Tobold's Blog
Thursday, August 13, 2020
 
Horizon Zero Dawn PC Mouse and Keyboard Controls

 I am 15 hours into Horizon Zero Dawn on the PC. Before I started the game, I was still considering whether to use mouse and keyboard, or a controller. So I read up on it, and mouse and keyboard was recommended, due to the greater ease of aiming. And that has been working quite well for me at the start of the game. Most of the time the keys you can press are helpfully displayed on the screen. And while I must have missed the part of the tutorial where it told you that you can roll with LeftCTRL, that information was easy to find in the settings, under Control Mapping. But then I got a new weapon, a sharpshot bow, which came with a tutorial mission to hit three watchers in they eye, and I had great difficulty with that quest. My arrows were flying wide all the time, even from rather short distances. What was wrong? It turned out I hadn't fully understood the controls of shooting a bow.

Normally in the PC version of Horizon Zero Dawn, you hold the right mouse button to get into aim mode, and then you click the left mouse button to fire an arrow. If you have a fast bow, you can loose multiple arrows by clicking the left mouse button in fast succession, which works great if your target is relatively close to you. What I hadn't noticed was that you can also hold the left mouse button for a while, and then the arrow releases when you release the mouse button. There is a badly visible circle of light around your aim circle which gets smaller when you hold the left mouse button. And to be very accurate, like for example with the sharpshot bow, that is exactly what you need to do. Hold both mouse buttons while aiming for the eye, then let go of the left mouse button to shoot the watcher.

That took me a while to figure out, and to the best of my knowledge isn't explained anywhere. I managed to find the function when I got yet another weapon, a sling, and couldn't aim it further away than a few feet of me. Turns out you also have to hold the left mouse button to "pull back" and be able to shoot further away. Once I had that figured out, I realized what my problem had been with the sharpshot bow.

Two more things about Horizon Zero Dawn: I like the game and would recommend it. And if you start playing, take Silent Strike and Lure Call as your first two skills as soon as you level up the first time. Those help immensely if you like to take down enemies like a silent hunter instead of just rushing in and mashing buttons.


Tuesday, August 11, 2020
 
Nearly got my wish

In my previous post I wished for more games to be available in a version that removes the necessity of being good at executing your moves, by making them turn-based. And shortly after writing that I decided to buy the PC version of Horizon Zero Dawn. And it turns out I nearly got my wish. Horizon Zero Dawn doesn't have a turn-based mode, but it does have a quite wide range of difficulty settings that mostly affect the execution part, combat. There is an easy mode, and if that isn't enough, there is even a "story" difficulty setting that is said to allow even people with *very* slow reaction times to enjoy combat.

I will try the game on easy, but it is good to know that I can make the execution part even easier, if I wanted to.

Sunday, August 09, 2020
 
Tactics vs. Execution

 My wife plays computer games, must mostly the ones that do not require you to react quickly: Point-and-click adventure games, mobile puzzle games, and the like. She says that in a PC or console game like Assassin's Creed, she never manages to push the button at exactly the right time, and then ends up missing the attack or the jump or whatever was required. So when a few months ago I started playing Assassin's Creed Rebellion, I didn't show her the game. I was drawn to the mobile Assassin's Creed game by having played several of the series' games on PC, and thought as she hadn't played those, she wouldn't be interested. Today my wife by chance looked at my screen while I was playing, and contrary to what I had thought was very interested in the game. She doesn't know the characters or the series, but she likes the cute graphics of the mobile version. And, as it turns out, she also like the gameplay.

The gameplay in Assassin's Creed Rebellion is turn-based. You can still make tactical decisions, like whether you want to sneak past a guard, assassinate him, or attack him head-on, but you never need to press the button at exactly the right time. You just have a percentage chance for things like assassinations or jumps, and combat is also just a numbers game. Which means that you have a lot of the tactics of an Assassin's Creed game, without needing to bother getting the execution right.

