Thursday, May 3, 2018

No Man's Sky: A Review in 2018

"Where is all the water?"

A chilling statement by itself. This is what I repeated constantly as I traveled a lush, desolate planet.

But let's start at the beginning. I heard about No Man's Sky, the controversy, and the fact that Hello Games has supported the game with free post-launch updates. By the sounds of it, the updates were pretty good. The Humble Bundle store had the game on sale. So nearly two years after launch, I bought the game.

I like to play games. All kinds of games. Artsy-fartsy kinds that are more "experiences" then pure gameplay. With all that you know, you should think I'm the perfect candidate for No Man's Sky.

And you might be right.

The difficulty "mode" I chose was Survival. Sure, I tried Normal, but that was too easy. I was practically put to sleep after fifteen minutes. Survival had less resources, more aggressive enemies, and let's be honest, it's more fun to struggle for survival than have everything presented on a platter.

I started my life on an Ice planet. Twice. The first time I constantly died, because the cold was slowly killing me, and my life support was slowly killing me. I didn't know moving reduced my life support. I didn't know that I needed a supply of carbon for my multi-tool, or carbon for repairs, or iron for repairs, or carbon to resupply my multi-tool after mining for iron, or more carbon.

In Survival, your spaceship is about ten minutes away. In an environment that constantly drains you, and moving drains you, and running drains you faster. And hopefully the planet put the supplies you need to do the intro "missions" within a reasonable distance. I constantly ran from cave to cave to wait until I was warm enough to go outside and gather more resources. And then gather resources to replenish my recent gathering. Exciting.

Do you know what happens when you restart a new game? That entire intro "cinematic" is completely unskippable. You have to wait for the slow pan down from the sky, to the slow pan across the ground, for the slow widescreen bars to consume your POV, to the slow text that tells you that, yes, you are on a planet and probably fucked.

So I restarted a new file, and thankfully, was put near better resources. Everything you just read I did again. A grueling two hours later, I had a base and spaceship. Not bad. Mastery over the game mechanics was leading to a better life.

Do you know what a better life feels like? Warmer. So I set out on my space ship for a planet that most closely resembled the Bahamas.

I was just in luck. I scanned around and found a planet labeled "tropical". Yes, please! Beach planet, here I come! With all my might and fury, I held down the B button and went straight there. After eighteen minutes, I arrived on my new home planet.

The window of my ship burned red with entry. My ship searched around for a clear landing zone to get a lay of the land. Touch down. I thought, this is it! Finally, I only have to worry about my life support. This is easy street where I can build the base I want, and explore an entire planet to my liking.

And then I got a migraine.

After some rest, I returned to my search of the planet, where I made a startling discovery. No plutonium.

See, here is what I heard and came to understand about No Man's Sky. The player has access to all these planets and all these opportunities, but there is a base "idea" for the game. Planets must have resources for the player to play. Carbon, iron, zinc, and most certainly, plutonium. Plutonium is used to power your ship. If the ship wants to get off the ground, it uses plutonium to do it. If you call your ship, it uses plutonium. And a lot of it.

Yes, my Planet Bahama had plutonium, but trace, and I do mean, trace amounts. I had plenty of Thamium, which meant my life support continues indefinitely. Also plenty of carbon, and iron, and zinc. But no plutonium.

I was left stranded on a planet. "But No Man's Sky is an experience..."

I traveled for literal hours. On the surface, no plutonium. Then I thought, "Maybe the plutonium is below ground!" Eureka! That makes perfect sense for a procedurally generated game. After thirty minutes of crawling in the darkness, I find some plutonium crystals. I quickly hit them with my multi-tool, and was told I had no space in my inventory. That meant the plutonium simply vanished into the ether.

I also died in those tunnels because I couldn't find a way above ground.

A swift return to a previous save state, and I begin traveling again.

You know what, this planet is meant to be tropical, but I haven't seen water anywhere. Listen, I'm from south Florida. I love the weather. Ice planets, lava planets, you can keep them. Let's get some mojitos out here and we can explore to our heart's desire.

All this green, but no water. How in the world can there be no water sources at all? What are all these animals surviving off of? How are these plants growing? I've been traveling for several in-game days, but no rain.

These were the thoughts I was left with. In early reviews I read, No Man's Sky was said to be a game that, "You can be alone with your thoughts in." Truth be told, the only thoughts you'll be left with are boredom. It's about as fun as sitting in your dentist's waiting room.

If you want to know what Hell looks like, imagine an existence where you can never die due to exertion, but the thing you need to live, to really live, is never around. And when you do find it, it slips between your fingers. That sums up No Man's Sky pretty well.

