@NoMansSky Is Not The Game I Paid For

THE last few months have been hell. Quite apart from the personal loss (see earlier posts), I’ve been working on a web site project that for reasons I won’t go into, has a lot of work to do in a short deadline, and that’s meant long days and weekends. Everything else has gone to the wall; I’m supposed to be editing Artemis, but after working for eleven hours without a break I couldn’t brain any more. I haven’t had time to write a blog post in months. I haven’t even had the oomph to tweet.

Things changed a couple of weeks ago. August 11 was deadline day. The project still wasn’t 100% (but thanks to RESTeasy and AngularJS, it was close—without those, it would have been way further behind), but enough of the cogs were in place so that preliminary testing could start.

Then came August 12, and with it the release of No Man’s Sky on Steam. So, while I was still busy getting the last bits of the web application working, I was looking forward to being able to relax with a game I’d been waiting for since I’d pre-paid for it in May.

20160821_084242

The trailers had been awesome. Dinosaur-like alien animals wandering along a lake shore. Rhinoceros things chasing prey through a forest. Space battles. Eighteen quintillion planets, each unique. And at last, I could play it.

So I installed it and started playing. No tutorials other than that it starts you off with a busted starship, so you have to figure out how to mine materials to make the repairs. Once I got my ship off the ground I was able to start exploring, and it was fun.

For a while.

Then I realised that it wasn’t as much fun as the trailers and the hype had led me to believe it was going to be. Is each planet unique? Maybe, if you take small variations into account. But I found that a lot of the desert planets are pretty much the same as each other. And the hot planets are pretty much the same as each other. And the cold planets are pretty much the same as each other.

And where were these huge dinosauroids? I haven’t found anything bigger than a large dog.

As far as variation across any given planet goes, forget it—explore the few hundred metres around your landing spot and you’ve explored the world, because if you take off and land somewhere else, it all looks the bloody same. No world I found had polar regions and tropics and deserts and mountain ranges and oceans, or even two of any of those. Basically, pick one of the above, and imagine a whole world made of it, and that’s a planet in NMS. So much for spending a few hours exploring to see what a planet has to offer.

I carried on, mining stuff to keep my ship and exosuit charged, and finding new tech “recipes” to improve the ship’s weapons and such.

Warp into a system, land on a planet, mine stuff. Hit the other three or four planets in that system, do the same. Gather materials to make a warp cell, charge the warp drive, warp to the next system. Rinse and repeat. It gets old pretty quick. I began to wonder if there was anything more to it. There doesn’t seem to be.

Even after five or six dozen planets in a couple of dozen systems, I still haven’t found a planet like the ones in the trailer. No big lizards. Quite a few planets are devoid of animal life; some are just dead rocks.

And about those worlds and systems . . .

Eighteen quintillion planets. That is a HUGE number. If every person on Earth was playing NMS, there would be something like two or three billion planets for every single player.

But there aren’t that many people playing. From what I’ve read, the number of players is somewhere around the one million ballpark. But let’s be generous and say they have ten million. That’s still (punches numbers into calculator) something like two trillion planets each.

Yet after fewer than a dozen warps, I hit a system that someone else had discovered a couple of days before. By all accounts on the Steam discussion boards, this is a common occurrence.

THAT SHOULDN’T BE POSSIBLE. Not so often that people are reporting it daily. Not with that many planets. There are basically two possibilities here:

  1. The game is starting all the players in a microscopically tiny region of the potential universe; or . . .
  2. Hello Games and Sean Murray are lying about the number of planets. After all, if they used 32-bit numbers instead of 64-bit, there would be about four billion possible planets. That’s still a bloody big number—so big that I doubt there’d be any way to tell the difference by just looking at the galaxy map. But with “only” four billion planets the chances of running into a system that someone else already encountered are much higher. High enough that it could conceivably happen daily, I think.

So all in all I have to say that No Man’s Sky is a BIG disappointment. And at sixty bucks (which makes it the priciest game I have ever bought) that stings. I feel ripped off.

I’m pretty sure Hello Games, with only fifteen developers on staff, weren’t able to deliver the game with all the content they intended and promised—but instead of saying so, they left the $60 tag on a game that is maybe worth $20. Hell, maybe less—I’ve bought better games for ten bucks.

