Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, November 28, 2023
My first mod

I strongly believe in modifying games in order to tweak them more to my preferences. Usually that is just for myself, as everybody's personal preferences are different, and what might make the game better for me, might make it worse for you. But now, for the very first time, I published a mod on the Steam Workshop that other people might use. It is for Age of Wonders 4, and is called Land Geography Changed.

Age of Wonders 4 has a random map generator, but normally you cannot tweak that one much. You can select a "geography trait" like Islands, Continents, or Land, and you can select a few other traits. But you can't for example select how many continents you get on a Continents map, or how many mountains on a Land map. Now the Land maps in AoW4 didn't really work for me, as they had far too many mountains. Basically they were designed as a few areas big enough for a city, separated on all sides by mountain ranges, with only a few narrow valleys connecting them. The AI was seriously hampered by that, as crossing a mountain range with a big invasion army needs more coordination than the AI can muster. So the AI was very much funneled by the valleys into very predictable pathways, while the player had the means to seriously abuse this, up to flattening the mountains with the Earth Shatter spell. Also, you could choose the Industrious culture on the Land map, which has scouts that can get rewards from visiting mountain provinces, and that was seriously overpowered on a map with that many mountains.

So my mod reduces the number of mountains, and thus opens up the map considerably. Players and AI have a lot more options to go in various directions. Furthermore, as it turned out, the default Land geography was created by turning lakes into mountains, so there was absolutely no water on the original Land maps. I turned that off, and so now there are a few lakes around, which can be interesting for a city to have as requirement for some buildings. Lakes are also easier to cross than mountains.

While Paradox provides modding tools for Age of Wonders 4, they are far from easy to use, and the available guides from Paradox aren't great. And some things inexplicably simply don't work; for example I first tried to select a different option for the "turn lakes into mountains" function, turning the lakes into grassland. But that resulted in a mod that would always just crash the random map generator, although the option "grasslands" was selectable in a list. Most of the time the problem with creating a mod is that it is very hard to find where a specific game behavior is programmed inside the many available .rpk files. For example I would have liked a mod that changes the starting Imperium to be something other than zero, but I can't find where that is defined. I can find the multiplier for easy/normal/hard, and the income of the throne city, but not the numerical starting value.

Once I had made my mod, it wasn't obvious how to upload it. The guide from Paradox said to use the "publish" function in the Package Manager, which is the central modding software. Unfortunately that information isn't correct, and there is no such "publish" function in that software. Instead one has to make a mod for oneself, and then go to "all installed mods" in the AoW4 launcher, where there is an option to upload the mod to either Steam Workshop or the Paradox website. What it doesn't tell you anywhere is that for the Steam Workshop you also need to make a copy of the thumbnail.png file, which is in the meta_data subdirectory to the main directory of the mod, otherwise Steam Workshop isn't showing a thumbnail icon.

While I made a few other mods for myself, I don't consider them universally interesting enough to upload. There aren't that many people making AoW4 mods, and many of the mods in the Steam workshop have been rendered non-functional by the two major patches that came with the DLCs. But I now know how to write a mod that tweaks the parameters of the random map generator, and could now build maps that couldn't be made without a mod.

Saturday, November 25, 2023
YouTube enshittification and the Apple tax

I am watching a lot of YouTube, using the YouTube app on my iPad. The disadvantage of that is that the YouTube iOS app is a walled garden within a walled garden, with both Google and Apple having a lot more control about what I can do and can't do than if you watch YouTube on a browser. Now I used to have a Premium Lite membership to YouTube, in order to avoid ads. Adblockers are nearly impossible to set up when using the iOS app, and recently YouTube started an arms race against adblockers, where whatever adblocker you use might suddenly not work anymore or prevent you from watching videos at all. Unfortunately, in the ongoing enshittification of all web services, YouTube just cancelled my Premium Lite plan, not offering that option anymore. They even had the gall to send me "sorry to see you go" e-mail.

So I was looking how much a full YouTube Premium subscription would cost. And as I was looking on the iPad device, I was shocked by the number: €16.99 per month! But it turns out that €5 of that are in fact the "Apple tax", the additional fee you pay to Apple whenever you buy a subscription directly on an Apple device. The trick is to use a browser instead, where suddenly the same subscription is down to €11.99 (where I live; apparently it's $13.99 in the USA).

