GW2: New Map

Wow.

Avoiding spoilers, suffice to say that there are some serious stops being pulled out.

Visually it knocks your socks off.

I am so happy I have the monitor I have right now.

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I have a FANTASTIC spoiler-laden shot of a really big dragon, that is absolutely done justice in 3840×1080, but we’ll save that for a later post, after folks (me included) have had time to go through the latest release.

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Minecraft: Regrowth – The Expansioning

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There’s something about Regrowth that checks nearly all my boxes.

I really like the feeling that I’m solely responsible for populating a nearly barren world with life again, similar to a skyblock, minus the scary stress of falling off a floating island into the void or feeling obliged to put down a -floor- everywhere.

Not to mention, if you gave me creator responsibility for floors, they’ll wind up all flat, because I’m lazy, and I’ll go for the easiest way out.

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Adding trees and grass and plants and flowers organically though, that I can do.

There’s something special about wandering through the dark night and dull brown wasteland and being able to find your way back to your base, because it is the only brightly torch-lit green and growing oasis in a sea of cracked sand.

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It’s the best of both worlds – ample room to spread out (just takes a little filling in and landscaping) yet it bears the stamp of something intensely personal and handbuilt.

I’m especially fond of how organic the process is, since I’m not much of an aesthetic builder. I clear room for myself because I want to put something functional there.

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This tiny outpost across a short sea channel from my original base? Placed there once upon a time for the purposes of Enderman hunting, because I couldn’t find any in my carefully dug moat-surrounded well-lit compound.

Regrowth being Regrowth, I have crops for that now.

It makes you invest effort gaining the initial resource to make the seeds. Then, after the growing and breeding process is past, you’ve unlocked the key to nearly infinite resources… given sufficient planting room, some means of coaxing the crops into growing quickly, and ways to harvest them.

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A dinky little growing and cross-breeding chamber is soon outgrown and obsolete.

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Which leads to something slightly more ambitious… except that further expansion space has been blocked by another room existing behind said wall…

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And so we expand into the next room, dug deep into a convenient side of the mountain (the tallest around, a rare sight as one happened to spawn in a Mountainous Wasteland biome, surrounded by ordinary flat Wasteland and Ocean and Beach biomes.)

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Which has, over time, become one VERY long, sprinkler-fed hallway containing every crop discovered so far, a precious underground seed bank in a mountain bunker far from harm.

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Outside, an incongruous sight floats, against the background of my little hobbit hole in the side of a mountain.

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Functionality overtaking aesthetics, as is the case of most of my machines. I’m unfamiliar with most of the things I try, so it’s all about just getting them to -work-. Functional = success, as far as I’m concerned.

An Agricraft wooden water tank was initially built and expanded, in the hopes of catching sufficient rain. It soon became obvious that neither it, nor the Railcraft water tank originally attached to it, was going to cut it, hence the installation of a Buildcraft pump, powered by three cheap ‘free’ wooden engines, pumping water from a 3×3 infinite water source.

Even the world’s longest crop corridor turned out to be lacking, in the sense that it wasn’t generating sufficient quantities of desired resources.

The second generation, slightly-more-modern, perhaps-one-day-automated farm, became a project on a somewhat more ambitious scale.

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Not even the slighest bit complete, the originally intended building for one’s house/base/inventory storage has been taken over by a sudden spurt of interest in unlocking bits of Thaumcraft4 (hence the magic workbenches visible in the farm.)

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The ground floor has now been hijacked for Essentia distillation and housing in Warded Jars.

Walking to the modern farm compound from the original hobbit hole base is a short trip through several naturally occuring caves.

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Just a couple days ago, I finally installed a functional cobblestone bridge after getting tired of sinking into the deep water of this half-submerged cavern.

The cave before this one used to  be smaller, but got hijacked as an underground peat bog while I was on a peat-fired engine Nether quarry phase.

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Which then got widened out further and little wood frames installed to make harvesting peat slightly more convenient, without getting randomly washed around by the water sources necessary for making peat.

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I’m now in a minor bee phase. It might be my first serious attempt at exploring Forestry’s Bees and Magic Bees and Extra Bees mods.

