Blaugust Day 5: A Day in the Life of

Today is idea drought day.

It’s 11.32 pm and I’m cutting it super close.

It’s like I’m hoping the sheer time pressure of having to hit the post button before 11.59pm will shake something loose.

Well, it’s not.

In fact, I’m a little grumpy about it because I’m paused in the middle of a Dota 2 International match replay, having to put entertainment on hold to write this post.

The International, by the way, seems to be full of a number of surprises and upsets this year. I haven’t watched every game, but it seems like famous favorites like Na’Vi or Newbee (with good track records behind them) have been eliminated from the tournament early.

Tonight, I was busy watching Team Secret vs EHome – Team Secret being a strong favorite since they were apparently a sort of dream team put together by long time players previously from strong teams like Na’Vi and so on, and EHome being a strong Chinese team as well.

Since I don’t know enough Dota 2 to appreciate deep nuances or skilled technique, I tend to gravitate towards matches that last a long time. Why? Because I like to see the swings and the struggle that you almost never see in a PUG game.

In a PUG, the moment one team gets an upper hand, the whole thing starts to snowball. The losing players start blaming each other (never themselves, of course), morale evaporates faster than water in a desert, and basically one side crumbles because they don’t see any hope of a comeback.

But Dota 2 is a little more elegant than that and it -is- possible, if not terribly likely, that a good draft pick, good movement/positioning, the other team’s overconfidence or small mistake or -something- will trip them up and cause a swing in the other direction. The only time I really get to see it is when pro players duke it out in clutch matches.

The matches mentioned above were definitely some of those. I really enjoy seeing a team stay calm and claw their way back from what looks like utter disaster.

As for why I’m out of blog post ideas, here’s what I’ve done for the rest of the gaming day (night):

  • Finished the daily in GW2 by visiting one vista, chopping some wood, and beating on the Svanir Shaman. I could have played a PvP match to complete the daily too, but I just couldn’t muster the energy or interest.
  • Finished the daily in Trove by running around fairly easy Uber-2 lairs and dungeons, and essentially autoattacking, while Dota 2 matches were playing in the other screen.
  • Tried to level Gardening in Trove, and got about 100 skill points in, before realising that further progress would require ingredients from earlier tiers to grow and be harvested – taking anywhere from 1 – 4 hours to be fully mature and ready to go.

Yeah. Nothing exciting. No pretty screenshots. Nuthing.

Oh here, I found an old screenshot of quaggans in the new Lion’s Arch fountain / quaggan pool. Guess that will have to tide you over till tomorrow.

quaggans

This post was brought to you by the letter B for Belghast and Blaugust, the letter D for Drought, Dry and Desperate, and (only) the number 5. (Darn.)

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Drowning… But in a Good Way…

What do I do now? Let me count the ways…

GW2

Draining half my resources appears to have successfully rekindled a fire in me to start making a list of things to do (which will also coincidentally earn some gold, plus some that might take the stockpile in the opposite direction.)

I need to get my new-ish asura warrior to a waypoint in every map that has a dungeon, as he is the one character that is 100% meta compliant (as opposed to 95%), and more importantly, isn’t overloaded with 101 “fun” fireworks, tonics, spare gear sets and assorted Silverwastes junk. That kinda gets in the way of the ideal “zoom from dungeon to dungeon without pause and earn tons of gold” routine.

I suddenly have the intense craving for a number of Scientific weapon skins from the Black Lion vendors (or TP), which means I either need a ton of gold, or convince myself to spend the equivalent of a month’s subscription on being sorely disappointed on Black Lion’s Chests (or trade in the equivalent sum for gold, which would guarantee at least one skin) and/or farm Black Lion Keys and trade time instead of hard currency. To even figure out where to begin, it seems like a good idea to watch a video of all the skins first and prioritize “must-haves” versus “nice-to-haves.”

It occurs to me that I have a number of basic collections and left over collect some coin or badge or other item from Dry Top/Silverwastes that I have yet to complete. Those should be far easier mini-milestones or goalposts for the feeling of mini-wins than building a legendary…

Speaking of which, I have now used up my two Gifts of Exploration from world map completion, which means another alt has to circumnavigate the globe at some point. Each map is another potential mini-goalpost.

Speaking of alts, not only do I have alts that should be brought to level 80 -some- day, I had the vague desire to take nifty screenshots of my characters and discuss my relationship to my in-game avatars in similar fashion to Rowan Blaze, who has also been inspired by Syp to wonder about how various players fit on the roleplaying versus puppeteering spectrum with regards to their characters/avatars.

