Playing Catch-up

Where did September go?!

You know it’s a busy month when you sit down and can’t even remember half of the things you were doing then. Either that, or I’m getting older and my brain cells are depleting even further.

Part of it has been real life – peak periods at work, visiting relatives, trying to cultivate more of an actual book reading habit back into my life, and part of it is too many games releasing content at around the same time.

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The primary game has been Path of Exile this season.

Blight League has a tower defense schtick going, which mostly means hordes of enemies coming in waves for you (and some towers) to kill before they reach a central point you’re guarding. The loot for succeeding is plentiful, incorporating both drops from the mobs you kill, as well as special treasure chests to open once victory is attained.

The build focus for buffing this time around are minion summoners.

This is a match made in heaven because I’ve always enjoyed the PoE summoner – a wave of plentiful minions that engulf enemies, tangling them up and giving them the death of a thousand paper cuts from multiple sources.

Except now the minions can be buffed to be faster and attack more quickly, and those paper cuts are now significant sword slashes in their own right. Plus more seems to scale based on the gems themselves, skill traits or more craftable gear, instead of requiring specific unique drops.

All in all, it makes my staunchly SSF playstyle a little more viable, pushing up the power potential of such builds, while possibly capping the more traditional “trade for perfect gear to reach insane heights” type of build. Those folks might have something to complain about, but the beauty of being SSF is that I don’t have to care – there is no competition, economic or otherwise, between them and me.

My game becomes simply about progressing further than myself in the past, as well as enjoying myself in the present.

The former is a definite. I hit level 90 the other day. This unlocked an account achievement for doing so. Progress milestone for sure.

Between spectres, zombies, vaal skeletons and carrion golems in an adapted Speaker for the Dead build, the power potential is quite off the charts in my limited experience. I did a normal Atziri at a super fast pace with no deaths – something I used to struggle with, often dying several times to flameblasts. I did a low level Shaper stronghold, I did a low level Elder fight, taking out the Elder Guardians for the first time ever. (More achievement unlocks.)

I don’t know if I’ll ever reach the Uber boss levels. The necessity of unlocking so many maps may be a stopping point, given my time constraints. We’ll see. From a build standpoint, it doesn’t seem like the limiting factor right now.

I’ve been enjoying the latest iteration on Master missions as well. It’s become less random, storing up the dailies into a sort of “banked storage” system, so that you can miss days and then crank through a bunch of them at once. You can also choose to concentrate focus on one type.

So if you feel like romping about the Omnitect’s temple, you can bank up a bunch of Alva missions and then feed maps into it, guaranteeing you Alva encounters per map, and quick progress towards a temple visit.

Or if, like me, you feel like exploring the depths of Delve, then you’re running Niko missions non-stop in between mine explorations, in order to get sufficient voltaic sulphite to go even deeper.

Presumably, if you’re an 18 hour a day streamer, you might actually run dry on all the master missions and have to go back to the randomness of whatever a map decides to offer.

As someone who can only play PoE for 1-2 hours a night, that is absolutely not a problem I’m running into – quite the opposite, the specter of “wasted” potential when a to-be-banked daily hits the storage limit is far more possible for me.

Fortunately, I’ve developed an immunity to this sort of perceived “loss” already. One has to. I play GW2 (have you seen its dailies tab these days?) I play Warframe. I play Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and Pokemon Go. All of them have dailies for their more engaged, hardcore players to chase. If I attempted faithful completion of all of the dailies -daily-, I’d probably have to be a student, a streamer or unemployed. Not to mention, go nuts in short order because I’m not that innately obsessive-compulsive or to-do-list-manic.

So I’m good. I’m just chugging along, doing a couple maps nightly, aiming for short master mission goals on a whim, enjoying the present and the churn of hundreds and thousands of mobs meeting -my- personal tens of mobs and dying.

metallegion

At nigh unto the same time, GW2 released the Prologue of its newly renamed Living World Season Icebrood Saga.

It seems to have been warmly welcomed all around. (I mean, if you can evoke a cautiously optimistic response from Endgame Viable, you gotta be doing something right.)

Mind you, the GW2 subreddit is still variously on fire from a subset of the raider subset, unhappy about ‘easy mode’ strike missions, their ‘challenging content’ preference being ignored, class balance being effected with a sledgehammer… on the wrong targets entirely, being potentially forced to pay for worse functionality on in-game build templates when they’re already used to a far better free third-party option, and so on.

(Not all of their unhappiness is off base – I am personally really pissed off about my already weak-in-raids Scourge being made even weaker and clunkier to use, to the point where I don’t think I dare risk teammate unhappiness any further, while the top of the line condi option remains an unaffected outlier – but there’s a definite echo chamber effect going on.)

Before October’s skill “balance” patch though, there was Grothmar Valley. And it was good. 

The Metal Legion concert has been a spectacular example of an open world meta event that harnesses the dynamic event system to superb effect, uniting everyone – hardcore, casual, mid-core alike – in one goal and giving everyone warm, fuzzy community feelings instead of “lol, your dps is 10x less that of mine.”

The golden fields of Ascalon has always been a sight near and dear to any GW1 fan. It’s the first thing you see in the tutorial. It’s what you promptly lose post-tutorial in the Searing. It is the Shire equivalent in Tyria. It is where you begin. It is where you’d love to come back to when your journey ends. It is home.

Grothmar Valley being right smack in Ascalon gives a massive nostalgia homecoming kick to those of us with enough history to remember it.

(As an aside, I was amused by a Redditor’s comment that GW2 officially now has players with a longer tenure than the developers. Maybe not quite yet, I assume GW1 had -some- amount of development time, possibly years, before opening up beta weekends to players. But I do remember playing those beta weekends. We’re getting there.)

At the same time, Grothmar Valley being populated with charr, and a very dangerous sort of discontented charr and a Hitler-esque leader to follow (this from a charr main player) pushes us into the future, hinting at the direction of the saga’s story.