For now, it’s very low tech, taking up the room previously occupied by some lower-end machines and pipes, but ill-formed plans are already spinning around in my head to develop things on a slightly grander scale.

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The machinery, meanwhile, has moved slightly further inland.

I made a very low-power input system for squeezing crops into fruit juice, which then goes into a fermenter to produce biomass for a biogas engine. (Except the squeezer which used to be there has now been hijacked to produce Seed Oil elsewhere.)

Progress has been more satisfying ever since I realized I’d actually unlocked steel ingots, which then opened up the Mekanism mod, a source of a lot more predictable and reliable tech machines and pipes and RF cables that work much more like the Thermal Expansion or Ender IO stuff I’d gotten spoiled with in prior modpacks.

(I’m sure Buildcraft pipes have a lot more sophistication I’m still failing to appreciate, since there are apparently gates that allow for some really complicated and specific programming.

But you know, most days, you just want your tap to work when you turn the faucet knob and don’t really feel the need to -have- to program an Arduino-controlled garden sprinkler cum fish tank aquaponic system just to get some water.)

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There’s still plenty of room for haphazard machinery, of course. Mostly brought on by the fact that I don’t actually -have- that much -safe- building space, nor much of a plan where machinery is concerned.

In the foreground is a legacy experiment to process Oil into Fuel. Said Fuel was successfully produced, and then hoarded, since the original resource is limited and I don’t like non-renewable power.

Somewhere in the center is my slightly larger 2×2 Liquid Fueled Firebox at the base of a steel 2x2x3 High Pressure Boiler tank, with some parts cannibalized from my original mimum size experiments with liquid fueled boilers.

The really nice thing about it is that it burns up Creosote Oil, an otherwise nigh-useless byproduct of Coke Ovens, which I use to make Coal Coke (necessary in the process of steel-ingot production) from an absolutely renewable source of Coal grown from Regrowth crops.

It produces a sizeable quantity of steam.

This was originally directly hooked up to an Industrial Steam Engine, except that I noticed a fairly noticeable quantity of Creosote Oil was being burned up to heat the firebox to steam-producing temperatures, and that the Engine wasn’t quite coping with the amount of steam produced and was threatening to overheat, necessitating the steam supply to be shut off and left in the boiler “wasted.”

Enter the fairly ambitious (for me) Steel Tank project to hold a large quantity of steam in reserve.

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This multi-block structure can hold up to 10,976 buckets of steam. (And yes, I ran out of space to put it, and thus decided to float it.)

It can probably power a whole array of Industrial Steam Engines, except that I’ve still been too lazy to make more, nor do I have the need for that much more power just yet.

It’s likely just a matter of time though.

Stardew Valley Days

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This game is a dangerous time-suck.

I boot it up to get a few screenshots, and before you know it, I’m doing the “just one more turn” thing into the wee hours of the morning trying to make the crops grow up to the point where I can reap the rewards, and oh look, the seasons changed, my plants are dead, I need to plant more seeds and make them grow up to fruiting stage again.

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It probably didn’t help that I spent most of the spring fishing.

In every conceivable spot I could find. Because the minigame is devilish in a casino-like sense, involving just enough skill that makes you think you can control the outcome sufficiently and enough RNG from different fishing locations and different fish biting on the hook (and a high amount of variance on the basic rod) that the outcome is never guaranteed.

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Bought a farming game; Went fishing

Somewhere along the line, the community center quests were unlocked. This asks the player to turn in one of practically every item there is in the game for rewards, in themed bundles like fall crops or spring forage or night-caught fish.

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Naturally, this fed my hoarding tendencies to no end. Turning a profit is now tricky, because I’m more inclined to keep it in a chest instead.

Still, a sandbox is a sandbox.

Some people choose to min-max their farming to optimal sprinkler patterns and industrial crop generation.

Some people choose to decorate their house with pretty bits, or play the NPC dating sim portions.

Me, I’m tootling around on my dinky little unoptimized but immersive farm, watching the crops grow and the days go by, while I mostly fish the hours away.

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I’m also dead certain half my played hours are spent holding down “A” or “D” to criss-cross a multitude of screens “running” here and there, at a pace other games would call walking speed. Sneakiest time-wasting mechanic ever.

