Dipping a Feathered Toe into Endless Space

I think I may as well make it semi-official, and admit to myself that my subconscious is asking, nay, demanding a break from GW2.

These days, I can only muster the energy to log in for just long enough to snatch three dailies, one of them the easy Wintersday ‘open 3 presents’ gimme, and that’s about it.

Home instance, guild hall instance, ascended crafting mats? Pshaw.

I heartily doubt that I will know what to do when the Wintersday dailies are no more and I end up with a more tedious PvE or PvP or WvW one.

Instead, I’ve found myself lining up a whole list of Steam games and eyeing them greedily and excitedly.

While I’m not aiming for a 12 in 12 challenge (concept as introduced from Soultamer Gaming), because -finishing- or -completing- is off the table for the time being (that achiever-ism is what’s prompting some of the personal burnout in the first place, as I feared once raids got onto the table), I’m fully intending to play a lot more than 12 games this year in a whizz bang whirlwind tour, going as far as I feel like and then stopping when I don’t.

One of the first I found myself diving into is Endless Space, a 4x space exploration strategy game by Amplitude Studios.

It’s mostly kicking my ass.

I’m just persevering a lot longer than I did previously.

The initial hurdle were all the new Endless space-specific concepts and unfamiliar UI. It’s Civ-like enough to start, and then diverges sufficiently to be confusing and frustrating, needing to read every tooltip to figure out what this resource is, what that tech does and so on.

The AI is also pretty unexpectedly aggressive. I play this sort of strategy games mostly for the escapist narrative of slow inexorable global conquest. The darn Endless Space AI puts up much more of a fight than I’m used to, especially since I have no clue regarding optimal path strategies for planetary buildings, tech tree and ship design.

It’s been a very up-and-down journey of being pretty behind, getting ahead, thinking I’m getting ahead (but probably the other factions have caught up or surpassed me) and then getting brutalized out of nowhere and quitting for the night, resolving to reload 10-20 turns into the past and try a different strategy tomorrow. (Why yes, I do ‘cheat’ in this fashion.)

For example, I went to war with one faction on fairly equal tech terms and was invading their planets, when midway out of nowhere, they showed up with a bigger ship class and started blowing apart all my ships. (Cue the future past strategy of figuring out just how they got a bigger ship hull and doing it at the same time as they were. Not to mention, desperately trying to move beyond guessing what was a good ship build to actually effective ship designs.)

Then I run into another faction, who turn around and use yet another strategy of just tactically retreating and refusing to hold still to be killed.

W.T.F. I have never wanted an interdictor card to stop the offensive retreat so badly. It’s not that they could actually do anything to my ships, they just kept slipping off.

That same faction was busy using swarms of weak fleets consisting of one or two ships. Individually, they would get killed in a space battle, but since my two fleets could only be in so many locations at once, they kept putting up blockades on every planet and tying up my two fleets since they were only allowed to attack one fleet at a time (which then ran away). 

Bloody infuriating AI.

The turns seemed to happen simultaneously as well, so AI being AI, they moved all their fleets a lot faster than I could react, and instigating fleet battles interrupting my chain of thought, which I then had to deal with (whereupon brave sir AI bravely ran away.)

Cue the next day’s strategy of establishing my own blockading ships to create a very long border front so the zippy little things couldn’t get past the Great Wall of Tengu.

Oh yes, I’m playing space tengu, did I mention that?

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Avian bipedal creatures. Check.

Asian/Japanese influences. Check.

The only difference is that where GW2’s tengu are isolationist, Endless Space’s Hissho are expansionist and military-minded. They get a Bushido Bonus where their whole empire gets happier when they win space battles or invade another planet.

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It’s a good excuse to admire bird-shaped spacecraft.

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Space battles are quite cinematic to watch and screenshot, though they do get a bit repetitive. The attacking fleet jumps in and both fleets close to range, exchanging broadsides like navy ships of old at three different ranges (long range, medium range and melee range.)

There are different weapons that are effective at different ranges, that have to be preset and designed onto your ships beforehand. It’s not at all obvious which is better than another, unless you sit down to patiently read all the tooltips, calculate numbers, look up guides telling you non-stated numbers like how armor is calculated or how many rounds there are in each phase and so on.

This does put a bit of a initial damper on immediate success and constitute a learning curve. Especially since the numbers have apparently changed over time from one version of the game to the next, so you’re never quite sure if what you’re reading up still applies.

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Missiles. Missiles are scary to watch when they drift towards my fleet. They take about three rounds to hit, so it’s a tense wait to see just how many get past one’s defenses.