It’s…promising. (Alas, given prior track record in executing, that’s about all we can say for the moment. We’ll believe it when we next see it.)

In the meantime, I was content to mess around doing all the things in Grothmar Valley. Catching up on crowd-necessary achievements while events were still populated. Playing around with races. Wandering the open world like how GW2 used to be from lvl 1-80. Jumping in on a whim for quick and painless public strike missions. Getting caught up with Ascended cooking to 500, which I’d neglected in the off-cycle.

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As is usual, something in the games line-up had to give and the loser for the month was Warframe.

Though frankly, they’re laughing all the way to the bank.

I’d finished Nightwave series 2 early, getting the outfit I wanted, so I felt happy enough to drop it for a binge in Path of Exile.

I’d heard about Saryn Prime and Valkyr Prime unsealing from the Prime Vault, but having just come off a relic grind for Wukong Prime and wanting -both- unvaulted Primes really badly with none of the time investment, I took a hard look at what was offered in the joint package.

Nothing was a repeat. I kinda needed to restock some platinum. The whole deal was “only” $60 USD, as opposed to the more premium $80 or $140 Prime Access packages for new Prime warframes.

The ending of this story is predictable.

Some rationalization later, some clever brain trickery promising myself to work hard on real life matters I’d been procrastinating on for a reward, I gave Digital Extremes $60 to not play their game for September.

Maybe in October I’ll enjoy the fruits of this. Atlas Prime is out and I’ll probably relic grind for that. But I’ll have to finish up a bunch of other things first to make time for Warframe again.

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Then there’s single-player games. I’m racking up an alarming number of “want-to-plays.” My computer is nearly out of disk space on three hard drives. I need to make myself sit down and sort through installed games and so on, but seriously, who has time for that?!

I can’t even sort through my Path of Exile stash, my GW2 inventories and my Pokemon Go critter collection.

I took a few days “vacation” in Factorio beginner land. The learning curve was prohibitive. Eventually I gave up any hope of potentially making something resemble anything close to efficiency and embraced a train of thought that ran ‘if it actually connects and makes a circuit and -runs-, it’s good enough.’

I have come to the conclusion that my brain works in convoluted ways and what one sees on the screen is a reflection of this. I am not an innately ordered or orderly sort of person.

Other assorted September snippets:

Still watching Critical Role faithfully and enjoying an additional game from a vicarious standpoint.

Re-discovered (one year late, again) a stunning Portal inspired song from Youtuber Harry101UK and TheStupendium – The Android Hell Blues. Did wonders for the couple of days I was in a blue mood to have it on repeat loop and wallow in jazzy, dark humourous, clever wordplay while nose to the grindstone.

Re-reading the Blades in the Dark tabletop RPG and pondering in sporadic intervals over interrupted days if I can actually get some solo RP gameplay going, to actually enjoy story-based gaming that video games can’t seem to get quite right yet.

Bought a bunch of Dave Graffam papercraft models at $1 each, on DriveThruRPG sale, in the hope of getting crafty again and making a mini-medieval city. Maybe in November. It’s a really hectic time at work this season.

Also recently watching CohhCarnage play through AI: Somnium Files, a visual novel-esque detective anime game with more interaction than a standard VN, and being somewhat drawn to it. The current price is a definite not-now though, so the craving has been displaced to “How about actually playing through some of the other older games of the same developer that you -actually- own but just haven’t gotten around to?”

Aka Spike Chunsoft’s Zero Escape series, Danganronpa, Steins;Gate, 428 Shibuya Scramble, et. al.

If wishes were fishes…

Bleh. Back to squeezing in productive “survive life” to-dos for a little longer and playing catch-up on everything else.

Warframe: Monkeying Around

Wukong Prime was the warframe that kept me busy for most of last month, earning relics and then cracking them open painstakingly, only to find the wrong parts and begin all over again.

One has the option to skip most of the grind by paying a semi-exorbitant sum of real money – I did that for my first love Rhino Prime and have never regretted it; I was at a point in the game where I needed a good tanky awesome-looking frame to push my progress further.

In this case, I didn’t need Wukong Prime, but I thought he looked really cool and wanted him pretty badly. Going the relic route basically meant an excuse for gameplay… though bad luck ended up really extending the length of that gameplay this time around.

wukong1

Worth it. Playing around with the frame after earning the parts over said month, spending 12 hours building the parts, and then waiting another 3 days for the parts to be assembled into the warframe was immensely rewarding.

The frame’s abilities were apparently reworked fairly recently and the results are something I really dig as a soloist.

Ability 1 creates a celestial twin – basically a computer-controlled version of your warframe, presumably using the specter/pet AI. It uses melee if you pull out your ranged weapon to shoot something, and switches to range if you go melee.

Fortunately, the pet AI in Warframe is good enough to do a decent amount of damage, especially when it uses my Ignis Wraith flamethrower. It is childishly delightful to just watch your very own computer-controlled ally just clear all the enemies for you, while you stand around, swinging your melee weapon around in the air while admiring yourself.

Once you tire of that, ability 2 is Cloud Walker. He disappears into a cloud, going invulnerable (temporary tankiness, awesome!) and while in the cloud, you gain a massive speed boost and flight abilities, so you can literally pilot yourself up floors and across gaps without needing anything so crass as a bullet jump or a double jump like all those other ground-dwelling warframes.

In case that wasn’t enough, Cloud Walker also restores your health.

Oh, and it stuns any enemies you waft pass.

Is there anything it can’t do?!

I haven’t found the limits yet. I even managed a Maroo’s Ayatan sculpture mission with it, something I previously had to resort to Titania’s Razorwing flight mode. Cloud Walker is more brief, lasting only seconds, but I kinda like the active feel and the design implication that a little bit of skill in timing is needed to do cool things with it.

Ability 3 is Defy. Another sort of invulnerable skill which absorbs damage enemies do to you briefly, then reflects it back in a giant staff swipe of multiplied AoE damage. Oh, and he gains a brief armor bonus based on how much damage was absorbed, capped at 1500 armor.