Sometimes I wish there were more games that would get the real time to turn-based conversion treatment. I'm still playing World of Tanks, I'm still not very good at it, but my trouble clearly is with the execution, not with the tactics. That is why I prefer tactical games like XCOM to shooters or platformers. Many games seem to be designed for the typical reaction times of teenagers, and I just can't keep up with that.


Saturday, August 08, 2020
 
An experiment in international shipping

The internet, as the name suggests, is international. Except for some authoritarian governments blocking access, you are mostly free to visit websites all over the world. Although I live in Belgium, I can go to the website of a US company. However, once we make the transition from the virtual space to the real world, things become a bit more complicated. If I want to order something from that US company, I might find that they aren't shipping internationally.

Today I started an experiment to overcome this problem. I opened an account at ColisExpat. They provided me with a US shipping address, which is basically a PO box at one of their warehouses. So now I can order a parcel from a US company shipped to that US PO box. When it arrives, I'll get an e-mail, and can then pay them for the international shipping of that parcel to Belgium. If I have several parcels, I can get them repacked into a single one to reduce shipping cost.

I assume there are other companies that do the same thing, but ColisExpat was the one I found when I was searching for shipping options for a particular US company. Of course international shipping is expensive and slow (or extremely expensive and not quite as slow), and adding the fees for one more company isn't helping. I used to fly to the USA for professional reasons or the occasional holiday at least once a year, and do some shopping there, but that isn't an option anymore. Let's see whether this service gets me the things I want to buy from the USA to Belgium.


Sunday, August 02, 2020
 
Real time rewards

Once upon a time you progressed in a computer game only when you were running that game. Online games then introduced the idea of real time into games, from the power hour in Ultima Online to rest xp in World of Warcraft. Mobile games use the concept very frequently, hoping that by granting you things like a "daily login reward" you keep engaged with the game.

I actually have a few games on my iPad which I don't actively play, but start once per day to collect the rewards. I don't do that with very many games, only those that I think I will want to play later anyway; so why not spend a minute every day on them to collect those real time rewards, and profit from them later when I actually want to play this game? Of course I might end up then never playing that game and wasting a bit of my time every day. But getting a virtual reward is always a dopamine moment, even if the reward is just for logging on.

My holidays have ended, and I haven't gotten very far with Pokemon Sword, only just passed the second gym. But I did notice that Pokemon Sword and Shield has some sort of real time reward system as well: You can send your Pokemon on "jobs" that take up to 24 hours of real time, and reward you with xp for the Pokemon, and a few bonus items. So I might start up my Switch from time to time and send out Pokemon on jobs. Why is that interesting? Well, I already have 90 Pokemon, and that is after releasing most of those that I had more than once. The classic way of leveling Pokemon is using them in combat, but only the 6 Pokemon in your party gain xp, and only those you actually swapped in and out of combat gain full xp. So keeping all your Pokemon leveled up would require quite a lot of grinding. But the different gyms and regions force you to change Pokemon from time to time; so gaining a gym badge and needing a new Pokemon type for the next content might result in you having to use Pokemon of lower levels, because you didn't take the time to level them up. You can fix that in part with the use of the xp candy you find in the max raid events of the wild area, but that is just another sort of grind. The Pokemon jobs appear to me the fastest method to keep many of my Pokemon at a relevant level.

However, I am not really sure that this is perfectly balanced. It appears to me that in the 5 minutes or so it takes to collect all the rewards and send out the Pokemon again, I am gaining a huge amount of xp, compared to other methods of leveling up. So if I actually do this in "mobile game mode", only collecting real time rewards while not actually playing the game, I might end up with a *lot* of xp and levels. Which I am willing to risk, because I don't really enjoy xp grinding in this game. I will see how this works out.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020
 
Pokemon Sword and Shield is too easy

As I skipped a lot of Nintendo consoles in my life, I played relatively few Pokemon games. However, I always recognized that behind the child-friendly exterior of the Pokemon games there lurked thr most hardcore of all turn-based combat systems, which made the games interesting to adults as well. And up to Pokemon Let’s Go I enjoyed the few Pokemon games I have been playing. Now, in my last week of summer holidays playing Nintendo Switch games, I started Pokemon Sword. And I don’t like it so much. It appears that the more hardcore aspects of the game have been deliberately pushed behind a paywall of Nintendo Switch Online and Pokemon Home Premium, while the basic game has been dumbed down and made far too easy.

