Saturday, July 8, 2017

Consuming the Galaxy of No Man's Sky

There's this game.

It's not actually a game, it's something else. It's someone's interactive piece of art. A simplified but massive simulation of the Galaxy. If you're a fan of 70's cerebral sci-fi novels you'd love it. There are
18,446,744,073,709,551,616 planets to discover (that's the actual number!) and explore is mind numbing and tantalizing. The game came out and there were some very loud people on the internet who shat on it. I've had a great time mainly because I didn't go into it looking for a game, but an experience. A laid back trip through someone's work of art.

I got picked up and accepted into a community who has claimed an area of space around the center of the galaxy. It took me better part of a year to "warp" the hundred-thousand plus light years to get there. Things have been very active and it's a very positive community. It brought the game to life for me again in a completely new way. We were approached by some member of the video game press and one of the administrators of the group suggested he approach the players. I got asked by this guy to answer some questions. I love to write words whether they're fun to read or not, so I answered him.  Below, for your reading curiosity or boredom, is my copied and pasted reply:

(If there are typos, I'll peek back in and fix them and make the words flow fancy)

I'm very excited to share my thoughts on the game. There's something special about it and with my recent discovery of the NoMan'sSky Love Hub, my energy and excitement for it got rekindled.

When did you first start playing and what drives you to keep playing the game?
I was a player from launch. I was sold on the game by one of Sean Murray's demonstrations. He was at some conference in a private interview showing basic gameplay on a planet's surface. When he launched into space from his starship, barnstormed some freighters, then zoomed out to the galactic map and I saw how HUGE the game was, I was hooked. The gameplay looked chill. At almost 40 years old, I can't complete with the high school and college kids on Call of Duty, and I don't have the time with two young kids to bang my head against new, innovative control schemes. No Man's Sky is laid back, can be played in bursts, and doesn't put you under any pressure at all do accomplish anything. It is very literally a sandbox you can use however you want. 

Has your expectations for the game been met upon launch, or did it take time to get there? 

I was immediately satisfied at launch. I watched as many interviews and gameplay trailers as everyone else, but I didn't notice at all what was supposed to be missing. The environments were spectacular and the ambiance had me memorized. I could regale you with stories of my early outings and the gut-wrenching despair and loneliness. The game immediately played with my . . . what's the word . . . the game got into my head. It effected my emotions, my feelings. . . I was immediately immersed.

The updates have done a little to, I think, take away from some of those feelings of being a lone explorer. The theme of the game changed a bit from "go to the center and explore everything along the way" to "find a nice planet, build a base, and settle down. Keep exploring, but now you have a home."  So I noticed a tone shift and the feelings of being immersed are gone but have been replaced my something just as rewarding (which I'll go into later)
Many people seem to write off the game because of its harsh backlash when it was launched but today it seems to be thriving in it's own way. What is it that you think drives people to keep playing the game?

I don't believe that most people who play games are picking over every gameplay trailer frame by frame, or reading transcripts of interviews checking things off a list. The type of people who do that are also the type of people who get onto the internet and complain. I think the harsh backlash was coming from an extreme minority of players. We all have access to numbers of players playing and . . . oh man that number is disappointingly small. Stacks of the game are for sale used at all my local video game stores.

BUT the people who still are playing this game are playing it because they never felt mislead about what the game was "supposed" to be. Ultimately it's a game for people just like me--older folks who grew up on Star Trek and read Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke books.  The game is more cerebral and it takes goofy people like us to enjoy it. The game isn't for everybody. Some people looked at the gameplay and saw Star Wars. Other people looked at the trailers and saw Andy Wier's The Martian.
What are your thoughts on community-driven initiatives such as the Galactic Hub and the Love Hub as well, and how do they change the general impressions of the game for you?

I had played the game very heavily before getting distracted by Overwatch on PS4 and Breath of the Wild on WiiU. I took time off but did peek back in to the r/NoMansSkyTheGame subreddit every now and again, and the game as well. When I first learned about the Galactic Hub, I was disappointed to find that I had already passed it on my way into the Galactic center. I had anticipated that players would congregate somewhere and I thought that would have been around the galaxy's core. I wasn't so much interested in seeing other players or interacting as much as just poking around seeing how the more creative players named things in the systems.  So when I made it to the center (before my long break) I felt very very alone and was afraid to go too far from my base star for fear of not finding it again. I played the other games a while, checked back in every now and again to build up resources and money in case another update drop, and checked out.

