GW2: Path of Fire Weekend Demo

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Crystal Desert, ahoy!

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Reddit is in love with the raptor mount’s animations – the sheer attention to detail is amazing.

Riding one of these feels very vehicle-like or ship-like, no quick side-strafing but more steering like a speedboat… that can leap long distances.

I created a warrior for the weekend demo.

This time around, Marauder stats were provided (similar to Berserker with less Power/Precision/Ferocity bang, but more Vitality), which I thought was a nice compromise for experienced players who can’t live without the damage potential they are used to, but had extra health pool for the new players.

I’m not sure what necromancers started out with, but both UltrViolet from Endgame Viable and Aywren reported some difficulty with the introductory instance that showed players arriving to the Crystal Desert and learning how to use mounts.

Part of it might be a problem with the preset traits and skills. The warrior started with a greatsword and rifle, which happens to suit my open world playstyle fine (direct damage, one melee and one range option) but I took one look at the traits and couldn’t quite make head or tail out of it.

I suspect they built it more defensively for new preview weekend players. “Kick” was on my skill bar, among other things. Ok, breakbar hint, I suppose, but I am totally not used to using the warrior physical skills. Especially after they changed it in the new patch and gave it an ammo mechanic in the hope of making it more popular/viable a choice, but new mechanic = something not even vets are familiar with using right now.

You can picture me poking at it quizzically with this sort of expression on my face.

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So I took some time at the start to flip things to the more standard PS berserker build I was used to, minus the banners for group support, plus Wild Blow utility and Head Butt elite skill for breakbar (I’ll take the hint).

Also, since experience versus Balthazar mobs in Siren’s Landing has taught me that Anet is very very fond of quick stacking burns as a theme on his faction (recipe for immediate “Ow!” and falling over downed), a condi cleanse might be super helpful. Shake It Off went on the utility skill bar.

Lastly, finishing off the open world utility trifecta besides a breakbar skill and a condi cleanse, a stun-break. Warriors have a number of options, I just like Balanced Stance because it gives swiftness for running around, stability if used pre-emptively, and breaks stun if used reactively.

With that, the story instance felt fine, though I did feel like I was hitting with… if not quite a wet noodle, at least a wooden sword. See, the downgrade was that the demo stats were all exotics – armor, weapons, trinkets – along with Marauder slightly diluting the max damage of Berserker stats possible.

On the bright side, I used no food, no utilities and completed it just fine on exotics, so it is doable – and I presume they tested with all exotic gear, if this is their preset demo gear.

The big issue, imo, is mostly that folks not used to GW2 combat are not used to two things:

  1. Moving while pressing skills, and knowing what the skills are so that they can be chained smoothly
  2. Reading the itty bitty tiny buff icons on the mob’s status bars and general mob combat animations and indicators that have become second nature to people who play GW2 more often

Running out of orange circles by being pre-emptively mobile and ready to sidestep is a trained reaction by now for most of us, while a new player probably doesn’t even -see- the orange circle against the beige sand of a desert setting, let alone react in time.

Reading animations is another thing. Mobs have been charging at us since Mordrem mobs in Dry Top and Silverwastes. You gain an instinctive “uh oh” hunch when a mob starts pausing and looking at you funny, gathering itself up… before you know it, you’ve thrown yourself with a sideways dodge out of the way of the oncoming charge.

This is a learned reaction. Painfully acquired over time from getting charged and knocked down and around every which way to kingdom come. Not to mention, getting shot to hell by the straight ground line of Mordrem snipers.

You go from not even knowing the mob is going to come at you, to recognizing that “ok, this mob type is probably coming at me,” to trying out different mobility solutions (running sideways will probably still get you caught, just hitting the dodge button leaves you still in the oncoming path), to realizing that the best solution is to dodge sideways, to -practising- the ability to dodge sideways (holding one key down while pressing another, are your keybinds in a comfortable place to do that?) until it becomes something you can do on demand, and even subconsciously.

(And if you are a little insane, like my particular raid group, you practice synchronized group dodging aka “dodge left” to control a particular mechanic for a certain raid boss in a predictable manner.)

Bottom line is, no one starts out ABLE to do anything automatically. It was practiced and developed over time. Frustration at the stages before “can more or less do it” is completely normal.