There are two related big changes to the base game: The wild area and the camping system. The wild area is a new “open worldish” area, which is larger than the usual zones (although still small compared to other open world games). And in this wild area you can collect respawning treasures and farm “max raid” dens. That is A) very easy, and B) extremely profitable, so that after a bit of doing so you are swimming in money and items, making the rest of the game economy pretty much obsolete. And in the wild area you learn how to do camping, aka resting between battles, and you can keep doing that outside the wild area as well. Camping allows you to cook, which restores the health and moves of your Pokemon, as well as giving them experience points. XP for resting? Really?!?  If you combine the treasure hunt in the wild area giving you thousands of credits with the greengrocer selling you berries for cooking for 80 credits, you end up being able to camp and cook whenever you want, even in the middle of a dungeon. Your Pokemon will never run out of the Power Points you need for your moves, or run low on health over time. That completely kills the resource economy of the previous games, and makes the whole campaign ridiculously easy.

Meanwhile, the judge function you need to see whether a Pokemon you caught has good stats is only available either after finishing the campaign, or by paying for Pokemon Home Premium. The game basically tells you that you don’t need to worry whether your Pokemon are any good until after the campaign, where you can do online PvP battles, if you pay for the Nintendo Switch Online service. The PvE game got dumbed down to the point where you don’t need to care whether you Pokemon have good stats. As Pokemon Sword doesn’t even have basic quality of life features like the ability to automatically sort Pokemon, you can just get away with building a team out of the relatively good Pokemon you easily get from max raid dens and just ignore the previous “gotta catch them all” Pokemon collection game. For somebody like me, who isn’t interested in paying for post-game PvP modes, the basic PvE game is now far too easy to be really enjoyable. The balance that the resource management of previous versions of the game brought simply isn’t there anymore, making the single-player experience a rather boring one already pretty early on in the game. Not recommended!

Saturday, July 25, 2020
 
Dragon Quest Builders 2

I have played a lot of JRPG over the years. You typically follow a main story for around a hundred hours, engage in a great number of combat encounters, and do some side activities like crafting. But what if you would reverse those activities? What if the game would be about crafting most of the time, with the occasional combat thrown in for variety? Then you get a game like Dragon Quest Builders 2, which I just played through for around a hundred hours, until the end of the world. No worry, there is a post-game after that and the credits, so I can still work on my island.

The main selling point of Dragon Quest Builders 2 is that it combines the linear structure of a JRPG with the sandbox freedom of a game like Minecraft. On the one side you have the freedom to flatten a mountain and build whatever crazy structure you want in its place. But on the other side, if you find building without a purpose too boring, there is that long story with lots of quests asking you to build specific things. Sometimes you have to follow a blueprint, but often you still have a lot of freedom to build the requested structure as you want, you just need to include certain specific elements to make the game register quest success. The great thing here is that the rooms you can build are functional. If you build a bedroom, a kitchen, a dining room and a toilet, your residents are going to use these rooms over the course of their day in the manner that you would expect. And while doing so, they drop little hearts called gratitude, which serve as a sort of currency to unlock new things.

To get to those hundred hours of gameplay without getting too boring, Dragon Quest Builders 2 uses a specific game flow structure; You play through 5 large chapters of the game, each of which are separate, and you can’t use the materials and recipes from the previous chapters in the next one. But between those chapters you always go back to the same place, the Isle of Awakening, and there you can use everything you have found in the chapters. So in the first chapter you learn about farming, and then you can build a farm on the Isle of Awakening, then in the next chapter you learn about mining, and then you can use metals on the Isle of Awakening, and so on.

