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Irrelevant Measures

The people of the United Kingdom participated in a political game last week when they went to the polls. Of I were to characterize it as a contest between the party leaders for the title of prime minister, the pedantic purists would start yelling because that’s not how it works in the Westminster system where members are elected locally to represent their constituents. They’re not wrong about the process, but I can’t imagine that many international observers care deeply about which particular individual represents Ipswich or who represents East Dunbartonshire. The contest that I watched with interest was the one that played out indirectly in hundreds of constituencies. There are many traditions about how the “confidence of the house” is established but when it comes down to who gets to wear the biggest title, the measure that matters is which parties won how many seats.

Anyway, Corbyn’s Labour party had a much better showing than expected, but they lost. They significantly increased their seat count and proportion of the vote, which are good measures of how well the party is doing in the long term. These are, however, irrelevant measures of success in the electoral game. The ability of Labour to name a prime minister or to pass their legislative agenda isn’t much stronger now than when the Conservative party held a majority. These should be simple matter-of-fact statements, yet if you take Corbyn at his word that he can still be prime minister you’d think the result was something completely different than what it was.

So it’s clear that Labour is on an upswing and Corbyn’s critics within his own party have to eat a little bit of humble pie. That doesn’t mean he won. He’s in a good position to win the next round, but he’s most certainly not going to hold the title prime minister in a matter of days or weeks. Part of the problem is that there is no clear coalition to take down the Conservatives. It would be entirely reasonable to think that Corbyn could lead a coalition if Labour plus Liberal Democrats plus some smaller parties with similar agendas (Greens, perhaps) could form a majority. But they can’t.

The house doesn’t have confidence in Corbyn… at least not yet.

To form a majority Labour will need every other party in the house to help topple the Tories. Not just every major party, every party down to the smallest. This reminds me of Canada in 2008, when our Conservative party was in a similar situation (plurality of seats but no majority) but was able to persist because the Liberals and New Democrats didn’t have a majority by themselves. They also needed the support of a regional ethnic nationalist party, the Bloc Quebecois, whose agenda wasn’t really compatible with the mainstream parties. They could agree that they didn’t like Stephen Harper, but that was about it. Then, too, we had partisans boasting about the Conservatives having “lost the popular vote” but it would be another seven years of Conservative government before a different party was able to win by the measure that counts: number of seats in parliament and confidence of the house. Perhaps Corbyn is in a better position today than Dion was in 2008, but he still has to grapple with the fact that his party needs the Democratic Unionist Party to topple the Conservatives. Based on what I have read about this party so far, “willing to go to an election at this time” appears to be the only possible common ground that a party of social democrats could have with right-wing ethnic nationalists. If I was a Labour guy, the thing I would want the most right now is to give a nod to last week’s result but to spend more time building than boasting, focusing on winning the next contest rather than dwelling on the numbers that I like the best.

Likewise, if I was American, I would want to cut it out with the Corbyn shows that Bernie would have won nonsense. Clinton came much, much closer to winning the top title than Corbyn did. If she had won, she would still be at the mercy of the house and the senate. Or, if the Democrats had won congress but lost the presidency, then Trump may have been president only for a “matter of days.” Again, the relevant measures have nothing to do with “popular vote” or numbers of marchers or tweet counts. These may be somehow useful data, but the real contests will be the midterm elections and 2020. If you are an American who has a problem with the current administration, it’s time to organize rather than time to gripe. Regardless of whether or not Bernie could have won, it’s now up to you to find someone who can and will win.

So, please: let’s not remain obsessed with irrelevant measures because they suggest that a loss for the team we cheered/played for wasn’t actually a loss. Get the results that count, then build a consensus for changing the rules. Let’s support adopting some form of proportional representation or abolishing the electoral college or making whatever other change in our respective countries that makes electoral contests better and more fair. But that requires a mandate, and to build that, your party needs seats more than it needs tweets.

