LitRPG: Where the Fictional Meets MMORPG

Now here’s an odd specialty sub-genre of fiction that I couldn’t have conceived of in my wildest dreams.

I encountered the term while browsing through the Solo Roleplaying reddit – another niche gameplaying style where the goal is to entertain oneself by solo playing a tabletop RPG. Some narrate events to themselves, some simply daydream, others pen down some manner of written record to help their memory along. Often, this may include some game system terms in a sidebar or separate paragraph, to demonstrate where the game mechanics stepped in to take some authorial control and surprise the solo game player. (Without this game emulation, it’s basically just writing a story.)

Someone mentioned that such written records resembled “LitRPG.”

Now that’s a strange term I haven’t heard before. What newfangled creation hath this corner of the young internet wrought?

Google to the rescue.

Wikipedia defines it as:

LitRPG, short for Literary Role Playing Game, is a literary genre combining the conventions of computer RPGs with science-fiction and fantasy novels… The proponents of the term state that in LitRPG, games or game-like challenges form an essential part of the story, and visible RPG statistics (for example strength, intelligence, damage) are a significant part of the reading experience.

Wikipedia on LitRPG

The top search on Google (or at least my version of what Google deems is most relevant for me) is a The Verge article on LitRPG. The article author, Paul Miller, is fairly critical on the literary aspects of the books (ie. extremely lacking) but positive on the primary concept, that of a real person becoming lost in and learning to live in an MMO world, stat blocks and all.

A more positively biased summation of LitRPG comes from the page of (naturally) a LitRPG author.

I’m excited by the potential of LitRPG as a medium for dissecting our fascination with games and virtual worlds. Through our gamer and NPC characters, we can explore the relationships between real lives and virtual lives, and gain a better understanding of our own psychology around the human-technology interface. Why do we want to lose ourselves in digital fantasies? How are we motivated by quests and level-ups? What is it about virtual relationships that are so satisfying (or not)? By trying to answer these and many other questions through LitRPG, we can strive to understand the actions and motivations of the hundreds of millions of people who now call themselves “gamer”.

Edwin McRae, “What is LitRPG”

Some informational dumpster-diving through years-old Reddit threads later, I had a couple examples of what titles were generally considered “LitRPG.” Most looked like self-published work going for bargain bin prices on Amazon.

Being unwilling to pay sight unseen for dubious quality products and mostly just curious as heck, I identified two generally-recognized-as-not-horrible examples that were available for the glorious price of free.

Excellent. Free is good. Enough to figure out if I might like it or not.

The Wandering Inn appears to be a serialized web story in the manner of Worm. The protagonist, Erin Solstice, is a modern human suddenly teleported into a Breath of the Wild-esque fantasy world where a whole bunch of new game-like rules (e.g. sentient monster races, skill leveling) are as universal as breathing.

Faced with barely any relevant survival skills, her best bet is to take refuge in a mysterious inn and wind up in a Recettear-like situation where one becomes a fantasy innkeeper.

AlterWorld: Play to Live. A LitRPG Series (Book 1) by D. Rus. This Russian author is credited with mostly kindling (haha, pun, see what I did there) the budding genre. In this fantasy version of Earth, it has become possible for people to get essentially ‘sucked into’ a fully immersive MMO universe, becoming fully digitized where the physical body can be conveniently discarded with no ill effects to the digital self. This is known as “perma mode” (as opposed to “perma death,” I guess.)

The protagonist, Max, on learning he has a plot-convenient terminal illness hatches his grand plan to purposefully trigger “perma mode” and become Laith, a High Elf Necromancer in the MMO AlterWorld (because you know, opposite Drizzt is a thing and players always gotta buck the racial/class norms). There are some distinct stilted phrases and terminology scattered throughout, presumably due to the author’s Russian background.

The later books apparently get much worse in quality as some distasteful themes make themselves known in the author’s writing, but if one wants to study the genre, it makes sense to at least have a look at the original genre-starter. Free, after all. No plans on paying for more.

Having gotten a couple chapters into both titles, I have to say… I don’t know… The whole thing feels weird. Creepy weird. Yet strangely compelling, in a fanfiction train wreck sort of way.

On one hand, the serialized version of the web stories feels like a harmless fanfiction prose version of various game-inspired webcomics I love to peruse and follow along – things like WTF Comics (a distinctly Everquest flavored adventure campaign that has sadly petered off in the past few years, but the existing content is top notch), LFG Comic (a more half-original, half-WoW flavored take on things), and so on.

