Digital Wanderlust, or You Can Never Go Home Again

So, what happened during “Top priority – Rest my wrist” week?

Well, there was the mildly amusing and somewhat painful observation that as the wrist in question healed, other parts of my body started to take turns aching.

Apparently, this is quite normal and to be expected, as one overworks the other muscles and tendons in compensation for the nonfunctional one.

First it was the other wrist (too much button pressing and door opening presumably), then the lower back protested, and yesterday the neck decided it hated life, committed suicide and went into rigor mortis for 24 hours.

I can only conclude that I’m getting old(er) and my posture is fucked.

The good news is that amidst this tag team symphony of minor strains, I ate healthily, slept earlier, stretched -very- carefully and whatever was bothering me that day seemed to heal itself up by the next day or two.

I imagine that within my body is a little ragtag cartoon group of muscle-repairing cells in an ambulance racing from locale to locate, going “Can things STOP breaking here for just a day, please? Sheesh…”

Or maybe that image just comes from Ghostbusters: The Video Game, one of the many games I’ve been sampling over the last 2-3 weeks.

As I was telling Syl in the comments over at MMO Gypsy, I think I’m done with MMOs for the time being.

GW2 has been becoming less and less of a home, beyond the obligatory raid night with friendly, understanding but not-my-generation people, and the lack of new and novel content is killing my interest slowly but surely.

Most of the achiever content that I cling to as a lifeline when the explorer isn’t sated is either done, or is SO long term that the anticipated grindiness stops me from even contemplating it. I -could- do it, but when faced with the question of whether to spend 12 hours incrementing tiny degrees of progress in GW2 or use those 12 hours to play other games, read and watch Netflix, well, the decision is a no-brainer. There’s no one I want to impress with herculean feats of treadmilling in a constructed game anyway.

See, the more I think about it, the more I think the allure of the MMO comes from two things. The first is the idea of a home and a community, a place you want to spend your virtual ‘second life’ in, surrounded by people you’re happy to live amongst. Hence the themes of longevity, of “I could stay here forever!” being an important consideration when people evaluate MMOs.

The second is the feeling of expanse, of openness, of discovery over a new horizon that a vast and deep virtual world that you don’t understand well yet and want to learn more about. Hence why people lament when any MMO world feels small, constricted, not open and go chasing after procedural sandboxes.

The tragedy of the second is that everything closes up and becomes smaller over the passage of time. GW2 was an immense bounty of new discoveries when it first launched, but now my perception of its world has shrunk to waypoints whose surroundings I can readily recall at will. Don’t get me wrong, the convenience is great for revisiting, but the point is that it was a lot bigger in my imagination when unexplored than after the fog of war disappears.

A mapped world is smaller, no two ways about it. A mapped world is great for everything that comes after, exploitation of its resources in fulfillment of goals and so on. But a mapped world means you already know what is coming up over the horizon as you get closer.

The more I think about it, the more I think the age of MMOs is past. An MMO cannot fulfill both themes at once these days.

How can it? A handcrafted world is finite, limited by the number of developers that can work on it effectively. The number of developers is limited by the number of customers and revenue it can generate. The age of the one single MMO where everyone congregates to is past, everyone is spread out to a million smaller online games now.

Even if we hypothetically assume a mythical game that attracts even more numbers than World of Warcraft pulled in its prime, there must be a limit to how many teams of developers can work effectively on its world without it becoming a Frankenstein mess that turns away players, dropping revenue, which drops number of devs.

A finite world will eventually feel small. It’s just a matter of time.

So then, let’s go for the infinite world. Let’s go for procedural generation on a way more refined and fantastical scale than any singleplayer game currently existing and do it well. Online. Massively multiplayer.

Assuming such a hypothetical behemoth works magically and perfectly, and we have a virtual world on the scale of Earth to explore and colonize and exploit… isn’t it likely we’re going to run into the problem of “Where IS everybody?” “Halp! I can’t find players to play with.”