I like it. It brings shades of Rhino or GW2 guardian blocks to mind, in that there is tankiness to be had, but it should be timed well, or at least used actively, when you anticipate huge bursts of incoming damage.

Ability 4 is the classic Iron Staff the Monkey King is always seen with. Like Excalibur, he can pull out an Exalted melee weapon and then go to town on enemies.

Honestly, I haven’t even tried out ability 4 while ranking up Wukong Prime. I just couldn’t be bothered to slot it with mods yet.

I had a Zaw, Warframe’s custom modular melee weapon earnable from the Plains of Eidolon, and it happened to be an already modded two-handed bladed staff I’m pretty fond of. So that’s my melee weapon for the time being.

I presume with proper slotting Iron Staff might be pretty good, or more ideally, pretty darned awesome, or less ideally, just only okay. Whatever. I’m good with Celestial Twin and Cloud Walker already.

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It’s odd. I never really was attracted to the persistent Monkey King-alikes that “mysteriously” get inserted into various games (aka thinly veiled attempt to appeal to the China market – see Who is Sun Wukong and Why is He in Every MOBA?) despite being Asian and yes, growing up with Journey to the West as one of my favorite book series/mythological stories.

But something about Warframe’s Wukong Prime – and it has to be the Prime look – really does it for me.

Superhero musculature, robot monkey, and all ninja – yep, checks all the boxes except zombie and pirate.

Definitely one of my favorite warframes, just a hair shy behind Nidus and Rhino Prime.

wukong3

Cultist Simulator: Two Lives

Nathaniel. An ordinary man, fired from an ordinary job as a hospital porter. He took up a junior clerical position at Glover & Glover, clocking in and out for meagre pay. In his spare time, he dabbled with long walks down strange streets, the occasional painting and tried his hand at unskilled labour to strengthen his body, for he feared wasting away his physical talents hunched over in bookkeeping.

Realizing that his funds from both sources were on par, he took more to the hauling job as it helped to chisel his body into something more herculean. He found a few odd books in a bookshop and took to reading them, following trails of strange history and gibberish… there was… something… about them. But it, whatever it was, stayed beyond reach, beyond the odd dream that offered fascinating glimpses and glimmerings of… something indescribable.

He met a lady named Violet, who expressed that she too had such similar almost-experiences. They met up a few times to converse, and someone, he could not remember who, proposed, half-in-jest that they should call their meet-ups a Society meeting and invite others who had encountered the same phenomenon.

“But what would we call this society,” asked the other, and the first replied, “The Society of St. Hydra.” The many-headed, ever-branching, searching for secrets beyond ken.

Honestly, little became of it, beyond a dead end expedition to a forgotten stone temple.

It was the book in the bookshop that was the key. Or at least, -a- key.

His search for ever-increasing physical prowess had plateaued, despite regular exercise, dock work that demanded everything of his muscles, early nights for good sleep health and ruminations on all things vital. The book whispered secrets of the Forge men, fueled by flame and stout as steel. He referred, cross-referred, took the secrets apart, put it back together again, practiced and studied. At some point, he achieved a Matchless Physique, godlike as Thor. If this was possible, what else lay beyond what was previously known?

cultsim_nat

Nathaniel had taken up painting as a form of expression of those odd moods and longings, a counterpoint to all that mindless muling for his pay to keep on living. He forgot to attend to his clerical job, and there was talk he would be in trouble if he ever returned.

He didn’t. He kept on painting.

Sometimes they sold, sometimes they didn’t. Mostly, they were paens to whatever existed in the gaps between the everyday. He felt his soul blossom open, but there was no response. His plaintive questions to the universe went unanswered.

Funds were a struggle. He existed on the borderline between bankrupt and bereft. To buy a book in the hope for scraps of revelation meant giving up the scraps of food for his one and only meal of the day. For a week.

He talked himself into sending his compatriots on a trip to a Forgotten Mithraeum – Victor had joined Violet by now, and both needed tickets and funding for the venture. There was hope that something precious would be found, but alas, both returned emptyhanded. Victor was sure that there had been a Hidden Door somewhere, but try as they might to uncover a passage, the cold, unblinking ancient stones of the temple simply watched and said nothing.

Nathaniel, too, said nothing when they told this to him. Merely walked away knowing he was down to his last cent. There was nothing for it now but to give up his days and nights to hauling on the docks, hoping for enough coin to keep going, and maybe, just some day, afford the luxury of another strange book.

The days blended into each other, his unpursued desire stillborn into a restlessness that set him a pacing, even as the dockmaster blew his whistle and demanded another cargo to be loaded or unloaded. His physique helped him do the work of two men, but on the contrary, no one thanked him for it. He received the pay of one, and the other mortal men eyed him, jealous, surly, and hostile for he was spoiling the benchmark of average, normal work.

The restlessness grew into despair of ever escaping this menial struggle for one more dawn, to be spent promptly head down and straining upon the ropes. The despair steadily bloomed into dread, a growing horror of this animal subsistence.

He fixated on trying to beat the clock, to earn just a little more than enough, for just one more book. He forgot his painting. He forgot even his fear and despair, throwing himself into his work repeatedly, cycle after cycle.

But it was a lie. A lie he had almost managed to fool himself with. Almost.

It was probably the night of the full moon. That night, in the unrelenting truth of its silver light, Nathaniel woke up from his dream of hope and realized he was still numb on waking. The dread thrice crushed his perfectly chiseled chest and had a death grip on his heart.

They say that he calmly turned around on the pier and instead of walking back home, walked off the end instead. He was not seen again.

Juliana, by contrast, was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. A Bright Young Thing. She merely stretched out her hand and money filled it, to be spent on whatever entertainments her heart desired – a night on the club, some antique book or curio, anything she wished.

That is, until her father died.

He left her a tidy sum as her inheritance though, so she was still of great means, but the tap had ceased to flow. It would be up to her now to maintain the pool of wealth and ensure it did not run dry.

