Desktop vs Laptop

This past weekend, my daughter explained to me that for the past year she’s been wanting to learn how to build a PC. I think I shed a tear.

I’ve had quite a few posts on this subject over the years. I’ve built hundreds of PCs over the years, it was a super pass-time/income option in my late teens & early twenties. I built my last box in 2009 and since that time, I’ve gone the gaming laptop route. The main driver for this was mobility, as the price point was most certainly higher, and the performance was a tad lower. And mobile in the sense I could plug it in somewhere else, cause a gaming laptop ain’t gonna work when it’s not plugged in.

My recent purchase (MSI Raider) before Anthem came out was an eye opener as to how laptops have come a very long way. Performance-wise, they are frankly on par with pretty much any gaming desktop. There will always be the top tier gaming rig, that’s over-clocked, and needs more cooling than a power plant. Even the price points are frankly damn close.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think that the desktop has a place, but the mobility factor is what everyone under 30 needs to get their life working. There’s always going to be a niche for power rigs, yet more and more compute is going into the cloud… hell gaming is moving to the cloud.

I’m seeing it sort of like the following now.

Pro– highly customized parts
– the highest computer power
– easy to upgrade parts
– can last 10 years with upgrades (ATX is how old?)
– mobile
– computer power meets nearly all needs
– easy to upgrade RAM/storage
Con– no mobility
– requires peripherals to work
– costs ~10% more than a desktop (without peripherals)
– can’t upgrade CPU or GPU
– lasts ~5 years and hard to repair

At the end of the day it really boils down to price vs mobility. I could easily plug in my laptop to my desktop station and use all the same things. Mobility is a personal choice – more of a generational one it seems. Price, that’s somewhat clear.

Pricing Exercise

So let’s look at this for a minute. Maybe not a blistering rig, but one that’s more than capable of running pretty much anything at 60fps. There are plenty of options; custom builds, ROG, MSI, Alienware, Razer and others. For this we’ll look at 3 options, an MSI build, a custom laptop, and a custom desktop.

Baseline specs we’re looking for

  • 10th gen Intel chip (the whole i7/i9 stuff gets complicated quick)
  • RTX enabled video card @ 8GB
  • 32g of RAM
  • 1GB NVMe main drive

In terms of MSI options, this is narrows to the Titan (big rig), Raider (standard), and Stealth (thin) rigs. Only the Titan has i9 options, the others are running i7. They all run RTX2080 video cards, which is still the best card you can get in a laptop, and the Titan offers 3840 resolution. The Titan also has 64gb of RAM, and it runs 2x NVMe drives. All those upgrades come with a 10lbs weight.

Prices are in CDN, with the following

  • Raider – GE75 goes for $2,600 with a RTX2070 or $4,000 for an RTX2080
  • Titan – GT75 goes for $2,400 with a RTX2070 or $6,400 (!!!) for an RTX2080
  • Stealth – GS75 goes for $3,200 (??) with an RTX2070 or $3,900 for an RTX2080

There’s an insane amount of fluctuation in these things, especially with the 2080. Buying my Raider took me 2 weeks to figure out this mess.

Custom build next, same specs as above. I’ll use Reflex Notebooks, not a lot of custom builders in Canada. Sager is pretty much the de facto form. The RTX2070 variant is $2,700 and the RTX2080 variant is $3,500. Clearly there is a HIGH premium for the 2080.

If I’m looking at a PC build with these items, I’ll use NewEgg’s tool. Low end (i7/2070) is about $2,300 and high end (i9/2080) is $3,200. This is with a $200 case and $200mobo, assuming looks matter a bit. This does not include a keyboard or monitor, which at average rates would set you back another $300 (but could use for a very long time, even with the laptop).

If you’ve built a PC, then you know these prices can move up and down based on time of day. And that a PC build has near infinite combinations. Motherboards alone have so many price points with barely a difference for most folks. And don’t get me started on RAM… there are a dozen variants of DDR4 8GB 2400, yet they should be functionally identical. The act of building a PC is easy, the art of getting the parts is frankly magic. See, I skipped cooling!

