The State of the Geek – Gaming

As you might imagine, I haven’t had much time to properly game for a while. :-)

The issue is mainly one of time. I’m usually up early to help get Lucas ready for school/daycare, and in the evening, by the time I’ve gotten Lucas to bed I’m ready to go to bed myself. So, needless to say, getting really involved in games usually doesn’t happen.

At this point, there are three games I’m playing relatively heavily: Overwatch on my PS4, Vainglory on my iPad, and Team Fortress 2 on my PC.

Overwatch is getting the most playtime by far, as it’s so easy to start a game on Quick Play and go for a few rounds. As most rounds last at most 10-15 minutes, I don’t need to invest a great deal of time. My current mains are Reaper, Widowmaker, D.Va, Ana, and Mercy, depending on the role the team needs. Admittedly I’m not that great as a sniper (which is the type of character Ana and Widowmaker are), but I find it fun nonetheless. I’ve admittedly considered trying competitive play, but I simply can’t guarantee the time for it. It’s just a nice bit of diversion.

Team Fortress 2 is the same way, but I have to admit I only play if my friend Sinc and his usual fire team are playing. Otherwise, I stick to Overwatch if I want to play a team shooter.

As far as Vainglory goes, I like the concept of MOBAs, and this one is simple enough for me where I don’t feel lost trying to play it. Not only that, it’s nice to be able to play it when I’m in bed or the living room. I haven’t even tried playing true multiplayer yet, though, as I’m not that confident in my gameplay abilities just yet. Still, it makes for a nice little diversion.

Other than those, the only games I’ve been playing have been Pinball Arcade (especially now that both the original and remastered Doctor Who tables are available), and DOOM. DOOM has been vexing me, simply because I’m stuck in this one particular section. It’s not that I don’t know what to do; I just keep getting killed before I can finish killing all of the enemies in the area. I’ve also tried Heroes of the Storm, but I think I need more practice in tutorials because I get lost so easily. :-/

In addition, Injustice 2 will be out in a few months so I’ll be hitting that one then, if only for the Story Mode. Unlike Mortal Kombat, I can only do well enough in Injustice that I can finish single player mode. If I even try that one multiplayer, I’d be smeared all over the pavement. I also considered Mass Effect: Andromeda, but I simply don’t have the time to devote to a game of that length of complexity.

Ah, well. When Lucas gets older, I’ll have more time to play, plus will have the joy of introducing him to gaming. For now, though, I’ll just keep getting my games in when I can, like I have been doing. :-)

The State of the Geek – IT

It’s been an interesting change for me the past few months, as far as my personal IT stuff is concerned.

It’s really no big secret that the services for my domains were hosted on my own personal servers, and that the servers were located at my house. I was able to run everything locally because I had a business-class internet connection at the house, and as such had the ability to pay for static IP addresses. It admittedly wasn’t the cheapest solution, but I went with it because I could deal with issues locally and I had been running things that way for something like fifteen years.

Of course, the fact that I was facing unemployment meant that I couldn’t really afford to run things that way anymore. So, I had to look for a solution, even if it was only a temporary one. I ended up moving all of my services to a cloud-hosted VPS, and we migrated the home connection to a residential-based one.

In retrospect, while I had originally considered this a temporary move, I kind of wish I had done it sooner.

The VPS isn’t quite as powerful, RAM and storage wise, as the virtual machines running on my virtual host server at home, but it’s compensated by the fact that it uses SSD storage and is on a much faster pipe. In addition, running the server off-site meant that my servers aren’t affected when there’s a power outage at the house (the local Comcast node doesn’t have redundant power, so even though the local servers were on battery backups they lost internet connectivity), and our personal web browsing and streaming aren’t affected when the servers are uploading backups to my backup provider.

Moreover, even with paying for the lowest tier of internet service and a monthly fee for the VPS, our total bill is less than half what we were paying before, and we have faster internet speeds to boot. This doesn’t even account for the fact that I don’t pay for a cable modem rental anymore, as I’m using a cable modem I purchased from Amazon instead of a forced rental from Comcast Business. We also have power savings because the servers are now shut down.