Left to her also, was the odd rambling diary of a man named Nathaniel.

There were dalliances in those early days. There were enough funds to not worry about work for a while. She pored over the diary, then the books she had obtained as whims when money was no object, she learned Latin and read some more. She painted a little. Some of the books spoke of strange hedonistic Sensations, ineffable feelings achievable through… –Iä- nog kadishtu ‘bthnk ftaghu gotha … No, no- there are no words for this, no way to crystallize the symbols or the meanings, but only glimmerings, faint ephemeral may-be could-bes.

The more she thought (or perhaps it was less thought and more intuited) about them, the more the temptation grew to comprehend, to fulfill a restless need for more. If these Sensations were not for the mind to grasp, perhaps the body would.

Let us draw a veil over the proceeding days and nights. Juliana worked and labored at her pursuit of bodily sensation. There were walks and assignations; strange spices and scents at clubs, exotic tastings, departures from the merely unconventional into the outright bizarre. Some adventures even left her with coin at the end of it. Her physique grew lithe and flawless.

There came a point where this grew boring, and she decided to take up art, exploring the depth of her passions.

There were the odd duds, but by and large, her paintings – capturing all manner of fleeting reminiscences, contentments, dread, and other such sensations – were popular enough to be sold for additional funds. Her reputation and mystique grew.

Her public gallery showings were sporadic, but drew decent crowds. One stranger stood out like a cantankerous sore amidst the well-to-do and bourgeois. A constable tromped in and out, glowering, occasionally scrutinizing a painting as if it held some lost and stolen masterpiece on a layer beneath its surface. What he was searching for was hard to say.

Juliana never spoke with the detective. Nor did she speak to much anyone else. She had no friend nor follower. She circumvented her own path, her conscience was (relatively) clear, beyond the books she habitually bought and devoured in private. She found various snippets of lore in those books, which she would put aside and categorize, still finding them for-the-moment useless and wanting. The holy grail was still the redness of sensation that she sought.

It was slow but systematic going. Her funding troubles were minor, compared to Nathaniel’s woes as penned in his diary, but it still disturbed her that they were sporadic earnings. She had to remove herself from books and study in order to create another sale piece of herself. Perhaps it was time to seek out more mentally challenging work to speed up her understanding of these difficult texts?

Glover & Glover was still an institution in her time. Her brain, while running a little behind her mastery of her body, was still brilliant and adept enough that she spent very little time as an entry level clerk and rose to a more senior, better-paying position.

The problem was Mr Alden.

A small man with an even smaller mind, he reveled in the power of an extra prefix in his job title over hers.

He nitpicked stylistic choices, demanded overtime without extra pay, shoved work he disliked into her lap and then directed all blame squarely at her as “her job” while his job was to yell abuse in the confident presumption this would ensure the work be completed more rapidly (while still remaining perfect.)

Strictly speaking, Juliana did not need the job. She could have left and gotten by with her paintings and her bodily trysts.

And yet, the work sans an unreasonable superior was decently challenging, well-paying and promising. To wait for him to retire was too many intolerable years to consider. She took to walking the city streets to meditate on the problem, and the suggestion of a potential solution arose while making contact with some of the less savoury elements of her earlier experimental periods.

There was a bomb-maker who was the first to make the suggestion, upon overhearing her lament to a barkeep. “Perhaps if you were willing to fund an explosive device, said mechanism might find its way to his dwelling?”

She had coin to spare, and Mr Alden was a right nuisance that had stolen one too many lore studying hours from her. She pushed the funds over, and left.

Days passed as she waited with bated breath, hoping to read in the paper of Mr Alden’s demise. But every morning, the despicable man was still there, making her working life a hell.

On the fifth day, there was talk of a bomb that had attempted to have gone off, but the explosion was more of a firework squib, and Mr Alden had not been at home regardless. The police were searching for the suspect, but Juliana felt confident there was little to link her and the bomb-maker.

She put up with the abuse for a little longer while the notoriety of the incident died down, and then went searching in the City again.

She found some Professional Muscle, who swiftly assured her that Mr Alden would be no more.

Imagine her chagrin when she heard in the break room Alden bragging about how some thugs had attempted to accost him, and gotten themselves quickly overpowered then arrested. For he had been lunching with some important personages with their own bodyguards.

His fate was sealed now. Juliana resolved that it would be him or her. Either one of her Hirelings would succeed, or the Notoriety of her attempted criminal solicitations would bring her down.

Her third time’s a charm City visit found a Hulking Fellow fairly smitten with her. “No problem,” he said, doing something with his knuckles in a clumsy but earnest manner, “I’ll wrap him up and thump him. My gift to you. He won’t trouble you again.”

He didn’t seem terribly competent, so in truth, her expectations were set low and her plans already extending toward a fourth search for help.

She was astounded when she realized the Hulking Fellow meant it literally. A knock on the door one night heralded him standing over a wriggling, gagged bundle. Mr Alden was her new Hapless Prisoner.

Thinking on her feet furiously, she persuaded him to stash Alden in a more secure location for the time being.

That night, her dreams were filled with insidious whispers speaking inhuman languages; flashes of visions – her licking the blood oozing from the larva-like bundle; flame coursing through the scarecrow form of Mr Alden; his bound body dessicating and withering on the vine, aging 39 days like prime beef, before … Oh, the possibilities…

The problem being, as she realized when she woke up in the clearer light of morning, that she didn’t actually have any concrete form of knowledge to perform any such rites as might require the use of a captive.

It was far more probable that Mr Alden would expire in his captivity (preferably far from here) under the care of that Hulking Fellow, before she might discover such a ceremony in the books she was perusing. Said books being paid for by the earnings of the job that she had better make haste to.

That day was possibly one of the best days on the job ever.

She feigned concern with the rest of them over the sudden disappearance of Mr Alden, then sighed with relief when his new and temporary replacement proved to be more than a “hands-off” sort. He simply told everyone at her level that he trusted they would do a great job, and then took his entire body off elsewhere.