And and, if I want gold, I should really get on Silverwastes chest farms or an easy world boss train cycle to replace all those ectos nommed up by Kraitin.

Steam Sale

I have been feeling a little more financially solvent recently, and this has manifested itself in an enthusiastic attempt to clear my Steam wishlist (which dates back to 2012 and earlier.)

I haven’t completely lost my mind or loosened my purse strings entirely, but I decide it was time to actively re-look at the wishlist and ask myself hard questions as to whether I really wanted to ever play the game and/or buy it when it reached 75% off. (Yeah, my wishlist is mostly to keep track of when games I’m interested in hit that threshold.)

It helps that I’ve now decided I can watch and enjoy Youtube videos via streaming to the TV, which then helped me throw out some titles whose setting and potential story intrigued me, but whose gameplay I was left very hesitant about after seeing other peoples’ reviews. (Solution: Find a Let’s Play of the game on Youtube, watch someone else play through it for me while I do other constructive chores around the house.)

Other games, I decided to toss entirely, like Dungeonbowl – where the vitriol about it being horrendously buggy and not having any singleplayer worth speaking of suggested that I’d never actually play it (may as well just cut out some paper miniatures and play my own solo game via tabletop rules if it’s that bad) and the Walking Dead Season 2 – its setting/theme/characters just doesn’t strike a note with me, for some reason.

(I valiantly struggled my way through the first Walking Dead, alternately bored with the mundanity of everyday America and uncontrollably metagaming every time an obvious “no-win” moral dilemma scene/scenario came up. I limped my way through two or three vignettes of 400 days, and then decided there was just no way I could stay interested in these characters, which were either fated to be killed horribly by some other mortal or mortal turned zombie. Nihilism / Anomie 1: Jeromai 0. Except I guess I also win by choosing not to buy or play any more goddamn seasons.

Perhaps I’ll keep an eye on Tales from the Borderlands once it finishes, that seems a little more lighthearted and up my alley, as opposed to something like *ugh* Game of Thrones, which doubtless contains more blood-grimdarkness-politics-nowinscenarios, I’m guessing.)

Despite those that didn’t make the cut, there were a LOT of suddenly-now-75%-off games on my wishlist that were mostly under $5 that didn’t have any obvious reasons for why they shouldn’t be bought and given a try…

Self-control 0, Steam 1 (or 19, rather:)

whatselfcontrol

(Plus a few more in the $10 range that were just too tempting, solid reviews though.)

So…uhhhh… yeah… I need to find the time to install and at least -try- the games for an hour or two. No plans to complete them entirely, but I really should play them and have fun with the lot.

It’s only Day 3 of the sale. I’m doomed.

Free-2-Play Games On the To-Try Someday List

I mentioned my new TV channel surfing habit of flipping through “recommended”  Youtube videos, right?

Some random dudes made a Top Ten list of Free 2 Play Steam games, that probably turned up on my suggested watching list because they mentioned Dota 2 and my TV channel surfing account has a bunch of Dota 2 related channels on subscription, and I suddenly accumulated a list of free-2-play games that I ought to try for fun. After all, they’re free and on Steam, right?

Warframe, Robocraft, and TERA are all stuff sitting in the back of my mind, poking me every now and then that I should make a go at them, if only for a night to get some initial impressions.

They mentioned Marvel Heroes, which is one of those games which are just so colorfully attractive in terms of IP, and yet equally intriguing to me is the “Is this all there is to it?” question that hits me every time I dive into it. Kill a metric ton of PvE mobs that put up no fight whatsoever, accumulate many numbers on many things, find increasing numbers and wear those things to kill even higher metric tons of PvE mobs that put up no fight whatsoever? Surely there’s -more- to Marvel Heroes than what initially hits the casual eye… (who knows, I’ve never made it beyond the second story mode difficulty because it got so damn boring and I end up diverted running cycles through Midtown Madness instead to increment higher and higher numbers.)

Then they talk about Path of Exile, and I’m like, YEAH, THAT GAME IS AWESOME. And I’m SO going to be back when the Awakening expansion is finally done and I get to play Act 4.

And they close with the utter king of Steam Free-To-Play games… Dota 2.

Dota 2

Uh… right. I was supposed to be playing a match every day.

Except I got busy, and then distracted doing a whole bunch of other stuff.

I still -do- intend to keep playing it, and learning more, of course.

And apparently they’ve JUST announced a rework of their client, calling it Dota 2 Reborn.

Which is kind of awesome, in more ways than one.

