Sleep is Underrated

Lots of work, crazy deadlines, busy family, and then a chest cold.  Makes for a great weekend of flop sweats and 12+ hours of sleep a day, still feeling exhausted to start the week.  Good news is that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.  It feels entirely achievable.  Plus, the VP here sees the work being done and the need for additional resources/structure.  That bodes well long-term.

My eldest had 2 hockey games this weekend.  On her team, 11 other girls are first-time players, so the understanding of the game just isn’t there yet.  They lost Saturday 10-0 on  team that had that understanding, and won 3-1 on Sunday when you could see it start clicking.  I spent some time watching a men’s league game on the other ice pad, folks mostly in their 40s-50s.  They were smart hockey players.

I played about 12 years when I was a kid, but I’ve been back on the ice for another 12 since.  All of that pretty much competitive play.  The skill is less important than the thinking now.  We have a few skaters on one team where even though they are young, they just don’t have that mind-set.  Great skill and effort, but that 6th sense just isn’t there.  Work smarter – not harder.

Full circle a bit then.  Work is in the same bucket.  I’ve had enough crazy deadlines and projects to have a decent sense of what is actually important and what is noise.  I know some members of my team are concerned at my lack of attention on some things, and deadly focus on others.  It’s a practical thing.  Tough calls are needed, and there’s only so much good will to go around.  It’s difficult, but sometimes you need to let those spinning plates fall to the ground.

Warframe

I read Isey’s comment on my last post and want to extract the gibberish.

When I found that I had Liths via the codex (bur no clue what to do with them) eventually I noticed the prompt on the NAV screen, found the mission, jumped in with others, and got my 10 reactants to unlock.

This reminds me of 90% of Wilhelm’s EVE posts.  I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.  Then I played a bit more and unlocked Venus (the 2nd planet in the unlock chain).

Ok, that sentence makes more sense now.  Liths are lockboxes that can only be completed by doing a certain mission (Void Fissures). In those missions, enemies sometimes drop “reactant”, and after 10 pickups and a successful mission, you get to open the Lith.  These missions are not terribly common (at least at the start) and the one I did was quite difficult.  Next topic.

I don’t understand what the levels mean on missions.  I have a level 11 Warframe (the class, Excalibur, good with swords).  I have a level 12 Braton (automatic rifle).  There are some mods on each to augment certain things.  The Warframe has + health and + shields.  the rifle has a flat + 40% damage.  Taking on a level 5-8 mission is a challenge.  Not so much that I am very worried about kicking the bucket, but more so that enemies are bullet sponges and I need to pay a lot of attention to ammo levels.  No ammo – little damage.

There are missions on my map.  I complete them to unlock more nodes on the map for more missions.  I am not seeing any power curve (or rather it appears logarithmic) and future goals are not all that clear.  Some missions are 5 minutes, others are 20.  Wave defense is fun.  Spy missions are not.  Overall, the feedback loop is good so far.  But I’m thinking I need some viable measure of progress in the next 4-5 hours to keep me going.  Using the same class, same skills, same gun for 10 hours…there’s a limit.

Warframe – Quick Thoughts

Seems that whenever someone talks about Destiny 2 nowadays, Warframe comes up in the conversation.  I had played it when it was still in early launch, but never really gave it a chance.

An aside first.  I usually go back to WoW a month before an expansion.  I cannot decipher half of the text in chat, most of the content is new, and I feel like a new player.  FF14 feels the same way.  Heck, even some stand-alone games on replay feel new.

Warframe takes a kitchen sink approach to a skinner box.  Everything comes at you, with very little context as to what it all means.  There’s no hand holding.  No “magic number” that tells you that you are stronger (plenty of numbers, just not 1).  Missions feel like crack on speed.  Movement and combat feels really good, so far.

There’s an entire junkpile of information related to crafting, upgrading, optimizing… it feels a whole lot like those action RPG games on mobile.  Plenty of things to do, lots of numbers to improve, plenty of bad guys to swipe, and a lot of time gating.

I don’t truly mind time gating.  In fact, I truly think that everything is time gated, whether online or off.  How many people have hunted the Horseman in WoW to get the mount and never got it?  I spent 2 weeks getting the boots off giants in EQ.  I could raid a week straight and not get an upgrade.  I do not suffer from the “I need it now” mentality, so I guess that is a factor.