See, here’s the difference between Hello Games and me: I know I’m not going to hit the deadline for preliminary testing, and I tell the analysts what’s going to be missing, and they tell the customer. So when the deadline comes the customer isn’t all bent out of shape about the missing bits. And in the meantime I’m still working on those bits, and if I can get some or all of them working before preliminary testing becomes Final Qualification Testing, that makes them all happy and shit. HG didn’t do that. They led the customers to believe that the game would look like the trailers, right up to release day, and then everyone’s upset and Hello Games goes all quiet. Not professional, guys.

I’ll continue to check it on Steam every so often, and any time there’s a patch or upgrade I’ll play for a bit to see if any of that promised content shows up. But I’m not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, I’m going to get on my gaming system and play some. But not No Man’s Sky. I think I’ll play Sir, You Are Being Hunted—a game that delivered what it said it was going to.

[Update: I thought about it, and it struck me that HG could have come clean before release day, but they didn’t. They could have dropped the price, but they didn’t. They could have apologised, but they haven’t. They haven’t done a damn thing to make up for what they’ve done. Fuck them; they’re not getting a free ride on my dime if I can help it. If it’s not too late, I’m hitting up Steam for a refund.]

[Another update: Steam doesn’t refund money on games played for more than two hours, a limit you’d exceed pretty easily in NMS. I think it was closer to twenty hours before I even began to suspect that the game wasn’t going to be up to expectations. Oh, well.]

More Human Than Human

THIS whole Tay thing got me thinking.

tay-picture

What if things had gone a bit further before Microsoft pulled the plug? I mean, what if Tay had had a little more time to go from being an offensive racist shitbot, to actually managing to break the law? What I mean is: What if “she” had said something that, had it been spouted forth from a living, mouth-breathing human, would have been deemed hate-speech? What if she’d actually been manipulated into making slanderous attacks against an individual?

Right there is a question: could an AI tweetbot actually do something illegal? It’s not human, after all, so is it subject to human laws?

Ok, ok. It’s not that important, I hear you say. Just a bit of fun, or one of those wrinkles that’s bound to come up when you’re screwing around at the bleeding edge of technology.

But, I happen to think it is important, and it’ll get to be more important as time goes on. See, one of the things I picked up while reading about this whole business is that some companies are already using AI bots hooked up to social media, for marketing purposes. Whatever that means. I guess they watch Twitter for mentions of their brand or products or maybe their competitors’ brands and products, and then jump into the conversation with a sales pitch. And I imagine that the AIs involved are probably a bit limited as to what they’ll talk about, since their artificial worlds revolve around their specific brands and products.

But as time goes on, the AIs will get better at pretending to be human. I see a day coming—sooner than most of us would think, I’m betting—when there’ll be AIs engaging with real people on social media, and we won’t be able to tell that they’re robots. (Here’s a question: how many people, possibly seeing some of Tay’s tweets but not knowing what Tay is, thought Tay was flesh and blood?) So, what happens then, when one of these bots gets a bit out of whack on a Friday afternoon, and gets fooled into making verbal attacks against some minority group? And what happens if that leads to some brain-deficient group taking the AI’s crap and turning it into a call to action? What happens if someone gets hurt because of it?

Here’s another question: What happens if someone takes an off-the-shelf AI and deliberately sets it up with an agenda, to create a racist/homophobic/misogynist/anti-minority douchebot? (And yes, I really think off-the-shelf AIs are coming, just like the generic game engines that some assholes have used to create offensive games pushing neo-Fascist messages. Remember those?)

It’s a bit like someone letting their dog off the leash in a crowd; the dog gets confused, and bites someone. The owner gets the blame, gets fined, and maybe the dog is destroyed.

And that last example is like someone deliberately letting a zombie loose in a crowd, with the intention of turning some of that crowd into more zombies.

OH MY GOD I JUST LINKED AI TWEETBOTS TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE.

I think that’s enough for a Sunday morning.

Happy Easter.

Have a nice day.

Until next time, gentle reader . . .

My Dad

John Ford 1950's

Dad in the RAF; with a dismantled Gloster Meteor

THAT’S dad in that picture. It would have been taken around 1953, give or take, at an airfield somewhere in the Midlands. He was doing his mandatory National Service; they’d allowed him to defer by a year or two so that he could finish his apprenticeship as a toolmaker.

That’s what dad was—an engineer, and a mechanic, and he was interested enough in electronics that he took a course so that he could be a TV engineer and repairman. And of course he was a lot more than that. He was quiet, which is probably where I get that from. I rarely saw him angry, and he never stayed angry for long. He was a gentleman. One time, he fell from a ladder onto a fence. Took the skin right off his side, from what I was told—and yet he wouldn’t think of going to the hospital until he’d cleaned up and put fresh clothes on.

