Categories: "Games"

Minecraft... In Space! (A StarMade Impressions Post)

  05:50:00 pm, by Damon   , 829 words  
Viewed 4832 times since 03/29/15
Categories: Games

Everyone else is blogging, so I might as well do so as well. It's time for another posting from what I'd hope would be considered everyone's favourite guy on the UESP... Me!

In this completely impromput, totally disorganised, and probably very boring "first impressions" post, I want to talk about Minecraft... In Space! The game is called StarMade, and is similar to Minecraft in that it's a voxel-based infinitely generated universe of blocks that can be harvested for crafting. The difference is that while Minecraft focuses on a single planet, StarMade is a whole galaxy. There are tons of planet types, asteroids, space stations occupied by pirates, other factions or are derelict, and more! It's really a fun game, I think, and it hits upon my love of creating that Minecraft used to offer, and it fulfils my love for space exploration.

The game starts you off outside a Traders' Guild space station, a shop where you can buy and sell resources for Credits, and you have enough parts to build a small ship and 20,000 Credits, the currency in-game, to spend as you please. Once you make the ship, you're free to explore the galaxy. You can fit the ships you make (you can make as many as you have money to make, and I happen to have two ships, one for mining and one for exploration and light combat) with cannons to attack enemies, you can attach mining equipment to it and rip terrain and resources from planets and asteroids (which can be totally removed! - although planets are so freakin' huge I've not tried it with them), or you can just explore and look at things... Something I've done a lot of.

On a rambling, off-topic comment, it's very disorientating in space. You're used to "Down" being the direction gravity pulls you towards, but when you're away from a planet, your cardinal directions become completely arbitrary constructs that have no meaning, and so it's tricky to get used to orientating yourself or your ship to do whatever you fancy when you're floating in the black with no nearby planets, stations, or asteroids to use as a reference to call "up" or "down" on.

I've not really gotten into huge epic battles with the pirate fleets or other factions, nor have I done a lot of mining, except when I needed parts/currency to update the main exploration ship, affectionately called the Space Shuttle Dreamer after my best friend who sent me the game on Steam. The mining I have done is nice, though, and it's fun to rip every piece of material worth owning on a planet or asteroid, and then turn around and return to the one I've dubbed "Home" (creative name for a planet with trees and grass, I know) and build more of my large land-based facility above and under ground in order to facilitate my exploration and acquisition of resources...

The next stop will be an eventual space station constructed in space somewhere! That's my end goal, since there is no goal currently in the game, aside from exploration and fun. I want to make a big, glorious looking space-station to serve as my mobile home out away from Home... Why spend forever on the planet Home when I can live in the black and explore ice and lava planets and other cool stuff in a large mobile home?

Since I'm a big fan of the British sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf, I'd like my space station to be a replica of Red Dwarf, though a ship of that magnitude is a little out of reach for me as far as resources and creativity go. Then, I'd probably fly that between planets and use the SS Dreamer (my combat/exploration vessel) and the "Pickaxe" (my mining vessel, named after Minecraft) as short-range vehicles to harvest resources and other things. (Ships have no fuel, by the way, at least in alpha, and I just want to have a space station to dock to, because why not?)

This post has gotten really ramble-y at things point, but TL;DR: I really enjoy StarMade. As it turns out, the alpha version of the game is currently free and will be free to download and play, although like with Minecraft and other games, you can purchase the game for $9.99 and get to receive the updates through Beta and into the full version when that comes around. And, it excites me, because there's already a lot of amazing things in the game, and it's only in ALPHA right now! This game will only excite me more and more as time goes by and I get to update it into Beta and then the full release.

Anyway, I shall return whenever I have something interesting to say in the future, and once I've had a length of time to get into everything about the game and create a formal opinion on everything about it, I might do a proper review of StarMade. Bye, guys!

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An Analysis of the Skyrim Civil War, pt. 3: The True Path

  09:13:00 am, by   , 1277 words  
Viewed 7326 times since 03/29/15
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls, Analysis

Author's Note: I apologize for the delay in getting the final part of this analysis posted. A change in my personal life has made it more difficult to find time to get this together in a timely fashion.

 

So here we are. After all that beating around the bush, it's finally time to answer the question that has dogged Skyrim players since the game's release: Which side should players take in the Civil War questline? In the previous part of this analysis, I discussed the role of the One True Dragonborn in the Skyrim Civil War, and how his participation would drastically alter the outcome. My ultimate conclusion was that neither the Stormcloaks nor the Empire were worthy of this mighty warrior's allegiance, and that giving his aid to either of them would have unfortunate long-term repercussions both for the people of Skyrim and for Tamriel as a whole.

