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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Sword is part two of Ann Leckie's Space Opera series Imperial Radch. The opening book of the series, Ancillary Justice, won many awards including the Arthur C. Clark, Hugo and Nebula awards. That's no small feat. It shows that Ann Leckie knows how to write well, and she continues to write well in book two. Here is the summary of book two from Goodreads.

The Lord of the Radch has given Breq command of the ship Mercy of Kalr and sent her to the only place she would have agreed to go -- to Athoek Station, where Lieutenant Awn's sister works in Horticulture.

Athoek was annexed some six hundred years ago, and by now everyone is fully civilized -- or should be. But everything is not as tranquil as it appears. Old divisions are still troublesome, Athoek Station's AI is unhappy with the situation, and it looks like the alien Presger might have taken an interest in what's going on. With no guarantees that interest is benevolent.

If you haven't read Ancillary Justice, that probably doesn't make a whole lot of sense to you. That's indicative. Don't pick this book up and expect to get a self-contained story. Though it would not be a bad read, it would be a not very fulfilling read. These books will need to be taken in order to get the full appreciation of them. There are ongoing plots and sub-plots of which you'll have no knowledge, like why does Lieutenant Awn's sister matter, if you don't read Ancillary Justice first. So do yourself the favor and take them in order.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="316"]Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie[/caption]

And when you get to Ancillary Sword, don't expect it to be another Ancillary Justice which won a total of five major awards and several more minor awards. It is not. Ancillary Sward is well written, but it is not nearly as engrossing as that first story was engrossing. But do not dismay, and don't avoid the book because it isn't as brilliant as the first. Here's why.

This is Star Wars. Not in the whole grandiose good versus evil sense of that epic. Fortunately Imperial Radch is a bit more nuanced than Star Wars, and a better read for it. Where it is similar is that there was this spectacular series of events that got the whole thing rolling to a spectacular finale, but the issue wasn't actually resolved in the least. Therefor we got The Empire Strikes Back. I am old enough to remember how disappointed everyone was in that second film come opening weekend. No one likes to see their heroes get battered so badly. And there was no feel-good hooray-for-the-good-guys emotion coming out of that theater I can tell you. Luke was mangled, Leia was tortured and Han was a block of carbonite! I'm not saying that happens in Ancillary Sword. But, I'm not saying it doesn't either.

What I am saying is this is a bridging novel. It gets us from the beginning and into the heart of the struggle that's got the entire galaxy fighting. Star Wars was the story of Luke Skywalker getting off of his backwater... no, strike that... outback world and into the greater universe. He learns a few things along the way and discovers he has a destiny. But in the end, it is a story about Luke Skywalker and only Luke Skywalker. It's his journey. The Empire Strikes Back was an introduction to the monolithic struggle of good versus evil that had set the entire galaxy aflame. It was a bridging story to that grander conflict.

That is what Ancillary Sword is. It's the road that gets you to that bigger future. And it's a good road. I've read many worse novels and still enjoyed them. You will definitely enjoy Ancillary Sword. And like me, you will be Patiently™ waiting for the next book, Ancillary Mercy, to find out what happens next. The story isn't over in Ancillary Sword, just like it wasn't over in The Empire Strikes Back. In fact, I've more questions about what's going on in Radch space now than I had at the end of Ancillary Justice. That's as it should be I'm thinking, especially in Space Opera.



Monday, October 27, 2014

Civilization: Beyond Earth - Starting Recommendations

Well, according to Steam I've played 26 hours of Civilization: Beyond Earth (CivBE.) According to Raptr I've played 17 hours. The discrepancy is due to an incomplete shutdown of my first session of CivBE. Though the window closed, the executable hung in the background and continued to count as play time. However, since my brain is smarted than either Raptr or Steam, I can tell you unequivocally that I've put in a deep space voyage worth of hours playing CivBE. Okay, for the OCD inclined out there the actual count is 18 hours. ;)

What's important is that I've played two full games at the standard level (Mercury) and have learned a thing or three about the game. There are lots of "do this and you'll win" posts and videos out there now, so this will not be a "do this and you'll win" sort of post. What I mean is I won't say something puerile like Purity always wins so get to True LEV Tanks as fast as you can. This'll be an observational post, and if it informs you of some things you didn't know great! If it tells you things you already knew, then just count it as validation. That's great too. And just to prove that these observations are indeed validation, I present you with this statistic.

[caption id="attachment_3911" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Contact Victory Contact Victory[/caption]

On my second game of CivBE (out of two,) I managed to win as Hutama following the Purity affinity. The game lasted 378 turns. I chose an Atlantean world with a small map, and therein lies my first point: map selection. When you are just learning the game, do yourself a favor and pick an Atlantean world. This is a world with many large islands instead of a few large continents. It almost assures that you will get a large land mass all to yourself. In my second game playing Polystralia, I ended up on an island with enough room for five good cities, and an ocean separated me from my closest rival.

[caption id="attachment_3912" align="aligncenter" width="800"]A Good Island A Good Island[/caption]

Explore your island as soon as you can. It is paramount that you do this. The aliens will not attack you unless you stop right next to a nest. Then all bets are off. The reason you need to explore is two fold. First, any extra resources you can get from pods or an expedition can only help you this early in the game. If that expedition is on alien bones, then you will recruit an alien to assist you. If you have alien nests on your island, that is about the most helpful thing you can find. Those aliens will ignore your alien. You can saunter right up to the nest and destroy it. Only then will the other aliens turn hostile.

The second reason you need to explore your territory quickly is to learn what resources you have. There are certain technologies you will not be able to pursue without the proper resources. For instance, battlesuits require titanium. Without it you may as well forget the Purity affinity. What's a battlesuit? I'm glad you asked. :)

[caption id="attachment_3913" align="aligncenter" width="800"]True Battlesuits on Guard True Battlesuits on Guard[/caption]

These are my True Battlesuits guarding my Beacon. Those guys that look like giant Roman legionnaires. Aren't they awesome! I've also got a Lev Tank. That can't be built without Floatstone. If you've no Floatstone, don't bother. You'll know if you have Floatstone right off the bat. It's seen from the beginning. Without it you cannot build that unit. You'll not see titanium at the beginning of the game unless you select the Tectonic Scanner. However, all resources are seen by researching the Tier 1 sciences of the Technology Web and that leads me to my next observation.