Before you know it, the natural tendency of humans to rationalize kicks in. “Gee, I just spent hours playing Stardew Valley. I must really like this game!”

(Not to mention the sunk-cost fallacy.)

For pleasant whiling away of hours to cheerful music and idyllic pastoral settings, especially if you only own a PC and can’t play Harvest Moon/Rune Factory variants, Stardew Valley can’t be beat though.

The inside of my modest chicken coop:

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With two extremely free-range hens.

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I’ve been keeping the bulk of the overgrown grass around, because they’re apparently a free source of hay.

The silo’s currently clogged with 240 pieces. Am still progressing toward a barn and larger farm animals ever so slooowly.

In the meantime, the hens are running amok in the tall grass and I have to admit that I rather like it that way.

(Fortunately, in-game hens are nice enough to return to the coop to sleep every night, and Stardew Valley doesn’t implement any “farm livestock happily run off and get lost without fencing” mechanics or have any free-roam hen predators around either.)

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Before you know it (or rather, 15 Steam played hours later,) fall is here.

And the Stardew Valley farming saga continues.

Dipping a Feathered Toe into Endless Space

I think I may as well make it semi-official, and admit to myself that my subconscious is asking, nay, demanding a break from GW2.

These days, I can only muster the energy to log in for just long enough to snatch three dailies, one of them the easy Wintersday ‘open 3 presents’ gimme, and that’s about it.

Home instance, guild hall instance, ascended crafting mats? Pshaw.

I heartily doubt that I will know what to do when the Wintersday dailies are no more and I end up with a more tedious PvE or PvP or WvW one.

Instead, I’ve found myself lining up a whole list of Steam games and eyeing them greedily and excitedly.

While I’m not aiming for a 12 in 12 challenge (concept as introduced from Soultamer Gaming), because -finishing- or -completing- is off the table for the time being (that achiever-ism is what’s prompting some of the personal burnout in the first place, as I feared once raids got onto the table), I’m fully intending to play a lot more than 12 games this year in a whizz bang whirlwind tour, going as far as I feel like and then stopping when I don’t.

One of the first I found myself diving into is Endless Space, a 4x space exploration strategy game by Amplitude Studios.

It’s mostly kicking my ass.

I’m just persevering a lot longer than I did previously.

The initial hurdle were all the new Endless space-specific concepts and unfamiliar UI. It’s Civ-like enough to start, and then diverges sufficiently to be confusing and frustrating, needing to read every tooltip to figure out what this resource is, what that tech does and so on.

The AI is also pretty unexpectedly aggressive. I play this sort of strategy games mostly for the escapist narrative of slow inexorable global conquest. The darn Endless Space AI puts up much more of a fight than I’m used to, especially since I have no clue regarding optimal path strategies for planetary buildings, tech tree and ship design.

It’s been a very up-and-down journey of being pretty behind, getting ahead, thinking I’m getting ahead (but probably the other factions have caught up or surpassed me) and then getting brutalized out of nowhere and quitting for the night, resolving to reload 10-20 turns into the past and try a different strategy tomorrow. (Why yes, I do ‘cheat’ in this fashion.)

For example, I went to war with one faction on fairly equal tech terms and was invading their planets, when midway out of nowhere, they showed up with a bigger ship class and started blowing apart all my ships. (Cue the future past strategy of figuring out just how they got a bigger ship hull and doing it at the same time as they were. Not to mention, desperately trying to move beyond guessing what was a good ship build to actually effective ship designs.)

Then I run into another faction, who turn around and use yet another strategy of just tactically retreating and refusing to hold still to be killed.

W.T.F. I have never wanted an interdictor card to stop the offensive retreat so badly. It’s not that they could actually do anything to my ships, they just kept slipping off.

That same faction was busy using swarms of weak fleets consisting of one or two ships. Individually, they would get killed in a space battle, but since my two fleets could only be in so many locations at once, they kept putting up blockades on every planet and tying up my two fleets since they were only allowed to attack one fleet at a time (which then ran away). 

Bloody infuriating AI.

The turns seemed to happen simultaneously as well, so AI being AI, they moved all their fleets a lot faster than I could react, and instigating fleet battles interrupting my chain of thought, which I then had to deal with (whereupon brave sir AI bravely ran away.)