It’s pretty clear that laptops are in the similar price range as desktops. In the $2,500 range, you can get either. If you want bleeding edge , or love tinkering/OC then desktop is still the best option (e.g. 4K 120fps ultra wide), but otherwise welcome to 2020.

Ghost of Tsushima

At the end of August, my MSI laptop had 5 dead keys on the keyboard. No idea how, or why, just dead. 6 weeks in the shop to get it both replaced and working – finding the part was hard enough, and the ribbon was wrong, then thermal pad issues. I decided to pick up Ghost of Tsushim on PS4 given the rather high marks. I was not disappointed.

First the less than good news, it’s an icon-filled map of activities. Some more traditional (clear a camp, find a thing), others less so (write a haiku, cut bamboo). The good news in this is that you can (and should) play the game without concern for any of it. It has some cosmetic purpose, and whatever power increments you do get, are exponentially scaled. So you get like 75% of the benefits 30% of the way in. By just playing the game you’ll come across all you need (and there’s a golden bird that pops up to bring you to some too). Ubisoft this is not.

The better news is the combat mechanics. The start of the game focuses a lot on stealth and archery – for good reason. They are efficient from start until end, and a 3 person chain assassination never gets old. Sadly, the enemy AI is not able to figure out rooftops. And standoffs sound and look cool (super cool), but the risk/reward factor is out of whack. As you improve both your passive skills and your awareness of the game (and enemies become more numerous), it becomes better to wade into the thick of things. The end of act 2 in particular has a massive battle that feels like an martial arts movie in choreography. The choice of parry or dodge impacts your counter-attack. Your stance impacts your effectiveness against opponents, think a rock-paper-scissors type of thing. There’s a hidden complexity behind it all that allows for masterpieces of combat to show up. My eldest daughter was able to pick up the “dance” after a few tries, impressive to watch.

The other game mechanics are simple enough. Climbing is straight out of Uncharted, including rope throws. Horse riding just works. Friendly NPCs always move at your speed – why is this not the case everywhere nowdays? Gear upgrades are based on materials found across the game, though in sparse quantities you’ll unlikely max everything until near the very end.

Continuing on the good news is the quest mechanic – or Tales. There are 4 kinds – the main quest, the supporting characters, the legendary ones, adn minor quests. Even the minor ones are voice acted and have some interesting bits. The legendary ones are essentially chasing skills and armor of legend, told through a really neat story mechanic. The mountain one in particular is really well executed. There are a half dozen supporting characters, each with their own arcs. About a dozen quests each and they explore each person’s failures and redemption. They are amazing. The main quest is solid in it’s own right, but doesn’t hit it’s stride until after the 2nd act. The main bad guy is a decent villain – ruthless and intelligent. The final mission…jeeeeeebus is that solid. Feels like the game was pitched with that 1 quest in mind.

Now for the best part, the presentation. The game looks and sounds like a dream.

Words really cannot do this game justice. PS4 has done an absolute stellar job at world building this generation and this is without question my favorite one of the many great examples. You can even turn on Kurosawa mode, which changes the display to a grainy black & white view for a crazy feeling of the old movies. I found myself stopping for more than a few times just to enjoy the visual feast. Also a great reason to complete the haikus, which force you to stop and smell the roses.

My daughter and I completed the game, all map icons, most cosmetic collectibles (not flowers, records, artifacts, or banners) in about 50 hours of play. A solid 10 of those were just exploring the map. I played with Japanese voice over and English subtitles. An absolutely amazing game from start to end.

Heat Wave

I had a week off at the cottage, then worked a week there.  That week was heat wave weather.  My part of the country comes with some insane humidity levels in heat waves. While the base temperature is not crazy, the humidity runs close to 70%.  Feels like breathing soup.  It also makes it near impossible to sweat to remove body heat, and your body dehydrates lightning fast.

