BRB, Found the Best Game Ever

Yes, I am aware that the Blood and Madness Halloween update just launched in Guild Wars 2, with plenty of recycled old content giving new rewards.

Yes, I know it comes with a talking point so loaded that it’s just -asking- to be commented upon.

Yes, I am cognizant of the fact that most of the launch locusts are still in Archeage, focused upon the best made plans disintegrating in contact with other players and not really interested in anything else but the strange jargon of that world.

Or that the Warlords of Draenor expansion is soon to be upon us, so all the WoW stalwarts will make their way back home.

Yes, much of my singleplayer game attention is still being sucked up by Minecraft, where I’m trying to play both Agrarian Skies and Crash Landing without forgetting what the hell I was doing in the other map, while accumulating a list of other mods and modpacks that look damn interesting to “try one day.”

And thanks to Bragtoberfest and other bloggers, it’s suddenly occurred to me that:

a) Team Fortress 2 is kinda fun and I should make a point to play it more

b) Path of Exile still exists

c) Orcs Must Die 1/2 and Defense Grid 1/2 are both tower defense games I should play more of (yes, I actually Kickstarted DG2, and finally got around to checking my mail and found a Steam key waiting for me)

d) I haven’t played/continued Skyrim for a while, nor have I really given Civ 5 or various Tropico versions a fair shake in a bit

and e) I need to stop looking at my Steam games list again.

BUT I have found a game even better than all of the above, and it is likely to take up much of my attention for the week, with not much time left over for blogging once I factor in trying to keep apace in GW2 and sating a currently insane Minecraft addiction.

What game is that, you ask?

It’s something I haven’t had the opportunity to play in years. It’s the “contemplate and plan, then build your own dream PC” or the “endless wallet daydream” game.

Yep, my budget’s finally opened up the purse strings this month.

I’ve been reading computer hardware reviews actually dated this year, scanning the catalogue of parts available at the local store, narrowing down the choices to “things I want” and “things that fit my current priorities for this new computer” then applying the filter “things I can actually afford.”

That filter is pretty generous this month, which why I’m playing the game now, rather than a year ago or 2 or 3 or more, where I would feel awfully depressed and constricted with too low a budget.

See, here’s the odd thing about what I like out of my computers.

It’s not so much their objective performance as compared to everyone else at a current point in time (in which case, I would have to upgrade a lot and fast to keep up with the Joneses) but more that I want the computer I build for myself to be a lasting, quality piece of work. That it was pretty high-end, if not the absolute top-of-the-line, -when- it was built, at that period of time.

The Chinese have a saying, ” 一分钱一分货” (yī fēn qián yī fēn huò), which sorta literally translates to “one piece of money one piece of goods” or rather, you get what you pay for.

If you pay pennies, you’ll get goods worth that amount or basically, rubbish. For each cent or dollar extra that you pay, you get that amount of goods/value/worth/quality in return.

Like all proverbs, that doesn’t necessarily hold true all the time, but speaking generally, I find there’s more than a few grains of truth in it.

My old and current computer, as much as I joke about it to others (mostly to explain why my load times or graphics is way behind the current norm,) is still going strong, with not much breaking down beyond one X-Fi soundcard that decided that its drivers simply wouldn’t play nice with this newfangled Windows 7 any longer (ended up yanking it and falling back on the on-board Realtek audio – just as old if not older, and doing just fine – and some rattling case fans that took turns to protest that they were getting way too dust clogged at last (some reluctant cleaning took care of that – the front fan was a nuisance as graphics card and hard disks had to be pulled out of the way to work on it.)

I believe the reason it’s lasted so long, going on 7-8 years now, is because I bought good quality parts from known brands that generally do solid work and didn’t skimp or cut corners while doing so.

That priority is one of the factors I’m weighing quite heavily in my next selection of parts, along with the usual suspects of “great games performance” and “not insanely priced.”

Granted, I might have gotten a mite carried away at -finally- seeing the light at the end of the “new computer” tunnel and splurged a bit while I can afford it this month.

Without further ado, the parts list:

  • CPU: Intel Z97 4690
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte Z97X UD5H Black
  • Memory: Corsair Vengeance Pro 1866Mhz 16GB
  • Graphics Card: Gigabyte GTX 980 G1 Gaming
  • Power Supply: Corsair HX750i 750W
  • Case: CoolerMaster CM690 III windowed
  • CPU Cooler: CoolerMaster V4 GTS
  • Hard Disks: 2 Samsung 850 Pro 256GB SSDs, 1 WD Black 7200rpm 1TB HDD
  • Optical Drive: LG16x Blu-Ray BH16NS40
  • OS: Windows 7
  • (To be added in November) Sound Card: Creative Soundblaster ZX
  • Monitor and speaker upgrades pending…

Words can’t describe how thrilled I am.

Here, have a little Ascii cheer instead.


As to the rationale:

As much as I would have liked to open the wallet even further and get one of those crazy X99 chipset processors with a super-blinged out motherboard, there IS a limit to my enthusiasm, and it sounded like a good idea to wait for the real enthusiasts to be the guinea pigs and break in all the new technology first.