The days and weeks began to go by without incident. She did her job, did it well, went back at appropriate hours and invested the pay and spare time into her sidelong study of esoterica.

Mr Alden became more of an afterthought, presumed dead by all, while a small secret part of Juliana smiled in secret, knowing his clock was indeed ticking down to the inevitable.

It was only a small part, however, because the work at Glover & Glover, sans obstacle became both lucrative and intellectually challenging. It took up more and more of her attention and focus, if not her time. The funds rolling in were keeping her in great stead, the work kept her mind occupied, and life became steadily more normal.

It was an immense surprise when one day, a problem at work demanded not just simple, logical reason, but for someone to care and argue for a particular resolution. Post-passionate argument (which was indeed victorious), Juliana looked up from her desk and realized: She liked it here. She loved her life. She was content.

Those books at home? There was little reason or need to read them. The knowledge would never amount to anything. This? This work? This desk? This office?

This was real.

One thing leads to another. I’ve taken to reading a little more in my blog absence, having little to talk about besides more Warframe, or more of the same in GW2.

I love anthologies, and randomly borrowed a bunch from the local digital library. I also love mashups of settings. (Case in point: A Study of Steampunk: Choice by Gaslight – an excellent interactive fiction game combining Sherlock Holmes and steampunk; Open Sorcery combining computers and elemental magic, etc.)

“Shadows Over Baker Street” is an interesting collection of stories that gloms together Sherlock Holmes with the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. What happens when the undefeatable intellectual capacities of the world’s premiere detective meets Things Man Was Not Meant to Know?

A lot of fun reads, that’s what.

It got my mind set directly on all things Cthulhu-ish. (Critical Role also recently did a Call of Cthulhu one-shot, so there’s something in the air lately…)

It’s a short progression from there into a Cultist Simulator game revisit. I briefly alluded to some experimental tries with it in an earlier post.

It took that many tries to begin to grasp the mechanics, but I’d failed to explore the actual content per se, being completely lost at the time. Since it had been a while, I decided to erase the entire contents of the save and start anew.

This time, I could start to explore some early game content and upkeep mechanism loops. Not at all well, for there’s a fair amount of RNG in some of the card draws and plays, but at least enough for me to begin to understand and start crafting and telling myself a story for these experimental lives, which I’ve elaborated on above.

This is still way early game, because I’m not making much progression on anything cult-related per se. I am evidently still missing some connections on how to progress on that front.

But at least I’m sort of beginning to understand how to survive and not immediately die or jump headfirst into a hopeless doomed spiral. (There’s plenty of traps for the latter that I will be falling accidentally into, without having to help it along. The second life, Juliana, for example, fell headlong into a Minor Victory “trap” that I was not at all expecting. The game suddenly declaring an ending quite baffled me. Still, it was all for the best, being 3am at the time. Civilization-like “just one more turn” this Cultist Simulator is, indeed.)

Here We Go Round the Grindberry Bush

You’d think I’d learn by now.

I don’t know why I even try to expect consistency from myself.

Not a few days after changing my blog layout to favor bigger pictures, in the expectation that I might be playing more simulation style games with lovely scenery like theHunter or new games where screenshots would help to illustrate the experience, I have suddenly decided that NOW is the perfect time to re-focus on the same old games and make a concentrated push for long term goal projects.

This mostly means that I’ve traded off staring nightly at stuff that looks like this:

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To this:

legmedss

Well, in the case of Warframe, I know why.

At the end of April, they announced the Prime Vault was unsealing to make Loki Prime earnable once more, as well as Volt Prime.

I have neither of them and I’ve been enjoying the basic Loki’s invisibility for certain missions of late, so this was very motivating for me to declare “farm relics to get the unvaulted primes” as a long term goal until July 3 or done (Preferably done way before that final vault sealing date.)

The less fantastic news is that relic farming is always intentionally grindy.

So I thought I may as well stretch it into a long term project rather than burn out attempting to farm 12 hours without stopping the first few days. (Yeah, right, who has that kind of game time any more? Dang college students/unemployed/retirees.)

I guess these things come in cycles.

Having indulged the inner Explorer for a couple months, now the inner Achiever demanded to be let out to do its thing.

The problem with the inner Achiever (or at least with mine) is its intense desire to have whatever it’s aiming for -now-, stat, with very little clue about just precisely how it’s going to get there and very little tolerance for how long the whole process will take.

I get very very antsy.

In my befuddled brain that is the usual state of affairs, it tends to imagine that whatever it wants will somehow magically be presented to it, if it thinks about it hard enough, repeatedly enough, and keeps chasing after it like an overenthusiastic dog.

Project planning is a skill I seem to have largely missed the boat on.

Traditional project planning, much like traditional outlining, has never worked for me.

In the old days, it was pretty much do it that waterfall way or the highway, and I usually just opted for careening down the expressway flying by the seat of my pants and winging it by dealing with the loudest and most urgent thing and proceeding from there via subconscious guilt and nagging brain prompts.

In this enlightened Internet day and age, there are apparently more options than the two extremes, as consultants and professionals attempt to describe what the more average folks -actually- do to get by in their day to day lives, and then give it shiny new names and a marketing buff and polish to sell the technique back to us.

One such methodology that I randomly stumbled across is the Improvement Kata, something purportedly based on what Toyota’s management culture practices.

Beyond the business speak and filler for packaging into a format that can be sold as training to corporations, it seems to be based on a core common sense (which is never very common) concept of iteration.

  1. Have a direction that you want to head towards, and an idea of the challenge you’ll need to overcome
  2. Have an idea of where you currently are
  3. Define a reachable “next target”
  4. Experiment your way from 2 to 3
  5. Repeat 2-4 until you reach 1, if ever

Besides the useful and common concept of breaking down your goal into smaller realistically achievable parts, I really like what Improvement Kata brought to step 4, where it is explicitly diagrammed as not a straight linear path, but a series of winding experimental steps where the path zigzags

This helps to assuage my perfectionist mind that it is okay to have backward progress or sidetreks in the course of attaining the target.