The clever thing to do would have been to change my habits, stop using the YouTube app, and start using whatever adblocker is working this week to watch YouTube via a browser. But that is a lot more hassle than I want, and I am pretty sure that YouTube is going to manage to block all adblockers sooner or later. So I subscribed on a browser, just avoiding the Apple tax, because Apple hasn't found a way yet to prevent me from using my YouTube subscription on an Apple device when I haven't subscribed via Apple. Going from Premium Lite to full Premium wasn't exactly what I wanted, but I do have to admit that the full Premium subscription for YouTube has some added advantages that I might use. On a mobile device, the ability to download videos is actually useful. And I am not very happy with the Amazon Music service I get for free with my Amazon Prime subscription, so maybe YouTube Music is better. Although getting YouTube Music to run on an Amazon Echo is a whole added story, where you need to basically turn your Echo into a Bluetooth speaker instead of using Alexa.

Thursday, November 23, 2023
Diablo IV is a single-player MMO

I played Diablo IV for just 3 hours before I got totally bored with it. Being aware that many people will say that this isn't enough to evaluate the game, I recognized a familiar argument for a familiar genre of games: MMOs. And I realized that this was exactly why I dislike Diablo IV: It plays like a single-player MMO, with interaction with other players mostly limited to running across them in town, or they participating in the same world event. The number of people you can meet in one zone in Diablo IV is much more limited than theoretically possible for most MMOs, but in reality you don't meet that large groups of other players in MMOs either most of the time.

Where Diablo IV feels most like a MMO, and most to my dislike, is in its utter disrespect for the player's time: A game like Baldur's Gate 3 ends when the character has reached the level cap and the end of the main story; Diablo IV, like a MMO, *begins* when the character has reached the level cap and the end of the main story. It isn't just that I didn't have much fun in my first 3 hours of Diablo IV personally, it feels like I am not even supposed to have fun. The repetitive grind starting at low levels is a feature, not an accident. The rewards, whether it is level-ups or gear you find, don't feel significant, they feel like a small increment in a very long "numbers go up" game. It is hard to get excited about a magic ring that gives +3 hit points and +1% crit chance.

Of course this all is from the perspective of somebody who used to run a MMO blog and played tens of thousands of hours for over a decade of various MMOs. I am simply over this genre. I'm tired of playing a game for many hours only for the purpose of getting to the point where the fun starts. Your mileage may vary, and I am not saying that Diablo IV is a bad game or that you wouldn't have fun with it. But for me it feels like a bad memory of a time I now left behind me, and I don't want to go back to.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023
Diablo IV free to play

From all I hear and see, Diablo IV is not a very good game. To me the screenshots and bits of video I saw of regular gameplay looked extremely ugly, although admittedly that is more because of the color palette than because of detail and resolution. And Blizzard made some unfortunate choices during release, first patches, and season 1, which led to players leaving the game in droves, and a lot of negative stories in the gaming press. So I wasn't tempted to pay $70 to see for myself. But today I saw on Steam that between today, November 22, and November 28, you can play Diablo IV for free. And now equipped with 1 Gbit/sec fiber internet, the 85 GByte download aren't really a big obstacle anymore. So the game is currently installing on my PC, and I can form my own opinion.

I am asking myself whether Diablo IV shouldn't have been free to play to start with. Diablo Immortal was, and it isn't as if Diablo IV has less ongoing monetization. I am not a big fan of "double dipping", where you first have to pay full price to start playing, and then are still expected to pay monthly for things like battle passes and cosmetics. Even if Diablo IV is not Pay2Win as Immortal, the $20 skins in Diablo IV seem overpriced, especially since you already had to buy the game at full price.

At this point, it would probably be a really bad idea for Blizzard to make Diablo IV free. All the people who paid $70 to $100 for the game would be extremely unhappy. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that sales now aren't great, and Blizzard would love to get more players into the game. The free week is probably some sort of compromise here. We are then expected to get hooked and spend those $70 afterwards. Joke is on you, Blizzard, I'm pretty certain that I can play enough Diablo IV in a week to be done with the game and never spend anything. And I would bet that next year Diablo IV will be available to me at some point without additional cost as part of my Game Pass subscription, now Microsoft's purchase of Activision Blizzard went through.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023
Community content

I was watching a Streamer talking about the patch 1.5 for Victoria 3. He argued that if you only played Victoria 3 at release (like I did), you should now play it again, because the patch made the game a lot better, especially the military side. While I am not convinced, his sentiments very much echoed my thoughts on Age of Wonders 4, it is a much better game half a year later due to patches. Kudos to Paradox in both cases for good patch support and listening to the customers. The patches frequently fixed exactly the points people were complaining about.