I’d been leaning towards a Z97 4790K processor, except that I didn’t think experimenting with overclocking and possibly burning out what was intended to be my next stable and reliable gaming computer was a good idea, plus there were some mildly scary reports that this particular i7 processor was seriously overheating. After reading the whole rather current thread, it suddenly seemed wise to sit on the idea for a while and let the early adopters hash it out with Intel. Also, perhaps in six months to a year, the X99 processors would have gotten more affordable and the whole thing might be a moot point.

So I backed down step-wise to a 4690 and decided that I’d just go with the stock clock – since the priority for this particular computer, after all, is to be a worthy successor to the one that I’m typing on right now, old and still hearty.

I’ll save the creative and experimental overclocking or dream watercooling setups (had quite enough of unlikely water leaks over electronics, thank you) for when my budget can next afford a more modest hobbyist build computer – perhaps salvaging the guts of the old one after the new one is up and running and stable enough to let me log on daily to GW2 without freaking out that I’m missing a laurel reward. 🙂

The same thought of reliability led to picking up that particular Gigabyte motherboard.

I briefly considered Asus, since that seemed to be one of the stronger rivals, but decided that aesthetically, the whole armor-encased look didn’t quite work for me. The marketing jargon went rather overboard with the military-sounding stuff, and I rather imagine it might appeal to those who play some variant of Battlefield or Call of Duty all day long perhaps.

The whole plastic shield over the motherboard did look interesting, but it also struck me that it looked more like a dust trap when air blew up through the little wind tunnels – possibly improving air flow over the components, yes, right up to the point when dust jammed into all the nooks and little crevices, necessitating maintenance via needing to unscrew the plastic shield off, just to remove the dust.

So I backed away from that and decided to head back to Gigabyte, whose DSP4 motherboard is still doing excellent work in my current system.

They, on the other hand, have gotten carried away with quite a bit of game and audio-related bling, with a whole series of Gaming motherboards that apparently come with a special Killer NIC that prioritizes gaming packets, with the top of the line versions sporting a built-in Creative Soundcore 3D processor and what not.

Now, hang on a minute, I thought, I know I have a fondness for Creative audio solutions (from old good reputation and they’re a Singapore company), didn’t I -just- have the worse time trying to get their stupid drivers to play nice with Windows 7, granted on a card that’s marked “end of service life”?

And I’ve heard reports that folks have problems too with the drivers for the Killer NIC, and that it does use up extra CPU processing power…

I drooled over all the marketing bling for a while, then decided that for a motherboard, what I really wanted was redundancy.

As much as it sounded nice to just have a Creative chip on the motherboard itself, saving the need and money for a separate sound card, one can’t exactly pluck it out if it’s giving problems. I may as well just pay the extra 40 or 50 bucks and get a separate sound card, which would still have the same processor and possibly better components and supporting software, AND have a Realtek audio solution on the motherboard to fall back on, if/when the Creative shit decides it wants to break down. (It’s such NICE sounding shit though.)

Ditto, I didn’t just want a Killer NIC as my only connection to the internet. What if it decides it won’t play nice one day?

Fortunately, Gigabyte did have some motherboards that have both an ordinary Intel LAN and a Killer LAN. And it also so happened that this was on one of their ultra durable range, which goes through extended durability testing and with a warranty of up to 5 years.

Now that sounds like something that would meet my goal of having a computer built sturdy enough to last the next 5-7 years, if necessary.

Imo, the RAM’s fairly normal, if higher-end. Corsair’s a known brand.

I did drool a ton over the thought of their Dominator Platinum RAM, which just looks ridiculously blinged out and dead sexy, with soft white LED lights that would light the interior of the case… but sanity prevailed over serious temptation and I decided paying an extra hundred bucks for slick design and LED lighting was not something I oughta do at this point in time. (Maybe someday… *sighs dreamily*)

No, what I did, was I threw the wallet at the graphics card instead.

As far as I’ve gathered from reading, the GTX 980s are pretty much the newest thing on the block currently, but not dumb expensive expensive. Just expensive, but with really good performance and better power-savings and cooler temperatures than prior cards. I’m, in fact, still waiting for the shop to call me when their shipment arrives, because it’s that new, I guess, and still in transit from country to country.

I briefly entertained the thought of getting the GTX 970, which is a step down, but maybe getting two of those and SLI them together. Then I decided to leave that as a hobbyist project for the other dream computer and go with a single card solution for now, which is probably less likely to end up with a whole bunch of troubleshooting problems with specific games or programs.

Stable. Reliable. Durable. That’s the hope, anyway.

Same goes for the power supply, which isn’t the absolute high-end, but the next closest. It’s got a 7 year warranty, which I suppose, ought to count for something.

One mild annoyance I’ve encountered is that the 24-pin ATX connector is not fitting properly, either with the motherboard or the power supply. It goes in, but not all the way. There’s a couple of milimeters of gap, blocking the clip from clasping properly. After some Googling, I suspect it may be a common manufacturing defect from whatever company Corsair got those connectors from, as it seems to be turning up as an issue in other types of Corsair power supplies. It’s just that particular wire. All the rest of the wires fit fine.

So the build is on hold for now, while one pays a visit to the local distributors/repair center to make some noise and gripe until they hopefully give me a satisfactory solution to make me go away.

I’m still quite zen about the whole thing. I suppose I’ve already waited so long, a couple more days or a week won’t really hurt.

