Monday, January 13, 2020

Far Cry 5

Esther picked up Far Cry 5 for me for Christmas. It was a fun game to play, though it was entirely inappropriate for any moment with children around. Also there was way too much foul language. The scripting in the game wars terrible overall, forcing choices you would never make and putting you in positions you would either never be in or never survive. Also, there were gameplay elements that were just strange and not reflective of reality in a game trying so hard to be realistic.

All of this was fine to overlook, but I finally finished the game and experienced the most deeply dissatisfying ending I've ever seen in a game. All endings are losses, there is no way to emerge victorious and a game which spent the lion's share of its time being overtly preachy against the ills of people who lean on faith "too much" ends on an even more preachy note of complete hopelessness.

It is the first game I've played where I thought if a child who hadn't really spent much time building a foundational worldview immersed themselves in this story, then it would have the potential to really mess with their heads. And not in a good way. Overall, I'm going to have to say this is a pretty bad game. Despite its awesome mechanics and fun gameplay, the storyline manages to ruin it.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Rift Delays

There's been some shifting in my priorities over the past month. Though neither new nor original, the fact is that we are beyond merely poor at this time in our lives. This isn't public news necessarily, but its not revolutionary either and it is the truest justification for why I am not moving forward with the projects I'd intended. There is a bit of cost still associated with completing the copy of Rift for ZAO, and I don't have the means to make that happen at this time. There was also another unexpected hiccup in the process which doesn't deserve to be mentioned in detail, but its effect has been a pronounced need to take a step back from the card manufacture process.

I still fully intend to complete the project, simply at a slower, more measured pace. And once I finish that project it is unlikely I will continue making cards at any volume. It was fun, though.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Tools I Use As An Aspirational GM

In an effort to recapture some of the writing prowess I've lost to laziness and inactivity, I took on a fun projects to stimulate my mind: playing the part of GM in a D&D game. I initially envisioned creating a complete custom world and campaign for the experience in order to flesh out some portions of my story which still need some work.

However, in the end, I felt that utilizing some pre-written material would be a better introduction. I think this was a good call, though it has been possibly more expensive (needing to purchase the adventure books). What was initially very confusing has become more of a natural exercise now, with the assistance of a few important tools. I think this process is definitely possible with simple pen and paper, but these tools have been essential to my experience. Before I get into that, though, let me take a moment to describe what I bring to the RPG Tabletop as a GM:

1. Custom Items. I spent a fairly large amount of time creating custom items aimed both at campaign usefulness and at unique awesomeness. I started with the creations of others (Swordmaster Gauntlets, Close Shave, etc.)
but then moved into customization (Elven Chain)
and now into concept execution. I've been very happy with my creations to date, which are not as many as it may have just sounded like I was indicating:


2. Gameplay Cards. I really enjoy the process of creating custom cards. I have translated this passion to character cards, player cards and item cards (as seen above). Each of my players current receives a hand-crafted playing card for each of the items they acquire. Our tabletop is littered with custom playing cards representative of important NPCs and enemies. Each person at the table is also gifted a custom Tarot-size card for their in-game character. I am looking to expand this to D&D Beyond homebrew entries as well, though I am unsure how I can share these with my players as a free tier user (might be impossible).

3, Maps. I think just about every GM will present their players with maps of some type. I have vacillated over which iteration of this is best for my group, but along the way I think I've had some pretty exceptional (if labor-intensive) concepts. I am still resolving the best approach, but it seems every main map costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $10. I typically have these printed at Staples and then glue them to posterboard.

4. Side Quests. I do spend a great deal of time writing interesting side quests and story-lines for the main campaign. My goal is tie all of these threads into the main storyline while also bringing an overarching narrative into play that will connect the various individual adventures within a universal narrative. Some of these side quests have even evolved into the main story thread for the group.

Things I do not bring to the RPG Tabletop as a GM:
- Encounter Maps. I'd love to map individual rooms for use with miniatures in order to spice up the combat system and help players more easily conceptualize their actions and alternatives. Currently, it is a solely verbal affair.
- Miniatures. I think D&D miniatures are wonderful. I'd love to see our tabletop littered with these. However, from my position these represent a significant monetary investment. I am already spending quite a bit more money than intended on this hobby and I currently cannot justify expanding that.
- Commemorative Dice/Custom Trinkets. This type of ephemera can range from garbage to cherished sentiment. I think it is a very interesting future investment to consider. Currently, like miniatures, I just don't have the means to pursue this sort of thing.
- Documentation. I think tracking the story and adventure of the group exercise is possibly the most meaningful and essential of the missed opportunities I am aware of. However, I haven't had the focused time necessary to piece something like this together. I truly hope that in the future I will be able to provide this for my players, but right now it is too big a mountain to climb.

The tools I use to make the magic happen:
- Staples print-on-demand services. For maps and cards, Staples has been essential.
- GameMaster (Android Version). This is the campaign/encounter builder and tracker I use to store all of my notes and to run the combat scenarios for my players. I am not sure how I would have done this without such a useful app.
- D&D Beyond. This is an absolutely wonderful resource for building character sheets and managing your D&D content. I have frequently been torn between purchasing source books as printed versions or on D&D Beyond. Personally, I have resolved to buy all my sourcebooks and rulesets at D&D Beyond while keeping all of my adventures to print versions. Either way, the website is a great tool for GM and player alike.
- Card Maker Supplies. These are the items I consider essential to the creation of high-quality playing cards. I would happily consider different types of paper some day when I have the funds to branch out a bit.
> - Southworth Cotten Linen Cover Stock 65lb.
> - Photoshop CS2
> - Staples print-on-demand services
> - Rolling Pin
> - Super 77
> - Rotary Trimmer Backup: [ Fiskars SureCut Paper Trimmer ]
> - Hobby Knife
> - Cutting Mat
> - Hero Arts Intense Black Stamp Pad
          ColorBox Silver Stamp Pad
          ColorBox Gold Stamp Pad
> - Deft Wood Gloss Spray

Reasons I Am Annoyed With Google

1. I pre-ordered Google Stadia. I was excited to get the founder's edition perks. I was excited to try out the service. I was excited to see what their controller was all about. Because I didn't read the fine print, I presumed the pre-order would have charged me for the package immediately. I am sure if I had read the conditions I would have realized the charge was going to come later. However I did not. So I've spent several months eagerly anticipating this new toy. However, it is now time for the Stadia packages to ship out and I realized that I have not been charged for it yet. I am about to be charged for it.
Sorry, Google, I don't have that kind of money any more. I can't afford Stadia any more. I had to cancel my order. I totally accept this isn't Google's fault, but it is reason #1 I am annoyed with Google.
It's just the NotionInk Adam all over again. New technology I have been palpably excited about for months which, when it comes time to pull the trigger, I simply cannot afford. /Frowns

2. I had to change my phone in order to be compatible with the new phone provider my wife and I have no choice but to switch to (Verizon is for people wealthier than I). Right when I went to get a new phone the Pixel 3 went out of stock. That's the phone I actually wanted. But I couldn't get it.

3. While determining which phone to get, I settled on the Pixel 4. However, the regular size Pixel 4 (my preference) is reported to have terrible battery life. Among a slew of other issues. These were largely absent from the (more expensive) Pixel 4 XL. I think the XL phones are way too big, but I felt like it was the only good option for the Pixel 4.

4. They removed the fingerprint scanner from the Pixel 4.

5. Face unlock. Either I go back to entering a pin every time I want to use the phone, or I use face unlock. Face unlock is fine, I guess. I am not diving into the potential security concerns because not enough has been resolved about that yet. I don't like it because every time I try to look at my phone it immediately unlocks itself. As it turns out, I look at my phone way more often just for the lock screen information than I do with any intention of actually using the phone. Yet, it is always unlocking itself. On paper, this sounds like a good thing, but I find it incredibly annoying.

6. BONUS: Chromebook Go. I was super excited when I heard that Google was going to be releasing an updated and less expensive Chromebook this year. Alas, "less expensive" to Google is still more expensive than the premium Chromebooks on offer from other manufacturers. Still not affordable. Also... no pen support? Just... why?

Friday, November 1, 2019

On TFT

It is nice to have a relaxing game mode which doesn't require thought. However, the contention that TFT takes any kind of skill is just silly. Sure, you can try to make the best of the random garbage the game gives you, and end up in the top 4. So, in that sense I guess there is some form of competitive nature. However, it is not a skill based game. SR is entirely skill based. Understand the matches, understand the champions, draft accordingly and then use in-game skill to win or lose. ARAM is 50% skill. You get a random comp (sometimes complete garbage) but the win is still largely dependent on your ability to play the champion you're given. If you can play it well, then there is a reasonable chance you can pull off a win. It can't be considered competitive, because at a certain level all players are good at basically all champions, meaning the team comp is the deciding factor, which simply isn't fair. TFT, on the other hand, is completely random team comp and no skill at all. You just watch your garbage champions be garbage. At some point, you have to commit to a team comp, so you pick something that seems reasonable based on what the game is giving you. Then the game shifts and gives you completely different stuff for the rest of the time, so your comp never comes together. Random on top of random. Zero skill involved.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

What I've Learned Part Four

I, like many others, have settled on the key switch as the primary source of tactility and sound. If you've managed to read between the lines at all (or perhaps I've said it directly), these are the two issues which are most important to me. I want a sharp tactility with a sharp sound to accompany it.

A few years back I began to become excessively frustrated with my writing experience. By "writing" I mean with pen and paper. I had long been a fan of the simple BIC rollerball design. It is, after all, a wondrous thing. Reliable. Straightforward. Functional. Cheap. Did I mention reliable? What bothered me about it was the rounded, non-committal feel of pressing the pen to the paper. Writing with it felt very... ambiguous. That's an ambiguous statement that I just made. However, I can think of no better method to describe what bothered me. I wanted my letters to be placed very precisely on the page. I wanted them to cut into the sheet I was working on. This desire for a directness of feedback and input led me on a journey toward fountain pens and, consequently, better quality paper. I do not regret this journey.

It strikes me now that my journey with keyboards has followed a similar path. I don't like the mushy, unaffected feeling of the standard rubber dome keyboard. But let me be very clear about something: rubber dome keyboards are ubiquitous for a very good reason. They are reliable. They are straightforward. They are functional. They are cheap. These are the driving forces behind our everyday objects. These are the dominant needs of profit in manufacture.

There is a certain tragedy in realizing that most people are more than satisfied with a $2.50 rubber dome keyboard which serves all of their needs sufficiently while I cannot force myself to be. Everyone has their quirks, I suppose.

Just as I love a sharp, cutting sensation while pressing pen to paper, accompanied by the scratchy whisper of the metal nib faintly slicing its way through the uneven fibers on the paper's unseen surface, so also I love a sharp, unforgiving snap to my key switches, accompanied by the harsh thwack of the retention mechanism giving way. This is the tactility which drives me.

Knowing this, I turned my attention toward an array of so-called "clicky" switches often referred to as MX Blue clones. Cherry certainly didn't invent the proper key switch, nor the "clicky" variant. Better iterations predate them entirely. However, Cherry has reached a position of ubiquity, so it makes sense for people to draw their comparisons at that doorstep. I shall follow suit in order to convey some of what I am looking for.

Cherry Blue switches can be described as high-pitched, loud, scratchy, echoing and rattling in their sound. I prefer high-pitched and loud, am indifferent to echoing, and dislike scratchy and rattling. Much of my effort in determining a better switch has been focused on finding something that would maximize the best parts an minimize the most undesirable parts. I eventually settled on the Kailh Box Jade switches offered by NovelKeys, because they seem to really maximize the weight, force and sharpness of the key switch while removing the rattle and scratch of the Cherry variants.

Cherry Blue switches can be described as light, soft, and gentle in their feel, or tactility. I prefer heavy, sharp and hard in key feel. This is another area where I felt the Kailh Box Jade switches would excel.

When preparing to build my own keyboard, I left the other concerns (mounting, housing and keycap) unattended so that I could focus solely on what I felt to be the most important part of the build: the switch. More on that to come.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Quotations

"...although we don't get to choose the way we die, we do have a big say in the way we live." - Dick Van Dyke on having a positive attitude

"Don't ask me for the answers, I've only got one: that a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son." - Larry Norman Only Visiting This Planet

"To write something you have to risk making a fool of yourself." - Anne Rice

"[We have the freedom, but] We have no right to pursue the lusts of the flesh ...we have no right to waste God's time or resources." - Joe Focht

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler" - Albert Einstein