2015 #extralife #gameathon

Yes, I hashtagged my title. Live with it.

I had previous written this “We’re right on top of the Gameathon”. Well, I never posted that. So, this is a little bit of pre- and post-gameathon.

First things: if you don’t know, it’s a charity event that benefits the Children’s Miracle Network, via Extra-Life. In turn, you choose your hospital, in our case, that’s CHEO, or the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

With that explanation, if you’d care to donate a few dollars, five, ten, fifty, five hundred, whatever you can, the best place to do so is here, through me!

Donate via me!

Yes, we have already completed our gameathon for 2015: However, donations are still counted towards this years totals until December 31st, 2015. So, if you want to donate? Please click the link. CHEO is a great, great cause. And, honestly, I would expect them to be busy in the new year: Refugee kids are going to need help, and I’m sure CHEO will be part of that effort.

Anyway, back to the event!

The team has become this weird combination of nerds, geeks, car-people, and .. yeah. General weirdos. There’s Chapter 11 Section 62 representation, @wrenchhaus, and the old university crew: The Bombshelter. Basically, we are legion.

This year, we changed things up. How? well, you’d need to know last years, first. So, here’s last year:

This year, instead of the island in the livingroom, we’re trying a long table around the walls. I think it’s free’d up a bunch of space: we had a problem last year with people needing to get in and out (food, bathroom). I think we’ve alleviated a lot of that with the new set-up.

On top of that, with The McFee being out of town, we’re skipping Rockband and making room for more PC’s. The entire basement, in fact, is dedicated to PC gaming this year.

Then, we’ve set up two bedrooms/offices upstairs with tables and chairs for serious tabletop action:

At this point, in fact, we’ve got a full walk-through video for 2015, again. My apologies for … yeah. that’s me doing the voice over. So, I apologize in advance.

Once again, I failed to do a second walkthrough. This year did, in fact, end up being signficantly different to previous years: not only did the Tabletop gaming get a lot more attention, but at the same time, one non-nerdy-family-game got played for no less than four straight hours, by a group that grew to nearly fifteen (somewhat intoxicated) bodies: “Catch Phrase”. I know. I don’t get it either. Sadly, I didn’t get any video of the idiocy involved, either, but that’s life. That said, we brought in the kids, too, and there were games of My First Carcasonne, and the like. The adults delved into a group favorite, Pandemic, as well as Elder Sign, and a multitude of others.

The PC master race was, as is appropriate, well represented by basement dwellers. I mean, I set up the PC gear in the basement. Note the network cables EVERYWHERE.

Speaking of the hardware, this is what it takes to set-up the house, to do things the way we do it. I’m not sure I’d recommend this to others: it’s a ton of work, and every year I end up buying more and more gear, especially networking gear. I got very lucky this year, and a neighbour was throwing out two tables (and by tables, I mean doors, with those folding legs bolted to them) which I picked up for free. Without that, we’d have had issues, so it was incredibly fortuitous.

So,yes, the hardware and set-up. Couches get moved from basement to ground floor: the ground floor is entirely consoles.

Also, my racing rig, which I finished at about 11pm the night before the event, and stood up extremely well. Althuogh I think I need addtional plyons… I mean, bracing.

The hardware!

Ok, so the house is rigged, before anyone shows up, with:

Ground Floor:
-Asus AC68u router
-TP Link 8 port switch
-TP Link 5 Port switch
-TP Link 16 port switch
-350′ Cat6 network cable

Basement:
-TP Link 5 port switch
-TP Link 8 port switch
-TP Link 32 port swtich (it’s what we had)
-250′ Cat6 Network cable

Once everyone was plugged in we had:

Ground Floor:
-11 TV’s (32″ to 50″)
-5 Xbox360s
-6 Xbox:One
-1 lonely PS4

Basement:
-12 gaming PCs of various sizes, shapes, and forms

This year, though, we didn’t blow a breaker. You laugh, but last year, we blew breakers repeatedly (due to a bad piece of wiring we’ve since had corrected) so badly that it blew a hole in the breaker itself, which had to be replaced, last winter. I’ve never seen anything like that. Compared to last year, I think we were actually bigger this year, but it’s hard to tell, because, as I pat myself on the back, I think we organized much, much more effectively this year.

So, while it IS a ton of fun, both in the set-up, preparation, and the event itself, there is a point to all this. And the point is, to raise money for CHEO. Which we did in spades.

