Body Pulling



I spent my might roaming around in Mulgore some more and knocking out the various newbie quests from Bloodhoof Village at my own prodding pace that very much fits the animation cycle of the Tauren Male.  So the weird thing about World of Warcraft Classic is that I know there is no capturing the feeling of roaming around in Azeroth for the first time back in 2004.  I was 28 at the time and the launch of the game was a magical moment that happened to enrapture all of my friends that were MMO inclined at the same time.  It was a weird amalgam of people I knew in real life, folks I met through Everquest, the few of us that played Dark Age of Camleot together, a bunch of people that we picked up from City of Heroes and some that came from the larger community of Horizon: Empire of Istaria (now just called Istaria).  Everyone was going to be playing the same game at the same time and it was freaking awesome…  the only hitch was that the game was divided into two halves and some of us were dedicated to playing Horde and others playing Alliance.  I wound up joining the Alliance group and let the horde side of me largely atrophy, but from the beginning I found this to be a very artificial choice as I have never really bought into the faction war storyline.


I cannot fully explain why I am enjoying myself in World of Warcraft right now.  I most definitely do not enjoy the current state of Battle for Azeroth, but for some reason playing Classic Beta feels more simple and pure.  I am roaming around, surviving on nothing…  getting legitimately excited any time I see a copper node or get some linen drops because it means I can advance my crafting.  I got a bag drop during the first part of the newbie zone and was absolutely excited to see it…  and still several levels later I am hoping to see another one drop.  Everything feels to be boiled down to is purest form, of do some quests… kill some monsters…  actually read some quest text because otherwise I cannot remember for the life of me where anything is located.  I am present in the world because I keep my head on a swivel because one bad pull…  one add at the wrong time…  and I end up doing a corpse run.


The truth is that I have probably died more in the last two nights than I have died in the entire time questing since the release of Wrath of the Lich King.  I am of course not counting raid and dungeon deaths because those are rather “accident prone” settings, but just in over world questing…  most of the time I manage to level my way through almost the entirety of the expansion content before I actually take a death.  In Classic I sorta wish that I had been keeping a death count…  because seriously I have been dying a lot as I have had to adjust to the realities that we dealt with in Vanilla.  I am having to re-learn the dark art of slow body pulling camps…  and dragging them back at a safe distance while watching for any roamers.  I am having to keep track of the spawn times and as I clear keep moving to what is now guaranteed to be a safe spot for awhile.  All of these were skills that I went into World of Warcraft with having developed them in the precursor MMOs…  but that have completely atrophied over time.


During Battle for Azeroth I played a Tank Demon Hunter…  and on that character if I was not pulling entire camps at a time I was legitimately playing the game wrong.  If I move forward to Classic however…  if I get more than one mob at a time… I am straight up going to die.  There is no safety net for me to fall back on…  no Ignore Pain that I can lean on heavily to bring my health back up to full.  The in combat regeneration rate is prodigiously slow meaning that I basically cannot do anything to better my situation apart from a healing potion during the fight… and even then that is just a temporary salve to a likely inevitable end.  There is a part of me that thought I wouldn’t be as into this as I apparently am.  That said I am having a blast and while I know there is no recapturing the things that made World of Warcraft Vanilla special…  I am finding that it also still strangely works for me.


All of that said… I am contemplating some nonsense.  I want to build a casual Dungeon and eventual Raid guild in World of Warcraft Classic when it releases in August.  I realize the futility of naming something when I cannot actually register the guild…  but I want to go with Decades Behind because there is a story there.  Back during Wrath of the Lich King a bunch of us on the Argent Dawn Forums started a guild called Years Behind when patch 3.2.0 introduced the ability to lock your level at a specific level.  I rolled a Gnome Warrior and for a short period of time we ran a bunch of the Vanilla raid content while artificially level locked down to 60.  This was fun… but also not exactly true given that most of us were equipping Burning Crusade greens rather than relying on what was actually available back during Vanilla.  With the advent of Classic I want to try and do something similar… and given that it has been over a decade since the launch of World of Warcraft I opted to update this name.  In the months between now and the release I figure we will sort out information.  Right now however I am targeting the Horde for two reasons.  First…  Grace is a die-hard Horde player and is super sad anytime she is playing something else…  and in order to make this work I am absolutely going to need her.  Secondly…  I remember several bosses that Horde had a way easier time fighting than Alliance  (and of course some that horde struggled with as well).  The big one…  was that there just wasn’t a viable way to take down the Ooze in AQ40 as Alliance.  Additionally Horde has bloodlust…  and I am stacking the deck as best I can.

I will of course be providing updates as I know more information about all of this.

Unexpected Installables



Last night I started the evening as I have done several recently…  spending a chunk of time playing Rage 2.  However at some point I needed to get up and around and when I finally got sat back down at the laptop on the sofa…  I decided to check to see if I happened to make it into World of Warcraft Classic Beta.  I can’t even pinpoint where I heard the news, but at some point yesterday I heard that Beta invites would be going out.  I did not notice that I had gotten an email but I opted to just check the launcher, and sure enough…  nestled beside PTR in the list was “Beta:  WoW Classic”.  I installed the game and popped in to see what all had changed since the BlizzCon demo.


Side note… at some point during the evening I did in fact receive an email titled “Belghast – You’re Invited to the World of Warcraft Classic Beta Test” and I clipped part of the email above…  which is obviously formatted for mobile devices.  Like I said however my account had received the entitlement long before I got an email, so I feel like your best option if you are curious is to see if it shows up in the drop down of selectable World of Warcraft accounts.  There are rumors that you have to have an active subscription to get access to it…  which checks as even though I am not playing the game I never went through the process of cancelling my subscription.  I also purchased BlizzCon access last year…  so it might also be tied to that for all I know.  Whatever the case I have access and I spent some time playing last night.