At this point, it’s unlikely I’ll be powering the local servers back on unless there’s a demand for them, and I don’t see that happening in the immediate future. As much as I enjoyed running stuff locally the past fifteen years, this arrangement is more cost-effective and practical. We’ll see how things go, but right now, I’m happy. :-)

The State of the Geek – Professional

I know I had mentioned that I would start posting the State of the Geek posts last night. Unfortunately, real life prevented me from getting time to actually post anything. It’s a relatively slow Saturday, so I’ve got a bit of time now. :-)

So, during the year I had been working as a contractor to Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. The job was a little different to what I was used to; in this case, as opposed to focusing more on systems, I was a network administrator. The department I worked for was the Enterprise Group Shared Labs, which was essentially server space for research and development. We had servers that was as old as my IT career next to hardware that hadn’t even been publicly announced yet. I was the network admin for the labs out in Palo Alto; fortunately, the nature of my job was that it was very uncommon for there to be someone on-site, as all of the equipment was accessible and configurable over the network. I also worked on some side Linux admin work, like helping set up the R&D IT department’s company-wide GitHub Enterprise environment and proposing an on-demand cloud backup solution, complete with a proof-of-concept system.

I rather enjoyed the work, even if I was a little outside of my comfort zone doing network administration. On the other hand, there were a couple of warning signs, like the fact that our contracts hadn’t been extended, and the backup solution had been abandoned. I took them with a grain of salt, though.

Unfortunately, the warning signs were there for a reason. As a result of the divestiture of HPE’s Enterprise Services division, budgets were cut dramatically, and we were informed in a conference call in September that EGSL was being moved to be under a different division, and that the department was being decimated. All of the contractors like myself were going to be let go, along with several full-time employees. When the smoke cleared, EGSL went from close to thirty employees to under ten.

The only bright side was that our contracts expired at the end of October, and it was made clear that our primary jobs at that point would be to find new jobs. :-)

Fortunately, the staffing agency that got me the job at HPE got me a new contract-to-hire gig. My new employer provides telecom services for inmates in jails and prisons. This time, I’m back within my comfort zone, doing Windows server administration.

That’s not the only good thing about this job. This time, I’m not expected to do any actual user support, as there’s an actual help desk that provides user IT support. In addition, the commute is less than half what my HPE commute was, so I get to spend a little more time with Lucas in the morning and evening. :-)

Overall, I’m doing pretty well. Once I go to full-time, it’ll be nice to have benefits and vacation time. Also, the chances of me having to do any travel for business is pretty small, so I won’t have to worry about that.

So, as they say, one door closed, and another one opened. I’ll miss working for HPE, but I think I’ll do okay at this job, for now. :-)

The State of the Geek

It’s been more than a little while since I last posted on here. I should do something about that.

I have to admit, there have been a couple of changes since the last time I wrote something for this site. Rather than put it all here in a too-long and overly boring (even for me) post, I figured I’d write a few separate pieces under a State of the Geek heading. That way I’m more inclined to get it all done and posted. :-)

The first post will probably go up tomorrow evening, time permitting, and I plan to have the others done in the following days. I don’t anticipate there being more than three or four posts, all told.

I’ll be back on here tomorrow, with some info on how my professional life has been going. :-)

Maybe I will trek online after all.

A couple of posts ago, when discussing Star Trek games, one of the games I mentioned was Star Trek Online. As I stated at the time, I didn’t really think I had the time to get into an MMO, and the fact that it was PC-only was another turn-off. While my battlestation is still capable of running the game, I would much rather play games on my Playstation 4.

Apparently one of my reservations about the game has been taken care of, as there’s a console port in the works.

I have to admit that the game looks good, and the fact that they’re taking great pains to make sure the game works well on a gamepad is appealing as well. In addition, my argument that I don’t have much time for an MMO tends to ring hollow, considering I try to keep up with Destiny.

On the other hand, I have two big issues. The first is that I barely have time to game as it is, MMO or no; these days my non-mobile gaming is restricted to weekends, and even then I may get a few matches on Overwatch or missions in Destiny before I get tired and need to go to bed. The second is that Star Trek Online is free-to-play, and my general experience with free-to-play is that it really means “pay-to-win”. Unless you do an insane amount of grinding or plonk down some cash, advancement in the game is slow-to-nonexistent.