Again, donations don’t close on this year’s event until December 31st, 2015. So, feel free to click that link up there, and make even a small donation.

Here’s the numbers so far though.

We’re showing up as the 285 biggest fundraising team in the event (international, 6265 teams, total). However, once the $400 USD I have addtionally makes it to the organizers (next week) then we’ll jump… We may jump into the top 100 teams. Which is INSANE. Most of those top-100 teams are corporate, and where they’re community teams, they have dozens, even hundreds of members raising funds. Again, I’m incredibly proud of my guys and girls: they put a ton of effort into this.

And yes, I know it’s not a competition. But boy, leaderboards, am I right?

Team Bombshelter is, once again, the #1 fund-raiser for CHEO, via Extra-Life, and the gameathon. I’m incredibly proud of not only our direct team, but the people who support us (with fooooooooood, in large part), those who donate incredibly generously, and those who come to wish us well. Our numbers are not 100% yet: I have a number of cash donations that are still coming in, but it looks, on the surface, as though we’ve (in what we thought was going to be an “off” year) broken through $3200 USD. That’s somewhere around $3800 in Canadian funds, going back, directly, to CHEO. Over the last four years, we’ve raised juuuuuuuust about $15,000 in Canadian funds[1].

It should be noted, however, that the newly-formed “Ottawa Guild Superstars” were nipping at our heels this year! That’s pretty damn, awesome, too.

[1]we lost our team historics this year, and we still don’t know why. Fortunately, I had screen captures of the previous years’ totals, so we’re not totally lost, but it is a shame, and I have to get back in contact with Extra-Life again to see if that can be rectified. It’s not a huge deal, but we are gamers, and our leaderboards are important to us. 😉

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On Game Peripherals, and Maybe We’re Trying To Make Too Much Money

I love racing games. I swore up and down, I was going to buy an Xbox:One, and Forza5, and I have done so. I’ve not yet played Forza5, because I also swore I wouldn’t play it with a standard paddle controller: I’d wait until I got a wheel. And, because I’m doing ok, and I know I’ll get the use from it, I decided that when it happened, I’d buy a Fanatec wheel. For those who don’t know Fanatec, they are the be-all-end-all for wheel/pedal, and basically, driving simulator components.

But.

The announcement went out that they’d finally made an agreement with Microsoft so they could produce a hardware interface for Xbox:One. Awesome.

Except not.

It’s a $299.99 ($399.99 with the steering wheel attached) (USD) add-on for your existing kit. I don’t have an existing kit from Fanatec. So, I’d be on the hook for, and I kid you not, $1300+ USD for wheel/pedals/adaptor, and shifter. Again, I shit you not, this is what I would need to pull the trigger on a set-up for the XB:One:

That’s the cheapest set-up I can configure, for my usage. I’d rather go with the $150 (or $199) Clubsport V shifter, and add a $99 Handbrake. So, remove $60 from the cart above, but then add at least another $249 to it.

Again, that’s USD. So, throw shipping in there, AND convert to Canadian dollars (about $1.26 right nwo) and that…. TWO. THOUSAND. DOLLARS. For a wheel/pedal set-up to play a console video game. Now, I love Forza. I truly, truly do. But I can’t imagine a world (well, I can, and I have the lottery ticket in my pocket right now) where I could justify that kind of money on console peripherals. I mean, are they going to sell any? That’s a hell of an outlay for anyone who’s not already heavily invested in the hardware, at the xbox360 level, and “just” wants to add a $300 (USD) lump to it all so they can use their existing gear on XB:One.

I seriously can’t imagine them selling enough of them to make it worthwhile. I’m about as rabid a race/gaming fan as you can have: I have thousands of hours invested in Forza2, 3, 4, and Horizons2.

So, what do I do?

Well, the Thrustmaster TX is looking better and better. I’d sworn I wasn’t going to “cheap out” when I did it this time: I got a ton of use out of my $99 Xbox360 original wheel

It’s a good looking piece of kit, it’s reputedly well built, and it’s $400. But I swore, I wouldn’t. I swore I wouldn’t pay THAT much for two pedals: I had to have the clutch. But it turns out, I can have the clutch.

