Microsoft to Buy Activision-Blizzard

I don’t think anyone had this on their “weird stuff in 2022” bingo card. It feels more like a parachute plan for Bobby Kotick than much else, as he’ll be there for the purchase and get a crazy cut of the deal before heading into the sunset. Impressive how there are no meaningful consequences for the top.

I am not super in to this deal, for a multitude of reasons.

  • Microsoft has been on a crazy buying spree. $7B for Bethesda was a crazy purchase. Nearly $70B for this is just a stupid amount of money that few people who already make less than 6 figures will ever see. Except for perhaps Tencent and Roblox, no one else has that kind of dough.
  • I have a very strong dislike of monopolies. Very. And Microsoft makes all their money from it. Their business arm stifles innovation, until someone else starts stealing market share. Then they pull a Facebook and just steal the technology putting the other company under.
  • The terms of this purchase will be interesting to see. Console exclusivity + PC access are massive red flags to Sony’s Playstation – and Nintendo to some degree. 2 years ago the best exclusives were PS–only. Don’t think that will be the case moving forward.
  • In the somewhat good news department, Microsoft doesn’t seem to stick their fingers in the purchases too much. They have yet to pull an EA where they buy a company only to close it a year later.
  • Also good news is that Microsoft is somewhat “head above water” when it comes to malpractice on the games side of things. Now, their playerbase is right up there with LoL in terms of scum of the planet, but that’s really what happens when all you have to offer are FPS games.
  • This won’t fix anything in regards to Activision Blizzard culture for a long time. It will probably make it worse given that Microsoft lawyers are many notches better than people expect. All those lawsuits and unionization efforts… I would be quite surprised if that situation got any better.

Put another way, if Activision Blizzard hadn’t shot itself in the foot a dozen times and was a flaming wreck, would this purchase be seen as a positive? Like if it happened 2 years ago, what would people think of it then?

Microsoft is not some saviour here. There was some blood in the water, and the purchase price was certainly 30% off or more from what it would have been prior to the pandemic and crisis. This is a money making machine that needed a leadership change. I’d be baffled if Tencent hadn’t made a similar offer.

Here’s hoping that this ends up positive for the people working at the company as much as it can for gamers. I’m not holding my breath.

Belated New Year

I’m still around. We’ve been in lockdown for some weeks now, expect a few more before the curve starts dropping again. In my city, they check wastewater which gives a sort of 1 week or so window into what’s coming. Right now, we’re on the downslope. We had 3x the cases (while they were still measuring) but only half of the hospitalizations, which is really quite good. This version was less severe, both in the virus itself and the fact that over 90% of the city is vaccinated. The province though… that’s another story. The hospitalizatio – curve is still going up, and it’s already double the April/May peak. So clearly my city is doing a hell of a lot better than others. That said, if this is becomes endemic (like the winter flu), there’s no way for our hospitals to take anything close to this load. Something’s gotta give. Our joint mental health kinda depends on it.

FF14

So apparently they are going to start selling the game again later this month, which is an odd thing given that queues are still around. Last week I was still seeing 2,000 person queues on Cactuar. Last night it was 700, which was a very odd thing… perhaps due to the server reset on Tuesday. It’s better, certainly, but I can’t see any new player wanting to spend an hour+ per day just trying to login. And new NA servers won’t be around until August. I guess we’ll see.

At last pass I had completed the MSQ with my WHM. Since then I’ve leveled all my gatherers to 90, and my retainers just hit 80. Hopefully that will work itself out. I’ve also leveled my crafters…which let me tell you is a very expensive undertaking.

I followed this guide to do so and the total cost from 1-80 was about 5m gil. That’s with server hoping to get better prices elsewhere, which probably saved me close to 2m gil. The good news is that a significant portion of this time is spent in the Firmament, where crafting gives you lottery tickets. Some of the items you can win are worth 100k to 500k each, which kept me going for some time. Still, it’s very expensive.

The journey from 80-90 is pretty simple and figuring out what items sells for which craft is a hell of a dance. I would need to juggle some crazy spreadsheets to sort it all out. Some things that were worth a lot last week have nosedived to 10% of their value. It’s still a fun mini-game.

Also have spent some time leveling a Reaper. This is how melee classes should behave in a game full of AE attacks. Mobility as a melee has always been a pain in my butt, and this class just shines at it. Now, the downside of leveling any job in FF14 is that you’re going to see a lot of the same content, and dungeon queues past 80 are not pleasant for DPS. Bozja still gives a stupid amount of exp, but prevents from queuing in other content. I’ll figure something out.

Winter Game Sales

I didn’t pick up much else. Disco Elysium is still only a few hours in. Cyberpunk 2077 was ok. Wildermyth is a lot of fun on the story aspect, but the difficulty spikes aren’t super pleasant. Death’s Door is a pleasant surprise, great art and controls. The level design is hit or miss to my tastes but it is consistent. Risk of Rain 2 I picked up for like $2, which I may have overpaid for. I don’t mind rogue-likes, truly, but I need a progression system of something other than player skill. Hades has simply spoiled me.

