Gaming Update, April 2018

So last month I explained how I recently unsubscribed from WoW, somewhat because of it’s addictive nature and somewhat due to an interest in catching up with my growing game backlog. A few weeks in what do I do but replace it with new crack in the form of Stardew Valley.

I remember buying and playing Stardew Valley when it first came out (along side when I built my current PC gaming rig) and while I thought it was neat at the time it didn’t grab my attention from WoW.

A few years later, one of my let’s player subs starts doing a series with it and it got me really hooked. It shares a lot of the “build” feelings I get from Dragon Quest Builders (which has sadly died down since I started my farm) but adds a lot of personality with it’s pixel art style and unique town characters. The realtime day cycle and never ending things to do makes it extremely addictive to play for me. (Just one more day…)

So yeah, I’m in Year 3 of my farm. It’s pretty much end game content and achievement stuff now. I am contemplating doing my own Let’s Play (with a new farm) with it but we’ll see.

In other game news, I have been continuing to play Secret of Mana. I probably have 2 more sessions before that one will be done. I think I’m going to finish the story but leave the grind-y achievements be and move on.

Last month I mentioned Pokemon Ultra Moon and I didn’t get too far. I finished the first island but not feeling it at the moment so put it down. (This despite catching a shiny Zorua too!)

I did fire up Hearthstone for a few play sessions at the end of the month. Wanted to make sure I got my card back for the month’s season. Also looking forward to the new expansion which should land mid-April.

One nice thing they are doing right now is rewarding full packs with quest completion. The cost to own cards is something that makes it hard for me to recommend Hearthstone to new players. Let’s hope their generosity continues in the year to come.

Up next? I’d really like to give Zelda: Breath of the Wild a second chance. I put in like 5 hours when I first got it but nothing since.

Gaming Update, March 2018

Things have been pretty quite here so I thought I’d update you all on some things, you know the important stuff — like gaming!

First, what I’m not playing, World of Warcraft. I still love WoW. I think the Legion expansion went very well. I do however find myself playing it too much. As an example, I can sit down for a WoW play session and it will go on for hours, sometimes filling up most of the day. Whereas when I play other games I usually cap out at a healthy 90 minutes or so. Thats what I need to do so I can keep up with my work side projects as well as get into a pile of games I’ve bought over the last year but haven’t gotten into. I’m sure I’ll be back to WoW in time but I’m due for a good break.

So what am I playing? First up, I’ve been enjoying Dragon Quest Builders on the Switch the last two weeks or so. It’s a mix of Minecraft and live action RPG gameplay. It plays in the Dragon Quest 1 world and oozes nostalgia in it’s monsters, music and lore.

Next up is the Secret of Mana remake on PS4. This was one of my top games growing up and has an OST that I still listen to on a weekly basis while I work. The remake has been very controversial in gaming circles, mostly for the new music not living up to expectations. Overall I still prefer the SNES music as well but I don’t hate the remake at all. I find it a fun revisit to a classic game with a new flavor. And if you want the original music, it is included as a option.

Finally we have Pokemon Ultra Moon. I didn’t get too far into this remix version Generation 7 when it first came out. At the time I had just finished collecting the regional dex for Pokemon Sun so I ended up taking a break. Having been a few months out, it’s nice to be back. Despite the repetitive nature of the “remix” I still have fun. I even was lucky enough to get a Shiny Zorua for my early team.

What you playing? Ping me on Micro.Blog or email with your own gaming update.

Pre-“Hello Again” Mac Event Thoughts

Having been a long time Mac user and developer it’s been very disappointing to see Apple ignore the hardware release cycle of the Mac platform over the last few years. I’m really anxious to see what’s going to come of the “Hello Again” event this week and I might even buy a new Mac depending.

Current Mac-state of Mind

So my main personal machine is a 2011 maxed-out iMac. I bought it after waiting and waiting for a proper Mac Pro update in 2011 that was never to come. Overall I’ve been pretty happy with the iMac. I have had to do a USB storage dance with some backups and media drives but overall it’s been a workhorse, with tons of days of Xcode and Warcraft under its belt.