But anyway, after the story instance completes, you’re tossed out into the first open world map of the expansion.

Boy, were they really careful with its design.

The first thing you get is a fairly big settlement, not quite racial city-sized but definitely larger than a village or outpost.

You can run around it in relatively welcoming safety, like Lion’s Arch. It introduces the special mechanics of the map – races, bounties – and has some amenities like a bank and trading post.

What’s pretty special is that in a fashion somewhat remniscent of Warhammer Online, you can actually get “public quests” *ahem* “dynamic events” within the town confines.

You can run around and collect objects with your mount and contribute to event completion. A pack of rampaging choya (planty quaggan things, but -angrier-) can attempt to stampede into town. It gives the whole city a little more life – or at least, more action.

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The real verisimilitude comes from the outside.

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This -is- a big map, compared to the rest of the GW2 zones. (And mind you, one third to one quarter of it on the right side also appears to be locked off at the moment.)

Wide open is the watchword, and IT FEELS GOOD.

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Explorer souls, rejoice.

The awe of gorgeous surroundings, the curious sensation of wondering what’s over the horizon in whichever direction yonder and just -choosing to go- there (without being hindered by sheer drops, puzzle updraft/mushrooms and Mordremoth’s clingy tendrils), and then finding something interesting to see – all that is back in the map on weekend preview.

I find myself sometimes just wanting to run on foot through the place, rather than mount up.

If you miss that sense of MMO as a WORLD, rather than as a meta map with a game objective on a timer, then I think you can get some sense of that back in Path of Fire, if the rest of the zones are similar to this one.

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World map-wise, it looks pretty promising in potential. Given the coloration of the Elonian region, we might see bits of the Brand, the sulfur deserts of old with the junundu wurms, as well as grassy oases in the Crystal Desert proper.

Even in the first map on preview, it’s not -all- beige desert, there’s some other colors too, if you know where to look.

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What I do like, that I haven’t really seen commented on:

There are some really faithful references back to Guild Wars 1, with added new combat mechanics twists.

Man, hydra farming was a thing in GW1 – which I was never very good at, but tried my hand at anyway.

And I remember they were Elementalists of much fiery rainy pain.

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Hydra says “ahai.”

Now here’s something we haven’t seen before, mob skills that use a lot more verticality.

The meteors are a little mean when first encountering them (I got smashed by the first meteor before I could react, the first few times) but after a while, you realize they’re going to do that and keep moving so that you’re not there by the time it lands.

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Their heads pop off. And they wiggle around like beheaded triple trouble wurms. That’s a little nuts. But a very nice effect.

Overall, it’s not just the mount animations that are worthy of praise in Path of Fire, it’s pretty much all the mob animations. Sand sharks dive in and out of the sand in a convincingly fluid manner, unsoweiter.

The fanged iboga, another GW1 throwback, with an arcing poison/hallucination style attack as befits its mesmer class.

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New shapes are coming. A fire wall, in all its 3D glory.

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New buffs on the mob’s buff bars to read too. It will be interesting to see if boon stealing will be more valuable a mechanic in Path of Fire.

Bounties are an interesting map activity. Basically, they are like Queen’s Gauntlet mobs. You can pick up a bounty to go and trigger them in the open world. Once “summoned,” they exist for the space of 9-10 minutes, and anyone walking by can join in the fight, dynamic event style.

They have more complex mechanics than the standard open world mobs. Apparently, they can spawn with different buff “affixes” so they may vary from bounty to bounty, and necessitate slightly different tactics to defeat.

They seem to be a good intermediate training/tutorial mechanism on GW2 combat.

For one thing, it’s not a cage fight like the Queen’s Gauntlet.  One can break off combat any time and run away far enough to get out of combat and switch skills/change traits to adapt to the encounter.

For another, multiple people can join in, help each other, teach each other, or at least in a worse case unfriendly scenario, -observe- how another person is soloing while in a downed state.

I followed a commander tag calling for help and fought a really angry giant choya on a flat mini-island in the ocean. The thing was rolling around like a rolling devil on steroids, smashing anyone that got in its way (ie. everyone -on- the floating platform of an island) and summoning up ley line energy things that spun around and did damage – essentially limiting even more of the already limited arena.