After 4 years of content push, I can understand it.  There appears to be content to meet everyone’s needs.  I’ll be putting more time into this and see what pops out after a few weeks.

Shadow of War Complete

Spoilers.  Does that even really matter though? There’s no way that this is legit canon.

 

I fought a forest god who transformed into a cat, a giant, and a dragon.  I took it down with 4 arrows per transform. Then a Balrog was summoned and I shot arrows at its fire back to make it run away. Then I jumped on the forest god (in all 3 forms) to attack the Balrog, who eventually fell through the ice and froze in the water.  I am trying to find an adequate analogy to this…sort of like a squirrel taking down Superman.  It makes no sense.

Did you know that Isildur, the guy who cut of Sauron’s hand to get the ring, was turned into a Nazgul?  I learned that.  Oh, he can summon drakes at will too. (had 4 at once in one battle)

Didja know that Celebrimbor (the forger of most of the rings with Sauron) nearly possessed Sauron to take over the world?   Cause Celebrimbor forged another ring (perfect) without Sauron?

Didja know that Shelob used to sleep with Sauron?  That she can tell the future?  That she’s actually pro-human? Ya know, Ungoliant’s kid, the one that brought darkness to the entire world.

I mentioned in the previous post on this game that lore was out the door.  It was a fun fantasy pitch to start.  By the end, it’s parallel-universe logic being applied. I like the LOTR lore and I consider myself well-versed.  This makes no sense.

Gameplay

Most of it works and works well.  There are skills that are way more powerful than others.  Fire explosions seem to clear entire armies.  Graug summons clear maps.  Dragons are powerful but hit too many people.  Stealth attacks, in particular chain attacks, are amazing.  Freezing captains is the way to go.  Groups of captains with competing strengths make combat different enough.

Items, those work a bit less.  Stats on everything but Legendaries are randomized.  This results in god-rolls.  I have a particular set of items that applies Curse, Poison and Fire on critical hits.  Others that increase that damage (which is much higher than weapon damage).  And a bow that fill focus when I hit something, making it for near infinite focus while I have arrows. Actual damage or health increases are meaningless when you have these kinds of passive stats.  Getting more damage from beasts is useless compared to setting every captain on fire/poison/curse with 2 swords hits (or a headshot).

Gems don’t make a lot of sense.  There are 5 tiers.  It takes 3 gems of one tier to move to the next.  I get the basic tier most often, with maybe 10% on the 2nd.  After all my time playing (level 40, all side missions, all keeps taken, all outposts cleared…) I have 1 max level gem that I don’t even use.

The quests are solid and fit the story.  The flashback missions all work to perfect a given skill, and in 90% of the cases you can 3 star it in a few tries.  There are a few where you need to be extremely lucky/timely, and that final reward is relatively useless (gems).  There just seems to always be something neat to do.

But that doesn’t really matter much, as most of the game is the minute-to-minute movement through the world, the randomness of the orcs, and the feel of control in combat.  All of that, without exception, is amazing.  It’s just plain fun to play.  The sum of the parts is so much more here than the pieces.

After the first game, I thought we’d see more of the nemesis system in other games.  Bits and pieces show up in the rogue-likes, but nothing that took it to the next level.  It’s a stronger system here.  I’ve yet to see any duplicates and no one is impossible.  The next thing to see will be enemy adaptation – machine learning.  Skynet anyone?

All told, highly recommended.

 

Health Goals

Summer seems to have finally lost it’s grasp on the weather, and the cold is creeping in.  Not to mention the ever decreasing amount of sunlight.  Seasonal changes typically bring a pattern change to my routines.  I run on the sun I guess.

The summer beer-fest is over, though the inability to take a true vacation is wearing me down.  Work is a tough grind right now,.  Everyday I lose an inch, and every night I put back 9/10.  The team I’m leading is trying their best, but it just seems to be an uphill battle.  Once we’re done though…it will be all our careers’ greatest achievement to date.  When people believe in the goal, it’s surprising what they will do to get there.