Fitness

I hurt my arm/elbow last spring and it never seemed to get much better. It stopped me from lifting any serious weights, which in the middle of a pandemic with no physical activity, well that didn’t do well for the brainpan. I’ve started up again, trying to fit it in my lunch breaks. So far, so good. Hopefully hockey will open up again and I can get exercise some demons on the ice.

Blog

I should be back to some semblance of “normal” posting schedule. Let’s see how that goes about…

FF14 MSQ Complete

The thing I did here that I regret is that I had marathon sessions through, rather than taking more time to better absorb all the amazing the MSQ actually delivers. This is entirely due to the absolutely stupid queue lengths near peak times. Logging on at 10am means instant queues. Logging on in the evening is a 4hr queue. (Side note, this means that our guild is pretty much meaningless right now.)

I don’t plan on any spoilers here, though I suppose there may be a slip up here and there. I played through as a White Mage.

I mentioned this in my prior FF14 post, in that Endwalker is simply more FF14. You will get dungeons at the required levels, you will get trials at the required levels. You’ll have 6 zones to explore. You get “free” gear at 89, and piles of non-jewelry while leveling. The are maybe a dozen combat quests all the way through, though there are some solo duties to get through. Mechanically, there are no surprises here, which is frigging amazing.

I’ve yet to poke around with the Sage or Reaper. I don’t know how popular they are going to be long term; I certainly do see a bunch of reapers in my group content. None of my trials ever had a Sage, though as a healer that’s not really indicative. I will say that there is a substantial amount of content that requires massive healing output, which really plays to the WHM strengths. Also, Warriors are apparently immortal now. The fights do not necessarily add crazy new mechanics, but do require much more visual awareness of the boss rather than simply avoiding the fire. Most bosses have multiple tells that allow you to avoid major damage, some effects which will stack and probably cause wipes.

The art and music are the best FF has ever been. I don’t know what type of drugs they give the art team, but each environment is distinct and feels meaningful. The last 2 zones in particular are just spectacular to see.

The story… well you’ve read more than enough on it from multiple sources. I enjoyed it thoroughly, for multiple reasons. It’s a rare event where a story is able to both open and close threads that were spun nearly a decade ago. And the big bad here follows in the themes of Final Fantasy through and through. This is clearly a capstone story, as the end of the last zone until the credits is just chocked full of call backs and closure. I’m sure I’ll have some things to nit pick eventually but for now it’s about absorbing what was there. I don’t think it’s possible to enjoy this story without having played at least Shadowbringers, which is a hell of a time investment for anyone coming into FF14 cold.

I guess the real question here is “was it fun?” Without reservation. And technically, I’ve just dipped my toe in the ocean of content that’s here. Best of luck with those queues.

EGS Free Game – Control

Epic Games has had free games every day for the holiday break. Today’s game is Control.

It is one of the best games I have ever played, with tons of secrets and interesting lore, combined with superb controls and an amazing throw mechanic that is hard to describe other than visceral. Plus, it helps that the game looks simply amazing on any setup you can run.

Anyways, this is a really short post to simply state you should absolutely pick this up if you don’t already have it, and the $10 coupon on EGS would be well spent on the Foundation DLC.

COVID Math

The problem with statistics is sample variety and size. If you look at 3 apples in your house, you may think that all apples are red. Omicron statistics are heavily weighted towards the sub-65 demographic right now, which is giving early indications that this variant is milder, up to 2/3rds milder. Larger sample sizes will determine this as being accurate or not. As to why the sample size is smaller, there’s a laundry list of reasons, though primary is that older people (who have survived so far) are being cautious and limiting risks of exposure. Recall that there are 5.4 million less people on the planet due to this disease, and that only accounts for countries who accurately report numbers.

But the stats portion, where there are lower odds of require hospitalization is the interesting metric. Let’s take that 2/3rd number and simply state it at 66%. Compared to 100 cases of Delta requiring a hospital visit, only 33 afflicted by Omicron would need similar treatment. Again, super preliminary, but argument all the same.

The challenge with % is that they are not reflective of absolute volume. If I gave you 10% of $1,000 you would get $100 and it would be a decent gift. If I gave you 10% of $1,000,000 you would have $100,000 and that would probably change a lot in your life. Hospitals don’t work on %, they work on number of beds. If they have 200 beds, when it hits 201 they need to make choices and someone is going to get less service.

Statistically, to occupy the same amount of beds as Delta, Omicron would need to infect ~3x more people (100 Delta vs 33 Omicron). Omicron has a 2 to 3.5x increased transmission rate, again with preliminary statistics. If it’s on the low end, then the hospital load will increase but hopefully be manageable as compared to Delta. If it’s on the high end, then things are going to go downhill pretty quick.

