Tobold's Blog
Thursday, July 12, 2018
Switch on holidays

I have taken my Nintendo Switch with me on holidays to test its usefulness as a mobile gaming device. For that purpose I only took the main unit with the two JoyCons attached, not the stand to connect it to a TV. Now that I have been using the Switch for several days, this is what I think:

In terms of graphics and game quality, the Switch is doing quite well. There are a bunch of games available that you can play either on the PC or on the Switch, without the graphics on the mobile device being downgraded. However the 6.2” screen of course is much smaller than any PC or TV screen, and sometimes text is hard to read if the game was designed for a PC primarily. The JoyCon controls work quite well when attached to the main unit and used to hold it as well as control the game. However I primarily played turn-based RPGs, so not sure how well the controls would hold up for a platformer or shooter.

The main problem of the Switch is how much energy it consumes. It drains its own 4130 mAh battery in 2 to 3 hours. Knowing that I brought a 10000 mAh power bank, and even that was drained over the course of 5 hours, drawing 2 Amperes at 5 V. That was enough for my purposes, but if you wanted to play all day, you would need a bigger power bank, or stay connected to a wall charger.

I first wanted to play Disgaea 5, which I had bought with the Switch, but not used yet. Unfortunately it turned out that I didn’t like the game, despite fond memories of Disgaea 1 on a previous portable holiday gaming device (PSP). I then looked around what else to play and stumbled upon Octopath Traveler, with a free prologue demo available. I liked that, but the demo was limited to 3 hours, and the main game is only released tomorrow (I now pre-ordered it). So in the end the game I mostly played over the past days was Battle Chasers : Nightwar. Great game, but I already owned it on Steam (that fact slipped my mind when I bought it on the Switch), where I got it in a sale for 15 Euro, while on the Switch it did cost me 40 Euro.

So, yeah, the Switch is a viable option to bring as a gaming device on holidays. But if I was home I’d play the same game for cheaper on the PC, have a much bigger screen, and wouldn’t need to bother with a power bank. Fortunately Octopath Traveler is a Switch exclusive.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018
YouTube Premium

I’m on holiday. I used to be reading a lot on holidays, but these days I’m often watching videos from different sources instead. So while I was watching YouTube videos (about D&D), I got a bit annoyed about the quality of the Wifi, which is frequently a problem in holiday locations. It would be better if I could download the videos first, and then watch them offline. And lo and behold, there is a “download” button below my YouTube video which I hadn’t seen before. Problem solved, right? No, start of the problem, actually.

It turns out that the download button is not downloading anything, but giving you the opportunity to subscribe to YouTube Premium for a hefty 15.99€ per month. Ouch! But hey, first month is free, so maybe I can just use it during my holidays, and then unsubscribe before paying. But no: It turns out that I haven’t seen that button before because the service isn’t available in Belgium. It is available in my holiday location, which is why the button is displayed now, but when I try to subscribe, the system finds out that my iPad is linked to the Belgian app store, and won’t let me sign up.

This is yet another example of the endless possibilities of the internet being needlessly restricted by national borders. There are probably complicated ways around it, like creating multiple Apple profiles in different countries, but that is more bother than it is worth. Companies really need to up their game and at the very least treat the EU common market as a common market. Imagine where the internet business would be in the US if everything changed everytime you crossed a state border!

Friday, July 06, 2018
Have I got a deal for you!

A goblin working for Blizzard sent me a mail encouraging me to exchange my gold for WoW tokens and play again. Seeing how little use I made of previous offers of 7 free days and the Battle for Azeroth beta test, I don't think I will. Even if the gold will become effectively useless once the expansion comes out, because you can't buy expansions with gold. Which makes me wonder whether my gold will be good when Blizzard finally releases their vanilla WoW nostalgia servers, or whether those need an expansion pack as well to play.

