Sunday, August 23, 2020

Tough bosses and gaming road blocks. Are difficult games about the destination or about the journey?

 I am currently stuck on a boss called Ixillis  in Remnant from the Ashes and I have tried and died over a dozen times so far without being able to overcome it. Stepping back and thinking about this makes me realise that while I really enjoy the sense of achievement I get from overcoming difficult challenges in games I don't actually enjoy the process of repeatedly trying and failing that is required to do so. I like the destination but I don't like the journey. I am beginning to think that this is a problem. 

It is a problem because the repeated cycle of trying and failing can pull down my mood in the real world. It is a problem because even though there are other games I could play instead, the lingering shadow of an unresolved encounter diminishes the pleasure I would get from other games. It is a problem because experiences like this make me fearful of hitting similar challenges in future either in this or in other games. It is a problem because I really do want the high I get from overcoming challenges in games. I have become dependent on it in fact so playing only easy games or playing games on their easiest difficulties is not an attractive option for me either.  

Hmm.. reading that last paragraph again suggests that things may have gotten serious. Gaming has been a huge part of my life for at least a quarter of a century and on the whole I am convinced it has been a positive experience. It has given me hobby and an interest. It has never caused any hurt to myself or anyone else and it has often given me a harmless distraction from the toils of the real world. It has broadened my horizons both in the real world and in the world of the imagination and while I have never really been a social gamer it has resulted in some shared experiences with other gamers online. When I played mmorpgs I was aware that gaming could become  a problem if you got too sucked in and neglected the demands of the real world but I survived my encounters without any lasting after effects. I can honestly say that gaming has never really been a problem for me. Yet here I am looking at a facet of my hobby which causes me stress rather than pleasure and I think I need to change my approach.  

I probably need to look at two things: 

In terms of destination it is not healthy to allow my personal happiness to be so dependent on overcoming virtual challenges. I need to get less low when I am failing and that probably means getting less high when I succeed. If I hit an insurmountable challenge I need to learn to accept it and move on. I need to get over feelings of shame or failure that arise from not completing an encounter or from having to lower difficulty settings. It is probably no coincidence that these things have come to a head during the covid pandemic when the strictures of lockdown and social distancing have narrowed all of our horizons. Maybe I just need to get out more and get a sense of perspective. 

In terms of journey I wonder if I can become more appreciative of the actual process of trying and failing and learning by doing. I would like to change my mindset so that instead of challenging encounters being scary roadblocks standing me and my enjoyment of the game  they become enjoyable parts of the game in themselves. I don't expect to be able to develop leet gamer skillz at my age but persistence is a skill that is available to anybody. 

Edit: Immediately after completing this post I decided to have another go at the boss that was holding me back. Following the resolve of this post I tried to focus on enjoying the encounter itself rather than concentrating on whether or not I would fail.  My first attempt of the day went very well. I got the twin bosses down to about 10% before a misstep sent me plunging off a narrow bridge to my death. I immediately went back in with an optimistic mindset and got it on the second attempt. Go me! I think that writing this post definitely helped. It helped me to diminish my view of the boss as a big bad scary roadblock which allowed me to enjoy the game more and also helped me to perform better. Of course just saying something to yourself doesn't immediately change deeply held feelings but it is definitely a good start. 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Lite Souls (Remnant from the Ashes)

 I am currently playing and enjoying Remnant from the Ashes a Soulslike game that has  a few twists of its own. 

In common with other Soulslike games Remnant is a third person adventure where saving at a checkpoint re-spawns all non boss enemies. Even regular enemies are dangerous and death is a frequent occurrence as you progress through the world. 

Perhaps Remnant's most significant difference is that it relies far more on ranged combat than melee combat. There is a wide range of guns and gun powerups available but the melee combat is quite simplistic in comparison to a typical soulslike game. There are no blocks or parries and a very limited number of melee moves. I find myself using melee only as a fallback when I am out of ammo or an enemy gets in too close. 

