Non-Gamey Creative Projects

I’ve not been playing too many games of late, mostly because work has been too busy and pre-XMAS time is usually packed with birthday parties and other social events over here. I’ve started tackling several home improvement projects too, such as turning our spare guest room into an atelier / hobby room so I can get back to some of the crafty hobbies I used to pursue, like water coloring or pottery. I’m also madly in love with bottle charms right now which is a project I definitely want to have a go at, soon – how cute are they?!

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image @ deviantart.com

I’ve been doing more cooking experiments again, baking a little (although I’m not very good at that) and trying recipes from my childhood. I love Asian cuisine, particularly Middle-Eastern and Thai food and I’m slowly getting into a bit of Japanese cooking too. I had the opportunity to enjoy some Okonomiyaki (aka Japanese savoury pancakes) the other day which are easy to prepare, highly flexible and very tasty if you’re into cabbage. I am definitely gonna make more of that!

My most recent project is a 30L nanocube aquarium which I received as an early birthday present from the better half. We’ve had many different fish tanks over the years, starting off small with fish like Tiger barbs before upgrading to bigger tanks with Mbuna cichlids, then downgrading again to only a single fish tank with one grumpy looking Channa Pulchra (snakehead). I’ve had a thing for siamese fighting fish, aka Bettas, for a while now and since they’re a solitary breed perfect for smaller tanks, a nanocube is a great solution that also fits perfectly in my gamer room. Meet Rubeeo!

rubioo

I’ve spent the weekend planting an all natural habitat for my new roomie, including sand substrate and plenty of water plants to allow for cover and a sleeping nest. Betta Splendens tend to “park” themselves on big leaves or shrubbery for rest which is incredibly cute to watch. They’re labyrinth fish, meaning  they breathe atmospheric air that gets stored in a special organ in their head, and they’re bubble nest breeders which is rather interesting if you’re into observing the natural behavior of animals. Bettas are obviously popular for their splendid colors first and foremost but there’s a lot more to them and personally, I like how attentive and responsive these little guys are.

Planting the nanocube was very enjoyable and I’m already thinking of ways to improve my initial setting – although for now, what it really requires is patience. I hope that my carpet plants will expand over the coming months for a fully overgrown ground level. Aqua Scaping is a patient art and there’s a lot you can learn on the way to an all-natural looking and balanced underwater environment. I’ve a feeling this could be pretty addictive too!

What creative endeavors have you been up to lately?

Starbound and the Hopeless Quest for Space

So I recently started playing Starbound and it is worlds and galaxies better than expected. I made some bad beginner experiences with Terraria in the past which almost cured me off 2D ant farm builders for good. I’m glad, I gave Starbound another shot though – it’s quite the wonderful space odyssey with vast and very satisfying exploration! The graphics are much cuter than Terraria’s too and there’s the whole Firefly space hub theme which is obviously awesome. Oh and you can play instruments in a band and collect pets and fossils, so what’s not to love?

Naturally, Starbound also comes with complex crafting and progression as well as free creative building, with a million fun deco items to collect. Instantly, the building and decorating fever caught me the way it has done before in Minecraft, Landmark or Portal Knights. And in very much the same way did I find myself in desperate need for more and more SPACE before long!

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Playing the guitar in my own spaceship is pretty stellar!

It makes me laugh how all these building sandboxes follow the exact same script from initial delight to panicky overwhelmification, or at least that’s how it always goes for me. Every single time, I find myself in the same psychological spiral plummeting towards deep frustration with my very imperfect build. The same old inner monologue ensues –

“Oh wow this world is awesome, I need to create my hub asap and collect all the things!”

/builds small hut with door, roof, windows.

“OMG there are so many different blocks and plants and crafting items – I NEED MORE SPACE!”

/expands house with second level and basement.

“I carry too many items!!! I need more chests to organize all these materials that I need to keep forever!”

/creates 20 chests for different mats. Also expands basement.

“Where did I put the wool?? I can’t find ANYTHING in this mess! Need better organization!”