 

The only remaining choice, then, would be to negotiate a ceasefire and remain aloof from the war, in what we might think of as allying with the Greybeards. This is the path that nobody seems to consider as being a legitimate option, and fairly so; it's hard to think of it as a true path when there's only a single quest devoted to it, which leads many to dismiss the Season Unending quest as a cop-out for people who can't be bothered to resolve the conflict before completing the main quest. From a gameplay standpoint, I'll admit that there's some truth to that statement. But you can't very well have a questline dealing with your actions in a war after choosing to stay out of it, and I refuse to believe that Bethesda, which goes to Tolkien levels of effort to build lore for the fictional universe they created, would program a quest for remaining neutral unless it could be tied into the lore. The path of neutrality is established not through the actions of the player, but through the game's own narrative in its depiction of the Greybeards, their philosophy, and the events surrounding the Dragonborn and the Civil War; the purpose of the Season Unending quest is to tie these narrative elements together, creating a third option for completing the Civil War which is not only viable, but the most preferable option of the three.

There are several reasons the Dragonborn must not take sides in this war, and I've already touched on some of them. For starters, he's the wild card, the deciding factor in the war. A one man army will cause the side he aids to win through his strength alone, but will make that side dependent on him as both a fighter and a symbol of its cause. If his allegiance changes or he dies (as all mortals do, dragon soul or not), then that side will have lost both a sizable portion of their military strength and a symbol to rally supporters around the cause. Furthermore, a new political entity would have to emerge regardless of who wins the Civil War. For the Stormcloaks, an independent Skyrim would emerge; for the Imperials, the success of the Skyrim campaign would lead to an attempt to retake the other provinces, in the hopes of restoring the Empire to its former glory. If the Dragonborn were to become involved in the Civil War, he would necessarily become a central political figure in the aftermath, as the winning side would petition his help against the Thalmor and other threats. He would become even more involved in the conflict than he already was, but would be unable to withdraw from it without destabilizing the political entity he helped to create.

These considerations are barely, if ever, mentioned in the game, but they are very real consequences of someone with as much power as the Dragonborn participating in political affairs. This is the reason the Greybeards remain aloof from the world: Much like the Dragonborn, they are too powerful. Even if they didn't take any formal positions or titles, their power would give them status and reverence among other political leaders, who would accept their counsel without question. Even in their current, isolationist approach to world affairs, they are already highly respected by the political leaders of Skyrim; Ulfric admits that “I have the greatest respect for the Greybeards, of course,” and Balgruuf outright admits that “They are respected by all Nords.” If they became any more involved in politics, the balance of power would become largely centered around them, and having the majority of power in the hands of a few is rarely a benefit, both to a government and the people it serves. Even if the Greybeards tried to use their influence to achieve more peaceful aims, they would end up doing more harm than good. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and even the Greybeards may be corrupted in time, as evidenced by Arngeir's threats after Paarthurnax is killed: “Begone! Before even my philosophy is tested beyond the breaking point.” The Way of the Voice is an essential philosophy for learning to use the Thu'um–lest we forget, the last time a mortal was trained to use the Thu'um without following the Greybeards' philosophy, he used his powers for regicide.

Then again, it would be equally irresponsible for the Dragonborn to do nothing at all with his power when he could be using it to help people. As Delphine so bluntly puts it, “If [the Greybeards] had their way, you'd do nothing but sit up on their mountain with them and talk to the sky.” Delphine's questionable understanding of the Greybeards aside, she brings up a good point. The threats to the people of Tamriel go beyond the dragons, and the Dragonborn has the power to stop these threats as well; consequently, he also has the responsibility to do so. Of course, Delphine would have him use his power to destroy the Thalmor as well, so following her is hardly better. Like all of the other players in the war, the portrayal of the Blades' philosophy provides only a small piece of the puzzle that is the true path intended for the Dragonborn. A hero of his nature has to be very careful about how he uses his power, and that means not getting involved in messy political disputes; his only recourse, then, is to protect people without allying himself with any organizations. By serving no master but himself and protecting innocent people from threats they can't stop themselves, the Dragonborn realizes his true potential as a hero, which goes far beyond stopping a single threat.

