ExtraLife Gameathon 2016 – Team Bombshelter

Well, first off, the final numbers aren’t in yet but:

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Yeah. Given that we’re a Canadian team, and that’s in US Dollars? I’m incredibly happy, and proud of my team. Seriously, they all come together at the last minute, and it just works. And they’re brutally generous with both their time and money.

That’s also not the end of the story, either. I’m currently sitting on about $325 Canadian in cash donations from the day-of (we keep a donation bucket).

And finally, if you’re so inclined, you can donate until December 31st, 2016. Just click right about here, and we thank you. Please, remember that this is in aid of CHEO (the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario), so,if you’re Ottawa, Kingston, that kind of area, and have, or know kids, chances are, someone you know will make use of CHEO’s services at some time. It’s a great cause, and we’re always happy to try to help them out in some small way.

So, the event itself!

I must admit, I had some trepidation going into it. It’s been … All round it’s been a rough year – I’ve had a lot going on at work, and personally, and I’m exhausted. So, it was tough to organize this year, and I almost didn’t bother. Almost. But, I had some concerns that we were going to get a super small turn out (we didn’t) that donations were gonna be tough (they weren’t) and that maybe the events time had passed for us (it hasn’t).

Call it a minor crisis of faith.

Well, I did the traditional lessons learned – We sold our pool table (that came with the house when we bought it) last winter, so that opened up a ton of space in the basement. That really made the PC gamers a lot more comfortable (And a lot more comfortable than they deserve! Basement trolls, every one of them). I picked up a couple of sets of folding table LEGS, and built two more “door tables” to provide as much space as I could, and that left us with an extra tabletop space surrounded by bookcases (which was actually really nice, the ambience was pretty great!) The network was strung from the ceiling like a spiderweb (main connection to gigabit switch, out to a gigabit switch on each set of two tables). I actually planned the layout of the house for the event on paper this year, and had myself an honest-to-god checklist, rather than just doing it all in my head. And, it all appears to have worked out fairly well.

So, speaking of that house layout, this is what we had:

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The living room – aka “Xbox Alley”. All consoles, all the time. Three years ago, this would have been the primary hub of activity, this year, not so much. We did have some bodies out sick, though, which made a big difference. Even so, our console division dropped off, which is interesting to note (also, smaller screens showing up this year, with the exception of my own, more on that later).

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Like I said, my own TV was the exception. In the dining room, I took over: That’s 65″ of 4k love – It’s my house, dammit, I’ll play the way I want to. I also knew I was going to have a huge set-up, anyway, because of my racing rig. What you see in front of you was: Xbox360, Xbox:One, Logitech G920 racing wheel/pedals/shifter, LED backlighting on the TV from the powerbar (those are AWESOME), and my Republic of Gamers G571 laptop. I was all set to play pretty much anything. Next to it was @pingoderp’s Xbox360, which basically got used for Portal.

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Family room was a general congregation area, and Rockband/DJ Hero. I was surprised at the turnout for the Rockbanding. Very good though. And the SumoSac’s were, as always, well loved by the kids for flopping out and spending time on mobile gaming, and Nintendo DS.

Basement. I wasn’t kidding. This is where the PC Master Race is shunned… I mean, situated.

Tabletop room 1!


Tabletop room 2!

I ended up not involved (for obvious reasons) but for a number of reasons, we tried a “PokeWalk” – a couple of the parents (primarily organized by @Yumi Kiddo) took a number of the kids to Carleton University to do a few hours of Pokemon Go. It does sound like it went well, and definitely helped us at the house, because it lowered the crush of kids running around for the afternoon (our highest volume of bodies is about noon to 9pm, and it can be a distinct “crush” of people in a relatively small space). I get the impression this went very well, but may have been a horde of babbling kids tearing at the nerves of a couple of parents *grin*

Lessons learned? Always.

  • the couch in the family room can’t be on the west wall – kids would jump onto it, and bump the wall-socket network cable, taking everyone out down in the basement
  • Rockband, even on a smaller scale, is still a success – IF it’s separated from all the other gaming, because it’s loud, and not everyone wants to listen to it
  • upgrading the connection (from 27/3 to 60/10 made a huge difference, and no one had any issues beyond the bumping from the couch).
  • consoles have dropped off, tabletop has grown hugely, and PC gaming staged a notable increase
  • it remains a huge amount of work to set up. Like…. a lot.