Other Macs in my arsenal include:

  • A 2011 Mac mini which at times has served as a CI box but as of now is dormant (might be resurrected depending how CI plans turn out for my side project).
  • A 2012 Macbook Air which I use situationally. Recently for beta testing 10.12 over the summer and the occasional Philly CocoaHeads video capture.
  • My work provides me a high end Mid 2014 15-inch Macbook Pro. I’m trying to do a better job of keeping that machine in kind of a white room state just for work stuff with mixed success.

I also have a 27-inch Thunderbolt display and a 27-inch Dell display which I use to extend my Macs in various ways at different times.

To Upgrade or Not?

Technically speaking my 2011 iMac is working fine. It does have some issues: occasionally the wifi likes to disconnect, there are some color issues spreading out from the lower left corner of the display, the DVD drive broke (I bought an external one to supplement the occasional need) and the 256 GB SSD is not large enough to hold all my stuff anymore so I have an awkward HD layout with USB storage. The iMac also runs very hot. I suspect part of this is dust build up but have not investigated too much. While annoying, none of these issues are blockers.

The first big upgrade question is laptop or desktop? I’ve always leaned on the desktop experience for pure power but there are many things that push me towards a laptop as my main personal machine right now:

  • I could setup a very “swap” friendly environment that would allow me to have a home work station letting me plug in my personal or work laptop as needed.
  • Since I have a Gaming PC now I don’t need the graphic power of the Mac as much making laptop more feasible.
  • I am traveling more — more conferences, more work trips, single days at IndyHall (instead of a full time desk and me leaving the iMac there). A personal laptop for these days would help me with that home/work separation on the company laptop.

Other welcome improvements:

  • Retina Display. My iMac does not have a retina display and my hope would be that a new laptop from Apple would support this natively as well as support a future retina external monitor connection.
  • More SSD storage. Would be nice to consolidate my external drives into one big SSD.
  • If I go laptop, no need to upgrade two machines every year with a new OS, keeps all the software/licenses in sync.
  • Complier speed improvements. From a numbers perspective my iMac has a good CPU but I would hope improvements to the bus speeds and other architecture improvements would see some improved Xcode complier times.

I feel like in the process of writing this I’ve talked myself into a upgrade but we’ll see what comes out of Apple on Thursday. Enjoy the show.

My New PC Gaming Computer

Final Parts List: http://pcpartpicker.com/list/4Wjcf8

I’m a fairly serious/casual gamer (as in serious love of many games, casual in that I can only play so many hours a week because of other life responsibilities). I play a lot of 3DS (Pokemon, Zelda) and I also own a Wii U, a PS4 and lots of other older/retro consoles.

I’ve been considering a gaming PC for a while. My main drive has been to support a mix of playing World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy 14. I’ve been playing both on my 2011-era iMac (Bootcamp-ing into Windows for FF14) but the graphics performance of the old machine was starting to become a real limiting factor. Additionally was the interest in playing some PC-only (or PC preferred) games, like Overwatch and Stardew Valley.

A few months ago I started assembling a parts list and talking to some other friends. Part of me just wanted to buy a pre-built system but for better or worse my geeky friends assured me the assembly wouldn’t be that bad and it would let me save some money or buy some better components.

My initial target was to spend about $1500 and go for a upper mid-tier machine. I wasn’t interested in VR right now and just wanted something to play games. After getting acquainted with the video cards and performance I choose the GTX 970. I had a full parts list waiting to go but I didn’t pull the trigger. This was around April and I was still traveling a bit. I was also working towards paying off my student loans and decided I’d do that first.

GTX 1080

When I came back to my parts list at the end of May there was the announcement of the new GTX 1080 and 1070. These new cards were destroying the performance charts and I started to get a little greedy. I kept up with the release, and noticing the 1080 was selling out joined an alert website to let me know where and when it became available. I eventually grabbed a Founder’s Edition directly from Nvidia. I will concede the upcoming non-Founder’s Edition cards are probably better cooled and cheaper but I was anxious to play and didn’t want to wait until end of June / July to get my hands on this thing. I splurged.

I came back and cleaned up my final parts list. I ordered the rest of the machine from NewEgg with a few pieces from Amazon. (Even if a bit more I’d prefer to buy from NewEgg and Amazon who are very easy to work with regarding returns and such.)