Then one day on Reddit, I read that there was a hub at the galactic center: NoMan'sSkyLove.  I immediately took down the coordinates, packed up my base, and used the third-party coordinate app to find NMSL - 1. I was at it for a solid week. In tracking down the star system, I found the Facebook community and immediately learned there are so many players out there who like the game for the same reasons I do. I had felt so alone in the game (it was sort of the point of the game at launch, I feel, to manipulate your senses into being a lone traveler) but I now saw this family there, this community and was overjoyed. The best part has been the feeling of acceptance. I could come onto the Facebook page and ask a stupid question about how to find my system; Reddit conditioned me to expect, "Noob, Use Google, LOLZ" or "Didn't you read the page rules?"  But no!  I've watched one of the admins (Ty Beecham) answer the same question I asked to at least 10 other potential MNSL Dwellers with the same enthusiasm and excitement as if it were the first time he were asked.

I have met people in voice chat ALL OVER THE WORLD. It is amazing. The UK, New Zealand, Australia, and that far off place known as the southern United States, (I'm from the midwest US) And every single one of them is an absolutely solid, great human being. I've only been a part of the Dwellers group for maybe over a month. I feel compelled to give back to the community as much as I can just to support it, and contribute to its life. And now I get to stroll around looking at everyone's creations AND spread our naming convention around as I explore new worlds and seek out new life. The game came alive like it never had been. The loneliness has been replaced by family and connections with other humans.
What do you hope to see for the future of No Man's Sky?

As an artist, I feel we should all be at the mercy of what the designers intend. I know what I want to see, but ultimately, I'm more interested in experiencing the game Sean and his team want to give us. My silly ideas might just destroy some critical game mechanic or change the tone, or have unforeseen consequences.  But here are my two cents anyway:

I want to see the Universe reboot. I want to see all of us players brought back to the outer rim--maybe us old timers get to keep our gathered resources, maybe not. With a universe reboot, I want to clear out all the discoveries and have a more robust engine for naming, tracking, locating, and logging discoveries with an ability to fix spelling mistakes and "un claim" named things if we want to vacate a system.  The main purpose for the universe reboot is that there can be more variety added to the algorithm that generates planets. I'd love solid city-worlds, post apocalyptic worlds, gas giants (and new ways to gather resources), ringed planets. . . I want to see Freighters, starships, and vehicles to work a little more in concert with a little more of a Star Trek flair. I'd like to see occupations play out a little more. I want to design and build starships others can buy. Other people could be miners, traders, bounty hunters, base builders, on and on.

I do not DO NOT want to see any sort of versus experience. I don't even want them to spend the time building an isolated mode for it because the tone of such a thing doesn't match and I don't think the long term players are hankering for it. It opens the world to griefing--another player coming in to my world, my life, my living room to ruin my day. It was never intended to be that sort of game and as bad as the dude-bros who gripe about the disappointments of No Man's Sky, they would come back if it meant they could grief people. Some people thrive on that. But that's NOT why I love No Man's Sky. Now Co-Op? An ability to invite one or two people into my world? Yeah, that'd be neat if done well. Certain (infrequently placed) space stations that act as a gathering place to meet other players (like how the Citadel felt in Mass Effect or how the Tower in Destiny works as a social hub)

After that, he thanked me for my time and closed the letter. I hope you cared enough to enjoy reading!  THANK YOU!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

My name is Master Jack. Specialties: None

I want very badly to be one of those cranky old craftspeople who are so good at what they do that doing it wrong, or doing it half-assed is insulting to them. I so admire those salty dogs who do everything so correctly, and somehow have the perfect, highest quality tool with which to do it.

My personality is just not there. It never has been. Maybe that salty woodworker takes time to season. Somehow it's earned. Learned. Something. Maybe it is my lot in life to be decent at a lot of things, but truly excellent and nothing. I'm good with that. I am. I like being a jack of all trades, master of none.But someday I would love to be in a position--and to be motivated enough--to study and learn and work at perfecting just one trade. The sad state of my brain is that I'm too interested in so many different things. I don't think it's the ADD that drives me to spread myself too thin, but a sincere interest in all these different things.

I'm ten years away from being as old as my Grandfather was when I formed my lasting memories of how amazing he was at his job and his woodworking. The shop I've assembled in my studio would likely bring him to tears with pride, but I can't come nearly close enough to filling it with the amount of skill he had when he was my age. I've got years to go.

The moral of the story is that you should never stop trying to get better at the things you enjoy doing. After that, you need to teach the next generation and show them what quality work looks like, and what pride in that work looks like. And that they too should never be satisfied with their level of skill.

Shoot. I just wrote a blog again. I should post this somewhere and keep writing more to it, and craft it, and edit it. . . Stay tuned for edits.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Catching the White Whale: A Collector's Story

The young’ns call them blogs, but I call them “essays.” I wrote the following essay the moment I got home from a very successful trip to a near-by comic convention, I was still riding the emotional high and was very excited to capture the energy, the emotions, and the experience. I needed to get it out and to share it. Since I originally wrote it, I've gone back in and edited things for clarity and humor. Please forgive me if you catch a screwed up past or present tense verb. If you make it to the end, thanks for your time! I even heard that two of my friends teared up while reading it. When you’re done, tell YOUR collector story in the comments!