After getting downed a few times, I rolled off into the ocean to float and actually read all the mechanics on the mob’s bar. The ocean was a perfect safe zone. (It was a little tough to figure out the correct side to even jump back up into the fight.)

There were 3-4 other people there, all getting smashed to high heaven. Barely anyone was touching the break bar.

Which…seemed like the best strategy, actually, because it wasn’t going to stay still otherwise. And it was lethal once moving erratically.

So I gamely jumped back onto the platform, tried to land Wild Blow, Head Butt, and even Rifle Butt. There was one other person that also helped cc a bit. Together, we managed to knock out the break bar and stun it. Now it was a punching bag for a crucial few moments. Rinse and repeat. Bounty done.

There was another bounty out in the desert. I can’t recall what it was, but I do remember it had the Sniper affix.

What this produced was a slow-moving shiny ball that would select a random player and creep towards the player. It moves -just- a little faster than one can sidestep though. Once it hits the player, a target gets painted on the player and a ley line energy snipe of doom emerges from the bounty and does 95% of one’s health bar, if not more, and typically downs the player.

Cue an amusing sequence of everyone getting downed in turn and Benny Hill running away from the death ball.

I wanted to “solve” this mechanic, so I backed out of the combat leaving the two other players to alternate being downed and switched skills.

The first thing I thought of was to “block” the sniper hit.

I wasn’t on my guardian though, and warriors can usually only block reliably on demand with a shield… which I didn’t have on the demo character and wasn’t interested in wrangling with the gear explosion and stat selection of the demo box.

The other thing warriors have that essentially are more sophisticated “blocks” is a) endure pain (immune to all direct damage, but conditions go through) and b) defiant stance (heal for the amount of damage that hits you, within the limited three seconds or so that it is active).

So I put both of those on and went to test them out on the shiny ball of doom.

Allow shiny ball to hit me, trigger defiant stance. Boom, sniper shot heals me to full. Giggle maniacally.

Shiny ball comes looking for me again, and trigger endure pain. Boom, sniper shot does no damage. Perfect.

So now I just need to manage cooldowns so that one is always ready to go by the time the shiny ball comes to me… tricky… hmm, what about classes that don’t have the specialized skills of warriors, can they do anything? Well, anyone can dodge with an invulnerability frame… HMM…

The next time the shiny ball comes in, I cross my fingers for luck and dodge the moment it hits me. BAM, evaded, just as the sniper shot comes in.

Therrrre you go, that’s IT. That’s the solution. It’s a mini-training tutorial for dodging!

Suddenly, I am the only person staying alive consistently while the other three people also fighting the boss just keep going down when the shiny ball decides they look interesting.

I leave them to observe me for a while: a mixture of not wanting to attract the shiny ball of doom and get sniped to death while locked in a revive animation, and wondering if the other three can learn by observation and arrive at the solution.

Mind you, these were not completely new players. The lowest had a 56 mastery point level, the middle was somewhere around 143, and the last was a full 193 mastery like moi.

They downed, revived themselves, downed again.

I stayed alive, and sat at range pewpewing the bounty as a rifle warrior.

After the second time they downed in sequence, feeling a little bad that I wasn’t bothering to rez them while I was enjoying my sequence of reactive dodging or soaking the sniper shot, I tried a teaching moment.

“Dodge when the shiny ball reaches you” was all I needed to say.

The next time they revived themselves, I watched as the shiny ball hit them. And BAM, they dodged and stayed alive. Just like that. The bounty died.

These were not complete newbies. They -knew- how to dodge. What they lacked was the ability to read the mechanics and experiment with solution finding. Their first impulse was to run away from the ball, and they kept trying to do that, even when the ball caught up with them and kept downing them.

I don’t know if this problem solving propensity can be trained or encouraged, but certainly, these new mobs are a way to at least let some people inclined to strategizing have some fun, and then the best solutions will get passed around verbatim or via Dulfy guide until everyone just knows “the strategy” for the encounter.

It’s a nice intermediate step from normal open world mobs anyway, but less punishing than that in Heart of Thorns (you don’t just die and have to waypoint run from far away, running out of combat is possible and mostly the punishment is getting downed).