Granted, the good web comics become renowned because their -comic- qualities (as in, the art, the layouts, etc.) are quite high quality. It seems fewer of the present LitRPG cohort meet good prose thresholds, which makes their “literary” claim to fame a trifle presumptive, or at least, somewhat preliminary.

Expect fanfiction quality levels of English – some pretty good, others downright awful, the odd typo or grammatical error here and there. Editorial cleanup passes are unlikely.

That said, the authors plainly have some ideas and are keen to convey them, and are more or less understandable, so it is possible to be curious about the fates of these characters and the precarious situations they find themselves in.

What I do find weird is the thematic blend of fantasy and reality.

I’ve always known that I don’t play MMO games like a good many other players do, where they put themselves or an idealized version of themselves into their avatars, which then play the game.

I’ve never purposefully made a character that looked like myself and then put real world “me” into the game. LitRPG, conversely, seems to be full of people who do exactly that. Total immersion to them means throwing themselves bodily into the game world.

Me, I play MMO games from a GM’s or author’s perspective. I separate myself, splintering into various shards, containing multitudes. Some have aspects of me, some have aspects of others, blended up into a unique formula which makes them distinct. Each of these shards is a character, with their own personalities and backstory. They need a name.

Once named, they are not me. They are them.

Total immersion to me means that these characters can exist fully in these new worlds and settings as totally lore appropriate beings – there is never the awkward juxtaposition of trying to resolve modern-day issues and sensibilities (a carry over from a player brain that is unable to sever their own personality from their avatar) in a non-modern-day fantasy setting.

LitRPG, to me, seems to be written by a generation of people who have less background in books per se, but whose growing-up experience has been the odd physical and virtual blend of always being on the internet, always having social media around, always playing some form of video game. Little wonder that their real world selves merge with their digital selves, and this craving need to resolve the paradox.

That would be the positive form of LitRPG. A far worse form would be the pretender that has poor grounding in either actual game or this blended dilemma, but tries to throw in made-up game jargon anyway. At which point, I think the problem becomes clear. Any fiction requires a consistent world. If your construct of your fictional world is created poorly, through lack of understanding of game systems, then the inconsistency shines through and grates with every paragraph.

Generally, I lack the confidence that a fanfiction style author has the capacity to formulate a consistent fictional game world for their story. Not only are there authorial responsibilities, they are now taking on game designer responsibilities for the game jargon and skill/systems interaction. That’s a pretty big ask.

A solo RP written report doesn’t have that problem, because the game system & rules come from established texts from other authors.

A Let’s Play of an actual -real- game, whom I heavily enjoy reading the well-written ones, has the same grounding because the game system & rules exist in reality. The authorial responsibility there is then just to write well and be entertaining, and explain the systems text & rules if required.

Reading any LitRPG leaves me feeling that I’m on shaky ground. I’m not sure if the rules are consistent, or if they are going to bend to suit the fiction.

Perhaps my concern is wrong, and there are indeed authors who can handle both at once. Constructing a game world full of solid rules design, as well as plot a story that contains both conflict and compelling characters. But it seems there very well might be some tradeoffs here and there.

In any case, the final oddity is that I guess I find the obsession over game text curious. I tend to skim read over most system messages.

This placing of game text on a hallowed pedestal of a full paragraph is a strange convention of LitRPG. It reminds me of the way 4x strategy gamers scrutinize every last word of a skill, or resource, or building and basically min-max and optimize their way through a game mathematically.

Me, I admit to doing no such thing, unless forced by circumstance to. I’ll just pick stuff that sounds good, stack it all if possible, and read it only if I must. Game text is not meant for word-by-word parsing, if you ask me. It’s like an informational system message. Could be spammed. Picking up the big picture seems sufficient.

Still, LitRPG adds up to being an odd curious genre. I suppose there’s no harm following along further with the free stories, if one has time, if only just to find out what happens next.

The Ubiquitous Boss Battle

Boss fights seem to be everywhere now, a formulaic inclusion because of player expectations, and whatever else could we throw in at the end of a corridor or dungeon full of lesser enemies or minions?

I started thinking about this after Remnant: From the Ashes began to wear down on me. I’d just defeated Ixilis XV, a butterfly-like boss that clones itself into two, in a brutally hard and unforgiving fight on top of a bridge.