Another feature of Remnant is that is uses procedurally generated maps and levels within an overarching plot framework. Even the boss fights you encounter on any given play through are randomised  and you need to play through multiple times to see everything and collect everything. Encouraging multiple playthroughs is a common feature of Soulslike games but this randomisation is an added incentive to do so and keeps things fresh on repeated playthroughs. 

One feature that will upset many fans of hard core Soulslike games is that Remnant is relatively forgiving in comparison to the FromSoftware games which spawned the genre. The game is full of dangerous enemies and death is common but unlike regular Souls games you don't lose all your stuff when you die. Dying is a minor inconvenience rather than the gut wrenching defeat it could be. It is also more forgiving because there are several ways to heal in addition to the limited number of Estus flask like dragon stones you can carry. I find the switch to ranged combat makes the game easier in itself because combat is less reliant on a player's individual skill with button pressing and allows a more tactical play style with use of terrain. Remnant does compensate for this somewhat by throwing large numbers of enemies at you but overall I find it easier to manage. Then again I was never very good at melee combat games. 

The one aspect of remnant that is a bit of a disappointment for me is that the boss fights I have encountered have been relatively uninspired. I have only fought five bosses so far but all have followed a very similar pattern:  A main boss with a lot of hitpoints who constantly spawns annoying adds. In most cases the boss itself was just a souped up version of one of the earlier mob. The encounters are challenging in an annoying way because of all the adds but very forgettable.  

I personally like the fact that Remnant is on the whole easier that more canonical souls games. I like the fact that the game has selectable difficulty levels (I play on normal thank you very much). I like the fact that multiplayer interaction is co-operative assistance rather than the brutal player versus player invasions in Dark Souls games. While this lack of difficulty may limit its appeal for the "Git Gud" school of hard core enthusiasts I think it makes the game more accessible to a wider audience. The fact that I got it for free from the epic store less than a year after launch suggests it wasn't a runaway success which is a pity. The success of Jedi Fallen order shows that there is a market for a less challenging Soulslike experience and I think that Remnant would well suit those who enjoyed that game. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

The Perils of Amateur Tech Support

I am not an IT professional but I am technical enough to be called upon for computer support among my friends and family group. When it works I love being able to help people out but the experience is fraught with risks.  The diversity of things that can go wrong can be overwhelming and everything to do with computers seems to take much longer to fix than people expect. I have had the opportunity to watch professional support technicians in my workplace and once a problem goes beyond a certain complexity they very quickly go to the nuclear options of re-imaging disks or replacing hardware. Unfortunately these are not popular options when working with a family laptop that has has never been backed up. The biggest pitfall in providing amateur tech support however is the unwritten rule that once you attempt to repair a device anything that subsequently goes wrong with that device is now your fault, no matter how broken it was originally and no matter how much you acted in good faith to try and help.

I guess I have become a bit wiser (and a bit more cynical) over the years and I now make a conscious effort to think twice before jumping in to offer computer support. I still try to help but I try to be more realistic about the process. It has taken me a while to realise that often solutions that would make sense for me might not make sense for one of my less technically savvy family members. Sometimes replacing a device with a brand new one is the best choice. 

Here is a recent example: A relative asked me to look at an old desktop computer that their workplace was throwing out. They wondered if it could be used as a basic home computer for internet browsing and simple tasks. Here are the steps I took:

1. I brought the machine home and powered it up to find that it was a ten year old desktop with a weak CPU,  a slow hard disk and only 2 Gb ram. It had Windows 7 Pro installed on it (password protected). At least everything seemed to be working. 

