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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Lots of Elite:Dangerous

I'd like to start this post with a non-apology. I don't apologize for not having written more posts. Writing is a funny thing. At times it seems there's not enough time, or electrons in the universe, to say what you want to say. At other times, it's like a cosmic void - not one helium atom (a good idea ;) ) in parsecs upon parsecs. Thus it has been lately. And I'd rather not waste your time with filler material. I know you have other things you could do with your time than just read filler.

But that doesn't mean I've not been busy playing games. I've spent most of my gaming time playing Elite: Dangerous. According to Raptr I have 61 hours invested in the game. Mostly I've been trading, upgrading my ship and trading some more. Here's what that looks like. Try not to get too excited...

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Back and forth, back and forth, with a docking required at both ends. This is not exciting work. However, it provides a steady income one can parlay into a better ship and even more income. Through the course of my 61 hours of game play I have amassed a respectable net worth.

[caption id="attachment_4344" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Mabrick's Net Worth after 61 Hours Mabrick's Net Worth after 61 Hours[/caption]

I am currently on my third ship. I purchased a Hauler as soon as I had the funds, which I subsequently traded in for a Cobra Mark III. I have upgraded the cargo capacity of my Cobra to 36 tons, as well as upgraded my power plant and my weapons. As you can see by the rankings I'm still rated as harmless and aimless. However, I have advanced to Dealer in the trade ranks - my third promotion; equal to competent in combat ratings. I've spent almost my entire career in Evarate trading between stations and picking up trade or reputation missions on the bulletin boards whenever I can. I've only been successfully interdicted twice. Once when I was in the Hauler so I ran away. You can see the results of the second interdiction in the lower right corner of the statistics display. His biggest mistake was interdicting a Cobra armed with pulse lasers and multi-cannons with a Hauler. Whatever he was thinking, he didn't think it for long.

I currently make about 30,000 credits a round trip hauling Tea and Marine Equipment. At first I thought that was a lot. Then I looked at the requirement for my next promotion. I have to earn 3,800,000 credits to get it. A quick back of the envelope calculation tells me I have to rinse, lather and repeat my run nearly 125 times to get there. Ugh. That is not at all appealing. But I could mix it up. I've not tried mining yet. And I've only collected the one bounty. Or I can find a new system with a better trade route, one that has a special rare item or some such. Or I could become a salvager. I did that once. Forgot to check the tobacco I picked up in deep space and ended up paying a 20k fine for bringing stolen goods into Ackerman Market. Oops. There are many other things I could do. Elite: Dangerous is, after all, a sand box. I can go anywhere.

And by anywhere I mean most of the 400 billion stars available in the galaxy. There are a few areas held in reserve for future alien expansions, but by and large I can travel anywhere. And many have been doing just that. But what exactly does that mean? What's the scope of "anywhere" and "400 billion?" In this week's news letter, #59, Frontier Development gave out some exploration statistics for the first month since Elite: Dangerous went live. Here's the report, emphasis mine,

It’s a big galaxy out there. Players have been out exploring Elite: Dangerous’ full-scale recreation of the Milky Way since launch, and together you’ve discovered 615,475 previously uncharted systems of the 400 billion in our galaxy.

On a simple average, that’s 17,585 systems per day, 732 per hour or 12 per minute. Good going, everyone.

But let’s put that in context, because with 400 billion star systems to explore the community have charted just 0.00015 percent of our galaxy. Let’s put it another way: if everyone keeps going at the current rate, it will take 150,895 years to map the entire Milky Way.

But with new players joining every day, we might just get the galaxy mapped before the turn of the hundred and seventieth century.

My mind would be blown except there seems to be a math error in this statement. If we continue to map 17,585 systems per day, that's 6,418,525 systems per year. Excluding leap years, which would see an additional 17,585 systems mapped, it would take 400,000,000,000 systems divided by 6,418,525 systems per year to map the entire galaxy. That's only 62, 320 years to map the entire galaxy, providing there is no interruption in server availability. That's still an impressive number, but is less than half the time Frontier states. What gives?

So, now you know what I've been up to. Now I think it's time to play some more Elite: Dangerous. See you around the galaxy.

Fly Careful.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter - Total Spoiler

Even while I was sick over the weekend, I still couldn't get The Vanishing of Ethan Carter out of my mind. There is this special place where a computer game and a compelling story intersect that always does this to me. It is a rare thing to be certain, but it does happen from time to time. And it is awesome. It's one of the reasons I'm hoping The Astronauts establish this as their style, because frankly I don't see anyone else doing the point and click adventure quite this well any more.