Full Steam Ahead: Assassin’s Creed II

Time Logged before Full Steam Ahead: 48 Hours

Assassin’s Creed 2 is one of only fourteen games in my Steam library that I’ve favourited. As you can see from the amount of time I’ve logged before Full Steam Ahead, I played the heck out of this game. However, the last time I played it was back in 2011. How will it feel to return feel after over five years away?

Pictured: Florence, Italy

Life Isn’t Monopoly

It’s been almost a year since I wrote Hell, Titles, and Houses in July 2016. In this amount of time things have gone from crazy to ludicrous and now, finally, to precarious. I’ve been a fan of Garth Turner’s blog The Greater Fool for a while now, much longer than it has been fashionable to question the sustainability of an economy based on perpetually increasing house prices. Reading that blog every day might be a weird thing to be passionate about, but it helped me build confidence in the belief that not being in a position to buy a house doesn’t make me a loser or a victim. I had to change my beliefs. I knew the “responsible adult” thing to do was to get an education and a good job, pay back debt as fast as possible, then make the most important purchase of my life. But after putting in the work to get the education, the job, and slay the debt I came to realize that I had been doing the right things for the wrong reasons. I was being a responsible adult because I saw a game with winners and losers, and I intended to be a winner: the guy who owns a modest-but-nice house and therefore never has to suffer the indignities of pet restrictions and rent increases. I was to become wealthy over many years by virtue of owning, a sort of petit-bourgeois privilege afforded to me on account of being smarter and more clever than my less responsible peers (aka the losers).

Of course, a number of things are wrong with that way of thinking. It was based on erroneous assumptions about economics, as the month of May 2017 has shown us that things are starting to turn sour for everyone who has gone all-in on real estate in Canada’s hottest markets. But even if it remains the case that buying a house at any cost is a sure way to win, I now have to admit that it would be morally repugnant to “win” that way. Think of the board game that every self-respecting board game geek loves to scoff at: Monopoly. That’s the game where you throw dice and compete to see who can extract the most wealth just by being lucky to land on the right places at the right time but passing your combination of malice and good luck off as big league business savvy.

Nobody admits to liking Monopoly, yet it’s ubiquitous and continues to sell copies without an end in sight. It’s basically the Nickelback of board games.

The object of the game is to bankrupt the other players through charging ever-increasing rents. There are a lot of things that make this game less fun, and one of them includes keeping other players in play. To properly play the game, it’s not enough to “add value” to the board by assembling your sets and building houses. You have to kick the ladder out from underneath you if you want to score a timely victory. This is all fine at the board game table; nothing is wrong with some make-believe wheeling and dealing among friends and family. But could you really feel good about yourself if, in real life, you aspired to play like a Monopoly player, whether by swift domination or by squeezing your opponents slowly by keeping them in the game just so you can get more from them later? I wouldn’t think so. I would give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you don’t wish that reality was more similar to Monopoly than it is. If managing to buy real estate meant winning, and being among those who never caught the right break meant destitution, that’s not a game I would want to win.

Fortunately, the economic game in the real world doesn’t work like that. I am writing about this topic now because the markets in Vancouver and Toronto are faltering. May 2017 looks like the zenith of the madness that inspired people to blame foreigners for domestic problems in Vancouver, push and shove each other to scramble into an open house guarded by a police officer in Greater Toronto, and for people my age to feel like this music video is the most relatable thing we have heard in a long time. It is a cultural sickness we have in Canada that enables us to rationalize that behaviour in the face of a reality that is quite unlike Monopoly. It makes me hope that Garth Turner’s daily posts in this past month are accurately chronicling the unravelling of the economic assumptions that fuel the madness of this Monopoly mindset.