(Honestly, my thoughts on free-to-play could probably fill a post on its own. :-) )

As it’ll be a free download, I’ll very likely give the game a try once it becomes available for Playstation 4. I’ll try and temper my enthusiasm (as I tend to get obsessed when I get interested in a game), but hopefully it won’t be an annoying timesink and will actually be enjoyable to play while providing a good Trek experience.

Okay, so, why does this site exist again? :-)

Yesterday, on a whim, I changed the site’s theme to Coral Dark. I mainly wanted to change the functionality of the comments field to use the WordPress standard provided by the Jetpack plugin, as opposed to the Disqus plugin I had been using. So far, I’ve been pretty happy with it; I haven’t needed to make any changes to the theme coding itself to fit it with the site, and the theme has built-in mobile support that looks better than the theme provided by the mobile site plugin I had been using. I also changed the “lightbox” plugin I had been using to display images to something that looked better and was still being updated.

It seems like a lot of work for a site I rarely post to and not many people read. :-)

Really, I never kept the site alive because I thought I had an actual audience. I simply like the challenge of keeping such a site operational and maintained. I consider it a good exercise to keep the site up to date and using the latest technologies, especially from a sysadmin perspective.

I admit that I had considered returning back to doing something a bit more along the lines of Mortal Kombat Online. I had retired from there because I had burned out on doing Mortal Kombat related news, but I didn’t mind the actual writing. I simply couldn’t think of a niche that already wasn’t well-covered that I thought I could bring a unique perspective to. Of course, I could have returned back to doing Mortal Kombat, but the community these days seems more focused on tournaments and technical aspects that, as a casual player, I feel too ill-equipped to speak on.

I also admit that I was also intrigued by the concept of doing video blogs or streaming gameplay. That also brings a set of challenges. Again, I don’t know if anyone really wants to hear what I have to say. More importantly, though, is that I am completely unsuited for radio or video, as it were. I tend to stutter and my mouth tends to run before my brain has considered what needs to be said. The best evidence of that are my video interviews for Mortal Kombat Online; of the three interviews I gave, the only one that doesn’t make me cringe with absolute embarrassment is the interview I did with Ed Boon at the media event where Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe was first announced. They’re just painful to watch. Streaming gameplay would have the same challenges, with the additional problem that I’m simply not that great of a player. :-)

As an aside, there were plans for a Mortal Kombat Online podcast, and a couple of episodes were actually recorded before the entire project was scrapped. The guy who did the editing was pretty up-front that he had to do a lot of work to make my contribution usable, thanks to my stutter et al.

Needless to say, I think I’m much more valuable in front of a keyboard than I am in front of a microphone or a camera. :-)

All of that being said, I’m pretty fine with how things are. Like I said before, this site was never anything more than something to occupy my time and hone my sysadmin skills, while posting about things that I wanted to get off of my chest. In addition, it looks better than a standard Apache default page or an “under construction” page, the latter of which actually WAS my site for several years. I honestly don’t think I have the time to create something that would take as much effort and resources as Mortal Kombat Online, anyway.

Still, I’m definitely open to suggestions regarding content. If there IS an audience, I’d be willing to branch out if anyone has any good ideas. I like working on the site, and it’s nice to be able to stretch my writing chops every once in a while.

We’ll see how things go, but for now, I’m okay with my site and where it sits in the grand scheme. :-)

Trekking beyond movies to games…

Jennifer and I saw Star Trek Beyond this past Sunday. In my opinion, it’s easily the best of the “Kelvin-verse” movies, and felt like a true Star Trek film. I kind of want to see it again, but am perfectly willing to wait until it comes out on Blu-Ray.

In the run-up to the movie and after seeing it, I’ve become somewhat nostalgic about Star Trek video games, and have been kind of jonesing to play some of them.

Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator
Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator
Funny enough, the one I’ve been missing the most has been the original arcade game from 1982, Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator. It’s a somewhat fast-paced arcade game where you pilot the Enterprise in battle through various sectors of space, defending starbases against attacks from Klingon warships, and occasionally battling the malevolent probe Nomad (from the original series episode “The Changeling”) as it creates minefields around you. Admittedly, when I was a kid, my friends and I used to play the hell out of the ColecoVision port of the game, pretending we were commanding the actual Enterprise. These days, it seems that the only way to play it is via the emulator on archive.org, as there have been no modern re-releases.

