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The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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2:27pm on Tuesday, 21st May, 2024:

Unexpectedly Left

Anecdote

I was back in my home town over the weekend, visiting my stepmother (it's OK, she's not the wicked kind). We went to the local shopping outlet to have a look around, but there wasn't a lot there. Even the most popular shops are now closing, leaving most of the units empty. I get the feeling that a turning point has been reached and we're now in rats-deserting-a-sinking-ship territory.



It's a shame, as this was one of the first designer outlets in the country and it used to be thriving. The idea was that designer stores often had old stock to clear but didn't want to sell it near their regular stores because then people would resent the high mark-up, so they put them in outlets in the middle of nowhere. As my home town is indeed in the middle of nowhere, it was an ideal location. Unfortunately, once people got used to the idea of designer outlets, new ones were opened in more convenient locations, leaving the pioneering ones abandoned.

As the TripAdvisor reviewers seem to agree, it's a shame because it still has a lot of potential.

Oh well. I expect they'll sell the site and build houses on it, if the council can be persuaded to agree. Ironically, that might give the town enough of a critical mass of people that a designer outlet shopping village might do quite well.



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1:47pm on Monday, 20th May, 2024:

No Man's Done

Anecdote

I've been playing No Man's Sky of late, and have now finished with it.

As far as Steam is concerned, I've spent 208 hours in the game. As far as NMS itself is concerned, I've spent 157 hours. I assume that the discrepency is because of how long it takes to load the game and to warp between different locations, which Steam counts as play time and NMS doesn't.

The game is a lot better than the reports of it suggested it was when it first came out. It's actually very reasonable now. It's like a single-player MMO: you do come across evidence of other players, and if you go to a multidimensional space station called the Anomaly you can actually meet them, but most of the time you're on your own.

The basic gameplay is that of a light surival game. Gather resources to make things so you can gather other resources to make more things. There is a story to it, but it's not all that imaginative (although some players love it). The newbie experience is somewhat fraagile, though: the way the tutorial works, you're told your next goal and the direction it's in shows up on your screen. That's fine except that it focuses on the last goal you were given. If you inadvertently acquire another goal before completing it, that other goal will be the one you're directed to follow. You can change it if you know where to look in the interface menus, but as a newbie you don't know that. This explains why I spent hours walking across the terrain of a mean planet looking for a resource that turned out to be on another planet over the horizon; I should have been looking for a different, easy-to-find resource to fix a spaceship so I could then go to that other planet. Wonderful.

The big selling point of NMS is its procedural generation. It has vast, vast numbers of visitable planets and moons, all of which are different. they do in general look and behave differently, too: there's much more variety than I was expecting, which was a pleasant surprise. OK, so the planets never seem to have rivers, they all have the same gravity and cities don't appear to have been invented, but the critters and geography are nice and varied. The range of resources was low, though; it needs more of those.

The controls are easy to get a handle on — much better than with Elite: Dangerous. It's very console-oriented, however, and I was playing on the PC. All the main functionality was loaded onto the keys surrounding S. I could have changed them to match my mouse buttons, I suppose, but you usually have to hold them down and that can damage them. Frustratingly, I found it quite easy to click/hold on something I didn't intend to, so sometimes discovered I'd made decisions that I hadn't intended to make. I also found that I was on occasion asked to make decisions about the direction of the main story that had non-obvious consequences. I'm certain that some of them did the opposite of what I wanted them to do.

Mutli-player missions are available at the Anomaly. I only did one of these and I soloed it; the rewards are all cosmetic and I wasn't interested in them in the slightest. Only one person spoke to me the entire time I played, and that was someone trying to spread the word of Jesus. I didn't respond to their message. Hell beckons.

The reason I stopped playing was because at that point I could have anything I wanted. All I had to do was to go to a space station and ask the NPC guild leader for freebies, then go to the next space station and do the same. You can return to the space station a bit later and they'll give you the freebies again. The only downside is that you have to warp to the next space station (which takes time as it has to load that space station; you get to watch a Star Trek-style warping lights show while it does it). By repeatedly doing this, you can get all the stuff you need to progress as far as your patience will allow: capacity upgrades for your weapon, spacesuit and spaceship; upgrades you can sell for a currency called "nanites", that are used to purchase crafting recipes and class upgrades for your weapon and spaceship; tokens to upgrade your freighter. Ordinary currency, called "units", you get from sending spaceships on missions every day. I had well over 800,000,000 units when I quit and nothing much to spend them on; ditto tens of thousands of nanites. There's no gameplay to any of this: you just go to the NPC guild leader (of the explorer, trade or mercenary guild — there's one guild per space station) and once your reputation is high enough they give you free stuff. In terms of building reputation with the guilds, I focused on exploration because I didn't find either of the other two until after maybe a hundred hours of play,and I was only second-highest rep level for those two. This is nevertheless enough to get the free stuff I want from them.