/expands all rooms, builds different storage with labels.

“I found this lovely new wallpaper and ornate wood blocks! These will look so much nicer!”

/starts redoing entire house structure, swap materials, add little details.

“My house looks so cool now but I still have so much more furniture to place and all these ugly storage chests everywhere! I really need MORE SPACE but there’s this horrible mountain to my left now and I already hit the vast body of water to my right. This is hopeless, I can’t work like that – I NEED TO START OVER ENTIRELY, ARGH!”

/frustrated noises.

….

You might argue I know better by now; that I don’t need to create a definite hub right away, or hang on to every and all materials – or alternatively, I could just build with a lot more foresight and planning.

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So…much….vexing….chaos.

Well, I don’t! I do try but I am always overwhelmed by micro-management halfway through and my inner perfectionist hates how shabby things start looking further down the line, once you discovered the fancier building blocks and items. Starbound has some fine tools to help with re-decoration and item management too (the pixel printer gotta be the greatest idea in the world of builders ever, but I don’t have it yet!) but it’s not gonna save me from the hopeless mix and match or storage hell I’ve already gotten myself into.

So, I guess I’ll start looking for an entirely new location to build from scratch again soon and transfer all my preciousss belongings…it’s a daunting prospect already but of course I’ll do it anyway, because I’m crazy like that! Prepare for that interstellar burnout!

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Tomorrow is a new dawn with so much to organize!

For National Poetry Day: To Steam

To Steam

“When in disgrace with gaming and press hypes,
I all alone peruse thy endless list of tags
And trouble aging friends with early access gripes
And look upon my log and curse my slack,
Wishing me back to days of simpler choice,
Of fewer desires and more fulfilling quests,
Desiring this game’s art and that game’s poise,
With what I most enjoy presented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
I ponder rows of boxes, broken dreams
Acquired dearly (with no hopes arising
For fixes or for more connected means).
– Such sweet, convenient comforts well recalled
I loathe to change my state for days of old!”

(Based on Sonnet #29.)

So Amazon is Making an MMORPG

You might have heard by now that Amazon Game Studios, yes from that Amazon, have finally revealed three major game projects currently in the works: a MOBA title, a sports brawler and god help us all, a sandbox MMORPG called “New World”!

Amazon is Making an MMORPG

Internet retail giant or not, I was more than a little stunned to hear Amazon chose to take on the plague that is MMOs for their debut in video game development. Haven’t they heard there’s no money in MMOs these days – or do they know something we don’t? The project sounds ambitious enough judging from the marketing blurb and early sneak-peeks, but I’m with Endgame Viable here that it’s all buzz words at this point, from the “open ended sandbox” to “emergent gameplay” promises. I’m also not remotely interested in in-built twitch features but that’s me.

Still, along with Sypster and Mersault, part of me is excited to hear there’s a new player on the MMO market and one with unlimited funds at that. New World present a new hope, something to look forward to with some curiosity, whatever your reservation. It’s also good to hear there’s veteran developers on board, given things weren’t always looking that rosy at Amazon’s game division.

In this current dried out landscape of AAA MMO titles to look forward to (thanks Blizzard and SOE!), New World sounds like a mythical beast right now. I’m not going to get my hopes up but it’s fair to say I am intrigued – and I will be following things much more closely from here!

The 11 Commandments of Great MMO Player Housing

Briefly, for a split second last week, I was considering re-subscribing to LOTRO for the upcoming winter season of Q4. I have loved the world of LOTRO ever since joining late in 2013 despite its many flaws and these days, I like to call it my favorite MMO that I’m not playing. There’s always that pull, the call of Middle-Earth to return to its glamorous wide vistas, its merry horse rides and romantic visits to the Prancing Pony. How I miss playing my lute, sitting on a lonely rock under a tree.