    How much? Well, take a look at the pictures, and you see what goes into the rooms. We move furniture around. the networking consists of eight gigabit switches, and somewhere around 700 feet of Cat5e. Four of those switches were new this year. We upgraded the connection, as noted, and that costs money. Ok, sure, I wanted that too but. There’s the hydro – November is our biggest month of the year for obvious reasons. It’s about an extra fifty percent of our monthly bill, for that weekend. Food, that we lay in, beyond what other people generously provide.

    And mostly… time. It takes A LOT of time to set up, tear down, organize, lead, and fundraise for. Probably 130 hours of pure, physical set-up and tear-down, plus time talking to people about the event, what we’re doing, how we’re doing it.

    This is the thing. We’ve now done this for five years. And it IS a lot of work. And early on this year, it was somewhat disenchanting to see the… lack of enthusiasm. And I know, times get tough and get better and we have good years and bad years.

    But, what I know at this point is, to turn the house into a charity fun-house (which is really what we do) for about eighty people coming and going (which is about what we have) costs me. Well, us. It costs money – I spend about $200/year now – it was more three years ago, but now we’re down to just replacing broken/obsolete things, and any hardware needed. It costs time as noted.

    But you know what?

    It’s still worth it. It really is. The event comes together, it’s really fun, we have a great time, there are some great moments, and once we’re doing it, I’m reminded of just how awesome the people I’ve surrounded myself with, are. I’m incredibly fortunate. And that good fortune is one of the reasons we still do it, despite the work, the frustration, and the inconvenience. Because we can, and it is just work, frustration, and inconvenience, and we can deal with that.

    Because at the end of the day, we do something good, and that’s really worth it. Especially right now.

    So, will we do it again?

    Well, at five years? Yeah, we’re totally going to. I’m not completely sure what form it’ll take. We may have some other options for a location coming up. Something that would really take the pressure off us in terms of the intrusion of the event into our home for weeks. I’d miss having the event at home, for sure, but it’s grown to a point now that it may really not be viable to keep doing it at home. However, a bunch of other stuff will have to come together for that to work, too.

    Cryptic much? 😀

    At the end of the day, we do it for CHEO, and I think we do an amazing job. I haven’t heard what the numbers are for fundraisers for Ottawa, for CHEO specifically, but we are regularly near the top. Which means we really are doing something good for the world, and for our community.

    Pretty much every parent we know has made use of CHEO’s facilities at some point or another, and those that haven’t? Likely will. It’s that kind of facility.

    So, one more time, with feeling, if you want to drop a few bucks, it would be hugely appreciated. Just click that link up there at the top. You know the one. Go on. Click it. You know you wanna. Makes you feel good. Doooo iiit.

    Seriously, if you’d thought about it, but didn’t get around to it, now’s the time! so, please do, if you can.

    And yeah, we’ll probably be back next year.

    But for the moment, I’ll leave it with this. I’m wicked proud of my team. Players, fund raisers, donators, all. All amazing. Thank you again Team Bombshelter, you’re awesome, and I don’t do this by myself.

  • New House, Bigger Bills, Catching Up On Games

    Yup, with the move to the new house completed, I’m waiting to see where all the bills settle down to. Given that, I’m actively spending less (where I can) and waiting to see where all the new bills seem to settle into place. What that means is, there’s time to play some games.

    I mean, it helps that it’s the dark days of winter (and ok, it’s getting lighter later in the day, and it’s almost DST here again, too) but, games are a good way to pass the time. Along with reading, but that’s another post.

    So, games.

    I’m playing a bunch of affordable DLC on Xbox Live: I’ve not seen the need to upgrade to the Xbox:one yet: that’ll probably happen after the summer, funds permitting.