Ultimately I created what was literally my very first World of Warcraft character.  I made a Tauren Warrior back in one of the beta phases in 2004, and since my good friend Grace is excited about Classic and has way stronger Horde loyalty than I do Alliance loyalty I opted to give it a shot last night.  First take away…  Mulgore is way more peaceful than I remember and it was super chill running around as a big damned cow warrior bopping things with a big hammer.  Eventually I managed to get a axe and shield set up going, and since I leveled the original Belghast as prot I am expecting to level in Classic as prot for old times sake.


There was a weird sense of coming home to roaming around in the world.  One of the things I love about limited access alphas and betas in World of Warcraft… is that the community is generally speaking non-toxic.  I spent a good chunk of the night chatting away with random people in general about what we remembered about the early days of Warcraft.  It is weird but I have sorta missed feeling like I had a community that is worth communicating with.  Sure there are excellent people in a good number of the games…  but in the post Dungeon Finder reality no one talks to anyone else.  This means that general channels are left to the devices of the people who just want to make trouble for others, and a secret to my sanity for years has been disabling them entirely.  I’ve missed an era when it was okay to hang out and chat in a public space, and if nothing else that was refreshing about the Classic Beta.


The other big takeaway from the night is that they seem to have toned down the game a bit from the Classic Demo from BlizzCon.  The only death I took during the night is when I charged in to attack a mob that I did not properly “con” first…  and wound up fighting a level 9 swoop and level 6.  This probably would have been fine had another level 9 wolf not jumped in to help out the birb.  My goal for the night was to get to the point where I had tradeskills trained, and I now do in fact have both Mining and Smithing after a quick jaunt to Thunderbluff.  My best drop so far is the 4 slot black bag… and I remember back in the day I used to farm the newbie zone until I had gathered four of these before moving onwards.  Hell when Classic launches I might actually do this so that I don’t feel like I am behind the curve the entire time.  As far as tradeskills… I figured Blacksmithing was going to give me the best bang for the buck as a Warrior in that it will let me craft all of my gear for the most part.


The joys of looking like you dressed yourself for the very first time.  I guess however that is part of the charm of starting over and returning to vanilla.  Getting excited over a grey item dropping for a slot I currently had nothing equipped in is an experience that I have not had for a very long time.  I remember banking shoulder items back in the day just so when my friends got to that point I could hand them one and fill a slot that greys start dropping well before anything reasonable does.  I look forward to running Ragefire Chasm and Deadmines legitimately.  I do not however look forward to trying to make the run to Deadmines as a Horde player.  I keep reminding myself that this is patch 1.12 and not patch 1.0… and in theory Meeting stones exist?  I am not sure at what point they put in the teleports that allow Horde to get to Deadmines easily however.  Ultimately it feels sufficiently vanilla to trigger my nostalgia and doesn’t feel quite as purposefully punishing as the BlizzCon demo did.  I am happy for the moment if for no reason other than I was not expecting to do this last night at all… nor was I expecting to spend the night chatting with strangers.  Good start so far!

Poor Driving and Change



Last night I largely spent the night playing Rage 2 and doing a really poor job of driving around the wasteland.  In theory I should use this as an opportunity to test out the little 3D Printed controller wheel that I have…  but instead I am just suffering through the mouse and keyboard controls.  It is funny how even when they do not feel amazing… I will still gravitate towards mouse and keyboard in part just to keep from having to switch between controller and keyboard all the time.  I will always be of the firm opinion that shooters are just better with a mouse…  and then many of those shooters also want you to control vehicles which work best with a controller.  So either I suffer with the shooter gameplay or I suffer with the often side content that is driving.  The problem with Rage 2 however is you spend a lot of time in your vehicle as you cross wide swaths of territory between missions.

So while I did not get a screenshot of this because I was enthralled by the combat…  one of the random events that happened in the world is that I encountered an enemy vehicle convoy…  which I followed around trying to take out.  There were roughly 3 car type vehicles, 3 or 4 motorcycle type vehicles and one giant Semi sort of hauler vehicle that was the primary objective.  I managed to whittle down the convoy to just being this big massive vehicle…  and chased it around through the landscape for a good fifteen minutes slowly plinking down its health.  Often times I would drive poorly and get way off track forcing me to jet booster thrust my way back into gun range.  Unfortunately I only managed to know it down by about half health before I got a verbal warning that I was almost out of ammunition.  I am guessing I need some of the vehicle upgrades to realistically fare well in vehicle to vehicle combat…  but I gotta say… I was completely hooked by the experience.


Every town seems to have a major problem that you need to deal with for them… before they can turn around and help you.  Last night I made it through one of those missions…  which unlocked another sequence of events that I am going to need to do before they can actually help me.  That is fine… like I said yesterday there isn’t a lot of back and forth in the dialog so I more than expected to keep going on fetch and assistance quests until the storyline culminates in a battle with the big bad of the world.  It is the moment to moment game play and the exploration of new areas that make the game interesting to me personally.  I like checking enemy camps off of my list, especially when they happen to be hiding an ark full of goodies.   As I move forward into the game I keep encountering newer and tougher groups of enemies…  and I have to say…  Authority soldiers are already a pain in the butt because I don’t have an amazing answer to their energy armor yet.


Last night during the quest I was speaking of in the previous paragraph, I picked up my first new weapon…  which is a really amazing shotgun.  Shotguns are a weapon that I always find deep kinship with, because they are sort of the no-nonsense killing machine option that have been pretty much something I gravitated towards since Doom.  The most recent Doom game had an awesome design as far as shotguns go with some interesting mode switching, and Rage 2 does something very similar.  If you are firing the weapon blindly you end up with a fairly rapid fire short ranged blast option.  However if you hold down the right mouse button and aim the weapon, according to the in game dialog, the weapon melts together all of the shells into one large high powered slug that knocks targets back and has a satisfying thump when it fires.  When it says it knocks things back…  you can get some interesting situations where you hit a single target and it ends up knocking a whole line of enemies down if they are approaching single file through a choke point.  So far this weapon really is my only answer to the Authority troops, and you end up getting it in a mission where things are constantly leaping out of the walls so it also does a great job of twitch reflex killing.