When you start the game, the fist thing you should research is all the Tier 1 technologies. They are Ecology, Genetics, Computing, Engineering, Physics and Chemistry. It doesn't matter the order. That's a personal choice, but by researching them all you will be able to see all the resources at your disposal. Only then can you start planning for your eventual victory. If you start down the Purity affinity hoping for a Promised Land victory you are going to find it a hard row to hoe without titanium. However, if you have plentiful Xenomass you are all set for the Harmony affinity and a Transcendence victory.

There is one exception to researching all the Tier 1 technologies first. Before you do anything, unless you select the Laboratory as your cargo, you must research Pioneering before anything else. However, that is not for the reason you think. It isn't so you can quickly push out new outposts. I actually advise against that tactic in CivBE until you get your Health firmly under control. You will not win CivBE with prolonged negative Health, and pushing out new outposts too quickly is the easiest way to do that. How important can healthy be you ask? Take a look at my pictures above. My health was at +25 at victory. It had been as high as +30. At that level of health, here are the bonuses you get, and they're well worth it.

  • +10% Culture

  • +10% Science

  • +10% Production

  • +20% Outpost Growth

  • -50% City Intrigue

No, you want Pioneering for the Trade it can bring you. If there is one thing I want to stress most to new players is this: get your trade routes going early, keep them going and add new routes from new cities as fast as you can. Trade is critical to success in CivBE. Initially you can trade with yourself and increase your growth and production. Once you push out and discover the other civilizations, start trading with them. Those routes will bring you an abundance of energy and science for your effort. They as much as anything else will make your time on New Earth (or whatever you want to call it) much easier. Energy can buy almost anything. The more you have, the better off you are. There is no doubting that. On my second game, I saved up my energy so that when an Outpost became a city I could immediately purchase all the health related buildings. And science is the key to victory itself. Trade routes are extremely important to gain lots and lots of both.

I hope this helps firm up in your mind how to approach a game of CivBE. There are many paths to victory. Okay, technically there are only five, but there are many paths to get to those five. What I've tried to outline in this post is what serves all those paths best in my experience to this point. I'll be cure to keep you posted as I continue to explore the great new Civilization game by Firaxis. What's that Firaxis? You want me to start another game? Well, who am I to argue with that? Enjoy!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Civilization: Beyond Earth - First Impressions

So yeah, this is being done all over the Internet today. There are Twitch streams, and YouTube play-throughs and blog posts galore. Self-proclaimed experts are coming out of the woodwork selling the best ways to play and beat Civilization: Beyond Earth (CivBE.) This post will likely be not much different that those others, except I'll not claim to be an expert. I wouldn't be so bold as to tell others how they should play their game. These are just my thoughts on the game. That doesn't make them special. It just makes them personal. And personally, I'm in love... with a Sid Meier's game... again. Surprise!

Okay, not so much of a surprise. It's not like I haven't been looking forward to this launch all year. So when the encryption was released on my Steam pre-load, I immediately launched (pun intended.) It was 12 minutes after midnight EDT, and ten minutes later I'd decided on who I was going to be on my very first game of CivBE.

Yes, the intro video was well done and touching. Yes, the graphics were awesome. And yes, it was both familiar and totally new at the same time. It was like I'd just put on a new pair of dancing shoes and they were already broken in. So after staring at the awesome graphics for about 60 seconds, which was all I could sit still for, I got to work. XD

[caption id="attachment_3895" align="aligncenter" width="800"]First CivBE Landing Site First CivBE Landing Site[/caption]

Two hundred and fifty turns later I'd managed to carve myself out a nice chunk of a new Terran type world, with five cities and space for a sixth.

[caption id="attachment_3902" align="aligncenter" width="800"]250 Turns into first CivBE game. 250 Turns into first CivBE game.[/caption]

But enough of pretty pictures and things. You want to read about the guts of the game I'm sure. Since you're interested, I am going to assume you know a little about Civ5 and how it works. If not, I hope this isn't to jargon heavy.

The one thing I am most impressed with in CivBE is the quest system. Unlike Civ5, where you were left alone to make all the decisions without any encouragement to do one thing or another by the game, that is not the case in CivBE. In CivBE, you have quests. Quests to go recover resource pods pre-dropped from orbit. Quests to uncover alien tombs and then explore them. Quests to decide if your civilization should do one thing or another. That last is the type of quest with which I am most impressed. For example, you can build a defense known as an Ultrasonic Fence. This keeps all aliens at least two tiles from the city its built-in. Shortly after building your first Ultrasonic Fence, you will get a decision quest. It basically asks if you would like to enhance the technology behind the building to either increase its effects one tile (three total) or allow it to be miniaturized so that aliens will not attack your trade convoys and explorers. One you decide, all of those buildings you build from then on will have the same characteristic.

From what I can tell, many if not most if not all buildings have a similar customization feature. Because of this simple mechanic, the game has literally hundreds of possible tweaks to each civilization. The formula of "n choose r" = C(n,r) = n!/(r!(n-r)!) This comes up with the total number of possible combinations of 'n' buildings and 'r' choices. In this case, there are only two choices per building so r = 2. If there are 25 buildings with choice quests tied to them, that's 300 possible combinations. If there are 50 such choice quests, that's 1225 possible tweaks to any given civilization. Would that make a difference in competitive games? I absolutely think it will!

What leads me to draw that conclusion is the health system. There is no happiness in CivBE like there was in Civ5. Firaxis has replaced it with health, and it works not at all the same. Basically, the more population you have the more negative health pressure you have on your civilization. This is mitigated by certain buildings, choice quests and technologies. But unlike happiness, it will not lead to revolt. What it does is decrease the overall efficiency of your civilization. If your health total is negative, you don't generate as mush science and culture as you would if the population was completely healthy. It also makes them less vigilant, and gives your opponents a better chance to pull off covert operation. But your opponent must take advantage of the Intrigue weakness, it is not punitively leveled against you by the game by having your city simply revolt and join a rival colony. I like that very much. I want my opponent to beat me because she played well, not because I played badly.

The other thing I am thoroughly enjoying trying to get my brain around is the new technology web. Rather than a linear progression as in Civs past, the technology of CivBE is, well, webified. Here's what I mean.