That like Edison’s light bulb, you may have to try a whole bunch of different things, fail, realise and learn what -doesn’t- work, in order to finally hit upon something that -does-.

That chasing up side avenues is fine.

That whatever gets you motivated to just keep making starts is good, you’ll learn more as you experiment your way forward.

That it’s more important to just check in now and then on where you are, on what you’ve learned since the last check-in and to keep refining those plans based on what you know now until you get where you want to go.

I tried out the practice on the Relic Farming project.

1. Overall Big Picture Target – Own Loki Prime, Volt Prime and maybe Odonata Prime

2. Where Am I Now – originally nothing; now, see below

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I am almost there on Loki Prime, just missing the rarest and most annoying to obtain component. I got lucky cracking open relics, so I’m a little further along on Volt Prime than I’d dared to hope. No progress on Odonata, but that’s fine as it is the least priority.

3. Next Target – Loki Prime Systems

4. Experiment

Experiment-wise, I’d already conducted a bunch in the previous week to find out the best sources of relics and what tools I had at my disposal to obtain them, given my quirky limitations of preferring to solo, not wishing to buy stuff outright with platinum and being more limited than a max MR player

Several false starts and some time measurements later, it has boiled down to running through Void, Marduk – Sabotage with a Loki at my very average and not extremely fast pace of ~5min per mission to have a 6% chance of popping the correct Axi L4 relic.

I am collecting a great deal of other relics in the progress.

When bored of the former, the secondary fallback is that I can also do a Void, Mot – Survival up to 20 min for a 13% chance at the Axi L4 relic with a Nidus.

But survival with void enemies doing 4x more damage and needing to stay for an uninterrupted 20 minutes tends to be a little more nailbiting than running around mostly invisible.

So I wind up by preference going for 4 chances of 6%, as opposed to 1 chance of 13% to get what I want.

Is that better? If I remember my math classes more, I could probably figure it out.

(My hunch says: the combined probability of -not- getting the relic I want each time is 94%, multiplied by itself 4 times. So 0.94 x 0.94 x 0.94 x 0.94 = 0.78. So the chance I might have popped the relic after 4 goes is 1 – 0.78 = 22%?)

Dunno. I await someone better at math to correct me. Intuitively, it kinda feels better, so we’ll run with that for now.

You’d think that project is sufficient to keep me occupied for the present, but between ArenaNet’s slightly improved communication and the anticipated release of the final Living Story 4 episode, my attention has been somewhat drawn back to GW2.

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Not to insinuate that the game is some sort of many-armed monster, but… maybe.

To be honest, my relationship with GW2 was in a very bad place at the beginning of the year.

Some of the words that easily came to mind were “frustrated” “bored out of my skull” “burnt out” and “pushed beyond tolerance at the change in community sentiment.”

(Call me paranoid, but I rather suspect that similar emotions were running through a number of ArenaNet staff pre-layoffs.)

I just hadn’t reached a “quitting” frame of mind yet.

I was just stuck in a weird limbo of “I still kinda like the game, but I don’t like where it is nor where it seems to be going.”

Eventually, I decided that I’d delay reacting to it and give ArenaNet sufficient time to get their last few story episodes out and reassess what I felt about GW2 in April-May.

I guess I’m finally getting a little smarter with age and figuring out that delaying decisions can sometimes be a way forward.

The ArenaNet layoffs seem to have been a wakeup boot for the company. Not a great thing to happen to anyone, but making lemonade out of lemons is about the best one can do with a bad situation. Communication has stepped up a little (possibly due to certain policy makers voluntarily leaving). It’s a fire under them that forces a re-focus on what they’re trying to achieve with GW2.

From a steadily dropping and close to zero percent confidence level in the future of GW2 pre-layoffs and pre-communication, it at least feels like there’s a 35% chance now that there might be somewhat interesting future things for GW2. (Note: I’m a cynical pessimistic person by nature, so these are pretty decent numbers for my skewed viewpoint.)

Pursuant to figuring out how I will feel about the whole GW2 franchise once Living Story 4 draws to a conclusion, it occurred to me that regardless of me quitting or continuing, I should finish some of the long term goals that I always wanted to complete.

The biggest bugbear on that Unfinished Tasks list was Legendary Medium armor.

It is with some irony that I note that the raids part of it was completed long ago and by no means a bottleneck.

It was more a lack of motivation due to it being ugly as sin (and that’s giving sin a bad name), and the eternal time-gated nuisance of faction provisioner tokens which requires serious organized diligence to remember to feed various NPCs daily with the required objects for weeks on end. 25 days if you’re rich and go for 12 tokens a day, and for cheapskates like me, 42 days going at a 7 token a day pace.

That and the crippling cost of helping to sink a shipload of crafting materials by buying them with gold from other players.

Hence the spreadsheet, keeping track of what I have and still need:

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The Step 4: Experiment stage of this has been surprisingly more entertaining than first anticipated.

Mostly because my miserly soul refuses to buy outright expensive things off the TP if there’s another way I can obtain them at a decent enough clip.

I’m time gated by provisioner tokens anyway, so it’ll be early June before I can be done.

The question is: what activities can get me more of what I need?

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The various experiments in answering that have led me to do long ignored HoT metas, chase down the Winterberry farm once more for Unbound Magic to open bundles to see if their contents were worth anything, and learn more intently about the Living Story 4 maps that contain Volatile Magic as a reward, as those can be exchanged for trophy shipments.

It’s gotten my not-quite-raider self out of closed instances with my ego continually frayed by ever-excessively competitive people (not that it’s wrong, but type As exhaust everyone else around them – especially when they decide type B aren’t worthy of respect, or would be better off dragged up the mountain and would appreciate it once they see the view at the top)

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Cartoon taken from https://www.simplypsychology.org/personality-a.html

and back out into the open world where things are either slightly more chill, or where I can solo in peace.