I’m still very much enjoying the game and look forward to playing more of it as the week goes on.  However there is one more topic that I want to bring up.  I will be over the next few weeks moving all of my sites from my current host over to a different host.  I’ve been with my current host for the entire decade during which Tales of the Aggronaut has existed.  Initially I used them because a good friend of mine was one of the system admins, and I could always poke him if I needed something weird done.  However after he left the service has not exactly been that stellar.  Additionally there has been a pretty constantly series of blips in server up time and I am getting tired of it.  I needed to find a good host to use for another purpose… and instead of doing a single one off… I bought a big enough hosting account to hold everything of mine and even do MP3 hosting if I choose to do so and move away from Libsyn.  I will go into more details later as I move everything over depending on how positive or negative the experience is.  I’ve moved a single non-gaming site over and it went pretty smoothly.  This weekend I plan on moving AggroChat and depending on how well that goes might move Aggronaut as well.

Mostly I just wanted to give my readers a heads up that some changes will be coming in my infrastructure and it might wind up with me being down more than I intend to.

Rage 2 First Impressions



Last night I had a bit of a pleasant surprise, in that I came home and noticed that Rage 2 in my Bethesda launcher had 30 minutes left on the countdown to being ready to play.  I was fully expecting it to unlock somewhere around midnight, meaning that I would not be playing it last night at all.  However in theory the Bethesda launcher unlocked the game at the earliest playable time instead of Steam which I believe unlocked it at Midnight Eastern Standard time.  Quake Champions alpha was the game that got me to install the Bethesda Launcher so when Fallout 76 forced me to use it…  it was no big deal given that I already had it installed on my system.  For Rage 2…  it just seemed like a decent idea to go ahead and order directly from the company for fear of there being some last minute storefront shenanigans like there have been recently with the Epic Games store.  One thing that you have to know going into this discussion…  I loved the original Rage, just felt that it was too short of a game that felt like the opening act of a story and not a complete experience.


So going into Rage I was already familiar with the basic story of how the world went wrong.  That said…  I do think they did a good job of prefacing the major points through some slightly unreliable narration.  Given that if you have not played Rage yet you like area not going to… so here goes my quick rundown of the events as I remember them.  Essentially a planet-killer scale meteor named Apophis fell and destroyed the world…  and you are one of the representatives of mankind’s best hope that were buried in Arks underground in order to survive the impact.  However on the way to earth the meteor bounced off of the moon causing a large chunk to break off…  and also causing the impact to not be quite as devastating as originally predicted.  So in the first game you encounter survivors of the old world both good and bad… and fight your way through the paramilitary power of the time called the Authority and trigger all of the other Arks to rise to the surface in the final events of that game.  However at some point between those events and that of Rage 2 some terraforming satellites have fallen to earth and caused pockets of the world to become a lush oasis…  as was in theory the goal of Project Eden to help reclaim the broken world.


There is a thirty year gap between the events of Rage 1 and Rage 2 and in that time a number of major settlements have arisen and solidified their hold on the world.  You play as your choice of a male or female character from the Settlement of Vineland.  Within moments of starting the game you are thrust into a battle with the Authority that is now returning after a lengthy absense to begin reclaiming the wastes for themselves.  Through a somewhat creepy sequence you scavenge a set of ranger armor from a dead body and that is apparently all it takes to make you one?  You are sent out on a mission to make contact with three other city states and start something called Project Dagger going.  And thus begins the first of the comparisons to Fallout…  in that from the moment you leave that tutorial sequence you are no longer fettered by any constraints as to what you should or should not be doing.


Just like your first footsteps out of the vault…  you can roam the world freely and do anything that suits your fancy.  You have markers on your map directing you to each of these major settlements but also a bunch of other micro objectives that will gain you favor with various entities.  The original Rage was essentially “what if Fallout were more like Quake”, and this game is more like “what if Fallout were a better shooter”.  I am somewhat cautious on the Fallout comparisons however because Bethesda games are massively different for each of the players that choose to play them.  For me that core Fallout experience is going off into the wilderness to be a murder hobo and bring back stacks of blood drenched armor to sell for caps…  and then repeating this over and over until I have explored every bit of the world that suits my fancy and done all of the quests associated with them.  In those terms Rage 2 feels very Fallout to me, because I can roam around the map and tick off objectives while looking for tasty loot.


Much like the first game you have a trusty steed in the form of a Mad Maxian road war vehicle…  this time around it is something called Phoenix equipped with an Alexa style AI that talks to you as you do things.  The game also gives you a decent waypoint system that shows up in game as a series of neon pink chevrons directing you towards your target.  While on the road there are a number of random encounters…  bandit camps of sorts or other vehicles that might try and run you off the road.  One of the first objectives that you encounter is a bridge that has been blocked off by bandits and you need to clear the camp and flip a lever to raise the roadblock.  That is more or less the sort of level involvement you should expect from the encounters in game…  more or less go to an area… murder everything… search for hidden loot boxes and then profit.  If Fallout was a deep role-playing experience for you…  then maybe Rage 2 won’t feel like a reasonable simulacrum.


For me however the world is interesting and filled with quest givers that want me to help them out either to retrieve items or get much needed revenge on someone who did them or their family wrong.  The feel of the world is also excellent, and not at all what I was expecting given the trailers and neon punk aesthetic leading up to the release of this game.  Sure there are hot pink flares burning in the distance at times, but the world itself feels significantly more subdued and is filled with the sort of broken people you would expect from a broken landscape.  There are no dialog prompts…  just click on an NPC and get their story as well as a quest showing up in your journal…  which admittedly is perfectly fine for me.  I am always going to be the hero and help everyone out…  so it isn’t like I need a red or blue option to the dialog to make me happy.  That said for some the game will feel like it isn’t giving you any options other than killing everything…  but again… it is a shooter first and anything else second.