Having said that, with Age of Wonders 4 I also encountered the other side of the medal: Community content, from player reviews, YouTube videos, to mods in the Steam Workshop are mostly created when the game comes out. Patches that significantly change the game, make some of the community content obsolete. I wrote several posts about Age of Wonders 4 in May of this year, and several things I said about the game aren't accurate anymore; for example I was complaining about the underground and naval parts, and both of those have been much improved since. In the Steam Workshop for Age of Wonders 4, half of the mods aren't working anymore due to the patches. And the large majority of let's play videos on YouTube were made at release, and the game plays somewhat different now.

I think most games don't change that much over time. Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is also half a year old, and apart from some bug fixes the game still plays very much the same. But there are a handful of examples, from Cyberpunk 2077 to No Man's Sky, where the game today has very little to do with the game at release. And that makes looking for things like reviews somewhat difficult, as you need to specifically look for 2023 reviews of how the game is now, of which there are few compared to the large number of release date reviews. Of course I prefer if a game I bought gets made better, but unfortunately the reviewers, streamers and modders can't be expected to constantly update their community content. Heck, my own blog if full of dead links, as with over six thousand posts it would be extremely hard to constantly update everything. My apologies for that!

Saturday, November 18, 2023
Nova Aetas: Renaissance

In October 2020, nearly seven thousand people on Kickstarter backed Nova Aetas: Renaissance, a tactical board game playing in a fantasy Renaissance Italy. Estimated delivery date: December 2021. Actual delivery date to me: Today. I still haven't received The 7th Citadel, funded by over 33,000 people in September 2020, estimated delivery date May 2022, now expected for first half of 2024. On the other hand I have some shipping confirmation mails for crowdfunded games that are not more than half a year late. And I have never backed a board game crowdfunding project that didn't deliver at all. So, two years late is the worst case scenario up to now, with one year late being normal, and less than that being good.

There are two lessons in here: The fulfilment of crowdfunding projects tends to be a problem of project management, and a lot of people who are very good at game design aren't nearly as good at project management. And board game crowdfunding projects are a relatively safe bet, because the cost to produce a physical product and to ship it is somewhat more predictable than the cost to produce a digital product. Video games tend to do a lot worse in fulfilment of crowdfunding projects: The people who backed Star Citizens have been waiting for 11 years for the product to be finished, but only got access to early release versions over the years, with no projected date for the commercial release of the game.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023
The pork cycle and a return to AoW4

The pork cycle describes an economic phenomenon of cyclical fluctuations in supply in markets where production takes some time, e.g. livestock. When prices are high, more pigs are being bred, leading to oversupply and falling prices, which then leads to fewer pigs being bred, and so on. I would argue that we are in a pork cycle like supply high for video games right now. The pandemic led to higher demand for home entertainment, leading to an overproduction of video games. And while this is a market in which prices rarely fall if supply is high, the oversupply sure has led to games not being as well received this year. And in response a lack of sales has led to projects being abandoned, layoffs, and studio closures. I'm not really afraid that there will be a lack of videogames in 2025, but I sure think that there will be fewer major releases that year.

While there were many great games in 2023 that I bought and played, the list of games I am waiting for is empty, except for Warhammer 40k: Rogue Trader. There is a good chance that I will succumb to the hype and buy that one on release (December 7); which probably is a bad idea, because it is a game from Owlcat Games. Owlcat games patches their games *a lot*. Wrath of the Righteous had over 150 patches since release. And while that level of support is commendable, I made the error of playing Wrath of the Righteous on release, and then regretted not having waited let's say a year for patch 2.0, when this was a much more rounded experience with fewer bugs.

Between patches and DLCs, a lot of games do get better over time. So the game that I am currently playing is one I bought earlier this year: Age of Wonders 4. I finally bought the expansion pass for 40 €, although one might argue that the DLCs don't really contain all that much content. But even if you don't pay, each DLC comes with a free patch. And the patches have not only been fixing bugs, but also much improved on some game systems. Especially features that felt unfinished and half-baked on release, like naval combat, have been much improved. The new content in the DLCs is more of the "nice to have" category, but I did enjoy a game playing as a dragon lord.

