Back from Vacation

My somewhat impromptu vacation turned into a bit of a communications blackout, it seems. This is what happens when I disrupt my routine. It was a much needed break, though. It gave me time to sort a couple of things out and provided some interesting perspectives.

Thanks to a kind soul on the Steam community boards, I managed to finish all the Borderlands 1 achievements. I guess I can check that off the list of things nobody should bother to do.

I found myself spending a great deal of time watching Twitch, which is a considerable change in behavior for me. I usually just use it to check out the odd potential purchase. It’s a very convenient source of actual gameplay footage. Instead I just kinda kept it open on the second monitor. Nothing overly exciting or interesting, Borderlands challenge runs and speed runs and the like, but it was a convenient source of background noise that didn’t demand a lot of attention.

I spent some time playing Borderlands 2. Doing things I never bothered with before like completing the second playthrough and all that. Not sure I’ll bother to 100% it though. Seems like an awful lot of work, but we’ll see.

I did discover that enabling the higher end PhysX settings, while graphically interesting, makes many of the established skips quite difficult or impossible. Many of them require getting on top of cloth pavilions. The advanced cloth physics make these, and sometimes their supports, non-collidable. I managed to make do with grenade jumps and the like a few times, but I assume most of the streamers I’ve seen have this on its lowest setting. I’m sure performance is a reason as well.

I also spent a fair amount of time trying to locate a GPU for my oldest child’s desktop. It continues to seem absurd to me that after a lifetime of steady price decreases for tech components, the various supply and demand pressures have reversed that trend. Motherboards I purchased for $75 years ago now go for double that, and I’ve been avoiding replacing my own GPU for much the same reason. It would appear I purchased mine right around five years ago, before things got quite so intense.

Still, my oldest was running with onboard video only, so it should be a very nice boost to performance.

I noticed a very strong presence of questionable and fake products as well. Usually easy pick out because they feature no visible branding. I’m sure that legitimate cards exist as well, but it’s one of the areas in which I’m more than willing to pay for a product with known branding. I really need to replace my own GPU as well, but not at the current market rates. It continues to amaze me that a GPU I paid $206 for five years ago is now selling new for over double that. It borders on the absurd.

Y’all take care. If you invent time travel, go buy bulk GPUs five years ago.

Borderlands 1 – Quest for Completion

Between my oldest child using Borderlands: Pre-Sequel as a benchmark for his recently revived desktop and the plethora of news coming through about Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, it’s no wonder that I’ve had Borderlands on the brain. It reminded me of a project I once undertook quite some time ago. When I went to look it was 2016 when I last worked on it. Well before blogging. Almost five years to the month.

That project was reaching 100% completion on the original Borderlands. Not for any specific reason, really, just because I could. I didn’t do half bad either. I had 86% (69/80) when I stopped. Mostly because my brother had lost interest. The burden of grind and repetition took its toll and I never really went back to it. I don’t normally do the 100% thing. It’s not so bad when there are interesting things to do, but a lot of the “find all 200 turboencabulators'” stuff really isn’t much fun. That’s just the video game equivalent of busywork. For me anyway. To each their own.

I do know that one of the last things I’d worked on was the absurdly long “The Collector,” which requires you to collect a ridiculous number of Claptrap parts. I had tried without much luck to do it the “long” way, before I looked up a guide and found the easier way to do it. There’s a small nook in that DLCs final boss room where you can hide and not die. The boss is large and has a penchant for running over and killing the claptraps that spawn. You basically just hide in the corner and leave the game running overnight. Get up, finish the fight, collect the game-freezingly absurd amount of loot.

The real nail in the coffin was trying to reach the 60+ level range. I had managed to reach the end of playthrough 2, leaving me in the 2.5 portion where everything becomes level-synced. I was poorly equipped for that task, making the experience grind quite difficult and slow. Eventually I got tired of trying.