Some things that stand out in my memory:

  • Me and my brother riding in the sidecar of his old motorbike, on our way to Sutton Park to picnic and fly kites.
  • The look on his face as he drove the brand new, aqua blue, Ford Cortina he’d just picked up, onto the driveway of our house in Tamworth. It was the first new car he’d owned, and I still remember the registration number (VRE 294C).
  • Arriving home from school one day to find him sitting in an armchair, grinning like a goon. He was waiting to see how long it took for me to realise we had a new family member—a skittish Alsatian puppy. She was hiding behind the sofa.
  • A hot summer on school holiday where I’d go to work with him; the factory where he’d worked had shut down so he’d taken a temporary job as a delivery driver for a bakery, and we’d drive from Margate halfway to Dover dropping off trays of bread and cakes at little village shops. Happy times.
  • The time he and mom went to a party at his workmate Eric’s house down the street. Eric’s wife Anita had been dishing out the alcohol in some style. Mom told me that when they got home, dad had sat outside on the steps by the back door, giggling and saying over and over how he’d only had three drinks BUT THEY WERE BLOODY BIG ONES.
  • So much more… I could fill pages.

He got cancer a couple of years ago. Not a bad kind of cancer, thank goodness; it was treatable with chemotherapy and he had a friend who’d had the exact same thing and got through it.

On February 17—three and a half weeks ago, as I write this—he went to the hospital for a routine CT scan to check progress. When he got home, around lunchtime, he took a cup of tea through to the living room. When mom followed from the kitchen a couple of minutes later, she found him collapsed on the chair. She called 999, and the woman on the phone told her how to do CPR until a paramedic arrived. The paramedic, as it happened, was in the car park at the hospital at the time, and was at mom’s side within five minutes, followed shortly afterward by an ambulance crew. They worked on dad for almost an hour, trying to bring him back. But he was gone.

Not cancer. He’d had an undetected heart condition, and basically it just stopped. He was eighty-one.

After the fact, my brother and I found out something we’d never known, about dad’s time in the RAF: he didn’t just dismantle decommissioned planes. He’d also been an accident investigator, visiting crash sites and figuring out what had gone wrong, in the days before black boxes. It’s fascinating, and wish I could ask dad more about that.

Mom sent me an official copy of the death certificate; we thought we’d need it so that we could get our passports renewed in a hurry, and get over to the UK. That plan went sideways, though, because of a bunch of hurdles and roadblocks thrown up by the British consulate. We’ll get over there when we can, but that’s not happening until we both get new passports, which is likely to be another few weeks. In the meantime the (now unneeded) death certificate is still in the envelope it arrived in. I can’t bring myself to open it. I was trying to focus on the story I’ve been working on, but until about a week ago I couldn’t do anything on it; my thoughts kept coming around to dad, and worrying about mom. This blog post is the first actual writing I’ve been able to do, and it’s still hard. Honestly, I’m writing this more as therapy for myself than for anyone else.

I miss my dad. We talked on Google Hangouts most Saturdays, and the last couple of weekends I forgot he wouldn’t be on. I’ve had some bad dreams, but those seem to have passed. More than anything else right now, I want our passports to arrive so we can go and stay with mom a while.

I can’t write any more, at least not just yet.

Bad Days, Good Days

THE last couple of weeks have been really heavy going at work, which is the main reason I haven’t had a chance to throw out any updates here. We’ve been moving a few of the web applications to new host machines, and it’s one of those jobs where ninety percent of the work is easy and takes ten percent of the time, but then you hit the ten percent that’s all hurdles and problems and means you can’t just finish it up and get it done. As I write this it’s Sunday morning, and tomorrow I have three, count ’em, three system moves that are stalled waiting on things.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, writing work has all but stopped, which is very frustrating. I’m working on a story I want to write, and I’ve been stuck at the planning part for something like a month. I have a character, she has a name, and she has an interesting past that’s given her an ability, if you can call it that—sometimes it’s going to be a lifesaver, most times it’s a curse. And I can’t say more about that without giving too much away at this early phase. The big problem is that I still don’t have a solid story, and I just can’t seem to get the time to think my way past that.

