Search Results for: fallout

I’ve talked a little bit about being a D&D nerd back in the day; My interest was intense for a period of time in the 6th grade, and then casual for a few years after that. I was also into a sister game called Gamma World, which was basically D&D in a post-apocalyptic setting. Something about this game caught my interest a lot more than dragons and swords. Some history:

In 1982, my family moved from blue-collar New Jersey to a town in white-collar Connecticut, and I started at a new school. We were bused in from a remote cul-de-sac on the far side of town. I was pretty isolated until school started (the only other kid on our street was two years younger, and all he wanted to do was sit inside and play Mrs. Pac Man) but after a rocky couple of weeks I met up with a guy who lived less than a half-mile from my house through the woods. He introduced me to a bunch of his friends, who lived nearby, and one of the things we bonded over was a game I’d never heard of before: Dungeons and Dragons.

I didn’t understand how the game worked at first. There were dice, and rules, and they gave me a character to play, and I enjoyed using our imagination to solve problems. We played on and off again that fall, between building forts in the woods around our houses, riding bikes, and Pitfall! I enjoyed one of the best Halloweens of my life that year when my friend’s father showed us how to melt the plastic tip of a can of shaving cream to shoot the foam in ten-foot streams; we roamed in and out of epic battles with older neighborhood boys, using our knowledge of the local woods to escape and regroup.

My parents gave me the beginner’s box set of both D&D and Gamma World that Christmas, and after that I was obsessed. We played through the spring until school let out, when my friends vacationed out of town. I spent a lonely August swimming in the pool, reading books from the library, and creating Gamma World campaigns for my friends to play through when they all got back.

That fall, we started at the middle school across town. I was dumped into a new system where I knew no one, and all of my friends from 6th grade had dissolved into other classes. D&D suddenly wasn’t cool in the cutthroat atmosphere of 7th grade, and I was adrift in rough social waters.

When we moved to New York, I spent one lonely semester in 8th grade until I made it up to the High School, and found new friends. One of the things we did was play D&D and Gamma World informally here and there; I’m not going to lie, but I miss those Coke and pizza-fueled sessions with friends, because we had a great time. (I remember an epic 10-hour session during an ice storm my Junior year).

Fast forwarding, I had a little credit with Amazon last week and decided to find a game that Finn and I could play, as well as one that I’ve been dying to try for years: Fallout 4. Fallout is a series that’s been around since 1997, but Fallout 4 was released two years ago. It’s as if they took about 90% of Gamma World and made a video game out of it. You control a character who awoke from a cryogenic vault 200 years after a nuclear war, and you spend the game wandering a gigantic wasteland, killing evil humans and radiated monsters (if you can) while picking up objects along the way. You can use these objects to craft new weapons, structures, or special items. You can start settlements for people, working to keep them happy and safe. You can find special powered armor suits which help you defeat huge, powerful monsters. In short, everything that was cool about Gamma World but without your friends playing by your side.

I’m already about 20 hours into the game and I can’t put it down.

Date posted: November 28, 2017 | Filed under geek, history | Leave a Comment »

I’ve played Starfield over several nights and gotten the hang of the way the game is structured, and I’ve got a couple of takeaways. The first is that the mechanics are almost a direct lift from Fallout 4 and Fallout 76—which isn’t a bad thing, but isn’t necessarily great, either. The structure is the same, the menu and inventory systems are the same, and the mapping system is expanded to include local, planetary, galaxy, and universe views—which don’t always work the way they should. Crafting systems are the same inscrutable mechanic, where you run around gathering junk to break down at a special bench to upgrade your suit or weapon, and you’re always running up against what you are strong enough to carry vs. what you can drag back to your base (in this case, your ship). So it’s a ton of inventory management. Which isn’t a bad thing, when done correctly, but when I’m constantly humping shit back and forth to build some stupid thing that’s step 3 on a 10 step quest, I’m gonna get pissed off real quick. And as with Fallout 4, the rules of how to build stuff is a black art you need to spend hours on a message board studying, which is also not my cup of tea.

So I know how the game designers think and how they’ve structured the game. What I’m hoping to avoid are the issues that led me to drop their previous games. Fallout 76 lost me when the difficulty level of finishing a quest to get a legendary item skyrocketed past what I was able to build after hours of grinding through levels of experience and avoiding in-game purchasing. Shooting a giant beast eleventy billion times to no effect when they can kill you with one swipe gets irritating real quick. And if this game forces me into situations where I can’t complete tasks without joining up with a bunch of other players, they’re going to lose me pretty fast.

