Board games? Dungeons and Dragons?

If I told him that I was a gamer, he'd likely think I meant playing blackjack and slot machines at one of the local casinos.*** And trying to describe Gen Con was completely out of the question. 

But working on the deck, just building something from start to finish... Yeah, that's something both he could understand and something that I enjoy. 

And, lucky me, I actually need to get that done anyway. 



*One of my long term goals is to clear out the garage enough to use the damn thing to work in. There was a period of about a year in 2004-2005 when I'd cleared out enough space to do just that, but then my great aunt gave me her old Conn organ, and... well, that was that.

**How do I know the deck dates from 1989? Well, that's because I was told the porch and deck were put in place after tornadoes came through the area in the 80s. I knew that when that tornado hit it was 15 years after the Day of the Tornadoes (April 3/4 1974), because I was working during the Summer up at UD, and up there people know it as The Xenia Tornado

So, the realtor had told us that the cheap deck that came with the house was damaged by the hail that accompanied the tornado, and the owner at the time decided to put in a covered porch where the old deck was and added a new deck to one side of the porch.

***Judging by the commentary by my neighbors and others I encounter while out and about, it seems that I'm more the exception than the rule for eschewing any interest in casinos. 


EtA: Discovered the ** was missing almost all of its entry, so I fixed that (and corrected the grammar along the way)..

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Where Are The Normal People At?

This is something that's been bugging me ever since I started playing Baldur's Gate 3, so I figured I'd get it out in the open now rather than later. 

Who the hell came up with your companions' backstories??

I mean, I knew that the Forgotten Realms were a bit higher in magic content than I prefer my average D&D campaign to be, but I play WoW, so I can adjust my expectations as needed. But the backstories? They're a bit bonkers. 

Don't worry, I'm not going to divulge any spoilers here.

I have to wonder about who came up with
Gale's backstory. And given what we know,
why is he 1st Level when we meet him?
From PC Gamer and Larian Studios.

Now, I get that the companions' backstories feed into the overall plot behind Baldur's Gate 3, but the backstories are so far removed from those in the first Baldur's Gate that it feels like we're living in an entirely different Sword Coast. I suppose that we are, given the Spellplague and the Sundering* explaining why races such as the Dragonborn are around.

I guess I can explain the difference in the backstories between Baldur's Gate 1 and 3 in a World of Warcraft analogy: Baldur's Gate 1's companion backstories are to Baldur's Gate 3's version as to what a toon in Vanilla Classic WoW is to that in Retail WoW. In Vanilla Classic WoW, at the end of Naxxramas your toon is just one piece in the army that took down Kel'Thuzad; you don't report directly to faction leads, you're not constantly lauded in game and told how great and awesome you are, and there isn't a big ol' cheering squad when you turn in the lich's phylactery. Contrast that to the end of a Retail expansion, where you get your own personal Star Wars Throne Room scene.**

The companions in Baldur's Gate 1 were all, by and large, relatively normal people. Minsc was notable less for his prowess on the battlefield and more for his sayings, his companion (the miniature giant space hamster Boo), and his less-than-impressive intellect. Jaheira and Khalid were married, so there's that; Khalid stuttered, which was different; and Branwen's entrance to the game was a bit unusual, but in a post-Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets world it's not so unusual these days. 

But in BG3, things are different. All of your companions have incredibly important or weird backstories that remind me of a new player creating a PC and going for maximum angst and/or drama.

This old comic from Dorkly comes to mind.


Although I'm only in the Shadow-Cursed Lands right now, this change in direction between your companions' backstories has also changed how I approach BG3. My skepticism in how things are --relative to BG1-- is pretty much at an all-time high. If there's an NPC that you encounter who seems normal, maybe I ought to simply not believe them one damn bit and save myself the trouble.