The day-job work craziness been part of that, of course—among other things I’m so tired at the end of most days I just don’t have the energy to get into writing, and in any case there are home/family things that take up what little time I might have had—but there are other things too. For example, I now officially work at home and hook into the office over VPN; I rarely need to go in. It’s great, but one definite downside is that it’s caused a complete change of routine. I used to use the drive time between home and office to think about story and characters; Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia was planned and plotted and all but actually written on that daily drive, as were The Artemis Device and Smoke & Mirrors (more on status of both of those shortly).

But I don’t drive in any more, and my writing time is suffering badly for it. I need to change my routine to give me some of that time back somehow.

OK THAT’S ENOUGH OF THAT. It’s not all doom and gloom. Time to focus on some of the positive.

One thing that’s taken away some of the writing time is that I’ve been catching up on READING, and that’s not something I consider at all bad. I mean, seriously, I went through a period of several months during which I hardly read a thing. Not good. So I kicked myself in the pants and told myself to shape the fuck up.

Rod Duncan’s The Custodian of Marvels came out Tuesday and I’ll be starting on that just as soon as I’ve finished reading Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles; I’m almost through Trapped (which I think is the fifth book in the series). But wait, there’s more: the eighth book, Staked, just came out and we went to Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins on Thursday to meet the author and get a signed copy. Really? I hear you say. Pictures, or it didn’t happen. Okay, then:

20160204_190840

There you go.

Now, last points: I mentioned I’d give a couple of status updates, so here they are:

  • The Artemis Device is still with my copy editor at Xchyler Publishing, but as I think I mentioned she got married recently, and then she was dealing with a book release (Ben Ireland’s Kingdom City: Revolt) and now, as I found out just a few days ago, she’s off on honeymoon. So I don’t expect to get back any editing notes in a hurry.
  • Smoke & Mirrors is still looking for an agent or a publisher. A publisher in England had an open submission period last month, so I sent them the first couple of chapters. The web site said it could be three to six months before I hear anything, so right now patience is the word.

Until next time, gentle reader . . .

Farming Followers

TO the guy who followed and unfollowed me on Twitter four times in the space of an hour (no doubt so that I’d get the notifications), and then sent a whiny message via my contact page asking why I didn’t follow back: Here’s why.

  • You’re already following a huge number of Twitter accounts. More than 30,000, in fact. Anything I write is going to be lost in the noise. You didn’t follow me because you want to read what I have to say; in fact, following that many people, I doubt that you give a shit about what any of them have to say because you can’t possibly have time to read them all. Or maybe you muted 99% of them, which again means you don’t care what most of them have to say. That tells me that you follow because you want follow-backs to swell your follower count, and nothing more.
  • I might have followed you regardless of that huge following count, if you had something worthwhile to say (I follow quite a few who follow thousands, because despite that they are often entertaining). But when I glanced at your timeline I found that nine out of ten tweets are promoting your book (which I checked out and doesn’t interest me), and the remainder are mostly right-wing conspiracy-theory bullshit about Obama wanting to take your guns away. It’s boring and repetitive, and more than a little mental. I have no reason to follow nutjobs.

Under normal circumstances I just would have ignored you. I get followed by a lot of people playing follower-farmer, and most of them unfollow me after a day or two when I don’t join in the game. But they don’t usually go at me over and over, and they don’t contact me complaining about not getting a follow-back. You did, and you pissed me off, so now you’re blocked.

Rant mode off. For my regular readers, normal service will resume shortly. Thank you for your patience.

Reading List, TV List

THANKS to a two-week break over Christmas and New Year I was able to spend a bit more time catching up with my reading list. And there’s been some seriously good TV on, too.

As a result, here’s a short list of some books and TV I’d like to recommend.

Books

The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter by Rod Duncan: (I posted a review of this a couple of weeks ago.) Steampunk/Alternate History. I couldn’t put it down. As I write this, it’s on sale for $1.99 in the US Kindle Store.

IMG_20160102_103853

Dammit, why does this thing keep putting pictures sideways?

Unseemly Science by Rod Duncan: Sequel to The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, and again I couldn’t put it down. In Duncan’s alternate-history Britain, the International Patent Office stifles scientific research that they consider “unseemly”—but medical research is an exception, and is never unseemly. Or is it? Elizabeth Barnabus, our hero from the first book, finds herself following the trail of a surgeon who’s up to no good. Also on sale in the US Kindle Store at the moment. A third book is coming out on February 2 (eBook and US release; February 4 for UK paperback), and I have that date marked in my calendar.

20160109_180637

Planetfall by Emma Newman. I started into this yesterday and I’m about two-thirds through. A must-read for sci-fi fans. [UPDATE: finished it. Damn, this is a good read.]