My video game spending is about the equivalent of one triple-A game per month, and I am fortunate that I can easily afford that. The problem with a pork cycle oversupply of video games is time. I finished neither Hogwart's Legacy nor Baldur's Gate 3 nor Lamplighter's League. And me coming back to AoW4 is in part because I felt I hadn't played that one "enough" either, whatever "enough" is. Still, there were several games which I played through to the end: Tears of the Kingdom, Return to Moria, Jagged Alliance 3, Fae Farm, and a few smaller games, like Pentiment. I also played several games which I plan to get back to, as they are good to play occasionally, like Against the Storm or Hexarchy. Still, it feels as if I never have enough time for all the games, in spite of being retired and having more time than most. So, if I am right and the flood of new game releases will slow down over the next year, I'm okay with that.

Monday, November 13, 2023
For the King II

I had a love/hate relationship with the first For the King game: I played it for over 50 hours, but then left a negative Steam review. I simply couldn't recommend the game, due to horrible balance issues. For the King II is definitely better, although difficulty balance is still a problem.

At the core this stems from a design as "roguelike". You are supposed to lose the game several times, which then unlocks new classes and bonuses that will eventually allow you to win. That system works a lot better in FTK2, where the "lore shop" in which you spend points achieved in your runs is a lot bigger and has more different stuff. Another reason this works better in FTK2 is that the campaign is now divided into 5 chapters, making it more likely to survive at least for one chapter and feel like "winning".

Where the sequel couldn't improve much over the original is that there is still a lot of luck involved, due to so many things in the game being random. For example in chapter 1, which I managed to win on the second try, one of my characters never found a decent weapon that corresponded to his main stat. So throughout the chapter I was forced to either use a weapon with low damage that had a good chance to hit because it corresponded to the main stat, or use a weapon with high damage, but much decreased hit probability. The other characters in the group did a lot better, just because they had found weapons with good damage output and the right stat for them. The loot is generally interesting, but highly random. If luckily the weapons and armor you need drop, you will do better than if you are unlucky and constantly get the wrong loot for your party composition.

What makes these decent games is the interesting combat system. It is turn-based tactical combat, with each side being on a 2x4 grid. The grid is important, because characters with shields can protect characters in the second row directly behind them from being directly attacked. And there are area of effect spells and weapon actions. Even healing, if you use the herbalist for improved healing, heals the target and the three characters adjoining, so positioning matters. Weapons have between one and five symbols of one character stat, showing how many "rolls" you make to determine your attack. The more of those rolls succeed, the higher your damage output. Thus a weapon with just one symbol is very hit or miss, while a weapon with many symbols will often produce an average result. Furthermore some enemies can only be hit if all the rolls hit, making weapons with just one symbol better for these situations.

There is a timer at the top of the screen where in function of the number of turns you need, chaos points arrive. Accumulate too many of those, and you lose the game. In FTK2 there is also a variant for some parts of chapters where instead of accumulating chaos points, the timer triggers strong attacks on you. I absolutely hated the timer in the original FTK. It has gotten a bit less frustrating in the sequel: There are now settings that make chaos points arrive less fast, and there are now more opportunities to remove chaos points as a reward for quests.

Overall I am enjoying For the King II a lot more than the original. I probably won't leave a negative recommendation on Steam this time. But on this blog, where I can be a bit more nuanced than thumbs up or down, I would still hedge my recommendation: It is a good game only for people who are okay with high randomness, losing to just dumb bad luck, and the roguelike aspects of the game. If you like your tactical games to be more predictable, there are other games that are better suited for you.

Sunday, November 12, 2023
Blame game starts for Trump 2024

The future looks dire. More particularly, according to some polls, it now looks more likely than not that Donald Trump will become president of the USA in 2024. The Guardian, a left-wing UK newspaper, is blaming the press for being too balanced. Well, that is an original take, but I don't think the little balance remaining in mainstream news is the problem. The problem is how the Democrats are given an extremely easy task, looking more attractive to voters than the deeply flawed Republicans and their highly problematic candidate, and they are failing at that task.