The 11 Commandments of Great MMO Player Housing

But I know myself too well and the fickle beast that is MMO nostalgia. Jumping back into LOTRO would mean jumping back to the Gates of Moria grind of the mid-40ies, dealing with an overwhelming number of features and systems that are poorly introduced to newbies and the same old static MMO combat. It would also mean dealing with the loss of my housing plot which was lackluster to begin with, yet I gave it my all to make the little hut by the waterfall somewhat comfy and welcoming. For years, I’ve hoped Turbine would up their housing game as so many have – it’s one feature that would get me to re-sub in a heartbeat, if only it were properly revamped and made accessible.

Yet once again, it’s not to be; watching the upcoming LOTRO patch features has left me forever disillusioned with this developer’s idea of a good housing system. LOTRO’s premium housing is as expensive and inaccessible as ever, not that I had my hopes up for “premium” housing in the first place. Still, it’s grinding my gears! Player housing should be an integral part of MMOs these days and yet over and over, players are being let down in this department. When will this long-awaited “future of better player housing” finally arrive?

I guess it’s fair to mention Wildstar and Black Desert Online in this context, two titles which both made laudable attempts at accessible and fun player housing in more recent years. I loved my sky plot in Wildstar, the crazy customization and design options, yet Wildstar housing is so disconnected from the rest of the world that it never quite felt like a home but rather, that side-game you go play at when you need a break from being social. That’s the issue with instanced player housing which is both a blessing and a curse in so many ways. Pearl Abyss tried to solve this very issue most expertly in BDO – yet all seamless phasing and great housing options aside, the fundamental questions of “what to do with all this stuff now?” and “what is it good for?” remain mostly unanswered.

The 11 Commandments of Great MMO Player Housing

The 11 Commandments of Great MMO Player Housing

Musing on all my gripes with player housing old and new has inspired me to come up with a definite list of commandments or guidelines to ensure housing features are a fun addition to games rather than frustration. Your mileage may vary but here go my personal commandments for great MMO housing design –

  1. Thou shalt not make your MMO housing an exclusive or expensive feature.
  2. Thou shalt not create a limited number of housing options that are up for FCFS land grabs.
  3. Thou shalt not exact weekly or monthly housing tolls / upkeep costs.
  4. Thou shalt not pre-define indoor/outdoor decoration options and location of hooks/plugs.
  5. Thou shalt not unreasonably restrict the total item number of decor items.
  6. Thou shalt allow for social sharing of housing rights and visitation.
  7. Thou shalt not disconnect housing from the rest of the outdoors / world.
  8. Thou shalt offer great variety of cosmetic customization for housing, such as layouts, colors, styles, materials and music.
  9. Thou shalt give housing a meaning beyond cosmetics, such as storage, crafting, stabling, shops and neighborhoods.
  10. Thou shalt offer housing items from various sources, such as questing, raiding, crafting and trade.
  11. Thou shalt enable players to expand their housing space over time.

And yes, this is all easier said than done. I realize, I don’t know of any MMO that meets all commandments although Ultima Online came reasonably close and I also keep hearing the praises of EQ2. Then again, I’m not looking to play 2D top-down and generally much older MMORPGs these days, sooooo……I guess I want too many things! It’s a nice thought, though.

Friday Conundrums: The last Game of your Life

This week while casually browsing my twitter feed, I came across a short exchange between fellow blogger Braxwolf and Michael on their love for Civilization 5. It was one line by Brax there which completely took me aback –

In over 5 years of video game blogging and discussion with other players, I have never once asked myself the proverbial question of “if I could only play one game for the rest of my life – which one would it be?”. The fact that I still don’t have the faintest idea after several days of musing on this topic, gives me pause.

The “three things to take to an island” thought experiment is a fond memory from my school days, naming your most important movies or books which I generally find easy. Heck even the question about which food I’d go for if it was the only thing I could eat, forever, is easily answered: Pizza! I have weighed all the pros and cons of other food items and come to the solid conclusion that I could live out my days quite happily on a balanced pizza diet.