So going outside wasn’t exactly pleasant, and working indoors staring at a window of people with smiles isn’t motivating either.  Still, I was able to wake up with the family, have lunch with them (most days) and see them in the evenings.  The alternative in the past few years is me working in the office and not seeing them at all for a week+.  This isn’t perfect, but it’s a massive improvement.

I did have to come back to the house this week.  Maintenance for one, but also cause the in-laws are staying at the cottage a few days.  I get along with them just fine, but it’s a LOT easier to ship the kids outside than the in-laws.  Walking into the house was a bit weird, like I needed to find my stuff again.

So I get to spent the next few days alone at home.  The silence is deafening.

WoW Class Mounts

I keep falling back into Legion content – there’s just so much there.  There was a large focus in that expansion on cosmetic rewards, which I think is a great horizontal incentive.

One of those rewards is class mounts.  Some of them are very unique (Monk/DH), while others are upgraded basic mounts (Pally/Warlock).  The method to acquire there is really simple – get the Breaching the Tomb achievement.  I did this with my Monk was back in the day, so I figured it would be account wide.

Yeah, not so much.  In fact, you need to do a PILE of stuff to get here.

First bit, this is only relevant if you are leveling an alt toady, on a class you didn’t fully max to 110 back in Legion.  My Shaman did 100-110 by only doing about half of a Legion zone (heirlooms + rested + war mode).  I put one toe into the Class Hall to start the journey, then never went back.

Complete Class Hall

This means getting your title, and unlocking Heroic Weapons.  Again, sounds simple.  In reality this means unlocking all of your spec weapons, running at least 1 dungeon, running 2 sets of 5x 1hr missions, then a whole pile of instanced content.

The painful part is the table missions, since you’re effectively time-gated.  If there are 5 missions, it’s more than 5 hours since you need to be logged on to select a new mission.  The mobile app doesn’t do Legion content anymore.

The fun part is the actual class content.  Some classes have really solid storylines, some have really good quest content.  Some have both, some have neither.  If you’ve unlocked Nazjatar content, then your ilvl is enough to face roll pretty much anything, so there’s no actual challenge. That does put a whole lot more focus on the actual content.

All told, it’s just under a week to get through everything, mainly due to the time gates.

Complete Broken Shore

This is the same for everyone, which makes is very repetitive.  Everyone will stall at the Champions of Legionfall step – it won’t show until you complete the entire Class Hall portion.

  • A Legion Assault (every ~2 days)
  • 2500 Nethershards (do all the Assault WQs)
  • 50 Sentinax tokens, which usually has a ship up
  • 8 World Quests (this will take about a day to get enough)
  • 3 rares, which should be up, otherwise you need to wait a bit
  • 10 chests, which should be up but you need to fly around to find them
  • an 8hr table quest (ARGH!!)
  • A class quest to get a new companion

The class quest varies in complexity per class.  Some are really easy and over before you know it, some are quite involved.  All steps together can be luckily done in a day, but most likely will be done over multiple.


The actual Class Mounts!

There are some beauties in here.  The Monk mount is top of list for me.  Ban Lu spends a fair chunk talking to you as well.  The Mage mount is certainly unique, though the looks is really similar to the Cloud mount from Pandaria.  Demon Hunter has a great mounting animation, where you jump up and crash into the ground.  Rogue spins around and summons the Raven.  The Shaman is also quite thematic.

Paladin, Warlock, and Warrior all look like existing mounts.  Druid is better than their basic travel form, but looks better when not moving. Priest and Hunter are in this weird spot where they look cool from up close, but you wouldn’t really notice it from a few steps away.  To each their own though!

I will say that this model is unlikely to work once Shadowlands launches, only because the enemies HP will be so low that every class will 1 shot everything.  There are some bits of this process that are in the open world, and some classes are at a huge disadvantage in terms of actions per second.  Maybe this will just become an account achievement.