[caption id="attachment_3903" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Technology Web at Turn 250 Technology Web at Turn 250[/caption]

This is not the entire web. I have positioned the center of the web slightly left of center screen, so the far left side of the web is not visible. But what I wanted to show everyone is visible. In my first game of CivBE, I want to become the master of aliens. I want to fuse our human genome with the alien genome and produce hybrids. Think Phase IV on a planet far, far away: adapt or die! So after unlocking the interior ring of the technology web, I started marching my efforts off to the right. My goal is to reach Artificial Evolution. Then I want to figure out how to tame the alien wildlife and build a defensive buffer between myself and my fellow humans. It's not that I don't like them, but I know what they did to the last planet we had to leave. ;-) In Civ5, you were required to progress era by era. You had to discover practically every technology in an era to proceed to the next. You were FORCED to play linearly, and that always rankled me. Now I can simply ignore robotics and computers and engineering to concentrate on what really matters: deoxyribonucleic acid. That's the future. That's where I want to go in my first game of Civilization: Beyond Earth.

And that's a pretty good summary of the difference between this installment of the series and previous installments. By playing through humanities past, we were always constrained by that past. In terms of game play, the game dictated play, and there was little out-of-the-box thinking. Everyone knew if you wanted to win with Otto von Bismarck you had to do x, y and z - in that order. And frankly, computer algorithms are simply like that, and to one extent or another games all fall victim to that fact. But in CivBE, Firaxis has made an incredibly viable attempt to mitigate the linearity inherit in algorithms. It's still there, but when the number of lines you can progress down exceed the human ability to explore them all (and yes, I know that's a huge assumption on my part about the ability of gamers,) it seems from the human perspective you have all the freedom you could want. That's the strength of CivBE. That's why I believe it'll be more popular than any Civilization game before it. And to that point, here's the midnight release player count from last night.

And as of this moment, there are currently 83,320 players "in-game" according to Steam. That's well above the estimated 50k players needed to break into the Raptr Top 20 according to my prediction in Raptr Most Played PC Games: September 2014. That's a hit folks.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Raptr Most Played PC Games: September 2014

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="640"]Click the image to read the original post by Raptr. Raptr's Most Played PC Games: September 2014[/caption]

Archeage vaults onto the most played list for September 2014, as does The Sims 4. However, this list is little changed from the August 2014 report. The top three games then are the top three games now accounting for approximately 35 percent of all game play. Their percentages are little changed, with the biggest delta registered by behemoth League of Legends going up by a smidge under two percentage points.

The remaining 65 percent of game play is spread out across the remaining 97 titles played. This top twenty list accounts for 64.25 percent of all the time spent gaming by Ratpr members in September, so these are definitely the biggies. If you click on the image you will get the original blog post from Raptr, with their analysis of why the numbers ended up the way they did. There is one thing that made me laugh in that post, and I have to quote it here.

The Sims 4 is making its first appearance in the top 20 after launching in early September. Strangely enough, the title stole most of its playtime from Diablo III.

How does that even work? My gamer brain breaks just thinking about it. But enough with the past, let's talk about the future.

My predictions for October are fairly modest. I think when we get this month's results next month we'll see Shadow of Mordor make an appearance on the PC games list. I don't think it'll go very high. It's not that there isn't a lot of appeal to the game. I just think it'll get more console play than PC play. In fact, I can already tell you it's up to position 18 on the current list. All that remains to be seen is if it can hold that position with the late release of what's promising to be a wildly popular strategy game.

The PC only game I'm on about is Civilization: Beyond Earth. I think it will make an appearance in the top 20 list, even though it'll only have a weekend to amass game play time. I know I'll be spending many, many hours on CivBE starting Friday when I can install it. Yes, I've already purchased it. It was a no-brainer. ;-) I am certain there are many other Civ5 players who will do likewise, replacing Civ5 with CivBE on the list. Even with only a week, I think it'll happen. The math supports my supposition at least.

To make the list, CivBE will need to get at least 500,000 hours of game play. I will likely spend (at least) 20 hours total over that week playing CivBE. Since my game play tends to average slightly higher than the average Raptr member, let's say the average member will only put in half that amount of time. That makes the math nice and easy. There will need to be 50,000 players firing up CivBE starting on Thursday September 23rd. No, I don't have that wrong. This from the official Steam unlock tables:

Los Angeles (U.S.A. - California) Thursday, October 23, 2014 at 9:00:00 PM - PDT

West Coast rules on Steam releases. Woot! XD But back to my original point of CivBE getting 500,000 hours of game play in one week. There are already 103,455 Steam members in the CivBE community. That's more than double the number of players needed, and if they all played at least 10 hours over the opening weekend we could see CivBE vault much higher.

Well, only time will tell. Until then, enjoy whatever your playing. Cheers!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014

How Do You Value Your Games?

Here's something that came up over the weekend that's still on my mind. I was watching Shatteredhip's Twitch broadcast of his first hour playing Shadow of Mordor, and I admit I am impressed. It's a game I am certain I would enjoy. The problem is, I don't want to buy it at $49.99. I've got Civilization: Beyond Earth (CivBE) to purchase in just over a week and after that Assassin's Creed: Unity (AC5.) That's my budget for the next two pay checks. But that's not the reason I don't want to pay $49.99 for Shadow of Mordor. The game is designed to give 30 hours of game play, not including replays. That's what I discovered with just a little research. There's the rub.

You see, I see a game's inherent value as how much it costs divided by the number of hours of entertainment I can expect from it. The value of Shadow of Mordor to me is $1.67 per hour. Frankly, that sucks.

If you want to compare it to a so-called comparable game let's dig out the numbers for my playing Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (AC4.) According to Raptr, I've played 138 hours of AC4, no DLC. But let's be fair, Ubisoft only advertised up to 80 hours of gameplay while completing the mainline quest. And though I bought Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag in February for $29.99, I'll be kind again and calculate using the original list price of $59.99. So 80 hours into $59.99 gives a per hour of entertainment value of $0.75. By my calculation, that's twice as valuable as a game than Shadow of Mordor. If you use my actual hours played and actual price paid, the price per hour of entertainment I received was $0.22. To me, that was a fantastic purchase.

