Dipping a Feathered Toe into Endless Space

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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

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*