Combat is on the simple side, you walk up to the monster a press a button to swing your sword, or hold that button for a special attack. However in the chapter about warfare you learn how to build a fortified castle, and how to vanquish armies of monsters by creating a gauntlet of traps. Unfortunately that ability is used only once on the Isle of Awakening later, I would have loved to be able to play around more with that feature. You can still build a castle for show, though.

I very much enjoyed playing through Dragon Quest Builders 2, much more so than Dragon Quest XI, which had too little freedom of choice for my taste. So I now consider buying Dragon Quest Builders 1, although I know that 2 is the better game. But these long JRPG have limited replayability, and I’d rather play DQB1 with a less good UI and new story rather than DQB2 with the same story again. I have some minor complaints about Dragon Quest Builders 2, like the unskippable long inner dialogue cutscenes which take way too long, but overall I can really recommend this game.

Saturday, July 18, 2020
 
Switch design flaw

I have a first generation Switch console. During my current holidays, I am using it without a docking station as a mobile gaming device. But as the battery life isn’t great, I keep the power cable plugged in. And I have to say, the power goes in at completely the wrong position, at the bottom. Which means that when holding it, the power cable point towards you, and is constantly in the way. You can’t really rest the Switch in your lap when sitting, or on your belly when laying down.

Now the reason the power plug is at the bottom is because there it connects with the docking station when you place the Switch in there. So I understand the need for the power plug to be in the middle of the broad side of the console. But why not place it on top instead of at the bottom. You’d need to insert the Switch into the docking station upside down, but that doesn’t really change anything. But as a plugged-in mobile device, the power cable going in at the top would be much more convenient and comfortable.

Monday, July 13, 2020
 
What games are better on the PS4?

I’ve been visiting my family, and my nephew showed me his brand new Playstation 4 console. However, he was a bit disappointed that when he installed his favorite game, Fortnite, on the PS4 it played worse than on his PC. Longer loading times, and the controller not so suited for shooter games. That got me thinking that there are games on my PC where I deliberately choose a game controller over mouse and keyboard. Not shooter games, but other 3D open world games, where having two sticks for movement and camera controls are quite an advantage.

As I don’t own a PS4, I was wondering which games I would prefer to play on a PS4, rather than playing the game on my PC. Maybe some PS4 exclusive games that aren’t shooters? Or some open world games, like Assassin’s Creed? Or maybe something completely different, like a soccer game that can be played by two players with two controllers simultaneously. Consoles are obviously better for that than PCs. I’d be grateful for any advice from PS4 owners, so that I can pick some good games to buy for my nephew for Christmas, when I will see them again.

Friday, July 10, 2020
 
Downloading Fallout 76

Fallout 76 on the PC has a 52% critics review average score, and 2.7 out of 10 user score. The game is currently on Steam for 40 Euros. Which means that I would be very, very reluctant to spend that kind of money on a game that controversial. However, Fallout 76 just got added to the Xbox Game Pass. So I can play it for free, with the only obstacle being the 75 GB download. The recent reviews on Steam are "mostly positive", and the Fallout 76: Wastelanders expansion has better review scores than the original. So, I am currently downloading the game to check it out for myself.

Review scores are an indication, but not an objective measure of how likely a game is to please me. Games get "review bombed" by both critics and players for reasons that have very little to do with the quality of gameplay, sometimes for something as simple as trying something new. There are games that crash on half of the PCs out there, but run perfectly fine on the other half, so there can be an element of chance involved in whether you'll like a game. And of course every player has his own pet peeves and niche preferences, so you might well like a game that everybody hates, or the other way around.

Don't hold your breath, though, waiting for me to post a review. It is July, I live in Europe, and we Europeans have this strange custom Americans can't understand to take 3+ weeks of summer holidays. I'm leaving tomorrow. And while I did buy a new gaming laptop last year, I'm not taking it. My iPad and my Switch make for far more comfortable mobile gaming, especially when the internet is flaky. So my summer holidays are also a break from PC games, especially online ones, whether that is World of Tanks or Fallout 76. While I can blog from iPad, I usually don't do much of it during the holidays, so don't be surprised if updates are rare for the rest of the month.