So, the third pedal? I can get that (hah. Figures, right? I started this post a couple weeks back and since then, the pedal set has gone out of stock on amazon.ca). I can also add a proper shifter, too:

The bad news is, by the time I add that H-Pattern shifter (which looks pretty damn nice, I gotta admit), and the three-pedal rig, I’m looking at close to $800 again. At least that’s already in Canadian dollars, though, and shipped. It’s a lot less than the near-enough-to-make-no-difference-two-thousand-dollars Fanatec dream rig.

And that’s the problem right there. It IS a dream rig. It’s exactly what I want, and have wanted for nearly ten years. But it’s really, really, really not in the budget. Ever, I don’t think. Which kinda sucks, but there you have it. My only option, I think, will be to look for a used CSR set-up that someone is selling, and then add the Xbox:One adapter to THAT. That would get me in the door and running, and even if the use stuff breaks eventually, I can replace piece-by-piece from Fanatec. It’s the initial outlay that’s the issue, really. I can’t throw down that much up front for what is, at the end of the day, a toy. Even the Thrustmaster rig is going to be out of the real range of most people. You’ve got to be pretty well-off to even get into the Thrustmaster base rig, with two pedals, never mind turning it into what it should be. If thrustmaster were smart, they’d make a $600 kit available (wheel, three pedals, shifter) rather than having people buy two pedals, then replace them for $200 with a full pedal set-up. Maybe that’s just me though.

But at the end of the day, what all this really means is that my beloved Fanatec rig is off the table.

I mean, that two grand is a lot of parts for a REAL car. Which I also have.

Forza: Horizons 2 Review

Ok, so Forza:Horizons 2 has been out for ages now. I didn’t bother with it on Xbox360, because it was effectively castrated for that system: the only real way to play it was to do it on Xbox:One. And, I wasn’t buying an Xbox:One right away, because I need wheel/pedals to make it worthwhile for me.

But then a deal came along, and I bought a used Xbox:One, with Forza:Horizons 2, Forza 5, HALO: Master Chief Collection, and Destiny. Now, I was definitely not interested in playing Forza 5 without a wheel/pedals, but as I just ended up with a copy of Horizons, I figured I’d give it a shot.

I’m coming at this from negative space, right from the start. I didn’t like Forza:Horizons in its first iteration on the Xbox:360. I saw the Forza name on it, initially and thought “awesome! Open-sandbox simulator/racer! This is evrything I’ve been waiting for from Forza!”. And then it wasn’t. My general review of Forza:Horizons was “If I wanted an Need For Speed game, I’d have bought one”. The physics were arcade-y at best, sloppy at worst, there was none of the modification (parts) and tuning (set-up) that Forza is rightly famous for. Car’s didn’t feel particular different, and the modelling was pretty “meh” in general. I’m a car guy: I expect a lot from a brand who’ve made a name for doing car games, and specifically, a car SIMULATOR spectacularly well.

And Horizons wasn’t it.

So, enter Horizons 2.

I…

I LIKE IT, OK???

I said for months, I wasn’t going to bother, it’d just be more of the same, because Horizons sold well, so they weren’t going to fuck with the model that worked: NFS-style apparently had a market in the Forza world. Depressing, but there it was.

I was wrong.

That’s not entirely true.

The physics are not FORZA 4 or 5 accurate. But the Forza franchise is a spectacular evolution by Turn10, and Horizon isn’t made by Turn10. However. Turn10 do have a stake in it, and it’s primarily developed by PlayGround Games. It uses a heavily modified version of the new Forza Motorsports 5 engine. they physics are GOOD. They’re not awesome, but they’re good.

Upgrades.

Upgrade and tuning system is identical to Forza Motorsports. GIMMIE HALLELUJAH! This was my big thing: Forza Motorsports allows very specific additions and changes to the cars, it’s what makes it fun for me. I tend to opt out of the super-, ultra-, and exotic-cars, and racecars. They’re not that fun for me. I get the appeal for people, but again, I’m a car guy: I get more out of making something slow, fast, than just having something fast from the factory. Which means I’m far more likely to pick a 1967 Fiat Abarth 131 (Class D) and build it my way to Class A, than to buy a 2014 Corvette (Class A), in game. Tuning is the same thing: I choose my gear ratios, suspension settings, etc based on experience and knowledge, (and, honestly, I learn a lot from doing it too, about what works and what doesn’t). I want the Front Wheel Drive car I’m using to drop some of its understeer and rotate a little in teh corner? Take a few pounds out of the front springs and sway bars, add a few pounds to the rear, and remove some rear downforce, then test drive. Drive, tweak, drive, repeat.