Perhaps we’ll luck out and all future strains will be mild and this can turn into an annual cycle similar to the flu. That’s about the most hopeful thing I can think of right now. Until then, stay safe folks.

998 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

I’m feeling quite under the weather and my whole family is in isolation for a while. It sucks.

Given that I am therefore not working, and in the moments of some lucidity outside of cough syrup, I figured I’d see if I could log into FF14. “Peak hours” were giving me queues near 3,000 or more. Can’t be that bad near lunch time, right?

Well, the queue was 998.

Let’s play a game. You get to guess how long that took to clear through?

Just a tad over an hour. Of which, thankfully, I have wireless headphones that let me do something actually useful during that period. Or semi-useful given my state of mind.

Interesting tangent. In the mid 00’s I used to work in a science organization. One of my tasks was scouring eBay for 386 components because the foundry we had was only able to run on a specific set of hardware. Hard-coded and proprietary elements made scaling or support a challenge…and it was cheaper to get parts on eBay than to rebuild a black-box system. Was.

Early Thoughts

It’s FF14, just more of it? Can I say how pleasant it is not having to relearn my entire class kit when an expansion comes out? It’s like going to a restaurant that has undergone renos and they have a brand new menu. Why should I just not go to another restaurant? This is more like the local pub having a few new beers on tap.

It’s more of the good stuff. Like how XCOM2’s War of the Chosen kept all the good bits and added more. I won’t spoil anything, because clearly if I could only experience the game while so ill I need to isolate, there are many more people who have not even dipped a toe.

There are a few QoL items to highlight. First, city Aetheryte give you a map for easier (and logical) transport. Belts and HQ items being gone are super nice on inventory. The Aether Compass has moved to collections, which was a bit jarring. Daily hunts are way easier to complete. And on the instanced quest duties, you get a profile of the character speaking rather than just their name… that’s oddly useful to remember who-is-who in a game with what feels like 4 dozen side characters.

Next Up…

Well, I have 21 days of “free” playtime, which I guess makes up for 19+ days of quite astounding queues. I’d have to guess that this will extend until the queue times peak to something considered “reasonable”.

FF7 – When Cats and Dogs Get Along

SquareEnix has always had a very odd pricing scheme. Any of the prior FF games regularly go in the $20-$60 range, depending on when they have released. FF12 Zodiac Age was released in 2017 and still sells for $60 (Nintendo is right up there with this sort of thing).

The FF7 remake was originally a PS exclusive but now we can play it on PC. Here’s a screenshot of the price point.

I am sure there are some people out there that will pay this price, no doubt. There are whales in F2P games after all. This PC price is $15 more than the PS4 version, brand new. And the game offers nothing new for the PC compared to the prior release.

It doesn’t help that the game isn’t optimized for PC either. I can’t for the life of me remember a time where SquareEnix ever did optimize for launch.

Looking at my wishlist, I could buy 3 “expensive” games for this price. I could buy the original FF7 for $8 (If I didn’t already have it). It’ll be interesting to see how this works out, or how long this price point lasts. Until then, let’s see the craziness of cats and dogs getting along.

Cyberpunk 2077 – 1 Year Later

I picked this up on one of those crazy sales a few weeks ago, figured I should take a look at what the hubbub was about. This is a good example of a game where the vision is out of the reach of the developers.

You know how we’ve had to deal with the dark ages of Star Wars games since EA took over? As much as the games themselves were really quite horrible, there was the added tax of managing expectations. Cyberpunk 2077 has a similar battle, where the setting itself is both widely exploited yet has some dark corners to explore. Whatever you imagine Cyberpunk to be, well, it’s here. People with technology modded to their bodies. Gangs. Corporations running everything. The game never goes beyond expectations here, and feels bound by its familiar trappings. The biggest missed opportunity is that the city itself never becomes a character.

I won’t harp on it too much, but there are still plenty of bugs in this game. People randomly pop in, they go through walls, and enemies/cops have horrendous AI.

The “game” parts are ok I guess. The hacking game really stands out as being painfully boring. Driving feels like someone forgot how car physics works. Melee combat “floats”. The shooting part feels ok, at least in terms of recoil/spread, though the amount of clips/reloads required to get through anything does not scale appropriately. The start takes too long, then it cruises in the middle, then the end has massive bullet sponges. I do enjoy the BrainDance section, where you move around in a video recording experiencing other’s memories. Stealth also feels good, with quite a few missions offering good options in that regard. The less said about the character progression or crafting, the better. It’s meaningful in a P&P session, but doesn’t work here.

