Hardware in, hardware out

OK, here’s one more Xbox follow-up post (previous). The vertical stand was delivered on Memorial Day. I was kind of surprised about that, since (1) it’s a holiday, and (2) all the streets around my apartment are closed off on Memorial Day for the big bike race. But, somehow, the Amazon delivery guy found somewhere to park, then schlepped a box full of packages down Main Street. He hit my apartment building right as I was about to go out and wander around a little. If he’d shown up five minutes later, I would have missed him. (It’s possible someone would have let him into the building though, since one of my neighbors was hanging out right in front of the building watching the race.) So, again, it would have been more convenient for everyone if Amazon just used the USPS, but it’s fine.

I promised myself several years ago that I wouldn’t bring in any new tech without getting rid of an equivalent amount of old tech. So I took some time today to get rid of a bunch of stuff. There’s a monthly electronics recycling drop-off for my county, in Hillsborough, so I went over there today with a bunch of stuff. I got rid of:

  • an old HP desktop PC (with the drives removed),
  • an old Toshiba HD-DVD player,
  • a very old VCR,
  • my Dad’s old Sony CD changer,
  • my old MacBook (with the drive removed),
  • an old Apple TV,
  • an old Roku box,
  • an old Samsung tablet,
  • and my old Automatic adapter.

So I guess I’m officially giving up on a few things, like ever watching a VHS video tape or an HD-DVD again. I think I really need to purge my CD collection soon too. I have way too many CDs, and they’re not organized really well. Honestly, I have a lot of stuff to purge, but I’ll save that for another post.

Back to the Xbox: After saying that I wasn’t going to sign up for any subscription services, I went ahead and signed up for a year of EA Access. It’s only $30. I will probably go in and turn off recurring billing on it, to force myself to make a decision about it in a year, rather than letting it auto-renew. I downloaded Mass Effect and Bejeweled 3, but that’s it so far.

Honestly, I’ve been playing Bejeweled more than anything else. I think I first played Bejeweled on my Toshiba e310, which would have been in 2002 or thereabouts. (I could be wrong; it might have been on one of my Palm units. Either way, I remember it being grayscale, and playing with a stylus.) It seems kind of silly to use an Xbox One for something that ran fine on a handheld in 2002, but, hey, I like playing it.

I’ve also started playing Stardew Valley. That’s interesting so far, but I’m not convinced it’s as great as a bunch of people seem to think. I may need to give it some time to grow on me.

I’ve also committed myself to reading War and Peace this summer, so that may cut into my video gaming a bit. Either way, I should have more than enough stuff to keep me busy this summer.

More Xbox silliness

OK, here’s another post nobody needs, in my continuing series about unnecessarily buying an Xbox One.

First, on the subject of Amazon’s hapless delivery system: I still don’t have the vertical stand for my Xbox, but Amazon made one more delivery attempt last night. Around 9:15pm, I got a call from a number that Verizon’s Call Filter identified as “possible spam,” so I dismissed it. But a few seconds later, I got a text message from somebody identifying himself as an Amazon delivery driver named Luigi, asking how to get into my building. So I’m guessing the call I rejected was also from him. I texted back, saying that I could let him in, if he was here, but then I got nothing further back, other than a presumably automated message saying that my order couldn’t be delivered. Now I see at least three things wrong with this: (1) having people out delivering packages at 9:15pm on a Saturday night, (2) sharing my cell phone # with random delivery drivers, and (3) said delivery drivers calling and texting me, and then not bothering to wait around for an answer. It’s possible that item 2 isn’t really an issue; they may route the calls/texts through an app that doesn’t actually expose my number to the driver. Still, I don’t recall agreeing to be contacted on my cell # at all for this stuff. (But I’m sure I did at some point. Nobody reads the terms and conditions anymore…)

On to the Xbox itself: I’ve got the thing set up, and I’ve mostly figured out how to use it. (As I’ve sometimes joked in the past, this means that my job is now done, and I can stop using it. This tends to happen to me with consumer electronics. Figuring out the user interface is more fun for me than actually playing games.) I’ve bought just one game: Lumines Live, which is one of the old “backwards compatibility” games, and cost $5. This is definitely not a game that shows off the Xbox One at all, but I was a big fan of the original Lumines game on PSP.  It’s still a fun game, and it was worth $5, I guess.