This boss had it all. Restricted arena space, yes. Bridge is very much limited. Some attacks might very well push you off the bridge to an instant death. Restrictive camera and field of view, you bet. One has to turn one’s back on at least one boss to properly attack the other. Phases and attack animations to be learned and solved systematically through lethal trial-and-error, not to mention proper stats on gear and consumable use.

I had to learn to dodge with perfect timing when the bosses’ weapon glow green and were held at a horizontal angle, because a wide bridge-clearing swipe was incoming a second after. I still got the other vertical weapon slice regularly confused with the other attack, both of which the boss holds its weapon aloft, but one is a simple melee slice while the other conjures up a bombardment of homing green balls – which had to be shot at to dissipate.

In addition, the boss also tosses a singular yellow-brownish-green ball attack which turns into an AoE gas cloud on the bridge. Twice. The solution being to move or dodge out of the way of the initial hit and then to hopefully avoid standing in the bad until it went away.

All its attacks do corrosion damage, which my scrapper armor has negative resistance to. The corrosion debuff makes armor increasingly ineffective, leading to more damage taken. Problem is, I had no other type of gear as stat pumped as my original set. I tried a switch to some higher corrosion resistance gear, but the lower upgrade level meant taking equivalent amounts of damage. I eventually wound up just pre-emptively chomping down on a consumable that cost 50 currency, which pushed up my corrosion resistance from negative to positive, every attempt at the boss.

The boss had multiple phases. In the initial phase, only one butterfly clone is seen while the other waits in a cocoon. Take it down to 75% health and the other pops out of the cocoon at full health. OR you could take it down to 76% health, turn your back on it (exposing yourself to all its lethal attacks) and shoot the cocoon until it bursts, causing the other to pop out at 75% health as well. Choices, choices.

I went for the latter, but it was painful. I had to notice and use a central bridge obstacle (which eventually breaks after the boss does another type of attack, a hadouken beam attack) to half shelter me to do so.

Once both butterfly bosses are out, they take turns being the main attacker. One continues doing the previous style of attacks while the other one does the abovementioned beam attack that can one-shot kill you by knocking you off the bridge.

It took -forever- and a spate of googling for help for me to eventually grok that the beam attack follows a -fixed- pattern, it starts at one end of the bridge and steadily moves over the course of five beams or so to the other end.

To make matters even more interesting, every now and then, the bosses do a group AoE howl that if both are allowed to perform uninterrupted, does enough damage to one-shot you. To prevent this, one has to shoot the growing energy ball they cultivate until it bursts. Since both are on opposite sides of the bridge, this is a job for either coordinated multiple players (of which a soloist has none) or really good dps (of which, I had none either, because the alternative was stopping and leaving to grind for gear upgrades.)

I settled for locating two high ammo quick firing weapons (spitfire and the chicago typewriter) and blowing up the energy ball of one boss. That exposed me to half the damage of the other boss, which meant healing after each group AoE attempt.

Eventually, the critical realization of the bridge beam attacks being fixed meant that everything else started falling in place. I had figured out solutions (more or less) to every other attack; I just needed to know that I should be keeping in the center until I saw which side the boss I wasn’t going to face was going, and allow it to do a few beams, and then purposefully run to that side of safety in between beams. Then it could be safely left alone and with my back turned while I focused on the main boss.

It was… tiring.

Once victory was ultimately attained, I picked up the next key to unlock the next stage of the game. Faced with the prospect of a new planet of Yeesha to wander through before the final climatic battle of the narrative… I balked, more or less.

It felt like one act too many. Here was going to be another run of a zone, followed by a mini-boss or boss, then another zone, and then another boss. Rinse and repeat 3 or 4 times, and then just maybe… we’ll get to campaign’s end.

*sigh* I kinda prefer the game’s Adventure mode. One mini-dungeon zone and a few boss battles, the end, rinse and repeat when one is ready. Shorter, sweeter.

So I called a hold on Remnant and went to play the next game that had caught my wandering eye.

I found myself back in Terraria, fully intent on trying out the Journey’s End changes, and mostly grinding away in the early game from a very slow start because I got insane enough to try an Expert Mode world. Suffice to say, everything has a lot more hitpoints and does a lot more damage.

Not without some irony, I noted that I was slowly but steadily, attempting to do all matter of prep work for… what purpose, but killing the first few pre-hardmode Terraria bosses so that one could progress to the next stage of gear?

One has ample time to ponder while exploring and farming in Terraria.

Hang on, said I, haven’t the recent games I’ve been playing been full of bosses?