 

Being a freelance hero with no true political affiliations is not only the most responsible way for the Dragonborn to use his power, but the most suitable way to do things for the kind of heroes portrayed in Elder Scrolls games: They can't be tied to one group or place, because their power may be needed elsewhere. It's why Modryn Oreyn oversees the daily operations of the Cyrodiil Fighters Guild in the Champion of Cyrodiil's absence. It's why Tolfdir holds down the fort at the College of Winterhold once the Dragonborn becomes archmage. And it's (presumably) why the Nerevarine left Tamriel for an expedition to Akavir, never to be seen again. Now again, it could be argued that this is just a way to account for the nature of sandbox games without introducing plotholes, and again, it is. But anyone who doubts that the Dragonborn works best as a neutral hero need only ask Legate Rikke and Galmar, who will both say the same thing: “I suspect you'll be of greater good to Skyrim out there, in the world.

Lore Lapses, Part X: King Harald

  07:05:00 pm, by   , 337 words  
Viewed 6001 times since 03/07/15
Categories: Elder Scrolls, Analysis

High King Harald doesn't make sense.

I think I'm going to stop doing this series on a regular basis, and instead start a recurring blog for UESP news. The blurbs on the wiki's news section don't cover much, some site-related events deserve greater acknowledgement, and I find myself with more than a paragraph of off-topic things to say when I make these.

Also, finding real discrepancies in the lore is not easy. There are plenty of differing viewpoints, but overt mistakes in the lore which contradict some other established piece of the world are few and far between. They go to great efforts to keep their facts straight; that's a huge reason why I love this series so much! Anyways, on to the nit-picking. From the lore page:

Some sources apparently conflate Harald's "reign" with his entire life. Frontier, Conquest accredits the years 1E 113 to 221 to him (108 years). Both the Daggerfall Chronicles and the 1st Edition Pocket Guide state that he died at the age of 108, placing his birth at 1E 113. The 3rd Edition Pocket Guide states that by 1E 113, "the entirety of modern Skyrim was under the reign of King Harald", suggesting his birth and reign coincided. However, a memorial plaque in Windhelm confirms that his reign began in 1E 143, when he was about 30 years old.

It's possible that Harald was proclaimed king upon birth, with a regent running Skyrim until he reached the age of majority ... which is apparently thirty years old in Skyrim. But this is ancient Skyrim we're talking about, where kings apparently still ruled through right of arms. Why have a baby High King?

Then again, maybe these two issues could cancel one another out? Maybe the High King dies with his heir Harald in utero, a regent assumes the throne in Harald's name, and he/she was such a badass that even Harald didn't have the balls to take the throne until three decades had gone by? I don't know, but I think there might be a story to be told here.

An Analysis of the Skyrim Civil War, Pt. 2: The Wild Card

  01:13:00 pm, by   , 1503 words  
Viewed 9274 times since 02/25/15
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls, Analysis

Author's note: After some feedback, I have decided to make this a three-part analysis instead of a two-part analysis, as was originally planned. This will allow me to address all points I wish to make in an organized fashion without getting too long-winded in any individual post.


The debate between Skyrim players about which side is right and why has been going on since the game's release. Which side is right? The Empire, whose goal of uniting the human races against a greater threat leads them to overzealous oppression? Or the Stormcloaks, a rebel army devoted to a power-hungry racist who cloaks his true motives in the guise of desiring liberty? If you read my last post, you know that I don't believe either of them to be worthy of allegiance. Yet in all of these debates, the one thing that vexes me most is that it's always centered on the Stormcloaks or the Empire, and no mention is made of the most important party in the war, the party without whom the war cannot be won; the party whose exclusion from this debate is all the more surprising considering that it is the one with which players are not only exposed to the most, but are in direct command of.

I am referring of course to the player character in Skyrim: the Dovahkiin, the One True Dragonborn, Herald of the Tyranny of the Sun, et cetera, et cetera. A figure whose involvement in the war is incidental, but no less important for it, a veritable one-man army without whom the war cannot be resolved.

 

It can be difficult to account for freedom in gameplay choices from a lore perspective, which is why we won't know who really won the civil war until the next game is released. However, there is one constant in the equation, regardless of which side players choose to take in the war: The Dragonborn's allegiance determines the victor. From a lore perspective, we might think of the events in a given playthrough of the game (and in fact, have historically been encouraged to do so by Bethesda) as an Elder Scroll prophecy; one person may see a vision of the Dragonborn leading the Stormcloak invasion of Whiterun and conquering the city, while another may see him repelling the Stormcloaks from the front lines and successfully driving back the siege. A third may see the Dragonborn refusing to take sides and instead focusing on destroying Alduin, in which case the civil war will continue. The text of the Elder Scroll giving these prophecies won't become fixed until the prophecy is enacted (i.e., the next game is released), but in all versions of this prophecy, the Dragonborn's actions decide the outcome. In other words, the Dragonborn holds all the power, not Tullius or Ulfric.