Five years later I figured I may as well try to hammer the last few nails in the coffin. With a little research I was able to reach max level in a few hours and spend another 6 or so getting some passable gear. I had a very convenient Mordecai build that could almost one-shot the end game enemies due shield bypass and their low physical health. I finished the Claptrap DLC far enough that I could repeatedly open the 20ish red chests in the “gift shop” area. It took several dozen runs, but it’s easy to do.

With the low-hanging fruit out of the way it’s mostly just trying to get through content. Half of the remaining achievements are from the Underdome coliseum. Throw in Crawmerax the “secret final boss,” a couple of quest chains I never completed, and the “viral” achievement and I should be done. It’s not nearly as easy as that makes it sound, but it should be doable. Then I can check that random and nonsensical challenge off the list. It’s a testament to how much I like the game that I’m bothering at all.

The time I spent just getting that far is around 146 hours, though that includes the time spent idling in the boss room and the time I spent just playing the game instead of hunting achievements. I’m hoping to be done by or before the 160 hour mark. I’ve debating working on Borderlands 2 afterward, but we’ll see. It really depends on how I’m feeling once I get done. Not like I don’t have plenty of other things to be doing.

Y’all take care. Don’t let Claptrap talk to you on the way out.

Rambling Thoughts – Fandoms, Identity, and Attachment

I’ve often wondered what’s at work with the various levels of interest and involvement with any given activity. The world is full of people who have found something and developed a unique level of devotion to it. They invest large quantities of time and energy, often incorporating it into their very identity. For most non-gaming friends, I would compare it most reality to the near-religious devotion some show to sports teams. In reality, it can apply to anything.

While I have been known to use the word fan to describe myself in some contexts, there are also some I actively avoid referring to in such a way. Situations where being a fan of something carries extra context that I do not wish to be associated with. A slightly less than prescient example would be Rick and Morty. I “kinda like” it, but apparently not enough to pay for the latest season. It’s just not worth it. It has a very loud and cringy following as well, which I typically don’t wish to be associated with. All things do, to some extent, though most of them are less over the top.

There are few things in my life that approach that level of devotion. Even those that do, such as the Discworld series of books, don’t quite meet the higher standards. There are some very valid criticisms of Pratchett and Discworld. What fascinates me is when it reaches a point where criticism of a work, team, game, etc, is emotionally the same as criticism of the self. How does that happen? Is it a desire to educate others? Is it a desire to help someone else feel the positivity that they do?

Whatever it is, it can be quite strong and overpowering at time. Strong emotional attachments are, I guess. I’ve often wondered how much overlap there is between this behavior and hype trains. They seem very similar in nature, though one is personal and the other is communal. Like any attachment, the loss that occurs at the end is quite poignant. Whether it’s the realization that you no longer feel connected with it, or the sudden crash of things not living up to expectations. Perhaps avoidance of that discomfort drives the more fanatical defense.

I’m certainly not immune to the occasional hype train. I try to recognize it and distance myself when it happens. Hang onto the caboose ready to bail if things get ugly. My yardstick for measuring that attachment is actually pre-order status. If I want to pre-order a game, for example, I’m a bit too close to the inside. I would say that I’ve only done it once or twice and it went very poorly, but perhaps that’s just confirmation bias.

That’s enough of that though. Y’all take care.

Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands – A First Look

While not discussed often, I must admit that I enjoy the Borderlands series from time to time. It also just so happens that the somewhat D&D spoof DLC from Borderlands 2, Assault on Dragon Keep, is among my favorite DLCs for the game. Taken together you’d think I would be a bit more excited about what appears to be a new entry to the series based around that general concept.

It was announced several months ago, but only came to my attention recently when the official gameplay trailer dropped.

I am cautiously optimistic, but some of the things we know are changing have me a bit concerned about the game’s overall design. The new “classless” system is of particular concern for a number of reasons. Having said that, the flow of information seems rather rapid-fire at the moment. Fast enough that I’ve had to revisit, rethink, and rewrite parts of this post.