Thursday, July 05, 2018
The trash can solution

My previous 3D printer used spools of filament of 600 grams. The new one can use spools of 800 grams from the company that made the printer, but it can also use 1 kg spools from other brands. So the spool I am currently using is 1 kg of a relatively cheap brand; it cost me 22 Euro for 1 kg, instead of 34 Euro for 800 g. As a typical 28-mm scale figurine of a medium size monster or hero is just about 5 grams, one prints a very long time with one single 1 kg spool. But I am starting to wonder whether getting half-price ABS for my 3D printer was a good deal.

One minor problem with cheaper ABS is that I need to find the best printer settings myself, while the software has presets for the Zortrax materials. Usually that takes me one or two prints of a small benchmark model to get the settings right. But with the current spool I'm just not getting there! First I had problems with layer-to-layer adhesion, the printed models breaking easily along the Z-axis. I was able to fix that by increasing the print temperature to 290°C. But at this higher temperature the molten plastic is very fluid, and flows out of the nozzle even when it shouldn't. That leaves strings and "outgrowths" on the surface of my prints. Normally you can fix that by increasing the retraction setting, which pulls the material back into the nozzle. But I already pushed that one up by a factor of 4 with no effect. The molten plastic in the nozzle is too fluid to be pulled back.

I am starting to think that this particular material simply isn't suited for my printer. At 290°C it is too fluid, but at lower temperature it isn't sticky enough to hold onto the previous layer. In addition to that this is the mauve roll where the prints come out in pink, which isn't my favorite color for figurines anyway. The good news is that I bought only one spool of this particular ABS, and I still have other spools of more expensive materials. I think I might save myself the trouble of failed prints or prints that require a lot of post-print work to fix the surface and just chuck that spool into the trash can. Lesson learned: The time and effort needed to print something is more valuable than the material used, so it isn't worth saving money on cheap ABS. I'll do some more testing with better ABS, but in the long run I might actually go back to printing miniatures in PLA, which appears to be better suited for that particular purpose.


Wednesday, July 04, 2018
Pro-business socialism

Democracies have a certain tendency to slowly swing between values that are traditionally attributed to "the right", and values that are attributed to "the left". Many countries over the last century had both left-wing and right-wing parties in government, with swings sometimes happening faster, sometimes slower. But values aren't the only factor that can cause swings. Money is also a big factor, especially in a world where media have influence and advertising is effective.

Traditionally the effect of money was helping the right-wing parties. In many countries over many decades the right-wing parties stood for an alliance of business interests and conservative values. Policies like deregulation pleased both business and conservatives for different reasons. In the 80's the right fought for privatization, while the left stood for an outdated model of nationalization.

However, somewhere in "center-right" territory there is a spot where conditions for business are optimal. Move further to the right, and politics become more and more harmful to business. Business loves globalization, while further to the right politics become nationalist. So if you keep up with the news this year, you will notice that business leaders are far from happy with the policies of right-wing governments all over the world. Business isn't happy with Brexit, business isn't happy with tariffs, and business doesn't like to be told where they can build their factories. In a globalized world, business can "shop" for the country with the lowest taxes or lowest environmental regulations or lowest labor cost. " First" doesn't fit very well with that.

In the end a center-left government can be more business friendly than a far right one. A right-wing party in government moving further to the right leaves a lot of empty room in the center, which is ripe for the taking. Whether the right-wing people then claim that the left are all socialists has no effect on businesses, who vote with their wallet, not their emotions. A few environmental and worker protection laws would be way cheaper than a government trying to reverse globalization. I bet that in the coming years business will be increasingly supporting left-wing parties, because in the end those are more pro-business than the populist right-wing parties.

Sunday, July 01, 2018
3D printing thoughts - July 2018

I had a couple of different things to say on my 3D printing experience of the last weeks, so I thought I'd group them together in one post. Not sure this will become a regular column, but it might.