WoW Expansion Content

Going through the leveling process a few times now on alts is certainly putting the various expansions basic content in focus.  Where it doesn’t do a great job is at the max level content, since it’s not really relevant today.

Leveling content, for a dozen reasons, is not a focus.  That there’s any quality at all is impressive given that 99% of the content is seen once per leveling stream.  The older hub/spoke model has turned into a storyline 3-5 quest node system instead.  You discover a zone, get some basic Qs, then branch out.  When you don’t spend half your time travelling.  The content from Legion is pretty much the same in BfA, even in terms of how much of that content is expected to be completed.

As the clock is turned back, WoD really was the kickstart for this model.  The hubs were larger/denser, but the bits were there.  Area bonus quests, hidden chests, rares, quest chains that culminate in a big showdown.  Pandaria had big hubs, but also a kick at a better integrated storyline to explore the world.  Cataclysm, WotLK, TBC are just… well they are just not good.  You pick up 5-10 quests, head out around the map, then come back for another wave of quests.

Now, once you’re at max level, things start opening up.  Dailies have been around for a very long time, but really took off in WotLK.  Pandaria brought in rep/rewards to a larger level.  WoD had the Apexis stuff, with rotations.  Legion brought World Quests and BfA just cut & pasted it forward.

Dungeons have been all over the map.  They were only ever relevant up to WotLK.  Pandaria had some at launch, but never tweaked them past that.  WoD’s were completely ignored as garrison rewards were better.  Legion tied a bunch of quests to them, and implemented Mythic mode for better rewards.  BfA has next to no reason to do normal/heroic dungeons – everything is mythic.

The system around Mythics is essentially a 5 person raid. It’s honestly a good system, allowing for difficult content in smaller chunks.  Long gone are the days of 40 person raids.  Now we have mythic raids and flex raiding.  These two systems really do focus on the core gameplay loop for WoW in the past few expansions – competitive PvE.  It builds a tiered community, and one that is always circling the drain.  Some bad flashbacks on the whole TBC keying mess.  If the carrot is a stat stick with slightly better stats, then eventually that horse stops running.  Those types of horses aren’t exactly common, so you end up with poaching/mergers of groups and the conflict that follows.  It’s not a sustainable model.


I’ve gone back with my mage to get their class mount in Legion.  The class hall has no comparison in any other expansion.  The quest line, the exploration, the quests the characters… all of it.  The downside here is that characters only get to see it once, and it’s gated with table quests.  But it’s there!  Suramar as a zone had a pile going for it… and the daily zombie quest is much better than the Horrific Visions grind.  The Mage Tower was neat as it wasn’t power bases, but cosmetics.  There was depth and breadth in pretty much all the content.  The major gaps were around the proliferation of RNG.

On Track

The kicker for me is what is deemed worthy of “making the cut” from one expansion to another.  Some bits are so well used they can’t really be removed once added.  LFG is one.  LFR is another, stemming entirely from atrocious raid completion numbers in Cataclysm.  Transmogs aren’t going anywhere, and Pet Battles are a system that is screaming for the spotlight.  Mythics are now the content du-jour.

The concepts of invasions started in MoP, but really took hold in Legion.  The 8.3 version works for the most part (minus the bug variant in Uldum).  It’s somethign to do, every other day or so.  And provides another catch up mechanic.

But there remains a larger gap in the middle tier, the training wheels if you will to the Mythic world.  I’m calling back to the badge model of WotLK here, one where FF14 has done a tremendously solid job of making basic group content relevant.  Daily badge limits, and buy-ins to +10ivl upgrades is a start.  Piles of cosmetics.  Have pets drop.  Have mounts as a random reward for filling a specific role.  Make it a horizontal progress system.  I don’t see Blizz having the willpower to implement something like this.  I mean, technically it’s only a tweak to the timewalking system.  Pretty sure there are over 100 different dungeons WoW could re-use.

You’ll notice I haven’t even touched on professions.  The less said about them the better.  I am surprised that the fishing/cooking combo is still as valid today as it was in WotLK.