We’ll start with some of the more subjective elements of this. One of the things that makes Borderlands, well, Borderlands, is its over the top cast of characters. Right off the bat this system seems like it would strip the player characters of any specific personality. There are ways to address some of this, like the ability to change how they sound. If this is a simple matter of tonal quality or specific voice packs complete with one-liners and commentary. The latter would be much more consistent with the standard Borderlands experience, and could be combined with the former to create a much more interesting system for those who want more flexibility.

Having said that, they’ve been a bit more clear in a GameSpot interview. It hasn’t added much detail to the voice selection, but it does at least mention personality. This doesn’t mean it will live up to the normal level of Borderlands-ness, but they’re at least thinking about it.

At first I wondered if the listed cast members were related to voice options, but instead they seem to be connected with major story characters. It’s been said on video that the Dragon Lord is the game’s antagonist, and I’m just going to assume the other two are protagonists of some sort.

I’m a bit curious what level of visual customization will be allowed as well. Historically the Borderlands series only has two real customization options, a head and a color/texture skin. What we’re seeing here seems to be a bit more thorough, including both functional and appearance armor pieces. “Shark fins on your head” could just be a standard Borderlands head skin or it could be something with individual parts. We’ll just have to wait and see I guess.

Mechanically I have some concerns with the class system as well. Earlier I said “classless” because it felt like it was being billed that way, but what they’ve done is divorce the class system from the character’s appearance and personality. You’ll still choose a primary class, which is a permanent choice, and later on pick a secondary class that remains until you finish the playthrough. This seems pretty similar to the existing Character/Class Mod system in previous Borderlands games, but a bit more locked-in.

I’m a little concerned about the six different class trees as well. Are they small trees like a traditional Borderlands character or something larger or more fleshed out? There’s no real indication of what this means, but I’m personally hoping for somewhat larger trees if we don’t have multiple different progression options.

The GameSpot interview also mentions a separate Hero Point system with traditional tabletop stats like Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Attunement. Not a whole lot of information has really been made available about what they do, but it’s a separate progression path from the skill trees. I’m thinking something along the lines of the Badass Points and metals that existed in other titles, granting small boosts broken out into categories.

Another strange difference is this chibi-style overworld that’s used to travel between different areas. It’s very thematically appropriate I guess, but seems like an odd break from the normal action present in a Borderlands game. That doesn’t mean it’s bad or negative, but simply something I’ll need to know more about before I can develop an opinion beyond it’s strange stylized nature.

Still, most of the game seems to be a pretty standard loot shooter stuff with the normal “gun parts” system applied to all things, including spells and melee weapons. I think I like the overall idea, but will remain cautious for now. I’ll try to keep on eye on information as it develops, though.

Much like Borderlands 3, the PC version is be or begin as an Epic Games exclusive title. Not a problem for me, but I know not everyone is fond of the platform.

Y’all take care. Catch-a-Ride!

Physical Currency

I got a rather amusing email from one of my banks today, encouraging the use of coinage. A large part of that amusement comes from the fact that I actively avoid physical currency in practically all forms. I’m not in the habit of having or using it, so the idea that I might be preventing it from circulating borders on the absurd.

I realize this isn’t a universal stance. In my region it’s a fairly rare one, as far as I know. More interestingly, even though I may not have a giant secret coin stash, the fact remains that coinage is a bit short at the moment and the bank has decided that individuals are to blame. They’re just echoing the same talking points as the Mint.

According to the Federal Reserve it isn’t a shortage of actual coins, but rather one of circulation. Since one of their solutions is to place caps on distribution quantities in order to “ensure fair distribution,” I can see where individual banks might feel pressured to incentivise turn-ins and deposits to alleviate their own personal shortages once they’ve hit the cap.

The stated reason for this is primarily that COVID has altered and disrupted normal circulation patterns. I’m not sure I’m willing to buy that explanation at this point though. I’m sure it played a part, but we haven’t had the widespread lockdowns that many other countries have had. Certainly not in my part of the country. To what end would people collectively be holding on to change more than normal?