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My first game is likely to wind down by this weekend.

After plenty of reloading, I managed an Expansionist Victory by methodically exterminating the Pilgrims faction – hey, they declared war on me first! I had a peace treaty going with them while I was reducing the number of Horatio clones (essentially a whole faction of bald mesmers who think only their likeness should spread across the galaxy) to a more reasonable number.

The Horatio gracefully surrendered with a cease fire, offering me two planets, and I let them live, while the dastardly Pilgrims broke their peace treaty and declared war (on me!) with their ship swarm. Genocide is the only reasonable response to this sort of unwarranted aggression.

I’m still continuing with the game, even after the victory, since I haven’t completely annihilated all of the Pilgrim planets yet.

As usual, the surprisingly feisty AI continues to surprise. Just as I think I’m finishing up with this one faction, the other faction in the tiny spiral galaxy – previously assumed cowed into submission – has launched fleets of the largest ship class at my planets and we’re at war again.

Since I ignored the tedium of ship design several tens of turns back and was just slowly moving my monster fleet from planet to planet swallowing up the pilgrims, this calls for yet another reload the next time I sit down to play, some invested non-fun time making my own largest ship class designs, and more careful guarding of my borders before a repeat incident occurs.

I’m not sure if I like Endless Space that much to play too many more games of it.

On the one hand, it is said that the factions are all pretty distinctive and utilize different strategies for victory. There’s, in fact, multiple viable paths to victory including peacenik options that look more achievable than the older Civ series style of 4x games (I tended to just go for tech victories after military dominating all other factions in the world into submission.)

Endless Space feels crunchier and more strategic. As in, if you like a game where you constantly have to be sure you’re picking the optimal right moves to progress ahead and always stay alert and have a challenge, it can probably do that for quite a while (until you master every single nuance, repeat stuff in the right order and figure out exploits to consistently foil the AI, that is.)

On the other, it’s not exactly what I personally like in a 4x. Having to save and reload or get my butt kicked because I didn’t think 20 moves ahead is not exactly conducive to relaxing fun being an unstoppable conqueror or casual empire-building.

I might see if I can tweak down the difficulty levels and try a larger sized game for my next go, I was crammed in one arm of a tiny spiral map with two other factions for my first learning game and lebensraum was definitely an issue, especially when you have no clue what you’re doing, leading to the computer AI colonizing all the things first.

We’ll see. I might get distracted with Endless Legend next, which was also something I was champing at the bit to play and prompted a Winter Steam sale purchase.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back & The New Year’s Direction

In my zeal for New Year’s spring cleaning and re-ordering my life for the better, I opened a window that hasn’t been opened for the last ten years of living in this house.

The idea was to air out the place, improved ventilation and all that.

Also, I was proud of my herculean efforts cleaning out the window ledge, previously a location for accumulating convenient dusty junk piles, and removing chunks of grime from said window and wanted to keep looking out of it to celebrate.

Then it started raining.

The initial drizzle lulled me into complacency. A couple small drops on the ledge, nothing more, so I shrugged and went to enjoy my lunch.

I walked back into the room with a bunch of stuff in my arms, planning to have a good time sorting and arranging, only to discover an Olympic-sized swimming pool had now taken up residence on said window ledge.

Happily wading inside it, was a table lamp and my $800 Fujitsu Scansnap scanner.

*sigh*

I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice to say there was a great unloading of stuff in my arms on the floor, quick scrambling to shut off all electrical plugs, much rummaging for absorbent rags and dehydration effort implementation on various fronts.

The long and short of it is that my best laid plans for spending the weekend decluttering have now got to be pushed back at least 24 hours (and probably 48 hours would be safer) before I get to find out if I now have to buy myself a belated Christmas present of a newer model of Fujitsu Scansnap.

The shelving that I was -hoping- to sort things out on is now half-soaked and has been carted out to somewhat drier surroundings in the hope that it’ll dry out before mold decides it’s an optimal home.

The PC, thankfully, seems to have been shielded from the brunt of it by the valiant shelving’s sacrifice, but since there was a random scattering of raindrops across all the electrical plugs and wiring and the metal casing, I’m thinking it’ll be safer to give it at least a few hours of drying time.

So now the air conditioner is running, during an already fairly cold day (for the tropics, anyway,) in the hopes that it’ll speed up the dehumidifying process, and I’ve beaten a hasty retreat to the living room, sneezing frightfully with a nose that is fitfully protesting the sequential abuse of dust, mold spores and shivering cold temperatures, typing out this blog post on a laptop, for lack of anything better to do.

