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.

  • 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.