I also soured on the crafting/building/management aspects of the game. I craft, build and manage enough crap in meatspace. When I boot up a game I want to be challenged with a fun shoot-em-up, not a grocery list and errand run. While I don’t expect to be able to carry three tons of gear around in-game, they’ve prioritized survival by the number of different sets of armor and guns a character must own to complete different tasks, and those possessions need constant care and upkeep, and this requires one to continually run around and pick up every goddamn thing you see in the hopes that it will fix your stuff. At a certain point the task outweighs the reward.

However: the boot time is pretty negligible, which is some kind of black magic voodoo shit when you see how rich the environment is. The storylines are familiar and sort of comforting in a nostalgic way; I spent all of chemotherapy playing through Fallout 4 and the vibe is very similar here, which isn’t a bad thing. Flying through space and shooting up spaceships is fun as shit, and their mechanics there are very well designed. Last night I explored a mining base on Venus and then traveled to a space station orbiting the Moon to clear out a group of pirates. In between I had to chase down a spaceship and disable it. It was fun! So I’ll keep at it and see if things have gotten better.

Date posted: September 15, 2023 | Filed under entertainment | Leave a Comment »

I booted up Starfield on my Xbox Sunday morning before the girls were awake and started playing through the introduction. Being a Bethesda game, it shares many of the same game mechanics as Fallout, so much of it was familiar immediately. I built a character, shot some space pirates, jumped into a spaceship, and landed on a different planet. One thing that’s wildly different is that it’s not a giant download of a game; I selected it in the menu and almost immediately I was playing. There are some network glitches where it drops out for a second or two and then comes back, which is a bummer when you’re in the middle of a firefight, so I’ll have to ensure my wired connection is still stable.

Date posted: September 11, 2023 | Filed under entertainment | Leave a Comment »

I’ve been playing The Division 2 for quite a long time now, and it got stale months ago but I haven’t seen any new games that I’ve been interested in trying—until now. Bethesda, the developers behind Fallout 4, are about to release a new game called Starfield, which is a space-based explorer/shooter/dogfighting game that sounds amazing by all accounts. I tried another well reviewed space-based game a while back called No Man’s Sky, which wound up being very repetitive after about ten hours or so, so I’m hopeful this one has the detail and storytelling I enjoyed in the Fallout series. It’s out next week, and I do believe I’ll give it a shot.

Date posted: September 2, 2023 | Filed under entertainment | Leave a Comment »

I’ve gotten to the point where I’m getting tired of my latest video game. I’ve been playing The Division 2 for several years now, and I’ve replayed parts of it enough that I’m bored with the challenge. So now I have to find another game, something I find very difficult, because I don’t fit the mold of the average player. Most games are set up for online multiplayer and structured so that you can’t go very far without buying extra shit in-game. I like solo games with a good story that I can do on my own; I don’t want to deal with a league or a clan or scheduling gameplay—the majority of my life is ruled by a calendar and I spend enough time on virtual calls; I don’t need to be in another one during my time off, especially not with a bunch of trash-talking fifteen year olds. And fuck any game that demands I buy better gear to advance; I have enough trouble convincing Finn that she shouldn’t spend $10 on an iridescent dragon skin for her Roblox character.

So the hunt is on. I’ve bought a couple of video games that looked good and got great reviews. They start out, like most video games do, in some kind of tutorial. Sometimes these are set up as virtual shooting ranges, and other times, with more clever games, they get you into the action up front but carefully introduce you to harder and harder things so that you can gradually build up your skills. I’ve had several games do very well at slowly ramping the difficulty up so that I wasn’t aware the game had started; the original Halo did this, and Fallout 4 did this very well. Which was important: Halo starts out as one game and somewhere in the middle goes to WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING but by then you’ve developed enough skill through gameplay to pivot to that new tempo. As a result, I played these games a lot. Hours and hours of them. Other games will start out with a tutorial and get you into some gameplay and there’s a gentle ramp-up and then suddenly WHAM they throw five mini-bosses at you with nuclear weapons, but you’re still a fluffy bunny hopping through the meadow and BOOM you’re dead.

I’m not saying I want all games to coddle me like a newborn faun; I just want them to slowly introduce me to their concepts of gameplay instead of throwing three new types of enemies at me while simultaneously sending wave after wave of grunts behind them. Game AI is a tricky thing to code, and everybody does it differently. Some games are built so that the bad guys will run around and try to flank you; The Division does this very well, and it took me a while to develop strategies for this. (I’m terrible at PVP combat, which is basically running around as fast as you can shooting at whoever is in front of you; I have terrible virtual situational awareness in these situations, and so I usually just die.)  When games let me figure it out gradually, I enjoy them a lot more.