But AC4 isn't even the most valuable game I have by that measure. Of games I've purchased over the last year, the most valuable game by far is Kerbal Space Program (KSP.) I paid $18.08 for KSP last December. According to Raptr I've played 314 hours, including the five hours I got in this weekend. Using my equation, my cost per hour of entertainment is a paltry $0.06. Woot! That's a game definitely worth buying.

Then there are games with purchased DLC like Civilization V (Civ5.) They can get stupid crazy to calculate. I've played Civ5 for years, and like EVE Online, I didn't start tracking it until after I'd played it. Fortunately it is a Steam game for me, so I can get the hours from there. According to Steam I've invested 221 hours into Civ5. I can also get the prices I paid for it and the one DLC I bought. I initially paid $49.99 for the base game in December 2010, and a further $29.99 for Brave New World in August 2013. That comes out to $0.36 per hour of fun.

This can also be applied to subscription MMOs. Let's take The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO) for example. I'd use EVE Online, but I played that game for years before I started tracking hours played. And there are other complications, like paying for three accounts, etc. It's simpler to use TESO. Raptr has my time in-game pegged at 83 hours. I purchased it on March 30th for $79.99 (Imperial Edition.) Since then I've paid four monthly subscriptions at $14.99 each. Adding it all together that's $139.95. That's $1.69 per hour of entertainment - yeah, that sucks. That's partly my fault. I put TESO aside to concentrate on AC4. I should have cancelled the monthly subscription until I was ready to play it again, but failed to do so. Had I, I would have dropped the total price per hour of entertainment to $1.14. That's still way expensive compared to KSP or even AC4. and I could have helped that even more by not buying the Imperial Edition. But in the end, the key to getting any value out of a subscription service it to play at least 40 hours a month, and I've just not done that. So Jester, here I'm going to say you were right. :| And yes, I am thinking about suspending my account for TESO, as I don't see getting back to it until next year at the earliest. It's not like I've got training to maintain. :roll: I've until November 5th to decide.

So back to Shadow of Mordor. Will I just not play it? Yes, I will probably play it. But I will wait until the initial release fervor is over and I can pick it up on a 50% sale. That will make the cost per hour of expected entertainment $0.83. But then again, perhaps I'll have something else I'd rather do that'll get me a better price per hour of entertainment. I can't say for certain. Perhaps if the game wasn't so rinse, lather and repeat. I mean, how many Uruks can you kill before it gets boring? That's something I'll have to ask Shatterhip before I make a final decision.

And what about the two games I am waiting to come out: CivBE and AC5? Well, I expect to play CivBE as much as Civ5, so there really is no question to its value per hour of entertainment. I already know I love that type of game. AC5 is something I'm fairly certain I'll enjoy, but the price per hour of entertainment is something I've considered before deciding to buy it. I am just buying the standard package at $59.99, nothing fancy for me. I've learned that lesson. What really complicated my calculation is I can find no mention of how long Ubisoft thinks it will take to complete the game. However, knowing the way I like to explore side missions and with my AC4 experience taken into account, I'm sure I'll get 80 hours of gameplay out of AC5. Therefor, I can expect a minimum price per hour value of $0.75, the same as AC4's projected value. I can live with that, because Paris - accurately reproduced. Wow.

So how do you calculate game value for the buck, or do you?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Navigating the Subterranean World of Landmark

To get the best minerals, gems and loot in Landmark, and to get them fast, you have to go underground. Landmark is full of caves, and the caves are full of riches. But that doesn't mean they're easy to find. Eventually monsters will inhabit the caves of Landmark and you'll have to deal with them before you get rich. But it isn't necessarily a cake walk now either. Sure, there are no monsters you need to contend with, but the very best stuff you can't walk to. And no, you can't repel to it either. The very best stuff isn't in the caves you can access from the surface of Landmark. They are deeper than those caves, and they have no direct connection to the surface. You have to find them and then tunnel your way to them.

[caption id="attachment_3854" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Fat Loot Fat Loot[/caption]

I'm not going to tell you how to spelunk in Landmark. There is an excellent starter guide here if you need to know. What I want to discuss is how you find those buried caves with the fat loot. The official method for finding these caves is to use your Ore Prospector device (see the guide linked above) to identify nearby veins of minerals. The quality of your device will determine how far away you can detect ores and how long the detection lasts. After you survey the accessible parts of the cave and make yourself a mental map of where its ore veins are located, you are ready to look for buried caves. After you activate your device and the vein markers begin to show, you're supposed to look for a cluster of veins that are farther away than the local cave and not part of your own map of the cave system you're in.

[caption id="attachment_3850" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Cluster of Ore a Long Way Off Cluster of Ore a Long Way Off[/caption]

Next, you need to begin tunnelling toward that suspected unattached cave. If you are using your pick, you may as well stop spelunking now. It will take you practically forever to get there. Many of these unattached caves are hundreds of meters away. Tunneling there by hand is just plain torture. What you need is a pulverizer. These devices make tunnels like skunks make stink. Using one of these bad boys will get you where you're going in a couple of minutes. Just point yourself towards the ore location markers your Ore Prospector provides, activate your Pulverizer and start tapping the W key to move forward as you grind the rock away in front of you.


Soon you'll be close enough to see the outlines of the veins themselves. Just aim yourself straight for one and continue tunneling. Don't worry, your pulverizer won't hurt the ore. When you get to the vein, just pick a side to go around until you break into the new cave. Then get to work.

[caption id="attachment_3849" align="aligncenter" width="800"]New Cave New Cave[/caption]

But there is an easier, and more certain, way to find these unattached caves. It's not official, and it's not part of the game. In fact, I'm certain the developers will remove this feature from the client once they start optimizing the game's graphics more than they are now. This method takes advantage of clipping errors, and you can use it to your advantage. Here is Wikipedia's definition of clipping.

In computer graphics, 'line clipping' is the process of removing lines or portions of lines outside of an area of interest. Typically, any line or part thereof which is outside of the viewing area is removed.

When the lines are not removed properly, you can see further than you should be able too. It's like having x-ray vision. Here's what the clipping issue in Landmark looks like when you take advantage of it to find those unattached subterranean honey holes.