I’ll try to share some pictures at some point later.  I’m in love with the case. It’s a really cool case. Some really clever engineering in this one, plus a ginormous front fan.

I’m looking forward to having SSDs for Windows, Guild Wars 2 and current Steam games I’m playing that might benefit from those load speeds, while the rest of the Steam library, music and what not goes on the HDD.

I’ll confess I’m not exactly thrilled with the choice of a WD Black hard disk – Western Digital has not really struck me as a brand that makes stable, long lasting hard disks – it’s just practically the only brand the local store had in stock, that still had a decent warranty period… I decided not to go crazy on the terrabytes as a result, didn’t want excessive amounts of spinning platters, or a giant hard disk that would make backing up of data to external disks difficult. I suppose there’s room for this disk to surprise me.

After all, I’ve got Maxtor and Seagate hard disks in the current computer, and while I’m still somewhat pessimistic about how long they’ll last, so far so good… and this is an old computer, as I’ve said.

We’ll see. I suspect the best solution is just to get plenty of affordable hard disks and make multiple redundant copies of the data one wants to keep. If one disk fails, there’s still others, that kind of thing.

I’ve no clue if the Blu-Ray drive is any good, it’s just also what was available. As long as it does what it’s supposed to, it can’t be that different from any other brand.

The sound card’s not essential, and there’s a ubiquitous computer fair in my part of town coming up in November, so it’s earmarked for pickup then. Spares my wallet just a tide this month too.

One will have to cannibalize and use the existing monitor, speakers, keyboard, mouse and other such peripherals for the time being.

So yep, those are the big plans taking up most of my mind and time, front and center, for now.

I’ve already hauled home a good amount of the parts and am midway through the build, pending a graphics card and a properly fitting 24-pin ATX connector. Two more outside errands to run. No idea when the card will get here though.

Gonna take it nice and slow and savor every moment, inhaling all the new and shiny. That’s part of the fun of building yer own computer, imo.

I’ll see you all, when I next see you. Computer building time’s got to come in front of blogging time, though it needs to share some space with gaming time.

Hopefully soon(TM), I’ll actually have screenshots on this blog that belong in this decade.

P.S. Does this count as Bragtoberfest? It should, right? Like, look at my soon-to-be system specs, whee! *brag brag brag*





(touches wood)

Bragtoberfest: Killing Time

Yep, that seems to describe what I’ve mostly been up to in the last few days.

One is still waiting for Halloween and the pace of regular updates to rev back up again in GW2, so until then I’ve nothing much to do but spread out my attention in a million places at once.

I’ve contented myself with dailies pretty much every day but Oceanic Friday, where I join TTS for a whole sequence of “raids” that go from easy to ‘needs organization’ to ‘needs organization and patience, but ain’t really hard.’

That’s karka queen – just show up and hit stuff, Tequatl – just show up early enough to get a spot on the map, kill as many dragons as the leaders feel like spawning and face the only tough decision of which alt to bring next, Triple Trouble Wurm – just show up to wait so that you get a spot on the very coveted map, wait for the leaders to explain everything to the new people, and perform the roles/functions you’re used to do, and finally guild missions – just show up to marvel at how 50+ people are herded from place to place without losing -too- many people, and try not to watch the clock too impatiently.

(I guess you could call that a whole bunch of scheduled “killing times,” if not raids per se.)

That sequence without weekly guild missions could be a nightly affair if I wanted to attend, but since I’m sorta on an attention break from GW2, I may as well not push the repetition too hard.

Dabbling with Orcs Must Die is, of course, a lot of orc killing time.

Playing with Mountain involves a lot of -actual- killing of time. (I mostly surf the internet alongside, or risk overloading my computer by running a Feed the Beast launcher server setup for single player and a Minecraft client while Steam and Mountain are going. Poor Core 2 Duo 2.3 Ghz processor.)


There’s a certain wisdom to my mountain.

It’s officially called MOUNTAIN, by the way, because it needs a certain gravitas, but Doone nagged and nagged until I gave in and gave it an alias.

So now it’s MOUNTAIN aka Puppy.

It picked up a trash can that almost looked like a grey candle and a gramophone.

On the other side, it apparently wants to go on an around-the-world sailing trip or something.


Oh, and there’s a companion crate.

I also figured out how to pick up objects and more or less, rearrange them. It involves a lot of holding down of the left mouse button over the object in question,  and stopping and moving the mouse cursor just outside the window as the object flies into the air.

Done just right, it pauses long enough to mess around with the mouse cursor in and out of the window, shoving the oftentimes invisible object around until the angle is -just- right, and then clicking the left mouse button one more time to send it thudding back to land.

So I’ve taken the opportunity to shove under the rug (or under the mountain, so to speak) the objects I find unsightly or that don’t quite fit. Goodbye pathetically modeled clock and very boring gramophone with apparently only one song.

MOUNTAIN continues on.

Then there’s self-killing time.

I seem to be between goals and feeling rather aimless in my Agrarian Skies map for Minecraft currently, so I took a break to try out the Crash Landing mod.

Wow. Let’s just say I now know why the designer of that mod made it so that the “create a new world” button will automatically set you up in the appropriate Crash Landing map.