The ultimate lesson No Man's Sky taught me, after hours fruitlessly traveling across the surface of two planets, is that I should turn off my video games and go outside. Throwing a Frisbee by myself is a more engaging way to spend a few hours. At least I'll get a tan and some exercise.

"But what about the experience?" No Man's Sky is about as mentally nourishing as a kick to the nuts.

If you buy No Man's Sky, in the Year of our Lord 2018, I have no sympathy for you. There is no price that is fair for this product. Not even free. Your time and your talents are simply too valuable to be spent on this game.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Kindle Unlimited Issues in 2018

A requested update video on what's been happening in Kindle Unlimited since last year. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

We've Hit Peak Facebook

The good news is that Facebook is getting sued by its own investors, governments in the U.S. and EU are conducting multiple investigations and probes, and its own users are pissed at their privacy being breached. The even better news is that Mark Zuckerburg is handling it in all the wrong ways. We've hit peak Facebook.

And yet, that already happened before this slow-building fiasco took place.

Facebook as a platform has been losing more and more value as the company struggles to find anywhere and everywhere to place ads. The advertising model is slowly dying because people hate ads themselves. Intrinsically. They just suck. Ads on Facebook are saturated, and many big companies are pulling back their own spending and questioning the ROI. This means even worse things for the little guy. The reason Facebook wants to get into video as badly as it does, is because pre-roll ads on Facebook is the last frontier for growth.

What happened, and why does anything in the previous paragraph matter?

Because building your home on someone else's property is a bad idea.

I mentioned this at the end of last December, and it's proving true even three months into 2018. YouTube has no idea how to conduct itself, Facebook has destroyed small businesses on their platform, and Twitter can't destroy anymore bots without revealing they've been running on negative growth for several quarters now. Your digital real estate matters, and any reliance on a single platform runs into trouble when that basket is rocked.

This year is the year for people to take back ownership, or they'll be left on an over-valued island that is slowly sinking due to more and more ads dragging it down.

Of course, I say this as someone running his website on Blogger. A fair point, and even Google isn't afraid to dig deep into its inner YouTube and terminate someone without even a notice. But Blogger is a fine, if under-powered website builder, sword of Damocles aside. I save money on domain linking and HTTPS encryption, and the website is easy to use and customize. There's always WordPress (.org and .com), Squarespace, Wix, and plenty of others.

My website is my property, with quarterly reminders planned to back up my posts in case anything were to happen to them. This is the problem with using a website like Medium to blog. Yes, it has its own type of discoverability, but its also not completely under the user's control. Blogger, like many of these sites, it variable levels of control given up for convenience. The fairness of that trade off is up to the user to decide.

In the world of books, there is a reason why authors are flocking to service like BookFunnel to help sell direct to a reader on their website. Going a step bigger, it's the same reason why Target and Walmart are not choosing to slim down their store size, and instead using their stores as fulfillment centers for online orders. It's about establishing a direction relationship between creation and consumer.

And the world of online used to be this way, just a decade ago. The 2000s is characterized by the webcomic. Lots of people monetized their weekly comic strips through Google Adsense or other means. Don't forget, that was a winning strategy!

The dream was merch and ads, and then it became just ads, then ads and Patreon, and then just Patreon, and oh no, Patreon is sticking their hands in everyone's wallets! Stop! Bad Patreon! Get out of here you venomous snakes, and stop trying to nickel and dime everyone obscurity.

Really, it's a recent phenomenon for people to use platforms to host their goods. Facebook and Google made it easy and the terms sweet. Like how some bands chose a Myspace page instead of a website, so did small businesses choose Facebook pages. In both cases, the user was screwed. One look at seeing brands and retailers today shows that digital real estate ownership matters.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


At 3:30 in the morning, my shoulders and arms shot with pain. A reminder that several months ago someone rammed their car into mine in a head-on collision.

Even today, parts of my body hurt in interesting and unexpected ways. This week I can't wear a watch. When the accident happened, I saw the headlights coming towards me and I braced the steering wheel. The pain flares on and off. I have a Garmin fitness band that weighs even less, but I still can't wear it.

If I can't wear a watch, I can't write. That's not a complete loss. I've discussed here and on social media that life changes and so do we. A large part of my time and energy has been focused on medicine, and even then 2017 saw the release of Rivalry, The Hunt, Fragile Nights, and Frost. Not a bad haul if I do say so myself.

My work ethic means I at least finish several projects every year. 2018 will be no exception. An actual release date for Phantom Lights and the Wildstar: Forever Wanderers Omnibus is due soon. They're fun. This is fun. Writing is fun. Yet health comes first. Life comes first. And that's fine.

Don't let mental anxieties change that prioritization.