Other games will do the surprise gotcha thing where you walk through an empty corridor or alley that has no doors or means of entrance, get to the end where there’s a locked door, and suddenly thirty bad guys have beamed in behind you to smoke you while you’re trapped. When you’re used to this bullshit gameplay you can anticipate it, but the first thirty times or so it’s annoying.

Most games these days have introduced huge complicated tiering systems for customizing weapons and gear. Some people get off on spending more time tweaking their machine gun or sword than they do shooting or slicing; hooray for them. I prefer to get in to the game, shoot the crap out of something, and bounce. But to advance in the game you have to dive into these systems or you wind up as the guy with a pocket knife going up against a roomful of Navy SEALS, which ends predictably. One thing I’ve found about all of these systems is that even when the good games teach you how to shoot and play the game, they do nothing to teach you how to use these customization systems. And most of them are more complicated than nuclear physics. Typically you can break down stuff you have to make other stuff better, but they don’t tell you the rules; thus you go and disassemble something really good only to find you did it wrong and now you can’t use any of it. The choice then is to wade through hours of annoying YouTube videos just to learn how you did that one thing wrong, or go have another beer. Against increasingly difficult gameplay I resisted this in Fallout 76 and The Division 2 for as long as I could; I tried and gave up on the former but did relatively well in the latter as a solo player.

Some games are more like moving cutscreens. I bought a cheap copy of the new Tomb Raider a year ago and made it through about the first half hour of gameplay before giving up on it forever. I like immersive gameplay, where I’m in the world and things are happening, and I can react to them and move on. Tomb Raider is about moving from one thing to the next, dying quickly, and redoing that thing over and over again until you do exactly whatever the game designer wants you to do. Laura Croft died about a hundred times until I was fed up, and then I deleted it from my Xbox. I can still hear her screams of agony. Call of Duty Advanced Warfare felt like nothing but one big masturbatory cutscreen; I stopped playing that one after about a half an hour. When the computer continually takes control of my character and shows me doing things instead of letting me play the game, I’m out.

And some games just kind of suck. Red Dead Redemption, a game people raved about Back In The Day, got shitcanned after I couldn’t finish a fucking timed horse race. Yeah yeah, I should be able to ride a horse, but the mechanics sucked and I got fed up quickly. It’s also 12 years old, so my expectations weren’t high when I got it at the thrift store for $2.

The latest game I bought is one called Titanfall, which was $1.50 on Amazon used, and featured a big mech on the cover blowing stuff up. Sweet, I thought; mech games are fun. Run around in a big robot and blow shit up. I loaded all 20GB of it up and started playing the tutorial as…a human. It took me a good hour of gameplay to even get the mech powered up, and then I used it for about three minutes before the game made me dismount and run around as a vulnerable fleshbag again flipping switches. Then I was faced with a standoff scenario, where the game designer locked my fleshbag in a room with about thirty NPCs and a bunch of exploding beach balls that I couldn’t kill fast enough. I’m supposed to be able to clear the room and then get to my mech, but after about twenty attempts over two days I gave it up in frustration, because they never showed me those things before, I don’t have the right weapons, and they don’t make the right weapons available to me. I can see why it was $1.50 now. It’s worth about $.75.

So the hunt is on; I think for the time being I’m going to step back and play some Fallout 4 until a new interesting game shows up on Amazon used for pocket change, and I’ll give that a try.

Date posted: November 19, 2022 | Filed under entertainment | Leave a Comment »

I got a little burned out on playing the Division 2 last week, so I pulled the disc out of my Xbox and put Fallout 76 in, for the first time in months. It took a little time to get used to the controls again, and get my bearings for where I was and what I was doing. I looked around the map, did a little exploring, and shot some bad guys. And I was bored. I left the game when I realized my style of gameplay was holding me back and that if I wanted to advance further I’d have to go spend hours searching for stuff to build more powerful weapons and armor, running to and from areas on the map and completing missions I’d already done. Jumping back in, I quickly remembered why I’d stopped and it held even less interest for me now than it did before.

The Fallout series got me through chemo and some cold dark winter months last year, and for that I’m grateful, but I don’t think I need to go back again. It looks like I might be hunting for a new game to play soon.