In the past I would have burned every hour on this.  I know that leads to a burn out, so instead I spend time with the wife and kids.  I relax with some gaming where the goals are clear, control is in my hand, and objectives can be met within a few minutes.  As complex as some games are, they are relatively simple compared to the rest of the day.

In addition, home exercise routines.  I’ve mentioned this a few times and decided to just put it all in one page called Fitness Info.  This covers everything, from the nutrition, to the gear, and the workout plan, and a bit of the mental state.  I’ll keep adding to it over time but for now, it’s my rumblings on this whole health kick.  Long story short, there is  little better to reduce stress than to be lifting very heavy things.

The eating portion is going ok.  I still have a rather regimented daily intake that’s been the same for a long time.  The supper and weekend meals are a bit more complex, what with hectic family schedules and social gatherings.  Weight is still coming off, and I am getting stronger at the same time.  Rather than force it along as I would have in the past, I’m just sticking to the plan.  I don’t have 150lbs to lose mind you, so the scale isn’t exactly motivation.  I could swing 1-3lbs just in a given day, depending on when I eat, how much water, and when I weigh myself.

The goal remains and I don’t think I’ve touched on this yet.  Sure, there are objectives.  Lifting a lot of weight certainly is one of those.  But the goal, that’s a rather simple one.  I want to have the energy and ability to keep playing with my kids for the next 20 years. I could do nothing today and be fine for the next 4-5 years.  Then I’d have a whole ton of work to do, and habits to build.  Might as well get into that now, so that it’s just normal.  So that my kids see what a healthy lifestyle looks like (that sounds too vegan).

There’s something about kids wanting to be like you, that makes you want to be a better you.  It’s a circle of feedback, and I choose for it to be a positive one.

Blade Runner 2049

Related from Isey

Spoilers ahead.

Seriously.  King Kong dies at the end, Superman comes back from the dead, Maggie shot Mr Burns.


I watch the original Blade Runner every month or so.  It’s the director’s cut most often, the voice over junk is really quite poor.  It may be my favorite all-time movie, and I am vividly aware that it is niche/cult in nature.  That said, you cannot help but watch it today and realize how much influence it has had on the sci-fi genre over the past 35 years.  I mean, the Matrix would not exist.

Further, I’ve read pretty much every book from Phillip K Dick.  He clearly had an episode during his life where he went off the deep end.  He stayed sane enough to try and tell some stories.  VALIS… jeez.  Good luck with that.

I’ve watched most of Ridley Scott’s films and frankly, he’s had some really bad writers in the past few years.  Denis Villeneuve is an incredibly strong pickup to helm a complicated story.  Arrival is clear indication of that.

Blade Runner 2049 runs for 2:45.  I was in a cinema with full bore sound and reclining chairs.  It felt like a 30 minute TV episode.  It has incredibly drawn out scenes where nothing happens.  I don’t think a word is even spoken until 10 minutes in, as every step taken is deliberate.  In a world of Transformers explosions and a complete absence of character growth or story pacing, this is abnormal and hard on the senses.  We’ve been trained to expect a certain pace in sci-fi.  BR2049 bucks that trend, at nearly every corner.

The movie’s sound, art, pacing, direction, acting… all of it jives with the nervous confusion of the first one.  The director of photography deserves an award here… it’s on Mad Max level of quality.  It does not feel like a sequel, just like the Two Towers was not a sequel to The Fellowship of the Ring.  That is a masterful achievement after such a long period of time.

High level plot.  It’s 35 years after the first one.  The previous robots are all supposedly dead.  Tyrell is bankrupt.  Wallace bought him out and designed perfectly subjected robots instead, with unlimited lifespans.  Oh, that can’t be bad, right?

Agent K (Gosling) tracks down the remnants of old models that have fun.  Finds one.  Blurb about witnessing a miracle.  Turns out Rachel (secretary from first movie) had a kid with Deckard, something that was thought impossible.  Repercussions ensue.

The movie deals with a caste system, what it means to be “human”, what it means to live a lie, what the Turing test actually entails, and how the line between AI and humanity is much thinner than anyone accounts for.

We typically define life through four main criteria.  Eating (or metabolizing), Growth/Adaptation, Survival, and Reproduction.  Replicants, in the movie universe, only have the first 3.  When the prospect of Reproduction shows up… things get interesting.