[gallery type="rectangular" ids="3846,3845,3843,3842"]

I don't know if this happens with every graphics card out there, but it does on mine. :P I run two Nvidia GTX 580s in SLI mode and I get clipping errors every time it every time. It's happened through three driver versions, so I'm fairly certain it's the client code doing it. All I have to do is start a tunnel, stop, move my perspective back a looooooong way back up the tunnel with the CTRL key and the mouse wheel, and then move the cursor from side to side until the clipping failure happens. Then I can see what's outside the tunnel. XD This occurs at the point where your point of view is still in the tunnel, but your character is no longer in a completely straight line of sight. That means your tunnel has to curve slightly over a fairly long distance, and you'll only be able to get a good look at the out-of-bounds areas in a smallish cone of view around that slightly off-center line of sight. The angle of the ill clipped point of view is the same angle your line of sight deviates from truly straight. Just remember, if the angle is too great the clipping issue will resolve itself and you'll immediately suck back in to a wonderful view of the back of your head. But after you get the hang of it, you'll be able to identify the unconnected caverns, like the one in the upper center of examples one and two. Than you just have to pick a good spot to begin tunneling toward it, go there, take a bearing via Kentucky Windage, and off you go. With some practice you'll tunnel right to them. And you'll find those chests with the really fat loot faster than ever before. Good luck!


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Making an Intro Clip is Hard Work

Consider this your Monday post come early. ;-) I spent my Friday evening, until midnight, working on a new intro clip for my YouTube channel. I didn't get it anywhere close to what I wanted. So I spent most of Saturday working on it too, to the exclusion of gaming. :| If you aren't familiar with an intro clip, it's a sort of branding, which is a distinctive design unique to your channel, that YouTube automatically places in front of all your videos before they play. It can only be three seconds long, so it isn't a put off, and as always it can't contain copyrighted material unless you own the copyright.

The first step in creating an intro clip is to decide what you want to have represent your channel. Hopefully you've done some thinking about branding. I know I have. My blog and YouTube channel branding are coordinated on what I think of as the Blue Marble idea. If you look at the blog header above you'll see what I mean. That picture is one of the most famous on the planet, and is fortunately not copyrighted. It is Earth Rise taken my Apollo 8 while orbiting the moon for the first time in human history. Here's a recreation based on the astronaut's conversation recorded during that moment in history.


So for my intro clip, I wanted something similar. But a still photo of Earth isn't going to translate to a video very well, and I wanted something a bit more complex. What I had in mind has been done many times by many other video creators, but I'd never done it myself. I wanted the text "Mabrick's Movies" orbiting the earth with a satellite like sound playing as it went by. And I wanted it to be authentic. I didn't want an "artist's conception." Artist conceptions drive me crazy. Created by people who don't always understand what they are trying to depict, they often get it wrong. I didn't want my intro clip to be wrong in that way.

So I did some searching through the NASA archives. You'd be amazed at what you can find. In the Visible Earth Catalog, "a catalog of NASA images and animations of our home planet," I found the Blue Marble animation. This is not an actual time lapsed video of the earth rotating, but it is the next best thing. The animation is based mostly on data gathered by the MODIS satellite, but other sources were needed as well. Click the link I've provided for all the details and full credits. The work is not copyrighted, but accreditation is requested. And yes, I did so on the finished products below. Look for it at the very end of the clips.

I downloaded the loss-less HD version of the file (actually half HD or 720P) and got to work. I use Adobe Premiere Pro CC for video editing and it happily imported the Quicktime formatted Blue Marble video file, once I installed Quicktime to get the correct CODEC. :oops: Then I got to work on adding the orbiting text to it.

Do you ever get involved with something thinking, "how hard could it be," and quickly realize that your expectations are way ahead of your experience? Yeah, that. I figured I would add a title to the sequence then apply motion tracking key frames to get the effect I wanted. Sorry, no, I haven't the time to provide a Premiere Pro tutorial in this post. This post is aimed at those who already have a basic understanding of video editing, and is more of a how-do-you-go-about-realizing-a-concept post. There are lots of very good tutorials on the nuts and bolts of Premier Pro (and some not so good ones) available on the Internet. I can truthfully say most of what I know about video editing has come from those tutorials. But back to the motion tracking key frames, even with manual manipulation of the Bezier curves, it's frankly impossible for a human being to produce a smooth circular orbit around a central point. It's just not going to happen.

And there is another issue with motion tracking a simple title. The title is flat, as in it doesn't curve, as in it looks really horrible orbiting a sphere or tracking along any curve. It's like really old B rated movie sci-fi special effects where the ship's perspective is just all wrong as it flies through space. You've seen this many times if you're a Trekkie. All those original series opening credit flybys suffered from gross perspective issues. So no, creating a motion tracking title was not going to get me what I wanted. I had to find something else. And the Internet provided.

[caption id="attachment_3835" align="alignleft" width="150"]Click to enlarge. Adobe Premier Adjustment Layer[/caption]

Via the Internet, I was introduced to the concept of an adjustment layer. This is a place holding layer within a sequence which pulls its content from another Adobe program. Because though Premiere Pro is an excellent video editor, it has only the most rudimentary 3D capabilities. There is another Adobe product for creating all the really fancy 3D effects. It's called Adobe After Effects, and I've always wanted to try it. This weekend I got my opportunity. If you right-click on an adjustment layer in Premiere Pro, there is an option in the menu to "Replace with After Effects Composition." Clicking on that option takes you straight into After Effects and links the Premiere project to the after Effects composition.

But that was only the start of my learning curve. The Adobe Suite, which comprises all the Adobe products, is a very sophisticated tool set. That means there are at least three different ways to do anything you want. You just have to figure out which way works best for you. In my case, I wanted an orbiting 3D text string to go around the Blue Marble Earth animation.

My first thought on how to accomplish that was to project the 3D text onto a sphere with a larger radius than the Blue Marble Earth, and then motion track it in the appropriate plain. That is possible but there is one caveat. The text has to be two-dimensional. It can't be done with 3D text. And if you do decide to compromise and go with 2D text, the sphere distorts the text by pinching it at the poles and spreading it too much near the equator. It turns out with text, a cylinder works hella better. But I quickly ruled the sphere mapping out as I really wanted 3D text.