In this respect it's a lot like when you're out in the middle of nowhere in WoW and you just happen to bump into a couple of Elves. Sure, they might be Elves, but... come on. You just know they're going to be dragons in disguise, because it certainly seems at times like it's a meme that Blizzard just feeds into.

***

I get where people want to be the hero of their own story, because for the most part our own lives aren't what I'd call heroic. There are days when just going to work, getting work done, and coming home can feel like an heroic accomplishment, but in general we're not part of saving the world --or even our local community-- from some Big Bad. 

That being said, when I end up in a situation like I find myself in with Baldur's Gate 3, I start to wonder just why the hell am I hanging out with all of these people anyway. Matt Colville loves the brain worm's usage in BG3 as a reason for all of the players to get together,

To say that Matt is not a fan of "you all meet
in a tavern" is kind of an understatement.

and from the perspective of bringing a party together where there's always one person who is kind of an ass about "why would my character want to join up with these people?" I completely approve. But from the standpoint of a story like BG3 where everybody else but you has these fantastic backstories that kind of border on Mary Sue/Marty Stu levels, you just go, "Uh... So why am I here again?"

I mean, my character's backstory via the character creation process is that he's a city guard. No more, no less. This is exemplified by one of the quotes my character makes in BG3: "No one back home would ever believe this." 

See? Travolta isn't the only one who's confused.
From Pulp Fiction.


When you've got extraplanar entities interested in your activities --and no, I don't just mean that inevitable "Warlock with an Infernal Pact" player or companion, either-- you start to question your place in the universe.***

***

Are my characters as normal as I think they are?

Maybe that's a nonsensical question because I've played numerous video game RPGs and MMOs, and it always seems to move in the direction of you becoming the Hero. Not just a lower case, garden variety "you saved those kittens from drowning" hero, but a world/galaxy/apocalypse saving Hero.

And I'm not sure I'm on board with that.****

I'm old enough to know that doesn't happen in real life, and I'm also old enough to no longer fantasize about that sort of thing. Truth be told, fantasizing about living longer than five years past my congestive heart failure incident is probably at the top of my list*****, with far more mundane desires following behind.

The side effects of notoriety surrounding such earth shattering acts of Heroism are things people don't talk about much, unless it's to put down the people who performed those feats. History is riddled with people who performed heroic acts yet either they or their family couldn't handle the fame that accompanied it or they became the target of all sorts of ne'er do wells, the latter ranging from people looking to cash in on their friendship/family status to hangers-on scumming for money to even threats/acts of violence against the hero and extended family. It's not only superheroes who become a target.

Insane antagonist not included.
From memeful.com.


If there's one comforting fact about being "normal", it's that your "normality" keeps you from being a target. Well, not explicitly so in a public fashion, anyway.

***

So, what do I make of Baldur's Gate 3?

I'm not sure.

I mean, I enjoy the game, and it does scratch that RPG itch that I have, but if this were a campaign I were designing I wouldn't have gone in this direction. Throwing everybody together in the manner Larian did works, but those backstories are a bit too overpowered for my taste. I think I can handle the romance angle as well, but it certainly feels rushed. Like everybody --and I do mean everybody-- is excessively horny. (And I began playing AFTER the adjustments to the game Larian made to correct what they believed as excessive horniness among the companions.) 

It's not that I don't remember my 20s or something, you bet your ass I do, it's just that I don't remember the sheer volume of horniness coming out like this. Maybe it was me attending a Catholic university had an impact here, but I knew enough horny Catholics that I doubt it. 

Those items aside, the power and narrative creep in the campaign is part Larian, part D&D 5e, and part Forgotten Realms. Likely equal parts, to be fair, but still all three parts share a hand in creating the story --and the characters-- the way it has.

I'm going to see Baldur's Gate 3 all the way to the end, and pump the brakes as much as necessary to keep myself from going off the rails and ignoring my real life. At this rate, it'll probably be November or later by the time I finish the game, which isn't a bad thing. At least I will have gotten a lot of gameplay out of it.