Being all newbie and stuff, I’m especially intrigued by the advertised new tutorial, as well as the feature that will allow one to “demo a hero” to try out their abilities and practice last hitting, which seems like a quick and convenient way to get a feel for various heroes and learn their abilities, as opposed to having to click a bunch of buttons to start an entire bot match just to do so.

Seems like next week, they’ll make some kind of announcement regarding custom games, likely building it in as part of the client’s UI and streamlining the process of downloading/trying out/joining custom games, which might make the subgenre more popular and possibly attract more folks to work on such stuff, potentially yielding all that player-generated content that saves the devs from needing to focus on such things.

(Hey, maybe we’ll eventually see a few maps/modes that support singleplayer gameplay, which would be amusing to try out. Casually skimming the existing list of custom games reveals a great deal of apparent junk, but also a few intriguing sounding maps, such as survival against various enemy waves or a new map that is almost RPG-esque in its looks but presumably plays like a normal MOBA. Presumably good stuff will rise to the top in time.)

Regardless, there’s plenty of extra shiny that seems to be coming Soon(TM).

Gratuitous Screenshots of a Real Life Kind

With this many games that I could be playing, what have I been doing instead these past weekends?

Playing tourist in my own country.

Beyond visiting various heritage enclaves (Chinatown, Geylang Serai, etc.) and sampling all the highly recommended food therein, the family finally got around to visiting one of the newer attractions the other day – Gardens By the Bay.

dragonflylake

The infamous boat atop the Marina Bay Sands, as seen via the Dragonfly Lake in the free public areas of the Gardens.

To my surprise, it was a lot better than I expected. Seems several years passing has given the plants a chance to settle in and look a little less sorry.

supertree1

The iconic, yet rather weird-looking, Supertree structures.

Ostensibly some sort of marriage between urban modernity and nature, the outer layer is covered by a vertical garden and apparently lights up like a Christmas tree at night (something I have yet to get around to seeing.)

We found ourselves more impressed by the “green” sustainability story around these structures. There are apparently photovoltaic cells atop them that store energy during the day and provide the power to light themselves up at night (and maybe a nearby fountain or two.) Some of them help to vent air out of the cooled conservatories (aka giant greenhouse domes,) yet another plant-like function.

supertree2

The lighting’s poor in this one, but hey, there’s actually plants managing to ascend and partially cover the horribly bare purple and green metal “fake branch” canopy on this particular Supertree.

I suppose they might actually look tree-like in another decade or so… assuming the vines don’t barbeque in our tropical sun and wilt, falling off the structure (seems someone may have been a tad idealistic in hoping the plants would cooperate regarding this design.)

The cooled conservatories, which are ticketed, were really quite nifty.

Ah, the irony of the tropics. In temperate countries, people build greenhouses to keep their plants warm and create humidity. Here, we air condition the greenhouse to make it cooler and more temperate.

The Cloud Forest aims to simulate a tropical or subtropical environment at higher elevations, atop mountains and so on. So only the temperature is cooled and the humidity is left to run hog wild.

cloudforestwaterfall

A seven-story concrete structure covered by plants to simulate a “mountain,” er… “a hill,” er… ok, ok, a “mound.”

cloudforest2

It really is pretty though. And the cool, damp environment is extremely pleasant to walk around in, as contrasted with the outside weather.

We managed to be in the right place at the right time to catch one of the scheduled mistings.

cloudforest3

Feeling a little like stepping back in time to the Jurassic.

Then I turned around and went, “OMG, GW2 god rays!” (sure sign one plays too much) and started snapping like a madman.

cloudforest4

*dreamy sigh* Right out of an Anet landscape… Heart of Thorns, eat your heart out.

bromeliad

This bromeliad was pretty cool. Looked to be one of those that form its own mini-pond community, aka a tank bromeliad that has a phytotelma. (Ah, the things one learns from Google and Wikipedia.)

pitcherplant

A rather sizeable pitcher plant.

pitcherpond

A metric f–kton more pitcher plants.

waterfall1waterfall2

Amusing myself with different shutter speeds.

I managed to burn through a new set of batteries (forgot spares) before we even hit the Flower Dome, which left me a touch sparse on good pictures.

The climate in there was glorious though. The air is run through some sort of dehumidifying system, along with being cooled, and it absolutely felt like walking around in a temperate country. Definitely going to revisit again. Cheaper than an air ticket.

flowerdome

I’ll just leave this photo here which seems to encapsulate most of its contents. Brilliant succulent garden, a collection of baobabs/bottle trees, a lot of plants enthusiastically blooming.