 

So which side should the Dragonborn bring victory? Clearly, the arguments applied last time are also relevant here. The Dragonborn's first involvement with the Empire in Skyrim is being sentenced to death without trial, just because he was caught committing a crime while Ulfric Stormcloak happened to be committing another crime in the same general area. Not a great first impression on the Empire's part (and also why so many players get turned off from siding with them right away). Of course, we are quickly introduced to the character of Hadvar, who embodies the more sympathetic aspects of the Empire, and shows us that not all Imperial Soldiers are bloodthirsty oppressors. While all of the other prisoners are slated for execution, Hadvar immediately notices that the Dragonborn isn't, and seems unsure as to how he should proceed. It's not just that he's confused over protocol; the mere act of asking his superior officer what to do shows that he doesn't want to immediately execute a person without reason. When he's told he has to do it anyway, he doesn't say “Sure thing!” with a sadistic glee; he solemnly apologizes that he can't do anything more for the Dragonborn, and gives the only measure of comfort he can by offering to return the latter's remains to his home country. When all of the prisoners escape, he doesn't try to stop the Stormcloaks or kill them himself; he tries to get the women and children to safety, and personally helps the player escape the city, showing a clear understanding that his primary purpose as a soldier is to protect the people, not slay his enemies. This point is driven home during the ensuing confrontation between the Imperial torturer and escaping Stormcloaks, where Hadvar disgustedly mutters These bastards call themselves Imperial Legionnaires...

 

If Tullius embodies the worst of the Empire, then Hadvar embodies the best. But just because there are those within the Empire who are well-meaning and friendly doesn't mean they are any more deserving of victory in the Civil War. It's one thing for the Dragonborn to forgive them for trying to execute him or to befriend members of their ranks, but to support them militarily is to support the policies which alienated the other human provinces in the first place: blindly assuming that being part of the Empire is in the people's best interests and refusing to hear any objections, all the while allowing the Thalmor to trample on people and roam the country as they please. The Dragonborn's primary role as protector of the world need not only be from Alduin and the dragons, his prophesied foes; it can (and should) be from all threats to peace. In that regard, supporting the Empire is little better than supporting the Stormcloaks.

 

Of course, that doesn't mean the Stormcloaks are automatically the Dragonborn's friends. While many aspects of his character aren't recorded in the canon (such as his past or race), there are few reasons he would have for supporting Ulfric. Let's say, hypothetically, that the Dragonborn is one of the elven or beast races. Right off the bat, he's considered inferior in Ulfric's eyes. His attempts to join the Stormcloaks would be met with immediate suspicion. Even if he were to join the Stormcloaks and gain their respect, Ulfric and his men would only show it by saying that even though he's a foreigner, he has the heart of a Nord. So he may be a dirty elf/lizard/cat/orc, but it's okay, he's one of the good ones. Why would you support someone who clearly views your people as inferior, and encourages actively oppressing them?

But even disregarding the Dragonborn's race, why should he want to support Ulfric? The only thing we know for sure about his past is that he was captured trying to cross the border into Skyrim, meaning he wasn't a native of the country. In other words, the Dragonborn is unlikely to have any personal investment in seeing an independent Skyrim. Why should he feel motivated to join a group fighting for a nation's independence if he isn't of that nation? Even if he is a Nord, and would therefore have good reason to care about the state of his ancestral homeland, why would he fight for the Stormcloaks? He wouldn't be fighting for Skyrim's independence so much as he would be fighting for Ulfric to be High King, and in doing so, he'd be making mankind more vulnerable against the Thalmor by driving a wedge between Skyrim and their Cyrodilic allies. If he really wants to fight for Skyrim's well-being, he should support a side that emphasizes the well-being of the common people while allowing for good diplomatic relations between all of the human provinces (which, again, neither the Stormcloaks nor the Empire do).

 

It could be argued that while both sides are wrong, supporting the Empire may be slightly preferable, since they are at least dedicated to a long-term goal of keeping all the human races united against the Thalmor, unlike Ulfric, whose concerns about the Thalmor are secondary to that of his own rank. But even if that's true, choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil, and when there are other options available, that isn't a good choice to make. So what else is there? Negotiating a temporary peace treaty which will effectively end after Alduin is slain? Staying out of the war and allowing the Thalmor to destroy both belligerents once they've exhausted each other? Clearly, maintaining complete isolation from worldly affairs, as do the Greybeards, is the worst choice of all, when the Dragonborn has the power to make a difference. The question, then, is how the Dragonborn might make a difference in such a way that will not bring disaster to the people on a continental scale. Bethesda presents such an option in the game, but it is presented so subtly that it often isn't even recognized as an option at all. It is an option that is hinted at many times, but always in pieces, never as a cohesive whole. Much like in real life, the correct answer to this difficult decision can only be reached through extensive consideration. So what is it?