Interestingly enough, you can attempt the same motion tracking methodology I spoke of above concerned Premiere Pro within After Affects. You actually have a bit better control over your key frames in After Effects, but that doesn't make the human any better. We just do not possess the inherent mathematical precision of a computer algorithm. I should have known better than to attempt it, but you know, you can't fault a would be Vulcan for trying. :?

[caption id="attachment_3825" align="alignleft" width="61"]Click to Enlarge 3D Rotate Around Circle Location[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_3831" align="alignright" width="150"]Click to Enlarge 3D Rotate Around Circle Controls[/caption]

So back the Internet I went. And buried deep down a thread in some comment section, I discovered that it is extremely easy to do what I wanted - of course. There is a preset for the effect in the Effects & Presets tab, you just have to know where to find it. It isn't under 3D. It isn't under Text. It isn't under perspective. It's under Animation Presets --> Text --> 3D Text --> 3D Rotate Around Circle. That's obvious. o_O But hey, once you discover the preset your life becomes so much easier. In fact, you can create the 3D orbiting text in far less than an hour once you know how it's done. Isn't that the way with everything?

So I finally had my 3D text rotating a common center with my Blue Marble Earth. Hooray! I had only one thing left to do and it is the easiest of things. I needed a background of stars for my rotating Earth and text string. That's easy if you've been using Premiere Pro as long as I have (really, it's only been about 2.5 years since I got Adobe Suite but adding a background is about the first or second thing you learn.)  So I went back to NASA, found an actual picture of what the star field behind Earth looks like if you can see the Arctic, and added it to my Premier project.

Did you really think it was going to be that easy? At this point I discovered the Blue Marble animation has no Alpha Channel. What's an Alpha Channel you ask? Yeah, that's what I asked too. In 2.5 years of using Premiere Pro I'd never run into a video that had no Alpha Channel, so I hadn't a clue what was wrong. The Alpha Channel is the transparency layer in a video. Without it backgrounds are not visible through a video. You get a big black rectangle like a Minecraft Space Amoeba has eaten everything. :/

So, back to the Internet I went. There is lots of advice on how to export a new video file using Quicktime or Microsoft AVI format to create an Alpha Channel. They didn't work in this case. Even though the original Blue Marble animation has "millions of colors" (an Alpha Channel prerequisite) in its properties, it would not pickup an Alpha Channel.

[caption id="attachment_3826" align="alignleft" width="147"]Click to Enlarge Color Key Effect Location[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_3827" align="alignright" width="150"]Click to Enlarge Color Key Effect Controls[/caption]

I did some more searching. I finally found some interesting comment threads on the use of mattes in videos. And since I was dealing with a limited set of colors I needed to eliminate, namely black and near black, it seems like matte manipulation might just do the trick. The effects I'm on about are located under Keying in the Effects tab of Premier Pro. And since it was a (mostly) single color I wanted to eliminate, I drug the Color Key effect over to the Blue Marble video and plunked it down on it. I used the convenient eye dropper tool to select the part of the video I wanted eliminated and then started adjusting the color tolerance until the black "disappeared" but Earth remained. As you can see, a tolerance of 3 did the trick. This may have eliminated some pixels in the planet itself, but as the star field background is mostly black it is unnoticeable.

So, with all the hurdles hurdled and the final composition looking good, I exported the full eight second video in both full HD and 4k+ resolution. "But didn't you say the intro clip had to be three seconds or less," you ask? Yes, it does, but the original Blue Marble animation was eight seconds so that's what I worked with. After I got the eight second clip done, all I had to do was change out the added audio (the satellite like sound effect if you remember,) and crop the sequence to three seconds. It's the same video (except for the added audio) with five seconds edited off the front and back-end.

Now you know what it can take to come up with just eight seconds of video. The next time I do something like this, I am certain it will take a lot less time though. I learned a great deal about Premiere Pro and After Effects this weekend. Still, there is so much more to learn. I like learning, but I think it's time to play some computer games. But before I do, here are the two clips I produced. I think they turned out quite well.

[wpvideo SBXrzR7m]

[wpvideo hFar2Wqt]

Friday, October 3, 2014

EVE Online Jump Changes have Players Jumping Mad

It is true that you can't please everyone, but you sure can piss everyone off. Now, I don't for one second think that everyone sees the changes to the jump system in EVE Online as bad, but the forums are awash in tears. Here's but a few examples culled from the first four pages of comments. There are 298 more pages as of the publishing of this post - and counting! THREADNOUGHT!

[caption id="attachment_3805" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Negative Responses to Jump Changes in EVE Online Negative Responses to Jump Changes in EVE Online[/caption]

So, for those who don't have any idea what all this ire is about, my good friend TurAmarth ElRandir had an excellent summary of the changes on his post titled Let the Ships Fall Where They May. Here's the summary but you should go give the entire post a read,

"So effectively much shorter distances traveled per jump with increasingly longer wait times between jumps (per pilot) primarily for Warships… IE Jump Capable Caps and Titans.

As Black Ops are not part of the Force Projection issues in Null they are not having their range changed for now, but as Jump Capable ships they will get the timers. JFs and Rorqs will have a 90% reduction to "effective range jumped", for the purpose of calculating the new timers."

For those reading this who have never played EVE Online, there are some VERY large ships in the game that can only travel by making their own jump point. They cannot use the interstellar gates the rest of the ships use to get from star system to star system. This proposal limits how far they can jump in a single jump, and it places an additive cool-down timer to their ability to jump that grows the more jumps you make in a row. Make no mistake, this is a complicated formula, and just because pilots who've been doing it for years make it look easy in no way means it's an easy thing to do. It's also not an easy thing to adjust. But before I start talking about the adjusting, I need to inform you of the problem this is seeking to resolve.