Probably the most interesting aspect of the game is that each Ark can teach you a super power of sorts.  From the first Ark located in Vineland you learn the ability to dodge out of the way of things… which comes in handy in many places.  Last night before I shut down for the evening I found an Ark that effectively taught me the ability to double jump, and before that another one that taught me how to take my dodge and turn it into a body slam that can break armor off enemies.  All of the abilities have their own skill tree of sorts that allows you to pour resources find in the wastes into leveling them up.  As you start gaining these the game begins to feel really interesting and unique in that you are given was to both traverse the world but also interact with its combat.  Now so far it is nothing in the way of the types of movement Tam generally craves…  but double jump should at least make Ash as happy as it does me.  I deeply appreciate the fact that the game has a ledge system that allows you to pull up if you get close enough to it… meaning that traversing areas that at first glance that you might not be able to make becomes a little bit more reasonable.


All in all I am deeply pleased with the experience so far, and all I really wanted in truth was more of the first game.  Rage 2 however gives me enough tweaks to make that prospect significantly more interesting.  The challenge the game has in front of it however is that so far… the game plays NOTHING like the trailer.  The trailers were all so over the top and filled with Neon Punk aesthetic and thus far at least…  I have seen very little of it apart from the occasional colored flare.  The trailers would make me expect that a rainbow shat on my screen…  and so far at least that isn’t exactly the case as you can see from what is a pretty common vista of junk strewn across a wasteland.  This might be a turn off for folks expecting the former… for me personally I am completely fine with this as like I said before I loved the original.


I mean I guess the screenshots get a little more over the top when you factor in the photo mode that you can apply to things and add all sorts of neon nonsense to the sides.  However that same aesthetic doesn’t really carry over to the gritty world that I have been experiencing.  If you like playing murder hobo in Bethesda games…  then Rage 2 might be a game for you.  If you like post apocalyptic gopher mission shooters…  then Rage 2 might be a game for you.  If you want deep role-playing choices and feeling like you have some effect on the story…  then Rage 2 might not be a game for you.  If you were expecting a carnal bullet ballet in a neon punk wasteland…  then it is probably a coin flip if this game will be for you because there are definitely those elements but as I said before it is nowhere near as over the top as the trailers would lead you to believe.  For me personally… this is a positive but it won’t be for everyone.

I will say that the latest trailers for the game are playing down the elements from the earlier ones…  so MAYBE the style changed over time?  It is a really fun game that I am definitely enjoying, and if what I talked about seems interesting to you then maybe check it out.  I am not about to say the game is going to be for everyone, but for me…  I am completely down for this nonsense.


Fuzzy Detectives


This weekend was very light on gaming for various reasons.  Saturday I scurried around in the morning and cleaned the house so that I could be done in time to hit an 11 am matinee of Detective Pikachu.  My wife was busy doing an AP Statistics review session they call “Super STATurday” where they prep them for the upcoming AP exam and then the students take a mock test.  Since my wife does not generally go in for the nonsense that I enjoy like Pokemon…  I figured it was easiest if I just went by myself.  First off…  Detective Pikachu is adorable and if you need something pure in your life you should totally go see it.  I am not exactly a diehard Pokemon fan but I have been around it enough to get a general feel for the movie doing an excellent job of representing the various critters.  Secondly… Ryan Reynolds was perfect in the role and make the entire film feel like a G rated Deadpool…  which admittedly Once Upon a Deadpool is my favorite version of Deadpool 2.

The other big takeaway I have from the movie is that Sonic the Hedgehog as a movie is going to do just fine in the box office regardless of how much us nerds are raging against it.  The representation of Sonic bothers me greatly, but I was in a theater crammed full of kids on Saturday and they cheered and laughed when that trailer came on.  We are not the target audience of that movie, and it instead is designed for the same demographic that all of those Spykids movies were.  As much as it pains me to say it…  our opinion of that Sonic doesn’t really matter if the kids are engaged.  I do however think Pokemon Detective Pikachu was a more faithful recreation of both the look and feel of the Pokemon setting with deep call backs to lots of other settings from the games.  I think it was also genius to be handing out packs of Pokemon cards to everyone that bought a ticket…  I saw lots of kids excited to be getting these.  I am pretty sure that Pikachu was in every pack, but I also pulled a Bulbasaur which is probably my favorite of the starters.

For this next bit I don’t have any photos taken of my device, but I picked up a new tablet and spent a good deal of the weekend messing with it.  I’ve had android tablets before and always the experience was less than ideal, at least compared to what I was used to with my old Ipad 2.  As much as I hate to admit it…  Apple makes damned good tablet devices and I have always wanted something akin to that on the correct marketplace.  After a good deal of sifting through product reviews I wound up going with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 and so far am exceptionally happy with it.  Ultimately my constraints were fairly simple…  I wanted to be able to run mobile games on it fluidly, I wanted to be able to read comics on it at a resolution friendly to my aging eyes, and I wanted some sort of a pen device so I could maybe start sketching on it.  After looking at a bunch of different options I landed on either the Tab S3 or S4 and wound up finding a decent deal on the S4.

Then for awhile I thought Amazon had lost my order, as it failed to show up during the original delivery estimate and shifted into “maybe your package will arrive someday” mode.  The original tracking code is seemingly permanently stuck on “label created” mode.  It did however arrive one day late and seemingly no worse for the wear, and I was able to spend most of the weekend getting things set up on it.  As such I have been spending a lot of time juggling between Marvel Unlimited and reading up on comics there and the handful of CBZs that I had laying around from various Humble Bundle deals.  With those I am using a piece of software called ComiCat that seems to do a good job of both showing an attractive news stand mode and letting me flip through the comics seamlessly.

So far the battery life is excellent as I have not charged it past the first day and used it pretty much every night to go through my dailies in both Dragalia Lost and Marvel Future Fight as well as spending a good deal of time reading comics.  At this point I think the battery is somewhere around 85% which fares significantly better than my phone which can be drained by Dragalia Lost in what feels like a few minutes.  It is light weight enough to be able to fairly comfortable hold one handed, though I am contemplating investing in a pop socket to make that process a little easier.  Side note… as I have said before I have really stupidly large hands so I am not entirely certain if the average human being could hold the tablet one handed, but it works for me.  I do however fear dropping this on my face considering I have done that with my phone…  given that mobile time is generally my getting ready for sleep activity.  All in all however… I am super happy with this tablet and it also cost considerably less than a modern Ipad so bonus points there.