It will be interesting to look at BfA a month after Shadowlands has launched.  The paint is still relatively fresh on 8.3, and it’s already a massive improvement on 8.0/8.1. Yet, taking some time to take a solid detour in the Legion content really puts the variety and quality of content to the forefront.  Would be super cool to have a solid experience again.



The Hunt for Fun

At some point, the RPG went from ROLE playing to NUMBER playing.  Sure, the P&P games always had numbers (THAC0 was my bane), but they were more indicators than absolutes (the quad power gain of wizards is a thing long gone).  The dice had a major impact, and with a solid DM, you could act your way through a ton of content.  When’s the last time you saw a Bard trick a dragon to killing their mate because they thought there were planning to usurp them?  That sort of insanity is only found on paper.

There was a point of yore where even video games focused on the classes rather than the numbers.  They were simpler times, where zerg-rushes and tank/spank was the norm for challenging combat.  No we’ve moved into roles, where pretty much any class in a given role can fulfill that role to the 98th percentile.  Unless you’re aiming for a world first, you’d be hard pressed to only accept a priest instead of a pally to heal.  On one hand, this has provided a larger breadth of viable choice to the players, in that it’s practically impossible to make game breaking decisions.  On the other, this has homogenized the content where the player really isn’t relevant.  In WoW, the Proving Ground NPCs are pretty much as effective as any LFG group.

So if the choice is not the class utility, it becomes the class fun/constraint as the driver.  Mat Rossi (BlizzWatch) is a super example, where he only plays Warriors – always has, always will.  Not because of game utility, but because of his enjoyment of the class.  The “fun” aspect is the skill kit – what the class can do, and how it makes you feel.  In WoW, I have to say I absolutely love the Demon Hunter toolkit.  Double jump, eye beam, and metamorphis are used often enough to pack a visual punch.  I can only play a Panda as a Monk ’cause my brain can’t make that race be anything else, or that class be any other race.

Other classes, they have some interesting bits.  I love the concept of a Rogue, always have.  The implementation in WoW isn’t fun to me anymore.  Paladins feel like holy crusaders.  Hunters have the whole pet collection bit that is borderline obsessive (pet battles scratch that itch too).  The Druid utility kit is admirable, but the bear/cat rotation is just boredom.  Monks have a great toolkit and have that old martial arts movie feel to them (as long as you play a Panda).  I can’t seem to find fun in Warriors, Mages, or Priests.  Mechanically they are sound, but they feel like the archetype.  I mean, imagine if Mages had an avatar form, where they because the focus of their given element!  Or Warriors had a bladespin move that sucked opponents towards them.  Or if Priests called down a Valkyr (I know) for a major group heal.

Looking back, this is one of the best parts of Legion.  There are classes I played solely for the class halls (Shaman) and their story.  As much as it was largely about following Illidan about, I still felt like my character mattered and the smaller story did too.  Aside from hunting Sylvanas and then Azshara/N’Zoth, can someone tell, me what the character did in BfA?  If you didn’t raid, then there’s no actual character beats.

I’m picking on WoW here because it’s low hanging fruit.  What I find fun, others don’t, and vice versa.  WoW is a buffet of choice.  Buffets aren’t known for amazing cuisine, but they are known for pleasing a very large crowd.  If I look to something like Monster Hunter, the weapon choice is the most important factor.  I love Charge Blade.  Love it to death.  The bow guns are amazing for their utility, but nothing beats a SAED to the head of a massive dragon.  That the game tries to make all weapon choices viable – without forcing you to master everything, is a great achievement (and my largest gripe with Dauntless).

Now, I may optimize my character to be best at what they do, but my choice of that particular class is still based entirely on if it’s fun. And we can all use some fun in our lives.  Now if there was ever a fishing class… oh man.

Design of Meaningful Actions

Sid Meier is often quoted as saying that a game is a series of interesting choices. I think we can all agree with this in the foundational aspects. Slay the Spire is a supremely good example of this. Where I think the good and the great spread out is the design of meaningful actions.