The first problem, to quote slogans from previous elections, is "it's the economy, stupid!", or "are you better off than you were 4 years ago?". Inflation is always an opportunity for redistribution, and there have been inflationary periods in the past that ended with wages rising by more than the fortunes of the rich. But in an international comparison, the actions of the government in the USA to help low and middle income households against the cost of living crisis have been feeble, and is has been company profits that rose more than wages this year. There were right-wing governments in European countries that did more to ensure that inflation wasn't growing inequality. Key economic policies of the Biden administration like student loan forgiveness make the Democrats look more and more like the party of the educated elite and the Republicans the party of the blue collar workers.

The second problem is the candidate. There aren't many people who are unpopular enough to lose an election to Donald Trump, but Joe Biden certainly makes the cut. If there is a single decision by a single person that could guarantee the Democrats to win the 2024 election, it would be the decision by Joe Biden to not run for re-election. I am all against ageism, but an election in which the average age of the candidates is 80 is kind of ridiculous. Especially in a political system in which the vice-president is normally a non-entity, selected with not much care, the statistical probability of the next US president dying in office is far too high in the current situation.

The third problem is democracy. Donald Trump definitively is a danger to democracy. Which makes it absolutely necessary for any opponent to do better than that, and to concentrate on democratic means to win the next election. The left wing media narrative of preventing Donald Trump from running by use of the legal system, especially the totally spurious 14th amendment path, is counterproductive. Eliminating Donald Trump by anything other than the ballot box would be undemocratic.

The last problem is international. Political parties are always tainted by the views of their extremists. And the global extreme left is currently clearly on the wrong side of history with their stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict frequently being both pro-terrorist and anti-semitic. In Paris this weekend there was a march against antisemitism. In attendance were the extreme right, like Marine Le Pen, while the extreme left called the marchers "unconditional supporters of the massacre of Gazans". Snatching the label of antisemitism away from the extreme right is *not* a win for the extreme left. Like in the Guardian article linked to at the top, the left is frequently railing against "bothsideism", the idea that one should look at issues from both sides. But the reality of things is that most issues in life are not simple enough to justify a clear, one-sided position on it. The conflict between the state of Israel and the Palestinians, which is ongoing for 75 years now, is one where the stated positions and goals of both sides are wrong. And as much as one might dislike the egregious human rights violations the state of Israel is committing in Gaza, the stated goal of Hamas is genocide of all jews, which is even worse. The position of most reasonable people isn't "bothsideism", but "neithersideism": At some point the world will be obliged to force the two sides into a compromise neither of them wants right now, some sort of two-state solution. And neither of these states will cover the whole area "from the river to the sea".

I believe that beating Donald Trump in 2024 should be totally possible for the Democrats. They will have only themselves to blame if they fuck this up. The abortion issue is a huge plus for them. But if they fail to connect to the average American voter, his values and economic problems, fail to leave their ivory tower, and rely only on their imagined moral superiority over the other side, the resulting harm to democracy will be as much on them as on the would-be tin-pot dictator. "Trump is bad", as much truth as there is to it, cannot be the only political platform the Democrats run on, they need to actually offer the American people a more attractive alternative to vote for. It is depressing to see at this point in time how bad they are at it.

Saturday, November 11, 2023
Electric vehicles

My wife and me spent all day yesterday testing and then buying a fully electric car for her, replacing her 10-year old petrol car. The market for electric vehicles has strong growth rates, but a strong growth of very small numbers still takes a lot of time to become really a dominant technology. Right now, world-wide, only 2.1% of cars are plug-in electric vehicles. And there are a lot of good reasons for that.

The one thing everybody immediately thinks of is range. I think that is actually less of a problem. The car we bought is relatively small compared to the average car, but still a fully enclosed 4-seater, and not one of those tiny electric vehicles. And with the size of battery this car size allows, and the weight of the car, we end up with a range of 400 km or 250 miles on paper, using the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure WLTP standard. As that is a lab test, the real world range is generally estimated to be 80% to 90% of that number, depending on conditions and driving style. The range goes down with time, with a guarantee of it still being 70% after 8 years being standard these days. Which means that the real range at the end of the battery life might be just half of the sticker range. However, 200 km or 125 miles is still a lot farther than the average car return trip. People do longer journeys for holidays and the like, but the far more common typical commute or shopping trip is a lot shorter. Note that average driving distances of course vary by country, which might be one of the reasons that only 1.3% of cars in the USA are plug-in electric.