There are multiple subscription services available on the Xbox that you can sign up for, including XBox Live GoldGame Pass, and EA Access. I don’t really want to sign up for any of them, but I’m starting to waver. In looking around for some cheap games to buy, I thought about maybe buying the original Mass Effect trilogy. Mass Effect 2 and 3 are currently on sale for $6 each via the current Xbox backwards compatibility sale. But Mass Effect 1 isn’t. I think that’s because it’s included with Game Pass, so they don’t sell it separately, maybe? Anyway, only ME 1 is included with Game Pass, but all three are included with EA Access. Also, I can pick up dodgy-looking used copies of ME 1, 2, and 3 from my local GameStop, or from a used game store that’s about a block away from my apartment. That would cost about $5 per game. So I don’t know. This is one of those things where I have too many options and I never manage to make a decision. The backwards compatibility sale ends tomorrow, so if I’m going to buy ME 2 and 3 that way, I should go ahead and do it. I don’t want to sign up for Game Pass or EA Access, because I’ll probably either lose interest in the games or get too busy to do any gaming about a week after I sign up. The smart thing to do would be to sign up for a month of Game Pass, play ME 1 for however long it takes me to get tired of it, then cancel it.

I’m going to start reading War and Peace next week, as part of a Goodreads group read, so I should really just give up on the idea of playing video games. I think that will keep me busy enough. (And the Kindle version was free!)

over-promising and under-delivering

At this point, my Xbox-related blogging is getting a little ridiculous. (But here I go again, anyway.)

The Xbox I ordered from Amazon yesterday was supposed to show up today, which I was kind of excited about. I don’t generally expect one-day shipping from Amazon, but it’s cool that they’ve been trying to do it lately. I say “trying” because two of the items in my order (the Xbox and the HDMI switch) changed over to two-day at some point today, so they should be here tomorrow. And the one item that was still scheduled for today (the stand) now says “Unfortunately we had trouble finding your address.” Which is, of course, nonsense. There is no way anyone could have trouble finding my address. So, hopefully that’ll be here tomorrow too, unless the delivery exception causes it to get stuck in limbo (which has happened before). So anyway, that’s another story to add to my Amazon delivery shenanigans file. I wish Amazon would either straighten this stuff out, or stop over-promising and under-delivering on their Prime shipping stuff. Just let the good old USPS deliver my packages. They do a pretty good job!

So, back to actual Xbox stuff. I spent some time today browsing the internet, looking for stuff about Xbox games that I might want to try. I’m interested in the backwards compatibility that the Xbox One has with previous Xbox models. Here’s a recent article from Polygon about some good older games that work with Xbox One. And here’s an older blog post from Scott Hanselman, diving into some old games from the backwards compatibility list. (I always wonder how Hanselman has time for video games, given all the other stuff he does. I’m thinking either he doesn’t sleep, or there are two of him.) There’s a big sale on the backwards compatible stuff going on right now, apparently. And there’s some good information about backward compatibility on Major Nelson’s site.

Of course, I’ve never owned an Xbox before, so I don’t have any old games to transfer over to my Xbox One, but I’d like to dig into some of the games I’ve heard a lot about over the years but never got to play. The lack of backwards compatibility is actually one of the main reasons why I never picked up a PS4. (My PS3 can play PS1 and PS2 games, and I’ve used it more for those than for PS3 games, honestly.)

I bought an Xbox

Sigh. I’m going to call this post the third part of my “Xbox denial trilogy”. (First part here and second part here.) I gave up and ordered an Xbox from Amazon today, along with a vertical stand and an HDMI switch. It should all arrive tomorrow, because Amazon is now using some kind of magic shipping method that can get pretty much anything to my door in one day. I think they use the Floo Network or Portkeys or something. Anyway, the Xbox was marked down to $208, the stand was $10, and the HDMI switch was $33.