Oh, ok, maybe one more. Because I love these little critters.

stoneplants

And this is a gaming blog, right? So here’s your mini-game: how many stone plants are in this picture?

(Stay distracted. Kthxbai. Back later with actual game stuff. I hope.)

Restless, Unfocused Weekend

Remarkably unfocused in gaming this weekend.

Just feeling ridiculously restless and went roaming through various games like my old game-hopping self, barely lasting 15 minutes on a single title, searching aimlessly for something… except I hadn’t a clue what the something was, and never found it either.

Bounced into GW2 for an hour of WvW reset, then got bored. Batman: Arkham Origins wasn’t cutting it. Idly thought about playing Fallout: New Vegas on the heels of the big Fallout 4 trailer news, then decided I wasn’t quite up for a long haul RPG just yet. Dipped into Dota 2 for a game, then stopped. Vaguely considered starting up How to Survive, after seeing on Steam they had a new immersive camera view mode or something, but couldn’t remember why I stopped playing it and decided not to start again yet either. Thought I was maybe missing some survival gameplay, so I loaded up Don’t Starve and picked 30 grasses and twigs before giving that up as a bad idea too.

It was nuts.

Ended up on the sofa flipping TV channels and also coming up with nothing, except… there were a whole bunch of smart TV functions I hadn’t really explored, so what the heck… *experimentally presses a bunch of buttons*

Long story short, I ended up figuring out how to watch Youtube videos on the TV, a process I attempted once and gave up as a bad idea due to utter infuriation trying to type letters into a search box on a TV remote and discovering the TV did not support USB or Bluetooth keyboards either.

Turns out what I needed to do was make an entire new Google/Youtube account and use an iPad or computer to create a whole bunch of subscriptions and custom playlists. Linking -that- to the TV allowed me to channel flip between non-awful actually-interesting-to-me Youtube content using merely the arrow keys and OK button on the remote, which is about the extent of what you’d want to do with such a lame controller.

It was a surprise to me that I had infinitely more patience for sitting through giant-size videos while on a couch, occupying my idle hands with other productive household chores I’d been procrastinating over, than say, sitting in front of a monitor and keyboard and mouse (which implies active GAME time, rather than passive VIDEO watching) or squinting at tiny moving pixels on a mobile device.

Watched some Dota 2 qualifiers and Evolve tournaments, a couple of tutorials, and even managed to sit through a couple of the recent GW2 Points of Interest / Ready Up videos for long enough to see the Reaper and Dragonhunter combat animations (though I rather gave up at a traits tree discussion covering individual traits… whose numbers are absolutely not set in stone, as repeatedly stressed, and whose functions are probably still in flux. Eh, I’ll look at them when I see ’em, in the expansion or in a beta that is nearer to expansion launch, really no point analyzing anything now when it could change from patch to patch, right?)

I ended up listening to Totalbiscuit expound on MOBA mindshare, during a news coverage over Infinite Crisis’ shutdown. (Apparently, it was a DC heroes MOBA, created by Turbine. Who knew?)

His issue with it was that it was mostly a clone that failed to innovate, and thus failed to take any sizeable audience from the big three MOBAs, whom he listed as LOL, DOTA 2 and Smite (albeit much smaller audience than the first two, he said), with a maybe caveat for the up-and-coming Heroes of the Storm.

Smite, huh? I’d played Strife (which Izlain loves to call baby’s first MOBA) for the span of a tutorial or two, but I hadn’t actually looked at Smite.

According to TB, Smite at least attempted to innovate by changing the camera view from the traditional RTS isometric view to a 3rd person one.

Huh. What’s that?

So I flipped Youtube channels to go look up a Smite tournament, and after a very similar-looking draft pick of heroes, I found myself looking at a typical MOBA game from a hero’s eye view. Literally.

The similarity to typical MMO combat was striking, and I started to ask myself about their control scheme. Are the players actually using WASD and mouselook like an MMO?

Curiosity got the better of me and despite my desire to not confuse myself playing multiple MOBAs with a ton of hero names while valiantly trying to learn the 110 heroes of Dota 2, I ended up downloading the Smite client to just try the damn thing out. Totally non seriously, of course.

smite

It was rather… refreshing, really.

It’s not got as much eye candy as either Dota 2 or LOL, and is distinctly less polished and rougher around the edges (I got thrown into a confusing sequence of tutorials with nary so much as a by-your-leave.)

Apparently, hero balance is more questionable and the competitive conquest (aka most pure MOBA-alike) mode is host to a highly toxic community (which makes it no different than any other MOBA), but…

… for super-casual play, I found it modestly amusing, and dare I say it, fun.