My GW2 raids are nothing but one boss battle after another. Path of Exile has plenty of bosses, some with different phases and attack animations to learn, and they keep ramping up further in this direction – possibly due to customer demand. Monster Hunter is boss after boss.

Most of the singleplayer action or Ubisoft style open-world game layers in plenty of boss battles as the narrative progresses. Platformers have bosses, roguelikes have bosses, if perhaps less dogmatically systematic about it.

It made me stop to wonder if there was ever a time when games weren’t so rabidly obsessed with the necessity of a boss battle after every level. Especially a singular colossal big boss that has to be taken down raid style, pattern puzzle solved per attack animation or phase in order to successfully defeat it.

It felt like, maybe once upon a time, there were.

I seem to recall roleplaying games like Baldur’s Gate where yes, there were a couple of bosses, but they were mostly a group of enemies with a central stronger character that you had to take down, and normally always part of the narrative of that encounter. Sometimes you could bypass the battle by talking it through. But otherwise, they were like any other combat encounter, just with a few more dangerous combatants.

Granted, I might be being a little unfair. Surely there are games in the present day without boss battles. Strategy games in a Civilization vein are unlikely to have boss battles per se, as we’re more on an army scale here. Crafting or optimizing games like Factorio or Satisfactory lack boss battles, if only because the combat is not quite centered around the concept – at most, combat climaxes are waves of tougher enemies (something the tower defense genre favors a little more.)

Multiplayer PvP games -probably- don’t have boss battles, if only because the main opponents are intended to be other players, rather than a computer controlled opponent.

Regardless, it does seem like recently, the concept of boss battles has been increasingly put up on a pedestal of desirability, or at least something that -has- to be included in most games, along with vertically progressing gear numbers and levels, and crafting which mostly consists of assembling a bunch of ingredients into another new object with the click of a button.

Wherever are the experiments away from this format?

Remnant: From the Ashes – The Game Hellgate: London Wishes It Was

It’s odd. Remnant: From the Ashes is a mish-mash of pretty much every game genre you can think of.

In the opening cutscene after character creation, we zoom in to your hero, a proud warrior in fantasy-style garb, complete with sword on back, as they sail off into the sunset in a medieval sailboat.

Not my video, but illustrative of the intro

The narrator gabs on about beasts and dragons and your quest… right up to the point you see a perfectly modern-day lighthouse…

It segues right into ye olde standard shipwrecked on the beach game trope (plenty of RPGs do this too, not just MMOs) and as you pick yourself up and explore further, you find yourself facing the rusted husks of modern-day industrial warehouses and fences.

Oh, you think, revising your initial concept hastily, it looks like we’re in a Numenera or Dying Earth sort of world, a far future fantasy where post-apocalyptic Earth has passed us by long enough for folks to create new tribes and forget much of old Earth. Cool, cool, the genre seems to be taking off in popularity lately, what with Horizon Zero Dawn and all that.

Then as you walk further, the occult red glow of demonic entities teleporting in to devour you body and soul blends the genre further, as we move towards horror and The Secret World.

There are so many genres contained with this game, just to satisfy the conceit of being able to portal around to different procedurally generated worlds and take on varied enemies for loot, challenge and progression.

There are gates or portals, and an demon-like plant-like enemy known as the Root invading worlds, you discover, as you roam the streets of apocalyptic Earth, dressed in Fallout-style scrap armor and getting serious Hellgate: London vibes every time you pass an abandoned ruined subway and contemplate them stuffed full of demons.

And that’s just the early game setting. Eventually, once you break through to a place where you can access other worlds, science fiction and pulp will cheerily join hands to play.

Warhammer 40K, anyone?
Conan the Barbarian meets Martian aliens?

Gameplay-wise, the moment you swing your sword and feel the measured pace of your character locked into an animation, you realize you’re playing a Souls-like where observing enemy attack animations are key, dodging or evading appropriately before striking only when there is opportunity.

The only thing possibly original about Remnant: From the Ashes is their incorporation of modern ranged weapons like guns into Souls-like gameplay. No rapid-fire hipshooting allowed here. Guns must be aimed by holding down the right mouse button, and there are limited number of shots you can make before reloading.

Staying too long in aim or zoom mode gets dangerous, because your field of view is not wide enough to realize that an enemy is flanking or coming up from behind to gank you. It cleverly turns gunplay into an exchange that follows the real time, semi-turn-based style of Souls-like games.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you get to the end of a mini-instanced dungeon chain and walk into a boss room, where you now play Monster Hunter against a Colossally Big Boss, and realize there’s more genres that can be crammed in still.