Thirst and maintenance of a cool temperature are just as important as not-starving in this mod. So the initial start is a rather tough trial-and-error process (at least, if you’re not cheating and getting tips/ideas from others who’ve done it before) where one wastes a lot of crucial start time just exploring and poking around and figuring out what the heck is going on, which leads to eventual death from thirst, or heatstroke, or maybe starvation, because one basically ran out of resources before a self-sustaining loop could be set up.

Then there’s night. The zombies are cranked up viciously in this mod – there’s infernal mob prefixes and suffixes going on, I think, as well as a great variety of buffed variants – I saw one zombie flying on a mini-ghast once. I’ve died multiple times to impatience because I got bored waiting out the night in a confined area and tried to kill a few zombies…. it never quite works out to -just- a few. They just keep sidling their way in, if I’m dumb enough to open the door.

(I’ve now given in and am going to follow a suggested start strategy which goes for a bed established before night 1, for future attempts. Because it’s really boring otherwise.)

Still, I keep dying to -something- or other before I can even get a dirt/tree or simple water loop going. And there goes that game and that world.

So, there’s plenty of room for further tries and improvement there.

Finally, attending today’s Bragtoberfest FPS event added up to plenty of mob wave killing time.

Izlain made an executive decision to go for the Mann vs Machine mode in TF2, since that was a way to get everybody in the same party and  on the same server.

This turned out to be a rather nice state of affairs, as it’s much harder (for me anyway) to find a sizeable group of people playing co-op together.

Prior attempts at this mode didn’t turn so well in normal pickup server mode – a couple of wave failures means individuals quit in droves. A regular group like we had gamely gives it a go a few times, and then changes tactics, or adjusts difficulty or changes maps as a last resort or something if it doesn’t work out. Bottom line, it’s done together, whatever it is.

This mode is really fun if played this way. A whole group of players cooperate to defend against waves of bots, instead of other players. Said bots are naturally a bit more buffed up than usual to make it challenging. And there’s plenty of shiny loot drops for doing well too – I seem to have gotten a lot more TF2 stuff than I’m used to.

As suspected, ping times were a mite challenging. The first few games chanced to be on EU servers, probably somewhere in Great Britain. This gave lovely ping to our UK folks, but I was pretty much watching a delayed slideshow for the first game. Then I dc’ed. Or the server gave up on me. Or my own computer running PotatoOS decided it couldn’t render the frames anymore. Who knows.

Ping times were jumping from 388ms up to 600ms and back again.I made a hasty readjustment of resolution down from a normal 1920×1080 down to about 1024 x 768.

This at least took out stress on my ancient computer from the equation, and left me playing on the second server at a more steady 400ms.

(I kinda want to laugh at that phrase.)

One was kind of playing ‘predictively’ with that sort of ping. See something in the distance? Empty a clip into it, wait a couple seconds, and hope a kill is registered.

Woe betide me if a mob actually comes up close to me, because I’ll probably be dead before I can fire off a shot. Just wait a second for the death screen to come up and then respawn, that kinda thing.

The good news is that I went for my old fallback of being an engineer, and no one else in the group was really grappling with me over wanting to be one of the two engineers we were allowed to have.

As I shared in-game, the lovely thing about the Team Fortress genre (Classic and 2) is that there’s a niche and a class for people with crap aim and even crap ping.

The sentry gun auto-aims, and the sentry gun doesn’t lag.

Where the human mainly comes in, is in the tactical placement and maintenance of the sentry gun.

Other people can get their kicks from being a fast actiony super reflexes scout or a super-pinpoint accurate sniper, me, I get my kicks from seeing my sentry gun rack up a disgusting number of kills – because -I- put it there.

The cleverer and more defensive the position, the better, though that sort of thing mostly takes experimentation and watching what others do and time playing the game to see what works or doesn’t.


I mean, really now, what other shooter can you walk around with 400+ms ping, and get respectable amounts of overall damage in (even on the tank), get kills/assists AND heal/support other people, regardless of how many times you died from not even seeing what shot you in the face or back.

(Sniper, spy, demoman bomb or soldier rocket, usually. Maybe a few Sentry Busters because I miss seeing it walk up and by the time it squats and triggers itself, it’s too late to run with my ping.)

And as much as I dislike the medic class in TF2, as compared with the old TFC one which was all about offensive medic’ing and concussion grenade jumps (my favorite opponents and opposite number nemesis, as a flag-defending engineer), I have to admit it fulfills the *groan* now commonly accepted “healer” niche trained by the ye-olde standard traditional MMO.

You know, the niche that the stereotypical girlfriend is expected to like to do.

Sometimes, I don’t know what makes me cringe more, someone expecting that all girls will naturally gravitate towards this role or bringing it up as an example ‘my first game’ ‘easy to cope with’ playstyle, or to hear an actual girl admit that she actually likes the niche. (It’s like, great, more stereotype confirmation, but I mean, what can you do if some people really like to play healer? Let them, I guess. And personally try to play more games without a pure holy trinity.)

Not that we had that problem here. We rarely had a medic running during the Bragtoberfest event, and we still succeeded, so there. Nyah. And all that.

Without a medic or uber-charge god mode, there’s still health packs to pick up on one’s own, or humping an engineer’s dispenser and so on.

