Dear Diary . . .

MY regular readers (Sid and Doris Bonkers of Epping) might have noticed that every now and then I post something here that’s more like a rambling journal entry than an article about something specific.

This is one of those. Day job and household chores took over things for the last couple of days; I did find time to get a few things done, though, and now I feel like rambling a bit. Let the rambling begin . . .

On books and writing:

As I mentioned in the last post, I uploaded a correctly-formatted version of Finish Your Book, and now that should be what gets downloaded by readers. I tested it and it looks the way I intended the first time round.

I also re-published Pavonis, which was the first full-length story I ever published. It was originally self-published in 2012, but I took it down after Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia was published professionally, the reason being that after going through the whole pro publishing process with G&B, I realised that my self-editing left a lot to be desired and I was no longer happy to have a flawed work out there. So I had sort-of planned to rework much of Pavonis with the help of a professional editor (and cover artist—the cover pretty much stinks), and come up with a better title (because Pavonis doesn’t tell you anything about what the book’s about). But after much consideration, I decided I’d rather focus on new works than try to fix old ones. And anyway, quite a few people liked the book despite its shortcomings. In the end I decided to just put it back out there. I might at some point upload a new version that fixes the known spelling errors and some formatting problems (a few passages display underlines and italics that weren’t in my source text), and I’m considering paying an artist to come up with better cover art. Maybe.

Meanwhile on the writing front, I’m building up the story line for the currently-untitled SF book I’ve been thinking about for the last couple of months. I’ll probably be getting back on that this afternoon.

Also, I did some tweaking of the web site to rearrange a few things and update a couple of pages. I think it’s looking pretty good.

On TV:

We’re saving Game of Thrones on DVR, with the intention of binge-watching when we have four or five episodes recorded. Reason: last year we watched the first episode of season six the night it showed—and at the end we were like a couple of addicts, craving more and cursing HBO for forcing us to wait a whole week for our next fix. So, not this time.

Meanwhile I’ve been re-watching season two of Dark Matter, and when I reach the end of that I’m planning on watching the available episodes of season three on on-demand.

On games:

I was given a new video card—a GTX950 to replace my older GTX560. I installed it yesterday afternoon, but wasn’t able to do anything with until the evening. I played some Serious Sam – The First Encounter and it did seem to be smoother. I’ll try it with something a bit more demanding on the video later; maybe No Man’s Sky. (I noticed NMS has had several patches since I played it last; if they fixed some of  the shortcomings that bugged me most, I might start playing it a bit more often.)

That’s enough for now. I need coffee and maybe I’ll watch a little TV before I get back to that SF story I mentioned.

Until next time . . .

@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.

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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.]

I Don’t Always Write Blog Posts . . .

. . . BUT when I do, I try to make them interesting, and mention at least a little about what’s been going on since the last post. However, I’ve noticed that recently—according to my WordPress stats—I’ve gained more than a handful of new followers. If you’re one of the new followers then Welcome, gentle reader. For the new readers I’m going to put a little more background than usual into this post. And don’t forget to explore the other pages through the link tabs at the top. In particular, take a look at the Social page and consider following me on Twitter, too.

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The Day Job

BY profession I’m a Java web application developer. A few months ago the company I work for had a little bit of an unintentional downsizing, by which I mean that several of our other developers, by coincidence, all gave notice at about the same time—and as a result of that, my workload more than doubled as those other guys’ project work was dumped in my lap. So for several weeks I was working late nights and weekends, catching up with all the outstanding bug fixes.

Several weeks on, just about all of those bugs have been fixed, and so I’m back to regular maintenance on all those various applications. Which means I’m back to normal hours without the late nights and weekends. I’m even getting time in some of my lunch breaks to manage a little bit of writing.

Now that all the urgent work is done, I’ve also been spending some time evaluating some new software—web application frameworks, to be specific—to see what the next generation of our software should be using. For what it’s worth, we evaluated JSF (JavaServer Faces) and found it wanting; next up, I’m writing a small application using Apache Wicket to see how that goes, and so far it looks promising—at least, it gets away from JSPs (JavaServer Pages), which can only be a good thing.