And that was the bailiwick of only Forza Motorsports.

The good news is, that’s all now in Horizons. you don’t HAVE to do it, to win races. But if you want it, it’s there.

Better, if you’re a fan of the franchise, it’s familiar. The parts and tuning segments are lifted wholesale from previous Forza games. Awesome! So, I can make an All-wheel-drive car that balances perfectly in the corners, and I can make the same car oversteer madly if you look at it funny. Last night, on a super-tight street course, I had to turn my final gear ratio up from 3.56:1 to 6.5:1. Why? I wasn’t getting out of 3rd gear, and the engine was bogging down. I finished the race in second (just too little power to really pull it off) and was using 3rd, 4th, and 5th gears for the majority of the race, keeping the revs in the powerband.

Yes, the tuning is just THAT good, and that accurate.

The environment is beautiful, and put together brilliantly. YEs, there are “hard walls” occasionally, where they don’t want you to go. But most items are deformable (ie. you can hit them with a car and destroy them) and if they’re not, they’d realistically not be in real life (ie. you’d deform the car first). The sandbox is staggeringly huge. I’ve not seen all of it yet, and I’ve covered well over 1000 miles / 1400km. The roads are well thought out for free roaming, but also tighten down into courses really well. There’s a solid breakdown of on/off road races, and you really have to think ahead before you go into a race. This is where the tuning comes in: you’ll want to have at least an on-road and an off-road tune, for any car you use regularly: you can load the tune at the start of the race, and it swaps in tires, suspension, etc, that’s appropriate to the race you’re doing. Trying to do a cross country race on road race tires is an effort in absolute futility. Speaking of racing and free-roam, the AI is excellent too. I don’t really know how the whole “Driveatar thing works, but it really DOES work. I’ve built up rivalries with AI “Players”. Some of us just get “bumpy” with each other in races.

So, where does it fall down?

Like I said, the physics aren’t Forza Motorsports good: they’re probably… I’m going to say 70% of Forza Motorsports, and 30% NFS/Arcade. Which, honestly, broadens the appeal. I don’t have an issue with this, as long as it doesn’t flop over into the simulator that is Forza Motorsports. I think having the two products is a really good idea. So, not really a failing, just not as hard-edged as FM5.

The interface.

one of the “challenges” specifically is both really fun, and incredibly irritating, all at once. Early on, you’re assigned an easy to way to make a few bucks: take pictures of unique cars: you get credits for each one, and a bonus for every twenty.

The problem is that it takes forever to get in and out of camera mode! And you might do it three or four times on one stretch of road. It’s incredibly intrusive on the game play.

Example.

You see a Ferrari you’ve not collected yet.

You hit “pause” to go to the menu.
Across twice to “camera mode”
Wait while it loads.
move the camera sight around to get your shot.
Click the shutter.
Click “OK”
Wait for it to save.
Click “B” to go back to the camera
Click “B” to go back to the menu
Wait for the menu to load
Click “B” to go back to the road
Wait for the game to reload itself and put you back in the drivers seat.

Now, do this 200+ times (I’m currently at 218 cars captured on film).

Given how important the camera usage is within the game, there must be an easier way to go in/out of camera mode that doesn’t take up five minutes of your time.

ON a personal level, for me, the game still loads too heavily to “high end” cars, as well. I’d love to see more low end stuff, and have challenges specifically for it. The game is definitely directing me to start higher and higher, if I want to progress, and I’d rather work one car up from the bottom. I’m probably in a minority in that, however, as most people just want to get in and go.

So, all in all, it’s a good game, if not a perfect one. I can see it go either way in terms of the sliding scale between arcade and simulator. Obviously, I’d love to push the slider closer and closer to “simulator”, but at the end of the day, I’ll be happy if it just doesn’t go any further back to “arcade”. That was the primary failing of the first game, on the Xbox360. The simulator side of things is what really makes this special, I think.

I’d give it a solid 7.5/10. There’s some flaws, but they don’t ruin the game by any means. there’s also room to improve. But this is a seriously solid bridge between arcade and simulator, and should continue to do well, and attract both sides of that coin.

I retract my previous statements about the Horizons franchise. I like this game, they’ve done well.