Given limitless lebensraum, people are going to spread out. Sure, there’s probably going to be clusters of people forming towns and villagers because people are social creatures and like to be near each other, but how far are these towns and villages going to be from one another?

I think of A Tale in the Desert as a good small-scale experiment as to what this mythical MMO is going to look like.

At first, it’s going to look very nice. People will cluster in their towns and villages, forming little metropolises of trade and civilization, while the more adventurous wander out into the wilderness and start the exploration and mapping process.

But then everything around the civilized centers will be known, and the explorers will either venture even further away or grow bored and leave. People attrition from real life all the time in games, so these villages will wind up with abandoned house lots, imitating a form of urban decay. Other players look around, realize their community is breaking up and will either leave the game or accrete to another community in-game, preferably the largest and most populated one.

It will take an act of God for the most social and rooted to their homes to pack up and move from what-is-known and move to lands unknown. (In other words, not bloody likely. Even a dragon invasion on the scale of the Cataclysm is more likely to just chase the homemakers from the game when they’ve had enough of large scale change, or make them more stubborn to rebuild where they’ve decided to live.)

So at most, the ideal MMO of tomorrow is a small known world of established communities with some kind of connected interrelation with the more nomadic explorers that venture into the always-shrinking-once-mapped unknown.

There are so many things that could wrong in this MMO. If the communities don’t need anything from the explorers, there will be no reason to explore. If the explorers don’t need anything from the communities, there will be no reason to have social dealings with them.

Maybe -everybody- wants to explore, and so there will be towns but no one’s in them because everybody’s out in the wilderness. Maybe the balance of self-sufficiency is such that everybody just trundles out to find a nice spot of wilderness for themselves – RIP towns and social communities. Maybe there is too much inter-dependency and reliance on others for today’s players to accept, so few people want to play anyway – RIP MMO.

Anyway, such an ideal hypothetical MMO is years from coming into existence. Much less ambitious fare will come into the picture first, and I’m not at all sure I have any interest in those.

Anything with Fed-Ex fetch quests and collect 10 bodyparts after killling 99 mobs is right out of the equation. So done with those.

Tropes like holy trinity combat, raids, dungeons are pretty likely to show up in MMOs because that’s what most players are familiar with and used to. They do absolutely nothing for me.

To add a little insult to injury, region-locking for most smaller F2P MMOs is a thing. It becomes a principle not to pay any money to companies who are content with smaller pieces of pie in today’s globalized internet-linked world.

Innovation is expensive and dangerously risky. Not innovating produces stale MMOs that enough people will play to keep a small company alive.

Personally, I’m done with stale MMOs.

So over the last 2-3 weeks, this was what I did instead:

Games Played

  • Endless Legend – up to turn 85 of a Broken Lords campaign
  • Deathless: The City’s Thirst – finished a playthrough
  • Learn Japanese to Survive – Hiragana Battle – got up to 15 Hiragana word/letters?
  • Crusaders of the Lost Souls – lost count of the resets, idols in the 100-200+ range
  • Defender’s Quest: Valley of the Forgotten – in some spooky cave levels
  • Human Resource Machine – got to puzzle level 17 or so
  • Minecraft: Story Mode – playing on mobile, finished episodes 1 and 2
  • Reigns – also on mobile, finished a playthrough, didn’t manage to trick the devil, but not for lack of trying, gonna restart and try again
  • Minecraft: Simply Magic modpack – was doing good fulfilling my nomadic urge to wander and explore, until the last update crashed the client and I couldn’t move back a version. RIP.
  • Minecraft: BeeHappy modpack – so now I’m growing bees in a skyblock map!