I finished most of the crafting and mystic forging. I ran through a HoT meta or two and picked up most of the tokens I’d need.

I bought stuff I’m not likely to be able to farm for myself in good time from the TP.

My timing is terrible, as the legendary greatsword is coming and prices are no doubt rising in response already. I rationalized it by my supposition that prices will rise and stay high for at least the next month once the legendary launches and everyone realizes they need the stuff I also need for legendary armor, so I may as well get what I need now for peace of mind, and any extras I earn I can sell at the presumably more inflated price later.

The last step is T5 and T6 trophies. They’re in sync because there’s two major ways I figure I’ll get them.

One is mystic forge promotion. I buy the T5 and then convert them on my own penny crystalline dust and spirit shard-wise for T6. That economy is generally sensitive enough that it should always be somewhat cheaper to do so than buy the T6 outright, barring a sudden glut of T6 drops from some event or another.

The second is volatile magic converted into trophy shipments. The return seems to be fairly decent. So I’ve been all over the LS4 maps harvesting nodes, killing stuff, doing hearts, buying daily stuff off vendors, collecting glowy magic objects on mounts, doing dailies, doing metas and trying to figure out if anything gives a decent return and is hopefully more personally interesting to me than doing a million Great Hall/Palawadan meta cycles.

It’s still pretty grindy though.

In that I’m repetitively doing a whole lot of things mostly to get the end result. I’m not not enjoying it (if you can parse that.)

As in, it’s not something I would just do for fun (it takes a bit more focus than relaxation), and it’s not something I outright hate either (those I wouldn’t do. I decided to buy the fractal stuff I needed off the TP, all 140g of it, because I still loathe that game mode and the dislike deepens further with every new fractal I’ve never tried and ever-divided PUG scene. What’s gold for if not to trade with, right?)

It’s more a focused reason/excuse to repeat some things I might not repeat otherwise in order to get to a final goal.

In the repetition, I have a reason/excuse to actually be playing the game, and you know, it’s not half bad an activity to be doing.

…Hmm… Maybe I still sorta like this game after all.

It’s a strange kind of convoluted thinking that I haven’t quite got my head around yet, but it’s an improvement from -not liking- for sure.

We’ll see how things go from there.

theHunter: Call of the Wild

Yours truly is a product of the urban jungle, having grown up and lived for decades in a place much closer to Asian cyberpunk than medieval countryside.

The weather here is hot and humid and muggy, the actual rainforest jungle full of secondary undergrowth (and snakes), not to mention potentially disease-carrying biting insects (or other creepy-crawlies), and god forbid it rains and turns the whole place into a slick muddy uncomfortable (and still stiflingly warm) canopy of misery.

As such, most sane people who can afford creature comforts do all they can to stay within safe climate-controlled air-conditioned entirely man-made cool zones of underground or mall environs.

Actual camping experience: Close to nil, mostly unvoluntary.

Actual hunting experience: Nada.

Actual desire to expend that much physical effort or risk getting seriously injured or slain by a wild animal (those stingrays are dangerous, man): None.

That said, there is something rather captivating about the romanticized aspect of hunting, as described in books like The Hunter’s Way by Craig Raleigh or humorously alluded to in Bill Heavey’s essay collections.

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It’s the idea that hunting is 95% about getting touch with nature, meditatively flowing back in tune with the old animal rhythms in our bones or planning, practicing, anticipating without seeing a living creature, 4% actual animal encounter of which one may never get the opportunity to press a trigger, and 1% or less all-factors-line-up-just-right-for-a-gun-shot-to-ring-out and if and only if everything was planned and prepared well, will you have the satisfaction of seeing the animal drop and have venison for dinner.

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(We will skip over the messy butchery parts and the required preliminary practice to realistically fire a gun so that it doesn’t kill anything – including yourself – that you don’t intend it to, and all the study involved in being able to track and find real life deer and navigate in countryside without being lost forever and dying of exposure.)

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TheHunter: Call of the Wild captures the essence of the romanticized notion remarkably well.

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So well that I’ve been essentially addicted to a virtual walk in the woods these last few days.

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Quests come in via your cell phone, if you choose to heed them. Else you can just roam around as you will. Or deliberately set up somewhere in anticipation of animals traveling to a rest area, or somewhere to eat or drink.

If you’re more inclined to moving about like I am, you might come across animal tracks, or hear an animal calling, or detect some movement or sound. Binoculars help to locate said creature (don’t ask how long it took for me to discover the zoom function.)

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Then begins the slow and deliberate stalk, crouching or going prone and endeavoring to approach as close as possible for a good shot, without spooking the target. And yes, they have a sense of smell, so don’t be upwind of them.

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Once you determine that you’re close enough, up come your gun sights, complete with breath wobble and you need to hold and still your breath long enough to steady your aim and shoot well.

My first tutorial deer was not at all great. (I did say that I had no clue for days that one could zoom, right?)

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Once you pick up the dead animal, it will actually tell you where your shot landed. It hit a shoulder bone, despite my prior vague knowledge from watching a Youtube Let’s Play roughly where the deer heart was located.

Shot placement still is a work in progress and mostly luck. I suppose the starter gun and bullet’s accuracy and recoil, potential game bugginess, and whatever wind or bullet trajectory simulation is in play all do not help.

Still, there is something immensely satisfying when a gun shot shatters the previous silence of the woods and the animal you’re aiming for drops in its tracks, as opposed to bleeding and running and forcing you to follow its trail until it drops dead from blood loss. (The kindness of the game is such that you can usually follow it until it dies, so there are no wounded virtual animals left in the virtual woods to die a slow death from a lingering injury from bad aim.)

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My first such shot broke the neck (completely inadvertently, of course.)

Such moments are few and far between.