I could have gotten a cheaper HDMI switch, but Kinivo seems to have a good reputation, and I didn’t want to get an iffy one. I only have three HDMI ports on my TV, and I’m currently using them all (TiVo, Apple TV, and PS3). I’ll probably put the PS3 and Xbox on the switch. The Xbox has an HDMI IN port, so there’s probably some way I could have used it as a pass-thru, and avoided having to get a switch, but that didn’t seem like a good idea.

It’s possible that the Xbox One S is getting marked down so much because Microsoft is going to announce a new Xbox at E3 in June. I won’t be disappointed if they do. I’m not a big enough gamer to care that much about having the very latest console. (And it’ll probably cost $500, which I can’t really justify.)

So I’ll now have a console that can play current-generation games. Most of the really popular Xbox games don’t really appeal to me, but there are a bunch of oddball indie games that I’m kind of interested in. I guess I’ll need to figure out the deal with Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass. I don’t think I want to sign up for either of them, but I don’t know.

This Xbox may just wind up gathering dust, but hopefully I can get enough use out of it to justify having spent about $250 for it (including the accessories).

probably still not buying an Xbox

I’m probably still not buying an Xbox, but I’ve been paying more attention to Xbox-related news this week than usual.

  • The Microsoft/Sony deal is kind of interesting, though it might not mean much. I assume they’re still both working on their own next-gen consoles, and will continue to compete with each other.
  • This blog post from Microsoft’s “Head of Xbox” is also kind of interesting. He’s saying all the right things, though maybe it’s a little disheartening that some of them even need to be said.
  • And this article about the current pricing on the new all-digital Xbox vs the older version with the Blu-Ray drive has got me thinking again about picking up an Xbox One S with a Blu-Ray drive in it, while I can still get one for less than $250. Maybe I should keep an eye out and see if there are any really good Memorial Day sales.

As mentioned in my previous post, I did indeed pick up the Enhanced Edition of Neverwinter Nights from Steam for $4. It occurs to me that this means that I now own four copies of NWN. I have:

  1. the original PC version on CD (inherited from my brother a long time ago),
  2. a Mac version, also on CD, from the pre-OSX days,
  3. the GOG “Diamond” edition, which came out a few years ago,
  4. and now the Beamdog “Enhanced Edition” from Steam.

I didn’t pay much money for any of these. The GOG Diamond one was $10, The new one was $4, and the PC version was a hand-me-down. The Mac one was actually bought new, in a box, from an actual brick-and-mortar computer store (probably J&R), so that might have been $20 or $30. Anyway, I should install that new enhanced version and see about moving my saved game over from the old GOG Diamond edition. Maybe NWN can keep me busy and out of trouble for a bit.

Not buying an Xbox

Yesterday, my brain decided to go down a path where buying an Xbox One started to seem like a good idea. I had nearly convinced myself to buy an Xbox One S from Walmart. I occasionally get the urge to play console video games. I still have my PlayStation 3 for that, but I bought it back in 2008, so it’s pretty old. But I have plenty of unfinished (and even un-started) games for it. So that should really be enough for me.

Anyway, I’d started thinking about Stardew Valley again for some reason. I could, of course, just buy that on Steam or GOG and play it on my PC or Mac, but it seems like the kind of thing that would work best on a console. It’s available for all three of the major (current) consoles: Switch, Xbox, and PS4. I’ve mostly been brand-loyal to Sony over the years, having owned the PlayStation 1, 2, and 3, and a PSP, but I haven’t been able to get too excited about the PS4. And I’ve never had any version of the Xbox. So that seemed like maybe something to try out.