Our current solution will be the electric vehicle for all those short trips, and a second car, running on petrol, for the longer trips. While Europe and some other countries are planning to phase out combustion engine cars by 2035, we think that if you buy an electric vehicle in 10 years, and buy more of a "family sized" car, you'll get a much longer range. For example a Tesla Model 3 already has a WLTP range of 629 km or 390 miles. We looked at plug-in hybrid cars, which turned out to be about as practical as having a car that can be both drawn by a horse or run by a motor when transitioning between the horse-drawn buggy to the motor car. The fully electric distance on plug-in hybrids is tiny, around 60 km WLTP, and when driving in combustion engine mode the added weight of the battery and electric motor drives up fossil fuel consumption.

While we are happy with the electric vehicle solution we have found for us, it was rather obvious that we are somewhat privileged in our personal situation to make this work. A lot of factors clearly speak against a widespread adoption of electric vehicles. First of all the price of buying the electric vehicle, which is a lot more expensive than a petrol car of the same size. That problem gets even worse for people on medium or low incomes, who usually would buy a used car: There simply aren't that many used electric vehicles available yet. Electric vehicles are a bit weird in the long run: The battery isn't expected to last much more than 8 years or 160,000 km (100,000 miles), while the rest of the vehicle can last a lot longer than a car with a combustion engine; estimates are about twice the lifetime of a combustion engine car, but again there aren't many electric vehicles this old around to get reliable data from. An electric vehicle might get "3 batteries old". Given the cost of a new battery, a 10-year old electric vehicle with a fresh battery is going to be more than twice the cost of a 10-year old petrol car.

But what about the cost of running the car? For us, the insurance for the electric car will be higher than that of the petrol car it replaced, simply because the car is more expensive. Taxes will be lower, due to many countries incentivizing EVs fiscally. And for us, very specifically, the fuel cost will be zero, due to perfect conditions: We have an excess production of electricity from solar panels on our house, and currently we do not receive any money for that excess production, it goes for free to the electric company (that sounds like a bad deal, but in exchange we don't get paid less for the produced electricity than we pay for the consumed electricity). Also, we are retired, which means that mid-day, when solar panels produce the most electricity, the electric vehicle will often be in our garage, charging; somebody commuting to a job might well have his car in the garage only during times when his solar panels aren't producing any electricity. Charging your car with electricity from the grid is a lot more expensive, and in Europe, where there is even some grid electricity produced by coal, not very ecological either. Charging a car at a highway rapid charging station is even more expensive. You can pay up to $30 to charge up your car for the next 200 miles (80% of capacity), which depending on the current petrol price and miles-per-gallon might actually be more expensive than petrol.

In a full life cycle assessment, which is extremely hard to do, and given our personal situation, we can expect that after several years of driving our new electric vehicle, we will end up with a positive overall environmental impact. The production of a single electric vehicle has a worse environmental impact than the production of a vehicle with a combustion engine. But provided that all or a large majority of the electricity used is "green", coming from renewable electric sources like wind or solar, after some years the diminished greenhouse gas emissions of running the car will turn the overall balance positive. If, on the other hand, you live in Poland and charge your car exclusively with grid electricity, which in 2022 came 69% from coal, your lifetime greenhouse gas emissions with an electric vehicle will be higher than if you had bought a petrol or diesel car.

Estimating the cost of the electric vehicle over the lifetime is even more difficult. In 2022, due to the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russian gas, spot electricity prices in Germany peaked at over 650 Euro per Mwh, up from an average around 30 Euro per Mwh in 2020, with the current price being just below 100 Euro per kwh. Predicting the price of electricity for future years is impossible. Unless you are in the privileged position to be able to exclusively charge your electric vehicle with electricity produced by your own solar panels, a rise in prices of fossil fuels might perversely still raise the price to charge your electric car. Note that exactly the same considerations are true if you replace your oil or gas heating by a heat pump; and if you use that heat pump mostly for heating in winter and not for air conditioning in summer, your solar panel electricity production is sadly out of phase with your electricity consumption.

These considerations on the personal level of a single car still don't show the whole picture. If you waved a magic wand and instantly replaced all combustion engine vehicles in the world with electric vehicles, most electricity grid infrastructure would collapse under the load. We are also very far away from a network of public charging stations that would withstand holiday traffic situations when electric vehicles are widespread. There are huge question marks over the future of recycling lithium ion batteries in large scale. Today, as a way for a financially well-off couple like mine to do their part for the environment and against climate change, buying an electric car is fine. Extrapolating that to everybody driving fully electric by 2035 isn't that obvious.