One’s enjoyment of theHunter: Call of the Wild is primarily the immensely immersive experience of a walking simulator, set in some of the most realistic environments I’ve ever seen in a video game, complete with ambient sounds like crickets and leaves and rocks crunching underfoot.

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In an almost GW2-like fashion, there are lookout points that act like combination vistas and scouts that point out nearby landmarks.

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The act of visiting each landmark by foot allows you the chance to stumble across local wildlife, if any, and go haring off your intended point A to point B destination to follow deer and boar and fox trails.

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A fox regards me warily from a ways off.

There are also unmarked landmarks to stumble across and just admire.

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This circular ruin feels transposed right out of a fantasy game.

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One has not experimented with night hunting much. Given the amount of verisimilitude the game has, it seems fairly implausible. Tracks can only be seen if you use a helmet lamp, and somehow, I have a feeling that most animals are going to startle and flee at the sight of a bright light pointed straight at their faces (or even stumbling around in the woods at a distance.)

The downside of theHunter is that many conveniences come as DLC, and the Midweek Madness sale on Steam is now over. I refuse to pay full price for anything, especially not DLC that has had mixed reviews from players indignant that such features are buy-for-convenience and not bundled into the full game, and some reporting that the sold DLC features are also somewhat buggy.

The many roads suggest and hint that one should go get an ATV to zip around in and travel from locale to locale – except that vehicles also apparently scare off animals and aren’t very responsive, getting stuck in terrain and all that. It’s okay, I can walk for added immersion until stuff goes on sale.

I would love to have a tent to add to my simulation experience of traveling cross-country, then settling down for the night to have a sleep in, then waking up and beginning from that locale. Except that you apparently still have to pay in-game money earned from hunting animals to own more than one tent, after paying for the DLC. So er, I’m not buying that until it goes on sale too.

Instead, I have to break my immersion and just use a fast travel option back to an Outpost, where one can sleep for the night… or I have to break my immersion and just walk on with no rest through the night until enough time passes for it to be daytime. Either way, immersion doesn’t win here, though gameplay-wise, either is fine.

There are three other reserves that come as DLC, and those seem perfectly fine to pay for eventually, if ideally at a sale price. An African savanna, a snowy wilds and what seems like a South American park of some kind. The base game comes with two reserves, one European and one North American, and given the amount of gameplay I’m getting out of the one European zone, I think those will last me for a bit.

Bugs-wise, there are a few. Some folk are pretty annoyed about this on the Steam reviews, given that this game has been out for two years now. For instance, the waypoint placement on the map is fairly infuriating in its inaccuracy. I’ve been settling for getting a waypoint in the general vicinity as a direction finder and map navigating.

Then there was the time I heard a noise and found a fox dashing around in furious circles in a grass field, completely ignoring me as I approached.

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I presume something went wrong with its AI and pathfinding.

(Heck, I stood in its path and it just shoved me aside and continued in its merry circular way. Classic bot-like behavior. Not at all simulation fox-like.)

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My lore justification is that it was rabid, and thus I put it out of its misery.

Then there was the time I heard this mad and LOUD continuous rustling of bushes. I approached, binoculars-out, wondering as to the source of the sound and saw a deer bouncing vertically up and down in the air, next to an overhanging tree. (WTF? Is this some sort of strange programmed deer antler rubbing behavior?!)

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Turns out, as I got a lot closer, with no right to be up this close, that the deer had gotten stuck in some scenery, despite it madly attempting to run, presumably from me being up this close.

Lore justification for this one was pretty easy. I just Googled “deer stuck in a tree” and found a decent number of instances of real life deer getting their antlers (not to mention whole body) tangled up in a tree, and ethical kind-hearted humans helping them out to live another day.

In this case, since I was roleplaying a hunter, I think this one is a little too stupid to let live and be allowed to breed the next generation. So it got two bullets at almost point blank range, at which point the game managed to free it, and a third bullet right through its fleeing rear and it eventually died and contributed to my xp.

At other times though, the AI feels spot on.

I shot a wild boar at a distance, and while the rest of the herd fled, there was one individual who seemed like it refused to leave the dead female, yet stayed warily far from me. It kept a healthy distance from me, seemed to stare and call plaintively to the boar that I had dropped with a shot that went through lungs and heart, trying to get it to move and come and follow.

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As I walked up, it fled into the surrounding bushes and stared out some more, hanging around for a good two or three minutes, while my heart broke and I guiltily felt like I might have killed his mom or something. I half-decided I would go into the bushes and put it out of its misery if it refused to leave, but it was a rather half-hearted attempt, and my tromping around finally encouraged it to leave.

My most recent stretch goal is to take down a red deer. These fellows seem mightily elusive and skittish, staying mostly out of sight and keeping super healthily distances from anything vaguely human.

It was with some amazement that I watched a gigantic (8 or 9 individuals) herd of them run across the road from my right to left, and race up the ridge in the below picture, naturally, too fast to even consider a shot.

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Can’t see ’em above? Me neither. Here, have a zoomed in view through the binoculars.

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I’ve been patiently tracking them all across creation in this region and they seem to have some kind of migratory pattern to food and drink and eventually to a rest area. I might consider a stake out using the nearby hunting structure, which one purchases with in-game currency to put up.

In case all this talk of killing virtual animals raises your hackles and seems terribly unsavory, theHunter: Call of the Wild also has a camera mode in place of a gun.

So it does seem also pretty viable to roleplay as a nature photojournalist and do all the nature-walking and stalking hunter behaviors, and finish with a snapshot instead of a gun shot.

This side quest teaches you pretty early on about the camera, which eventually clued me in to the zoom functions on -everything-. I had a devil of a time trying to get a photo that counted for the quest, scaring off a herd multiple times by getting too close.

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Much to my chagrin, zooming in was so much easier and it immediately checked the quest off as done.

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Overall, I find the game amazingly relaxing. It checks off a great many of the boxes I like from my games. Immersiveness, the awe of beautiful surroundings, meditative, rewards exploration and a little care and planning.

No regrets. Now to wait for a DLC sale.

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