*I only barely paid attention to both events, because my D&D group played in our own homebrewed campaign that wasn't based in the Forgotten Realms, but those events were basically excuses to explain the transition from D&D 3.x to 4e (The Spellplague) and from 4e to 5e (The Sundering). I do know that when The Sundering was revealed at Gen Con, my brother-in-law said the crowd was not impressed; a similar reaction to when Cataclysm Classic was revealed at BlizzCon.

**While you could point to The Burning Crusade as when some of this "You are THE Hero" began appearing in WoW, it was in Wrath of the Lich King where Blizzard went all in on with your toon as The Champion. (Just ask Arthas in The Culling of Stratholme instance.) If you started playing WoW in Wrath, as I did, you never realized that this aspect to the game simply didn't exist in Vanilla WoW. To me, you were always the hero of your own Lord of the Rings-esque story, and the reworking of Azeroth in Cataclysm removed all aspects of a previous, non-heroic environment. It was only when WoW Classic appeared were my eyes opened as to how much the game didn't revolve around you back then.

Yeah, I get that there's the few turn-ins for a buff in Vanilla, such as the Onyxia/Nefarian head and the Rend head, but that isn't the same as a full on cutscene. This isn't limited to WoW either, as SWTOR also was notable for a full-on cutscene at the end of their vanilla campaign.

***You could also argue the same thing about when NPCs/party members start flirting with you. Maybe it's scars from my youth, but in my experience that sort of stuff just doesn't happen out of the blue. And if it did, I'd question as to whether there's an ulterior motive involved. (Yes, there's a lot of baggage to unpack here. Maybe another time, since nobody really wants to read about puberty-driven angst in a gaming blog.)

****For the record, our AD&D 1e campaign doesn't have any of those "You Are THE Hero" moments in them, but if you wanted to put them in there you could. My game group, however, really isn't interested in roleplaying how awesome they are. We joke around and don't take ourselves seriously enough for that. I realize that in Pathfinder adventure paths or D&D 5e published campaigns this movement up through to becoming THE HERO is very much a thing --just see Baldur's Gate 3 for a video game interpretation of that, I suppose-- but it wasn't all like that in the past. And in other RPGs, notably Call of Cthulhu, you know you're going to eventually go insane, it's just a matter of when. Or if you play Fiasco, which I've described as being in your very own Cohen Brothers movie, there are no real Heroes there either. 

*****From Medical News Today, "Research estimates that more than half of all people with congestive heart failure will survive for 5 years after diagnosis. About 35% will survive for 10 years. However, in some cases, a person can extend their life expectancy through lifestyle changes, medications, and surgery." If you're keeping track (as I am for obvious reasons), I'm 2.5 years past my little incident and halfway to the 5 year mark. 


EtA: Corrected a double entry of a link.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Meme Monday: Fantasy Language Memes

It's a pretty well-known thing that JRR Tolkien invented languages --he was a philologist, after all-- and decided to create stories (and a world) for them. Hence, Middle-earth was born. 

Nowadays, Fantasy Languages (I lump SF Languages in here as well) are pretty common in SF&F literature. Of course, that can be both a good thing and a bad thing. 

When I write, I tend to gloss over the different languages themselves and focus on whether my characters can understand them, like so:

Sighing, I broke the seal. "I'd just like to receive a response from the Explorer's League," I grumbled.

 "What was that, Apprentice?" Elsharin called from the other room.

Crap. Wrong language. "I was hoping it was from the Explorer's League," I replied in Thalassian. "I sent them a letter about visiting one of their digs."

 I heard a brief, whispered conversation involving a lot of Thalassian words I didn't know, then Haleh spoke up. "It is good you wish to help, Cardwyn," she replied. "The Dwarves know much but are frequently too eager. A voice of" --she used a word I didn't know-- "would be good for them."

"Thank you, ma'am," I replied, making a mental note to look up the word she used, and opened the letter.