To be concluded

 

The Great Siege of Narra

  01:49:00 am, by Damon   , 861 words  
Viewed 4496 times since 02/24/15
Categories: Games

It's time for another scheduled gaming-related post, but since I haven't got the time or energy to write a full-on review, I've decided to share an excting (and nerve-racking) story from my Mount & Blade: Warband save.

To give a brief overview, I'm a Lord in Sultan Hakim's Sarranid Sultanate, and I've been rather instrumental in our acquisitions of Narra, Dhirim, Reyvadin, and Uxhal, plus a bunch of surrounding castles. Of the set of things we've taken, the Sultan has granted me the town of Narra, which I had personally sieged and taken after the Vaegirs weakened it, but were unable to break in and claim it, I own Uhhun Castle, the nearest castle to Narra, and I own Kelredan Castle, off in Swadia country, as well as a handful (5-6) smaller villages, all of which I collect taxes from. (map of Calradia, to reference for locations)

We've been at war with the Nords, the Swadia (who we got out of war with just before the siege), and the Khergit Khanate for some time, because all of them have things that we've taken from them at some point or another, and they want the stuff back. Anyway, the Khergit Khanate decided they wanted my city of Narra back while I was off at Kelredan Castle, and I get the notice that it's happened, so I sent a message asking the Sultan to move over there, which he says he'd do, and I depart immediately to check out my town and break the siege... There are 900 men waiting for me... I'm starting to ramble alread... To the point, then!

Sultan Hakim of the Sarranid Sultanate left me hanging out to dry, and I had to fend off the king of the Khergit Khanate, their Grand Marshal, and a half-dozen or so lords, who brought a total of 920 men into battle against poor little me. The bastard... I take all this land for him, then when I send a message calling for aid, he leaves me hanging out to dry...

So anyway, Sanjar Khan, the enemy king, is sieging Narra, a town that used to belong to his kingdom, but that my king has owned for a few years and has let me rule over and collect taxes from. Since it's MY town, I thought "to hell with it. If it's being taken, then he has to put every one of the defenders to the sword".

They try to assault the walls, and  about 150 of 300 men (between the garrison and my 50 Sarranid Mamlukes and 20 assorted other men that I had with me to begin with) hold 400 back from taking the walls, and the Khanate has to regroup.

They are sitting outside the walls for a few days, maybe a week or so, and a few of the Lords break off to harass Sultanate caravans for supplies. So since they are split, I take a risk and break through the siege lines with the strongest men I have at my disposal, leave the city fairly minimally defended, I swallow the smaller Lords with my 120 men (about 200 were not injured or dead - mostly just survivable wounds), so there are only about 90 men in the town. Then, I am met outside the walls by the Grand Marshal and the King, who have a combined 375-400 troops still available against my 120 in the field. And, it's a calvalry-strong army, being the Khanate. I miraculously defeat them by keeping my army grouped and with me moving around the battlefield to scatter their men and hit them over and over while periodically letting the men separate to strike hard hits.

Then, after a long battle (30 minutes real time, which is a good while), we manage to defeat the entire army, and we had a few Lords as prisoner, who I promptly threw in Narra's prison to rot while I awaited a ransom from them. Then, I just sat in Narra with my army while I sent recruiters, and we have 350 recruits that I am taking into the field and quickly training while my Constable trains others to rebuild our garrison. But, at least I broke the bulk of the Khergit Khanate's army, I'd say, so hopefully it will be a while before they try striking at Narra again.

I swear, bards will be singing of that day. And, I imagine the men who survived all three major battles (the siege defense, the caravan defense, and the direct assault against the King) are doing a lot of praying, feasting, and baby-making after this one.

So, to recap: 300-320 men vs. approx. 920-930, and about 100 remained combat-ready. Damn. I am still amazed it went so well...

Also, in case any Warband players ask, the recuiters and constable come from the Diplomacy module, which I love because it adds a lot of treaty options, it adds the Chancellor, Constable, and Chamblerlain, who help manage your affairs (keeping a treasury to put the income in, moving troops around, training troops, getting troops, you can manage your fief improvements there, send messages and gifts to Lords, etc). Google it for more information, if you feel so inclined. I am just pointing out that that's where my two non-Native things I mentioned came in from.