    Digression: one of the big reasons, for me, for not upgrading to the Xbox:One yet is that it’s going to cost me an arm and a leg. Specifically, there’s really only one or two games I really want at this point, and only one of those is a “must have” on the new console. That game is Forza Motorsports 5:

    Now, why is that a holding point? Well, for one, I don’t see the point in buying a new $500 system for one or two games: I’ll let the platform mature a little, first. But second, for me, for Forza, it’s not a $500 system. It’s a $500 system, plus a $70 game, plus a $200-$400 wheel/pedal set-up. Because I don’t play sims with a controller/gamepad. I just.. don’t. It’s fine for stuff like Need For Speed, but for a simulator, it takes me out of the SIM part of it to use joysticks and triggers. I want a wheel and pedals. And when it comes to pedals, I want three of them. Yup, I stir my own gear set.

    So, that’s where I stand on the Xbox:One, and the PS4 is about the same for me. Not enough there yet, for me to justify my interest.

    Where was I?

    Oh, yeah, DLC and the ol’ Xbox360.

    So, I started (and fell in love with) Spec Ops: The Line: I continue to be told over and over that it’s worth playing the story repeatedly, and making different decisions. So, I think I finally have to finish it this weekend. I probably won’t re-play right away, but I’ve already had two serious, significant, gut-check moments in game. You know the “holy shit what have I done?” that you get in real life when you really fuck up? Yeah. That. And that, from a video game? Totally stunning. I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating. This is a spectacular game that didn’t get the attention it deserved. It’s worth every penny of thirty bucks, but it goes on sale fairly regularly, too. I got it on XBL for $7, which is ridiculous for a game of this quality.

    After that, I’ve not raced in a long time, so, back to Forza 4. If anyone wants to race, gamertag is B000zysmurf. Hit me up, I’ll take you down. I’m sure someone’s burned some of my times in “Rivals” too, so I’ll get some of THAT back.

    Then, there’s HALO4, which I bought, and never got past the first chapter. Just didn’t have time. So, it’s time to hit the story there, too. And I grabbed “DUST” recently, which is REALLY pretty, and a lot of fun for a side-scroll button masher:

    So, that’s my weekend, what’re you playin’?

    EXTRA-LIFE.ORG GAMEATHON: Forza4 Training

    Forza4 training and set-up laps, for Extra Life on November 2nd.

    4 Laps Nordschliefe
    37m42s
    best lap: 9m13.699
    statistically: used 1/4 tank of gas, and tires were still showing green. I think at least 10 laps is doable from a set of tires, which is probably about 2/3 of a tank of gas, and 85 minutes of race-time between pits.

    I’m still getting understeer under braking, and some lock-up, into heavy over-steer in second. I think I gotta play with the spring stiffness, and damping to balance that out better.

    Tempted to take out some downforce for the high-speed runs too: I’m topping out at 157mph in 6th.

    I NEED NOS, HARRY.

    [FRIDAY WANTS] Crass Consumerism Roolz!

    Yup, it’s been a while, but I still want stuff.

    1] I need a set of headphones for biking. I’ve got a few months before I get serious, but I’m starting to look. And right now, these Sennheiser-adidas OMX 680‘s look pretty good. I (and others) have had issues with sweat affecting both the headset and even the player/phone so, something that gets around that is a good thing.
    2] Fanatec CSR/CSR Elite Racing Wheel and Pedals. @dogandgarden bandied around the idea of getting me the Logiteck G27 for my birthday, but it’s only PS3/PC, and I’m Xbox. However, after spending most of the Extra-Life.org 24 hour gameathon playing Forza4, I think it’s definitely time to step up to a better wheel/pedals combo, with a clutch pedal. It’s a chunk of cash ($350+shipping for the good one), but all-aluminmum build says it’ll last forever. And there’s no other option on the market for the xbox right now, sadly. And given that I’m thinking about doing something REALLY DUMB for Extra Life next year, I’m going to need this.
    3] I’m also still looking for a new set of over-the-ear headphones. I’m now tempted by the (somewhat ridiculous) Audio Technica ATH-AD700‘s for $165 or so. The Klipsch Image ONE are also a smokin’ deal for $95, but a smaller 40mm driver (the ATH’s are a monstrous 53mm).
    4] I don’t care. I TOTALLY want this axe. I think it’s an excellent in-the-car-emergency-tool. ALSO TOTALLY FUCKING BADASS.