Iceborne Frustration



Yesterday we were treated to the very awesome gameplay reveal trailer for Monster Hunter World: Iceborne which will serve as both a DLC to the base Monster Hunter World Game and a stand alone game that gives you all of the content contained in both.  This is probably a really good call given that Capcom is used to releasing brand new full games anytime they update the Monster Hunter content, and it would have been sorta sad to start over from scratch were that the option.  However for anyone who was not hooked the first time around it gives them an easy vehicle for catching up and getting everything.  Monster Hunter is a franchise that became near and dear to my heart thanks to World and I have gone back and spent time playing the older titles since finally getting indoctrinated into the flow of the game.

vlcsnap-2019-05-10-06h20m08s445Unfortunately this awesome trailer came with a heap of disappointment in the form of an announcement that while the game would be released on September 6th for console players…  that there was no definite date for the second class citizens of the Monster Hunter universe…  us PC players.  This has been a constant point of frustration during my experience with Monster Hunter World in the fact that the PC release trailed the console release by some seven months.  As a result every bit of post release content has been similarly delayed by several months on the PC making us the bastard children of Capcom…  never quite having all of the nice things our console brethren had.  It was my hope that when Iceborne released that all of this would be a bad memory.  That finally a brand new DLC would set straight the records and allow us both to be up to date with the most current content.  Instead I find out that Iceborne for Steam doesn’t have a release date but instead a very vague “Winter”…  which is similar to the very vague “Spring” the wound up being August for the initial release of the game.


So now I am left with a decision of…  do I give in and play the game on consoles initially and then later pick it up for my platform of choice…  or do I miss out on all of the fun when it is fresh and bitterly wait to get our turn.  I initially played Monster Hunter World on the PS4 but ultimately found the PC experience to be far superior for my specific brand of tastes.  There is never going to be a point where I prefer a console over the PC…  because console gaming just rarely fits my specific lifestyle.  With PC gaming I can play upstairs or downstairs or even remote in via Parsec from my chrome book at work and have a reasonable gaming experience.  With PS4 I am stuck to playing upstairs in my office as I generally do not have control of the television in the livingroom…  or get to use the cludgy PS4 remote play app which lags constantly unlike my beloved Parsec.  Essentially the console experience is never a comfortable one for me and it also forces me to go back to using a controller when I have gotten so comfortable with the keyboard and mouse gameplay.


I am super excited about this expansion but now…  all of that excitement is tinged with a bitter aftertaste.  For the initial release of Monster Hunter World I swallowed the frustration of the PC release happening so late and chocked it up to this team not being used to releasing on that platform.  However it feels inexcusable for that same thing to keep happening as we enter the long tailed life of this product.  There is no reason why they should be leaving one of their platforms out of the release… especially when they are still releasing on Xbox which had the smallest user base and absolutely no Japanese presence.  In the same announcement they credit their financial success in part to the PC release and it expanding their users…  but now they are completely leaving them out of the fun.  This feels really bad Capcom.

Part of me knows I will not have the resolve to keep from playing it when it launches on console, in part because very few of my friends followed me when I made the leap to PC.  My daydream would be for them to offer interoperability between the console and PC players…  but it is still sad that it is a dream that will never happen.  I was deeply looking forward to this release, but the entire time I kept thinking in the back of my head “please don’t fuck me Capcom”…  and unfortunately they did.  I am saddened by the news greatly, but…  it still really is an awesome trailer.

Anthem Postmortem



As you might have been able to tell from my blog, and the lack of coverage…  I’ve more or less stopped playing Anthem.  Apologies for using a memey screenshot to lead this discussion off but I somewhat feel like it is fitting for the current state of the game.  Anthem does an awful lot right when it comes to the moment to moment gameplay of what it feels like to pilot a mech suit into combat.  Once they fixed the controls from the early alpha testing…  flying a suit feels amazing and using those same controls to move around the battlefield during combat feels pretty great as well.  Additionally I was a huge fan of the characters that were introduced with Anthem and the story arc that was played out…  even though it largely felt like the opening chapter of a much larger experience that we have yet to see.  I think Bioware had a lot of ambition with this game, but due to all sorts of reasons outlined in the now infamous Jason Schreier “How BioWare’s Anthem Went Wrong” piece on Kotaku…  the game that was released simply did not have enough focus or time to incubate into a finished product.

I legitimately feel bad for the crew after reading that post, but I am also left with the competing interests of being a consumer that bought in hook line and sinker into a broken product.  I think given time and money and resources and sufficient good will from the community…  Anthem is a ship that could right itself.  However on many fronts things are not looking stellar as we move into May some almost 3 months after the early access release began.  As many users I spent a good part of April waiting on a big patch they were supposedly working on that would in theory fix a lot of things.  While 1.1.0 added a new piece of non-story content and provided some quality of life changes… it also failed to deliver most of the things that were on the road map for April.  More damning however it did nothing to fix the core problems that the player base has been chanting since day one…  that there were issues with both the quality of loot drops and the quantity of the highest end drops called Legendaries.


April was the month that I more or less stopped playing.  Mentally I was thinking to myself…  what was the point of grinding when there was supposedly a patch to fix all patches just around the corner.  At the beginning of that month it sounded as though the patch would be landing at any day…  and as we reached the tail of the month and the eventually release of it on April 23rd as a community the expectations were pretty high.  From what I hear the Stronghold that was added is in fact a really good experience and was not plagued by a number of the bugs that the earlier strongholds had.  I say “from what I hear” because even if Sunken Cell is the best experience in the world, it does nothing to fix the fact that BioWare built a game different from the one they were intending to build and have done nothing to fix the core loot issues.  I just cannot be bothered to log in to play through any more content when I know all that will be waiting on me at the end of the content is a sea of trash purple drops that force me to play a constant game of inventory management just to stay ahead of the tiny 250 item vault limit.