Cue the next day’s strategy of establishing my own blockading ships to create a very long border front so the zippy little things couldn’t get past the Great Wall of Tengu.

Oh yes, I’m playing space tengu, did I mention that?

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Avian bipedal creatures. Check.

Asian/Japanese influences. Check.

The only difference is that where GW2’s tengu are isolationist, Endless Space’s Hissho are expansionist and military-minded. They get a Bushido Bonus where their whole empire gets happier when they win space battles or invade another planet.

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It’s a good excuse to admire bird-shaped spacecraft.

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Space battles are quite cinematic to watch and screenshot, though they do get a bit repetitive. The attacking fleet jumps in and both fleets close to range, exchanging broadsides like navy ships of old at three different ranges (long range, medium range and melee range.)

There are different weapons that are effective at different ranges, that have to be preset and designed onto your ships beforehand. It’s not at all obvious which is better than another, unless you sit down to patiently read all the tooltips, calculate numbers, look up guides telling you non-stated numbers like how armor is calculated or how many rounds there are in each phase and so on.

This does put a bit of a initial damper on immediate success and constitute a learning curve. Especially since the numbers have apparently changed over time from one version of the game to the next, so you’re never quite sure if what you’re reading up still applies.

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Missiles. Missiles are scary to watch when they drift towards my fleet. They take about three rounds to hit, so it’s a tense wait to see just how many get past one’s defenses.

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My first game is likely to wind down by this weekend.

After plenty of reloading, I managed an Expansionist Victory by methodically exterminating the Pilgrims faction – hey, they declared war on me first! I had a peace treaty going with them while I was reducing the number of Horatio clones (essentially a whole faction of bald mesmers who think only their likeness should spread across the galaxy) to a more reasonable number.

The Horatio gracefully surrendered with a cease fire, offering me two planets, and I let them live, while the dastardly Pilgrims broke their peace treaty and declared war (on me!) with their ship swarm. Genocide is the only reasonable response to this sort of unwarranted aggression.

I’m still continuing with the game, even after the victory, since I haven’t completely annihilated all of the Pilgrim planets yet.

As usual, the surprisingly feisty AI continues to surprise. Just as I think I’m finishing up with this one faction, the other faction in the tiny spiral galaxy – previously assumed cowed into submission – has launched fleets of the largest ship class at my planets and we’re at war again.

Since I ignored the tedium of ship design several tens of turns back and was just slowly moving my monster fleet from planet to planet swallowing up the pilgrims, this calls for yet another reload the next time I sit down to play, some invested non-fun time making my own largest ship class designs, and more careful guarding of my borders before a repeat incident occurs.

I’m not sure if I like Endless Space that much to play too many more games of it.

On the one hand, it is said that the factions are all pretty distinctive and utilize different strategies for victory. There’s, in fact, multiple viable paths to victory including peacenik options that look more achievable than the older Civ series style of 4x games (I tended to just go for tech victories after military dominating all other factions in the world into submission.)

Endless Space feels crunchier and more strategic. As in, if you like a game where you constantly have to be sure you’re picking the optimal right moves to progress ahead and always stay alert and have a challenge, it can probably do that for quite a while (until you master every single nuance, repeat stuff in the right order and figure out exploits to consistently foil the AI, that is.)

On the other, it’s not exactly what I personally like in a 4x. Having to save and reload or get my butt kicked because I didn’t think 20 moves ahead is not exactly conducive to relaxing fun being an unstoppable conqueror or casual empire-building.

I might see if I can tweak down the difficulty levels and try a larger sized game for my next go, I was crammed in one arm of a tiny spiral map with two other factions for my first learning game and lebensraum was definitely an issue, especially when you have no clue what you’re doing, leading to the computer AI colonizing all the things first.

We’ll see. I might get distracted with Endless Legend next, which was also something I was champing at the bit to play and prompted a Winter Steam sale purchase.

GW2: Epic is the Expansion’s Watchword

If there’s one thing that strikes me about the Heart of Thorns expansion, it’s that ArenaNet has been really trying to up the scale on this one.