    [GAMING] DLC or “Why Are Your Fingers In My Pocket Again?”

    Downloadable Content. DLC.

    I don’t know where I stand on it. The gamers are weighing in on it. It’s obvious why the industry likes it: More money out of an existing product without extensive redevelopment. But, at the end of the day, is it an industry screwjob, or is it a legitimate and logical extension of the online world that is modern gaming?

    I’m not against DLC, I’ll say that first. Some are, and a fair argument has been made for “I paid for the game, don’t sell me seventy percent of it, and they charge me more for the other thirty percent”. I’ve had that thought myself with some DLC, especially early on, while a lot of companies were trying to figure it out.

    And I’m a cynic, and occasional misanthrope, too, so, you can imagine where I’m leading with this.

    But, you’d be wrong.

    I’ll use a couple of examples here.

    First, Borderlands 2, which I just wrote about specifically in terms of DLC. The new game followed the old games’ formula: four character classes to choose from, a fully fleshed-out storyline, with, I’d guess (I’ve not finished yet, I’ve started three characters now, and am moving each of them along different paths, where possible) thirty to forty linear hours of gaming without doing the replay thing. I’ve already got forty hours in, with those three characters. I’m also about, I’d guess, about half, maybe two-thirds of the way through the game, as sold to me (if you consider the game completed on one game through, with one character). So, my entertainment-cost-per-hour is about a buck and a quarter (I paid $59.99 for the basic game).

    Except it’s not quite. Because, I bought the Mechromancer for 800 xbl points. Now, I could have had that free, if I’d gotten off my ass and pre-ordered. But still, that’s ten bucks. So, make my entertainment-cost-per-hour two bucks, if you include tax on the game too.

    But that’s only going to go down, as I play. By the time the first DLC mission/story comes out, I’ll likely have played through the game once with at least three characters, for about 30 hours each play through, and probably be working on a second play through with one of the characters. So, by then, my entertainment-cost-per-hour has dropped to what? Maybe a quarter an hour? Something in that neighbourhood?

    SO, that’s a pretty good return on investment, as far as I’m concerned.

    But even beyond that, one of the arguments (I linked to it up there, and I subscribe to the site LinkDeadGaming, I like ‘em, I like their opinions: I’m just not sure I agree with this one) is that we’re being trained to pay for 70% of the game, and then buy 30% of it later.

    To carry Borderlands 2 a little further, I don’t think I only got 70% of the game. There might be an argument for 95%. But, the original game was four characters, the new one is four characters. You don’t NEED the fifth character to enjoy the game, I know that from experience. But if you want that extra bump, it’s there, and, it is additional development and writing, there’s cost associated with providing it. SO, a fee is probably legitimate.

    Same goes with the additional areas/stories/stuff that will come with the Borderlands 2 DLC over the next eight or nine months. They’re just that: additional. If they’re on a par with the first games DLC? They’re going to be worth the money. I had a blast with The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, The Secret Armoury of General Knoxx, and Claptrap’s New Robot Revolution. And I got HOURS out of each of them. They were exactly, in my mind, what DLC should be: well written, well thought out, planned, extensive, and offer something beyond the original game, while still being true to it.

    SO, yes, for Borderlands (the original) I paid sixty bucks for the original game, and ten bucks for each of the three DLC packs (there were four, but I didn’t need the arena stuff in Mad Moxxies). So, ninety bucks for a game with, by the time I was done, probably a hundred hours of direct, linear (with some grinding for achievements, I tell no lies: shootin’ zombie heads off is FUN) game play.

    And yes, the “seasons pass” for Borderlands 2, at 2800xbl points ($35 give or take) is not cheap. But that gets you all four of the new stories.

    I don’t feel that those should be included as a matter of course. The game you get on the disc is complete. You don’t need the add-ons to enjoy it.

    Are you still with me?

    So, am I 100% in favor of DLC?

    No.

    Because it can be done badly, too. And that can go two ways.