2.  I knew I had to wipe the disk (the company should have done this before throwing it out) but then I needed to select an operating system for it. I discounted Windows 7 because it no longer receives security updates. I knew that Windows 10 would be painful on 2 Gb of memory so I looked in to some lightweight Linux distros. I even went so far as to boot up the machine with a USB version of Puppy Linux but then in a sudden outbreak of common sense I called STOP. If I install anything other than windows on the machine I am setting myself up for a lifetime of support calls about "how do I install" this printer or that piece of Windows software. I even discounted the more lightweight 32 bit version of Windows 10 because I knew that some programmes no longer support it. I installed Windows 10 64 bit  regardless of how slow it will run.

3. I thought briefly about trying to debloat Windows by removing stuff that isn't needed. You can even get a script that will do that. However I quickly realised that if I supply anything other than a standard installation of Windows then I risk getting support calls about why this or that function doesn't work. 

4. Slow and all as the machine is I knew that some improvements could be made.  Increasing the ram to at least 4Gb should reduce a lot of the disk churning and a wifi adapter would be essential for connecting to wireless internet. I also knew that both of these upgrades were within the capability of my relative to upgrade by themselves under my remote direction. An SSD would also make a big difference in responsiveness but it is marginal as to whether the expense is worth it. Also an SSD upgrade would definitely require my intervention to re-install / transfer Windows. My recommendation to relative: Try the machine as is. Buy and install the wifi adapter and ram to do the upgrade themselves. 

5. The relative is interested in genealogy and asked me to look at genealogy software. They mentioned a well known commercial product. I googled around and found a couple of free open source products that offered similar functionality as well as the ability to share data using standard file formats. I installed two free programmes and the free trial version of the commercial programme. I know very little about genealogy software but I quickly discounted one of the open source programmes once I realised that you need to be able to write your own scripts in Python to get the most out of it. The second open source programme looked a lot nicer and to my untrained eyes seemed broadly comparable to the commercial product but again the voice at the back of my head called STOP. If my relative uses the free product and encounters a problem it will be up to me to try and solve it. If they like the commercial programme and are willing to pay for it then any issues that arise are down to the company that provides it. 

So the machine is going back to the relative today with Windows 10 installed and in a working condition. I suspect they will quickly tire of how sluggish it is. The ram upgrade should help a bit if they choose to do it. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Humble's Golden Handcuffs

I am a "classic" subscriber to Humble Choice. This means I get to choose ten from a selection of about a dozen Humble Choice games for a monthly fee of $11.99.  This is a pretty good deal considering the standard subscription rate is $14.99 for three games and $19.99 for nine games. The only trouble is that I have to stay subscribed or I lose this classic plan forever. It feels like I am trapped with a set of golden handcuffs. 

I am on the classic plan because I was previously a subscriber to Humble Monthly the precursor to Humble Choice. In Humble monthly there was a smaller number of games every month but you had no choice you just got to keep the random six or seven games they gave out every month. Even though I rarely played more than one or two of the games every month (and often went months without playing any of them) I loved Humble Monthly. The list of new games came out on the first Friday of every month and it was always special learning which new games I had gotten. 

Even though I get more games with Humble Choice I find it less satisfying and more stressful. I now have to go through the list of games every month and choose which ones to keep and which ones to discard. I know I will only only ever play one or two games from each selection so this is always a frustrating and somewhat pointless exercise. 

It is a  popular theme on the humble subreddit that the quality of the bundles has gone down over the years. I am not sure about this but I don't really care. I never really expected to get AAA games on Humble Bundle or Humble choice. For me the big thing is being given a selection of lesser known games that I might otherwise have overlooked. 

So I am a not entirely happy subscriber to Humble Choice and yet I feel trapped by these golden handcuffs. To be honest a subscription with three choices would probably suit my temperament better but since that costs more than I currently pay that would be silly. I believe there is an option to pause your subscription for a month without losing classic status so I might look into that but that just makes the "choice" even harder and I don't want to have to choose.

Apparently I have a coffee problem

 A couple of weeks ago my wife alerted me to the fact that I had developed an occasional odour problem. This surprised and distressed me som...