 

Books Read

  • Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone (Book 2 of the Craft Sequence)

 

Netflix Watched

  • Van Helsing – binge-watched the entire season 1, the zombie apocalypse with vampires instead of brainless zombies
  • Bitten – got up to season 2, episode 3, based on Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld books, the books are way better, but it’s interesting to see the casting decisions and how like or unlike one’s image of the characters they are
  • Minority Report – watched again for fun, looks so dated now
  • Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – made it through episode 1, which was like floating through a drug-haze of surrealism. I am convinced it will all tie together in the end, but it’s such a hard slog at the beginning that it’s hard to continue.
  • Trollhunters – binge-watching like crazy, up to episode 17. I am totally going to buy a ton of troll toys / collectibles when they finally come out. Got so many 80s cartoon and Amblin movie nostalgia flashbacks while watching – intelligent not-just-for-kids plotlines, what madness is this?

 

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In other words, I expanded inexorably through a fantasy landscape as a faction of fallen spirits encased in suits of knightly armor; juggled politics and morality as a necromancer lawyer negotiating water deals to prevent the desert city Dresediel Lex from drying up; and fought shadowy Hiragana warriors whose only weakness is enunciating the sounds they represent.

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Perhaps the most entertaining Spaced Repetition System ever created. This is ‘a’ – aka a man standing upright with two arms outstretched and a swirl of magic about him, going “Ahh!” Or maybe that’s just how I’ll ever remember what this word/character sounds like.

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Earned 7.79 tredecillion gold; summoned barbarians and rangers and knights to fend off a rampaging army of undead revenants;

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(while avoiding being traumatized by a ghostly barbarian’s manhood)

wrote spaghetti code to struggle to the next floor of a soulless office building;

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went on a Minecraftian animated adventure to assemble the heroes of the Order of the Stone in order to save the world; lived and died as a lineage of 63 cursed kings making tradeoff decisions to keep church, people, army and the treasury neither too low nor too high; wandered the wilderness, made a cave in the side of a mountain and started learning magic; and bred bees.

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Lots of bees.

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Industrial apiaries filled with bees. (The ugly yellow block things.)

Feels like the journey’s just beginning.

 

Minecraft: Regrowth – We Have Liftoff!

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It figures. I just have a tech kind of mind.

Magic mods a plenty in this pack, and I just haven’t gotten deep enough into any one of them to do the flying thing.

Or the buffing with magic potions and brews thing. Or the fighting badass bosses thing.

All I do is run around, harvest crops aimlessly while watching Netflix in the other screen, and wonder what to do next.

Somehow, it occurred to me tonight that I wanted to fly.

And Mekanism has a jetpack.

Perfect.

Some machinery and messing with gas tanks later (it’s fueled with hydrogen gas, that one gets by separating water into hydrogen and oxygen), I now have lots more freedom to move in the z-axis.

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Bird’s eye view of the base, with farm compound on the left, an artificial mini-lake area that is housing my basic attempts at Forestry tree-breeding (we need the ocean biome climate for bees to function, hence the weird outcroppings over the ocean) and the more haphazard original machine-centric starting area on the right.

I’m in a bit of a weird place right now with most of my games, and Minecraft is no exception.

I feel like I need a more focused goal, except that I can’t really decide on anything, and I’m afraid of deciding on anything because I know it’s going to take a lot longer to complete than I’d like and involve too much focus that I can’t spare right now.

So I avoid declaring that I’m going to do my second map complete in GW2 or build a dedicated room/area/building to properly and fully explore a Minecraft mod like Thaumcraft, Botania, Blood Magic or Mekanism…

…and instead run around for an hour or two, collecting resources of all types and chucking them into storage, awaiting the later half of the year where I can -hopefully- throw center focus back on gaming again.

On the bright side, I am seeing visible progress on the long procrastinated-on decluttering project. Still not as quick as I’d like, but we -are- talking about literal decades of stuff fossilizing and moldering in place and insufficient hours in a week (after work, raids and dailies) to attack the mess.

Ah well, it’s gonna be like building a Legendary in reverse. A little here and there, with occasional bouts of focused effort.

Minecraft: Regrowth – Couple Steps Forward, Couple Steps Back

I’m not sure what possessed me, but I spent most of the last few nights making the second level of my to-be modern farm looking pretty:

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The stairs down, courtesy of stone bricks stairs and stone brick slabs.