When I was younger, I would have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to invent words and string them together like they were a language. You know, like that found in Chris Paolini's Eragon books. 


“Atra esterni' ono thelduin
Mor' rana li'fa unin hjarta onr
Un du evari'nya ono varda

(May good fortune rule over you
peace live in your heart
may the stars watch over you)”
Christopher Paolini, Eragon & Eldest

Still, it's time to poke some fun at a stock part of SF&F literature!

There's always that one person in the back that
pushes their glasses up and says "Well, ACTUALLY..."
I know, because that would have been me.
From themetapicture.com.


And this is why I don't try to make up
languages any more. From ofwordsandbooks.


When not done well, I turn into Grumpy Cat.
From imgflip.


I never took Latin, but I was amused enough
by its usage in Harry Potter that I thought of this meme
first when I decided on this for Meme Monday.
From Memehunter.


Friday, May 24, 2024

Fighting the Demons

The other week, my son asked me how Baldur's Gate 3 was going. 

"I haven't really touched it since we last talked about it a month ago," I replied. He is quite aware that I try not to go bananas when playing a video game, and for me that means playing a game in fits and starts.

Yes, I'm aware that I play MMOs --and WoW Classic Era-- very regularly. The thing is, in those games I'm not very goal oriented these days, so it's more to play just so I can hang out with other people. Or people watch wherever I'm at.

There's always something going on in Vivec City.
Even at the bank.

Still, I worry about my ability to control myself, as I have the tendency is to go "all-in" on playing a game I like that I'm progressing through. So I play a bit, then I force myself to back off. Once I create a bit of separation, that magical pull that a game or a book or a piece of music has on me lessens, and I feel better able to balance my desires with my needs. 

BG3 is definitely a game that I enjoy playing. It has some moments that make me go WTF, such as your companions' backstories*, but overall I enjoy it a lot. It scratches that RPG itch that I don't get often enough these days, just as Age of Wonders 4 scratches that Fantasy building game itch that Master of Magic first gave me.**

Hey Sundren, how are you doing?
I remember you from Age of Wonders III.

So when I told my son that I hadn't played in what was effectively a month, he wasn't surprised. One of his friends had begun playing BG3 recently, and he was having to balance the video game with all of his grad school work that needed to be finished before the end of the semester. I didn't envy that friend of his one damn bit.

***

I suppose I've always known to a certain extent that I am prone to addiction. 

If I find something I like, I tend to do it over and over to an almost unhealthy extent. Even before the Satanic Panic derailed my D&D youth, I used to read and re-read The Lord of the Rings. And before that, The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald.

This was the version of the books that I had.
From Amazon.

I clearly remember my dad coming into my room when I was in 8th Grade and sick with a cold, and he informed me I had better start reading something else than "those darn Tolkien books". Of course, that made me want to re-read them even more often just to spite him, but I instead turned my mind toward other Fantasy and Science Fiction***.

During my freshman year at college, I had problems transitioning to college level work because I got distracted by Star Trek, of all things.**** That Fall of 1987 was when Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted, and the friends at college and I would watch the show religiously and talk about it after. The internet was still in its protracted infancy and email access was restricted at UD, so those of us who liked geeky pastimes could only rely upon face-to-face contact for such discussion. So there I was, struggling to keep up with my studies, but all I could think about was Star Trek. 

Yes, I was a nerd. You had to ask?

When my grades began slipping to the point where my scholarship was in danger --and my dad made sure I knew about it-- I had to take drastic action. So I began dialing it back on Captain Picard and crew.

I wasn't as self-destructive as some people I knew in college, such as the person who lived in the dorm next to me. He didn't last a semester at college, as about 6-8 weeks in he discovered the pleasures of partying and simply stopped caring about his classes.***** His girlfriend (who was attending Notre Dame) contacted us because he had even gone silent with her, and she was worried. My roommate and a couple of other people on our dorm floor, including our Resident Assistant, basically held an intervention and convinced him it was smarter to drop out to get his life back together before he ruined it completely.#

Still, watching that happen was a sobering experience. There were several instances of people on my dorm floor imploding and getting themselves on academic probation, enough so that the joke was that our floor had the lowest GPA in the entire building, and that was despite several people with excellent grades calling our floor home.

