Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Andromeda Redux Boogaloo

I've now completed Mass Effect: Andromeda, and here's my follow up post to this. Do I still like it? Got bored? Fed up with a thing? Time to find out!

Random thoughts ahoy, no major spoilers but maybe some mild ones:

* The final mission(s) was great. No spoilers, but everything major you worked towards in some way paid off - or not - throughout the long last leg, and made for a dramatic conclusion.

* The story does, eventually, move on from "help us live on all these planets" but even then, you'll still be better equipped to deal with the finale assuming you keep on with the whole Pathfinding thing. Part of me wishes writers wouldn't rely on magical ancient space alien tech as the quick fix for a story (good thing you ended up in a new galaxy with gigantic terraforming / atmospheric processors everywhere, huh), but having said that, you don't need to use them to make the planets habitable.

Still, this feels like a missed opportunity to go in hard with a realistic sci-fi setup. While I won't deny the immediate visual change of each planet is wonderful once you flip the switch, making the planets feel livable feels a bit easy once you start ticking off the processor checkboxes. There's already more than enough in each world to get the viability level to 100% without magic space tech ramming it up by 40 points. It's not even that difficult to do it - activate 3 things, enter a vault (and the one I did outside of story missions was surprisingly short) - bam, done.

Stop making it easy!

* There's an incredibly important and vaguely dramatic reveal post finale, and it's also easily missed. Don't miss it?

* Inventory management has been improved somewhat with the patch which increases inventory space. Even so, managing it is a shambles - everything seems to involve multiple clicks at all times. Also, why do blueprints for lower level guns still show up? Why would I ever make them again? Why does this game somehow go back and reuse the inventory setup from the original game, yet somehow make it even clunkier?

To select an item to sell, I really shouldn't have to click space, return, space every time. 3 clicks for a 1 click action. This kind of excessive clicking is everywhere. Make it stop!

* Upgrading the Nomad to fire an electrical charge once shields are depleted means driving it into a crowd of Kett and waiting for it to go boom is my new jam.

* Bioware now allows you to skip the space travel animations, which is great if you want it, but muh immersion is now sorta borked due to the "PRESS TAB TO SKIP" icon on the screen. I don't want that. Also if you zoom the FOV all the way out then you see a piece of the Tempest bridge. One day I want a game like this where you can see the ship moving in space while you're still walking around and stuff. With the amount of space on display in the Tempest, it's a crying shame that you can't.

* Oh, travel. You can skip animations between planets in a system, but not system to system. This makes one of the main story missions - where you literally do nothing but jump from system to system 3 times to scan things - remain an obnoxious time-sinky annoyance.

Seriously: why did someone think the most dramatic lead-in to a climatic mission was to have you warp from system to system, scan a thing, then do it twice more?

* There are way too many systems with five planets to scan and literally nothing in them - not even like, 10 bits of iron or whatever. I may be mis-remembering, but I don't think there were this many pointless deadzones in earlier games, and those are in a galaxy pretty much stripped of resources. I'm now in a new galaxy and I can't find one single thing to do / collect across a ton of systems? Really?

* The cut and paste fact models don't hugely bother me, but I do find it bizarre that the face models on your alien companions are also cut and pastes. Why do Vetra and Doctor Whatserface suffer from this? Why does Drack not have eyeballs which fit his skull properly? While I'm at it, why are there no clothing changes for companions? And how does Ryder manage to have parts of her model showing through the leather jacket?

* I'm not huuugely sold on the big bad of this game, and it definitely needed a bit more variety where that was concerned. They definitely make some thematic shoutouts to the earlier titles, but didn't go where I thought they would with the story. So, uh, phew.

* Ryder's slow transformation from clueless newcomer to absolute badass is note perfect, and I'm so pleased we didn't just get an InstaShepard from the beginning. Having said that, they're still kinda goofy by the end so that's cool too.

* I don't know if devs have to assume players are thick as planks or what, but dear god why has SAM's endless babble not been patched out?

All too often, it interrupts crew dialogue, important plot points, and more besides. I do not need to be told this area can be mined for resources 80 hours into the game, after I've opened up the mining interface. I KNOW, SAM.

Same goes for emails, temperature changes (both up and down) and pretty much everything else. For the love of god, shut up.