But this has to be the last time I blog about it. For one, you deserve fresher content. Secondly, I have to get it out of my mind eventually. But before I do that, I'd like you to understand why I'm having such a hard time purging The Vanishing of Ethan Carter from my thoughts. I said previously it was because I really came to care about Ethan Carter. To be more specific, I see some of myself in Ethan Carter. The kid appeals to my id, more than my ego wants to accept. But there it is nonetheless. And my super-ego is outraged at what happened.

To understand that last bit, you can look here, or you can watch the ending of the story unfold. Below the cut line is a video you can only access if you know the URL. As I am the only one with said URL, you can only get it here. DO NOT click on the cut if you don't want to know what happens. Getting to this scene is a tremendous part of the impact the game has, and watching it will most certainly ruin certain aspects of playing the game. But if you have no intention of ever playing The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, or don't mind total spoilers, give it a watch. This is what happens when good storytelling and computer gaming come together.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Lock In by John Scalzi - Not as Good as I'd Hoped

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="184"]Lock In by John Scalzi Lock In by John Scalzi[/caption]

I like John Scalzi. I really do. And it's not just his writing I like. I like his blog. I like his friends. I just like the guy in general. And I do believe every thing he writes is worth reading or listening to. I've found all his books I've read to be fun and often exciting. John Scalzi has a sense of humor that really appeals to me.

But that does not mean every thing he writes is gold. I found his latest book, Lock In, to be just silver. It's still pretty, and it's still valuable, but it just isn't up to the gold standard. Before I launch into why, here is the summary of Lock In from Goodreads.

"Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.

One per cent doesn't seem like a lot. But in the United States, that's 1.7 million people “locked in”...including the President's wife and daughter.

Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, “The Agora,” in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can “ride” these people and use their bodies as if they were their own.

This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse...."

First off, right there I know the entire plot of the book. That last paragraph makes everything that happens in the book preordained. I wanted to believe there would be some twists and turns... a huge surprise - but no. I wanted to believe the book wouldn't be as simple as that last paragraph. But it was predictable the entire way through. It was a straight line story from quickly regulated to worse - which I use here as a double entendre.

"Double entendre?" you ask. Yes, as in a quote of the summary and bad gone worse. As in, you can, and have, done better than this John Scalzi. Shame on you for rushing this book, leaving sub-plots unfinished (Detective Trinh anyone?,) and totally not even thinking about a romance between Agent Shane and either Tony or that nice Navajo police officer. You, sir, are better than paragons of two-dimensional stereotypical [insert character type here.].  From the burned out FBI agent, to the rich kid wanting to make good without daddy, to the overly greedy billionaire lacking all morals whatsoever, this cast of characters remains true to the tried and tired cliché of who they should be. That said, they are still interesting characters because your writing itself is still on par with your superlative style.

Nevertheless, I give more than half the credit for the interesting characters to Amber Benson. When I was trying to decide between her and Wil Wheaton as the narrator for the audio book I listened to, I read a couple of reviews praising Amber for her performance. I will have to agree. She did an excellent job. In the entire performance I only caught one instance where she used one character's voice for another, and that was for less than half a sentence. And the range of voices she gave to the characters, from the smooth alto of Agent Vann, to the otherworldly whisper of Sarah Bell, to the almost baritone of Marcus Shane, are excellent. Well done Amber.

You know, I find myself in the odd position of having to give a pro at the end of a review rather than a con. Usually I so enjoy a book I praise it for paragraphs and then at the end remember I should at least address its major shortcoming. In this case it's just the opposite. I could go on and on about how this isn't John Scalzi's best work, and how I expect more of him as an author. But I also don't want to seem like I'm trying to run him down, because I really do think he is an excellent writer and an all around great person. So I'll end with what I think Lock In is really about.

From the stalemate Congress the United States has endured over the past decade, to the Ebola paranoia that gripped the country during the last election cycle, to the politicization of just about everything already proven by scientific endeavor, Lock In is a statement on how current American society comports itself. Though it takes place 25 years in the future, it is really about the here and now. And the book isn't even about politicians. It's about polarization. It's about class warfare. It's about discrimination brought on by the struggle to simply feed one's family. It's about those who have manipulating those who don't to ensure they never do. It's also about what motivates the richest among us. As Scalzi correctly points out through his characters, it's not about money. When people are as rich as the antagonist in this book, money ceases to have meaning. It's all about ego, and personal favors, and what you can force other people do, and what you can get away with because you have so much money. The ultra rich don't trade money with each other, they trade favors. Their most precious resource is time, not gold, and these successful humans excel at looking into the future and seeing potential; then manipulating the present to obtain their desired outcome - sometimes illegally. Bottom line, they aren't motivated by what motivates the masses, and the masses need to understand this fact.