Games are full of actions, some of which stem from choice, some of which are from being forced down a path. In a game of golf, you need to hit the ball with a club – that action is required. The choice is related to which club you select, and the method of the swing. You need to take into consideration the distance, wind, pitch, obstacles, your next shot, and the money you have bet that you’re going to win the hole! If you play golf and at 175yrd you always pull out a 6 iron, then that’s not a choice. You’re not there for the game of golf, you’re there for other reasons.

Video games are similar. There’s the presentation of choice, and then the act of a meaningful decision. Today, failure states are nearly non-existent in game design. Battletoads had a failure state. Fortnite has another match. Even in the MMO space, failure is simply a time factor (take longer to take down a boss). That impacts the choice, in that its either the “better choice” or the “status quo” choice. The value between these two is meaning.

I’ll use WoW as an example here since it covers such a wide swath of MMO design choices, but the concept is found elsewhere. Combat in WoW is mechanically bound to three concepts.

  • The damage/healing ouput
  • The resource cost
  • The time before re-use

The damage output is both simple and complex. Simple in that the numbers displayed can be easily compared between various choices. Complex in that designers throw in synergies that make a specific flow of skills more powerful than if randomly selected, of if there is more of a specific resource to use.

The resource cost is important because it is limited. Otherwise it would simply be “use the strongest ability all the time”. Design choices favor resource exhausting choices vs. resource building choices (e.g. mana > combo points) as there are more choices in that model. If I can pick from 10 skills and have full mana, there’s a choice. If I have no combo points, I only have 2 options, until I get to max points, then reset.

Time before reuse is cooldown related. This slows down the pace of combat. FF14 is a slower game than WoW because of the inherent global cooldowns. Designers often put the most powerful of skills (damage or resource generating) behind long cooldowns. In that sense, the skill has less choice, because it’s often so powerful you want to use it on cooldown. There are exceptions, such as progression raiding and burn phases (You don’t want Bloodlust on the first trash pull.)

Meaningful Actions

My definition here is that the action itself has a meaning that is larger than a single purpose. An action either has significant damage, significant resource impacts, or significant cooldown impacts. It is not possible to design a game with only meaningful actions. You only know they are meaningful because there are slower moments in between – the contrast is important.

So let’s look at a Fire Mage. Almost all their skills are locked behind cooldowns, and the priority is to use the one with the biggest number when available. You then fill in with Fireball (when stable) or Scorch (when moving). Fireball builds Heat Up, which boosts another skill. Critical strikes drive a lot of this build and make other options show up. Same with keeping enemies Ignited. This class is mostly reactive to situations, and the there is a flow of 1-2 actions between meaningful ones. I don’t think it’s possible for them to ever be resource exhausted. There was a time where this happened!

Healer next, and a Mistweaver Monk is up. They are a mix of HoT and direct healing, and also use a priority. You keep the HoTs up on the tank, throw a Vivify if there’s a spike, and keep Soothing Mists active so that you can throw an Enveloping Mists cast quickly. The HoTs are used to conserve mana, since chaining Vivify will drain you super fast. There are some cooldowns, but the majority of choices are about mana efficiency. The most healing, without overhealing, for the least amount of mana.

Rogue now. They are a feast or famine class where your most effective skills are either locked behind cooldowns or require you to be at 80/100% of combo points (resources). In order to build resources there is only 1 skill, which may trigger a reactive skill that can boost it further. The resource consumption skill uses all resources, and you need to rebuild. You end up with 1 meaningful action, followed by 2-5 meaningless actions. The kicker in this is that the meaningful actions are typically the most meaningful over time (Slice and Dice, Poison, Roll the Bones). Your most damaging direct abilities are actually bottom of barrel in comparison to other classes. Oh, and the class is resource restricted with Energy, which actually prevents you from building resources. Feral Druids (who have 4 specs) and Windwalker Monks are similar design choices (WW skills do not drain all combo points). DH and Warriors are also energy building classes, but they only have 1 resource to manage. Warlocks appear to be dual resource, but they never have mana issues.