The Singe dragon boss has one of the more glorious-looking and sounding fireball attacks I’ve ever seen though. It is seriously fearsome and breaks walls, shattering your cover as part of its gimmick. I enjoyed the immersive glimpse into what it might be like to face a fantasy dragon.

The only genre we’ve lost along the way is a Diablo-like looter, if only because gameplay where you can mow down hundreds of enemies with a single button click is the antithesis of a Souls-like game.

Yet, somehow, the mashup works.

The overriding flavor is Hellgate: London meets Dark Souls, with mix-ins of every other genre mentioned above, and a final The Secret World cherry on top.

Honey, we’re not in Kansas anymore

The pace is stately, yet compelling.

It’s maybe a little too stately for me at times, being more of a fast frenetic action fan gamer-motivation-wise, but I can appreciate the appeal objectively. The originality of getting to play Dark Souls with slightly more modern day graphics and guns is more or less carrying me through the slow bits, while I’m intrigued to discover all the various worlds and see the monster designs.

I’m really enjoying the Sniper Rifle because I can pick off most things at range. The rest of my kit is still the original Scrapper melee archetype, so if things get up close, it’s down to pistol and a big hammer to take care of things. Realizing I can change weapons even mid-zone has been another one of those revelations. So in the rare case where sniper rifle doesn’t work, I just switch back out to my trusty shotgun and become close combat specialist extraordinaire.

It’s an interesting contrast to UltrViolet’s take on Remnant: From the Ashes where presumably Mastery is a primary motivator, needing to keep going back and pounding away to beat bosses and the game, and being pissed off if the game appears not to be playing fair. Challenge-wise, he’s got it cranked up on Hard, while I’m pretty darned comfy being Normal, thank you.

I’m probably still dying the same amount of times that he is. It’s that kind of game. Souls-like games are pretty much puzzle games of observation and trial-and-error of all the different tools and tactics at one’s disposal, where what doesn’t work is promptly and directly fed back to you by dint of a Game Over, You Died screen.

Punishing, they call it.

Some people like it that way.

Me, I can very much take it or leave it. Meaning I accept the game premise, unless something annoys me enough to not want to spend any more time on it.

What’s mostly preventing a ragequit is Remnant’s careful design in incorporating the equivalent of a Dark Souls campfire, a checkpoint in this game, after a short segment of adventure and most definitely, there’s one just before a boss fight. So getting back into the fray is not a depressing contemplation of having to run past or slowly defeat two zone’s worth of enemies before getting to the actual boss you want to deal with – just more like five to ten seconds of “OK, that didn’t work, what else can I try now?” contemplation before you’re back into the thick of things.

What does perplex me somewhat is Remnant’s surfeit of enemy types. I think for most people who enjoy more challenge, this is a good thing, to have SO MANY varied enemies with tons of different attack patterns and styles.

This particular Root enemy is highly annoying, armed with a gun that fires five shots, and with excellent AI that encourages it to take cover and flank you. Once four or five of them get into the fray, it becomes a crossfire of shots exchanged from cover, keeping you pinned down while one or two of them do their little flanking maneuver.

In the campaign, Remnant is also very eager to park different enemies in every zone you wander past, so what you learned in the previous zone… is likely not going to apply in the next zone. I think, for mastery motivated players, this is probably something that keeps them wanting to keep going, because there’s always something new to beat around every corner.

Me, it miffs me, every so slightly. After I learn something, I want a little time to be able to rest on my laurels and -enjoy- being able to blow up that enemy without a scratch, thank you. At least for one more zone or two. You can throw in a few more surprise enemy types, no problem, but seriously, enemy A in zone 1, then enemy B in zone 2 and enemy C in zone 3?!

How about AAA in zone 1, ABA in zone 2, ABBC in zone 3 or something? Let me feel at least a little clever in dealing with enemy A when I see it again.

Nope. Remnant’s solution is that you can jolly well just revisit that zone again, after a checkpoint respawns enemies… for not that much reward besides XP, since you’ve already looted the place once. Or you can generate a short adventure on that planet that -may- or may not contain the zone, and just encounter whatever on your way. Rinse and repeat until you’ve played plenty of adventures long enough to master all the enemy types on that planet.

As mentioned in one of my comments to UltrViolet, it makes me crave a nice little walkthrough or guide where someone has written up a nice little enemy types dossier, complete with mugshot, a profile of attacks and suggested tactics on how to deal with each… just to shortcut the process. Because it takes so long, and is so stately.