The closest game I’ve found to replicating the feel of the arcade game is Star Trek: Starfleet Command, which is a strategic ship combat simulator based on a tabletop game called Star Fleet Battles. It’s far more detailed and complex than the arcade game is, but on the other hand it replicates the feel of actual ship combat in Star Trek more closely. As much as I wanted to get into it, though, I simply couldn’t get the hang of it and got my butt kicked on a regular basis. It’s actually available for sale now, via GOG.com.

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary
Star Trek: 25th Anniversary
Of course, if one wanted to replicate the feel of the actual TV series, the game to get would be Star Trek: 25th Anniversary. Originally developed for MS-DOS, Star Trek: 25th Anniversary is an adventure game set up as several “episodes”, where Kirk et al have to deal with puzzles and obstacles using diplomacy, problem-solving, and the occasional use of brute force. While the game allows you the option to be a jerk and selfish in gameplay dialogue choices, you get the most points for taking actions as the original crew would… and for keeping your redshirts alive. ;-) This game and its sequel, Star Trek: Judgment Rites, are written as if they’re the unofficial fourth and fifth years of the Enterprise’s five year mission, and even have the voice talent of the original cast. Like Starfleet Command, both games are available on GOG.com.

As for modern games, though, I’ve mostly been disappointed. There was an action-adventure game based on the Kelvin-verse for consoles, but I didn’t enjoy playing the demo so I didn’t bother getting the full game. As it turned out, the full game got savaged by critics, so I ended up dodging a bullet (or phaser) there. I’ve heard decent things about Star Trek Online, but I simply don’t have the time to play an MMORPG, especially one for PC. I tried Star Trek Timelines when it was released for iOS, but ended up deleting it when I found the ship-to-ship combat was mostly hands-off and the rest of the gameplay was free-to-play/pay-to-win nonsense. It doesn’t help, either, that several reviews of the game accuse the developers of poor customer service and making underhanded changes to gameplay rewards to try and force players to spend money. There’s also a RPG puzzle game called Star Trek: Wrath of Gems, but to be honest I got bored with free-to-play RPG puzzlers after Doctor Who Legacy.

I suppose, then, I shouldn’t hold my breath for a decent quality Star Trek video game to come out anytime soon. As long as games like Strategic Operations Simulator and 25th Anniversary are still available to play, I should be okay. I just wish it wasn’t so seemingly hard to make a Trek game that’s fun to play.

Random musings, part V…

They’ll be friends, eventually.

One of our three cats, Bennett, is definitely the bully of the group. He really loves to play, but his idea of roughhousing angers and terrifies both Sasha and Sophie, so it’s not uncommon for us to hear the two girls running around with him in pursuit, or simply hear them complain when he’s in their presence.

As Bennett is so rambunctious, when Lucas was born I commented to Jennifer on more than one occasion, “He’s just met his best friend. He just doesn’t know it yet.”

Over a year later, they’re well on the way. Whenever Lucas is playing in the living room, Bennett goes out of his way to try and get Lucas’s attention, rubbing against him and the like. When Lucas sees Bennett, he automatically goes over to him to interact with him.

The only problem right now (and the reason I use the word “interact”) is that as Lucas is so young and Bennett has no experience with kids, they’re not entirely sure how to properly interact with each other. Lucas doesn’t know how to be gentle with Bennett, so sometimes tails are pulled. Bennett, for his part, loses patience quickly. It’s a shame, really, because I can tell they WANT to be friends but they simply don’t know how yet.

It’s one of those things we’ll have to give them time and guidance on. I still believe they’ll be close friends one day. :-)

Release the creamy kraken!

Recently Blue Bell released a new flavor called Cookie Two-Step. We’ve agreed that it’s become our new favorite. Last night, Jennifer shared her theory regarding its existence.

“They created it years ago. However, they left it on the shelf because they could make more money selling the two flavors: Oreos and cookie dough. However, since they had those health and safety problems and have an image problem now, they had no choice but to release the awesome.”

It definitely makes sense to me. :-)

Toy gamepads should be a thing.