Simplified View

The meaningful action is gated by 3 main factors. When more than 1 of those gates are present, then it’s not meaningful (e.g. double resource penalty, and low damage). It isn’t a question about being effective, that can be tweaked with numbers. It’s a question of rewarding. Is it fun to play a class that’s slow as molasses, continually restricted in choices, and has “dead time”? I recall a fundamental redesign of DKs as originally all their actions were rune-limited, with slow generation.

I am not saying that Rogues & Feral are broken. I am saying that their fundamental combat design seems archaic compared to every other. For damage classes, Blizzard has removed the mana restrictions almost entirely and replaced it with cooldowns. If the button is there, click it. For resource building classes, the “fun classes” have skills that consume a portion of resources and then are cooldown locked (short periods). The job of that class is not to continually rebuild, it’s simply to maintain (Hunters are mana maintenance).

Again, this isn’t a numbers issue. If they boost the resource consuming skills, then you get massive bursts of damage and periods of nothing – that actually makes it worse. Re-scaling of all skills to raise the filler damage and reducing the consumer doesn’t help either, since it muddles the actions to 2 buttons that do the same thing. Adding a cooldown skill that does similar effects to a resource consuming skill feels like a bonus, but both are already dependent on cooldowns to accelerate resource generation. Removing the energy mechanic completely would get rid of all “dead time”, but require some re-scaling of skill damage. It would still be feast/famine mode, but the duration of famine would be dramatically reduced. The final option is to rebalance the consuming skills to only use a portion of resources, so that you could potentially chain consumers.

I’m sure this is a watercooler conversation in Blizzard. Curious if there’s ever any action on it, as the focus seems to be on the “numbers” rather than the “fun”. And there are plenty of other “fun” things in WoW. It’s just too bad that that Rogues get the short end of that dagger.

It’s Only Crazy If You Let It

These past few weeks have been a rollercoaster of activities.  Hockey was full steam, across two teams.  More family activities now that Spring is here.  And work.  It’s end of our fiscal, a new financial model is being deployed, new authorities being granted – mostly a lot of paperwork and meetings.

But this health stuff.  Jeebers.  A lot of people at work were not paying attention, and this seems to have caught more than a few unawares.  The job I have supports key pieces that let a ton of people work remotely.  Snowdays, strikes, things of that nature usually push us to capacity.  But they are generally pretty rare, and localized.

Right now in Canada, we have an entire province on lockdown, and quite a few big cities.  So nearbouts 90% of my userbase, and pretty much my entire team.  Where we’d see spikes to say 30,000 – now we’re looking more like 300,000.  Fine enough.  Most of the pieces were built to work on agnostic networks (anywhere, anyplace, anytime).  Some require bums-in-seats to work, which is going to cause a lot of headaches.  Some support emergency health services… so that’s clearly top of pile.

Managing the regular workload + end of year workload + COVID19 prep work is bonkers.  Individual people are generally pretty good about it, but people, people suck.  One bad grape can ruin an entire bunch with stupid conspiracy theories, or irrational behaviors.

I have my own opinions about it, but the gist is that the people in charge of this here globe of ours are not dumb.  WHO is made of some of the brightest minds on the planet.  Governments are consulting like crazy, and not making decisions lightly.  (They may be lead by morons, but that’s over a beer or two.)  Everyone is acutely aware of the impacts of shutting down trade for a month.  Impacts that will be felt for 10+ years.  Making those calls is not easy, and it’s not simple.

For the next few weeks I’ll continue to work from home, same with the team.  Kids will be around for an extra break (some homeschooling will be needed).  And with every group activity cancelled and gathering spot closed, it’s going to be a lot of “back to basics” around the house.  Entirely manageable, and I’m quite looking forward to spending more time with the family.

Stay healthy.