The section of the galaxy EVE Online exists in is small when compared to the rest of the galaxy (see my post New Eden in Perspective for an actual map,) but space is a huge place. However, with the current jump mechanics, it is not unusual for player fleets to cross 100 light years in just a handful of minutes. If I had to come up with an analogy of how that works, think of this: what would it be like if the entire Battle of Jutland was fought in a bath tub? For those unfamiliar with World War I naval history, the Skagerrakschlacht (Germany's name for the battle) was the largest battleship on battleship engagement of the war, or even since the war. Though there were great naval battles in World War II, they were not fought with big steal. The only naval engagement of that war which even comes close is the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and that was still more air than sea power. But I digress. The point is, the 106 light year diameter of New Eden is a very small place when anyone with the appropriate skill can cross it in a matter of minutes. That means every capital ship from every corner of New Eden has the opportunity to participate in any battle anywhere in New Eden. At this stage of evolution in EVE Online, that is just too much. The servers can't handle the load. And to make matters worse, this version of mutually assured destruction has led to the big blue doughnut. No one is willing to fight anywhere because of the threat of total annihilation. Think about it. It's just like the height of the Cold War except it's virtual.

You know I'm right. Furthermore, it was no fun living through the real Cold War, and it's no fun playing in a virtual world suffering from the same military stand-off. I applaud CCP for understanding this and trying to change it, because nothing they do will be greeted with open arms. It changes the status quo and that scares the hell out of people every time. It takes courage to make changes that almost no one involved in the current military stand-off will like.

That does not mean I completely agree with what they are doing. I think the mechanic is fine. It will be fine tuned until it works pretty well without being the huge burden some are saying it will become. That's the way of these sorts of adjustments. It's just math. That said, I think they are making it too personal. By attaching the timers to the character, they are making it personal. It affects only a minority of the EVE Online population, and by definition that makes it discrimination. Yes, it is this population that is causing the overall malaise, but they are only doing so because the mechanic allows it. Now it's like they are getting their pee-pees slapped for doing what primates do - leverage the environment for every ounce of advantage they can get. And yeah, it hurts to get your pee-pee slapped so hard, so I understand the tears. That said, I have to share the best tears retort EVER.

"Because the tears will improve navigation through your stagnant pond of space. I predict enough that just riding the current of QQ will be faster than bridging." - Domanique Altares, Rifterlings, Point Blank Alliance

Hee! But on a more serious note, though this change may fix the stagnant null-sec problem, it also punishes those who do not live in null-sec. The collateral damage from this change is increased costs for Red/Blue/Black Frog logistics. They are not part of the problem but they will suffer from the solution even at a 90% reduction in part of the penalty. Then there are the low-sec only capital pilots, the worm-hole capital pilots and even Chribba. How unique is he going to be now? No, I don't think it's good to put a system in place that is a) discriminatory by definition and b) has a lot of collateral damage. The problem isn't the pilot, so don't bring the hurt down on him.

So let's back up and look at the real issue here. The real nature of the issue is spatial dimension. We have an 8400 square light year area and that seems huge. But to a toddler a 12' by 12' bedroom is huge. To me it's not all that big because my legs are longer. Now you may think that the only two solutions to this is to increase the size of the room (that's in the works) or to hobble the horse so to speak (the proposed solution.) But those are not the only solutions. In the real world those may be the only solution, but in a world where you control the laws of the universe there is another solution. Change the laws of the universe.

[caption id="attachment_3806" align="alignright" width="660"]Spacetime Curvature Spacetime Curvature[/caption]

Stick with me, this is going to get astrophysical. I hope you all at least read one article about the Higgs Boson. The Higgs Boson is responsible for giving mass to matter in our current understanding of the quantum universe. But how does it do that? I mean, as a subatomic particle it's not even the most massive. The Top Quark beats it by almost 50 GeV/c². So how does it convey mass? It's because it is the only particle that interacts directly with the Higgs Field. You know how Einstein envisioned space-time as a multi-dimensional grid where bodies with greater gravity pressed down on the fabric and created a deeper depression in it? Yeah, like the image to the right here. Now, imagine that curvature is the Higgs Field, and rather than a planet in the middle you have a particle of matter. Those particles with more Higgs Bosons in them make a deeper impression. To move them through the Higgs Field requires more energy. It's the difference between maneuvering those battleships during the Battle of Jutland and maneuvering the destroyers. There is a reason the destroyers are faster and more nimble. Just as there is a reason neutrinos ignore a Higgs Field. They have no Higgs Bosons in them.

So how do you allow battleships to be as maneuverable as destroyers? Well, you can add more engines, but that becomes a self-defeating engineering solution as the engines themselves come with mass. You may overcome some of the drag but you are soon displacing more water and thus increasing drag. The other option is you raise the battleship hulls above the water, like on a hydrofoil, and thus reduce the drag holding it back. The drag coefficient is still mostly the same (it depends somewhat on what the hydrofoil is made of,) but there is less surface area experiencing drag.

But in a virtual universe, there is yet another option. Simply decrease the coefficient of drag between steel plates and water. In the context of mass and direct interactions with the Higgs Field, simply change the value of the Higgs Field. EVE Online is, at its very core, a physics modeling system. The reason computer models exists is so we can see what happens when we change variables. So my solution to this issue is to just change the variable most interacted with by a ship's jump engines. And here's the really cool thing about computer models. You don't have to do it everywhere. You can selectively alter the laws of the universe when and where you like.

So if I were to develop a system for restraining the use of jump capable ships, I would look to spacetime for the answer. Relating to what I've experienced myself in EVE Online, I'd make a variable for each system that directly tracks the Cynosural Field value of a system. Each use of an unprotected Cynosural transfer, what we call a jump, damages the Cynosural Field. Jump Gates are really big for a reason. They eliminate the damage done to the Cynosural Field because two of them are linked together and the energy expenditure is transferred between the two rather than allowed to bleed into spacetime and damage the Cynosural  Field. ;-) However, a Cynosural Field Generator, or other such beacon, is no such transfer anchor. The energy that arrives when a ship jumps to the beacon bleeds directly into the spacetime continuum, thus damaging the Cynosural Field. As this damage increases, jumps into that system require more and more energy. Eventually, like a battleship that is just too heavy, no jump capable ship can generate enough energy to traverse the Cynosural Field in that system. After that, only the specially designed Jump Gates will work. And don't get me started on what Titan Bridges do to the Cynosural Field of a system. It's like training a fire hose on a sand pile!