Moving House

WE bought a new house, and we’ve been moving a few things in and getting the place ready to take the bigger furniture. Right now there’s not much we can do until some of the flooring has been replaced—but that’s just a few days away, now, and then we can get ourselves properly into the new place. And I can’t wait.

What I’m Writing

NOT that I should need to say, because it’s plastered all over this site, but I wrote Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia, a steampunk action adventure story that was published last year. Now I’m working on a sequel, which—with a little luck—should have a first draft complete by the end of August (at least, that’s the target I’ve set myself). The timeline, which is a scene-by-scene version of the story from beginning to end, is complete; that gives me a plan to work to. The first few scenes have been written, but progress has been slow. The good news is, the pace is picking up and I expect to get back to full momentum on that within a week or two, especially when the house move is behind us.

What I’m Reading

RIGHT now I’m reading Kingdom City by Ben Ireland. I’m only a couple of chapters in, so far.

What I’m Smoking

IF you’ve read back a few posts, you’ll have seen the post about how I’ve been switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes. On that, just a quick update: it’s going very well. Thanks to the e-cig as a way to stave off the craving I was down to about three “real” cigs a day. Then came another milestone: I haven’t smoked even one “real” cigarette in the last three days. Very pleased with that.

Sir, You Are Being Hunted

LAST word: I play some computer games as relaxation. I used to play World of Warcraft a lot (although I haven’t played in months now), and I’m also a big fan of the Half-Life games and their close cousins, the Portal series. Recently I found out about a game called Sir, You Are Being Hunted, which is variously described as steampunk and tweedpunk (is that a new word?). It’s a survival-stealth game, which under normal circumstances would have put me off because I’m not a fan of that genre (I tried playing Thief once, and detested it), but I’m finding Sir to be more than a little bit addictive. I mean, killer robots wearing country tweeds and smoking pipes. What’s not to like?

Until next time . . .

Bad, Bad Week

I just got through one of the heaviest work weeks I can remember in quite some time. One of our developers is leaving, so his projects are being transitioned over to other people, and I’m one of the lucky ones. But as it turned out, this guy’s work is, to put it mildly, appallingly bad. Having worked on this project for more than six months, the thing still wasn’t working—and it was supposed to have been rolled out to production the week before last.

So I was drafted in to try to get it into shape. And after four very tough days, including late night finishes, we’re almost there. One last bug to be nailed (which will probably be dealt with Monday morning) and it can go for final testing.

All of which has meant that there’s been no time for anything else. Work on GB2 has got no further than it was this time last week. The Voyage of Valerie McGrath (the short story that’s going into Xchyler Publishing’s Around The World In 80 Days anthology) is still to be edited (but I’ve had no word from my editor on that, so there’s little I could have done anyway). I’ve had no time even to relax with a bit of gaming.

Today, then, is going to be all about relaxation. I want to spend an hour working on the GB2 timeline (I have some ideas to get that ending sorted out), and I think I could do worse than have a read through McGrath to spot any mistakes I missed earlier. And I do want to have a little game time. (World of Warcraft? Diablo III? Not sure yet.)

And so, it’s time to get moving on that. Tea, then get on with it. Until next time, gentle reader . . .

Eleven Hour Shift

Yesterday was horrible. Not the working-at-home-because-of-snow part—I have no problems staying focussed on the day job, it’s quieter than working at the office, and coffee and snacks are close to hand. In fact, it was all just fine until knocking-off time. I had an errand to run as soon as the work day was over, and I was clearing half a foot of snow off the car when my phone rang. It turned out that a new release of a web application, that had been installed at 3pm, was having problems. It turned out to be some weirdness in the database server, and somewhere along the line it cleared itself and everything started working. But by that time I’d been working for eleven hours pretty much straight. I missed a Facebook release party (too busy arranging some dinner) and then slept heavy for something like ten hours. It’s mid-day and I still feel like I’m barely awake.