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The second floor with 12 crop beds in various stages of complete.

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The stairs leading down to the next floor, which has barely been dug out yet.

It took a frightening amount of time to decide on nice textures. As in, practically the whole night and then some.

The Chisel mod for Minecraft allows you to make common items like dirt and cobblestone and stone into other blocks with a vast array of textures.

There was a lot of stopping and starting and test-laying of “hrm, is this pretty?” blocks in a row, before I settled on Compressed Cobble-Dirt for the square frame marking the growing areas, and filling in the extra perimeter space with Polished Stone Bricks, lighter in color than regular Stone Bricks.

I actually hit a small watery alcove to the outside in the far corner, and decided not to brick it up entirely. Going to lay in some clear glass eventually and have a window that will let me see if it’s day or night.

The sprinkler system isn’t all the way in yet, but I extended the water tank into this layer and I -think- it will work.

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But then again, what do I know?

My old growing hall has finally hit a snag. Apparently, there is a limit to the horizontal distance that water will travel down these irrigation channels.

I painstakingly made Osmium Seeds the other night, which will eventually produce a metal I need for progressing further into the Mekanism mod. Only to discover that my sprinklers, well, aren’t sprinkling well.

The last sprinkler has a tendency to dry up and not sprinkle. That’s the sprinkler that’s supposed to speed the growth of the Osmium crop.

To make matters worse, checking on the water tank outside revealed that the water was getting sucked out faster than the one poor pump could replace.

I tried a stopgap measure of stacking the wooden tank blocks up to make a bigger water tank, and replacing the piping with a Mekanism pipe with better flow rate (all the better to drown you with, my dear):

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I seem to have made matters worse. The water just whooshes out of the water tank now.

Apparently growing some 50+ crop types with two sprinklers per crop goes through a high water volume. Who’d have thunk?

I am now debating with myself if it’s worth making a few more pumps to see if I can refill the water tank fast enough.

The alternative is figuring out whatever clever means of redstone or Buildcraft programming is available in this mod to shut the irrigation channel valve periodically, say, whenever the water tank is empty, so that the pump can fill it, and to open the valve to activate the sprinkler system when the tank is full.

Or it could make my head hurt and I’d say fuck it and use the manual route of accomplishing the same thing. Which is to just flip the lever that is currently next to the irrigation channel valve on and off, whenever I walk by or want to regrow some crops after harvesting. (After all, it is a bit of a waste to have it always-on when I barely harvest any crops most of the time.)

Either way, it’s still not going to solve the issue of reach, though.

So the other solution is to make a secondary water tank somewhere in the middle of the growing hall, and maybe install a pump system to fill -that- tank up. Maybe that’ll take some of the pressure off.

Who knows. The only thing I do know is that it’s going to take more than one night to resolve.

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The really casual bee breeding continues. I extended out the platform to accommodate more Apiaries.

After perplexing myself with one too many hybrid bees, I managed to force myself to sit (or fast-forward) through a few longwinded Youtube tutorial videos.

While I still don’t really have a clue as to the more industrial, automated parts of bee breeding yet, my take home was that if I was going to climb up to more sophisticated bees, I was going to need some hives producing pure stocks of the lower-rung bees.

So that’s what I’ve been trying to do. For every variant of bee currently in my possession, trying to force them to breed true to each other. And then using a few of those spare bees in crossbreeding attempts to get them to the next rung of bee tiers.

It is still not terribly easy going.

Mostly because Princesses and Queens are limited, I think. As far as I can figure out, you have to pull these breeder bees from wild hives, and I’ve depleted every wild hive in a fairly large radius around my base already.

If I want a pure breeding stock of one line, that’s one Princess/Queen dedicated to the job. That means no more Princess/Queen to crossbreed into another line.

Then I have to breed/mutate a new Princess/Queen up to the same level in order to crossbreed beyond…

…unless I’m missing something. Which I could very well be.

Oh well, live and learn.