Of course, then I started thinking about all the unfinished games I have, and all the clutter in my apartment, and mostly talked myself out of it. That got me started on a little kick to locate all of those games and the various game guides I’d bought for them. And that got me to realize how much clutter has been piling up in here. So the whole thing turned into a mini-cleanup project. I managed to sort out a bunch of stuff from past San Diego comic cons, and get that all together in a basket. And a bunch of old Metropolitan Museum bulletins, which I managed to get into a neat stack. And I eventually found all (I think) of the video game guides that I own. I have guides for Final Fantasy 8, 9, and 10. I made it about a third of the way through FF8, and still haven’t (technically) given up. I decide to give it a shot once in a while, make no progress, then give up again. I never started 9 or 10. I also have a nice hardcover guide for Metal Gear Solid 4, which is the game that came with my PS3. I never started that either. And I have two copies of the guide for Neverwinter Nights, for some reason. Speaking of NWN, the Enhanced Edition of that is marked down to $4 on Steam right now, so I should probably grab that while it’s on sale. The version I have now is the old GOG version, which kind of works OK on Windows 10, but kinda doesn’t.

Or I should go outside and take a walk. It’s a nice day out!

Lazy Sunday

I had tentative plans to go in to NYC for the Frankenstein exhibit at the Morgan today, but it turned into one of those mornings where I couldn’t quite talk myself into getting all my stuff together and heading for the train station. Instead, I finished reading a big Avengers hardcover, then spent way too much time writing a review of it on Goodreads. I’m kind of in a mood to read some more Marvel stuff now, so I might spend the afternoon reading Avengers vs. X-Men, which I have in Comixology.

DC was really pushing their new DC Universe service at NYCC last weekend; every DC-related panel started with the DC Universe trailer, and the service got mentioned a lot in some of those panels. I’ve alternately been talking myself into and out of signing up for the service. On the one hand, I’m a long-time DC fanboy, so there’s probably lots of stuff there I’d like. On the other hand, I still have a huge pile of unread comics and graphic novels that I haven’t read yet, and DVDs and Blu-rays that I haven’t watched. And I haven’t watched the most recent season of any of the Marvel shows on Netflix. So I already have a lot of superhero content to consume, that I’ve already paid for. But at $75/year for the service, that comes out to $1.44 per week, which is less than the price of a single comic book. So… maybe.

I’ve been curious about the game Stardew Valley since I heard it discussed on an NPR podcast a couple of months ago. (Here’s the article that they mentioned on the podcast. And here’s another NPR article that makes me wonder what kind of Stardew player I’d be…) I was kind of hoping that the game would have been available for the Apple TV, since I have a game controller for my Apple TV that I never get to use for anything. But no. It’s available for most other platforms, including Mac, PC, PS 4, Switch, and XBox One. The only game console I currently own is a PS 3, so I’m out of luck there. I could buy it for Mac or PC, but I was looking for something I could play on the TV. I saw an article a few days ago announcing that it was coming out for iOS, so I had some hope that would include Apple TV. Still no; just iPhone and iPad. And I saw that Minecraft for Apple TV has been discontinued for lack of players. So if Apple TV can’t support something as popular as Minecraft, it probably can’t support any big, interesting, game. Oh well. Maybe I should buy one of the current-generation video game consoles, but I just don’t think I would use it enough to justify the price. (I was really hoping Apple TV gaming would take off at some point.)

I didn’t make it to the big Doctor Who panel at NYCC last weekend. I’m sure it would have been fun, but it sounded like it was going to be very crowded and I was too tired to deal with that. The full panel is up on YouTube now, on the official Doctor Who channel, so I’ll have to watch that later. I watched the first episode last week, and liked it enough that I’m looking forward to this week’s episode. I don’t get BBC America, so I get the episodes through iTunes, which means I don’t get it until tomorrow. I’m not liking this new Sunday night schedule for the show. When it was on a Saturday night schedule, I could watch the new episodes on Sunday afternoon. Now I have to wait until Monday after work. Well, at least it gives me something to look forward to after work on Monday.

OK, so this turned into a long rambling post, it’s almost noon, and I’ve killed my entire Sunday morning reading comics, listening to music, and writing pointless reviews and blog posts. Eh, there’s worse ways I could have spent the morning. Time for lunch.

AD&D games and Doctor Who audio

I’ve blogged about AD&D gold box games a couple of times in the past. I finally got around to buying a bunch of them from GOG last week, when they had some game bundles on sale for 50% off. So I only spent $10 and got about a dozen games.