I feel like I need to dig into the statement I just made that BioWare built a game that they never intended to make.  Once again if you follow the Schreier piece it tells a take of a game studio that wasn’t exactly sure what they were making part from it absolutely not being a “Destiny Clone”.  They leaned heavily into the comparison to Diablo 3, but the problem with that is it denotes a very specific style of game-play.  In Diablo 3 post Loot 2.0 update the drops are plentiful with a bad luck timer ticking in the background and making sure that you get a drop every so often that scales with difficulty.  The reason why it is so plentiful is that a good number of the drops end up being randomized to be not that great for whatever build you are going for… but they become workable until you can get something better.  Getting something better is not a case of praying for the drops, but instead a case of applying time because eventually the thing you want will drop.  I know this for a fact given how many seasons I have completed at this point and managed to get all of the drops I needed for a specific build.  There is a high chance that you will see literally every item that can drop for your character during the course of a season.


The other thing that the Diablo model has going for it is the fact that the game gives you a number of levers that you can pull to help defeat bad luck streaks as well.  They have a machine of sorts called Kunai’s Cube that allows you to pour crafting materials into it to get a Legendary item for a specific slot.  Similarly doing higher tier stuff in the game rewards you with Blood Shards and you can spend these with the merchant Kadala in order to again get a chance at items for a specific slot.  As a result through a combination of playing the games and getting drops and targeting specific gear slots you can pretty effectively get the items that you were actually needing.  It feels as though you are always working towards the goal of getting your full set of gear needed for your specific build, and even when you get gear drops that are less than perfect the game has an enchanting system that allows you to swap a single stat on an item to help fix the problems with any gear.  Again the game is exceedingly generous with its drops and also gives the player systems in order to mitigate any issues that might occur where they aren’t getting the items that they actually need.

Anthem is sorta like a kid who only read the first chapter of a novel and is now trying to pass the test in English Lit.  They got the part where the gear is randomized, but were apparently absent on the days they talked about all of the ways that Diablo 3 tries to help mitigate any times when the random loot machine isn’t working as intended.  Additionally they seem to have missed the part where if you are building a game with loot that swings wildly between “god rolls” and “garbage fire” that you have to make sure that the drops themselves are plentiful so that sharding an item doesn’t feel like you just destroyed what amounted to several hours of your life.  Legendary drops in Anthem are still fairly rare in that you may see one in a nights worth of play or you may not.  In theory they should be guaranteed drops from the end boss of Tier 2 or higher content, but instead they are an exceedingly rare drop from any encounter in the game which means that you realistically need to clear every single trash mob so that you don’t feel like you are missing the opportunity to see a Lime Green diamond on your screen.


The rarity of Legendary drops feels more akin to Destiny 2 and getting an Exotic Weapon.  The challenge there however is that an Exotic weapon when it drops is the only version of that weapon you will ever need, because they had the foresight to make all Exotic weapons drop with static rolls.  I have a handful of legendary weapons at this point and none of them are what I would consider to be a good roll for the specific type of weapon or damage that is being dealt with them.  You use them because they are significantly higher level than Masterworks, but they don’t necessarily feel great to use or at least good enough to account for the time spent in acquiring them.  It takes Legendaries to grind to get more Legendaries to grind to get more Legendaries…  and at some point the incentive feels bad and not worth the effort you are expending to get it given the interval of drops seems to ranges from 30 minutes to 300 hours.

The other major issue with Anthem is that months into the game we are still encountering massive issues that tell me that the game itself behind the scenes is held together with duct tape and bailing twine.  On May 7th they released a minor patch, large with the purpose of removing the Elysian Cache reward system from the game.  I could go into how dumb of an idea I think this is since they removed content from a game that already feels like it doesn’t have enough content… and didn’t replace it with anything.  However they did state from the beginning that this was a temporary system and in theory was designed to apply enough friction to keep people grinding until they had gathered all of the 160 or so loot possibilities.  The issue however is that when they released the patch they also inadvertently removed loot drops entirely from a handful of encounter types in the process.  This has been a pretty common cadence with Anthem so far is that touching one system seems to often times wreck what would seem to be an unrelated system.


One of the things that always impresses me is a PC case that has extremely neat looking cable management.  However often times if you pull off the opposite panel on those cases and you see a rats nest of wires in all sorts of odd places in order to achieve what appears to be a polished look on the visible side.  This is what I feel like Anthem is probably like once you peel back the pretty facade…  a game that has gone through so many rapid iterations and has lots and lots of “temp” code still in place to try and hot wire systems so that they work.  I’ve written more than my share of this style of code when we were rushed to meet a deadline and couldn’t be bothered to follow best practices when so much needed to be done in such a short amount of time.  Crunch makes you do really dumb things that will ultimately bite you in the ass in the long run… and I feel like Anthem is a game full of Crunch decisions and compromises in order to ship a product that was not ready for shipping.

The challenge however is once they released that road-map, to some extent they are being judged upon it.  It is hard to stem the hemorrhaging of all of these short term decisions when you are being pushed to make even more of them.  At this point however… I think the race is over and they lost.  It is far too late to be able to create a narrative of “we had a rough start but everything is on solid ground now” as has been the case with so many MMO launches.  The time has come for them to take their time and figure out what kind of game they want Anthem to be…  and then start working towards that FFXIV A Realm Reborn resurrection narrative instead.  Anthem is dead…  long live Anthem?  At this point I could be grinding for Legendaries, but even then I am not sure what the point in doing so would be?  There is no real end game in Anthem as of yet, no raid to be gearing towards and not even an equivalent of the Destiny Nightfall.  The only end game to the grind is more grind and once I realized that…  and the fact that loot would theoretically never get fixed I checked out of the game.


