Pointless Nonsense

Posted in video games by Bill on June 3, 2017

Stellaris had been on my wishlist for a while, but the price hadn’t dropped below about $25, but then Humble Monthly offered it for free in exchange for signing up for their thing. So $12 for this and whatever appears in their June bundle. It’s somewhere between a 4x (Civ) game and a grand strategy (Crusader Kings), which means it’s really detailed gameplay and takes a while to figure out what you’re doing. After my last attempt at playing a non-Civ 4x game, I decided I’d only try one again if the theme was really appealing, because otherwise I don’t think I have the patience to learn the system. Civ had the advantage of starting off relatively simple, and becoming more complex with each iteration, but building on existing gameplay (I probably would have hated learning Civ VI from scratch, but since it build on what I already knew from Civ II-V, it all still felt fairly familiar). This being space/future/alien based, I figured that’s more up my alley than history or fantasy, and I’d heard good things about it.

It doesn’t have a tutorial per se, though I think these kinds of games really should. Instead, if you let it, tooltips pop up constantly to try to guide you. It’s a little annoying in that it tells you “you should do X,” but not a lot of explanation why, or alternatives. So a lot of the decisions I’m making, I have no real idea what the consequences are. Also combat is a bit of a mystery, and even googling for advice isn’t that helpful (it appears to change quite a bit between versions, and every forum thread on the topic seems to devolve into people arguing over why the other person’s combat strategy is stupid).

Probably as a really good sign for my enjoyment of the game, I got about 3 hours in, realized I’d made some mistakes (I didn’t see the resource cost for terrain clearing and bankrupted myself trying to make my home planet look nice), started over, then got about 9 hours in the second time through, got annihilated by the second alien contact I made (I think I lacked weapon diversity, there’s kind of a rock/paper/scissors thing with weapon types and defense types), obsessively read some strategy guides, and 30 hours into game 3, I have a thriving interstellar empire and I’m too hooked to make much progress in this season of House of Cards.

It has a few interesting things that differentiate it from “Civ in Space”:

  • It encourages you to play in “Ironman mode” (a single encrypted savefile, no manual saving, so there’s no going back to fix your mistakes, or saving then trying something risky then re-loading if  it goes awry… I’m sure there’s a way around it, but they make it too much trouble to bother) by disabling steam achievements if you play without it. So you live with your mistakes, and have to accept the consequences of any risks you take.
  • Individual leaders. I hire scientists to do research/map the galaxy, politicians to run cities/sectors, and admirals to lead my navy. They gain experience and new abilities, then they get old and die and I have to hire new ones.
  • There are story-based questlines. Early in the game, I find an ancient civilization that died off but uploaded their minds before they went, lacking the technology to do anything useful with their minds, they just made sure the data was secure and hoped someone might find it later. You could analyze the data for a research boost or continue preserving it, and I chose the later. When I eventually developed the appropriate tech, I was able to put their minds into robots and gain new population. Or I found a race of gaseous people on a gas giant planet who needed transportation to a new home, and that gave the new home a big research bonus. Then they kept asking me for favors, which so far has worked out well for more bonuses. But there’s quality flavor text to go along with it, and in certain situations I might doubt the quest-giver’s motives and not go along with it. Kinda nifty.
  • There is an endgame “crisis,” where something happens like invaders from another dimension, but apparently there are lots of in-game paths that can lead to a crisis. I haven’t gotten there yet. I’m 90 game years into this, and I hear by year 250 you should have had a crisis. So this game is ludicrously long for one you’d expect to play through multiple times.
  • There’s not a tech tree exactly. You have three fields of research: physics, engineering, and society (which includes biology and some other stuff). You have one project going in each field, with a scientist dedicated to each. When you complete a project, you get 3 new options. If you don’t pick one, it may not show back up again. Some choices open up paths, so like if you choose  not to research robots, you won’t get other robot-related techs to choose from later on. I think I took to broad an approach this time, opening up lots of trees, which might make it harder to get deeper into research late in the game. But who knows?

The game is not without its bugs. I was approached by a nomadic species to purchase some of their spare ships, which would have represented a huge upgrade for my fleet. I accepted their offer, paid them most of my store of resources, and they said “so bet it” and never delivered the ships. Googling it, this is a known bug, but when it works right the ships are awesome at the stage of the game I’m in, and the advice was that if you get them early, pick a fight with your strongest neighbor, because you’ll kick their asses. So that’s frustrating that I missed out on that.