One item I was not planning to buy but did, was a new monitor. I was really hoping to get dual use out of my Apple Thunderbolt monitor (which I use with my iMac to extend my display) but as I did research it would seem hooking that up to a display port was not going to work out. I ended up buying a Dell Gaming S2716DG 27-inch monitor to make it work, and it does. I just am not enjoying using it with my iMac as much as my other Apple monitor since the colors aren’t matching like they used to.

Assembly

Workbench

After ordering the parts a week before, I sat at home Friday night and got started with the assembly. I took my time. I read the motherboard and other manuals as I slowly connected it all together.

Motherboard

Motherboard Mounted

Some things gave me trouble. It took a few attempts to get the motherboard mounted in the case. In general there was always a scary feeling of putting too much pressure on a part to get it to fit in. The case came with a ton of different screws and I had to take a lot of time to make sure I was using the right pair for the job.

All Done

Windows

I worked on Friday from 8pm till about midnight and then Saturday morning 9am until lunch to finish the assembly. Much longer than a seasoned PC gamer I’m sure — but keep in mind this was my first build since college and even then I had a lot of help from my roommate. Once assembled I was lucky in that it powered on into the BIOS right away.

Windows

Despite some known gaming headaches, I decided you use Windows 10. It installed fairly quickly. During initial setup I did opt-out of a lot of personalization features that do not interest me. My next challenge, getting the network card working.

My gaming PC is not near my cable modem so I need wireless connectivity and surprisingly this is not on the motherboard — I needed a seperate PCI card. The card I bought seemed to use PCI for the housing but also plugged into the USB on the motherboard. After spending some time downloading the latest drivers and playing the format game with some USB sticks I eventally installed the software but the card would not start up. It took some searching but I eventually found out I had to disable XHCI Handoff to enable the third USB connection on my motherboard which is what I was using to connect the wireless card. With all of that figured out, I had network access on my computer and began downloading some system updates and then some games.

The Games

I’m sure I’ll buy some more in time (and would greatly love your recommendations, email me) but for now the primary PC games for me are:

  • Final Fantasy 14
  • Overwatch
  • Civilization V
  • World of Warcraft (idle until Legion)
  • Stardew Valley (New, not played yet)
  • Rocket League (New, not played yet)
  • Undertale (New, not played yet)
  • Hearthstone (I play this on my iMac and iPad as well but there are some nice Windows-only analytics add ons I might try.)

Final Thoughts

I have mixed feeling about the time I spent doing the build. It does feel empowering to refresh my memory of how to do it all — but that said it’s not something I get a ton of enjoyment out of so let’s hope this box keeps ticking without too much maintenance in the years ahead. And while I do carry a little guilt about going for the super high end video card I also look forward to for the next few years being able to turn on ULTRA options without losing frames.

31 Days, 31 Products: Elgato Game Capture HD

Day 17: Elgato Game Capture HD

This post is part of a larger series where for 31 days I’m posting a story about a particular product or service I’ve come to enjoy.

Elgato Game Capture HD is actually a hardware/software combo. Its an external capture device that does HDMI passthrough, grabbing whatever video signal you are passing through (be it from a video game console or computer display). It will them compress the video as mp4 on the device and and delver the compressed video to a Mac via a USB cable connection (which is also used for power). On the Mac you’ll run some software that saves the capture to disk and also optionally helps you stream to Twitch.

I originally bought and used the Game Capture HD to help me record some Let’s Plays.

Let’s Plays are video series where an individual will play a game, capture it as well as their commentary while they play. Some personalities are very detailed in the mechanics and secrets of the game while others treat the videos very casually, almost as a diary of sorts, mixing in stories of the past as well as the present.

As for my own “Let’s Play career”, it was short lived. I had a bunch of fun doing a handful of series before quitting mid-way through Final Fantasy IV. I quit because I started to have other life goals and while fun, the amount work it took to produce the videos compared to their small impact — it didn’t feel worth it.

ANYWAYS… the Elgato Game Capture HD found its way to be useful for me once more this past year when we decided to start capturing CocoaHead talks. I now use the device to capture our HDMI output (before it’s redirected to the televisions) and I have to say the recorder software holds up well to us switching machines, resolutions and what not while recording. After the meeting, I take the videos from here and then match a separate audio capture we do through a lapel microphone to build our final video, (edited in ScreenFlow, and published on Vimeo).