Thursday, July 09, 2020
 
UEFA President - A simulation game

Congratulations, you have been named president of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)! However, directly after your election a major problem has come up, which you will need to resolve. The Royal Spanish Football Association, pushed by the FC Barcelona, makes the following demands from the UEFA:

1) They want to leave the association, following the procedure foreseen for this case, and no longer pay membership fees.

2) After having left the UEFA, they still want to be able to participate in UEFA events, like the Champions League. They argue that not letting them participate would hurt the finances of the UEFA.

3) They want to be no longer follow the rules of the UEFA or any other soccer association. They don't want to be bound by the "Laws of the Game" association football rules, nor answer to any governing body that enforces these rules. They do however offer a non-binding general promise to "play nice".

So, you as UEFA president, what will you decide regarding these demands?

Let's have a look at these demands one by one. The first demand is a relatively easy one. Most associations other than the mafia have rules that allow a member to quit the association. You, as UEFA president, can't do much here, other than asking them whether they are really sure they want to leave. Emotionally a divorce is painful, but legally this is not really a problem.

The second demand is trickier. On the one side you could make a calculation of how much money the UEFA would gain if it let big non-member clubs like the FC Barcelona play, seeing how these clubs attract a lot of attention and TV money. On the other hand you need to consider how that decision would play with your still existing members. If they think they could all leave the association and retain all the benefits, you'd end up with no membership fees at all.

The third demand at first sounds tricky, but then very quickly becomes very clear when you consider the possible consequences. If you gave in to that demand, what would keep the FC Barcelona to turn up to the next UEFA Champions League game with 12 men on the field instead of 11? Association football, aka soccer, absolutely demands that everybody plays by the same rules, otherwise it wouldn't work at all. There is no way that you could allow them to play in UEFA games based on no more than a vague, non-legally binding promise, with no mechanism of dispute resolution.

So, what is your decision as UEFA president regarding the demands of the Royal Spanish Football Association? Did you make the right decision? Congratulations, you have won this simulation game. And, oh, by the way, you now also understand Brexit and can accurately predict what will happen on December 31st of this year.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020
 
Thought police

A friend of Voltaire described his attitude towards free speech as "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it". Today a similar sentiment was expressed by JK Rowling and 150 other public figures speaking out against "cancel culture". The question is one of proportional response. If somebody just holds and expresses an offensive opinion, but other than that does not act on that opinion in a way that would be illegal, then wouldn't the proportional response be to tell him off? If people organize an online lynch mob to make somebody lose his job over an offensive remark, that is basically the thought police.

I'm not saying that you don't have the right to be offended by somebody who is for example racist. But does that racist person have to lose her job over the incident? And where exactly is the limit of offensiveness at which a person expressing a personal belief needs to be punished beyond being told that you disagree with him/her. Oh, I said "him/her" without including a third non-binary option. That could potentially be offensive to somebody with a non-binary gender identity. So does that mean that you should find out where I work and get me fired? (Fortunately that doesn't work in Europe) Should you get fired because you happen to believe that Columbus was a great person? That sure does offend somebody.

Nearly 160 years ago, the United States of America became disunited and split up over a difference in opinion about social justice. The result was over 1 million deaths, a third of which civilians. Sometimes I feel as if the USA are well on their way towards a second edition of this. You need to realize that Trump is not a politically correct person, and that the 40% of Americans who support him strongly are also unlikely to be politically correct. Organizing witch hunts against those 40% of Americans and causing them economic harm, despite knowing that these are the 40% of Americans who also own most of the guns, doesn't sound like a good idea to me. I am all for trying to change somebody else's mind with arguments and discussion. But the stronger the political correctness brigade persecutes the not-so-politically-correct with means beyond words, the stronger they will fight back.

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