I know I lack the time to play this game like an MMO, while the assumption seems to be very much that you can and -should- indeed play through multiple campaigns, as well as visit friends and have co-op adventures together. All very well for people who really love the game, I dare say.

Me, I’m going through one or two zones a night, and that’s about all the time I have for it. It’s a pleasant experience at the moment.

But knowing my intense distractability where I certainly do not finish things, a slow stately game is at imminent risk of “Oooh, look at that other shiny thing” syndrome where it gets dropped midway through, for no real reason.

No harm, no foul. I got it free on Epic.

(The offer lasts approximately one more day, so interested parties reading this blog post early may want to nab it, if they haven’t. It’s certainly worth a try, at the price of free. I’d only pay for it if you like Dark Souls-like games. If you’re more on the fence about them like me, then I wouldn’t.)

I’d love to see more of the art design while my interest holds though.

PC Building Simulator: No Cash, Much Build

Finally caught PC Building Simulator going for 50% off on Steam the other day.

Considering that I was lusting after it during the Summer sale and still stingy not to bite at 40% then, I decided the threshold of 50% was sufficient for something I really wanted to play.

Prior plans for new computer replacement in real life are now overdue, thanks to the current pandemic climate we find ourselves in.

While mulling on plan B (buying parts in a face to face setting is now much more inconvenient – do I trust delivery options to not damage stuff in transit / wherever am I going to put a new computer case when prior room renovation plans are hold / which month can I take the leap on this for best financial management in a pandemic situation, etc. etc.), I needed a virtual stopgap to feed the “new PC” desire.

It’s certainly much cheaper.

And dare I say it, kinda addictively fun to be able to simulate build after build in a compressed amount of time.

Naturally, the first thing anyone would do (or at least I did) was jump into the Free Build mode to build a dream PC of choice, unrestrained by anything so prosaic as a budget.

Honestly, the build below is completely unresearched, so it cannot be considered “my” dream PC of choice, but given that my criteria was mostly “what is super-expensive in this catalog that also sounds good,” it is certainly -a- fantasy PC.

Random bits of shiny
Wheeee…

It’s certainly not a maxed out 3DMark score. All stock parts, no overclocking, no doubled graphics cards or ludicrous amounts of memory, but just to get the feel of how PC building simulator worked.

Then I started in on the campaign, where the story is that you’ve taken over a modest little PC repair/build shop from your uncle. Customers send you email with their requests, and their PC if you accept. You order in any necessary parts and assemble and troubleshoot as necessary.

The simulation is both detailed and simplified enough to be satisfying. It glosses over real PC building woes like misplacing screws and trying to fat finger in parts in cramped surroundings without dropping or damaging them (or is that just me) but allows you to plan and systematically attack the assembly of multiple PCs, meditatively inserting components by mouse clicking and holding.

There is the satisfaction of meeting a customer’s requests and their parts budget, as well as color-coordinating cables and components for reasons of pure cosmetic vanity.

There is a simulation aspect of balancing the customer’s requests, budget and your own company goals – max profit, be super efficient, just meet minimum requirements, shortchange the customer, play unethically, or go the distance for super customer satisfaction at possibly time and labor cost to oneself? Or anything in between.

The above customer had a huge budget of $1500, and her requirements were exceedingly minimal. A computer that can play Euro Truck Simulator 2 (Recommended Spec). Heck, you could probably build a PC that fits those requirements for half the price, and save the customer money.

I was in the mood for a -nice- build though, and since the customer was agreeable to footing the bill for up to $1500 in parts… why not get top of the line components up to the budget and put it together?

The final result completely exceeded the requirements by far, but I liked putting it together. It was a PC I wouldn’t have minded owning myself.

The cherry on top? The customer liked it too! Sense of accomplishment achieved. Never mind that it is completely pretend.

The multitude of cases one gets to go through is fun. Some are dreams to assemble and disassemble, and others, well, you’re left cursing and swearing as you pull off both the sides and the top, just to get components to go in. Certainly helps contribute some ideas for further research when it comes time to figure out what real life case to buy.

Probably my only chance to get relatively up close and personal with artistic cases. Certainly nice to look at.

In reality, I’m far too concerned with factors like good ventilation, given the hot and humid country I live in, as well as ease of assembly/disassembly for regular dust cleaning.

There are some amusing mini-stories in the emails that customers send you, providing a sort of voyeuristic view of various character’s lives, a kind of simulated reality drama.