My dungeon tiles project has reached the point where I stopped printing, waiting to use the tiles in various games before seeing what else I need. I used 4 spools of filament to print two boxes full of tiles: One with straight wall "regular dungeon" tiles, one with cavern tiles. The regular dungeon tiles are good to faithfully reproduce most classic dungeon maps. Cavern maps however are too irregular to be fitted with any accuracy with a standard set of tiles. Still that box of cavern tiles can be used to create quickly on the spot random cavern encounters for my campaign in the Underdark, or for set encounters where mapping accuracy isn't an issue.

I did create two dungeon tiles myself, by modifying the dungeon tiles .stl files I bought. So, theoretically, I could take a cavern dungeon map and create all the tiles accurately, one by one. I'm not going to do that, because it would take more hours to create the tiles for a cavern dungeon than it takes to play through that dungeon. The one dungeon I was tempted to do, Cragmaw Hideout (the first dungeon of the D&D 5E Starter Set), has the additional complication that it isn't flat, but works with different elevations. That would be even harder to build with tiles, although some people have done it, it just took them forever, and then still deviates from the original map.

For the dungeon tiles I used a slightly more expensive material, ABS from the same manufacturer as my printer. The printer software has optimized parameters for that material, and there is a guarantee that I will be able to buy the same color of filament in the future when I need more tiles. Now I'm back to a somewhat cheaper ABS from a lesser known brand. But I had some surprises with that material. The first figurines I printed with it were very fragile, breaking easily along the layer planes. I fixed that by printing at a higher temperature to improve layer-to-layer adhesion. The other surprise was the color: I had bought a mauve filament, but once printed the objects came out looking rather pink. It turns out that this was related to the surface roughness: Fused filament fabrication 3D printing creates objects whose surface isn't very smooth. And the rough surface acts like a "white" layer on top of the original color, turning mauve into pink. As ABS is soluble in acetone, putting my prints into acetone vapors for 15 minutes smoothed the surface, and turned the color darker, back to the mauve of the filament. Still, I will avoid that color in the future.

My previous printer would *only* accept filaments from the manufacturer of the printer. My current printer is much better in that regard, allowing me to use any brand of filament. That means that I have a far wider range of colors available to me now, which I didn't have before. For example I found a nice silver filament which makes printed parts look nearly like metal. I'll probably print some "metal" doors and bars for my dungeon tiles with that, as well as figurines like heavily armored knights. The only problem is that if I switch colors frequently, I end up with a large collection of partially used spools of filaments. I don't have so much storage space, and if I wanted to do it right I would need to store the spools in special containers with a desiccant, to keep them from swelling with humidity, which would ruin them for printing. So my solution is to just keep printing with the same spool until it is empty before switching colors. The downside is that some of my figurines are not the best color, e.g. air elementals in red instead of blue. I'll have to live with that.


Friday, June 29, 2018
I just accidentally bought some games

I subscribed to the June Humble Bundle Monthly in order to get Destiny 2 for $12. Then I forgot to unsubscribe. So I just received a mail that I was charged another $12 for the July bundle, containing Hearts of Iron IV, Blackwake, and Portal Knights plus some unknown other games. Hmmm, I didn't really want to buy that, not even for $12. Guess that will teach me to pay more attention to subscriptions and to cancel them early enough.

Have you ever accidentally bought games you didn't want?

Thursday, June 28, 2018
Pokemon Quest iOS

Pokemon Quest is now out on iOS and Android, after its debut on the Nintendo Switch. The first thing I wanted to do, of course, was load the save game with the progress I made on the Switch into the game on my iPad. Unfortunately it turns out that this isn't possible. Just like a few weeks ago when I started Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms on my iPad, after having already played it on Steam, the mobile version isn't compatible with versions on other platforms. I was okay with that for Idle Champions, because there was some fun starting over, but I'd rather have at least the choice of recovering my save game from another platform. And there are some games which can do that, via a cloud save, so it isn't a technical problem.