New Job

Been a bit hectic here lately.  Fall is always busy, sure enough, but this year feels a whole lot of a healthier kind of busy.  It used to feel like a firefighter, with non stop crises going on.  This year just seems like there’s just a lot to do…and enough actual time to do it.  So either I am getting better at time management, better at those tasks, or simply enjoying it more.  No matter… feels good!

I started a new job this week.  It’s in line with my career goals and interests.  Took about a year to sort it all out.  The details don’t matter a whole lot (or really interest most people outside of my monkeysphere) but the main points are that my team, budget, scope, and user base has grown by an exponential number.

This week has been all drinking from the firehose in terms of learning.  I’m usually pretty quick on the upswing here, absorb/adapt as we go, and the field is somewhat known.  The biggest hurdle is the culture.

So let’s tie this back to gaming a bit.  Way back when I had time on my hands, I ran or helped run various gaming guilds.  I’m a coder by training, so building DKP engines was part of that in the EQ/WoW days.  Setting up rules, running raids, organising chaos.  Heck, I turned my personal notes into a decent income of writing gaming guides.   In that sense, I’ve got WAY more experience in leadership/management than my resume gives credit.

Think about all the times you may have wiped on a raid, looked at what worked and what didn’t, tried something new, and eventually succeeded.  That mindset… of allowing for failure, but learning from it as a group, that’s the foundation of a successful career.  There are plenty of folks who instead are super risk averse and afraid to admit mistakes.  Own up to it, learn from it, don’t repeat it.  It’s when a mistake happens and people try to hide it… that stuff festers.  When it does come to light, and it WILL, things are going to go sideways real quick.

The group I’m now working with does not have that mindset.  Some do!  But the culture is not one I’d consider positive or forward moving – more of a “this is the way we’ve always done it”.  So now I need to find the influencers in the group and figure out how to get a new vision bought.  I’m actually pretty good at that, but it’s a whole lot of effort.  Does mean that I don’t have to do it for everyone… those influencers will do it all naturally.

In my downtime… Dauntless is some good bite sized gaming (<5m sessions).

Dark Crystal – Age of Resistance

There’s a special place in my mind for Jim Henson.  Both Dark Crystal and Labyrinth came out when I was a child, and their mix of horror, fantasy, and comedy was just right.  Labyrinth is the story of character growth (and where I developed a crush on Jennifer Connelly), and the ending itself is finite.  Plus there’s no way to replace the Goblin King!

Dark Crystal though.  That the story about an entire world, and childlike discovery.  The Jim Henson Company had a contest for pre-quel books (in 2013) and eventually scored a deal with Netflix for a series.  It’s entirely puppets, with a few CG elements to blend.  It is rare that I watch something that’s related to my youth and I get quality flashbacks, or similar feels.  Age of Resistance had entire sections where you completely forget you’re watching puppets – and you’re just engrossed.


Each of these is a life-sized puppet, with a person below the robes.

The series can certainly be enjoyed if you never watched the classic.  The lore setting is explained through various means – including a very important scene in episode 7.  It also doesn’t take long to get going on the main plot point… with only a few spots where the pacing feels a bit off.  I’m not sure how much influence Netflix had on the storyline, but the habit of “multiple character points, converging at the end” is certainly present.  Compared to the recent season of Stranger Things, Dark Crystal has some merit in every separate storyline.  And when it reaches the final episode, it ends on a note that allows both a second season and a fairly consistent line to the original film.

What really sets this apart though is the puppeteers.  In every other form of visual media, the actors with the voice provide the non-verbal structure.  Animations are filmed after voice recordings after all. Here though, the scenes are first filmed and then dubbed over.  The nuances in movement…small shakes, twitches, even the larger gestures all feel real.  Like you could reach through the TV and touch them.  We haven’t had that type of fantasy in over 30 years.

The set design, the puppets, the music – all of it falls into the classic style, with Brian Froud around for a lot of the art direction.  It feels almost like lost footage.  Highly recommended.