* I'm still scanning stuff and not having a problem with it. I know some people hate it, but it gives greater interactivity to the worlds you explore and makes sense thematically. This is going to be removed for the sequel, isn't it.

Final ramble: when the first ME came out, I bought a rather lovely art book. The cover shot of Noveria will forever be my lasting mental image of the game; exploration, weird buildings, and shitload of snow (look, I want my alien snow planet, okay?)

I felt like I never got that sense of exploration because on follow up playthroughs you realise ME1 is still a corridor shooter - it's just that it has longer corridors than ME2 and a lot more foliage.

I finally feel like I got that, ten years on, with Andromeda.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Thoughts on Mass Effect: Andromeda

Yeah, I saw all the bad reviews and laughed at the hilarious wonky animations. I've discovered ways to make Ryder either do a crab-walk shuffle or look like she's on rollerskates. Sometimes I load up the Tempest and she's vibrating up and down while team mates stand on tables.

My biggest concern was that after having played an hour or so of Andromeda's demo, I didn't like it. The introductory planet feels wanky, with vision obstructing grass and awkward to climb rocks all over the place - not what you want when trying to get to grip with a new game and its mechanics.

The combat seemed like some weird throwback to ME1 where everything is floaty and underpowered.

Once you get past the first not particularly well done first hour or so, the game opens out into something I'm finding to be hugely enjoyable.

It's gonzo ME1. It's all those Mako planets from the first game, but jammed with stuff to do on them. If the original ME, which felt like a lost sci-fi film from the 70s, was all about discovery, exploration and trying to survive for you, then this will likely appeal.

Make no mistake, it has problems. Some of the faces / animations are dreadful (one of your ship's co-pilots looks like Chucky with a woman's wig dropped on top), and in places the level of character detail in ME2 is head and shoulders above this game.

Camerawork is very static, too - most conversations are just reverse angle shots. You won't see people walking around, doing things while talking, fast cuts to illustrate how Mordin's mind works or any of that jazz - it's meat and potatoes all the way.

The accents are hilariously wonky. The first Salarian I ran into sounded like a bored French Canadian guy. I've had cockney space aliens. I encountered a new species and they're fucking Australian space cats.

The voice filters seem as though they're dialled right down, so everyone sounds pretty much human with a broken vocoder. The old games ensured specific aliens all talked / sounded the same way. Here I've got cockney wideboy Salarians and beach loving space cats or some shit.

I don't understand this at all.

There's also an astonishingly crap bug where dying means a save will fail to load, and you'll have to exit out / try again or reload an earlier save.

Having said all of that, and in no particular order (ish), here's what I think so far:

* FemRyder is a great character, and nails the VO as someone who is absolutely unsure of why / how they're in charge of their mission, and nothing like the ready-rolled Shepard lite badass I was expecting. I've heard the dude Ryder is a bit more gung-ho, though.

* Lightness of humour abounds. Feels very ME1 (again) after the cut my life into pieces antics of 3. Nothing wrong with that, and quite a few of the lines from FemRyder have brought forth many chuckles.

* Electro synth music is back in business (I'm going to type "ME1" a lot, okay). A variation of the map music is present. This franchise is only dead once that music is gone forever.

* Your ship, the Tempest, is the best ship of the series.

The Normandy always felt like I was in a submarine, and I had to battle with the poorly placed button in the cockpit just to see some space or whatever. Where are my fucking space windows?

Here, there's glass and views for miles. There aren't many "dead" areas with nothing to do in them, and your crew actually walk around the ship and have conversations and stuff.

It's *great*.

* The Mako (Nomad) is back, and it finally has a purpose. It also comes with enough customisation options to stay relevant. Ooh, atmospheric damage! Heat damage! Cold damage! They're back! My suit also suffers said damage! It's like I'm actually in space! ME1!

They've also taken the planet scanning of 2 and made it something you do while driving in the Mako. Not saying it's better, but it definitely makes driving around more involved.

* The main hook of the game - colonise a new galaxy - isn't abandoned after ten minutes and is the core of the game. You have to try and make a collection of very large maps habitable, remove threats, build up resources, build outposts, perform tasks for said outposts and so on. Alongside that, you build up points to spend on releasing people from cryosleep on your newfangled Citadel which give you additional perks. Alongside *that*, you can send strike teams on missions which may reward you with additional funds to build / research more stuff. You can even pimp out your strike teams with equipment, even if they are nothing more than countdown timers with a win / lose at the end of it. All of these gameplay loops feed into one another and it's very satisfying.