[More updates: I knew I’d forgotten a few things:]

The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. This is a series of urban fantasy novels about a two thousand year-old Irish Druid living in Arizona. Now, I’ve never been big on urban fantasy in the past but these books (and Chuck Wendig’s (see below)) have changed all that. These aren’t your dad’s fantasy stories, all heavy-going plodding stuff. These are fun reads you’ll find hard to put down. Trust me on this.

The Miriam Black novels by Chuck Wendig. More urban fantasy; darker and grittier stuff than Iron Druid. Miriam Black just needs to touch someone to know how and when they will die. That takes a terrible toll on her; she’s definitely damaged goods, but you can’t help being on her side. Three books to date, with a fourth out at the end of February 2017 (yes, you read that right. 2017.)

TV

(Actually I watched these online—my cable provider has an on-demand feature that means I can watch TV shows in a browser, and some shows are available online before they air. In case you’re wondering.)

The Expanse: On Ceres, a police investigator is trying to track down a missing heiress, and meanwhile someone’s trying to start a war between Earth and Mars. Oh, boy. I can’t say much about this without risking spoilers, so I’ll just say that if you haven’t seen it then you should. I’m five episodes in and can’t wait for the next one. (Aside: I’ve always liked Thomas Jane and his performance in this is, I think, the best he’s given.)

Outlander: Right after WWII, a woman is transported back to mid-18th century Scotland. The entire first season had aired before I started watching, so I’ve been catching up. I’m nine episodes in and pretty well hooked. And I want to punch Black Jack Randall right in the face. (One thing, though: as an Englishman with one-quarter Scottish blood, I can’t help but wonder if English soldiers of the 18th century, as depicted in shows like this and numerous others, were really that nasty and evil. It seems to be generally accepted without question that they were. I’d really like to know how accurate that is.)

Colony: Alien invasion story—which maybe has been done to death, especially recently, but there’s always room for something if it has fresh ideas. Is this that show? I can’t say yet—only the pilot episode is available online as I write this, so it really hasn’t got itself up to speed yet, I think. Still, I found the pilot compelling and I’ll definitely be watching more.

Mr. Robot: People have been saying good things about this, and even though I’m only halfway through the pilot episode I can see why. I’ll be watching more of this, too.

Now, I’d really better get back to getting some work done on the Artemis sequel. (Evenings are more TV and book time for me.)

Until next time . . .

Resolutions

. . . ACTUALLY, I don’t really have any. I stopped doing New Year Resolutions years ago, because I never kept them and it became pretty obvious to me that I really never would.

The truth is, I sort of make resolutions all year round; that is, on any given day I might make some decision that there’s something I’m going to do, or stop doing. Then I try my best to stick to it. Making a point of setting goals for the following ENTIRE YEAR then trying to make those happen really doesn’t work for me.

Example: you make a New Year resolution to, say, quit smoking, and you do. And you make it to February 1 before something stresses you to the point where there are two choices: (1) light one up, or (2) tear someone’s head off. So you light up. And that’s it—you’ve broken the resolution, so you think to yourself that you’ve failed and you might as well give up trying to give up. Until the next New Year comes round and maybe you’ll set another New Resolution. Wouldn’t it be better to just make a February 2 resolution to try again?

Yeah, I know, I’m kinda waffling here. It’s one of those days.

20160102_091208

Ok, so here’s a short list of a few things I know I’d really like to get done over the new few weeks or months. This is as close to a list of resolutions as it’s likely to get:

  • Clean my desk up. It’s a damned mess.
  • Get the garage sorted out. Right now there are two sofas and a stove in there that need to be sold or donated or otherwise disposed of, and I’d like to clear the space so that I can use the garage as a garage. (The reason for the sofas still being there is that, despite being years old, they’re really comfortable and I’ll be sorry to see them go. But we don’t have room for them and I have to be realistic.)
  • Write at least two full length books before, say, the end of August. The Artemis sequel will be one of those, for sure. And since I’ve as good as decided to make Artemis a trilogy, the sequel to the sequel might very well be the other. We’ll see.
  • Learn to play the piano. Seriously. Some time ago, Kate bought me this really nice keyboard that comes with teaching software, but I just couldn’t seem to master it and the thing’s been sitting behind my office chair gathering dust. See the picture. Nice, huh? I’d like to see about some actual lessons with a teacher, if it’s not too crazy expensive.
  • I think that’s about it for now. Other things will occur to me as time goes on.

Until next time . . .