On the rare occasion that Lucas actually manages to make it into my office, usually the first thing he makes a beeline for are the DualShock 4 controllers for my Playstation 4. He absolutely loves carrying them around and playing with them. Normally I wouldn’t mind, but most of the time “playing with them” involves putting them in his mouth, so that’s a no-go.

My first instinct was to go onto Amazon and purchase a toy gamepad for toddlers. After all, one would think that would be something the toy companies would sell, right? My son can’t be the only one who likes them.

As it turns out, they don’t actually exist.

In the end, I decided on a compromise. Rather than give him an old controller with the cable cut (and thus expose him to the wires) or an actual controller I might be using (like a 360 gamepad or DualShock 4 controller), I pulled my old Wavebird out of a drawer and gave it to him. After all, I rarely use my GameCube these days, and when I do the wired gamepads work just fine for me. For his part, Lucas loves playing with it and it’s become a mainstay in the living room toy collection and almost always comes with us in his diaper bag when we go out.

I just think the toddler toy manufacturers are missing a potential lucrative toy line. :-)

Transitioning from player to (dungeon) master…

Recently I got to experience Dungeons and Dragons from the other side, so to speak.

A few friends and I have a group that meets every month or two to play D&D. We started in earnest once 5th edition came out, and our friend George acted as dungeon master,  putting us through the introductory adventure Lost Mine of Phandelver. It was pretty fun, especially since I’ve learned that my best character class is a cleric (namely, the party healer).

As we played, though, I started thinking about maybe running an adventure myself. I was pretty hesitant at first, considering the last time I ran an adventure myself was for the old World of Darkness system, and it was twenty years ago. (Christ, has it been that long?) That adventure turned out to be an out-and-out disaster, as I hadn’t planned it very well and wasn’t willing to let the players make their own decisions. After that negative experience, I wasn’t sure I could do it again. There was also the small issue of not having enough time to create a campaign of my own.

What made me firmly decide to go ahead and give it a try was that Wizards of the Coast announced that they were releasing a new updated version of the classic Ravenloft module called Curse of Strahd. Before I had gotten into D&D in earnest, the Ravenloft campaign setting had interested me the most, and it was also the setting I was most familiar with. So, I went ahead and purchased the three core rule books (Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide) and the Curse of Strahd campaign rulebook. After studying all four as best I could, I felt I was about as ready as I could be.

We started the campaign two weeks ago. I don’t think I was as ready as I could have been.

My biggest issue was that I hadn’t studied the campaign rulebook as well as I thought I had, so there were a few times where I had to request do-overs because I had missed something. Thankfully, everyone was patient with me while I went through those learning curves.

To my credit, I was better about giving my players free rein where needed. I also tried to act out the characters as best I could. As my group is less about “role playing” and more about “hack, slash, get loot”, I had to remind them that Curse of Strahd is a fairly story-intensive campaign and that I would be taking character role playing somewhat seriously (which they all agreed to).

One of my main challenges was that our group’s schedule is rather hectic. While we started at around 2 or so, two of our group didn’t arrive until after 5. In addition, another member had to leave unexpectedly at 4. As a result, I had players who were playing multiple characters and had to adapt to the changing player group. As I don’t handle those kind of changes that well, I felt I kept things under control.

I also realized too late that I didn’t have anything to map out encounters, locations, and combat. To my relief, George lent me his dry-erase grid mat and cardboard tokens. I’ll probably hit Montag’s (the local Pearland game store) for something of my own before the next session.

More than anything else, though, I think Jennifer put it best when she observed that I was probably happier as a player figuring out the challenges than as the person actually running the game. It was pretty difficult for me to keep the player side of me quiet sometimes, and let the players figure out where they needed to go as opposed to me simply telling them. On the other hand, it was nice seeing the players figure out where to go and what to do without me explicitly needing to tell them.

All in all, though, I think it worked out well. Like I said, I need to beef up on the particulars before the game days and I need a mapping system of my own as opposed to borrowing George’s. Still, while I would rather be a player, I think I’ve learned and matured enough to be a capable DM. I’ve even considered running online campaigns for those friends of mine who don’t live in the Houston area.

We’ll see if they survive the Curse of Strahd campaign, but for now, I’m happy that I was up to the challenge of running it.