Still, I’m enjoying both figuring out the strategy and the little side story things. I’m sure after 5 or so playthroughs, I’ll start getting repeat questlines, but since that’s like 100+ hours, that’s nothing to be bothered by.

 

Posted in books by Bill on May 28, 2017

The Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy by economist/financier/failed Senate candidate Warren Mosler was given to me by my cousin a few months ago, and is the first non-entertainment thing I’ve read in like 10 years (going back to my uncle’s civil rights book). Mosler is a post-Keynsian, which apparently means he has ideas that sound a little crazy. But he lays interesting thought experiments to explain them. Since it’s a book trying to persuade me of a certain way of thinking, and I don’t have a great understanding of macroeconomics anyway, it all made perfect sense, but I can’t help but think if I knew more, I could poke some holes in some of this. Like, as convincing as the experiments are, I wonder if they don’t start with assumptions that are economics’ versions of physics’ “imagine a frictionless, perfect sphere….”

His biggest argument is for deficit spending without borrowing to make up the difference. It’s an interesting idea, and he presents plenty of good reasons for it (cutting payroll taxes and an increase in federal spending seem like they’d both do a lot to help out lower and middle class folks), but if we make a habit of doing that, won’t our creditors be pissed? And then the value of federal debt would fall, and… then I think something bad happens. I dunno. Of course it could be that the value of federal debt really only matters to the wealthy and powerful, so we’re only lead to believe that this would be a catastrophe. Ultimately, I guess I have no influence on this all one way or the other, so it’s nothing more than something to think about.

Posted in video games by Bill on May 26, 2017

Overwatch has a free play weekend, so I thought I’d see what all the fuss is about. It’s a shooter, hero-based, and team-based. A lot seems to rely on team balance, so you have to find a few heroes that suit you, so that you can fill in the gaps on your team. This creates a rather steep learning curve, since it takes a bit to learn how to play one character, but you might end up on a team where someone’s already used that character, or the skill sets render them redundant.

I fiddled around with Roadhog and Reaper, shotgun guys, as well as Widowmaker, sniper girl, and D.Va, mech girl. D.Va is the easiest to play, which is good, because I think it’s been about 15 years since I last played a shooter with other people.

It’s fine, but I still don’t get all the hype. I wasted away an evening and it was enjoyable enough, but I’m not gonna pay $40 or whatever for it. But also the thrill of multiplayer shooters was lost on me a long time ago, and I really only want to bother with them now if there’s a story (Bioshock or Borderlands or something along those lines).

Posted in video games by Bill on May 20, 2017

River City Ransom was possibly my favorite NES game. A beat ’em up game with RPG elements, I spent countless hours playing it co-op in my friend’s basement, and copying down those stupid codes in lieu of save files, and taking forever to re-enter them when we would come back to continue. So I was a little pissed that I missed the kickstarter for River City Ransom: Underground, but fortunately they made it available for general purchase after the backer release. It is not one of those games that tries to modernize stuff, it has the exact same style of graphics and music, and would probably be best played with a controller but I’m not going to spend an extra $5 (also I’d want to use a NES style controller but you need at least four buttons I think).

 

It’s fun for a while for nostalgia’s sake, but the game’s actually kinda buggy, to the point that it’s really frustrating. I quit on a quest where I had to beat a boss in a certain place to acquire an item. I went to the place, started to fight the boss, got knocked out of the zone the fight was in, and then spent 45 minutes trying to get the boss to appear again, without success. And googling doesn’t offer an answer besides “start over again.” And it’s not enough fun that I’m willing to play those first several hours over again.

Posted in movies by Bill on May 13, 2017

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of the Camelot legends with Charlie Hunnam and Jude Law. It’s not very good. 30 minutes into the movie, I believe literally every woman who appeared on screen was either fridged (killed to make the male characters sad and motivate their subsequent actions) or they are prostitutes (and one of the prostitutes would later be fridged!). And there’s a really irritating David Beckham cameo. The only good scenes were the ones that felt completely out of place in a King Arthur movie, the Lock Stock/Snatch type scenes involving telling of stories that jump between the person telling the story and the story itself and frequently interrupted by the people hearing the story.