My only fear is that this might break in larger numbers and groups of players. If they can be zerged down like guild bounties, then it’s possible that some players will just go ahead and do that and learn close to absolutely nothing (but maybe some osmosis will still happen in the company of others.)

Still, the weekend preview map feels surprisingly empty. Either the maps are deliberately being kept at a very low population number per instance (haven’t had skill lag in here), or folks have seen what they came to see and don’t want to progress further in a demo, or exploration as an activity doesn’t actually interest the present GW2 population as a whole.

I really hope it’s not the last. There doesn’t seem to be violent opposition on Reddit to this, so hopefully, people like it. I’m personally quite happy to have more of this stuff. (Cantha is a word that comes to mind, just sayin’.)

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Nightime in this zone is fantastic. What better to end on but screenshots of this?

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GW2: Heart of Thorns Day 1 Impressions

Like Abott and Costello...

If we measure success by the sheer number of things that one could do, without doubt, GW2’s Heart of Thorns expansion is an unmitigated success.

One look down the achievements list (sorry Bhagpuss, it’s still here), the collections tab, the new masteries, the legendary precursor sections, the Heart of Thorns zones, the Heart of Thorns story chapters, the new guild initiatives, and oh, there were elite specializations and a new revenant profession, wasn’t there? (haven’t had time to even progress on any of those.)

Not to mention, all things WvW and PvP related that I haven’t even glanced at.

Oh, did we mention Halloween is in full swing in Lion’s Arch, so you -could- also be grinding out limited time festival goodies for shiny skins if so prioritized?

Drooburt up to his old ways in the afterlife.

Drooburt is still up to his old ways in the afterlife.

If we measure success by server stability and lack of game breaking bugs or everybody-can’t-login-or-play crashes, ArenaNet completely blows the competition out of the water on this one.

So far, most of the problems I’ve been hearing about are related to people being impatient and jumping straight into the game once it’s downloaded past the “playable” mark, and then charging headlong into a new zone or a story chapter where the content hasn’t fully downloaded yet – whereupon it either pauses/hangs or unceremoniously crashes the player out.

Duh.

I was patient (albeit in a knuckle gnawing, restlessly listening to others on Teamspeak, “I think I shall go and have some lunch while I wait for the full download” manner) and downloaded to 100% before logging in, and the whole experience for me has been silky smooth and perfect.

The servers are holding up in a remarkably rock solid manner, considering that my online friends list that usually is about half a page of people online stretched out to about 2.5-3 pages of people all online and checking out the shiny.

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Impressions?

The jungle feels a lot better than I thought it would be.

One thing that’s definitely helping is the music. I turned it back up from silent to appreciate the new scores and wow, the one on the character loading screen has to be heard to be believed.

Everything has a new coat of HoT shiny. The launcher now features a green tinted charr (Rytlock?); the character selection screen looks super-dramatic and shows off more helpful information, including which crafting professions are on which character.

The new HoT zones feel better when they’re all interconnected in one giant three-tiered map that goes from treetop canopy to roots, as opposed to one tiny section on reveal during beta. The former feels expansive and freeing, the latter felt small and cramped.

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The fun of a launch zerg – an event turns into an impromptu sniper rifle shooting gallery.

Add on some good accompanying background music, a little mob clutter, some NPCs (though some of them are chattering away at a slightly abnormal cranked up pace) and they become zones that seem worth exploring.

It also seems to me that they may have populated the floor with more jungle plant entities, which helps the atmosphere greatly (though I have no idea if this is an issue for older, slightly less updated computers now. The ‘perils’ of enjoying a new-ish rig.)

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I need to find the time to figure out what this says… It appears to be some wreckage from the Pact fleet.

The story feels promising.

I just passed chapter 7 – Personal Possessions (which made me rage quite a bit, I’ll tell you, frickin’ latency and zephyrite-ish jumping puzzles = most of the drama and pacing taken out by multiple fall/deaths to the point where one was running as essentially naked charr), which properly segues us into the next zone past Verdant Brink, Auric Basin.

Given that there are two more zones past Auric Basin, and that I’ve only uncovered about three-quarters of the Verdant Brink map and definitely not touched a great many events and mastery points and adventures in VB itself, there appears to be a sizeable chunk of content on offer.