***

Even today I have to be careful lest I get sucked into some distraction to the point where I haven't gotten any of the normal activities of home life completed. This goes for work as well, because I've had to be told more than once over the course of my career to basically "stay in my lane" and not do other work I found interesting but wasn't part of my job description. 

So while I'd love to be farther along in playing some of these video games, I know that I have to be on my guard. Writing down lists of things to do, much like how you'd write out a grocery list, help to keep me on track from being distracted too much, but even then my sense of time can get all thrown off when I'm absorbed in something. Maybe I ought to set a timer.

You and me both, Jodi.






*I have a post I'm working on about that.

**I should clarify that the original Sim City, Sim Earth, and hell, even Santa Paravia for those old farts like me were the video games that inspired my love of building and development games. 

I actually have a printout of the source code
of the game in TRS-80 BASIC. I'd meant to convert
it to TI-99 4/A BASIC, but I never got around to
it. Something something hormones something something.
From datadrivengamer.blogspot.com.


***Likely to his displeasure. He never read fiction, much less F&SF.

****Given that I went to an all-boys high school, you'd think that I'd have said "girls" instead of Star Trek. And you're not wrong in that having girls in classes were a distraction after years of not having them around, but you have to understand I dealt with that already in high school. My junior year of high school I took Spanish III, and since only two of us signed up for the class they sent us over to the "sister" all-girls high school next door. I should have known that something was up when my classmate and I discovered we were in two separate classes, but even I was surprised on that first day of school I walked to the classroom and knocked, only to see thirty pairs of eyes turn and look at me. 

"Spanish III?" I asked.

The teacher smiled. "Sí sí," she replied. "Red?"

"Uh, yeah," I said, my face likely showing my mind turning to mush, as a wave of laughter swept the the class. It wasn't enough that I was outnumbered 30:1, but that they were all really attractive as well meant that I was in for a very long year.

"Do you want to sit somewhere up here?" the teacher asked, motioning to a desk in front. 

"No, I'll take this one right. back. here." I replied, sliding into the desk in the back by the door to another round of light laughter.

TL;DR: I survived the year, but that's because I made myself as invisible as possible. I'd say about 5-6 of the girls knew me from grade school, so most of them were a total unknown to me. My biggest takeaway from that year was that if you kept quiet you got to hear all sorts of interesting things about people's lives, particularly their love life. I also (now) realized that I missed a few obvious hints that some of the girls dropped that they were interested in me. This period of my life will come back from time to time, so don't be surprised if this reappears in a subsequent post.

*****I was there when it happened; we'd gone out on a Saturday night to the university village, nicknamed The Ghetto at the time, and we came across a student house that had kegs there but very few people in attendance. At the time I didn't drink so I passed (they got me a Mt. Dew, I think), but about halfway through his first beer our floormate decided he really really liked that stuff and he just started plowing through the beer like there was no tomorrow. He and another guy we were with got totally plastered and it took us the better part of an hour to walk them back to the dorm.

#As far as I know, it didn't help. Someone who was a mutual acquaintance ran into him at a concert back in their hometown a year or two later, and he was well down the "throwing your life away" path.


EtA: I corrected the time from 3-4 weeks to 6-8 weeks, as it was late October when this began.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Meme Monday: Return of the Healer Memes

It's been a while since I last did some memes on healers, so I figured "why not?" and resurrected the healer memes for 2024...

Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase.
From 9gag.


And this is why I don't play healers much.
From ifunny.co.


Uh, yeah. From imgflip.


Again, another reason why I don't play
a healer. From ifunny.co.