“The good news is, I found my hamster.” Emphasis mine. Riiight.

There’s a cute, almost campaign-like story saga which I guess might segue into the PC Building Simulator’s recent eSports DLC (which has more middling reviews at this point, so holding off on that for now). But the story in the main game itself is fun.

There’s this kid who is into League of Legends and dreams of being an eSports star. Mum doesn’t approve. Naturally, he saves up his own money, then sends you an email and begs for as budget a PC as possible, that can still play League of Legends.

Do that, and he starts winning a few competitions, mum’s opinion changing slowly as she sees the prize money come in. He comes back to you for PC upgrades through this little mini drama.

Here’s a sample where he wins some extra cash and wants to reward himself with some bling for his PC:

Good on ya kid, here’s some shiny RGB lighting and color-coordinated cables.

Because these little things matter when you value your computer.

And I guess that’s why anyone would wind up playing PC Building Simulator for long periods of time. Because you like PCs and find value in the simulated assembly process of multiple computers.

16 hours and counting for me. Worth it. Recommended if you like PC building (and aren’t burned out with repeating the process over and over.)

Aggressive Helping and Perfectionist Overwhelm

The entertainment of the past few days has been watching an apparently quite famous Twitch streamer (I wouldn’t know, I’m old and unhip) try out Guild Wars 2.

I’m mostly left wondering how much is deliberate performance for Twitch income and how much is genuine flawed human on display for the public to revel in celebrity culture and their own flawed humanity.

There’s been a LOT to unpack and digest in these last four days.

It started with the news of the hour over on the Guild Wars 2 reddit that “Summit1G” was streaming GW2 on Twitch to an audience of 30,000 or so.

Now my first reaction was, “Who?” but you know, that’s just me being very much not a millennial or younger.

I watch Critical Role on Twitch, and chill to CohhCarnage from time to time because both communities are very positive, filled with good vibes and no toxicity, but other than that, I tend not to be in the loop with anything or anyone else.

So like any curious onlooker, I pop over to the Twitch stream to gawk.

Day 1 is mostly the same old Queensdale run that any new player goes through, and a jumping puzzle or two.

The only difference is that Summit1G attacks and murders pretty much any mob in sight (hey, like me! need me some combat action, yeah!) rather than just travel obediently from point A to point B doing hearts. (He does that too.)

That, and plenty of blindingly shiny blinged out players desperately craving for their five minutes of fame attempting to jam themselves into his camera view. A percentage of viewers (and the streamer himself occasionally) are annoyed. I have no dog in this fight, so I’m only mildly amused. (That, and if you play GW2 on the regular, you’re so used to tuning out this visual bling anyway.)

The guy plays for 11-13 hours straight, which is… wow, a lot to unpack.

On one hand, it gives me the viewer something to actually watch during my late mornings and afternoons, which is well nigh impossible when you live on the other side of the world as the majority of English-speaker streamers.

On the other hand, you can’t help but wonder how exhausting it is and how much this would ultimately contribute to burnout. It seems to be sort of an underlying current in the public commentary surrounding this celebrity – that he seems to be bouncing from game to game unhappily looking for some kind of PvP holy grail.

From Day 2 to 4, besides a quick stint in Ascalonian Catacombs, Summit1G discovers GW2’s structured PvP and goes for deep deep 11-13 hour dives into the format.

He has his own group of mates with him, so they are usually in a complete 4 or 5 person party at any time. This provokes a twinge of envy for how quickly he can get set up and supported. The background players often seem to be adjusting more quickly than he is, playing better games or helping push the team to victory despite his meandering off, lack of objective focus or newbie mistakes.

Then again, they don’t have a distracting Twitch chat stream filled with scrolling emotes, text spam and advice of shapes and colors aggressively overhelping and attempting to backseat drive his every move.

Not to mention, highlighting and pointing out every last poor decision with immense schadenfreude.

(Even if attempting to go 1 v 3 while completely inexperienced seems to be perfectly obvious common sense.)

The very definition of irony

In the above clip, MightyTeapot (a fairly well-known GW2 streamer, whom I’ve normally never bothered watching because I’m old and don’t do videos) had popped in to join their PvP team and do a little coaching and demonstration of a somewhat slightly higher level of PvP play than the newbies were exhibiting.

He’s busily lecturing in his nice, positive, calm voice to… uncertain effect (Twitch chat alternating between catcalls and support) while Summit1G leaves mid point and charges right up to near the enemy spawn because he sees two enemy players low on health and has gone into full lock-on blinders mode.