Anyway, on to the important stuff. The sequel to Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia (which in future I’ll refer to here as GB2) is coming along quite nicely. The first draft of the timeline was sent to my editor last week. The ending still isn’t set in stone—there’s a section that describes where all the characters are and what needs to be resolved, and I have a couple of ideas on how to wrap things up. And my editor will no doubt spot many scenes that need work.

But that’s on hold for a little while. I think I mentioned, a few posts back, that a steampunk short story I wrote for Xchyler Publishing‘s Around The World In 80 Days anthology contest made the cut; it’s scheduled for release at the end of May, I think, but the deadline for copy editing is just a few short weeks away. I should be getting something from my editor in a couple of days, and as soon as that happens I’ll be getting busy with getting that story into shape.

For now, I’ve decided to take a weekend off writing. I finally broke down and went back to playing World of Warcraft, after an absence of, I think, well over a year. At that time I gave up on it for a number of reasons: that I don’t like doing dungeons with people I don’t know (because, to be honest, even with a group as small as five players, you can guarantee at least one will be some twit who forgets that it’s a game and takes it way too seriously—it’s supposed to be fun, guys, not a chore); that even creating new characters, exploring the same areas and going through the same quests was getting somewhat old; that they seemed to be dumbing the game down; and that the Mists Of Pandaria expansion appeared to pander (har!) to kids, paving the way for a Hello Kitty Island Adventure expansion. But the thing is, it’s still by far the best MMORPG I’m aware of, and after such a long time away from it I’m seeing some things afresh. It’s still loads of fun.

So, I’m going to grab a cup of coffee and go play for a little while, then maybe park myself with a book for a bit. If you’re a WoW player and you happen to be on the Shu’halo realm, and you see a level 19 Alliance Pandaran hunter running around Redridge Mountains or Duskwood with a pet fox, just /yell the magic word “Gunn”. If I yell back “Bohemia”, you found me <grin>.

Until next time, gentle reader . . .

I have ten minutes . . .

. . . while I wait for dinner at the fast food joint. I’m posting from my phone, so this will be short.

The time line for the Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia sequel is coming along. I expect to have the first pass done tomorrow.

Now, I know I said I’d quit playing World of Warcraft a long time back. Well, I couldn’t resist—I bought the latest expansion pack the other day, and started playing last night. Not playing when I should be writing takes self-discipline but so far hasn’t been an issue.

Right, food should be ready in a minute or two. Posting.

[Update: that entry was something of an experiment, to test publishing a post from my phone. Not too successful; the formatting was off and even the title got screwed up somehow. I probably won’t do that again.]

Lazy Weekend; Games and Cloud Atlas and stuff

I haven’t done anything constructive all weekend. It’s been great.

Friday night we went out for a belated birthday celebration (steak at Outback, which was disappointing; the rib-eye was tough and over-seasoned), and bought a bunch of birthday goodies—some games, a Steam gift card, and some TV shows and movies on DVD and blu-ray.

Saturday: I had to re-install my Steam client (it wouldn’t connect), then I bought a couple of games with the card: Alice: Madness Returns—the sequel to the original American McGee’s Alice—is ready to play, but I haven’t started it yet; Syberia and Syberia II were 75% off so I got those, too.

I played Syberia when it came out, but that was a long time ago, so—especially since it only cost about $2.50—I went ahead an bought it. And spent most of Saturday playing it. I hadn’t intended to—I was going to play Alice—but I started it off, just to remind myself how it looked, and got kinda hooked. Interesting game, and very Steampunk.

Sunday: started into some of the DVDs. First up was Cloud Atlas, and it’s been haunting my thoughts since. For the first half hour I didn’t know quite what to make of it, and I wasn’t sure how the bits connected, but things started to come together by about halfway through, and by the end I was enthralled. I can’t get certain scenes out of my head. I’m going to have to watch that again soon.

Next, Star Trek: Into Darkness. Damned good. I will say no more.

Rounded off by watching a few episodes of Castle, season 5. I love that show.

So: it’s Monday morning, 6:45am, and almost time for me to fire up the work laptop and get into day-job stuff. I feel rested and ready to go, so without further ado, I’d better get on with it. Until next time . . .