Well, it’s one way to get me back to blogging again, I suppose.

On a brighter note, I’ve discovered that serious full-fledged decluttering involving moving books, technological objects and shelving from room to room is pretty good beginner movement exercise for an overweight sedentary person, in that it provokes movement out of me and more importantly, feels more productive than engaging in repetitive motions for the sake of moving.

(If we liked moving to begin with, chances are we wouldn’t be overweight, so it does take a bit of mental gymnastics to find movement activities for a sedentary person that we like and can see ourselves doing repeatedly as a lifestyle change.)

Plans for the year ahead are pretty simple.

I won’t call them new year resolutions, as those seem traditionally broken or forgotten by April or so, but more of guiding principles to skew my life towards in 2016:

1. Pay more mindful attention towards health and exercise.

This cover things like trying to choose healthier foods when possible and enjoy indulgences in smaller proportions. Practice more mindful portion control, we know roughly how much we should be eating, it’s just ridiculously easy to over-eat because the bag of chips is there and we want the sensation of crunch while watching a show or whatever. Make an effort to move more, whenever the opportunity arises, just to get in the habit of -moving-.

2. Actively seek out a variety and novelty of experiences.

I’ve been noticing that I get depressed (or at least slow down, get apathetic or negative) every time I get into a rut and end up feeling like there’s nothing more to life than waking, going to work, eating, sleeping, rinse and repeat, with maybe some gaming in there from time to time.

To combat this, I think the first few words are important, I may need to be proactively looking to switch things up and keep myself focused on experiencing a whole bunch of different things. We’ll see how this works out in the year ahead.

3. Hoard less, use more.

It may be an odd slogan to coin, but I just finished a library book the other day (part of my branching-out-to-do-other-things-than-just-GW2 campaign) by Randy Frost, titled “Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things.

It was a nice read and a bit of an eye-opener. I mean, sure, we’ve all seen the hoarding TV shows, gawked at the spectacle of extreme hoarding and probably gave thanks that our own homes have not quite descended to -that- level.

But I liked how the book explained that forced intervention usually don’t solve the underlying problem – something within the person that causes them to feel obliged to hoard, and elaborated on various reasons while not being judgmental (one interesting twist of perspective is that some hoarders are very adept at creating connections and imbuing meaning and uses to objects that most people would consider junk, and thus find it hard to throw anything away; or that some hoarders rely on objects to build up an almost encyclopedic memory of stories about each thing, a sort of tangible memory palace to fuel prodigious feats of memory, so asking them to throw stuff away is like asking them to discard their memories or parts of themselves…)

Hoarding, it seems, may also have a genetic basis. Which does jibe when I look around at my life and realize that one of my family members is likely to have at least a moderate hoarding problem (which makes discarding old furniture and bulky household items quite a challenge) and that I probably have a subclinical to mild hoarding one as well. (See the Clutter Image Ratings on the Amazon page, or the full PDF.)

Most of the house hovers around the 2 mark, with one or two rooms (a storeroom and the room inhabited by the family hoarder) at 5.

It’s unlikely said family hoarder is going to change, but at least said family hoarder respects room boundaries.

In the meantime, I have my eye on the rest of the rooms, the bulk of which is either my stuff or family-owned stuff and am motivated to change up some things about myself, if only to eliminate dust allergies, make future cleaning easier, and have rooms that look easier on the eye and -pleasant- to look at and enjoy.

The good news is that I haven’t been really acquiring new clutter for the past decade, having moved much of my life (and my hoarding tendencies) to the digital realm. Yeah, I have somewhat crazy MMO and Steam game collections. But hey, they don’t take up as large amounts of space!

(The “hoard less, use more” slogan also applies in a figurative sense to the digital hoard. I intend to play more of my Steam games and branch out this year. It’s time to use and enjoy what I’ve been stockpiling.)

The bulk of the clutter that has yet to be dealt with is old stuff and once gotten rid of, unlikely to ever come back in such volume. Definitely something to work on this year. Hopefully it doesn’t take up the whole year and I can spend more of the time -enjoying- the freed up space and actually -using- the things that I choose to value and keep.

The latter is a big motivator for me. While decluttering this month, I keep encountering stuff I’ve wanted to do, but “kept for later” (be it books to read, hobbies to take up, games to play, whatever.)

That stuff ends up buried under piles of other stuff, forgotten until unearthed.

It’s way past time to unearth it and enjoy it, before it rots or I pass on and end up leaving it for some other poor bastard to clean up.