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I’m trying to avoid major spoilers, but I suppose by now, most people do know there’s a city of gold somewhere in the jungle with some strange things called the Exalted. (End of minor spoiler.)

It’s the chapter before that lets us meet some old friends and has significant plot movement.

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It’s amazing how many people have rushed past the story and into just wandering about the new zones though.

I would have really appreciated some alone time playing through all the story chapters, but I knew one of my guilds was looking to claim a guild hall ASAP, so most of yesterday was spent with Teamspeak voices in the background, doing my best to power through some masteries while waiting for the expedition so that I wouldn’t miss the essentially one-off event.

Turns out that one was still lacking an Exalted mastery to get past a gate, but fortunately, there are mesmers to help guildies skip through that part, and I managed to zone into the instance.

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Wasn’t too bad. It definitely needed some communication and cooperation, along the lines of “split up your zerg, you morons.”

Whatever messaging system the devs were using for cues and instructions -needs- to be used and repeated in future zone events and even raids, imo. The pop up message was concise and offered feedback of the direct “shove it down your throat” kind – you failed this, this consequence now happens. Try doing X instead.

Given the mess of 40+ players running around, whose first impulse tends to be “follow the other yellow dots and commander tag,” the direct messaging was very helpful.

It took a bit of turning like an oil tanker (and one failure phase, but not failed in its entirety) for the group to learn and figure out what it had to do, but it was done in the end.

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Oh, speaking of other guild changes, the yellow dots are an interesting touch.

Some people don’t like it, but I’m fairly neutral about it. I kind of like that it makes me feel a bit more interconnected with the other people in the guild, in that I can see their names repeated in my daily game encounters (leading to a sense of familiarity) and at a glance, you can also see if there are any fun congregations of group activity going on in certain zones.

The multiple guild chat channels, though. FREAKING GODSEND. ABOUT TIME. HOW DID WE PLAY THREE YEARS WITHOUT THIS.

That one change makes my chat window suddenly worth looking at and reading, rather than mostly ignoring.

Makes the whole place feel a lot more lively and social now.

(And I don’t even talk much. Just listen to the chatty ones mostly.)

My one criticism of the Heart of Thorns expansion?

The 6 new stats sets being introduced.

Apparently, even though we are not having any increase in item gear rarity ever (so sayeth Colin), someone has figured out a clever little workaround and decided that they can get away with putting two primary stats and two secondary stats on new gear, as opposed to the one primary and two secondaries of old.

Um, are we power-creeping a little here? Did we just obsolete the desirability of things like Berserker or Sinister because now everyone should want one of the newer stat combinations for that secondary stat bonus now?

Not sure. I haven’t looked at the actual numbers to compare yet, but I’m sure someone will be doing those calculations sooner rather than later.

And then we shall see if there was any attempt at equivalency or just an outright “this gear is better, by X%”.

In the meantime, there are masteries and lots of candy corn to chase.

And I suppose I should make that revenant some day. (I’m in not that much hurry, I don’t think the asura name I have in mind will be grabbed any time soon.)

Minecraft: Regrowth – First Thoughts

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Minecraft: Regrowth is a modpack with an interesting premise. You awaken in a wasteland of nothing, dead trees, dead rock, dead everything.

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If you’re lucky, you find a pool of oil near your front doorstep / spawn point.

From this auspicious beginning, your task (if you choose to accept it) is to bring life back into the world.

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That mini-forest and grass patch is entirely man-made.

It’s a modpack that doesn’t believe in hardcore pwning you the minute you walk out your front door (which is a very strong point in its favor after trying out mods like Crash Landing or Void World, where I tend to lose patience with urban city fighting fending off an army of crazily modded zombies and skeletons, never-ending thanks to strategically placed and nearly impossible to find spawners)…

…but cleaves to a philosophy of removing the (often easier) standard “go-to” tech mods like Minefactory Reloaded, Thermal Expansion, Extra Utilities etc. in favor of walking you through less explored mods of a nature and magic flavor, such as Botania, Agricraft, Magic Crops and Witchery.