Somehow I suspect that it has to do with the fact that these games are Free2Play, aka accelerate-progress-by-paying-real-money. If you could keep your progress, you wouldn't be tempted to pay for that progress again. If you are forced back to the beginning, you might want to pay real money to get faster to the point you already were before.

I might end up playing the game on neither platform. Pokemon Quest is clearly much better with a touch screen, trying to play it on the TV with the JoyCon controllers for the Switch didn't work really well. But when you use the Switch as a tablet with touch screen, you run out of battery after 2-3 hours; the iPad is doing much better in that regard. But I don't really feel like starting over; which probably means I wasn't all that much into this game anyway.

Monday, June 25, 2018
Winning the war on values

Pretty much everywhere you look, right-wing populist parties are on the rise. Many of them with rather autocratic tendencies, and political & economic programs that aren't likely to make life better for the average citizen. So why are people voting for them? Because these right-wing populists are all riding on the same wave of anti-immigrant rhetoric. And the left and center parties have no response to that. They are losing the war on values, because a pro-immigration platform has no majority in most countries.

I believe that the fundamental problem here is one where the left and center parties hold values that are incompatible with each other. In this case freedom of movement vs. democracy. Liberal intellectuals unfortunately also have autocratic, anti-democratic tendencies: If the general public doesn't agree with liberal values, the general public is considered to be wrong, and has to be "educated" aka brow-beaten into submission.

Immigration is an especially tricky issue. On the one side, as "freedom of movement", it is a desirable form of freedom, and taking in refugees fleeing from war and persecution is obviously the moral thing to do. However the concept of unlimited freedom of movement when thought through to the end basically means the end of the nation state. Humanity doesn't appear to be ready for that, presumably because our brains are wired for tribal social relations, thinking in terms of "us" and "them". Economic inequality within and between countries doesn't help either.

I do think that for the time being the left and center parties need to come to some sort of position in which they value democracy more than freedom of movement. I believe that a majority can be found for sensible systems of limited immigration, based on the needs of the receiving country. The alternative would be to give up, retreat into an ivory tower of moral indignation, and let the right-wing populists win. Do we really want to do that?

Monday, June 18, 2018
Rage of Demons: Session 8

In the previous session the group came to Blingdenstone, a deep gnome city that had been ravaged by war with the drows, and the deep gnomes were just retaking possession of. We left the group in a negotiation with deep gnome wererats, who told the group about the Pudding King, a crazy deep gnome who had somehow acquired control over slimes and oozes, and was gathering them for an attack on the city. So the group wanted to negotiate an alliance between the gnomes and the wererats against the Pudding King. On the way back to the gnome leaders they encountered an ooze incursion by two gelatinous cubes on the gnome market place. Mog'burz rescued a gnome guard who had been caught in the cube. Surina did good damage with her fireball, but also fried the clothing stand of a gnome merchant, who wasn't happy.

They arranged the meeting between the gnome leaders and the wererat leader, and an alliance was formed. The battle plan foresees that the combined gnome and wererat troops will attack oozes from the front, while the group would sneak in from the back and tackle the Pudding King. However that required the group to first clear their way to another abandoned quarter of the city, in which Ogremoch's Bane was living, a malevolent elemental spirit that drove earth elementals crazy. So the group went there, got attacked by two gargoyles and an earth elemental, and Nyx the druid cast Conjure Minor Elementals. However Ogremoch's Bane drove the summoned gargoyle crazy too, and so he attacked the group instead of helping them. Next the group followed a frightened gnome ghost into his house, finding his remains (that they were on a quest on to recover) and some treasure under his bed.