Date posted: November 23, 2021 | Filed under geek | Leave a Comment »

When I first started playing video games back in 1997 with a demo copy of Marathon, I played by myself on story mode and got into a habit of avoiding multiplayer games that stuck with me for decades. Partially because I always had Macs, and even though Marathon offered a co-op mode, it was only for LAN and nobody else I knew had a Mac to play on. When I worked at the game company I played HALO at the office in co-op mode and enjoyed it immensely, but that was at a time when I didn’t own a console myself and wasn’t really interested in purchasing a gaming PC good enough to join my co-workers in overnight games of Counterstrike or Dark Age of Camelot. It wasn’t until much later that I found a cast-off Xbox at a yard sale but most of  the games were so old the servers had been shut down.

When my family sent me the new Xbox to help get me through chemotherapy I avoided online games because I really didn’t want to talk to anybody at that point and I also wanted to avoid a monthly subscription—I am, after all, a cheap bastard. But most modern games require a game pass of some kind, and when I sprung for Fallout 76 I had to bite the bullet. I’ve avoided all multiplayer until recently, but in The Division 2 I’ve reached the limit of what I can do solo before running up against missions which require a team effort to overcome.

So, on Friday afternoon I joined a mission with another player to test the waters, was matched with someone who had their microphone on. I was treated to a one-sided discussion punctuated with wet coughing while their in game character stood motionless facing a wall. I disconnected to go eat dinner but after the girls went to bed I tried again and had more success. I was  paired with two players at my level and we ran through several missions successfully. Despite all my misgivings, I had a great time. Nobody had their mic on so I didn’t need to talk to anybody, but we communicated well enough to make short work of the enemies we faced. I put the controller down at midnight, my right thumb sore, and went to bed happy that I finally stepped out of my comfort zone and didn’t get fragged by a 12-year-old named DaRk_SlAyEr_2121.

This game is really amazing to look at. It’s set in Washington, D.C. and while I know they’ve taken liberties with the scale of the city, I’ve been able to Google Streetview some of the places I’m exploring and see a pretty close  1-to-1 with real life. I’m dying to go to the block where my office is, but it’s inside a Dark Zone where players can kill each other and loot their gear, so I’m a little hesitant. Maybe at 1PM on a Tuesday before school lets out I’ll give it a try.

As of Saturday, all but four bays of the eaves are scraped and painted on the front of the house. As of Sunday, the east side peak above the new bathroom is 4/5 scraped, sprayed and painted. It was mostly direct sun all day so I couldn’t sit on the exposed roof for long, and I wasn’t interested in hanging my ass out over the backyard like Tom Cruise on the Burj Kalifa, so there are sections at either end that need to be finished. But the majority of it is done, and it looks 100% better from the road, which is what I care about the most. It’s not visible from the road but the roof up there looks like it snowed for a couple of hours. I came inside covered with a layer of paint chips an inch thick.

I need to use the roller to reach a tiny spot on the east side over the driveway but the west side of the front facade requires some more planning and construction—I’ll need to build a sturdy platform to level off the slope on that side so that I can put up a ladder and reach the last couple of bays. Pretty much everything else is done other than the shutters, and there’s no decision on color for those yet. If the weather would only cooperate…

* * *

Things in the greenhouse are going reasonably well, although the first couple of Purple Cherokees coming in have blossom end rot. I bought bonide spray at the hardware store yesterday and sprayed the leaves down in the hopes that the rest of the plants don’t suffer the same problem. Outside, the trees have been dropping tons of sap on the plastic, which has been getting filthier by the day. I put a ladder up and washed both sides, first with a mop and then with a rag to get the dirt off. The south side cleaned up better than the north, and now everything in there will get better sunlight for growing.

Date posted: June 20, 2021 | Filed under family, general, house | Leave a Comment »


Here at the Lockardugan Estate, we’ve been getting along through COVID lockdown the best way we can. It’s been a challenge to be around each other all day every day without killing one another, and we’ve each been through the soul-crushing phases of denial and acceptance at least fifteen times. I used to think our house was big, but after having been shut in here like a biodome, I’m aware of just how cozy everything feels. The boom in the housing market makes a lot of sense in retrospect.

Last week, Finley had had enough of being trapped (been though she’s going to school two days a week) and asked if I could take her to the mall. Also monumentally bored, I immediately agreed and we decided to go right after finishing dinner. We got a late start out the door. Walking inside, I could immediately sense something was wrong: the security gates were coming down and people were headed to the exits. Turns out they close at 8 and not 9. So we went to Target so that we could walk around and look at things and just be out.