There's even - mild sort of spoiler, look away now if you don't want to know an early game thing - planet terraforming as one of the main quest objectives for each world, to really drill down on those not very hospitable environments. So that's cool too.

* No more "why am I doing all of this" dissonance so common in this style of game, because for once it's literally your (unasked for) job. Crucially, you're not in charge - the people on the replacement Citadel are. You have agency, but you're not the king of the mountain. Are you watching, Fallout "Let's send the General to the other side of the map to kill some ghouls" 4?

* The Nexus is the best Citadel since ME1. No more "go to the Citadel and these ten side missions are all you'll get for the whole game". It constantly has something new to do or see in it, and I've revisited the station llllllllllloads of times over 30+ hours of play.

Sure, many of the side missions are, y'know, side missions. Fetch quests, go here, do this, scan twelve of those. But it's still nice to have the option of doing them inbetween / on your way to main missions, right? And quite a few of them are pretty well done (some are awful, but that's to be expected).

This dynamism (as basic as it often is) is seen throughout the game. You will typically have something new to do if you revisit that first outpost you built ten hours later.

* The planets. There are roughly half a dozen (I think) for you to make habitable, and the maps are pretty big. They're all distinct from one another, and of the two that are "similar" - they're really not, with one of them in particular being quite lethal over any given stretch of time (being intentionally vague here). It also looks very different from the other one, so don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

Think ME1 (again). Alongside those, there are multiple "hub" worlds with cities or other stuff on them, and (so far) at least one planet that's big and explorable with stuff to do, but not one you can make habitable. I've seen complaints about planet variety, but it honestly seems fine to me.

If you want big, main, explorable ME1 planets (and even those were a bit corridor-ish in the original game) then you have them. If you want corridor shooter / set piece / ME2 type environments, you'll come across them too. Seems the best of both worlds - aha ha - to me.

* Planet scanning. YMMV on this, because they've removed all agency from it. If you didn't have the load screen (you physically travel in first person from planet to planet like you're strapped to the ship's cockpit window) then you'd just click a button, click a thing and be done.

This is obviously so fast as to be utterly pointless, so you have the load screens to break it up a bit and make you ponder if you really *do* want to spend 30 seconds travelling to gain 10 bits of steel (yes, the rewards for scanning are rubbish).

In some weird way, it helps to remind you that you're stranded in this tiny chunk of a new galaxy, and look - here it is, every inch of it.

Basically I treat the planet visiting as "what am I picking for my ship's window wallpaper". Mmm! Spacey!

* In-game scanning. You research and develop items / weapons / whatever by scanning objects with your wrist thingy, and gain points in certain branches depending on where the object hails from. You then use those points to sink into research. Some people aren't keen on this, but I think it's fine.

* The story isn't (so far!) a rehashed original trilogy. There's some echoes / callbacks, but nothing too over the top. I don't know what direction it's going to go in yet, or how far into it I am, but by the time I'm hitting these main missions the characters are leveled up enough, with enough skills, that it feels close to the fast paced edge of ME3 combat.

* I wasn't sure about the crew at first, but I can now remember everyone's name including the boring, generic humans that nobody ever picks. I would have preferred to still use the power wheel (doesn't exist in this game), because I used to like picking specific characters for certain zones - as it is now, it's pot luck as to if they trigger combos or not. But in terms of characterisation and solid "loyalty missions", they're great.

Even the boring humans.

Anyway, there it is. I'll probably remember something I intended to mention ten seconds after I hit publish, but whatever. I really hope this gets a sequel, and I also really hope that EA don't turn them into corridor shooters.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

No Man's Sky Foundation update: Survival impressions

No Man's Sky has had a rather large update after months of silence. I've been playing around with it, and here's what I think so far:

1) Every single action in the game now has a lot of weight behind it, and I mean every...single...action.