K and his AI companion Joi have an neat relationship.  It starts off really simple, just to add some “life” to his apartment.  It clearly grows over time, with Joi seeming to evolve to meet K’s personal needs.  She is a clear enabler of his fantasies – and this is taken to the literal extent.  Her death, and following alternate virtual ad presentation, using the same keywords, makes K doubt what was actually real.  Same for me.  She clearly passed the Turing test, but was she an isolated and unique representation, or simply a tool that self-adapted?

Deckard gives up his child to protect it.  I know I missed some key parts in this story, as his involvement seems somewhat aloof considering he’s the genesis of it all.  His scene with robo-Rachel is even more confusing.

The Replicant hidden alliance wants to protect the child.  For some long-term purpose that isn’t quite clear.  Wallace (Jared Leto) wants to have her in order to provide pro-creation to all his replicants, and sends Luv (Hoeks) to do whatever is necessary to get that info.  Wallace has twinged of mania, but the end goal in the context of the entire movie, actually puts him in a grey light.  If all replicants could procreate, and all replicants can go through the character growth of K (and Rachel, and Sapper, and…) then that would be a hell of a story to see.  The base premise that Wallace would somehow have controls over these replicants is laid to waste by the end of the film.  I am either missing some underlying message, or this is a lost opportunity.

When you finally figure out who the child actually is… things just click together like a Sherlock mystery.  The clues are rather evident.   There is a lot of show rather than tell, which is good.

The end result, similar to the original movie, is that by the end of the film (and for most of it too) you are left wondering who is human and by what definition.  You can see the start of a civil war, one that can dramatically swing in one party’s favor depending on that child.  There are a whole lot of “what ifs” that remain unanswered.

Good movies tell a story with interesting character choices and growth.  Great movies tell it for multiple characters and then make you question how that impacts you.  It isn’t a perfect movie, but it certainly is a great one.  And one that I will need to watch multiple times a year.

Shadows of War – Hunting Captains

Similar but different.

In the previous game there were 2 large zones, each with a hierarchy of sorts, and you moved your way through the various captains to take over the top.  Now there are 6 zones, and each Warlord controls a massive keep, with 3-4 chiefs.

I’ve cleared enough of zones for most of the sandbox to be present.  I still have a few skills unlocked by quests, but nothing that I can’t live without.  Shadow Dominate would be nice though…

Each map has a similar structure.  3 sub-areas that are controlled by specific Captains.  You run a small quest (poison 5 grogs, kill 10 archers) and he shows up.  Rarely alone.  Take him out and the sub-area is no longer controlled, saving some extra alarms and enemies.  There are more Nemesis quests (5-6) on the map at any time, putting one Captain against another.  The goal in all of this is to either kill or dominate the Captains.  The ones that are dominated can either assist you in a siege, be a bodyguard, or infiltrate the War Chiefs.

War Chiefs only come into play for the final siege mission.  They show up with their posse of Captains and make a right mess of things if you are not prepared.  The ones that have infiltrated can betray their chiefs, making combat a lot easier.  You can also draw out the War Chiefs in order to disable a specific defense (like strong walls, archers, defenders).  It is hard to dominate a War Chief since they are usually a few levels above you.  Taking them out does reduce the overall level of the siege, which is the really good part.

The most recent run was in Seregost.  I had dominated about 12 Captains, 5 of which infiltrated their chiefs.  I took the 4 call out missions to take out the chiefs and there was a lot of backstabbing going on.  I finally ran the siege and things went rather smoothly, all told.  The final Warlord was in a room of eternally spawning Caragors and Orcs.  He was enraged by almost anything too, so 2 hits and I was ready to kick the bucket.  I did manage to take him out with some strategic arrows and explosions, but it was a 10 minute battle.

Kill vs Dominate

Killing a captain gives you loot, dominating converts them to your side.  There’s a point where your loot gains have little overall benefit to the playstyle.  5 more hit points on 400 isn’t much.  In particular if you consider the secondary stats on some gear, such as elf-shots when you crit, or increased poison damage.

Dominating makes future battles easier, for two reasons.  First is that they can assist you in battle and betray their chiefs.  Super useful.  Second, if they are not dead, then they are not replaced with new Captains.

