Bears and Horses

Not so much lions and tigers.

Some folks have seen the videos about hunting in RDR2.  Aside from the fact that there are so many animals around, the actual act of hunting is relatively close to real life.  The location, light, movement, noise, and weapon type all impact the success rate.

One quest related to hunting a legendary bear.  It teaches the basics, and then drops you down to finish the job at your leisure.  You learn about hunting rabbits, making a campsite, cooking food, benefits of sleep, and how to craft bait.  Then the game give syou back control/

The seas were angry that day!  I plugged that bear at least 4 times with shots to the head and he still bull-rushed me.  Somehow I was able to get the hunting knife to take him out, then skin him for the pelt.

Apparently there are plenty of legendary creatures in the wild – they show up on the map when you are in their range (VERY large range I may add).  Kill, skin, then bring the pelt to the Trapper.  That then opens us some unique clothing options, based on the animal pelts.  But….

I mentioned before how things were slow in RDR2? The bear you find is next to O’Creah’s Run.  The Trapper seems close, but it’s a 5 minute canter to get to him.  During that time, I crossed:

  • A lady pinned by a dead horse, who I could not escort home due to the pelt on my horse.
  • A horse thief
  • A massive herd of deer
  • Was run over by a wagon

Trapper met, sold the pelt for $60 and didn’t buy the now-available $40 bear skin hat.  Looks sweet as heck, but I need the cash for something else.

Now the trek from the Trapper to anywhere I know is extremely long.  And there’s no way to speed up that type of travel except with better stats on the horse.  I had a large draft horse (War-type if I recall).  Strong but slow.  Internets to the rescue!

Polygon has a quick piece on the White Arabian, a top tier horse that I could simply capture in the wild.  Sadly, he is at the NW point of the map and the Trapper is pretty close to the middle.  It was at least 15 minutes of horse travel to get there.  Lessons learned on this trek.

  • Cinematic mode will auto-pilot your horse if you have a waypoint marked, and if you are on real road.
  • Cinematic mode will not avoid trains, or trees, or gangs, or toll bridges
  • Cinematic mode goes at the 2nd slowest possible speed.  Just above grass growing.
  • RDR2 seems to have random (?) events show up on the trail every couple minutes to compensate for the very long travel times
  • Drawing a weapon through a bad button press while at a toll bridge will kill you
  • Manual saves are located in the pause menu, under Story.
  • Finding a white horse in snow is hard
  • Taming a wild horse requires a very slow and deliberate movements
  • Riding a bucking horse in the woods is hard
  • You need to swap the saddle from your main horse to the new one, then manually call that original horse while travelling so as not to lose it
  • The travel time from anywhere to anywhere is directly related to your personal sense of urgency
  • It is oddly relaxing to pet/brush a horse

 

Going through this I’m reminded of the elevator scenes in the original Mass Effect.  They were glorified loading screens of just nothing meaningful.  RDR2 is astoundingly slow – and it’s clearly intentional due to the events you come across.  It feels like an ancient relic in game design.  It is my largest struggle with the game.  I find myself turning auto-pilot on and then doing something else for 5-10 minutes.  This isn’t FO4 or Skyrim, where you want to explore and find neat new niches that hide other environments.  There are no interior environments in RDR2 – what you see on the map is what’s there.  Exploring serves no larger purpose than expanding the map. You may find a random event, but that event starts and ends on the map (like saving someone from a wolf attack).  It doesn’t go farther (that I’ve yet to see).

In that sense, travel in RDR2 is a tax on time.  Staring at my character on a horse for 15 minutes at a time is not fun.  There’s bound to be a balance here to make travel meaningful without it being painful.  I need to change that mindset is order to find more enjoyment of the rest of the game.

The Slower Speed

RDR2 is slow.  Infuriatingly slow.  Purposefully slow.

I’m down from the mountains and the snow, which is essentially the tutorial section of the game.  I’m now in the town of Valentine, which is where the game proper opens up.  Pieces of the game are still opening up to me.  Bounties, the concept of snitches, bar fights, sub-missions, general stores, stealing horses, exploratory events…  It’s starting to feel like a never ending list of things to do.

But they always seem tempered by game speed.

The bar fight is a good example, where in many games it’s more about offense and active dodging.  Here, it’s about methodically taking apart your opponent with strikes, chokes, blocks, and movement.  God of War may have a 10 hit combo chain, here you have starts and stops of fisticuffs.  It’s both jarring and oddly realistic.

Even the time spent between the various events is slow.  The distance from town to camp is a solid 3 minutes of just following a road/trail.  The farther a task takes you away from a hub, the longer it takes for you to get back to said hub.  You know this is a factor since when you complete a task it actually has timed targets in order to increase your rank in said task (e.g. getting a bronze medal).

Yet I am in no way motivated to do any of these things faster. I’m in no rush to complete anything faster than the game projects the options.  And in an immersive sense, this works wonderfully.  If you can find the time to sit down, play through, and just enjoy the experience.  It doesn’t work at all if life is pulling you in a dozen directions, or if you have but a moment to spare.  It doesn’t work if you are playing any other game and jumping between.  It is the antithesis to real life.

But good golly is it rewarding when you take it in.  When you consider the effort put into each little detail.  The fact that your hair grows and you need to keep it clean/trim is an insane detail that someone must have dreamt of. The mo-cap details for some of the interactions (and there are seemingly infinite interactions) are spot on.  Even things we take for granted, like camera angles, are in nearly all cases put in the perfect spot to capture what’s going on.

The purposeful slow approach to this game really makes you take in all the pieces.  I am continually amazed at what pops around the corner.

Red, Dead, and a Full Hard Drive

92gigs.  I can still remember when floppies had massive games.

could pay more for better download speeds, but I don’t need to.  Netflix on 2 boxes is about the peak requirement, and that’s a really rare occurrence.  Downloading on Steam + Netflix… well I need to throttle Steam.  This sucker made my internet melt for 8 hours.

Slight gripe to start.  I’m struggling to figure out why this isn’t on PC, or at least scheduled to be. It’s the same engine as GTAV…

The Start of the End

RDR1 is set after this game, so we have a decent idea going in how this thing will bookmark.  The starting intro cards also speak about the end of the wild west, as the east’s laws start coming across.  Pretty clear this story will not be a cheerful one.

The game proper starts you off in a blizzard.  I’ve seen a fair my fair share of snow storms, and rarely are they well represented in games.  The visuals here are super solid, really capturing the desolation of snow.  No one sounds like they are in a Blizzard though.  And the way everyone’s tracks are not only captured in the snow, but maintained for a long time…that’s got to be first.

(Sidenote.  In Spider-Man, they recorded all of his lines twice.  One at normal rate, another to simulate him exerting himself while moving across town.  That touch was super immersive.  So far, all the lines in RDR2 sound like they came from a recording studio.)

The first couple missions are just intro work.  The starter has you enter a firefight while searching for food.  In one, you see how John Marsten (main guy in RDR1) got his scars.  In another you attack another camp with your seeming arch-rival.  They are exposition quests that provide fancy tutorials.

I won’t sugar coat this; the controls are like molasses and the UI is attrocious.  The number of button presses and menu options is so very high. It is so jarring as compared to pretty much any other modern game (God of War really hit a new benchmark for me).  It’s almost justifiable since it’s not like the West had auto-rifles, or accelerators.  It feels much more like a simulation in that sense.  But then you get things like auto-aim, or auto-navigation.  It’s a weird mix.  I’m not sold on it.

Simulate Me

You need food to stay healthy, you need to keep your horse in health, you need to keep the gun clean, you need to rest, you need….That’s the entry fee for just playing the rest of the game.  I’m not a fan of survival games.  Primarily because they do such a horrible job showing what survival really is about.  Survival isn’t about eating one of the 100 cookies you have in your bag.  Survival is about never having enough.

I am really early in the story, but that’s certainly the theme all around.  Surviving in the world when your type of life is on the way out.  The characters all have an air of desperation, of defeat, of one more hill to climb.  They are somewhat sympathetic.  Feels a bit like rooting for the most likeable bad guy.

I think the series Firefly did the best job of showing what it’s like to live out on the edge of civilization.  Mal had his own way of thinking, but it failed as often as it worked.  They never made it big, but were always chasing the next big score.  They had their own set of moral code to follow.  It worked because everyone was a bad guy.  Mal is isolation would come off as a jerk – put him in a room full of jerks and he’s pretty OK.

I’m certainly looking forward to RDR2’s story moving forward.  Rockstar’s characters have always been impressive, and I’d expect no less here.  Going to take a long time to get through it all.

Star Wars Existential

I’ve been pretty firm in my overall dislike of the direction take in The Last Jedi.  It would be fair to say that the general mood isn’t positive either.  Got me thinking.

Religion

Star Wars is a religion.  No question there.  Prior to Disney, there was an agreed upon canon.  A set of rules and history that people flocked towards.  Knight of the Old Republic was the foundation for light/dark, how the various empires built the galaxy, how lightsabers were made… everything.  The defining moment was the Battle of Yavin (destruction of first Death Star) – commonly referred to as BBY or ABY.  Think about that for a second… we use BC/AD for our dates.  Lord of the ring uses Ages.  Star Wars is big enough, and complex enough, that the dates are referred to by a specific defining event.

ABY brought episodes 5/6 and a significant part of the expanded universe.  Mara Jade, Thrawn, Yuuzhan Vong, Jacen Solo… all come after the movies.  Even the stories prior to the movies pretty much dictated how Vader came to be.  Sure, there were details in the films that didn’t align (the hatred of sand) – but the 3 storylines were written 20 years before the movies were made.

People celebrated Star Wars (May the 4th).  They spent 40 years dressing up as them.  Not only consuming the product but building upon it.  Nearly all of it had the Lucasfilm sign of approval too, which was notoriously hard to get.

Then Disney bought it all and torched it.  Significant parts of the expanded universe is now referred to as Legends.  I was somewhat cautious of this, since that lore had a significant impact on the story telling.   Maybe they wanted more freedom to explore certain characters.

The Films

The Force Awakens was a remake of episode 4, with all the telltale signs of a JJ Abrams mystery box.  Rey’s heritage, how with no practice she beat a force user who was trained since birth, who Snoke was, how this new empire established itself so quickly.  Plenty of promise for future development (if heavy handed).

Rogue One was an interstitial story – we knew how it ended but not so much how it began (in this new storyline).  It was a pretty good story.  The investment people had in these characters were more archtetypes of the SW cannon.  All of them are dead, and no one has ever referred to a single one of them since.  Remember the BBY/ABY item, the most important event in all of Star Wars?  The film explains how that was setup, then never heard of again.

Last Jedi’s goal was to subvert the established lore.  Where the two previous items stretched the imagination, it was still close enough.  The stories hit the right notes.  You could suspend disbelief with the promise of future explanations.  (There’s a LOST analogy here).  This movie instead took the baseline rules of the most foundational items and broke them.  People can now use the Force across a galaxy.  The Jedi code for harmony is wrong.  Luke, who managed to convert Darth Vader, was willing to kill his young nephew for the potential of the dark side. That lightspeed can be tracked.  That any ship can be turned into a super weapon.  Each of these items breaks the previous movies.  Why shoot missiles in the Death Star when a Corellian Crusier can just lightspeed and crash into it to destroy it?

Han Solo story.  If this wasn’t a Star Wars movie, it would have had much more praise.  Square peg, round hole.

Impacts

It is an existential crisis for the Star Wars fans.  They have spent years living in that world.  Finding the links between one story and another.  Seeing characters come and go.  Finding more minute details of a given world that adds life to that world space.

Disney underestimated what Star Wars meant to people, they saw it just as a pre-built story foundation.  They did it with Marvel to great success.  But Marvel was never about world building – it was about characters with a specific powerset and attitude.  Not like we had Wolverine giving hugs and shooting lasers from his toes.  In Star Wars the characters are simply agents to the world.  Tatooine is a much a character as Leia.  The Battle at Hoth is arguably more important that the death of Luke’s aunt & uncle.  There are hundreds of those events.  Many of it thrown aside and directly conflicting with what happened before.

This is a lore reset event.  If somehow LotR was reset and Sauron could teleport anywhere, and Frodo could kill Orcs with his eyes, you’d see the same reaction from fans.  Disney has to build an entire world, a new history, a new set of rules, a new set of characters to move forward from this.  Then it needs to convince the fan base that this will stick and be worth the investment.

Or, they could simply disown the attempt made here and move back towards the established rule sets.  Seems to be a whole lot more money to be made there.

Tangents to Others

Change is certainly difficult.  Massive change typically has massive repercussions.  There are enough religious and political upheavals to illustrate this point quite well. When we’re talking about fictional stories, then we need to look at things that are simply massive in scale.

Lord of the Rings has a rather tight grip on it’s lore.  The Hobbit was an atrocious series of movies, but was not a large afront to the lore.

Star Trek has about 23 days worth of TV shows and Movies to go through… before you talk about any written media.  Even with an entire reboot of the timeline, the foundational lore of the series stayed the same.  There are 2 stories that did not follow this model – Speed Limit and Threshold – both of which have been disowned.  It follows true.

Even Game of Thrones has a set of rules that need to be followed, and it would be hard to argue that the extension through the TV series broke that many rules (except maybe time travel to cross large distances on foot in less than a day).

And World of Warcraft comes to mind here.  The time travel in WoD has been practically erased (Yrel who?).  The rather ridiculous character arcs and “morally grey” characters in BfA feel like sand in your teeth.  Seems they are trying to address that in 8.1 – we’ll see how that turns out.

Point is, when you have a very large audience and a very complicated lore foundation, it is not possible to please everyone.  People are willing to accept bits of change, but not large swathes that go counter to years of previous effort.  Even less so when you’re impacting the stories that the fans themselves have developed.  People become fans because they see themselves in that world.  When they stop seeing that, well, there’s not much world left.

Doing It Over Again

The first time I played Monster Hunter: World on PS4, I reached the Tempered Kirin fight, which had a requirement of hunter rank(HR) 49.  It was a fair chunk of time invested.

On the PC, I’m currently HR 23 which isn’t exactly reflective of the middle point of the game.  In fact, I’ve killed every single target but the two who were not in the PS4 version when I stopped (Deviljo & Lunastra).  Now it’s about taking on monsters to fill out specific armor/weapon sets.  So I guess you could say I’ve killed half the monsters that I did last time.  Now it’s about putting my head down and running investigations on repeat.

One of the neat things about RPGs is the player flexibility when it comes to power progression.  MH:W is a prime example, where all power increases are based on player choices.  If I took off my armor, I would be as powerful as a level 1 character.  Every weapon, armor, charm, decoration has a direct impact on power.  Every temporary buff (potion or food) has a direct impact.  And it’s time/effort to unlock those various pieces.  Not like all of a sudden you get that 1 unlock and game transforms – it’s a slow and steady build.

Example.  I had forgotten about Power/Armorcharms.  There are two items you can buy that sit in your inventory and provide passive boosts to DEF and ATK.  You can boost this effect through crafting by combining a drop from Bazelgeuse.  Then buy the base items again.  The progression goes 0/0 –> 12/6 –> 18/9 –> 30/15.  To compare, one piece of rank 5 armor has ~40DEF.  Rank 7 has ~70DEF.  So when you first get this piece, well it’s a near 20% boost of power.  As you get much stronger, the effect is still there but the overall impact is lesser.  To compare again, a large food buff is 15ATK, but goes away when you faint. Every bit helps.

In Practice

Great games operate on the concepts of gradual improvements, and a world that grows with you.  There are times where it’s fun to just faceroll through an event, but people typically play for the challenge.  MH:W has ever increasingly dangerous enemies that you can tackle, either through pure skill (bit of luck too), or through investment in power levels.  I’m sure I could kill Teostra in beginner gear… it would just take 50 minutes to do and a whole lot of attempts.

In my journey so far, Diablos was the one that gave me the most headaches.  I was trying to learn to guard point (use shield to be invulnerable) and it really wasn’t working for me.  I’m sure I tried that quest a dozen times until I got the timing just right.  Well, I needed to capture the bugger for a quest and ended up fighting him in the Arena the other night.  He died in 4 minutes.

Rank 8 weapon and  Rank 7 armor, all the canteen items unlocked, a Palico with rank 8 gear and a maxed Palarang.  I put on the Vitality Mantle (prevents some damage) and went to town.  Running up walls and crashing down to mount him for massive damage.  Dodging at the right time.  Using Guard Points on every charge.  I felt like one of those instructional YouTube videos on how to play the game.  With a Charge Blade and long windups, you really need to have some luck on your side for a couple of the swings.  Felt super easy.

That was the last arena battle in normal mode.  I’ve done nearly every optional quest available, but one hidden part of the game is the need to capture monsters and fight them in the arena.  I have most of them for High Rank mode… now to get 1 or 2 more.  If it goes anything like Diablos, it should be fairly smooth sailing.

If.

WoW Sub Numbers

It has been many a year since WoW published subscription numbers – pretty much this time in 2015.  Since then we’ve had nothing but speculation, mostly from 3rd party sites.  It would be fair to say that the general trend has been downwards.  This is entirely subjective, based on the number of people present in any given area – or simply the number of large scale world quests available.  Dips and spikes.

WoW did let us know how many copies of BfA sold initially – 3.4 million.  The wording here is a bit suspect, as it’s unrealistic that this would be the total number of sales on day one so much as by day one.  It would be fair to argue that this number would encompass both those who were actively playing in Legion, those who stayed after the free weekend in July, and those curious about the traditional WoW expansion fever.  I was in the 2nd category.  I am certain there is a long tail when it comes to expansion purchases, but a tiny fraction of those on “day 1”.

A recent tweet from the makers of WeakAuras intimates that the subscription numbers are a tad different.

It’s an interesting bit of “news” in that it can’t really be substantiated, right?  Does it align with subjective viewpoints?  Sure.  Is it mathematically accurate?  Not so sure about that.  Is it possible Blizz exposed data that it shouldn’t have?  Yeah, 100% on that front.

 

I barely squeezed out a month out this expansion.  But that’s my experience.  Plenty of folk still having fun.  And without substantiated numbers from Blizz, human nature is to always trend towards the less pleasant of all rumors.    Doubtful that will make a difference though – they are still making money hand over fist.

End Curve

Where the true journey begins.

Xeno’Jiva is down, which effectively marks the transition from story game (and High Rank) to end game.  From the start until this point, there was mostly linear progress.  I am now in the horizontal progress phase.  What I mean by that is that I never felt the need to hunt a specific monster for a rare drop.  I just kept plugging away at the Assigned (story) quests until I got here.  It’s provided me with a rank 5 (of 8) weapon, which has been quite enough for most cases.  I’ve also acquired a fair chunk of armor upgrade, making earlier battles a lot easier.

What’s next is the question.

Breadth & Depth

In terms of weapons, I need to fan out with a few more Charge Blades that address specific monster weaknesses.  The one I have now is focused on Blast damage (build up for an explosion), but it would be extremely practical for a set of water/fire/ice/dragon weapons to dramatically speed up specialized farming.

Some high level theories on damage.  Some weapons provide innate elemental damage.  That listed damage coverts ~10% per attack (depending on weapon speed).  So if a weapon lists something like 500 normal, 250 elemental, then on a monster weak to that element, you will be doing 50% more damage per attack.  In practice most weapons have a 25% bonus through elemental damage.  This can be further boosted through weapon enchantments (gems) up to their cap.  That cap depends on the base damage… more complicated than need be so here’s a link to explain it.

This is all discounting the fact that some weapons are just plain better on some enemies than others.  The Charge Blade (Hammer and Greatsword are similar) are skill-based weapons that require very good positioning.  Something like Dual Blade or Sword and Shield can be much more mobile.  Some enemies spend way too long in the air, or have some seriously deadly AE attacks, making ranged weapons a better alternative.

A Good Defense

At the base, everyone needs armor.  It has a linear relationship to the amount of damage you take.  High rank gear makes a tremendous different when it comes to a generic armor set.

Yet similar to weapons, armors have elemental resistances.  Something like Teostra who is pure fire, would be best served by fire resistance.  It’s entirely possible to find a piece of gear with amazing armor stat but resistances that make you into a wet tissue.  Fighting Kirin without Lightning resistance is key to a bad time.

I will say that elemental resistances are the safety net of battles.  If you are significantly overpowering your target, then it doesn’t matter that much.  If something like Teostra is taking half your life with a single swing… then get some fire resistance and see a world of difference.

Putting it into Practice

Bazelgeuse.  I need his horns.  I wasn’t too flustered with him in the past as a dual blade user – easy to get in and out.  Charge Blade is more of a challenge since you can get move locked and then he decides to blow up everything around him.

This particular mission decided to have Deviljo show up.  For those unawares, he randomly spawns in HR zones and is top of the food chain.  He will attack anything, and doesn’t give up chase.  I didn’t realize he was in this zone until he roared (stunned me), which gave Bazel ample time to finish his dive bomb and wipe me out.

mhw-deviljho_and_dodogama_screenshot_001

He is massive.  He’s even deadlier when he has a monster in his jaws.

My second death was also due to that bugger shoulder checking me into the wall, then body slamming Bazel on my body.  Ok, enough.  I knew I had Bazel on the ropes, he took a nap and I put a barrel bomb to get things going again.  Deviljo was far away, so I figure to finish it off with a mount.

Sure enough, as I’m in the middle of the final swing of the mount attack, Deviljo shows up.  Maybe I lucked out, maybe it’s the code, but he didn’t attack me while mounted.  He did however attack me when I dismounted and couldn’t move.  3rd faint and will need to give it another shot.

So now the journey begins to round out the gear set.  Less large jumps in power and more about targeting specific builds for specific monsters.  Make a goal and work back from there.  Fun times.