But when it comes to video games, I am at a loss. The intuitive thing would be to name one of my all-time favorite titles surely, Chrono Trigger or The Witcher 3 or some other RPG or adventure with some substance to it. Yet – I am not so sure! If I REALLY was to name one game for the rest of my life, it would probably need to be a smarter, more long-term choice: a game that allows for plenty of repetition and customization, something open-ended rather than a heavily story-based title that’s also final. Either way, it would be a matter of time before I came to hate it with a passion, but anyway.

Tetris? No. Minecraft maybe?

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Forever on MC Island?? (justminecraft.tumblr.com)

Really, I haven’t got a clue and it amuses me how I freeze at the mere idea of this fictional scenario. Happy weekend everybody – and which game would you choose to be your sole companion for all eternity? It’s a scary thought!

Blaugust 2016 Review

You know the old blogger saying: I was gonna write more but then life happened. There are at least another six topics I’ve been meaning to tackle this Blaugust but I’ve enjoyed myself nonetheless. The goal I initially set for myself was a month of non-gaming related and more personal blogging which proved to be more challenging than I expected. I’ve been an MMO blogger for over 6 years now and I didn’t even mention where I live for the first three, let alone share more intimate details or real life pictures. I guess I’ve gotten more comfortable in our blogosphere “neighborhood” over time (only very few of you bite!) and I’ve also come to see the value of sharing certain things that go beyond in-game diaries and MMO screenshots. In summary, my blaugust posts of this year:

As always I give thanks to everyone who commented either on the blog or twitter, or shared a more personal story of their own! I believe I will continue writing more off-topic articles in the future, although I will likely start using my Medium profile for that in case you wanna add me or follow me there.

And now, big congratulations to all the new and returning Blaugust attendees this year, especially those who went for the 31-days of blogging achievement!

This year’s list of blogs in alphabetical order:

Thanks Bel for keeping tabs and coming up with a super relaxed edition for Blaugust 2016 – I believe this made it easier for a lot of people to participate in the fun! Let’s do it again next year!

#Blaugust2016: Travel

There’s two kinds of travel as far as I’m concerned: there’s cultural travel with different stops and being on the road almost permanently – and there’s relaxation holidays, being mostly stationary somewhere taking the odd day trip. Having done a lot of both, I’d say I enjoy them equally. When I was younger and still subject to my parents’ whims, we went for typical beach holidays every year, to Italy, to France and sometimes to Germany to visit family.

My first longer trip was in 1994 to Iran where I stayed for a month in Teheran (mostly) with my father. It’s something I’d like to do again soon, in different company, because it’s one of the culturally richest places I’ve ever been to with a lot to see and great, welcoming people. Between 19 and 20, I decided it was time to go see more of the world on my own and so I spent prolonged holidays in the USA two years in a row, first on the East Coast and later, taking a long road trip across the West and staying in California for another month where I also have distant relatives.

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Pic from the ferry in NY, summer 2000

Those were both good experiences, for one because I learned that seeing things for myself is rather different than on TV or from the news. Traveling abroad also gives you a great sense of independence and self-confidence. Starting university, I soon met my today partner and together, we began traveling parts of Northern Europe every year – something which was never in the book for me as a kid (“too cold”). We’ve been to Sweden a few times visiting his family and from there it was England, Scotland and Ireland together, a different place every year.

I’ve completely fallen in love with the British Isles but having spent the bout of my twenties doing road trips, I soon longed for the relaxation of staying somewhere more longterm again. And so we’ve spent the last three years at the Italian Adria during summer which is sort of our go-to place to recharge batteries, with short trips to Austria and France during the rest of the year whenever that city itch strikes.

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Glastonbury Tor…to Avalon, summer 2009

Traveling is of course also lovely for taking pictures. Wherever I’ve been, I’ve come home with photographs from beautiful places and people, of which there are in every country. Every now and then I go back looking at older shots and wonder who I’d be without all my experiences from visiting different places. Being able to travel abroad is such an integral part to my understanding of the world today, my interest in cultural differences (that are fun but also not very serious), my love for language, for nature, for food and all the basic things that are the best in life.