The highlight here would be the quest writing and voice acting. Appropriate to the setting, there are only a few “good” and “bad” choices, with nearly everything else fitting in the grey zone. The main quest itself is incredibly short (but awesome), in hindsight, with an expectation that you take on the various side jobs along the way. That quality is less strong… for every River crime investigation you get 6 Delamain rogue taxi cab quests. It feels like there’s missing half a game here in terms of opportunities.

The major complaint is with regards to gigs, smaller side quests that require about 5 minutes of time. Either you take out a bad guy, or unlock a door, or find one item. Complain about Fallout 4 if you like, but it has 10x more meaningful content than this game.

It’s hard to imagine that this game came from the same folks who made the Witcher series. Or rather, it’s hard to imagine that they actually launched this. It would be a great game if it was made by someone else, again to that point of managing expectations. It’s worth $30, but at that price point, nearly any game is worth it. Alternatives in this setting: Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Shadowrun, The Ascent, Ghostrunner, or CloudPunk.

And In Other News

Time seems to be slipping like sand through my fingers of late. A high level of exhaustion, compounded by frustration, and now this emerging Omicron variant that is quite likely going to prevent a “normal” holiday season… all playing pinball with my sanity.

At work we delivered a critical piece of tech early, save millions of dollars in doing so, and now the natural endorphin crash is showing it’s head. Frustration abounds due to continual poor planning practices which seems to always generate more work that we should have avoided. I’ve been 6 months in this new role and found a tremendous shift towards more a more strategic approach within my realm of control… outside of it though, what a right mess. I’m also aware that the grass isn’t greener… it would just be a different set of problems to solve. At least here I can have some influence.

Hockey was going great. The team was firing on every single cylinder at their last match, effectively reaching my end of year goal 3 months ahead of schedule. I say was because up here in Igloo-ville, Omicron is just tearing through our medical services. It’s one thing to have the vaccine and mild symptoms, but there are those that are having larger reactions and stuffing hospitals. There are more than a few now that have all but shut down and diverted patients to other provinces. Shutting down just before the holidays and some semblance of finally normal really, really sucks. Our city hasn’t yet locked down, but quite a few sister cities have. It’s now a matter of time/luck.

And to top it off, my gaming laptop fell yesterday. The charging port wasn’t working and the screen bezel had detached, meaning the hinges were breaking the case. I’ve still got my PC building gear here and I was able to get both “fixed” with some special glue. I’m conscious how much of an outlet my gaming is, so having that put aside for any period of time isn’t so pleasant a thought. Did I mention that FF14 queue times are still in the 6000+ range? Oh, they are also dropping slower now too. Thanks to supply chain issues (and primarily crypto miners), that issue is not going to get solved anytime soon.

So backlog it is, and the upcoming holiday game sale. I’ll likely pick up another gaming laptop too, they are cheaper than an after-market 3060 up here. Think about that for a minute.

FF14 Endwalker Early Access

I would love to exalt the neat and new things that FF14 has brought out in their most recent expansion. How the new zones flow, the MSQ is better, and the music somehow continues to improve. And then how much fun it is to play the Sage and Reaper.

I would, truly.

But there are 6,977 people in the queue ahead of me. And it drops by about 100 every 2 minutes. That’s around 2.5 hours in the queue. I’ve tried just letting it stand, but error 2002 abounds. I do not have the time (or frankly the patience) to just let a queue sit and eventually work itself out.

Network Architecture

I know enough about this field but not enough about how SquareEnix has designed their authentication to provide much insight. Given the consistent queue issues since the summer, it would be foolish to assume that they have not gone to great lengths to try to change their scaling and design. Given that they have mentioned supply chain issues would infer that cloud offloading would not be a full relief valve on this problem.

I would be quite surprised if this issue gets solved anytime soon, aside from people just stopping from playing. If anything, this is likely to get worse as there aren’t many other games vying for eyeballs (SWTOR does have an expansion mind you, and there’s certainly some overlap) and we’re about to hit the holiday break.

Was this foreseeable? No question. Was this preventable? There’s no way for anyone but the devs to answer that.

In the Meantime

Time to fill with other bits. I coached a hockey tourney this weekend, so there was 3 days completely absorbed.

I gave Outriders another pass yesterday. A few recent balancing patches were applied, and I figured I’d give it another run. At the time, I was running T12 (of 15) runs, making gold time. With the exact same loadout, T12 feels as hard as prior, and the rewards don’t appear to have been improved. I guess I’d need more time to get a better idea of what the changes actually are. And get into a decent spot for the upcoming DLC. Still consider it one of the better looter/shooters, what with the complete lack of PvP.

I also finally picked up Disco Elysium on sale. I’m an hour or so in. I like the format and the story, but have a general dislike for the controls. The game part isn’t too much fun, but the actually content certainly is. Probably be giving this burst over time.

I figure I’ve got a few weeks, if not until January until FF14 is sorted out. Should be ample time to clear out some other bits in my library.