On May 15th, 2015, I completed a collection. That doesn’t sound like much of a to-do for the “normals” who aren’t into that sort of thing. “That sort of thing” being, “the compulsion to seek out trivial bobbles that fill some imagined hole in one’s life.” But today ended a quest I’d been on since I was eleven years old. This isn’t the first time I’ve completed a collection, either. I completed my video game collection a few years ago. (that didn’t end well for the video game collection, but that’s another story) I don’t fully understand why my brain chemistry makes collecting things so important. The importance of objects has diminished greatly since my son Oliver was born, of course. In some ways, however, he’s a catalyst to inspire more collecting. We just had to track down the complete set of the preschool, Rescue Bot Transformers. Yet my love for his social well-being inspires me to make sure he understands how collecting, left unchecked, can be a harmful distraction from an authentic, stable, social and financial life.

All Things in Moderation.

Knowing the Difference Between “want” and “need.”

Be in Control and Conscientious in Everything You Do.

Know when you can throw all of that out the window. . . responsibly of course. Right?

At Motor City Comic Con, I found issue 29 of volume 4 of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For me, that completes every main-line book Mirage, Archie, IDW, and Image ever printed on the Turtles. Every one of them is a first print, except for the original, 1984 issue 1. No one NEEDS to spend $3000 on a comic book printed on the cheapest of yellowing newsprint. I didn’t know I had begun collecting anything at all when I walked into a used bookstore with my mom—maybe in 1992—off of 36th Street near the corner of Division Avenue in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was a colorized, trade paperback reprint of the original three issues of the Mirage Ninja Turtles. It might have even been my first comic book ever. It was darker and grittier than the cartoon I loved, but it was awesome to my little 12 year-old brain . . . despite the perceived errors of having all their masks colored red, and Splinter having originally been a rat and not a human. Of course I didn’t know the comic WAS the original. And gosh, that old book smell. I love the smell of that book. Between that trade paperback and the first two regular issues of the Mirage run my Aunt Marie got me for a birthday (issues 48 and 49), these were my first Ninja Turtles comics and they’re still in my collection. Only now? I have EVERY issue.

Having every book in that run means a lot to me. I don’t know why. It’s very comfortable. Like having sorted your record albums autobiographically.

Realistically, in the grand scheme of life it means very little. Logically I know that. Maybe those feelings come from the simpler time of my life when I’d get on my bike—sometimes with my friend David—and ride down Division Avenue to the Shell Station on 28th street to buy the Archie Ninja Turtles series off the spinner rack. Remember when comics were sold at the grocery stores and gas stations? Fond memories. It’s part of my childhood. Maybe it’s not part of who I am now, but these books, these characters, these friends and memories are the runway on which adult Joseph Reed was launched. Having all these books is a physical connection to that time.

Dang, I’m old. I’m old enough for comics to come off a spinner rack?

Marrying my wife Jennie, hearing Oliver thudding through the house, being a teacher to many wonderful students . . . these things make me feel complete. These things make me the man I truly am. Having a complete collection of silly paperback books with anthropomorphic amphibians is . . . different. Having a family and a good job is the food. The nourishment. Collecting funny-books and toys is the candy of life. It’s the sprinkles and novelty wax candle number on the birthday cake. Totally unnecessary, but absolutely fun. Being a complete adult and being a complete geek don’t compare at all . . . except I just managed to make a food metaphor of it so maybe I did compare them.

I’ve been hunting for this book for . . . well . . . about twenty years. I didn’t know it; it was printed in 2008, but it was always “destined” to be released. So yeah. Twenty years. I’ve been specifically and actively hunting for this particular book for two years. I saw it at Motor City Comic Con one or two years ago and passed on it. At the time, I was purchasing the Turtle books sequentially from low numbers to high, based on how much disposable cash I had budgeted for myself on that particular outing. I saw it in a bin of back issues. At the time, I didn’t know how rare it was. I just bought the rest of what I needed to fill the gaps in the set. So once I got some of the other books out of the way and started looking for the later issues, I realized how gosh darned difficult 29 was being to find, I kicked myself for not knowing better and buying it when I saw it.