In the end, Lock In is a pleasant reminder than even those who may think themselves untouchable can be touched. They may think they pull all the strings, but we are all still individuals, and it only takes one person like Jonny Sani to put an end to those who think themselves out of reach. As Jonny's sister Janice says at the end of the story,

"You’re not sorry Johnny is dead. You were going to kill someone today. You’re sorry you got caught. But you did get caught. You got caught because Johnny stopped you from getting away with what you were doing. He made trouble for you, just like he said. My brother was slow but he could figure things out if he took enough time. He figured you out. And now look at you. My brother is ten of you."

As cliché as that is, it's a good point and sums up the book's social message quite nicely. The ultra rich aren't better than the rest of us. They are bound by the same rules we are no matter how they try to change them. And when we as a society choose to correct their aberrant behavior, we can. We just have to come together in common cause to do it, and often it only takes a single individual's actions to get that ball rolling . There is a lot of intuition involved with getting to that last sentence, but I am willing to bet John Scalzi won't disagree with it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter - No Spoilers Review

[caption id="attachment_4274" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Beginning of Final Scene in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Beginning of Final Scene in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter[/caption]

I finished The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Monday night. Oh - my - god. There was not a single minute of this game I didn't enjoy - even the scary/suspenseful parts. :) And there definitely were some of those. But to those who might not be into that I say don't worry. They were only perhaps 20% of the game. The rest of the game was about puzzle solving. Heck, even the scary/suspenseful parts were puzzles!

I also thought the story was very good, though I hated the ending. And the word "hated" isn't the real way I feel. If I told you how I really feel it'd be a spoiler. :| I will say it was the perfect ending for this game. Here's a clue to what I'm on about.

[caption id="attachment_4275" align="aligncenter" width="800"]The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Final Cut Scene The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Final Cut Scene[/caption]

You may think that's a bit of a spoiler, but it isn't. There were a few things in this game that were totally predictable to someone who's played a lot of games in their life, but the ending was not one of them - though there was a subtle hint throughout the game. Okay, maybe that's a little teensy spoiler, but if you figure it out you are better than I. I saw the hint in several places and didn't draw the correct conclusion from it. At the end, it was fun to be surprise in that, "oh yeah" sort of way! :P And even those things I correctly predicted were still fun to see played out.

If I had one thing to pick on about this game, I would say it isn't long enough. It took me a mere eight (8) hours to complete according to Raptr (8.4 hours according to Steam.) And there is no replay value to the game. Once you get to the end, that's it. You can start again and do everything differently, but there is no extra content to discover and you will still have to complete the same puzzles. With the game Tesla, there were different endings you could see if you replayed the game and made different choices. However, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is totally linear.

That said, I will be keeping an eye on The Astronauts from now on. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was inexpensive and riveting, even if only for eight hours. I feel like I got my money's worth. In fact, the story will haunt me for some time to come. I really got pulled in by the game and came to care a lot about Ethan Carter. More than I realized even. I would say more, but this is a no spoilers post, so you'll just have to figure out what I mean on your own. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is available on Steam for $19.99, but I got it on sell for substantially less. You can also purchase it through GOG for the same price.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

In the Immortal Words of Russel Casse...

"Ha-ha-ha! Hello, boys! I'm BAAAAAACK!"

Well, that was a lot of fun. Now I have to get back to the daily grind. Oh well, that's how vacations are paid for. Right?

So let's start with some old business. The last place on Kaua'i I posted a picture of, which no one guessed about, was the Limahuli Garden & Preserve. It's all the way at the end of the road on the north shore of Kaua'i. I was standing 10 feet north of the default pin on the Google map below when I took the picture - just in case anyone was curious. ;)

So if you ever go to Kaua'i, I have a few pieces of advice for you.

  1. Book events before you leave the mainland. Companies like Na Pali Explorer sell out quickly. You can always move things around once you arrive, providing there is space and flexibility on the part of the provider. However, once a particular event is booked up, you won't be able to get in. That didn't happen with me exactly, but it nearly did. With the Internet at your fingertips, there's no good reason not to book in advance.