A few tech mods are still present, but mostly of the less explored, slightly more tedious/grindy variety, Buildcraft, Railcraft, and Mariculture being some of those you’ll be asked to learn and progress through before reaching the ability to comfortably make a Tinker’s Smeltery.

It’s quite a well done progression, helped along by a very comprehensive HQM quest book that walks you step-wise through unfamliar mods and always provides multiple goals to be working toward at any one point.

The overall feeling is that of a relaxing, growing/farming progression, that gives you sufficient time and space to build however you wish.

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In my case, that’s still pretty much a functional home of the ‘hole in the ground’ variety.

I find it quite impossible to break the habit somehow. I vaguely considered flattening out a huge open space on which to grow squares and lines of crops out in the world, but my spawn point happened to be in the Arid Mountains biome and the landscape was just too daunting to consider massive terraforming.

Besides, a gigantic walled compound was so… ugly.

(I ended up digging a 3 deep moat around the outside of my base to demarcate a relative safe area with torches to prevent monster spawns. This has the advantage of being almost invisible to the eye, if you’re not looking directly at it.)

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While the experimental industry is left outside, most of the really valuable stuff happens inside:

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My initial hobbit hole with resource storage / crafting chamber and a lower room for initial experimental Botania flowers and crop growing.

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A week later, it’s significantly more upgraded, and starting to reach the limits of its confines.

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I was perhaps a little foolishly optimistic in thinking this tiny chamber would be sufficient. It’s now been more or less converted into the initial crossbreeding zone – one produces new crops/seeds by crossing two existing crops such as those dandelions produced by crossing sugarcane and melons (don’t ask.)

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It turns out that seeds can increase in strength and growing speed and yield, and the easiest fire and forget method of propagation (since weeds are disabled in Regrowth and you don’t have to hover anxiously over the crops ready to smite them) is to stretch them out in a long line.

By the time the seeds propagate themselves to the end of the line, that last seed is often at the ideal 10/10/10 stats, or close to it (whereupon you start the line again.)

My second growth room was stymied by my poor architectural planning. I couldn’t widen it any further because there are mushroom corridors along the right wall that don’t appreciate any light being let in, and on the left, those windows pretty much overlook the sea.

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Third time lucky. (We hope.) Left and right views of the slightly more industrial sized underground farm.

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The sprinkler system is newly installed. One is still working out the kinks. Several water tanks are connected to it outside but it’s been proving really hard to create an infinite water supply in Regrowth without my standard easy way out of an aqueous accumulator.

I think my only hope at this point is to use a Buildcraft pump (which requires me growing redstone) and a 3×3 infinite water source.

It will also involve some wrangling with Buildcraft pipes, which I honestly quite loathe after getting used to the more flexible and intuitive Itemducts and Fluiducts from Thermal Expansion via Agrarian Skies or the conduits of Ender IO via Wanderlust Reloaded.

Buildcraft pipes feel like a massive programming throwback to something decades earlier where you have to specify -everything-, starting from the extraction wooden pipe (that apparently has to be powered by a separate engine, which in turn has to be powered by a redstone lever – unless I’m misunderstanding something) and then the actual transport itself requires differently colored pipes made out of different materials specifying the speed at which it travels and then god forbid you want to do something complicated while stuff is in the pipes because that requires more pipe colors to sort/divide/filter and so on.

Well, we’ll see. Regrowth leaves me with no choice but to learn how to manage it (or forcibly custom install another mod, but that feels like cheating) so manage it we shall, for the time being.

It’s like how I’ve started wrangling with Railcraft’s Steam Boilers and really primitive-feeling steam engines (which I hear can explode if you treat them badly, like pour water into an empty overheated steam boiler) because I don’t have anything more modern on hand and I need -some- amount of RF power.

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The beginning of the experimental ‘machines’ phase. I decided to do a more Agrarian Skies-like floating cobblestone platform to house the machine experiments.

I figure if things really go badly and explode, everything will just fall into the ocean and I can do recovery from there.

No doubt I will have to widen it further as time goes by, but at least there’s potential for a nearly infinite flat space in this direction.

Definitely a modpack worth trying.

Just don’t say I didn’t warn you if you go silent for several weeks and no one hears from you in a while. *coughs*