I’ve only really gained an understanding of my own home and appreciation for where I live through traveling too, knowing what it is I like and also dislike about growing up and living in Switzerland. You can’t really perceive or judge your own position in the world without going away and looking at it from a distance.

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Strassbourg Old Town, Spring 2016

Italy Impressions

Italy is the country I’ve been to the most, maybe 20 times altogether over the course of my childhood and also in later years. It’s therefore a place I don’t feel like a tourist in anymore – I have friends in Italy, I speak some of the language (although it could be better) and I completely surrender to the Italian groove whenever I am there. Italy is for letting the soul rest, dolce far niente and food goodness. People are warm and friendly (this is the “real” Italy, not a city like Milan up north which is as much typically Italian as London is typically English), life begins late in summer and goes all the way into the night, the sea is warm and nobody cares where you park your car.

UK Impressions

I’ve been to Great Britain three times and while Ireland has its enchantment, it’s been lovely Somerset and Scotland with its rough hills and green lochs which I’ve come to adore. England is brimming with history and its past grandeur is never more obvious than when visiting the numerous and impressive beach castles along the Eastern shore all the way to Scotland. Whether you’re interested in history or a fan of myth and mythology, there’s things to do and see to your heart’s content in Britain. It wasn’t exactly our best food experience but we’ve met nothing but fun and straightforward people with a rocking sense of humor. My plan B for when all goes to hell someday is opening a B&B somewhere on a hill in Scotland, keeping my own goats!

France Impressions

France is famed for cities like Paris and its Côte d’Azur but for me, it’s the southern parts of the country that are the most charming. The Alsace area of Strassbourg and Colmar offers a unique mix of French and German culture and some of the most beautiful old towns I’ve ever seen. Strassbourg is a city I love returning to and it’s perfect for a 2-day trip to visit its mighty cathedral, picturesque old town and taking a boat trip around the city. If you choose a central hotel, everything is doable on foot and many people generally understand French, German and English. The food is French and German fusion, generally hearty and very yum!

USA Impressions

I spent my first three weeks in the US at the East Coast, mainly the area around DC, Maryland and New Jersey, with a trip to New York. While NY is a special place no doubt and it feels weird looking back on pictures taken from the WTC (in 2000), I enjoyed my time in the western USA a great deal more; there was a more distinct American character or culture for lack of a better word, which probably makes some sense historically. I like to think of the USA as a continent more anyway, rather than one nation and country. The nature was simply beautiful, especially Montana, Utah and Arizona with their fabulous canyons and national parks. What struck me about these parts of the US was the sheer size and open space which I find very reassuring. Anywhere, people were very friendly and helpful, as if meeting tourists was the greatest thing in the world.

Sweden Impressions

For a Swiss, Sweden is basically home but bigger, with red houses and coastlines but fewer mountains. The south-western part of Halland is Sweden’s popular summer resort and it’s heaven for anyone who enjoys long walks at the beach, cycling and forest solitude. Swedish summer is short and despite having been there in July a few times, I didn’t feel like swimming in the ocean. It’s a lovely country with friendly people and a strong sense of community, freedom but also privacy and decorum. If I go back sometime, I would like to travel further north to see the landscape change and become more barren and rough. If you don’t enjoy seafood like me, Sweden isn’t exactly a culinary highlight but then, I can live off meatballs and mash for a while if need be.

Visiting Next?

Planning your next trips is a lot of fun and our next holidays are always something I’m looking forward to during the year. Now that flying is becoming an option for myself and my partner (who didn’t use to fly at all), we can extend our radius although I’m glad to have spent so much time around central and northern Europe in the past. It’s easy to think that traveling is “the farther, the better” but that’s simply not true; wherever you are, there’s much to discover at your doorstep and at your closest neighbor’s. That said, without anything set in stone yet, I’d like to visit the following places over the coming years:

  • Eastern Europe, esp. Croatia and Greece
  • Canada and California, incl. Burning Man (possibly in 2018 with friends!)
  • Return to Scotland and Iran
  • Go somewhere tropical….maybe Maldives?