I could throw a few things at the wall, but it’s pure conjecture with nothing to back it up. Perhaps the stimuluses combined with upward wage pressure and a volatile labor market have put people in a position where they aren’t having to cash out their “coin jars” to pay for expenses. Perhaps some are stockpiling it out of some expectation of social upheaval. Perhaps there’s several construction companies going around and epoxying it to floors and other surfaces as a decorate finish. Beats me.

It’s just an amusement and curiosity at the moment though, at least within my own life. I’m not impacted in any way by it and I have no meaningful way to assist with the problem.

Y’all take care. Remember, the bank really wants your coins, but not enough to pay more than face value.

Over 500 – My Post Level

Apparently yesterday marked my 500th post. It’s not nothing, I suppose. Had I actually been paying attention I suppose I could have put something together to commemorate the event. Oh well. Yay, I guess.

I managed to get the New World open beta added and downloaded. I may attempt to get some time in tonight, but this is my short weekend for the month. That will limit my ability to poke around.

I skimmed the patch notes (available here) and none of it seemed relevant to me or what I was doing in the closed beta. A quick look at twitter suggests that there are a few performance issues in the new client and that a lot of people are confused or put off by the “request access” method of distribution. I’m curious why they decided to do it, but it’s done now.

Y’all take care.

Overlooked or Forgotten Bits of History – The Third Wave Experiment

I have found myself listening to a nearly constant stream of episodes from the Behind the Bastards podcast. Any space that isn’t otherwise occupied by another more pressing podcast. I would like to say that the events discussed in the podcast are somewhat exaggerated, but the few that I’ve followed up on to fact check seem more or less correct. In the broad strokes, at least.

There are a few things with which I’m already familiar, but many of them I’ve never heard of, or only know in bits and pieces. One of the ones I’d never heard of was the Third Wave “experiment” in 1967. An extremely unfortunate but effective lesson on how easily fascism can take root. The podcast episode is here, if you’d prefer, and there are some good references in the show notes.

The general story is that a history teacher was having a hard time explaining why fascist movements like the Nazis weren’t stopped from within when they got out of control. He attempted to display how easy it was by radically altering his lesson plan for a week, and it quickly created a miniature fascist movement of 200 or so students. Both horrifying and impressive at the same time. Also not exactly ethical or a mentally healthy environment.

I find it curious that I’d never heard or read about it before. Perhaps it is simply one of those uncomfortable truths that we don’t wish to see. I may make an effort to check out some other material about these events in the future. It’s entirely possible that I’m simply in the wrong age group in much the same way my own children will never remember 9/11 or Columbine quite the way I do.

When I began listening to the podcast I was a bit concerned that it would darken my overall outlook on humanity. Listening to stories about evil people can do that. Fortunately that doesn’t seem to have happened. I wouldn’t exactly say that I’m optimistic, I am in fact quite cynical, but there’s nothing to do for it but try to be better. I’d rather fail trying than do nothing.

Y’all take care. Don’t accidentally create any fascist movements while trying to show how easy it can be.

FFXIV – Warrior of Rust

I did something I’ve done remarkably little of in the last year or so and logged into FFXIV to do more than just step into the FC house to keep it from poofing. I not only did some main story stuff, but surprisingly enjoyed it for a change.

It’s not the first time I’ve done MSQ stuff this year. Merely the first time that I’ve done so and felt interested rather than just going through the motions. I did a little bit a couple of months ago and it was a little… whatever. It probably helps that this last session helped confirm something I’ve suspected since the end of the expansion. I won’t get into much detail here, as it dives quickly into spoiler territory.

I feel like my opinion of the game has drifted quite a bit, though. I no longer have much interest in doing much raiding. At all, really. I’ll do the bare minimum needed to progress through the story, but at the moment that’s all I feel invested in. While it may all come back in time, the idea of working on crafting/gathering stuff or doing relic gear stuff no longer feels interesting.

I’m also not feeling particularly attached to the new jobs coming up. I did the healing thing somewhat ad nauseum for a while. Even sticking with Astro through what was largely considered a bad time. It’s apparently slated to get yet another rework or something, I don’t know. All my information is second or third hand at this point.

I’ve been dreading the point of reaching a mandatory dungeon, which I’ve not done yet. My best geared job is Dark Knight and the idea of tanking anything through the layers of rust is off-putting. I’m still figuring out where all the buttons are and what I should be doing. On the other hand, tank is generally pretty easy. If all else fails, spam enmity generation and use cooldowns on boss mechanics and you’ll at least be functional.

A quick look at the list indicates that I have 25 quests, 3 dungeons, and a trial to do in order to get caught up, and the first dungeon is literally my next quest. Go figure. Guess I should consider checking out a video in the near future so I at least know what’s up.

Last, I’m mildly annoyed that there isn’t really any new Hildebrand stuff. Yeah, it’s a really dumb and absurd series, but I had grown slightly attached to them, if not exactly to the man himself. Perhaps there simply wasn’t time given all the pandemic problems, or maybe it was just too difficult to make it make sense. Not that it ever does, mind. Oh well, at least I needn’t concern myself with any wild gazebos.

Okay, that’s enough rambling about something I probably won’t play for at least another week. Don’t have time for that dungeon business on a work day.

Y’all take care. Don’t need the echo to see where this is going.

Destiny the Second

I recently discovered that one of my British friends is a regular and consistent player of Destiny 2. It’s something I’ve ignored quite a bit over the years, playing in small bursts as my brother was willing to join me. The idea of at least having someone to play with from time to time set me to looking at how much it would cost to get caught up content-wise.

Much like Naithin over at Time to Loot, I took one look at the expansion prices on Steam and decided maybe I wouldn’t. I was only missing Beyond Light, but I just wasn’t interested in paying full retail. I usually don’t give up just checking Steam though, and also went to check on Humble Bundle. Partially because they’re running their own Summer Sale and just because you never know and it’s worth at least looking.

Since I had the first two expansions I ended up picking up Beyond Light plus the current season. Not really a big savings, I guess, but the timing worked out well for them, I suppose.

So far I’ve only fired it up long enough to half watch the intro cinematics and do the mandatory mission. I look forward to poking around in it a bit though. I also need to double-check all my progress and make sure I’m where I think I am story-wise. It’s been well over a year since I even launched the game, much less played it for any length of time.

One annoying thing I had forgotten about was the games penchant for just putting you into a mission it thinks you need to be doing, whether it be the first mission of an expansion or the season. It was quite annoying and something I wasn’t immediately prepared for. I was undergeared for one and it took several dozen deaths and close to an hour to get past it. Not a great first impression.

I did like the ghost rework they did at some point. Being able to customize them instead of hoping for get a good ability roll was a nice perk.

Y’all take care.

Rambling Thoughts – The “Mutual Aid” Movement

I suppose it’s worth pointing out that at the time of writing it’s been less than 12 hours since became aware of Mutual Aid as a social movement. I haven’t quite processed a full opinion of it either. There are parts of the philosophy that I like, and some others that I feel are a bit misguided.

The core concept seems to be that large institutions, be they governments, corporations, or charities, cannot be relied upon to help everyone completely. It is therefore up to individual communities to help each other and make sure everyone is taken care of. “Solidarity, not charity” seems to be their general battlecry, though much of my information is taken from Dean Spade and the Big Door Brigade.

Apparently I can’t embed the NSFW version.

As a movement it is quite “liberal” by US standards. There are strong anti-corporate and anti-establishment tones throughout. It reminds me a lot of Bernie Sanders’s talking points, and is apparently supported to some extent by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

I do tend to agree with some of their general talking points. Many institutions cause a lot of (in)direct harm in the execution of whatever their mission is. Many would point to the relative increase of violence in situations involving law enforcement as an example of this. I personally prefer to point out food assistance or child protective services as examples, but those are the ones I’m most familiar with. At least in my area, many food banks have restrictions and limits in place that cut off assistance to those that may need it. Not all of them enforce it very strictly, but it exists.