First off, I felt a LOT more at home with the control scheme. It was indeed WASD and mouselook, except that looking up and down was verboten. I was impressed to find that the default A and D was strafe left and right, which made it unnecessary to have to tweak any settings.

Skills had little shaped targeting reticules in lines and cones and circles, distinctly reminiscent of Wildstar or GW2, except that one tended to position them with mouselook, rather than a mouse cursor per se.

Every attack, yes, even the traditional “auto-attack” has to be powered by clicking or holding down the left mouse button, which lent it a distinctly action-combat feel.

I was intrigued with the idea of ranged standard attacks being -all- skillshots, in that each projectile has to be targeted like an FPS, which is an interesting way to twist the standard melee and ranged combat roles where melee traditionally have a tougher time and range just sits back in safety autoattacking. Ranged characters thus end up with a slightly different set of problems to solve in Smite, having to lead targets and aim properly and choose positioning appropriately, while melee still have the traditional “gotta catch up with a moving target” issue.

Secondly, Smite provided a number of distinctly more casual game modes. Besides the traditional Conquest mode, it came up with a more short form brawler-y Arena mode, where the goal is ostensibly to send a bunch of minions into the opposing team’s portal to reduce their point score, but mostly it’s a great excuse for running into the center and duking it out with all the other heroes, while half keeping an eye on the progress of your minions. Matches last 15-20 minutes, a good half the time of a typical MOBA map.

(It has a couple other variants, a 3 vs 3 Joust and so on, but I mostly just played the one so far. Rumor has it that Arena mode is the most popular, and I can understand why. It simply offers the short format jump-in-jump-out lots-of-combat option. It’s like how combat mode became more popular in Natural Selection than the longer form strategic mode.)

I have zero comments on its community, because I ended up playing with bots 97% of the time. I played a practice match or two, which auto-filled itself with bots. Then I queued up for a co-op match, thinking that might be the safest casual option and wanted to see if that would still earn me ‘level progression’ to give that fake feeling of progress and allow the purchase of new heroes, and was mildly amused to discover that if you were kept waiting for maybe 2 minutes or so with no one else available to play, the game just filled with bots and let you play.

The bots were the decidedly brain dead variety, that didn’t stand a chance. But as I pewpewed and enjoyed the explosions, I found myself reflecting on the whole “PvE”-alike aspect. Mobs in MMO (or all) PvE generally are programmed to let you have the win. It kind of felt the same here.

But what’s the harm, really?

PvP purists tend to look down upon this. Psh, they go, humans are the most dangerous game. We like to hunt people because of the potential unpredictability, the cunning, the intelligence and smarts of a thinking opponent (never mind that in most pug matches out there, your teammates appear to have no greater IQ than that of an earthworm. They keep searching for that dream of a perfectly even match where herculean struggle lets them win in the end, or enjoy their pub stomps over weaker opponents – how’s this part different than the standard PvE ego boost? – and then gnash their teeth when stomped in return by someone better.)

But you know, not everyone wants their every game to turn into a terrific life and death, Dark Souls-esque struggle for success. (Speaking of Dark Souls, there’s proof that you can crank up PvE difficulty to hardcore levels too, even without bringing another human into the picture.)

Sometimes, they’re just a casual who wants a bit of escapism and fake ego boost and shiny pewpew explosions.

Playing at that level, the most casual portion of Smite felt surprisingly satisfying as something to pass the time with.

What I also found pretty slick was an automatic item buy and skill buy system that handled the deeper stuff, letting you get to the meat of blowing shit up with skills. I liked it because it suggested there was a deeper level that one could eventually progress to, if so inclined, choosing item and skill builds appropriately, but it also sorta said “for now, when you’re a beginner, don’t worry your head over it and just play and enjoy.”

If I wasn’t already so busy with Dota 2 (and I’m a purist who is supremely loyal to the original format and concept, so it’s hard to tear me away, even if trying to learn the damn game is like trying to read the Library of Congress in a lifetime,) I could see myself gravitating towards Smite as a sort of action combat MMO – MOBA bridge.

Some day, I suppose I need to get around to trying out Heroes of the Storm too, but that, ugh, no doubt requires a Battlenet account and all that other Blizzard jazz that I’ve been evading for a long time now.

I’ll probably wait until all Starcraft 2 episodes are out, since I want a cheap trilogy pack -someday-. That would probably make it unavoidable then, and I’ll get around to trying out HoTS and Hearthstone and Overwatch like their evil master plan desires.