If you are interested in video capture you can browse the Elgato Gaming site for a rundown of the current product lineup. The device I use is the base model and costs $150 retail but there are other options if you want higher frame rate capture (mine is 30 fps, they also have 60 fps available).

31 Days, 31 Products: Hearthstone

Day 16: Hearthstone

This post is part of a larger series where for 31 days I’m posting a story about a particular product or service I’ve come to enjoy.

Everyone needs something to destress, something to be a friendly distraction in-between long coding sessions. For me as of late this is a mix of podcast walks and Hearthstone.

Hearthstone is an online card game from Blizzard, designed around the heroes of Warcraft. Warcraft lore is not a requirement but will be enjoyed for those have some background. Leeroy!

The format of the game has you pick a hero class and build a deck of 30 cards (a mix of class specific cards, and general cards). As you play the game you’ll draw cards, spend mana to play cards, use cards to fight other cards and hopefully, overtime, kill your opponent. It sounds more complicated than it really is. The good news is Hearthstone is extremely welcoming to new players. It has some great tutorials to get you started.

Hearthstone is a free to play game. You can earn gold through daily quests (win 2 games as mage, etc.) and other means which let you buy more cards, expansion packs or play special Arena mode games (which itself rewards cards). These things can also be unlocked for cash directly should you start to enjoy the game and want to progress your card collection a little faster.

As it goes, being a free to play game, you’ll have a plenty of opportunity to experience the game to see if you like it without spending any money. If you do like the game, you will probably want to buy some cards to jumpstart your collection. The need for this will also vary with how much you like to experiment with new decks. Sure enough there are players our there who have gotten Legendary rank using pure Free 2 Play accounts.

The game itself is playable on the Mac/Windows, iPhone or iPad. If you every want to throw down, my Battle.net name is zorn711. Good luck.

A Walled Garden of Shit

From the App Store Review Guidelines:

We have over a million Apps in the App Store. If your App doesn’t do something useful, unique or provide some form of lasting entertainment, it may not be accepted.

I sure wish they would take that guideline to heart and start rejecting some of this shit.

So PBG got an iPad and found some shitty iPad games and I’d like to say these are the exception — but they’re not. There are tons of these crappy apps on the store and while it helps inflate that “total app” number for Apple it really hurts people browsing around trying to discover new apps.

WEIRD IPAD GAMES!

Philly Craftsmanship

Software as Craft Philadelphia

A community of professionals dedicated to well-crafted software

Was very happy to attend the inaugural meeting of this group last week. Was a great mix of discussion and hands-on coding/pairing. Thanks to Promptworks for hosting.

During the discussions, the Software Craftsmanship North America conference (as well as its manifesto) were mentioned. You can find a bunch of the conference videos on the eighthlight vimeo channel. Seems like pretty interesting stuff.

In related news (since I think all hosts were in attendance at said meeting), I want to give a plug to the podcast Turing-Incomplete podcast. Finally starting to catch up on this Philly showcase of talent and really enjoying the discussions. Keep up the good work!

MegaManEffect now on GitHub

A few days ago I started to archive a lot of the Clickable Bliss website, replacing it with a smaller “hiatus” version. In the process I moved the MegaManEffect which lived primarily via a blog post and a GoogleCode subversion repo to GitHub.

https://github.com/zorn/MegaManEffect

The MegaManEffect is an application that emulates an effect seen in the classic NES game Mega Man 2. When you launch a Mac OS X application, the screen goes dark, stars sweep the night sky and your application’s icon is presented in a blue letter box bar with a cheesy 8-bit music introduction.

MegaManEffect was written while I attended the ADHOC/MacHack conference in 2004 and took second place in the ADHOC Labs Showcase! In the summer of 2005 the application hit a nerve in the community generating tons of interest and downloads. It is to this day one of the most distributed pieces of code I’ve even written.

Funny enough after tweeting the move I ended up getting an email and later a pull request to update the code base to compile on 10.9. I approved the pull request today (thanks @smithrobs!) with a few other fixes.

The MegaManEffect will be 10 years old this summer.