CPS is a rabbit hole I could write many posts about. There is a reason and purpose for this organizations, but on the whole they wield an absurd amount of power and can be extremely heavy-handed in their approach. The stress of dealing with them tends to tear apart the families and their support networks. This has been especially bad when combined with mental health issues and certain pre-k and daycare programs that seem to target low income families. My wife and I have spoken with several parents that have had no end of issues. At least until their children entered the school system proper.

Suffice to say I find their narrative of ineffective and uncaring institutions relatable and compelling. Considering how bad the next decade or so could get, what with climate change and all, a robust local support network sounds like a good solution. I try to remain relatively positive, but the scientific consensus suggests that we’ve missed the boat on significantly slowing climate change and it just doesn’t seem like we’ll magically find the political will in the near future.

The ideal mutual aid group size is considered to be quite small. 5-20 people in most of the literature I’ve looked at. I actually do agree with that size, given the nature of the groups. The sort of leaderless, horizontal, and communal decision making they encourage become quite problematic and clique-based in large groups. It also helps insulate the larger movement against actions by more radical members. They old “can’t implicate another cell if you don’t know them” trick.

That’s where I start to run into some problems with the movement, though. Dean Spade’s Solidarity Not Charity says that “In the face of disaster, mutual aid helps people survive and builds new social relations centered in solidarity and resistance to illegitimate authority. When dominant social relations have been suspended, people discover that they can break norms of individualism, passivity, and respect for private property above human need and collaborate to meet their needs.” Maybe I’m a little off base here, but “illegitimate authority” feels a bit like “people we don’t agree with” and “break norms of […] respect for private property” sounds a bit like “theft.”

In context this was speaking about getting into a supply warehouse in post-Maria Puerto Rico using a combination of deception and not taking no for an answer and distributing those supplies themselves. While commendable, that seems dangerous. You could easily find yourself in a situation where you’ve only relocated the harm from one group to another. I wasn’t there, though, so I don’t know. Other parts of the document mention things like pipeline sabotage and “direct action at building sites” that I feel is a bit much. Things like that can get your organization framed in a way that undermines public trust.

Another big complaint is one of efficiency. There is a lot of talk about disrupting existing systems. While I agree what we need to retool these things, disrupting them can create even more people in need. At a larger scale this could overwhelm the much smaller mutual aid networks. Teaching people to avoiding calling 911 because of police ride-alongs could also delay treatment that could have resulted in better outcomes. Even with education, the burden of being in that situation and making the wrong choice can create a lot personal guilt and trauma for the very people you sought to protect. Though again, the devil is in the details and these generalizations aren’t adequate.

Perhaps the last observation is that they’ve set up a false dichotomy. All institutions are characterised as inherently hierarchical and bad, to which the alternative is the leaderless mutual aid group. The Leadership Qualities that Support Mutuality and Collaboration article is literally divided into two columns: “Hierarchical Leadership Qualities” and “Just and Accountable Leadership” as though they are two opposite and mutually exclusive options. It would be more fair to characterize these as “traditional” and “modern” leadership qualities. Even first year business management courses encourage his “just and accountable” behaviors and discourages the “hierarchical” ones. Sure, the system is very slow to change, but there’s no reason a “hierarchical” organization can’t have and encourage the other set of behaviors.

It doesn’t have to be quite like this, however. There are plenty of less extreme ways to go about this, and I would even go so far as to say that most small church function in a similar manner, albeit a more patriarchal leader-focused way. On the whole, though, I agree with the general premise. I’ve even expressed some very similar thoughts in the recent past. “I might as well help this person right here because we’re all in this together as a species and I sure as hell can’t count on the government or anyone else to do it.” Even small random acts of personal kindness do a lot to help draw people together. Considering the disruptions that could occur in supply chains, especially food, as a result of climate change, it may even become necessary.

Looks like this one’s gotten quite long. Y’all take care. Be excellent to each other, or something.