    I love Turn10’s Forza4. Truly. But there are, every month, one to four community/rivals races I can’t take part in unless I buy the car-pack of the month, for 800xbl points. And THAT I actually do need to buy, to enjoy the game I paid for, to the fullest. There’s an achievement I can never achieve, In a game segment I HAVE ACCESS TO, BUT CAN’T PLAY, unless I spend that extra money. And on top of that, they’ve been doing this every month since the game came out last September. If you bought ‘em all, that $60 original purchase is now up around $200, if you have all the DLC.

    And yes, the cars take time to develop. And they cost money in licensing. I get that. But is it necessary to charge for five variants of effectively the same car? The Viper, Corvette, and Mustang are the primary offenders here: there’s all these variants that aren’t a lot more than visual differences, and you get a couple of ‘em in each pack. Well, I’ve driven a ‘vette in the game. I don’t need four more from the same generation of the car. I’d rather see strange and rare cars (preferably not exotics, too!) I think this is an example of what some people complain about: there’s no real value added with these car packs, but they do influence your ability to play the game you bought.

    Can Turn10 get me back with DLC? For sure.

    How?

    MORE TRACKS. I’ll buy track packs. They do a brilliant job on the tracks in the game, real or imaginary, and I would pay 800 xbl points to buy a licensed, real-life track. Definitely. In fact, I’ll tell you where they need to start. Bathurst, Australia.

    The other side is even worse: when DLC gets released as a new game, with a full new price.

    Left 4 Dead 2, I’m looking at you.

    Left 4 Dead, much like Borderlands, wasn’t supposed to be a hit. I mean, I’m sure every company puts out their gaming hoping, but it wasn’t a pushed title, it was, for lack of a better description, a mid-season filler.

    And, it was fantastic. It scared the shit out of me. I was playin’ with Mightydogking over XBL one night, and the phrase of the night was

    “AAUUUUUUGH! NOOO! GETITOFFGETITOFFGETITOFFMEEEIT’SEATINGMYFACE!”

    The first time you disturb a witch, you shit your pants.

    Thing is, L4D2 is also excellent. But it came out a year later, at full-game price, and it was EXACTLY the same game. Exactly. Basically, it was DLC, or a mild expansion pack. It was NOT a full new games worth: not in the way that Borderlands2 is: A couple of new character skins, and a new monster or two with a couple of new environment/levels? That is NOT a new game. That’s DLC. And if it’d been 600 points per level, as DLC, it would have been a smash. But it was a $60 game. And the fanboys were, rightly, pissed.

    They rushed it to get the money while the first one was hot (this is, of course, my opinion) and yeah, they got paid. But I think they’d have done better, long term, if they’d have done DLC, and worked hard at a new game, two or three years later.

    Either way, I know almost no one who raved about L4D2, even though (maybe because) it was exactly as good as L4D.

    And that’s the situation with DLC as I see it. I like DLC. It’s good for the companies in terms of additional revenue, and it’s good for the fans, as they get more of what they like. If it’s done well, and if it’s not done solely to generate some cash, but to advance the game, and expand it. DLC is not inherently bad, or a screw job: it’s not an excuse for companies to put out an unfinished game and then make a few bucks “topping it up” to what should have been released.

    At least, it shouldn’t be.

    What it should be, I think, is what’s happened (and continues to happen) with Borderlands, and a few other games have figured out: It’s an opportunity to grow the franchise by giving the fans more (and here’s the important bit) of substance, to carry them over until the inevitable sequel comes out.

    But it’s the “of Substance” that is important. It’s got to be a new story that expands on what has gone before, combined with new levels (if it’s level-driven character/skill development). It’s got to have a new spin on the same gameplay, but still be the game you know. Basically, it’s got to offer you something new of substance. And it’s up to the developer to decide what “of substance” means, for sure. But it’s also up to the fans to tell the developer if they don’t think there’s enough substance.

    DLC is a developing idea, there’s no doubt. Games themselves have had a long evolution, and I expect the same from DLC. But for people to want to buy it, it’s got to have worth. Which means it can’t just be a cash grab, pulling on fans heartstrings.

    DLC is here to stay. Here’s hoping it gets used, not abused.