That's a pretty big frog.
The Nuhoch are pretty big frogs. These guys are part of a fan club.
This guy's fanclub.
This guy’s fanclub.

Everything is larger than life and supremely gorgeous. There may be only four maps, but they are probably some of the world’s most dense and tangled maps that an MMO has ever produced.

Perhaps LOTRO’s Moria might try to compete, but your typical MMO’s maps are merely only spacious but barren – this area is for that quest hub, kill 10 such-and-such named mobs, pick up 20 blah items and the rest are just mobs to grind through or run past.

Also, you cannot glide over or down to various scenery in Moria, and thus it loses by default to any MMO that offers flying or gliding.

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Funny story about an item fetch quest that an NPC on GW2’s Heart of Thorns personal story sent me on. He told me to go get 6 ‘Chak Enzymes,’ either by talking to various other NPCs that had various ways which you could obtain said item, or by running around the open world killing said Chak, which are really annoying bug monsters that apparently eat ley line magic energy or something. Sorta like karka on magic steroids, triply annoying.

I talked to two NPCs, attempted to go in search of some items they wanted in trade, stumbled into some Chak bugs and thought, oh well, may as well kill them and get some enzyme that way…

…and then I followed a tunnel down, another tunnel around, slipped and fell and glided to safety somewhere, killing a bunch of Chak along the way, and realized “Oh, I have 6 Chak Enzymes now, I can go back.”

Except that I was thoroughly turned around by this point and made about six or seven abortive attempts to get back to the NPC, cleaving through a whole bunch more Chak along the way…

…By the time I found my way back to said NPC, I had about 27 Chak Enzymes on me. Oh well. Let’s just pretend I’m an over-achiever and say nothing about my sense of direction. Or lack of.

I digress. Let’s talk about scale. I poked my head into the new Desert Borderlands WvW map today. (Confession: Not to WvW, just to use a crafting station quickly without moving from where I was in the PvE world.)

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This map greeted me when I hit ‘M.’

After swearing a little, I scrolled down to see the rest of it.

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Well, -that’s- going to take a while to learn how to get around, and what all the special spots/events are… when I get to it eventually.

My NA guild claimed their guild hall a couple days ago, and fortunately nabbed Lost Precipice, so I have access to ogle both map variations.

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Yeah, well, we say “guild hall,” we really mean a wide swathe of territory in which you can build multiple buildings. The scale of it may not be obvious in a map, so just take a look at the circular formation in the southeast corner of the map…

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It’s this thing. A coliseum. I presume it can eventually be upgraded into a place where small PvP duels can take place (the space within looks comfortable for 1 vs 1 PvP, or 2-3 players to dodge around), and spectators can gather on the bleachers above to watch.

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The guild banners on display around the map are really cool.

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Random scenery around the map. I think half a pumpkin is sticking out of the right hand side. One can apparently place guild decorations in the zone, but I haven’t had time to check out that functionality yet.

I think it’s lovely that our community’s decorator types (you know who they are, there’s bound to be a few compulsive ones in every guild or community) can step up and prettify the place for those of us with somewhat less interest in investing lots of time making things look nice aesthetically. (And you just know there’s gonna be a few jumping puzzles and other displays of creativity eventually.)

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And this is the other map, Gilded Hollow (courtesy of one of the OCE TTS guilds)…

…yeah, the mind boggles.

(The draw of Lost Precipice – while seemingly slightly smaller in map size – is gliding, supposedly. There are apparently jump pads around the place that one can activate for updrafts to glide on. Unsure of just how it all works right now, whether stuff has to be unlocked or whatever.)

No other screenshots as yet, I’ll have to find the time to run around both maps in depth eventually.

I do have a few more screenshots I want to show off, but this is where I lay out a certain amount of spoiler warning:

There will be three pretty pictures from the Heart of Thorns story. I do not place them in any context, but they may show off some environments which you may prefer to stumble on yourself.

IF SO, STOP READING NOW. GO AWAY. COME BACK LATER.

If you have very little plans to ever complete the Heart of Thorns story, or don’t feel that you will be spoiled by seeing alien environments with no context or commentary whatsoever, then proceed on.

Continue reading “GW2: Epic is the Expansion’s Watchword”