  2. Don't try to do more than two things in a given day. You might even want to consider just one "big" thing a day. After all, you'll need time to swim, sun bath or just relax on the beach. It's vacation. Don't try to do everything at once. Besides, traffic will never cooperate with you.

  3. On that note, rent a car if you plan on seeing things all over the island. The island isn't big, but it is big enough you'll have to drive everywhere. Kaua'i isn't exactly walking friendly. There are taxi cabs, but not many and they're heavily used. You have to wait on them and that doesn't always do your schedule good. Traffic is terrible. As an example, our Na Pali Explorer ride left from Kekaha on the southwest shore. We were staying in Wailua on the east shore. The distance between the two is 33 miles. It takes an hour minimum to drive the 33 miles. The top speed on the island is 50 MPH, and you'll be lucky to go that fast.

  4. And last but most important, if you plan on eating anywhere upscale, you must make reservations well in advance. Don't call the morning you expect to eat at a given restaurant and expect there will be a table. We went on off-season and most places we ate at were booked two or three says in advance at a minimum. If you plan on eating McDonald's, don't worry about this advice. But if you go to Kaua'i and eat at McDonald's, you need to reevaluate what vacations are about my friend.

I imagine these could apply to any of the islands. Just saying.

On the flight back I finished reading Roadside Geology of Oregon, Second Edition. I read the first edition, and the day I wrote my review on Goodreads, I found out they had just published the updated second edition. So I had to find out what the differences were. :P Three decades of scientific fieldwork and a much better author is pretty much what it boils down to. It was fascinating if you're into geology like I am. I won't post the reviews here because... geology. You know? However, if the mood strikes you, just go to my Goodreads page and read the reviews there. Or don't.

I started reading another traditional book on the flight back as well: what if? by Randall Munroe, the author of xkcd. I'll review it on Goodreads of course, and I'll probably throw it up here as well. It's something gamer geeks read so why not.

Tomorrow I have a 90 minute commute to start back to work. That's why you're getting this tonight. That's in addition to my normal Tuesday morning 75 minute commute. So I picked up a new audio book to which to listen: Lock In by John Scalzi, narrated Amber Benson. Scalzi never gives the sex for the protagonist in this near future detective sci-fi story, so Audible had Wil Wheaton and Amber Benson do a version each and you, the reader, get to pick which sex you want the protagonist to be. I went with Amber because I already know what Wil Wheaton sounds like. He's one of my go-to voice actors. I figured it was only fair to give Amber a shot this time. ;-)

Oh, and on the gaming front, I forgot to pay my claim upkeep in advance before I left for Kaua'i. I also left my gaming laptop at home for the same reason I don't eat at fast food restaurants while on vacation. The end shot is they took my claim away. That's how it works in Landmark. And you know what, I'm okay with that. Landmark is turning into a game people will love, but I'm probably not one of them. It's become a bit of a hack and slash fantasy MMO, and I've had enough of those for a while. I'm going to play Elite: Dangerous for now, and eventually I'll dive head first into Star Citizen. Oh, and I HAVE to finish The Vanishing of Ethan Carter! That'll keep me busy enough. Cheers!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Where on Kaua'i is Mabrick II

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="2000" caption="Where I learned most of the plants we think of as Hawai'i aren't native."]image[/caption]

This is the third and last picture in my silly 'Where in the World is Mabrick' game. Good luck!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Where on Kauai'i is Mabrick

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="2000" caption="The United States wasn't the only country interested in Hawai'i. "]image[/caption]

Now that we've ascertained where I am (congrats to Zax!,)  it's time to make things harder. I've turned off geo tragging (not that Zax needed it) and the clue is not as direct. :D I was here yesterday. Where was I?

Where on Kauai'i is Mabrick

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="2000" caption="The United States wasn't the only country interested in Hawai'i. "]image[/caption]

Now that we've ascertained where I am (congrats to Zax!,)  it's time to make things harder. I've turned off geo tragging (but that Zax needed it) and the clue is not as direct. :D I was here yesterday. Where was I?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Where in the World is Mabrick

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="1536" caption="The first night I was here, there was an inexplicable county wide power outage. "]image[/caption]

Let's play a little game. I'll post a picture and write a few words, and you try and guess where I am. This may be really easy or difficult. I've never tried this before. Be specific. The perfect answer is latitude and longitude within 10 meters. 1 I've provided the first picture above. The caption is the clue. Comment approval will be delayed. Go!

  1. Anyone related to or in a close personal relationship with Mabrick are ineligible for consideration. Those with privileged information previously provide by Mabrick are likewise ineligible. :P