Little does he know that he’s shot through the enemy team and overextended (a third fully health enemy to his side he seems to have missed or dismissed), and that one of the low health targets is a necro, with a second health bar. The necro pops into shroud and that low health becomes full health, and the three generally dogpile him.

His teammates are mostly back at mid, or reluctant to walk into that outnumbered battle to support, and all the while MightyTeapot is busy droning about picking one’s fights properly (aka not being stupid.)

This is a moment of endless amusement for the Twitch audience.

Which on one hand seems to be positively desirable for the purposes of Twitch streaming – your audience is entertained, they learn stuff, presumably this nets viewers and followers and real life money being thrown at you because some people have a desperate craving to be right on the internet or to provide helpful advice, and will actually tip $5 to have their words read out via text to speech and posted on the stream for all to see. Repeatedly.

On the other hand, this might do a number on one’s ego if one is the least bit less well-adjusted and self-secure. If you’re competitive or perfectionist or the least bit invested in one’s performance, dying and losing would already suck. Especially if you want to be and feel competent. Especially if you have an inkling that your friends are doing much better than you.

Never mind that the reality is that it’s going to take quite a while and a lot of effort of study and practice to accumulate skill and knowledge towards competency, and that patience and good self-esteem are important factors on the journey.

We don’t know how much is real and how much is a demeanor for performance purposes, but suffice to say, that a perfect positive role model is not exactly on display over the four days. (And should we really expect such a thing? Isn’t that over-expectation of a different kind as well?)

There are a lot of complaints. A lot of newbie errors. Like forgetting to use a heal. Walking straight into AoE because one has no clue that it is dangerous.

Generally getting melted by conditions and stunned and interrupted to oblivion because both condition cleanse and stun breaks are a completely alien concept to newbies. (Something I have deliberately used to fairly devastating effect when I paddled around in the shallow end of the unranked PvP pool because I have no illusions about my lack of any real PvP capability, and have to shore up with knowledge trickery.)

This is apparently quite agonizing to a certain percentage of his viewers, who spam the chat with unsolicited advice. Useful for other viewers in a receptive frame of mind, perhaps. Much more questionable if the recipient is un-receptive.

I’ve been in the latter shoes before. It is hard to diplomatically explain to the overly concerned individual that one simply does not want to invest the necessary time and effort to “git gud” because it is not a personal priority among other competing priorities at this time. It’s possibly the individual’s priority, hence why they are so attached to the outcome, but it’s not yours.

I’ve also been in the former shoes. It’s tricky. Sometimes you just want to share what you know with others. The person may not ever learn it otherwise, and if they know it, they might have a better experience.

(I had someone pop a late comment into my Terrafirmacraft Plus post the other day. I would certainly not have realized my error about TFC+ fruit trees otherwise. I would have no reason to comb the wiki about fruit trees, especially since I haven’t picked up the game in three months. On the other hand, the usefulness of this is also questionable for said obvious reasons above.)

Then again, sometimes the advice is too overwhelming and simply too much to absorb at any time. Especially if the person is not feeling in a receptive mood. Then it simply becomes counter-productive pressure, because all the person wants to do now is push back and defend their boundaries and autonomy, including the freedom to make their own mistakes.

Because ultimately, it’s a game. It should be about having fun. It should be about learning organically.

It shouldn’t have to be about performing perfectly to suit other people’s expectations. Hell, -work- wishes they could achieve that. Not happening at work. Why should we expect it in our games and entertainment?


For what it’s worth, I continue to watch because it’s both entertaining and educational for now, and it’s something new in GW2 land (which as we all know, is a rare animal these days.)

It’s nice to see the learning process, newbie mistakes included, because it demonstrates a more everyman human frailty, rather than some god of PvP firing off keys at an expert piano playing rate, helped along by a 30ms connection to the servers.

There’s also the possibility of seeing other people play well and learn something new too. Had no idea you could actually time a warbanner res to resurrect yourself.

Not being much of a PvPer, even I can see that Summit1G has fairly good instincts from his general experience at other PvP games. His escape game is leagues better than what I can put up, breaking line of sight almost instinctively and hopping up and down elevations and putting great distance between himself and others when he’s low on health. (Now if only he can remember that he can heal himself in the process…)

How long he will last in GW2 is another matter. Celebrity gossip and drama appears to follow him. Chances are high that he’ll take flight in another direction soon. But it’s certainly been an entertaining couple of days.