I am however keeping tabs on it as is the case with this postmortem of sorts.  I want Anthem to have one hell of a comeback story, much like Destiny did with Taken King…  and sadly Destiny 2 did with Forsaken (because they should have learned the damned lessons the first time).  The negative of the life and death of Anthem has been that it seemingly has soured my tastes for looter shooters in general…  since I seem to have also ejected from Division 2 and cannot seem to get back into the groove of Destiny 2 either.  So now I largely wait and hope that BioWare Austin can pick this game out of the dirt and turn it into something we actually want to play.

RetroArch Shader Fun



Last night I was back to messing about with RetroArch and already I am way happier with the results than I was underneath GameEx Evolution.  I am certain that GameEx is a really cool option but it didn’t feel stable enough for me to really keep messing with.  RetroArch on the other hand feels nice and solid for the most part, and offers a slew of really nice options that for me at least improve the experience.  I have most of the emulators up and running…  in spite of somehow screwing up Nintendo 64 last night…  and still needing to sort out what is going on with MAME.  I tend to think of MAME as its official release versions and Libretro Cores are not named in any semblance of version order but instead named after the years a specific version of MAME was released in?  Ultimately I might just drop trying to use MAME entirely and start going down the Final Burn path given that I only really care about a very limited set of arcade ROMs and I think Final Burn likely supports all of them?  What I spent most of the night doing was fiddling with shaders in order to attempt to improve the experience.  The first target was Castlevania Aria of Sorrow…  a game I am damned determined to actually beat given it plays almost exactly like probably my favorite game ever… Symphony of the Night.


This first image is an example of the output that I was getting the other night while using MGBA Libretro core without any special processing applied.  It looks and feels like a blurry mess in part because the resolution of the Gameboy Advanced is relatively limited, and as such it is trying to do some pixel smoothing but just ends up degrading the image quality entirely.  It was playable but not necessarily enjoyable to play.


After a good deal of fiddling I landed on using the gba-color.glslp preset that attempts to mimic what it would actually feel to play the game on Gameboy Advance hardware and the end result is perfect as far as I am concerned.  It feels to me like playing the game in the manner that I would expect to be playing it.  I noticed no real performance hit and spent a good chunk of the night playing my way through the game.  The only problem with playing with a controller is that I am generally bad about taking screenshots while doing so… as a result you only have this one and the title sequence above before I go too engaged in the action to care about snapping a screenshot to use as an example.


For Castlevania Symphony of the Night I opted to go down the path of trying to mimic an SVGA display that I would have been using around the time the game released.  After trying a handful I landed on using ntsc-320px-svideo-gauss-scanline.glslp which to me gives me the feel of playing on a 4:3 era television with composite cables.


Here is another example from the intro sequence to SOTN where Death decides to strip you of your powers before entering the castle.  While it may not be exact it certainly feels like I remember playing this game felt.  In truth this is likely the filter I am going to use on most of these titles, and then stick to the custom handheld specific filters for any games that originally appeared on handheld hardware.  I am not necessarily going for the crispest picture…  I am going for something that feels like the game felt back then.  It might look like a total mess to you, but it feels like home to me.


I spent a good deal of time configuring RetroArch in general, turning off the PS3 era animated ribbon appearance and going for a nice static gradient instead.  The only menu that is really as I want it to be is the Gameboy Advance one, in part because I have a very limited set of games configured.  What I need to do now is spend some time sifting through the giant “romset” folders that I acquired and culling anything that I am not absolutely certain I want to play to cut down on the “spam”.  Quite frankly nobody cares about playing 3 Ninjas Kick Back…  but they probably do care about Super Metroid and would probably want it easy to get to without scrolling for 20 minutes.  Once I have a paired down set of games I will likely spend the time downloading the artwork that goes with them like I have done with the Gameboy Advance menu.  Thankfully the playlists themselves are just text files and if you want to wipe one out completely you can go into the \playlists directory and delete the specific one you are going to rescan.


In all I am super happy with how this is starting to turn out… enough so that I legitimately spent a lot of time playing Aria of Sorrow last night.  I’m further in than I have gotten before, which isn’t exactly saying much but I did stumble across a really nice weapon… the Bastard Sword last night.  I’ve taken down I think 3 bosses so far but still am looking for where I acquire double jump from.  I am assuming it is going to be something I have to equip sorta like the winged knight “falling slowly” thing…  but I am not entirely certain.  The whole “monsters allow you to collect their abilities” mechanic is really cool and it ends up making me want to kill a specific mob over and over and over until it finally drops whatever ability it might give me.  I am missing several like my beloved Axe Knight axes…  and as a result right now I am using the skeletal arrows which are a bit fiddly but I like that you can rapid fire several at a time.  That is useful given that if you know exactly how many arrows it will take to kill a target you can fire that many off in  row…  which I guess is important as the ability itself sorta freezes your character while you are using it.



Skytrain Adventures



I had one of those nights where I was bouncing around between games.  First off I spent some time working on RetroArch trying to get things configured as I wanted them.  I made some very minimal progress, but I do at least have MAME games launching from underneath it.  I still think I am going to have to go through the process of manually setting up playlists for the best possible experience.  In part why I like RetroArch/Libretro cores so much is the excellent controller support and the way whatever I happen to have plugged in seems to automagically work.  I also like the various shader effects which is another reason why the whole manual playlist idea is probably a good one.  From there I popped over into The Surge for a bit but ultimately bounced out of it pretty quickly.  I like the concept of this game…  but Dark Soulsian games so far really aren’t my jam.


When I ultimately settled in to a game for a bit I wound up playing some Sunless Skies.  Fallen London is probably one of my favorite game settings and for a long time I made a daily practice of logging in and playing through my adventures.  After the success of the web based game a couple of standalone titles have been released, Sunless Seas a game about travelling out into the black abyss of the Unterzee a subterranean ocean the size of Europe that surrounds the city.  Sunless Skies however is a direct sequel set ten years after the events of the first game in which you pilot a sky train of sorts around the region known has the High Wilderness way above the world of both Fallen London and Sunless Seas.  The truth is I have never made it terribly far in Sunless Seas…  or at least nowhere near far enough to know anything about the events that play out in that game, I just decided I would rather pilot a locomotive than a boat last night.