But really it’s mostly notable for how I amazingly misunderstood a major element of the story, which will contain significant spoilers, because I’m still trying to dissect how it happened:

(more…)

Posted in stand-up by Bill on May 9, 2017

Career Suicide is Chris Gethard’s stand-up/one man show/when it’s a comedian I don’t know what the difference is/thing brought to HBO, kinda similar to Neal Brennan’s 3 Mics, in that it’s stand-up about mental health issues. But while I related to a lot of 3 Mics and it had a lot of laughs, Gethard’s problems are more severe (paranoia, alcoholism, I don’t think he ever used the word “bipolar” but he described manic episodes), and it’s generally more earnest, with jokes fewer and farther between. It’s probably unfair to compare the two so directly, because this was perfectly fine, but I can’t help think I would have enjoyed it more had I not seen the one I prefer first.

Posted in tv by Bill on May 8, 2017

American Gods is Starz’s new series that adapts Neil Gaiman’s book that I know nothing about. Brian Fuller (Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies) serves as showrunner, so that was largely the thing that attracted me to the series. It’s… weird. I thought the first episode was weird, but it had a vague shout out to the Muffin Buffalo of both Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies, which I thought was great, so I wanted to give it another episode to have… interesting plot, or something? Instead, it’s just long artsy shots of stuff, often involving blood, extended sequences with no dialogue and not much happening, and then sometimes monologues. I like a good Ian McShane monologue, but here there’s no meaningful context to me. There might be a good show in here somewhere, but I lack the patience to find it.  This just isn’t for me.

Posted in movies by Bill on May 7, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 brings back everyone from the first one, throws in some famous old guy actors, and it’s good again, though not quite as good. Cast is still good, and they throw in Kurt Russell and a bunch of random celebrity cameos. Soundtrack is good, though not as good as the first one. Marvel’s made it difficult to judge these movies. Something like this, which is better than 90% of big budget movies, manages to feel a little pedestrian, because it’s what I’ve come to expect from them.

Posted in video games by Bill on May 4, 2017

Sanctum 2 is the sequel to the FPS/Tower defense hybrid game I tried and enjoyed a while back, and this went on sale for $3.

 

In lieu of cutscenes (which were really cheesy in the first game what with the indie/low budgetness of it all), they have comic book style story stuff between levels. The artist has a pretty good style but I don’t think is really a comic artist. The panels don’t really help tell a story at all, it’s just like drawings with lines between them and dialogue on top. But not a big deal, I wasn’t here for the story anyway.

Some of the levels are damn hard. Some don’t let you make a maze. Others do, but have two totally distinct spawn points and routes, so that the maze you made for the first wave is useless against the second. Most have a boss towards the end that can destroy your towers, and there’s one type of boss that will destroy your towers, both poking holes in your maze for itself (and others) and hurting your ability to damage it. You can repair the destroyed towers for free between waves, but the last level is one long wave with a couple of those bosses that destroy towers. So it’s tricky to figure out how to keep enough of your maze intact after each of those appears. I had to radically change my play style for that last level (shotgun and running in close instead of sitting back and sniping).

Definitely $3 worth of enjoyment out of this, but it’s still a low budget game without much to offer beyond killing stuff, so I doubt anyone should pay more than $10 for it.

Posted in tv by Bill on April 27, 2017

Great News is a sitcom starring the girl I thought was nice looking in Neftlix’s Love, playing an actress on the Witchita show (it’s a CW/ABC Family kinda thing about witches in Kansas, get it?), and Andrea Martin who I guess is famous for SCTV but she seems sorta like a That Lady to me, as a daughter who ‘s a low level producer on a TV news show and the mother who gets an internship on that same show. I think whatshername is really cute, Tina Fey is a producer or something, and John Michael Higgins is always funny, so I gave it a shot.

It’s actually a lot better than it has any right to be. It’s a premise that feels expected, the young woman trying to make it in her dream career, the meddling mother invading her space. The side characters are pretty much stock characters, the blowhard news anchor guy, the blonde lady anchor who does fluff pieces, the jerk boss. But it has a certain charm, the cast is solid (Nicole Richie seemed like she’d suck but she’s actually not bad), and the creator is a former 30 Rock writer.