Wednesday, November 08, 2023
Video game journalism isn't dead yet

I wouldn't call myself a journalist, although I am definitely a "content creator" and cover video games among other things. Video game journalism isn't having a great time, facing the same sort of distrust as other forms of journalism do. The companies doing the reporting and reviewing of video games are frequently paid by the companies that are doing the video games, and on sites like Metacritic the "professional critics" reviews and the user reviews are more and more frequently diverging by a lot. Then there is a lot of junk "video game journalism" which is basically search-engine optimized tips for various games; content which is produced in large quantities, and at such low quality that ChatGPT will certainly quickly replace all human writers in that field.

But of course there are some good video game journalists, who are producing good content. And sometimes producing good content gets into conflict with a large media company wanting to maximize profit. So media company Gamurs, owners of The Escapist among other publications, decided to fire editor-in-chief Nick Calandra, the guy who most insiders believe was actually responsible for reviving The Escapist after a long period of non-relevance. Which then led to everybody in the team making videos for The Escapist quitting their jobs, including Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw, the man behind Zero Punctuation, one of the longest series of video game review videos on YouTube.

The good news is that two days later, the whole team had a new channel up, called Second Wind. And while some content, like Zero Punctuation, will need to be renamed due to The Escapist holding the intellectual property rights to the name, all the content creators and their distinctive styles will be back in some form or another on the new channel.

While few people trust video game journalism media companies, a lot of people do trust "influencers". It makes a lot of sense for content creators to ditch their employers, especially if they are already famous enough that their quitting is reported by BBC News. Well, the BBC had their own experience with the phenomenon, after they fired Jeremy Clarkson and found out that a show called Top Gear on BBC without Clarkson, May, and Hammond wasn't as popular as a show not called Top Gear on Amazon with Clarkson, May, and Hammond. I don't think The Escapist could continue the Zero Punctuation series without Yahtzee, so that is some intellectual property that lost all value over night. Actually The Escapist might have to totally ditch video content, unless they want to build up a new team to do so from scratch. Too bad Gamurs isn't a publicly traded company, because it might be rather funny to listen to some manager explain the initial decision to fire Calandra to the investors. The future of video game journalism might well be content creator owned, and the big media companies will not like that.

Sunday, November 05, 2023
Game length vs. fun time

I you look at a website like How Long to Beat, it will tell you how long it takes on average to play through the end in any given video game, depending on whether you just do the main story or do a lot of side content. What that doesn't tell you, is how long a game is fun for, because that is obviously a much more subjective number. Now in an ideal world the game length is about the same as the fun time. In the real world, it often isn't.

The easier case is if a game is fun for longer than it takes you to play it. Especially if it is a strategy game, like Civilization, where you can simply start over on a new map with a different civilization. But that kind of game is a bit old school, and most modern games have a main story to them. And then it gets kind of annoying if you are only half way through the game and the fun runs out. Do you press on, and play a game that isn't really entertaining you well anymore? Or do you stop playing, never getting to see the end of the story? Do you leave the game installed on your computer, promising to "finish it later", which you will never do?

I had this experience with The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria. This is a game that has some fun elements to it, especially if you are a fan of the LotR setting, and haven't played too many other survival crafting games already. But it certainly isn't a great game, and has some rather obvious flaws. And so, somewhere in Dwarrowdelf, the last-but-one zone of the game, I ran out of fun. The latter part of the game feels a bit like they ran out of budget, and constructed the last zones out of a mix of empty and previously used tiles. So, what should I do?

I realized that the reason Return to Moria takes rather long is the game loop of going out to explore, and returning when inevitably you health runs low and your inventory is full. It's a constant back and forth, returning to base during the night, either by running back, or by teleporting back. Which is a bit easier with the latest patch, that increased the drop rate for the Black Diamonds that are needed to build mapstone teleporters. But if you didn't run out of health, and didn't collect everything, you could skip that back and forth, and progress significantly faster in the story. So I used WeMod to basically turn god mode on, with infinite health. And using that, I rushed the last two zones, killed the final boss and got to the end-of-game cutscene. It's cheating, but it makes it easier for me to now uninstall the game and be done with it.


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