One of the things I found in a bargain game bin was a copy of The Division 2, a first-person shooter I’d read about last year. I picked that up along with some other small items and we headed home. After waiting a full day for the game files to copy and then update, I tried it for the first time the other night—and was immediately impressed. It’s set in Washington D.C. and the environment is breathtakingly detailed. The first missions were well-balanced and interesting, and I’m getting used to the game mechanics. Hopefully it’s got a lot more content to keep me involved; I see myself playing this one for a while. I’ve been getting tired of Fallout 76 for some time, and this game scratches the itch for action without having to deal with running from place to place or worry about picking up or crafting or fixing stuff.


Jen has been organizing the piles of crap we’ve thrown up into the attic, and one of the things she came upon is an old chair I’ve had since college, something my roommate Pat gave me when he left town: a Scandinavian chair of unknown origin with ratty leather that we had to retire when the cats began tearing it apart and baby Finley was eating the foam. I decided we’d Freecycle it just to get it out of here. In order to find some information on it for the listing, I googled the sticker underneath and found that the brand is Westnofa, a Norwegian manufacturer of midcentury modern designs, usually featuring laminated wood framing with leather upholstery. Apparently this furniture is worth some money in good shape; I’m obviously rethinking my earlier decision to give it away. It’s a very comfortable chair that we both like, but we’d been quoted a lot of money to have it redone before it was retired. I think we need to do a little more digging before we make a decision.

Date posted: April 15, 2021 | Filed under family, geek | 1 Comment »

Our house is coming up on its centennial in just a few years. At the turn of the century, this whole area was still sparsely populated with gentleman’s farms and vacation homes for Baltimore’s wealthiest residents; The track for the trolley from the city is still embedded under Frederick Road in front of our house. From our back windows we can see Summit Mansion, one of the largest of the local mansions, whose frontage was subdivided into our current neighborhood in the early 1900’s.

When they put these houses up, the practice of home insulation was still in its infancy, and I’ve been playing catchup for the last sixteen years. With the weather in the teens overnight, I’ve been concerned that our seedlings will get frostbitten in the basement once they’ve grown large enough for me to take the covers off, so I figured I’d make a plan to move them upstairs. The best location I could find was in the den, on the cabinet under Finn’s gallery wall, where there’s lots of natural light during the day and several available plugs for the lights and the heaters.

I built a frame out of scrap wood for the grow lights so that the fixture sits directly over the trays and put some plastic down on top of the cabinet before getting everything situated. Once I’d moved the old light fixture up and plugged it into the timer, it refused to work, so I picked up a new one from Lowe’s and wired the plug into it from the old one.

The new covers are excellent. They give the plants tons of room to stand up, and they feature two vents on the top to let the condensation out. By Sunday evening, everything was standing tall and enjoying the new location.

* * *

Other than that, and a bunch of chores and other small projects around the house, I did absolutely fuck-all this weekend. I’ve made it through a bunch of minor quests in Fallout 76 solo and participated in one event with a bunch of other random players, but I got absolutely smoked in a cave by a giant mutated turtle trying to complete a major quest and spent the rest of the weekend licking my wounds.

Date posted: February 22, 2021 | Filed under garden, greenhouse | Leave a Comment »

  • December 26: playing Fallout 76, watching The Professor and the Madman (verdict: not bad! ), bingeing the first episodes of True Detective season 3 (verdict: SO MUCH BETTER than Season 2)
  • Dec. 27: Bingeing the first episodes of His Dark Materials season 2 (verdict: good, and they’ve tightened up some of my issues with the second book), Taco Bell for dinner. NACHO FRIES! (verdict: disappointing. The Dorito-taco-thing was very good. The resulting Run For The Border was as urgent I remember it from 20 years ago. Some things never change)
  • Dec. 28: Working on the workbench, burgers for dinner, finishing True Detective Season 3 (verdict: I highly recommend this series.)
  • Dec. 29: Working on the workbench, His Dark Materials season ender (verdict: I’m very curious to see how they approach the third season, as everything in that book goes off the fucking rails. And I wonder if they will give the main character any agency of her own, as it all disappears midway through the second book)
  • Dec. 30: Finishing the workbench, Onward (verdict: that’s the hardest I’ve laughed during a movie in a long time. Not quite standard Pixar-level, but recommended.)
Date posted: December 31, 2020 | Filed under family | Leave a Comment »