Over time, the Cynosural Field can repair itself. But this could take a month or more. And who knows, if you try to jump too many ships, or leave a Titan Bridge open for too long, it might rupture the Cynosural Field, dispersing the ships to other nearby systems, and damaging the Cynosural Field in the original system so badly it could take YEARS to repair itself. That would effectively eliminate jump travel to that system for the foreseeable future. Now, clever as humans are, I am certain scientists could figure out a way to encourage Cynosural Field regeneration so years become months, months become weeks and weeks become days. But once a rupture happens, no one will be able to jump into the system for at least days. Could that be used as a weapon? Now there's an interesting thought. It's take a lot of planning as no one would be able to determine the exact strength of the Cynosural Field in a given system. It would be risky. But doesn't greater risk bring the promise of greater reward?

If a system by system Cynosural Field value is put in place, it does not single out specific capsuleers by putting timers on them like they've committed some crime. It simply alters the mechanic of getting into a specific system. It stops possible gaming by those who create jump alts specifically for using during large battles (you know it'll happen.) Causal play isn't affected. It doesn't prevent new bros from getting to their new corporations in null-sec. And rather than track the timer status of tens of thousands of capsuleers, CCP computers would only have to track the status of no more than 5500 star systems - depending on implementation - and this number would never change. Node load increases would be negligible under normal situations, calculated per system and spread across predictable nodes in abnormal situations. And space travel would remain relatively unchanged from the way it is today. Changes would not kick in until ships started to jump into a single system (or someone forgets to turn off their Titan Bridge :twisted: .) And if a big battle like B-R5RB were to be attempted, the resulting rupture of the Cynosural Field would spread the combatants randomly over an entire region. Now wouldn't that be interesting?

If you like this concept and have more to add, please lend your voice in the comments below. This is the roughest of drafts and could use the help. Bloggers, fell free to link this post. But to the EVE Online news aggregating sites out there, this post is a creative commons licensed post. You must get my permission before re-posting, and that includes EN24 with whom I've had a previous relationship. There will be no reprints, partial or in full, without my approval. Besides, this may be a shit idea and not implementable for some reason within the EVE Online code base with which I'm not familiar. But after reading what CCP suggests concerning capsuleer jump timers, I find that hard to fathom.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

In the United Kingdom, Be Careful How You Troll

I've written before about the puerile sense of manhood (or lack thereof I should say) that often permeates the online gaming community. I've also commented on how it often crosses the socially acceptable line by threatening those who have a different worldview than the trolls, and by how turning a blind eye towards it can be just as wrong as doing it. The supposed anonymity of the Internet gives certain people the false sense they can say whatever they like and nothing will come of it. That insulting people via twitter, or a comment, is somehow less wrong than doing it to their face. We call it trolling, but episodes like the Bonus Room show how totally out of control it can go. And people claim this is a freedom of speech issue? It's abuse, pure and simple.

What I've not said is this is a problem that happens not just within the gaming community, but in our society as a whole. It's become epidemic and I don't think that's hyperbole. Let's get one thing clear though. At no time in truly civilized society has hate speech of any form been considered an inalienable right. Just as one cannot yell fire in a crowded theater when no such exists, no one has a right to exercise bigotry, misogyny or just plain old hate over the Internet. I really don't think civilized, responsible people understand this any differently than I do. The problem seems to be people see the Internet as somehow different, and society is unable to come to terms with it.

But there is one country that has begun. The United Kingdom passed the Communications Act 2003, and in it is a prohibition against the "improper use of public electronic communications network." Here is the meat of that provision.

127 Improper use of public electronic communications network

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he—

(a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or

(b) causes any such message or matter to be so sent.

(2) A person is guilty of an offence if, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, he—

(a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that he knows to be false,

(b) causes such a message to be sent; or

(c) persistently makes use of a public electronic communications network.

(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both.

(4) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to anything done in the course of providing a programme service (within the meaning of the Broadcasting Act 1990 (c. 42)).

So what's the point of making this known you ask? Well, it's a law unlike any other before it as far as my research can tell. It makes it a crime to say certain things via public communications networks, and by definition that includes Twitter and the Internet at large. How do we know this? Because this...

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="310"]From ARS Technica by Casey Johnston - Sept 29 2014, 9:55am PDT From ARS Technica by Casey Johnston - Sept 29 2014, 9:55am PDT[/caption]

...and more importantly this...

Man receives 4.5 months of jail time for Twitter rape threats.

It's about damn time. The tweet above, along with other such drivel, earned this man 18 weeks in jail for sending them. ARS Technica ran this article by Casey Johnston which you can read by clicking the image or link above.

So at least in the United Kingdom, you'd better mind your Ps and Qs, because you can be charged and convicted of hateful speech under this law. I wonder if that's an extraditable-from-other-countries offense? The only unfortunate thing about this law, as far as I can tell, is the United Kingdom doesn't use it often enough. Because really, there is no excuse to threaten rape or anything else just because you don't agree with someone. As I've said, that's just wrong - and now criminal.

The United States tried to enforce a decency law, the Communications Decency Act of 1996, but it only applied to communications directed at those under the age of eighteen. And in court case after court case it was deemed an infringement of First Amendment rights because it was too broad, or it didn't allow parents to decide what was indecent, or any number of other bullshit reasons. And if you're over eighteen, I guess you have to either lump it, or move to Florida, entice your antagonist to meet you in person and then shoot them dead and plead self- defense under the stand your ground law. Now to be clear, I am not advocating anyone move to Florida so they can legally murder an internet troll. Don't be ridiculous. Besides, even if I did mean it I've the courts on my side because freedom of speech means I get to say whatever the hell I want. Right? Honestly, that's pretty damn correct in the United States and I wish it weren't so.

So how would I regulate this if I were emperor? To me the guidelines are simple. If you wouldn't say it in my presence because you fear I might knock your teeth out, then don't put it on the Internet. If you wouldn't want to be treated the way you treat other people, don't put it on the Internet. If you've ever said it to a woman in person and been slapped (or shot!) for it, don't put it on the Internet. But people just love to push boundaries don't they? And the asinine out there think they can just go on getting away with it. "It's just fun," they say. "It's only a game," they say. No, it isn't. Put this into your half-baked brains. When people have had enough, they will turn on you. And if they can't do it legally, they'll do it by whatever means they have available. If you're one of those people who get their jollies from outrageous speech, like the tweet above, my advice to you is don't accept any invitations for a meetup in Florida.