I waited in line outside the Suburban Collection Showplace on May 15th, 2015, got my ticket to MCCC, and walked straight for the booth I knew would be most likely to have it. This particular booth, run by the guys who put on the convention, always had a lot of Turtle books in their bins. It’s consistently been the most respectable selection of Turtle books I’ve been able to find in three states. No dice yet—they were still setting up the booth. I was too early. At the back of the booth, behind the long boxes of comics set up on tables, the racks (where the valuable comics usually were) were still empty. “If it’s going to be here, it’ll probably be back there on that rack,” I told the clerk. He agreed and I left to hit every other comic vendor in the building. I ran into Gavin and Deanna who manage a local, Grand Rapids comic store, Tardy’s Collector Corner. We’re pals, and they know what I’m into and what I’m looking for. “I’m on the hunt for that book. It’s the only reason I’m here,” I tell them. They’ve had their eyes open for me in the store as well and I love them for it. Compassionate people with the hook-up are awesome. I owe them for their awareness. The search continued. Over the next hour and a half, I had hit every comic booth and didn’t find a single thing I wanted or needed.

Defeated, I walked through artist’s alley and celebrity row. There were several folks there who broke my brain. Realizing Lieutenant Dax from Star Trek is a real human being complete with a waist, legs, feet, and shoes you don’t usually get to see on screen—and has a real life outside of the alien make-up. As a clear-thinking human, you know she’s an actor when you see her on TV, but seeing her and these other celebrities in person shocks you awake to the reality.

By then, I had given up on finding the book. I was sad and feeling it. It’s an investment using a personal day from work, driving across state, buying a ticket to a huge convention. . . and all for this one book, essentially. It ends up being a gigantic waste of time and money considering there are real-life things I could have been accomplishing. Still defeated, I head back toward Don Rosa to get an autograph for Oliver on his Scrooge books. I picked up a few other things here and there. Star Wars on BluRay for cheap. There was a heartfelt sadness as I walked by the Tardy’s booth again and talked to Deanna about not having found it. But you know? It’s a rare book. I knew very well I probably wasn’t going to find it. There were only 1000 of them printed and, as far as I’ve been able to research, were sold ONLY through the Mirage website. You had to KNOW the book was coming out AND you had to order it before it disappeared. There are fewer of these books than there are of the original #1 which had a print run of 3000. The likelihood of finding this book in the hands of someone who wasn’t keeping the book for his or her own collection was slim. Realistically, it ain’t gonna happen that easy. Keep in mind for over a year, not one week of my life had passed without my heading to Ebay and searching for, “tmnt turtles comic –idw –cover –variant –archie.” I usually searched daily if I managed to remember. I hadn’t seen the book online in those two years. Not once.

I am very literally on my way out of the building when I noticed, while walking by that first booth, behind the long boxes, the shelves were finally filled with the rare comics. I immediately stopped mid-stride to head over there.

On a rack, (oh my god there it is), I can see half the cover sticking out from behind a Peavey guitar box leaning against the shelf. Weeks ago I predicted I would be a blithering, weepy mess when I eventually did find it and I was not wrong. My trembling hand pointed at issue 29, volume 4 of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and my literally-quavering voice managed to eek out, “that’s the one I need.” Those words were all I could manage to get out. The clerk took it off the shelf and initially tried to tease me by picking it up and holding it just out of reach, saying, “you mean THIS one?” I think he saw the very real tears welling up in my eyes because he handed me the book pretty quick after that without another word. He realized that this grown-ass man was about to have a breakdown. There are all kinds of socially awkward at conventions and he had no idea which one I was or wasn’t. I managed to keep it together (mostly) for never actually expecting to see it in person. The book is within the price limit I had set for myself. Better yet, it was even autographed by Peter Laird.

Yeah, I’m done. Bam. Cash.

I didn’t even put the book in my satchel. I just carried it around with me like a security blanket in my trembling, numb hand. I took it over to Gavin to show him—the nearest person I knew who would give some sort of shit about what I just done. He was happy for me. I didn’t realize right away that he was holding out his hand wanting to see it. He probably thought I was keeping it like My Precious, but I’m not THAT crazy. He took it, gave it a discerning, experienced once over with his comic-shop-owner eyes, congratulated me and confirmed it was a good price. I certainly agreed. With that, I was officially done and could leave the convention. There was nothing else in that building I could possibly want. Were there more obscure turtle books I could have found in some bins? Unlicensed appearances? Crossovers? Yes. But I really didn’t care and I left the convention three hours earlier than I had scheduled. No other Turtle book out there will be as hard to find. And I can say that literally having searched E-bay for over a year.

What do normal people do with their spare time? People who don’t have this psychological candy to live for? What do they do to occupy their hands? I might call them, “boring” except the adult in me knows they’re probably living a social, spiritual life that is more complete than my superficial, material-based second-life. This is who I have though, in the little corner of my psyche: My inner child still plays there. That 9 year-old boy playing with Todd Binsz’s little plastic turtle toy. He was a grown man who received it as a gag gift, but he let me play with it. I had no idea what I was committing myself to by falling in love with that little thing as a child. It’s finally come full circle and his journey is complete. I mean seriously complete.

Whatever that means.