The first half dozen planets I spawned on before giving up were all extreme temperature / weather conditions. If you don't craft your scope quickly and *really* look in every direction before setting out, you're going to run out of life support and die. If you don't zig zag looking for the smallest outcrop of rocks overhead in order to ward off radioactive / cold / heat effects, you're going to end up exposed and die. If you make the wrong choice in terms of the elements you pursue first, you're going to die. If you stagger your last to the one single chunk of heridium on the planet so you can take off, only to realise it's a thin outcrop laid over a regular one and you fall short by like 6 units...you're going to die, and yes this happened to me twice.

The average distance I spawned in from my ship tended to be around 14 or so minutes walking time, so factor in trips in various directions to harvest resources and you have quite the challenge. I eventually *just* managed to crack it on a radioactive hellhole, and got the ship up and running with my last sliver of life support about to keel over.

Getting that damn ship repaired, stocked up with loot and - finally - off the ground was one of the hardest and most satisfying things I've done in a game.

And then I was immediately shot down by space pirates.

2) Taking off now requires 200 units of Plutonium, which is now hard to come by. That's right - you get to take off once, and then your thruster is empty. Micromanaging where you take off / land has never been more important - the suit upgrade down below may be incredibly tempting, but there's no plutonium in sight - should you land and not find any, you're stranded and locked into a load/die/load/die loop.

Bases with landing pads are now crucial, as well as using them as anchors of operation until you can establish a base of your own.

3) Asteroid mining is now important as you're likely to run out of fuel when moving large distances between planets. Which also means you're probably going to run into a few pirates and oh god now you're dead and you've lost everything aaaargh

4) Space stations / buildings / whatever now have more alien frog things in them, which is cool.

5) I've had a brief dabble with base building in Creative mode (my main character on Survival is spending their days living in a cave eating moss off the floor and the occasional pink bug) and it seems to work well - there's a lot of categories, a lot of options and a fair amount of customisation. Seems like a mashup between Fallout 4 and Subnautica, which is fine by me. I haven't touched the Freighter stuff yet but it all looks good so far, and being able to hire alien frog things and tie upgrades to said frogs can only help.

6) The animals look a little bit less like "here's what happens when you glue ten random body parts together".

7) Minerals and resources in the game world look more distinct now, and act a *tiny* bit more like how you'd expect them to in sort-of-but-not-quite real life. Terrain generation seems to have become a touch more adventurous, too.

8) I was expecting (hoping) that the base would, at best, be a huge ship so it can go with you - no point having a game about exploration and moving forward if you immediately go and live on a dustbowl. They exceeded expectations by having both land and space bases and tying them together with teleporters so it doesn't matter what part of the Galaxy you're in. This is awesome.

And hey, if you WANT to just pitch sticks on a dustbowl, you can do that too. Don't tell us what to do, maaaaan.

All in all, I'd give this 8 lovely man beards out of 10.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Not the ending I was looking for...

I recently picked up the doctor who graphic novel humble bundle forgot to post this blog an absolute age ago, and was particularly looking forward to "The girl who loved doctor who". The short version of the story is the doctor of the comics crosses over into our universe and is mistaken for Matt Smith,  goes to a convention and spends most of his time with a ten year old called Emma.

It comes out in the wash that she's being bullied by a rather large douchecanoe, and of course we're expecting to see him get his just desserts at the end. Imagine my surprise when - spoilers - the "solution" to this problem is that Emma lures him to a nearby house and has him punch her in the face really, really hard. The idea is that the school head lives there, sees this take place and kicks him out of school.

In practice, we see a really rather shocking panel of this girl getting a right old fist in the face which is totally at odds with the whimsy of the previous 30 something pages of comic, and a headmistress telling this guy he's on the "verge" of being suspended.

The verge. So he could in theory get away with it and stuff her head down the toilet on Monday. Maybe it's just me but I think I'd have preferred to see the TARDIS land on him or something.

What is this resolution telling us? That the doctor who inspired way is to roll over and allow the antagonist to strike the first blow but it's okay really because you scored a (worthless) moral victory?

The last panel is Emma trying to smile with an "I won" expression, except that's hard to do with one eye punched in. Am I to think that if the doctor in this comic had witnessed this take place he'd be all "Yeah that was a great plan, well done?"

Of course he wouldn't.

Great story with clever ideas, but a sour ending which suggests the only way a small ten year old girl can triumph over a large and thuggish brute is to take one for the team.