And if you really really like to heal people, then, sure, be a medic and no one will mind you shadowing them and pumping them full of health and uber-charge either. There’s a place for you too *sighs*

Jjust as there’s a place for the ‘boom headshot’ people in the sniper class, or the ‘lots of explosions hee hee hee’ folks in the demoman and soldier classes (depending on if you like ’em timed traps or linear BFG style) or the ‘my aim’s not great, but I’m happy to hold down the left mouse button and vaguely point in a direction” HWguy (I play that a lot too) or the “I love being sneaky and ganking people from behind and driving them apeshit” spy.

Eventually that server up and shut down on us, which was even a better silver cloud in the lining, because we moved to an NA server after that.Our UK folks got around 175 ping, but I got to a presentable and playable 250ms ping, which is decent enough to actually attempt shooting and getting some semi-on-time feedback on the screen.

I didn’t have the faintest clue what guns I was carrying – apparently playing TF2 at some ancient time ago, I equipped myself with a Frontier Justice shotgun and a Lugermorph pistol.

The Frontier Justice shotgun was a little useless to me at only 3 shots a clip, facing a horde of robot mobs, with shaky aim and unreliable ping. I -think- it might have had a purpose in a lower ping flag defending type of game where I set up a little killbox with my sentry gun and need something to quickly off an opposing player from behind as he or she is taking out my sentry gun.

I didn’t use it much in the Mann vs Machine games, but I did get a very surprising amount of mileage out of the Lugermorph.

On just checking the wiki now, it’s apparently functionally identical to the standard Pistol engineers get (go figure, at least this F2P game isn’t P2W in this respect) but I was quite pleased to see it had a very large clip size, and there were store upgrades (as in the Mann vs Machine mode has an in-game store as part of its game mode, to buy upgrades, like Counterstrike and so on) to increase firing speed and clip capacity.

As we killed each wave of mobs, we earned some cash that could be spent to buy that-game-only upgrades, and I found that increasing both those things pretty much gave me a machine gun in the shape of a pistol. Just hold down and all the bullets would come out.

It’s also hitscan, so I didn’t have to compensate for lag and lead targets (a skill I’m quite poor at.) As long as I hit it between the crosshairs on my screen, my client would eventually tell the server and everybody else that I did hit what I hit. Eventually. 400 or 200ms later.

While the damage fell off quite a bit at long range, assisting with kills was something to do while waiting for the mobs to get within sentry gun range. Plus, there was running up to a slow moving tank and emptying entire clips of it at point-blank range if it had moved out of range of my sentry gun (and the gun was still needed where it was to fend off other mobs.)

Good fun all around.

Then it was on to Killing Floor, a game I only got to play once upon a time, during some kind of Steam sale event which was dangling special Steam achievements in oddball games.

I found it a rather respectably amusing shooter, with hidden depth I was probably not appreciating from not having a regular co-op play group and only trying it out in random multiplayer and solo.

Being that it was being showcased on Steam’s free-to-play weekend, I thought this would be a good opportunity to persuade a bunch of other people to try it out with me too. Izlain was game, and kindly organized the group over to cooperatively shoot zombies in a ‘survival horror’ FPS.

It’s an old game, and it no doubt shows its age.

But I dunno, it has a certain charm that fascinates me despite clunky bits like visiting the store repetitively between phases (though I think ideally, we were supposed to head towards it together – but everyone just sorta naturally freaked out, stayed with our backs to each other and tried not to get swamped by zombies which closed in on all sides.)

I think primarily, it’s the variance in mission maps that holds its biggest appeal for me.

We started out in a really claustrophobic biohazard sewer-like tunnels / secret mad scientist’s lab level. Then we went on to a considerably more open, but very dark, farm fields with a barn and a farmhouse that one can shut oneself in. And after that, if I’m remembering correctly, we turned up in a post-apocalyptic sort of London, where the streets were open, but the underground was dark.

During my previous go at Killing Floor, I seem to remember a carnival of clowns map too.

There’s a hyperreal sort of immersion from these maps – they’re not 100% realistic, but they’re sort of characteristically ‘representative’ of the tropes one might expect in these settings, and you can imagine yourself using strategies like barricading yourself into a building and so on.

There’s a big variety of weapons to choose from in the store in between waves, depending on how well you did shooting zombies.

There’s a lot of different types of zombie mobs – from crawlers that almost look dead but can leap at you with surprising speed, to stalkers that are almost invisible, and near-miniboss-types that shoot flaming rockets at you or shriek or do other kinds of odd things.

Some deserved criticism was leveled at it for having some really repetitive voice-overs (everyone was pretty sick of the “Reloading” notifications coming from a party of SIX people after a while) but other than that, I keep thinking there’s a lot of potential depth and fun to be had if one played more regularly.

The challenge level is pretty high, right from the start. We were on Normal most of the time, and our inexperienced party usually got destroyed around Wave 3. We were taking quite a bit of damage from zombie encounters, barely anyone had figured out crucial things like what weapons were available or how to heal up (mid-second game I finally figured out that one was supposed to heal others with a injector syringe thing that everyone appears to get) and dying in this game punishes the player and team quite severely – you can’t respawn till the wave completes, you lose all your weapons and get no money to buy more stuff from the shop for that round.