There is something deeply relaxing about puttering around and visiting the various islands and having locomotive battles.  The game more or less features a lot of the same elements in that you move around through the darkness looking for things to interact with.  When you do interact you have various quests to keep you engaged in the story line and various crew members to pick up and have dialog with.  I seem to always go down the path that involves being combat ready, but this game seems to favor the subtlety checks way more than was the case with the web based game.  It seems like every time I take down a marauder train…  boarding and looting it is a subtlety check which makes me want to start pushing that up a bit more than I have.

I guess it was the sort of game that my brain was needing last night, but it unfortunately did not lull me into a sense of peace as I spent most of the night tossing and turning and not quite getting restful sleep.  As a result this morning I am feeling groggy and assume I am going to have to push through with copious amounts of caffeine to make the day function.  I have a fairly packed day so here is hoping that I make it through unscathed.

Arcade Nostalgia



This weekend was one of extended frustration, in part because I went down a rabbit hole that I still have yet to surface from.  One of these days I will go into my sordid past as it regards to console piracy, because there is a story in that worth telling.  However prior to that I was hooked on the concept of emulating all of these machines that I loved playing in the arcade on my PC and was involved with a good number of the early sites giving access to both emulators and roms.  It was a heady time where we had to play SNES titles with a significant frame skip to get them playable…  but it didn’t matter because we were playing Nintendo games on a PC.  I nearly lost my shit when I first encountered MAME, or the Multi Arcade Machine Emulator…  a project designed to emulate the specific chipsets of various arcade machines and make them similarly playable on the PC.


The problem with MAME however is that there is a lot of development churn on the project and in its constant seeking for perfect emulation…  the game “ROMs” themselves are often changing formats as folks re-dump the EPROMs trying to get a slightly better copy than the one that existed before.  When I started messing with this back in the 90s the dumps we had access to were pretty much set in stone, and what changed from release to release as adding new supported titles.  Now however the packages fundamentally change functionally obsoleting the games you had previously “acquired”.  This sets up the reality that now the 0.209 ROM set is made up of 36,713 files taking up 555 gb of disk space…  and as such taking forever to download that is if you can even find a place to download.


This madness I speak of…  I did this thing this weekend.  I found a location to grab the entire 0.209 ROM and CHD set…  and over the course of a night the roms trickled down as they account for only 66 gb of the total size.  The bulk of the space requirement are the CHD images or actual copies of the hard drives that were installed in the machines and used to pull audio and video from as the game played.  These were widely used in pretty much any cabinet newer than say Killer Instinct.  All of this was to be played with GameEx Evolution which is a slick looking front end for a bunch of different emulators.  The goal being able to create an experience that I could navigate with my fight stick and maybe eventually an in home custom arcade cabinet as that has been a long time dream of mine.  However like may technology projects… I spent the bulk of the weekend tracing down issues and didn’t actually spend much time playing anything.

The first major issue I encountered was the fact that after going through the hassle of acquiring the latest ROMs for MAME…  I find out that GameEx only seems to support an older version…   0.197 to be specific.  Which lead to a whole lot of scrambling to find another place that I could acquire that ROM set from.  While dealing with that I began setting up various other emulators and managed to get Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, Gameboy, Color Gameboy, Gameboy Advance and with some fiddling Turbografx-16 all working.  For whatever reason nothing that I did seemed to get Sega Genesis to the point of actually launching a game in spite of using RetroArch just like I was using with the other working titles.  There was some discussion on the GameEx forums of having to configure a second version of RetroArch to make it work…  but I didn’t dive into that abyss.  Saturn I could not get running at all, and I have not gotten around to trying to configure Sony Playstation 1 or 2.


To add insult to injury…  when I finally got the correct rom set…  for whatever reason I still could not get MAME working through GameEx.  This lead me down a completely different rabbit hole last night of trying to just say screw it to GameEx Evolution entirely and use RetroArch as a front end given most of the sub emulators I am using are just libretro cores.  This is the point where I decided to let it scan my harddrive looking for roms…  and it legitimately took all night as it scanned some 260,000 files. I am guessing there is a bug in its recursion loop because there are no way that many files in my ROMs directory?  For at least one game I noticed it added some 30 copies of it, so I have no clue what is going on.  The other method would be setting up custom playlists which is way more time consuming…  but I feel like that might be the best option.  If I went down that route I would narrow things down to only the games I am actually interested in playing…  because of the 35,000 roms in the MAME library there are probably only a hundred that I am actually interested in.

This was my weekend… and I feel like I have very little to show for it.  I went down the rabbit hole of emulation and now also remember what ultimately gets me to stop messing with it.  It is exhausting trying to keep up with the latest advances in all of the emulators and the latest copies of the games that are designed to work with them.  The fact that this is of negligible legality ends up making the entire experience way more complicated than it probably could be.  I remember once upon a time that there was a German site that kept a running archive of every game in the MAME library, and back in those days I would just grab the single title that I wanted to emulate because it was so much easier to do so.  Now I feel like the only viable option is to grab entire sets, just in case there is a title that I forgot that I might want to use later.  The result ends up being a situation where I have so much file bloat that I am effectively moving everything off of my G drive so that it ends up being a dedicated emulation repository.


Now any time emulation is mentioned…  I feel like I have to place a disclaimer.  This is only legal if you own a copy of the game in question…  and even then it is a grey area depending upon the laws in your specific region.  With arcade games…  that whole thing is a legal quagmire as few people actually have JAMMA boards laying around their house to be able to claim they own the original that they are now emulating.  I also cannot help you on this journey apart from saying that I got to where I ended up this weekend with a lot of careful googling and with the assistance of a french site that I won’t link here.  In the case of the MAME 0.197 the Internet Archive seems to have a copy of those and it is a 61 gb download so that is at least a starting point.  I will say that a MEGA account comes in really handy when it comes to downloading this sort of thing, because inevitably the link you are looking for is encrypted and stored somewhere out there.


So this was my weekend.  I feel like a failure for not getting it all sorted out.  How was your weekend?

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