The last thing I bought from GOG was Neverwinter Nights, which I started playing over this summer, but got sidetracked from at some point. I haven’t played it in more than a month (though I do really want to get back to it).

So I’m probably not going to actually play any of those gold box games any time soon. But that’s OK. They’re DRM-free and multi-platform, so they’ll be there whenever I get around to it. And they include PDF files of all the cool extras that came with these games, so I’ll have some fun browsing through them at some point. It’ll bring back some fun memories.

I’ve also recently started listening to Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio dramas again. I hadn’t really listened to any of them at all this year, so it’s fun to get back into those. I’ve still got 4 or 5 of them that I haven’t listened to yet, so I’m in no danger of running out. But they had a Halloween sale this weekend, so I went ahead and bought one more: a box set of Fourth Doctor “lost stories.” I haven’t listened to any of Big Finish’s Tom Baker stuff at all, so I’m looking forward to that.

So I’ve got plenty of nerdy entertainment options to get me through the fall and winter!

Neverwinter Nights and Windows 10

I got off to a pretty good start with Neverwinter Nights over the last few days. I got it working reasonably well under Windows 10 on my ThinkPad, played through the tutorial, and got started on the first “chapter.”

I had a little trouble with the ThinkPad last night though, so I decided to do some troubleshooting. Which was probably a bad idea, since it led me down a rat-hole that I’m only just now (mostly) dug out of. I won’t get into too much detail, but I discovered that I hadn’t successfully installed any Windows Updates since April. I eventually figured out that this tip from SuperUser fixed things and allowed me to get back on the update bandwagon again. But then there was so much stuff to update, I had to just leave the laptop running all day. (Which is fine, since I was going to GS Comic Fest anyway.) So, after that was all done, I appear to have an up-to-date Windows 10 install, ready (I hope) for the coming Anniversary Update.

But then I found that Neverwinter Nights didn’t work anymore. So, after a bunch of flailing around with settings on that, I finally gave up and uninstalled it, then reinstalled it. Then, tweaked a bunch of parameters. And now I think I have that working again.

At some point in this process, I also uninstalled Norton Anti-Virus. I don’t think Norton was the cause of any of my problems, but it seemed like a possible culprit, so I removed it. Now, I’m not sure if I want to add it back or not. I only have about a month to go on my current subscription. Recent news indicates that maybe Norton isn’t such a good choice right now, having “multiple critical vulnerabilities” according to a researcher at Google.

My desktop PC is running McAfee, which came pre-installed, and I haven’t (yet) decided to remove it. I can also get a free version of McAfee from my internet provider, so I maybe I should put that on the ThinkPad. But I’ve never been a big fan of McAfee, so I’m not sure about that. Maybe I’ll just stick with Windows Defender for now.

So after all that, I’m ready to jump back into Neverwinter Nights. But, heck, it’s just about dinner time now, and I’m tired of messing around on this laptop. So I guess I’ll shut it all down and grab a bite to eat.

Neverwinter Nights

I broke down and bought Neverwinter Nights Diamond from GOG last night. It’s only $10, so it’s no big deal, even if I don’t get too far with it. I managed to install it on my Windows 10 laptop without much trouble. I had to tweak a few things to get the opening video sequence to run, but it seems to be working fine now.

According to HowLongToBeat.com, it should take a little over 50 hours to play through the main game. The edition I bought from GOG also has three expansion packs included, so, if I make it through the main campaign, I’ll have those to play too. And there are a lot of user-created adventures out there, if I decide that I want to mess around with those.

The game still gets some attention, and is still actively being played, apparently, despite being over ten years old. Kotaku ran an interesting essay on NWN just a month or so ago. And the forums at GOG and BioWare are both moderately active.

So far, I’ve just gotten part way through the tutorial section. It looks like the kind of game that I’ll probably enjoy. It’s D&D, so that’s a good start. And combat seems to be (kind of) turn-based, which I prefer, since I’m not good at real-time. And there does appear to be an attempt at storytelling and role-playing; it’s not just hack & slash.