It wasn’t too long ago that conventional wisdom held that rants such as this one were pointless and esoteric. But nowadays, Canadian politicians (especially in BC and Ontario) seeking to maintain their positions in their own political game are scrambling to be seen as “doing something” to cool the market. Of course, I doubt that they want to succeed: almost 70% of Canadians own homes now. Successfully bringing prices back in line with incomes would be logical, fair, and absolute political suicide due to the number of people who have a lot to lose if the measures actually work. I don’t know what the politically tenable solution to our national housing crisis is. All I can do is take care of my own home, stay grounded, and hope that the storm of fear and greed eventually subsides and people start seeing houses as places to live again rather than get rich quick schemes. Life isn’t Monopoly.

Full Steam Ahead: Total War – Shogun 2

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: 19 Hours

My first introduction to the Total War series was Medieval 2, purchased during a summer in Calgary where my only activities were training for speed-skating, attending an optional religious studies course at university, and playing video games. The game’s blend of large-scale turn-based strategy (fulfilling diplomatic duties, strengthening my monarchical line, angering the pope) and intense bursts of high detail real-time strategy (flanking maneuvres, ambushes from the forest, angering the pope) left an impression on me that few game series have since matched. I’ve often heard people refer to the one-more-turn effect of some games like the Civilization series, or XCOM. Total War is the series that introduced me to this phenomenon. I guess I’m not terribly surprised that Total War – Shogun 2 is in my library.

I can’t remember why or when I purchased this game. Given how many hours I spent perfecting the Holy Roman Empire, being betrayed by the Franks, or attempting to keep Iberia from falling into the hands of Moors, I am surprised I didn’t log more time in this game before Full Steam Ahead. I’m especially surprised when I consider my interest in the Sengoku Jidai (warring states period) of Japan’s history. Why’d I stop playing? What have I learned from years of absence? Will these question actually be answered, or are they purely rhetorical? Oh well, this train-wreck has to start rolling somewhere.

Please don’t betray me.

Full Steam Ahead – Introduction

We used to play games we never pay for. Now we pay for games we never play. This is how Steam has changed PC gaming.

I have, at last count, 131 games in my Steam library. This represents nearly a decade of money spent on things I cannot physically hold and hundreds of hours logged in worlds that do not exist outside of virtual space. I’ve often heard friends talk of their to-read or to-watch lists. Those of us who have Steam sometimes face the issue of an ever-increasing to-play list. Like the impulse CD bought years ago at a gas station, or the book from an old rummage sale, heading unloved from one person’s shelf to mine, my Steam library is filled with games I don’t play. In fact, there are some games I purchased, or received as a gift, and have never played; there are some I never even bothered to download.

In and of itself, that’s a fairly depressing statement. Games represent the artistic and technical collaborations of large groups of people, sometimes hundreds of people, but they have become backlog on my computer. It is, to be fair,  the right of every customer to choose what they do with something once it has been purchased, but I can’t help but be a little disappointed with myself. I do not like to be disappointed with myself. To that end, I’m going to be changing the way I play games on Steam for a bit:

  • As of May 1, 2017, I am buying no new games on Steam, except possibly as gifts for other people.
  • I have taken the 131 games in my library and randomized them with https://www.random.org/lists/
  • I will play them in the order presented on that randomized list, writing down my observations and thoughts as I go.
  • Once the list has been completed, I can continue to use Steam normally, if I choose to do so.

This is less of an exercise in reviewing old games and more and examination of myself and the feelings these games generate within me.This series of posts allows me to explore the depths of my backlog, discovering, or rediscovering, games I love, games I once loved, games I played, but soon discarded, and games I can’t even recall. If it helps, imagine me dressed like Indiana Jones, spelunking in some long-forgotten temple that looks like the Steam library interface (okay, even if you don’t think of me that way, I’m going to think of me that way)

If people want, I’ll post the list of games so they can know what to expect. Also, before I go any further, I have to express my gratitude; a great big thank you to Almost Infinite for hosting these posts, and to the almost infinitely pleasant and thoughtful Graham MacFarlane for being interested in this project.

Here’s hoping some of you find this interesting as well. So, without any further delay, Full Steam Ahead!

The High Cost of A Free Action

A few weeks ago I was explaining the concept of The McLauglin Group to someone who was not familiar. At its best, it was a roundtable discussion where several points of view were heard. At its worst, it was five pundits incoherently shouting over each other on television. It has always reminded me of how conversations about current events went in my family growing up, but now that I think about it, the spectacle of five well-known characters talking in five different directions over top of each other all at once reminds me of what happens when dialog scenes in D&D or WoD break down. Of course, in some tabletop games such as the session of Great Ork Gods that I played last night, dialog can look a little more like this than a raucous debate. But as a DM I have often struggled with the fact that most groups don’t get together and appoint a captain of the party with whom a prospective employer/quest-giver can easily converse with. Five different voices, five different agendas, five different questions.

The problem, I think, is that “talking is a free action” has become a slogan which is used to wring out more opportunities for a player (through their character) to do something impressive, outside of the action economy. In “combat” type situations, there are usually very specific rules on what a character can do as an action, and how many of those they can take before it is the next player’s turn. The rules of D&D make it clear that you don’t have to wait an entire round before shouting “HEY!” at one of your party members. I don’t think that it was ever intended to support off-turn monologues, but that’s sometimes what it mutates into at the expense of the flow of the game. It’s easy as a DM to make actions in a puzzle-solving or trap-defusing situation flow in an “initiative” order complete with turns and action economy even if it’s not exactly a fight. I find it difficult to rein in some of these things without seeming like I am coming down too hard on someone’s attempt at role-playing. I am usually thrilled when my players try to do things in-character rather than a metagame-rich conversation with me out of character. But right now? Really?

This does not seem like the right solution to the problem.

As far as solutions, I don’t think a chess clock or an egg timer or a conch for each player’s speaking turn would be most effective. Dialog in dramatic situations flows more freely than it does in a stilted structured debate format. What I am going to try to do is have more courage and more faith in my player groups: if I, as the NPC they are dealing with, demand to have a single point-person on a regular basis I am going to try trusting the party to appoint one without it becoming a problem. I fear that having a party leader would legitimize the behaviour of steamrolling over anyone who isn’t the loudest and most assertive player, but maybe that’s something I can trust the group to work out themselves. I am going to try and remind myself that it is legitimate for an NPC to pound the table (and maybe drive a dagger into it if it’s a fantasy setting) and demand that the in-fighting stop or tell everyone (in-character) to shut up and take turns speaking. And as for those timing devices, I might pull one of those out if there are other events going on (such as a bomb in the room or guards closing in) and subject the entire party to it at once: it’s all well and fine to debate how to disarm the ship’s self-destruct sequence, but they only have five real minutes to make it happen. Hopefully these two strategies will be effective when conversations derail the game, and I will certainly be on the lookout for more.


Today, before I say bye-bye,  I am proud to announce a new series of posts on Almost InfiniteFull Steam Ahead will be written by my good friend Alastair who has decided to share the story of his adventures in exploring the backlog of his Steam collection. Like my writing about video games, he will be reviewing the experience of the gameplay rather comparing each game to its peers. I look forward to having more than one author publishing on this site.

Priests and Pantheons

In Myth and Place I wrote about the use of myth to give a sense of where a game takes place. For escapist role-playing games it is important that the setting is made distinct from mundane places. Whether it is a campy romp through space, a heroic tale of sword and sorcery, or a Victorian horror thriller, myth is required to separate the in-game setting from the real-life context that it exists within. Often, but not necessarily, this is done through religious myth in particular.

Every Dungeons and Dragons game I have played in relies heavily on its pantheon. Whether it is an original concept created by the DM or the deities of Greyhawk detailed in the official resource books, the gods always seem to matter in D&D. This isn’t as much the case with other systems, such as most World of Darkness variants (except Scion where everyone is a demigod). But whenever religious myth matters at all in one of these fictional game settings, I find that it tends to serve very similar purposes to the mythology of real religions but with much different weightings and outcomes. And if the DM isn’t making religious myth enough of a big deal, sometimes the players will start to fill in the gaps.

In our real-life religions we tend to rely on the pedagogical and sociological functions of myth more heavily than the mystical and cosmological. In plain terms, most people don’t reach for their Bible or their Quran first when trying to explain the physical properties of matter. Many of us do, however, go straight to the stories within those books to define the right way to live, what is right and what is wrong, and what kind of values ought to be enshrined in the rules by which our societies operate. This is not to say that all of us have entirely abandoned the cosmological and mystical functions of our respective religious mythologies, but that we have a tendency to spend more time seeking answers about the human experience than about the concrete physical realities of the world.

Whether by design or emergent from play of the game, fictional gods can’t help but make themselves known.

In the realms of fantasy fiction, though, we lean much more heavily on religious myth to explain the exotic cosmology and the mystical aspect to make the setting feel different than the world we actually live in. We don’t seek answers to big life questions from our fantasy pantheons. We seek theatrical intervention, plot advancement, and a coherent explanation of the physical world the characters inhabit. Moral and ethical frameworks matter in interactive role playing games, but without a sustained focus in the roleplaying those big questions can easily take a back seat to looking into the settings religious mythology for how to do about smiting ghouls and skeletons with divine light or effectively leveraging the force or whatever it is the player characters are trying to accomplish at the time. Campbell’s four functions are still there, but the emphasis is different.

An interesting thing happened in the World of Darkness campaign I am a player in. The Asylum setting lends itself to stories with a Gothic fiction feel rather than those which prominently feature interventionist gods. Initially, the dominant religion in the setting was just there to make life feel complete; the first mention of it being when my character decided to make seasonally appropriate holiday decorations for her kids as something to do while waiting for other events to play out. Over the course of the campaign, religion has become a central focus and the mystical function has taken on a much bigger role than the sociological. This was not something that we were shepherded into. On the contrary, one of our players almost single-handedly dragged the religious myth of the settings from the margins into the spotlight. The character, in her self-appointed role of priestess in a tabletop system where spellcasting clerics aren’t actually a thing, picked up on religious myth and ran with it so far that it has become part of the canon. Now our characters look to their religious mythology for answers to physical phenomena. This is a fine example emergent gameplay at the RPG table, and I love it. And so, while a highly detailed and original pantheon may not be required for every interstellar mission or dungeon delve, this is not something we can afford to ignore in an open-ended campaign. God only knows what can happen when players engage with the religious mythologies of fictional universes.

One Year Old

The first post on this blog was published on the first Saturday of May 2016. That means this post is the fiftysecond weekly post, and therefore marks one full year for Almost Infinite.

The first thing I have learned about running a blog is that measuring your audience is an inexact science at best. I have lots of numbers. Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Jetpack (a WordPress plugin), WP Statistics (another WordPress plugin I had installed before discovering/needing Jetpack), and my web host all have their own measurements. I don’t have enough expertise to interpret all of these in context, but my intuition tells me that I am reaching more than nine people per week and fewer than one thousand. I know that the higher numbers represent both real person traffic and robots, while the lower numbers seem a little bit too low. The actual number of people reading this blog is therefore a known unknown.

The graph doesn’t tell us a lot of useful things about how many people actually read this blog. The spike in August came from a particularly inept attack that was easily foiled by existing security measures, which were soon improved upon.

But, as much as I admit this is an attempt at reading internet tea leaves, there are a few things that multiple sources of numbers agree on:

  1. The most popular single post so far is Alignments and Absolutes, which is odd because it’s one of my least favourite ones. It was based on a conversation that I enjoyed, and I felt like I had a reasonably good idea, but that it was still a draft that needed work. For some reason, though, I had already scheduled the post to publish on time. This would have been alright, except that I managed to somehow botch my password so much that I couldn’t log in to edit the post further. I was mortified when I saw that my draft had been published in the state it was in. It is still the most popular post of all time, though, so I suppose it’s not as bad as I thought it was.
  2. The series did alright. The Casual Alpha’s Guide to EVE Online was my first attempt to write a series of posts (more than two parts) on a single topic in gaming. I found that I drifted away from talking about the actual gameplay experience as I learned, but I think that’s fairly normal for most people who have some experience with that game. It does not take long to realize the insignificance of your first frigate exploding to bits. And from the writing perspective, I am glad I split it up the way I did, so as not to hit people with too much at once or bore my non-capsuleer audience to tears by focusing on nothing but EVE for a couple months rather than writing about it 1-2 times over the course of several months.
  3. The post that causes the most issues with measurement is the Election of 201X, my Undertale-themed coping mechanism following what happened in the Election of 2016. One of the reasons I built it the way I did is that I wanted to see if I could use a blog post as a way to direct people into a series of pages that aren’t linked to anywhere else on the website. This is an important thing to know how to do if I ever decide to try my hand at doing some interactive fiction stuff which requires getting people onto pages that are neither blog posts nor pages accessible from the navigation bar. The downside is that every one of the 33 pages counts as a separate hit, so every view of that complete sequence looks like way more traffic than it is.
  4. Talking about serious stuff does relatively well compared to other posts. Topics like the gunpowder treason and responding to racist violence seem like they’d be off-topic for a blog about games (in the usual sense of the word). These ones tend to get picked up by blogrolls like Seen and Heard in Edmonton more often than esoteric rambling about video games, which explains some of the additional traffic. I am going to take this as a sign that I can keep doing these posts every once in a while.
  5. The least popular posts aren’t the ones that go the most esoteric. Depending on which measure is used, it’s either A Tale of Three Castles or One More Turn. It seems to me that D&D and Civ would be staple topics for a game blog, but these early posts haven’t gained a lot of traction compared with others that have been mentioned more frequently in subsequent posts. I feel like I have written far less about tabletop, D&D in particular, than I had intended so far. There is definitely more to come here.

Nineteen likes on the Facebook page, thirty-eight followers on Twitter. Twelve comments, and two people who have signed up to receive posts by email. These are all more encouraging numbers than zero, but I’m still a long, long way from being internet famous. If you like what you have been seeing for the past year, please do engage in these channels and share/repost/retweet. It’s what convinces me that taking the time to write every week is worth the effort. External validation is not the be all and end all; it is true that showing up and putting something out there as promised counts for something even if nobody else reads it. However, I still like knowing that it is worth putting it on the internet. So see the comment section? I would love to hear what you think about the whole site in its entirety. Good, bad, what you like, what you want to see in the future. I want to hear about it and improve upon what I am doing.

CAGEO: And Now The Conclusion

Last time on The Casual Alpha’s Guide to EVE Online… and now the conclusion:

I can’t say I’ve done it all in EVE Online; very few people can say that. I can say that I have played enough to understand what the game is about even if I haven’t participated in every activity. I’ve learned things in the game, outside the game in the “meta” game of EVE Online, and in blogging about it. I am sure I want to do more series of posts, and sure that I will never again use acronyms in the post titles to identify which series the post belongs to. I am sure that EVE Online is a special game, but still not sure I am buying a subscription in the next little while as I finally hit the ceiling in terms of what in-game skills an alpha clone can train. And, should I decide to go in on a subscription, what does Aleff Knoll’s future career hold? I don’t know.

What I do know is that there is a lot one can learn about this game. A lot of what can be learned is potentially useful for people interested in game theory and philosophy. And it can be really hard to learn these things without giving it a shot yourself. It is my hope that this series has given enough of a peek into the underlying game for those who will never actually play it to glean some of what I have learned and to appreciate the efforts of others who try to explain the game from a point of view outside of the EVE community and its jargon. Based on my experience with the game, I have come up with the following diagram to explain how I understand it to work:

EVE Online as defined by four phases in a cycle.

I have found that while sources such as Uniwiki are great for new players, it is nearly impossible to open that up as non-playing observer and still make sense of it. Rather than boring my non-capsuleer audience to death with jargon-heavy descriptions of in-game activities, I have decided to describe it as something similar to a Euro-style board game. There is a generative phase, which provides resources. This is like rolling the die in Settlers of Catan and collecting the appropriate resources. Or the “draw phase” in deck building games. This is followed by a phase where one plans and assigns resources to different priorities, like in 7 Wonders when you commit the card from your hand that you are going to play. Then, lastly, there is a degenerative phase: with your resources collected, arranged, and deployed it is now time to resolve strategic conflicts. Sometimes there is an element of luck, but typically it follows how well you have done in the previous stages. In some games, dice are rolled while in others the outcome is a matter of counting.

To elaborate further on my diagram:

The cycle begins with account registration and (optionally) purchase of subscription time. Any ISK-value that gets paid to NPCs or vapourized in PvP combat is, essentially, the house’s winnings. Buying subscription time can be skipped if you are really good at producing and planning and marketing as you can buy subscription time in-game with ISK. Sounds neat, until you consider how long you would have to grind to make what is, essentially, less than two dozen US dollars. If you can make billions of ISK doing something you enjoy in an amount of time that fits your lifestyle, congratulations: you play for free. If not, you are relegated to free-to-play status or have to pay. It’s a neat system because most games are either pay-to-play or will try to microtransaction you to death. The interesting thing is that for every player who pays real money to sell play time for ISK, there is always another player trading in their ISK for free play time. Or, you have the option of paying for entertainment like a normal person. The fact that the market for PLEX (the in-game item that represents subscription time) is player-driven is one of the things that makes this game special.

 

Generative activities such as all varieties of mining, running missions for NPC agents, scanning down and unlocking exploration sites. This can be skipped if you are very good at planning and marketing, good at consuming, or willing to pay up in real money for subscription time (which can be sold to other players). Big time traders and PvP pilots don’t build all their own ships and components when loot and salvage either provide for the needs or can be sold to buy stuff from players who actually like mining and/or manufacturing stuff. As I noted in Pirates, Carebears, and Emergent Gameplay the desire to do things other than shoot at other players is not at all risk free, and is in fact more fun and interesting because there is risk involved. If the mining experience was risk free, then it would be dominated either by illegal bots or players who can replicate the behaviour of bots (what CODE. calls bot-aspirant). Regardless of your opinion on how those guys play the game, it is clear that risk of some kind is the only thing that makes casual ratting and mining profitable; lest we all be undercut by an inhuman level of grinding. As a producer, your game is risk vs. reward.

 

Despite the fact this has the appearance of combat, fighting against computer-controlled pirates (called “ratting” in EVE jargon) is actually an activity that consumes player time and generates ISK from the system.

 

This is where you buy things, sell things, and put the modular pieces of ships together. This is also where you would find a fleet to join in order to further your goals, whether mining asteroids or shooting other players. A little bit of this is inevitable. Minimum time can be spent on this if one has good friends and/or cares little for maximizing their ISK/hour profit and just wants to mine rocks with lasers or build stuff or blow up other ships. Focusing on this is where you find the “spreadsheets in space” aspect of the game; some people like that and can turn a profit on it. I would put permissible scams in this part of the cycle because no ISK joins or leaves the market system when one player cons another player into a bad deal. A player can take this as far as he or she wants to, or not. I have certainly sold in-game items for ludicrously small amounts simply due to the fact that I did not have the time or patience to collect the things, bring them to a trade hub, figure out the price, etc. Someone made ISK on that. Some people thrive on being able to capitalize on my willingness to offer huge bargains.

 

Figuring out how to use the in-game resources to fit a Slasher class frigate. This one is being designed for speed.

Destruction of your assets by other players consumes the stuff that is built and sold in the producing and planning and marketing parts of the cycle. This is the part of the game with explosions and lasers. It is hard to completely avoid, but easy to minimize if you prefer the “carebear” style of play. This is the part of the game I have done the least of, being a bit shy about not being active as much as other players are, being an alpha clone (and therefore restricted in skills and equipment), and in general not being an overly aggressive person. I spend more time avoiding combat than engaging in it, but I can’t avoid it all the time, as you can see below. Everybody loses some ISK in the PvP sandbox, even if you are just trying to fly an exploration vessel through a shortcut between the game’s two largest markets (and therefore, an excellent place for pirates to set up a trap). If pew-pew-pew is your thing, the game does certainly offer plenty of that. This is the area that I will be exploring more of in the future.

 

Both of the kill reports for the mishap in the Rancer system. The first was my ship, the second my escape pod.

My conclusion is that the game is not purely a fancy science fiction skin for MS Excel. It can be sort of like that if you choose to set yourself up that way, but it’s not something I can see happening organically. This cycle represents what is, pardon the phrase, a game that is almost infinite in the sense that most of the interesting gameplay that occurs emerges from the players and is dramatic rather than theatrical. The bounds of time and space exist but are impractically large; given a human lifetime a person could never see everything there is to see in New Eden. It is finite in the sense that it started in 2003 and will at some future date end. The universe is quantifiable. But unlike most other games, it embraces and revels in the fact that while developer-born content exists it isn’t really the game’s main draw for most people.

It is possible to have fun as a casual alpha, but only if you can define what fun is for you and achieve a reasonable set of goals you have set for yourself. It is not necessary to pay thousands of dollars and invest every scrap of free time into this game as long as one has a good grip on expectations and has set appropriate goals. So, if you are an interested observer who has been reading this series but have never tried the game, I can at this point recommend you give it a shot. It’s free to do so now, and the alpha clone system is much better than getting the full game for only a week or two like it used to be. If nothing else, you will gain the ability to understand (without my interpretation and guidance) what other players write and say about the game. I understand why most people won’t be interested, so I am not going to try and hard sell my reader(s) into it. But, if you decide to give it a shot, feel encouraged to send me an EVEmail.

That’s the end of this series. Please leave a comment if you’ve found this interesting or helpful.

The Search for Screenshots

It’s inevitable. We get used to a certain way of doing things, then something changes and it makes us irrationally frustrated. For me, in the past few weeks this has been my experience with trying to take in-game screenshots with the “print screen” button on my keyboard. For some reason in some games I have been running through Steam the print screen key takes a picture of the desktop underneath the game rather than what I am looking at on the screen. According to the readings suggested by my friend Google, I could use the Steam shortcut key instead, but it hides the images in a folder I could not have found just by browsing in Windows Explorer. This made it difficult to find the images for cropping, filtering, and uploading to this blog without the workaround of searching the Steam folder for *.jpg.

This is how I fished out all the images I have used from Gone Home and Civilization 6. I decided to try the other way because this workaround is a little bit annoying. According to the forum posts I was reading it should have been possible to open the screenshots folder from Steam’s Screenshot Uploader. But in the Screenshot Uploader accessible from the shift-tab overlay the only option appeared to be uploading it to their cloud when I just wanted an image file that I could upload into my WordPress media library. Though, according to what I was reading, I should be able to click on a “show on disk” button on my screenshot uploader between “select all” and “view online library.”

The button just isn’t there.

But after spending more time searching, I found that going through the Steam launcher shows an almost identical Screenshot Uploader, but behold: the “show on disk” button of legend truly does exist!

This is the slightly less cumbersome route into the secret screenshot vault.

This works. It is passable. I am disappointed that I had to do a research project instead of being able to do things the way I’ve always been able to do them. I can live with this. But if there are better ways to get screenshots in video games or an explanation I can understand as to why some games do this and some do not, please point me in the right direction. I suppose I shouldn’t complain about a little bit of light reading. As a person who professes to value the willingness to learn, change, and adapt I know I shouldn’t be mad when I actually have to go do it. But, just like my favourite karaoke bar finally moving their song lists from coil-bound books to tablets, I will have to accept that the special key whose history dates back to MS-DOS might not forever be the best way to do this task.