Plus, you’re going to end up killing a few Captains anyways along the way.  Either forced, or by accident.

Once you have the ability to dominate Captains, that’s what you should be aiming to do.

General Strategy

In 90% of the cases, it is best to have an in-out attack strategy.  Dominate a few archers, stealth attack the Captain, retreat, repeat.  There are some cases where it is not possible to stealth attack, or use arrows.  That requires some hefty fighting skills.

For those battles, you need:

  • Double-jump – frozen attack.  Lets you jump over enemies  and freeze them.
  • Counter – kill grunts.  Press counter at the right time to single shot a low level enemy.
  • Elven light – fire attack.  Grunts are not immune to fire and this will take the large majority out
  • Consume – chain attack.  Lets you dominate 3-4 orcs in a go.
  • Shadow Strike.  Let’s you teleport to another grunt.  Great for quick escapes.  Uses 2 arrows.

I find the best route is to freeze/stun the Captain, then take out the grunts with some area attacks.

For fights with multiple Captains (most I’ve had so far was 4 at a time), you want to use the environment.  Poison some grog barrels, bait some traps, and Detonate some firepits.

Finally, as a general rule, you want to avoid an enraged Captain.  They attack twice as hard and twice as fast.

 

Shadow of War – First Impressions

Finally had a chance to put some time in and there are some high level thoughts before I put in a meaty post.

  • This remains a mash between the Batman series and Assassin’s Creed.
  • Before you even control Talion, you’ve constructed and lost a new ring of power.  To Shelob.  Lore is taken behind the shed.
  • Is it ok to not like any of the characters?  I don’t quite understand Talion’s motivations given that, ya know, he’s immortal and all.  He makes incredibly poor decisions.
  • Shelob is neat.  Doesn’t at all match with the books, she plays heavily against type and lore, but as a foil, it works.
  • As a side thought, if this had nothing to do with LOTR, it would be a much better game.  It’s like trope-city.
  • The world is built more on vertical zones rather than the sprawl of the previous version.
  • Moving around the world is a bit bumpy at first, until you get the double jump.  That’s after the 2nd main mission if I recall.  In fact, I recommend completing all the main missions on the first map before playing the sandbox portion.  You don’t get stronger, simply have more mobility.
  • The game really doesn’t have any training wheels.  You are fighting captains within 5 minutes.
  • Further lack of training wheels, the sub-systems in the game get complicated quickly and with little intro
  • The time to kill (TTK) is rather high considering the amount of tools at hand to start.
  • The Ubisoft problem of throwing tons of icons on the map is very present.  On the first map, within 5 minutes, you are overloaded with stuff and very little idea what it means.
  • It appears that the same engine is being used, as it is not a graphical upgrade.  There’s more on screen mind you.
  • There is much more focus on the bow here, at least in combat.  Many captains have some serious tweaks defensively and offensively that mean you should stay at range.
  • Enemy archers are a massive pain.  They are hard to spot, and the vertical aspects of the zones make it hard to reach them.  Like mosquitoes that break your combo streak (and prevent use of special skills).
  • Fire.  It’s like dropping a nuke on the field.  And it’s all over the place.
  • There is a fluidity to combat and movement at the start here, that only showed up near the end in the previous game.  It is very nice.
  • That said, there are dozens of buttons presses and situational attacks that can complicate your play.  You can certainly button mash with attack/retaliate, but you’ll never take down a captain that way.  The skill floor for progress is high.
  • The side quests and gear upgrade mini-missions work well.  Really well actually.
  • The main missions are less fun, as they break from the open world at various points.
  • You collect elf words to make poems, to unlock doors, to access legendary gear.  Seriously.
  • The first skill you should acquire is the “auto loot” one, at the end of the Wraith tree.  I do not understand why this is not a default skill.  I also do not understand what it has to do with Wraith powers.
  • Captains appear with randomized stats.  That means there are very easy ones, and very hard ones.  I had one kill me in 1 hit due to the way he enraged and attacked, plus no ability to counter.  Intel seems more important than in the previous game, in order to avoid those situations.

If you play this as a game, then it’s a solid experience and easy to lose yourself in the sandbox.  If you play this as a LOTR story, woo are you in for disappointment.