No thanks.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

20 years of tinnitus

I realised today that it's 20 years since my tinnitus first kicked in. 20 years is a long time to put up with anything, and tinnitus is definitely at the higher end of the "what a pain in the arse" scale. What follows is a ramble about how much pain my arse is in. Uh, or something.

Hi, have some tinnitus. No backsies

[20 years ago title card, set to royalty free MIDI music because I'm cheap]

I was going about my business when I first noticed a slight hissing in one of my ears. I didn't listen to loud music; I didn't walk around with headphones jammed on my head. Oh, that's odd, I thought to myself and decided to ignore it as it'd be gone by tomorrow.

Except it wasn't gone, not the day after or the week, or indeed month / year / decade after it either.

The first time I really felt the burn from my newfound companion, tinnitus - some six months after it became clear that it wasn't going away but was "sort of" okay to deal with so eh whatever - was my first venture into a rave club. We're talking mid 90s here, so you're pretty much talking 50ft high bass monster speakers and glow sticks and shit. A fine time was had by all, apart from the part where I woke up the next morning and the vaguely annoying faint hiss had turned into A MASSIVE FUCKING WALL OF SCREECHING HELL WRAPPED AROUND MY HEAD IN BARBED WIRE.

Imagine 10 headphones strapped to your skull, turned up to max volume, and all of them playing the shrieks from C64 / Spectrum loading screens simultaneously. I literally (as in, literally, and not metaphorically) couldn't hear anything outside of the noise, which was slightly terrifying if I'm being honest. You could have jammed your mouth to my ear and screamed at the top of your lungs and I still wouldn't have heard it. It stayed like that for something close to 2 solid days, and I never went to a bass-filled rave again after that.

Meanwhile, the tinnitus settled into a familiar swoosh / hiss / occasional irritating beeping that sounded like someone tapping out Morse code. At any given time, I'd be stuck with 5 to 8 different noises, all at once, permanently, from morning to night. More often than not, it'd be just churning away at a low level in the background but occasionally it'd just ramp right up and stay that way for a few hours. to add to the fun, every now and again a randomly selected ear would pop and go very distant, like you'd been underwater.

So, er, yeah. Great?

Hospital fun

I ended up going to hospital and having brain scans, to be on the safe side. Tinnitus wasn't understood very well at the time, and it was suggested I might have otosclerosis. The doctors claimed that the earbones would fuse together and I'd go stone-cold deaf, yet still continue to hear the tinnitus.

I'm pretty sure you can't hear tinnitus while deaf, but as a young man that was a particularly worrying thing to have suggested to you.

They also gave me a special hearing test, and somehow I scored the absolute highest grade achievable despite having 24/7 surround sound garbage doing its best to drown everything out.

As you might expect, they didn't find a thing and it was pretty much a case of "so you're stuck with years of bullshit. Have fun!"

Downsides of Tinnitus

Well, it's not like there's any benefits but whatever. There is, of course, the obvious inability to hear things properly and a slight tendency to ask people to repeat things. outside of that, though, are the primary tinnitus screw ups:

1) My tinnitus causes peculiar reactions to sound, in that it responds and reacts to certain noises, actually distorting them and causing physical pain along the way.

High notes from a piano or violin section, loudspeaker announcements, screaming children, tinny-sounding televisions, loud engine noises and more besides all do it. Imagine a broken electric keyboard whose higher notes have a fault which causes the sound to suddenly snap and raise to the pitch of a boiling, shrieking kettle - that's sort of what it sounds like.

Of course, if you want to live the real world version of a television channel beeping out swearwords constantly then you may find this to be highly entertaining. The novelty has worn off for me, if I'm being honest.

2) Aeroplane travel is hellish - specifically take off and descent - and I'm one of those people who grope for earplugs the moment I'm seated. I may have stolen yours. I'm sorry.

3) Fatigue is a permanent risk / feature of tinnitus. Most people's response to a pile of noises rattling around their ears 24/7 is to ignore it, or at least tune it out as best they can.

This is actually quite a task.

White noise generators / radios in the background never really worked for me, so the only hill I had left to die on was "blank it out".  There is a certain way of drowning out the noise, but sadly you're always aware that you're dedicating a few % of your overall batteries, constantly, behind the scenes, while buying your food / playing your game / going to the beach / sitting in bed reading / pretty much everything else. You quickly learn to dread the horror of a "nice quiet room" because it most certainly isn't.

Eventually it slowly dripfeeds into the land of "taking its toll", in barely imperceptible ways you can't quite attribute. You get irritable, you lose your appetite, lethargy becomes a way of life and eventually you just say ah, fuck it, and open the eardrum floodgates because listening to 6 different shitty noises simultaneously is better than fighting a permanent battery drain that you'll simply never win.

Then you're stuck observing your wacky collection of unwanted audio intrusions for a few days till you're mentally ready to put them back in their box. I see if I have any new arrivals, or if the old favourites have detuned themselves from my eardrums, or if that one crazy beeping chiptune thing which I'm fairly certain is signals from an invading alien fleet has made a comeback.

I haven't resorted to giving them names, so that's a bonus.

4) The maddeningly indescribable nature of your own personal tinnitus is probably the worst part. empathy is tricky when you can never...quite....describe the sounds you can hear accurately to other people. everyone's tinnitus is different; everybody has a key set of sounds buried in the herd that aggravate them the most.

The simple frustration of never being able to accurately describe your experience to others, no matter how much effort you put in, is hugely annoying. It starts to feel like you're the village idiot telling people about your latest alien abduction along with the six anal probes, and of course it totally happened, honest.

The bulk of tinnitus cases tend to be one fairly common sound - everyone can imagine a hiss, or a whistle. but what happens when your tinnitus is plural and not singular? how do you accurately portray the hell of it? everything I can try to summon, from 8 bit computer loading screens, to freaky alien signals, falls painfully short of the reality.

People can be driven to suicide by the sheer relentlessness of it all, and "I have tinnitus and want to die" is not as uncommon a refrain as you might imagine. Here's a selection of examples of the kind of tinnitus you may end up with:

 

Mine is similar to most of those, but still not quite there.

If you're reading this and don't have it, then this is a good thing. Don't tempt fate by jamming headphones over your ears and cranking them up to the max.

Here and now

My current bugbear is what my tinnitus has currently settled into. The multiple noise racket has been replaced by one insistent, pulsating high pitched hiss. It doesn't stop, is incredibly draining to "tune out" and possesses an enormously annoying feature.

You know when you put a shell to your ear and can hear the combined pulse of the world around you, almost like blood pumping around your system?

That.

It's a non stop, pulsing hiss-train.

I'm actually having to devote time and energy to tune out what sounds like a high volume artist's rendition of the world's worst caffeine high. It even increases in volume should I turn my head to one side, immediately decreasing when I look straight ahead.

Think how many times you turn your head even slightly throughout the day. Protip: it's a lot, unless you're in a neckbrace. As you can imagine, this is not an optimal experience. If you want to sort of simulate it, rapidly wave your hand next to your ear. The sound of the air snapping past is roughly like what the hissing pitch change resembles.

So, you know - whoops?

There's a surprising amount of research around tinnitus these days, but I'm not going to link to any of it as I'm still getting a feel for what's legit and what's the equivalent of Internet purchased viagra which makes your donger turn blue and fall off. With any luck, I won't have to raise a glass to another 20 years of the biggest pain in the arse I can think of, besides an actual pain in the arse.

Number of times I've written "arse" in this blog: four.

Tinnitus: a whole load of arse.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Behold, a movie unicorn

Unlike half the twenty somethings screaming about how the new Ghostbusters movie "ruins their childhood" despite not actually being around at the time the original film was showing, I can actually lay claim to being someone who went to see it first time around. Additionally, I was a child at the time and - shocker - it was the first movie I was taken to the cinema to see.

I still have hugely fond memories of the trip to and from the cinema, the queue around the block, the weird black and white printed booklet sized "magazine" which was a small insert about the film and pages of local shop advertisements.

The actual movie, I don't remember so much - but the moment the Librarian did her thing is deeply etched into my brain and will probably never leave. Unrelated side note, but the only other film I went to see which had the same level of festival around it on a personal level was Batman 89, except stretched over an entire Summer.

Anyway, chalk me up as another kid who had all the Ghostbuster toys, made a Proton pack out of a cereal box, some string and toilet rolls before eventually upgrading to the foam pop gun. The Real Ghostbusters was great; turning it into "Slimer and Friends" (or whatever it was that they did) was not.

I was quite excited to see the new trailer, but then I saw it and...uh...well. Are those jokes the things to sell it? They're a bit flat, aren't they? It's the usual mishmash joke pot pourri of fart gags, stop the music and say random stuff jokes, and "it went in every crack..."

The international trailer was even worse, and introduced all new dumb stuff into the mix:

1) Did script writers really sit down, write the "second person stage dives, isn't caught" and scream "YES! WE HAVE COMEDY GOLD HERE"?

I mean, come on...that's been done to death and back. It's the very first go-to thing you'd have in this situation. I'd be more surprised and / or laugh if she'd been caught.

2) The closing "gag" with the boob swinging MS Paint drawing? Yeah uh no. Whatever good will they managed to dredge up with the second trailer just died a death right then and there.

It's hard to judge a film on a two minute trailer, but then that's what trailers are there for. If you're going to show me your movie trailer, then it's up to you to make it as good as it can be. For now, this doesn't look very good. But hey, that's fine - contrary to popular belief, your prized Ghostbusters DVDs won't set themselves on fire should the new film tank.

At some point, it's best to say "This isn't for me and I'm not the target audience" and move on.



Saturday, March 05, 2016

Fallout 4 Modding, Part 1: An Introduction

It's an incredible thing to strip out all the mods from Fallout 4 and have a pop at the vanilla version. The settlement stuff feels empty, deep armour customisation choices have gone out the window and those poor old Minutemen go back to being...uh...really good at hammering the same spot of wall for six hours at a time.

There's no contest as to which version of FO4 wins, and modding has never been so fun - or so complicated.

See, the settlement additions to the game has pretty much turned things into House Builder 2016 (or is it Hobo Simulator 2016? I forget) and brought with it a number of very specific modding complications.

As a result, it's easier than ever to absolutely shatter your game and saves into a thousand non-functional pieces. I've tallied up a good 600 or so hours in the wastes of Boston, and a fair chunk of that has been rolling around in a pile of the very best mods FO4 has to offer. I'm here to guide you through the perils of a fully modded up game. I'm grouping mods by theme, so there'll likely be about 3 or 4 of these posts. But first:

Modding Fallout 4: The basics

Let's get this out of the way right now: FO4 doesn't officially "support" mods yet. We're still waiting on the release of the GECK tool, which is a magical mod creation kit. Anything and everything available up to now is kinda being made Gonzo style, with a variety of tools and methods which range from "won't break anything" to "my laptop is on fire". In a lot of cases, some popular mods are abandoned and then break other newer mods. Or something is coded in a way that slowly grinds everything to a halt over time, and by then it's too late - wave goodbye to those saves.

On your own head be it, effectively. And that's before we get to the settlement "problem", handily covered in a section called...

The Settlement Problem

People love settlement building. I mean, they love the shit out of it. It's a videogame black hole, where six hours mutates into "putting a table in that corner over there".

Unfortunately, there just isn't enough of it. The default build options are extremely sparse, and vaguely terrible. No internal doorways? Mission specific power requirements that require you to place numerous large (and incredibly noisy) low power emitting generators all over the place? No half piece walls or floor bases? No windows? Ladder pieces which half the time snap the wrong way round? Shelves and units but no way to place objects on them (small items spawn in the game world before large ones, which is why all your carefully placed bottles end up in the floor or up a tree)? A World where bed sheets don't seem to exist anymore?

Ugh.

One of the first things modders did was add a metric ton of additional items into the settlement building, along with extra categories. Alongside freeing up things already in the game world, they started to build their own creations. Eventually, people noticed that items / categories started to go missing or things would get mixed up.

The reason is that Bethesda put a cap in there related to assigned keywords tied to various objects. The result is that once you go past the cap, everything goes nipples skyward. The more custom categories that get lobbed in, the more likely things will break.

The solution was to try and come up with a unified framework between totally random modders and their creations which all share the same sets of keywords to reduce the chances of hitting the cap. There's currently a framework for both walls / floors / items (settlement keywords) and clothing / crafting (AWKCR). Even while using both, you may well still go past the limit. It only takes one mod to screw everything up.

The current situation is this:

1) You have non-SK and AWKCR mods installed. These will likely put you past the limit. Sometimes the authors don't want to design their mods to use them because "when the GECK comes out, it might all change again or we might be able to remove the limit and then we have to redo from the ground up". Some just don't care. Others don't know anything about SK / AWKCR.

2) You have dedicated SK and AWKCR mods installed. These could - again - potentially all screw up once the GECK hits and we suddenly find the cap can be dodged, leading to mods being reworked or simply abandoned because its too much work to jump on the latest modding method.

3) You also have modders who offer both SK / AWKCR and *non* SK / AWKCR versions of their mods, depending on personal preference.

As a result, at any given time your mod load order could contain nothing but SK / AWKCR or a mixture of those and non SK / AWKCR mods. And then consider one mod gets updated one day and suddenly breaks another one, or you get additions to a mod you have but those additions push you past the keyword limit, so then you have to remove something, or roll back to an earlier version, but then you updated the OTHER stuff already, so now one of THOSE breaks, so you're playing whack a mole with 40 different mods - all of which may have multiple version updates and may or may not be SK / non SK depending on what you rolled a dice for initially.

My own mod list includes about 40+ at last count, and is a bastard child combination of SK / AWKCR, "plain" mods, and intentionally older versions of mods which have since had things added to them and would break the keyword limit were I to update them.

Keep in mind that all of this is to be able to place some tin cans on a wall or whatever.

Steam Workshop or Nexus?

Well, this one is easy given there are no Fallout 4 mods on Steam yet. Something to keep in mind: as mods update automatically on the Workshop, and given the insane juggling act required to keep a modded FO4 in check, automatic updates with no way to roll back will likely cause chaos. If a modder decides to pull their wall building mod from the Workshop, you'll load up your game to find half your walls and floors missing with no way to get them back.

With the Nexus, you can keep all mod versions in order and easily roll back. You also install the mods with a thing called Nexus Mod Manager, and it couldn't be easier.

One thing to note: you'll need to edit the Fallout INI file to make mods work, and sometimes it reverts back to its original state. If all your mods suddenly stop working, check the INI file and also check NMM as sometimes mods deselect themselves from the load list. When this happens, you just have to tick the boxes and off you go.

Editing the INI File

This bit is super easy. Go to Documents/mygames/fallout4

and open up the INI in Notepad. Look for the word Archive, then insert the below "bInvalidateOlderFiles=1" line and also make sure the line under THAT is exactly as written (ie if there's anything after the "=" in "sResourceDataDirsFinal", remove it):


Depending on the age of the mod you want to use, you may find them advising to use another method. Don't - that method tends to slow the game down. The above technique is the best one for now, but may change again at some point in the future.

Mod Load Order

Ah, the load order. You'll hear no end of horror stories about the load order, which is quite literally the order in which mods load themselves into the game. Depending on the way you order them, some mods won't work, or fail to load pieces in properly, or break another mod, and so on. You may read about saves becoming corrupted as a result of a borked load order; while this may happen to some people, the worst I've experienced is that a specific mod will just fail to load into the game.

YMMV but corrupted saves tend to come about as a result of a severely broken mod doing things it shouldn't be to the game code, rather than order you place them in. There are theories and suggested load orders - and even programs which can sort it for you (bonus spreadsheet link) - but there's always going to be that one mod which nobody can give you an answer for. In those cases, you just have to wing it.

Game updates: What just exploded

When the game updates, you may find mods suddenly don't work, or everything has keeled over in general depending on what you had installed. Bethesda release playable Betas of upcoming patches before releasing them into the wild, so you'll generally know if your favourite mod is going to explode well in advance. Authors tend to fix things to compensate, but you may want to play the game in offline mode for a few days before and after the patch goes live in the retail version. This would also apply as and when the DLC packs start to drop.

I guarantee some of the settlement stuff is going to explode like the Death Star.

And finally...

I can't stress this enough: make backups of saves prior to adding mods, especially when you dump them into the game in batches. If something goes bang, uninstall and roll back. Some mods may have specific steps to follow should you want to remove them from the game: FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS.

Well, there's your potted introduction to the world of Fallout 4 modding.

The next post will be about Settlement additions, and the best mods to grab. I should say that everything I'm going to recommend installing - I use. And all of the mods work with one another - no "I saw this on a website somewhere - why no, I haven't tried it and can't possibly imagine why your game is broken" here.

That's it for now. Go plant some mutfruit and I'll be back sometime soon.