From there they moved west towards a cave full of quartz crystals. A gnome statue stood in the middle, holding a crystal before his eyes. The group figured out that there was a medusa around, but didn't grasp the significance of the crystals. Only Mog'burz took a crystal with him. Fighting the medusa meant either fighting completely blind, or having to do a DC 14 constitution save every round to not get petrified. Fenn the ranger was the first who rolled the saving throw and rolled a 1, instantly turning her into stone. The others mostly fought blind, until with a bit of prompting Mog'burz used his crystal as a sort of lens, giving him advantage on his saving throws against petrification. Surina fired fireballs and lightning bolts from behind, some completely missing the medusa but damaging her group members; she did more damage to them than the medusa did. Once the medusa was killed, Mog'burz had the idea to cut off her head and use it to de-petrify Fenn. While that wasn't foreseen in the rules, I allowed Fenn another saving throw at disadvantage, and this time she rolled two natural 20s and turned back to flesh. The same way they also de-petrified the gnome, who warned them of another cave full of 30 petrified drow and Ogremoch's Bane.

The group rested so that Arkoy the cleric could learn Banishment. They then fought 6 of the drow statues, who had been animated by Ogremoch's Bane, before the spirit appeared. Arkoy banished him and thus removed that danger. Finally the group re-conquered a temple of a gnomish earth god, which had been corrupted by Ogremoch's Bane. They fought 3 earth elementals in succession, which removed the corruption (but was a bit of a slog). While Nyx frequently fights in animal form, this time she never moved throughout the fight, just moving her Moonbeam as a action to damage the elementals every turn. From the temple a tunnel led to the Pudding King's court, but it was blocked by rubble. So the group returned to the gnomes, who provided them with magical dynamite to get through. We stopped the session at that point, and kept the grand finale of Blingdenstone for the next session.


Sunday, June 17, 2018
Warp speed

If you consult various sites with guides and videos on 3D printing, you will see a lot of advice on how to prevent warping: The first layers of your print curling up at the edges because of lack of adhesion, ruining your print. I have been 3D printing for over a year now, and today is the first time this actually happened to me. My XYZ printer came with squares of masking tape that self-adhered to the glass build plate and always provided perfect adhesion of my prints. The new Zortrax printer has a build plate with lots of little holes in it; the first layer enters little spikes into those holes and my main problem was that adhesion was too good.

Then this week the software gets an update to "improve adhesion", and I'm running into serious problems: The rafts stick so strongly to the build plate that I need a lot of force to remove it from the build plate, damaging the printed parts in the process. I need to decrease adhesion! In view of the bed being heated to 65°C, I can't exactly grease that build plate. So I apply a layer of candle wax by rubbing a candle over the hot build plate. The result is my first ever print with warping.

So now I know how to get too much adhesion, and I know how to get too little adhesion. Just a matter of finding the sweet spot in the middle.


Friday, June 15, 2018
Still not WoWed

My original plan was to simply ignore World of Warcraft's upcoming expansion, Battle for Azeroth. However Blizzard now sent me a beta invite. And so I thought that trying the expansion out for free would be worth doing. But after a couple of hours in the beta, I was even less excited about the expansion than before.

Because the beta is on another server, with another client program, starting up the game plays the trailer. But not of the Battle of Azeroth expansion (although I know there is one), but of the previous expansion, Legion. Now the theme of Legion was how Alliance and Horde have to work together against the Burning Legion, so the Legion trailer is full of King Varian Wrynn talking to his son about this need for collaboration between Alliance and Horde. And then you find yourself in the Battle for Azeroth expansion, with a first scenario about Alliance and Horde fighting each other as mortal enemies. Of course that transition will be somewhat smoother in the release version, but for me the episode was a poignant reminder of how arbitrary WoW lore is sometimes.

Just like in my previous short visit to WoW, I was just mashing buttons through the scenario. I don't like that due to constant changes and large number of buttons I can't remember the optimum control scheme. I like it even less that it doesn't really make a difference whether you master a complex control scheme or you randomly mash buttons. At least at the level of the scenarios and quests it doesn't appear to make a difference, and I haven't even distributed my talent points yet.

I will still play a few hours over the weekend, but I don't believe that will change my mind. Battle of Azeroth is still on course to be the first WoW expansion I don't buy.


  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool