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Month: April 2017

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.

Gone Home

“Take recommendations from the comments section” isn’t generally good advice, but when you know it’s a good friend of yours commenting on something you wrote then seems like less of a bad idea. Today I will follow through on that recommendation, and play Gone Home. What I already knew about it before playing is that it is a “story exploration game” like Dear Esther, so it was going to be a “walk through the plot deal” rather than a “defeat the adversaries/environment” thing more typical of adventure games. So, I fired it up with the intention of seeing whether or not I fundamentally disagreed with the premise of the button on the start-up screen: “new game.” Will I be able to consider this thing a game?

Ransack the entire house searching for clues in each object, while listening to Sam’s audio diary: that’s the closest thing to gameplay you will experience in Gone Home.

Is it a game? Yeah, sort of, in the sense that old school point-and-click room escape rooms are games. There are details to notice and codes to find in order to move forward. Trying to walk through without interacting with any objects won’t get the player through the story. Like I do in those escape the room games, I spent a lot of time ransacking the place and clicking on everything to ensure I don’t miss that one little clue upon which the entire rest of the game hinges. I am rewarded for this behaviour on two occasions, one of which was necessary to advance the main plot, and the other part of revealing an optional side plot. Towards the end I found that I had missed one other optional clue and had to get on the Google to find out where to pick up that one scrap of paper I didn’t even notice on my own (which lead to the clues that I would not have completely understood without this spoilerific guidance). Most of the things I can pick up and examine are completely inconsequential, while others seem interesting but fixed in place. This is the sort of thing I find tedious and would have turned me off playing this game if it didn’t come highly recommended.

The centre of this board is what I feel like most point-and-click adventures are telling me as a player when I miss that one clue.

Sifting through some of the internet commentary on this I noticed that the sort of people who hate Feminist Frequency also hate this game. But they haven’t made any videos or blog posts talking about how this game is overflowing with awesome. Aside from this Tumblr post and a short blurb on the video games section of their recommended media page it doesn’t seem to get very many mentions. In the Tumblr post they call Gone Home “genuinely moving, meaningful and emotional” which I can completely agree with because it doesn’t say anything about excellent gameplay, or pushing any boundaries other than through the content of the narrative. I agree that it is moving, meaningful, and emotional; but it carries that experience forward with the gameplay as an afterthought. It’s not a great game, but it is an efficient narrative: I feel like I know the characters and the plot even though I am only given small snippets and expected to put the plot together myself. It works better than getting all the details laid out right before my eyes. I don’t care deeply about the characters, but cared enough to be interested in the whole family right up to the end. This is good fiction. It’s not good gameplay; if I was looking to play a game rather than experience a story I should look elsewhere.

I enjoyed Gone Home as a narrative experience. I really enjoyed discovering the characters and the twists and turns of the plot revealed through my own assumptions and expectations as much as through text and audio log. In some ways it is a well-written love letter to the riot grrl subculture of the 90’s that I was 5-10 years too young to interact with at a meaningful level. It makes sense to me as an homage to something that I couldn’t quite grasp at the time despite the fact it was happening during my lifetime. Perhaps a spiritual successor writing about the struggles of teenagers in the War on Terror era complete with a soundtrack featuring the Dixie Chicks and buckets of references to American Idiot and pre-TEA party, pre-Trump red state/blue state cultural anxiety could speak to me more directly than this or another version set in a 2010’s era of teenage Snapchat and Twitter (rather than my teenage MSN Messenger and Myspace). I am glad that Gone Home and interactive stories like it exist and that the themes presented in these narratives are pushing their way into the mainstream. I am starting to come to the opinion that narrative experiences on computers and consoles ought to be regarded as a distinct types of software rather than video games of a certain type, just as video games are not simply “software applications” indistinct from desktop publishing software. Perhaps that would mitigate the risk of something like Gone Home being misrepresented as a “fake game” because a bunch of gamerbros who volunteer to be “explorers” just aren’t the right audience for interactive novels about other people and other life experiences.

So, to circle back to my original question: no, it’s not a game. It’s a work of fiction. It’s a narrative experience that I think is well worth the time and money. Your mileage may vary.

The Prince

Sometimes if feels as if a character’s fate is decided not by the choices they make, but by the vicissitudes of the dice being rolled to determine their success or failure. Can a commoner overcome the challenges of his circumstances and his natural foes to rise into the ranks of nobility and loyalty? I’d like to take a minute: just sit right there; I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel-Air. In west Philadelphia born and raised, on the playground is where I spent most of my days. Chillin’ out max, and relaxin’ all cool – and all shootin’ some b-ball outside of the school. When a couple of guys who were up to no good started makin’ trouble in my neighborhood. I got in one little fight and my mom got scared, and said “you’re movin’ with your auntie and uncle in Bel-Air.”

See what I did there?

I whistled for a cab and when it came near the license plate said “fresh” and it had dice in the mirror. If anything I could say that this cab was rare, but I thought “Nah forget it, yo holmes to Bel-Air!” I pulled up to the house about seven or eight and I yelled to the cabbie “yo homes smell ya later!” Looked at my kingdom; I was finally there to sit on my throne as the prince of Bel-Air

April Fool’s Day  KYM: Bel-Air