Diablo 3 helped me understand the rich

When last we left him, my Diablo 3 wizard Spellsworth was cruising through rifts and bounties at Torment VI (not V, as I mistakenly reported), focusing especially on an Act III location for a rare drop, the gibbering gemstone. This is the final piece needed to create The Staff of Herding, which opens up the cow level.

Alas, the gemstone, with only a 5% drop rate, and on a spawn that does not always appear in the Caverns of Frost, has yet to materialize.

In the meantime, Spellsworth has killed three gilded barons (treasure goblins that just carry huge sacks of gold) and slayed another that opened up a portal upon death to Whimsyshire, a cartoon land that also showers riches on you. He’s also been to The Vault, which, as name suggests, has a lot of gold in it.

This is to say that Spellsworth now has a lot of gold now, about 243 million or so. I am quite certain this is peanuts compared to truly hardcore players, but it is way more than I have any use for. The most expensive activity in the game is crafting and upgrading gems and Spellsworth has already maxed out his gems as far as they can go…and still has that 243 million left.

And yet.

And yet, I still like seeing that number go up. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an even 250 million gold? And then shoot for 500 million? How about a billion? I don’t need it, but somehow I want it and I will relentlessly pursue the goal, while offering thin excuses (“I just want the Staff of Herding, that is totes it!”) to justify this mad, senseless accumulation of unneeded wealth.

And so I see myself emulating the super rich, never needing more but always wanting more.

Perhaps the solution is to uninstall the game. I could always re-install later, but uninstalling at least creates some friction for getting me back on this pointless treadmill of virtual massing of riches.

The allure of more when more is wholly unnecessary is surprisingly strong, though. I’ll check back with an update in a week or so and we’ll see if I’ve fought back this demon of avarice, or made him my chummy roommate.

UPDATE LATER THAT SAME DAY: Now at 253 million gold

Spellsworth is amazing

Spellsworth is my Season 23 wizard in Diablo 3. I got him to level 70, completed the four chapters of the season and got all six pieces of his armor set. He is now a machine of unbridled destruction. I play at Torment V, which is fairly low on the Torment scale, so he melts stuff pretty effortlessly, but he piles up oodles of gold and plowing through hordes of demons remains strangely soothing.

I think my latest obsessive turn in Diablo 3 will be ending soon, though. I want to make the Staff of Herding (again) and visit the cow level one more time, then I think retirement to a nice wizard castle may be in order.

After that I’ll consider one of the other 700* games I have in my backlog.

* this is not an exaggeration. I’ve been busy…accumulating cheap or free games

I am an official C# programmer

I wrote “Hello world!” in C#. I’m adding C# to my resume now.

(This is part of a bigger plan that will hopefully come to fruition this year. More details soon, possibly in the next post if I’m not lazy or distracted.)

Let’s see if I can remember the code:

Console.Writeline("Hello world");

Fake edit: I checked and forgot to capitalize the L in Line, which would have produced an error, since C# is case-sensitive. But I remembered that it’s case-sensitive!

Also, this is the most coding I’ve done in like ten years.

Minecraft of yore (circa 2011)

While I am currently battling sheep taking over all the rowboats, an online gaming pal linked to a video of a world a bunch of us worked on back in 2011. My notable contributions include the rainbow house, the giant creeper statue and the absurdly long underwater rail tunnel.

Good times.

Except now I really want to go back to that map and have no idea if such a thing is possible. Probably not.

So, melancholy times.

Back to Minecraft…and sheep

Somehow I got hooked into Minecraft again and so much has been added in the years since I’ve played that it feels like a modded game without the pesky need to install mods.

I’m currently nurturing a few worlds in their early stages and the shot below is from the Survival Island seed. As the name suggests, it starts you out on an island in an ocean dotted by islands. After some initial work on the starting island I moved to a larger and flatter island where I began setting up shop. I built a rowboat to get around and when not in use I leave it on the shore near my humble home.

One day I discovered a sheep was in it. I left it, thinking it would move on. It did not. I then sheared it, thinking this might prompt it to leave. It did not.

The sheep in question

I then tried to use the boat, thinking that this would definitely get the sheep to move. It did not.

Conveniently, though, I could still use the rowboat with the sheep in it, so I began cruising the ocean with a naked sheep in tow.

When I came back later, I as greeted by this:

The same sheep, now shorn, with a new friend to sail with, the cow

The seafaring life was apparently not for the cow, though, as it eventually moved on. The sheep is a permanent fixture of my rowboat, though. I mean, why not?

(by the way, the textures I’m using are BDCraft. The Java version can be found here: BDCraft.net

Bad Design: Conan Exiles keybinds

Conan Exiles is a survival/crafting game that is sort of like an MMO, with servers, private and public, in which you create a barbarian (complete with endowment if you like) and go forth into the desert and jungle terrain, building, hunting and gathering. You can even craft a wheel of death. It’s very pretty and there is always satisfaction in making stuff.

But the UI is not great. The crafting part of it tries to be so helpful it actually confused me, because it includes a non-interactive “demo” of the crafting UI next to the actual crafting UI and I tried interacting with both until I realized that only one worked. Sure, I was being a bit of a noob, but at the same time it’s a cluttered mess.

But the worst part are the keybindings.

You can rebind most keys to your liking, which is good. Way back in 2001 I switched from the classic WASD layout to the default used in the game Tribes 2, ESDF. You can argue over which is better, but WASD is still the default for moving around, and so it is in Conan Exiles. I changed it to ESDF and called it good.

Then I discovered that when you open a box or container, there are certain shortcut keys to do things, like Loot the selected object or Loot All to take everything.

The Loot All key is set to F by default. You see the problem here. If I looked into a box filled with a dozen items and then stepped to the right, I would grab everything as I shifted slightly over. I did this a few times before wondering why my barbarian was becoming spontaneously over-encumbered.

I went into the keybindings to change this and, oddly, could not find a key for Loot All. Because there isn’t one.

I could not believe there was no way to re-bind the key, so I hit the internet and DuckDuckGo led me to a Steam Community Forum post that gave me the info I needed–buried deep within the game’s subfolders is an input.ini file, and you can manually edit it to change these otherwise un-bindable keys. The Loot All key looks like this. I set mine to P for Please Don’t Loot All Anymore:

https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/589323104271073284/759643990000926720/unknown.png

This is bad design for two reasons:

  1. Burying some of the keybindings in an ini file that must be edited manually
  2. Allowing the player to re-bind a key to one that can only be changed through the method described above

The Solution: Add another section to keybindings, titled Containers or something to that effect, and allow players to easily change these keys–and when you use a key that is already bound to something, tell the player and then unbind it if they confirm the new binding.

Any other way is barbaric.

Book review: The Nostalgia Nerd’s Retro Tech

The Nostalgia Nerd’s Retro Tech: Computer, Consoles & Games by Peter Leigh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Retro Tech provides just what it says on the tin. Starting with systems in the early 1970s, it provides a summary of virtually every video game console and personal computer released up until the debut of the original Xbox in October 2001.

Each summary includes a generous number of photos, sometimes including controllers or oddball accessories, or more mundane things like the power supplies. Leigh offers both an historical overview and also his own personal assessment on each device, which at times stands in contrast to how I saw some of the systems, accounting for the differences in reception between the UK and North American (and in particular U.S.) audiences.

Each summary concludes with a look at three games from each system: The Must-See, the Must-Play, and the Must-Avoid. A lot of the Must-Avoids are typically obscure fare (no, E.T. did not make the list for the Atari 2600–though it does get mentioned alongside the “winner”).

Leigh keeps the writing light and at times droll, never being afraid to call out lemons and questionable marketing of years gone by.

I was struck by the sheer number of systems that came out in the 70s and early 80s. It seemed that nearly everyone tried to get a slice of the video game pie before the famous crash of 1983. While there are systems that never sold well here in Canada that I was aware of–like the MSX computers, there are many listed here that I was utterly unfamiliar with, even leaving aside the UK-specific machines that never made it over here.

For anyone who grew up when these machines were coming out (as I did), this is indeed a heady dose of nostalgia. For others, it serves as a brief and well-illustrated history of the early days of video games and personal computers. In fact, my only real knock on the book is that each write-up only amounts to a page or so. I would love to see a more in-depth look at the same topic. As it is, I was able to tear through the book all too quickly.

Still, this was an enjoyable look back and an easy recommendation for those who would enjoy seeing the sometimes wacky products that came out in the quest for the early gamer’s dollars (or pounds).

View all my reviews

Stay awhile and listen… to how I finally got Diablo 2 working

On my old PC I was able to install and play Diablo 2. The game is 20 years old now and has lots of janky bits to it. The characters walk awfully slowly around the landscapes, and they move like they have to go to the bathroom very badly. You have to hold town portal and identify scrolls in your limited inventory. And so on.

But still, the music is great and there is satisfaction in slaying a multitude of demons and picking new skills to slay a multitude more.

Last April I assembled a new PC. Still running, Windows 10, but now with a newer video card (still Nvidia) and a modern CPU (this time AMD instead of Intel). Among the games I installed was Diablo 2, grabbing the installer from Blizzard’s site, and using my license key from the same place.

When I ran the game I got an unhandled exception error. Visions of the early days of Tribes 2 came vividly back–these are not good visions. I began searching for, then attempting every fix or workaround I could find.

All of them failed. Diablo 2 would not run on my new PC.

Fast-forward to today, a year later. Diablo 2 will still not work. I am sad, but have moved on.

But wait, that’s a lie, because I am actually still quietly obsessed with getting the game to work. Periodically I try something new, or repeat something I’ve tried before, hoping it will magically work this time.

Yesterday I went looking for my original game CDs…and found them. I brought out my portable USB DVD drive, connected it to my PC and tried installing the game the same way I did back in the year 2000. Then it asked for a CD key. No problem, I went to my Blizzard account and…noticed that it has a license key, which is different than the CD key. The CD key is on the front of the CD case, but I found the discs in a binder of game discs.

I searched again…and found my original CD jewel cases! The one for Diablo 2 has a note on the back to assure you that it is “Year 2000 complaint.” Good to know.

The installation of the game and Lord of Destruction expansion is appropriately tedious, requiring me to juggle an Install Disc, a Play Disc, a Cinematics Disc and Expansion Disc.

I previously had installed a Glide (3dfx) wrapper, which was one of the recommendations in getting Diablo 2 to work on modern systems. I completed the installation and the game moved to the video test, which is sort of farther than it had gotten previously. I say sort of because the latest patched version of the game removes the video test entirely.

The test completes and it defaults to 3dfx. I leave this and without doing anything else, I click the Play button.

And it works.

It works with both the base game and expansion. Yes, for now I need to leave the DVD drive connected and have the Expansion Disc in it. Yes, it is only running version 1.07 (the version that the LoD expansion updates it to). But it works and everything is there, in glorious 800×600 resolution!

Behold my druid, DrewEd (no, I will not apologize for the name):

You may have to squint a little.

As for the actual game, after the opening cinematic (which makes no reference to your character at all), you are dumped into the Rogue Encampment where Warwiv vaguely warns of evil spreading across the land and the monastery is closed. Then you’re left to just bumble around and kill things. It’s been 20 years, I don’t remember how the plot actually gets started. Or how much of a plot there even is. All I know is I want my volcano and molten boulders, and they shall be mine.

Is this what it’s like to get old? (Video game edition)

I’m not even talking about that one muscle in my lower back that pops on a semi-regular basis (I swear I’ll start stretching real soon now). And it’s not that I don’t follow pop music that closely anymore and don’t even recognize a lot of contemporary artists.