My partner and I have a few rules about where we don’t go which includes generally hostile places for tourism. I honestly also don’t look forward to US customs which make you feel like a criminal these days but it’s something to endure. I just hope our current world remains stable, so we can actually visit parts of the Middle East sometime. My better half would also love meeting with friends in Israel but that doesn’t seem like such a great idea at the moment.

What are your travel plans for the future or places you’d like to go?

#Blaugust2016: Sleep

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I like this new sleep problem!

This week me and the better half got our first “proper” bed ever which is something we’ve talked about for years but never quite afforded ourselves. We’ve changed homes together about five times, we’ve invested in things like new furniture, cars or computers without blinking an eye but when it came to the place we go to sleep on every night after work, we’ve been incredible cheapskates. Investing in a reasonably sized bed with a quality mattress wasn’t something we thought was worth it (or that we were).

I don’t know why that is but anyway, I guess it means we’re officially getting old now. I need comfortable, deep sleep to function during the day which wasn’t even an existing thought in my mind pre-thirty. I’ve always been somewhat at war with sleep anyway, already as a child and that has made an impact on my overall health and energy levels. Around 30 my backpains started becoming real bad and still, I didn’t consider getting a bed that wasn’t cheap fare.

Alas, we have a real bed now. It’s a 2×2 meters box spring the way we always dreamed about but only got to sleep on in nice hotels. Traveling around really made us realize how much a good bed matters – who wants to sleep well during their holidays only? If I could travel back in time and tell my younger self to get a decent bunk asap, I would – this is one thing so worth saving up for and prioritizing before many other items we consider everyday necessities.

Naturally, no matter how big your bed is, the cats are going to own at least three quarters of space, anyway. Gute Nacht!

#Blaugust2016: Trends

In this permanently connected world we live in, new trends are an almost daily occurrence. I don’t regularly read news papers or magazines in digital or other form and I’ve not had a TV in 15 years – but I still experience trends through my different geek channels and selected social media and they can be as obnoxiously suffocating there as ginger tea and Aloe Vera in the hipster wellness world.

I have an uneasy relationship with trends as a social phenomena. I like to follow and trust my friends’ recommendations and “hypes” as much as the next person, particularly when they seem to be a natural fit. Whenever something or rather a product develops into an unavoidable mainstream icon however, my aversion increases and I loose interest fast. I don’t know if that’s just inverted snobbery, my general suspicion of crowd behavior or appreciation for niches (I am an MMORPG player after all) but it ends with me temporarily withdrawing from things and people that are very intrusive.

Naturally not all trends or novelty products are objectively bad. It took years of persuasion before I gave twitter a go and I readily admit it’s been a great addition to my blogging ever since. I was happy to explore it on my own after the initial hype had died down though, without the collective force of the internet shouting “how to do it best” from every corner.

Pokémon Go is ablaze like that right now and while it’s too reductive to be my kind of game for one, I can see why it’s so successful. And then I think of last night when we took a late countryside stroll with our neighbors and the dog, under a breathtaking sky with the sound of crickets all around and how the neighbor’s smartphone display suddenly pierced the night and he started rubbing his phone to catch a GOLBAT that was sat on a 750 years memorial stone….and that’s exactly why I won’t play Pokémon Go.

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Suddenly even graveyards are fun… (usnews.com)

I keep the majority of my gaming purposefully on PC and I don’t want it to invade every part of my daily life. If I consider that, no hype around this title can sway me. That said, I’m sure Pokémon Go is amazing to a younger generation than me, less spoiled and tired with gaming trends and fads. Whether it truly brings people together or gets them to go out and “see the world” well, that’s for others to answer. I prefer catching real trains for that rather than the proverbial bandwagon although, maybe not to Oxford just now.

How do you deal with the constant stream of new trends in your social and online environment? Do you readily join the fray, apply certain rules for yourself or stay the hell away from anything that becomes overly popular?