(It might, however, be possible to pick up and drop weapons for others. I know somewhere in the second game I somehow managed to pick up a second pistol from someone who’d died. It might maybe make sense that one might be able to drop spare weapons for others.)

Ammo conservation is an issue. You need to spend money to get more ammo. So six people shooting one normal zombie might not be the best strategy ever. (We ended up sort of three / three facing two different directions quite naturally.)

There’s no crosshairs. There’s only right mouse button to bring up iron sights for better aim, which then makes you more stationery. It all contributes to that sense of “realism” – though it’s really not the right word to use. It’s more a simulation of complexity, which gives rise to verisimilitude?

Some guns have more recoil than others. Reloading takes time. Some zombie hits will stun you. That sort of thing. Little details. Mostly making things harder, but also more immersive, in a horror sense, and forcing a need for teamwork and cooperation. No rambos here. Or chances are, they’ll be short-lived anyway.

We eventually bumped the difficulty down to Beginner for last game, which definitely made it more palatable for newbies. Less damage from zombies, more money from each wave meant we could afford more and better weapons, which in turn makes it easier to hose down zombies and gave us more room to maneuver and try out the different weapons.

I was entertaining myself with a Medic Gun at the end, which was some kind of combination MP5 submachine gun to shoot zombies with, and had healing darts fired with the middle mouse button. Now one didn’t have to run up to a player and hope he or she stopped for long enough to get healed. I could just dart him in the butt instead. Healing arrows! Whee!

For actual zombie killing work, I was quite enjoying the Bullpup. Which kindly has a nice holographic weapon sight that painted a red dot over whatever I was aiming at. Much easier for me to land a hit that way.

Lots of fun. Had a great time.

So how can you tell me you're lonely, And say for you that the sun don't shine? Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London I'll show you something to make you change your mind
So how can you tell me you’re lonely,
And say for you that the sun don’t shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
I’ll show you something to make you change your mind

Bragtoberfest: Tower Defence Quickies

The refreshing thing about Bragtoberfest has been the opportunity to play a broader spectrum of games than the habitual rut I’ve fallen into – where I cycle between dailies in GW2, dailies in Path of Exile and then spend the rest of the night in Minecraft with no real idea of what to do next but jetpack around like a bee and dip a toe into the next branch of things-to-do, only to discover that it’s a lot more complex than one bargained for.

The impromptu bonus has been a sudden resurgence of interest in Tower Defence games.

I LOVE Tower Defence.

I don’t know why, but the genre has a great appeal to me. There’s something very strategically attractive about planning out a beautiful sequence of traps or a gauntlet of a corridor of death, and then watching the unthinking hordes wander through and die to it.

I wouldn’t say I’m very good at it though.

I tend to the simplest, whatever works strategies, and I rarely come back and revisit the level for more efficiency and better and higher scores.

That is, until Orcs Must Die, where the difficulty kept ramping up to the point that I was left without recourse and had to go read strategy guides for a while and had my eyes opened to what other people were doing, helluva lot more efficiently and effectively.

That brought me past some harder levels a few years ago, but I kind of lost steam with it again.

The other day, since I spied Izlain trying his hand at it, and wanting to get past it so I can play the sequel with multiplayer too, I cranked it up to try and refresh my memory as to how it all worked.

I got a bit too intimidated to take on the next level right away, so I scrolled back and looked for an easier level where I’d done poorly before.

I found two:


Chaos Chamber was a bit tricky at first, but I rather surprised myself by seeing a potentially workable strategy and racing between portals to set it up. (Picked up a SG1 achievement for traveling through portals 20 times unknowingly too.)

I jumped from two skulls to five skulls earned. Oh yeah.


Then there was Lunch Break. My score was the shabbiest of all my Steam friends at first, and again I managed to suddenly see a pathing route that could effectively channel all the orcs into one chokepoint – which I then turned into a lethal doorway of death.

No clue about the missing skull though. Why wasn’t it good enough for that one last skull? Gaaah, apparently there’s room to get better still.

My time was limited, so I couldn’t play much more than that for the night, but it was good rewarding fun for that 30-60 minutes.

As for Defence Grid, Doone’s first challenge is Ancient Research.

So I cranked that game up, having left it fallow for a good two years or more.

My initial strategy went all guns, all upgraded everywhere.

Ended up the same 55k or so score that I’d been sitting on for ages. Not enough to beat Doone’s.

Time to think more efficiently and use less towers for more bang for buck.



It’s probably still not the best that can be achieved, but I’m reluctant to refine it any further unless pushed by someone scoring higher. 😛

Bragtoberfest: This is My Mountain

Not quite Populous...

There are many like it, but this one is mine.


I’ve watched it through warm autumn days and balmy summer nights.


I’ve kept it company through snowy winter mornings and even snowier winter midnights.

Sometimes I play it songs.

(Though my limited musical repertoire means it gets to hear Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Happy Birthday and Do-Re-Mi (of the “Do, a deer” fame) a lot.)

Sometimes I look at it from another angle.


Who says mountains need to be pyramidal in shape, anyway?

Sometimes I spin it like a top.

My mountain thinks deep thoughts and sometimes speaks to me of how it feels.



And sometimes it wonders:


Then I went for dinner and left it alone for an hour.


And when I find the god who flung these things into my mountain, that bastard is going to pay.

Seriously, get your own damn mountain.

Anyone remember the pet rock craze?

Mountain reminds me somewhat of that.

Said pet rock was gifted by Doone, as I’m certainly not the sort to buy this sort of “program” (I can’t call it a game, because a game implies -some- interactivity.)

Is it a toy? I guess it could be, if you treat it like one.

Is it art?

There’s the caveat that all art is subjective.

My interpretation? Not so much in the sense of being impressive on a graphical or technical skill scale – I’ve seen much better landscapes, and much better pixel art for that matter.

Mountain very much gives me the impression that someone wanted to make something, a game, a Tamagotchi pet, whatever, but only had very basic 3D modelling skills – enough to code and cobble together a randomized mountain slope, dot it with procedural trees (same model, just rotated and sized differently) and rocks. A little advanced tutorial work for clouds and sky and stars and changing lighting to simulate day and night, another short exercise to create a winter snow landscape, yet another programming exercise to allow keyboard keys to play musical notes… and then with imagination running dry and idle hands, comes the sudden inspiration to toss premade 3D models like a ball or a gramophone or something equally incongruous into the mountainside.

For all we know, maybe Mountain really -is- someone’s school project or programming / graphical art practice exercise.

I suppose what I’m more impressed with is the capacity of humanity to invest -anything- with meaning or to construct some kind of story or narrative out of it.

The act of choosing to run the program and watching the mountain change over time rather reminds me of the ongoing discussion on the GW2 Reddit about the Lion’s Arch changes (“No other game welcomes returning players with their favorite city in ruins.”)

What’s interesting in that Reddit thread is that the top comment shares the story that this scene that they’re seeing now is the -improved- version of the Lion’s Arch ruins. Yes, Lion’s Arch was even more ruined before (and on fire, besides.) Following it are comments that lament missing the occurrences, the events, the changes, as well as serious nostalgia from the players who were THERE, plus some expressed fascination with hearing these veterans’ stories.

The act of change over time creates HISTORY.

And because I’m sort of a crusty cynical pessimist on the outside, with a hefty helping of paranoia, I have this sneaking suspicion that my mountain is not going to stay the same forever. Even in geologic time, mountains erode. Or explode. Or something.

And I suppose the time invested into “growing” this mountain (in the sense that starting ProgressQuest is leveling up a character, anyway) will result in some kind of attachment and feeling of loss when the mountain eventually goes away.

Inasmuch as Mountain can provoke these sort of reflective thoughts, I daresay from a certain angle, one might call it art.

(But not art I’d personally pay for, to be honest. If someone gives it to you for free though, it won’t hurt to adopt a pet mountain for a while.)

Path of Exile: Bragtoberfest Get-Together

Path of Exile played host to the second Bragtoberfest event that Eri kindly organized for us.

As per last week, it was good fun to meet and play with a whole host of other bloggers – Simcha, Jaedia, Syl, Doone and of course, Eri and Izlain.

Also, I had my eyes opened as to some aspects of a game that I rarely get to see – the multiplayer partying and group aspects, which I never really get the good fortune to see in detail, since that requires finding a group of people all interested in the same game and playing at the same timezones as me.

(Of course, 5am is not really sustainable for me either. One more meetup for TF2 next week and I’ll have to surrender in the name of getting normal sleep again.)

Path of Exile is interesting in that it allows up to 6 people to group.

That’s quite sizeable, with only the late and much-missed City of Heroes topping that at 8 (within my limited knowledge, anyway.)

There were, however, some more inconvenient aspects that made grouping a little less smooth than it could have been.

1) Are we in the same map? The same league?

The Twilight Strand is an initial introductory area that separates a new character from the first town.

While racers know that they can run through in a couple seconds past all the zombie mobs and beat on Hillock with a held down left mouse click and be in town in no time flat, the average individual encountering the map for the first time will want to actually play the game – that means hitting a few zombies, getting a level, opening some chests, and eventually meandering their way to Hillock and figuring out how to deal with him.

Each person completes this at a slightly different time and pace, making it a little tricky to meet up when everyone was still new and confused.

(Not to mention, our dear host Eri successfully joined the wrong league twice! Cue deletion and re-making of character. Twice.

Can’t blame ya though. Rampage league IS fun, and we should play more of that too. The more mobs you kill in a row, the more killstreak rewards of all shapes and size rain down from the skies, hence “Rampage.”

The good news about going standard league though was that I got to twink out my character later on, from my personal bank stash.)

Fortunately, someone hit on the good idea of creating a guild.

This was an effortless procedure.

Simply pressing S for “Social” and flipping to the Guild tab, allowed one to type in a guild name and voila, guild created. Once everyone’s assorted characters were invited, at least there was a shared communication channel for the future.

2) Where IS everybody anyway?!

Y’know, sometimes I don’t get games that start you off with the weirdest default settings ever.

Strife locks your camera down and refuses to let you scroll away from your character in the center. Path of Exile makes it all ridiculously dark and shadowy and doesn’t even give you a minimap to play with.

Seriously? What? Why? Are there really going to be people terribly confused if you offered them more vision?

Especially since these are UI options that can be set.

Our Path of Exile newcomers sounded very lost until I realized, courtesy of Syl griping to me about a missing minimap, that they didn’t have one.

It’s “Show Corner Map” in the UI tab of the Options… but really, you’d think this would be a helpful option to preset for newbies.

It took us a while to figure out how best to meet up. There seemed to be multiple instances of the town, and being that I’m not familiar with the whole grouping thing either (nor do I trade with anybody), I didn’t have offhand knowledge of how to hop instances until one met up in the right one.

We eventually did get ourselves over to the map after the town, The Coast, and there the whole party shebang sorted itself out quite nicely and naturally, with all the invited persons finding their way into the same map instance opened by the first person to enter, without any extra excessive effort on our part.

3) What do you get when you pour water onto six cats?

For a moment there, I could see why other games limit their team size to 3 or 4 people, because there were six individuals fanning out like a star, going their own separate directions. Some were chasing the next mob for xp, some were getting stuck by very deceptive ramps up and down and blocking walls, some were trying to chase after someone else, and pretty much nobody was following the same person.

It was, in fact, kind of funny.

This was not helped by Path of Exile’s limited design – in which one has the option to toggle on health bars over other party member’s heads, but lacks any option to actually tag anyone with a name tag like MMOs unless you hover over them and/or target them with your mouse.

Also, no handy party member arrows on your minimap if the party members are out of sight.

If you lose track of the party member indicators on the minimap screen, it’s going to take some detective work (possibly bringing up the larger map overlay) and communication (screaming “where the hell is everyone, someone give me a direction, no matter how vague, here!”) to find the party again.

The good news is that the Social screen at least showed the map each person in the guild or party was in, so I had it out fairly frequently, keeping an eye on everyone’s relative whereabouts.

The six souls eventually did find each other and the big zombie killing party started.

Zombie-raising too.

We had a whole bunch of witch classes with us, and not a few of them could resist the Raise Dead gem, so as zombies died from getting their faces smashed in, they got called up again into un-undeath and formed a friendly throng.


Feeling very safe here with the friendly zombie army tanking for us.

We smashed through the Coast, did a circle around Tidal Island and walked over Hailrake like he didn’t exist, ran south-ish then north-ish through the Mud Flats (with folks losing each other through the more open map), got into the Fetid Pool and did a full clear of that map, as per the quest.

Sometime amid the Lower Submerged Passage and the Flooded Depths where the Deep Dweller lurked, it started to get late for our EU folks and most took their leave.

I’m curious to know how the lag / latency / ping times were for our EU bloggers, playing on the PoE NA server. Path of Exile is known to have some sync issues, which do cause some freezing or lag in some situations.

I was doing quite well despite 224 ms latency, with only a few instances of freezing for a second at worst, which was better than I’d feared. Perhaps no one owned one of the more infamous lag-causing skills just yet.

Izlain joined us after that, and the remainder of our cohort finished up with the Submerged Passage, headed over to The Ledge (where Doone and me had a little sorta-kinda-Endless Ledge party while waiting for the two slowpokes to catch up with their quests) and went through the rest of Act I.

We took on the new and improved Brutus in the Prison, with his groundslamming that was almost actually threatening rather than a cakewalk, and then Merveil, the crazy siren in her lair.


Of course, it’s not so easy trying NOT to kill her while waiting for the last person to get into the room.

Merveil had lots of opportunity to show off her low hp emergency skills – summoning other mobs, summoning bosses, summoning a ridiculous number of tornadoes, etc.

All good though, it needed to feel a little bit challenging… even for a party.

Grouping-wise, the scaling felt pretty good so far. I was afraid of excessively hard or tanky mobs, but they still seemed to die fairly quick.

Rewards-wise, there did seem to be a somewhat increased quantity of items dropped, with more varied currency coming out of chests (orbs of transmutation, chance, even an orb of fusing and one or two alchemy orbs dropped.) Quality-wise, I’m not sure. There were one or two rares per boss or elite type mob, I think. Nothing too drastically out of the curve, but certainly not miserly either.

There was a comment from Izlain about the style of loot that was dropping. Very oldschool, in that everyone could see the loot dropped.

Apparently in Diablo 3, it’s all individual loot now. Which I gather is more like the old City of Heroes or a system like GW2, where each person gets their own private loot and can’t see or be tempted by anyone else’s.

From my quick perusal of PoE’s partying options, there are three kinds of distribution systems. Permanent allocation would have been the closest to the new style of loot drops, something like GW1, I suspect, where the loot that drops is permanently assigned to a person randomly.

Short allocation was the default, that I left it at for the most part. The loot is temporarily allocated to a player, who can pick it up before anyone else, and then after a while has passed, anyone else can grab it.

And of course, there’s free for all, which I swapped it to when it was just four folks left being friendly and rivalrous. (Then I spent most of my time plaguing Doone by ninja looting currency under his nose, with double the ping that he has. I’m sure he’s going to thrash me at Defence Grid for that!)

All in all, good fun.

I’d love to play more Path of Exile with folks. Especially in the higher levels, at the harder difficulties. (I have two characters stuck in the 60s that aren’t going anywhere! I can wait! And play alts!)

Just have to figure out those timezone matching blues.