I mean, the music thing is somewhat related to getting older, as music trends shift from generation to generation. My musical tastes were locked in before rap or hip hop hit the mainstream, for example, so I never really adopted either, though I enjoy certain some of it, the same way I can enjoy some country music before running screaming from the room.

No, this is about something I grew up with, still enjoy, but has changed dramatically in ways that I am ever-increasingly out of touch with.

Video games.

Although technically not the first video game, Pong was the first mainstream game, one that the public could actually play. It came out in 1972, when I was 8 years old. By the time I had an Atari 2600 in 1980, I was the ripe old age of 16. This is to point out that while my earliest experience with video games was when they were in their infancy, I still pretty much grew up with them. I had most of the home consoles and would spend hours at the arcades in Duncan and Victoria. My first full-time job was at an arcade.

Through the 1980s I endured the video game crash, then moved to computer games over home consoles. My Commodore 64, purchased in 1984, was mostly a gaming machine (I did use it to write, too–the word processor I had could create documents up to about four pages long, which taught me brevity, if nothing else). The C64 gave way to more advanced computers like the Atari 520ST and Amiga 500 before I finally went PC in 1994.

I came back to home consoles with the original Xbox in 2002 and have had an Xbox model ever since (admittedly, the Xbox One serves more as a media center for me than as a video game unit), but continued to play computer games, going online in a big way in 1998 when I got my first broadband connection.

I cut my multiplayer teeth on games like Quake, Unreal Tournament and Tribes. I explored mods, joined a gaming group (clan/tribe) and experienced the joy of piling onto a sever with friends and blasting away for bragging rights on the scoreboard at the end of a match. We eventually ran weekly competitions on our own servers. It was fun and it went on for multiple years before marriage, kids and life in general cut into our gaming time.

So that’s part of it–the group I gamed with scattered and there was no natural replacement. Although I had a persistent connection, my online gaming was mostly coop with a friend or two in games like Diablo II or a coop shooter. I went small.

I went big again, in a manner of speaking, in the middle of the first decade of the 20th century, playing MMOs like Everquest 2, City of Heroes and, of course, World of Warcraft. The clan was back and for a time we all played together again before inevitably drifting apart. But the gaming experience was still pretty free-form. We’d log in and do some quests, or if we had a big enough group, a dungeon. We’d get our loot, be happy (for a moment) and log off.

Today some of these MMOs still exist, but I am not playing them. The games I grew up with are mostly gone, though some, like Quake, still weirdly exist in some form. But when you look at games today, there are things I see that were never part of the games of yore I played:

  • The season pass. We used to get free expansion packs from companies like Epic, or sometimes a paid expansion pack. A game might see one or two and they’d be released a year or more after the game. Now we have season passes, which are basically paid content dribbled out over a specified period of time and is often ready at game launch–meaning the content has been built alongside the game specifically to be a paid extra.
  • The general concept of seasons. Diablo 3 has seasons. A season has specific rewards and runs for a limited time. Almost every online shooter now offers seasons of varying lengths, enticing players to keep logging in to keep getting newer, shinier rewards. It’s GAAS–Gaming As A Service. And it kind of gives me gas.
  • Unlockables. There was a little of this back in the olden days, but in a game like Quake, the best players ruled, not just due to superhuman eye-hand coordination, but because they learned the maps, particularly with regard to the placement of weapons and power-ups. Everything was there for the taking, nothing prevented N00bGam3r from getting the rocket launcher, except for L33tBro knowing the fastest route to it and grabbing it first. Today, many games will give players a few basic weapons and require them to hit certain achievements to unlock others. The achievements can be anything–time played, kills, and so on. If you start playing a game well after launch, you will be playing on servers filled with players who have unlocked nearly everything, while you have to rely on your meager skill to survive long enough to get something better. But then there’s always…
  • Pay to Win (PTW). Want a snazzy, powerful weapon? Is it worth $5 in real money to you? Maybe more? Buy it and boom, instant power! Fortunately, most games aren’t doing this much now, but it was definitely a thing for awhile. Games like Fortnite (you may have heard of it) now give away the game and generate revenue through cosmetics–charging the player to add new costume bits and skins. And it works! It’s hard to get upset about, because if you don’t care about the frippery, you can play the game for free.
  • Streaming. A lot of people don’t even play games anymore–they watch other people play, with “witty” commentary. On the one hand, I kind of get this–it’s like TV, but somewhat less passive–but on the other, watching someone else play a game is just weird. At least it saves on developing carpal tunnel.

All of these things add up to an online gaming experience that feels very different than what I was used to ten or–gah–even 20 years ago. I’m not sure I would ever be comfortable jumping into a multiplayer game today, unless it was built around coop. It feels like the gaming scene has changed, but I haven’t, and I want to go back to playing weird UT levels, but UT is pretty much dead.

I am old.

The unexpected return of CoH

After reviving my new PC, I was casting about for a game to play, to take advantage of all its glorious 2019 power.

And I ended up playing a game from 2004, and it’s a game I never expected to play again—City of Heroes.

It turned out a community-run CoH server had been running stealthily for awhile now, but recent drama forced it into the open. Currently the team has moved servers (to Canada, woo), expanded their number and opened the whole thing up to the public. They are billing this version of the game Issue 26: Homecoming, incorporating the code that was on the test server and about to go live when the game development ended in August 2012, three months before shutting down entirely.

The experience of going back has been both weird and nostalgic. There are some necessary tweaks—all of the paid content has been moved to an in-game contact and is free to “buy.” Veteran Rewards essentially don’t exist. But for the most part, this is CoH as it was in 2012, with all of its improvements and similarly, all of its janky qualities faithfully preserved.

As I toodle around with new versions of old characters, I shift between the delight of playing a game I never imagined being able to play again, and being freshly irritated by its many original and questionable design decisions, like Council base maps, for example. The near-Escher design of the original office maps is worth highlighting, too. They feel like a social experiment that would end with all participants going mad and murdering each other.

At the same time, it’s still a refreshing take on the MMORPG formula. Released before WoW, it entirely ignored a lot of the familiar trappings, allowing you to take on vast groups of enemies and feel truly powerful—too powerful, in fact. The nerfs would come and this version of the game carefully preserves all of the game balance changes made over CoH’s eight year life. You can still be pretty powerful now, so it’s okay.

I have no idea how long the servers will last, so in the back of my mind I am always thinking “This could be the last chance I have to see these characters” but so far NCsoft has not applied its might in shutting it down, and efforts are underway to have them sanction an official community server. Stranger things have happened.

Finally, I will note that this unexpected appearance has definitely impacted the contributions I’ve made recently to this blog. And writing in general. Probably not a good thing. But if history repeats itself, I’ll ease up and go back to the usual excuses for not writing.

WoW Report #2

I never actually logged back in and the three day free trial expired.

This concludes my return to WoW.

I’ll next have a look when they launch the “classic” server expected this summer. With lots of grind and all the rough edges lovingly restored, this promises to be a good bludgeoning of nostalgia. I think it may be worth one month’s subscription.

WoW Report #1

Before I stopped playing WoW last time, I moved the game off the SSD and back onto my old-timey HDD. It definitely loaded faster on the SSD, but performance otherwise seemed to be about the same on the hard disk.

Tonight I logged in after many months away, the game fully patched and shiny. I then experienced some of the worst non-network related lag I’ve ever seen in the game. The framerate went from a high of 60 to as low as 18. Your framerate should never dip below legal gambling age. It was unplayable bad, which prompted me to stop playing. It’s possible the game was caching files after being moved back to the hard disk, but whatever it was, it did not leave me with a burning urge to try again.

But I will, for science!

Tomorrow.