That'sall there is to it, then. Still, at least the game wasn't trying to use cheap psychological tricks to keep playing.

I upgraded all my gear to the top tier. My freighter was only third tier (out of 5), but if I'd spent more time picking up freebies then I'd have got it higher before long. My settlement (yes, you do get to run and manage one) was second tier; to improve that, I'd just have to log in each day and make the decisions asked of me. I suspect that it might have been easier if I'd chosen a settlement on on a planet that didn't have an ambient temperature of -50 degrees Celsius.

There are three species of NPC plus some one-offs at the Anomaly. These NPC species correspond to trade, exploration and mercenary biases, but I did meet plenty of them of all kinds. You get to learn their languages from them a word at a time, which is a nice touch, albeit a tedious one. What particularly irritated me about this was that to interact with an NPC you had to click/hold on it, then skip through its opening dialogue (which might require two or three clicks) and then choose from a menu. That done, you have to click through the responses and then the menu closes. That's fine except if you want to do more than one thing off the menu, such as giving them a present as well as learning a word. If you do, you have to go through the whole palaver again. Also, you can only give them one present at a t time. I had maybe 40 or 50 gifts to give out that I didn't bother with because it would have taken me 15 seconds for each one.

Oh, the game would hang on me sometimes when I left a spaceship or base. That was annoying. So was falling through the architecture and getting killed by cosmic rays.

Overall, though, I was quite impressed with what I found. It's an inoffensive game with lots to do and I didn't find that it suffered from the usual procedural-generation problem of "trillions of different places, all the same". I prefer Conan Exiles for MMO survial gameplay (well, I did until they dumbed down the construction), but I can see myself returning to NMS in the future to see how it's developed further.

Now to decide what to play next. I'm thinking maybe Fallout 76, but as I haven't played any Fallout games or watched the recent TV series, I may be at a disadvantage.





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3:53pm on Sunday, 19th May, 2024:

Sunday Drop

Anecdote

It's the penultimate drop of Bhéwonom today. Your ordeal is nearly over.

Matters 51-54 are available here: https://www.youhaventlived.com/bhéwonom/Matters%2051-54.pdf. The full book so far is (as always) at http://www.bhéwonom.com/.

There are only four stories this time and three in the final drop (which will come mid-week). I could have combined them all into a single drop but didn't for two reasons.

Firstly, two of the Matters are quite long and I thought I'd better spare you from putting them all out at ince.

Secondly, this drop ends the story. The final drop takes matters further (but how much further is up to you; you'll see what I mean on Wednesday).

The titles this time are:
Matter 51: Summaries of Interventions
Matter 52: The Judgement of Eugene Nethercott
Matter 53: Next Year Will be Better
Matter 54: The Verdict

If you're still with me on this, let me know what you think. Thanks!



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3:12pm on Saturday, 18th May, 2024:

Retitled Paintings #25

Miscellaneous





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7:54am on Friday, 17th May, 2024:

Mid-Marking

Anecdote





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8:23am on Thursday, 16th May, 2024:

Cap Badges

Anecdote

Here are two cap badges that belonged to my dad.



The one on the left is for the Special Constabulary, which he joined in the 1960s. Special Constables are volunteers who have the same powers and uniform as full-time officers but they don't get paid beyond their expenses. My dad would help out the regular police officers for events in the town such as the carnival, or at busy holiday weekends. He occasionally went to Hull to give a hand to police officers there, too. He did it because he liked the idea of helping out the community and he knew a lot of people locally because his regular job was working for the Gas Board as a gasfitter.

Being a special constable did actually come in useful once, when my mother was well one weekend. He risked taking the car to the laundrette at a time when it was overdue on vehicle tax; a police officer spotted it and gave him a ticket. My dad went to the police station about it and persuaded the desk sergeant to drop the charge, which had it been pressed might have had severe implications for his day job. He got a strong telling-off instead. That wouldn't have been possible today because it's all automated; then again, today he'd have had a washing-machine.

The other cap badge is from when my dad was an army cadet. This was at a time when young men still had to do national service. My dad joined the Army Cadets in his teens and loved it. He rose to the rank of quartermaster sergeant and couldn't wait to turn 17 and be called up. Unfortunately for him, national service ended the very year he was due to go, and his mother wouldn't let him enlist as a career because she (not unreasonably) didn't want him getting killed. He joined the Gas Board instead, where his father worked. That's where he met my mum.

Interestingly, I have a photograph of my mother's grandfather in army uniform, and his cap badge is the same as my dad's. Given that he was Scottish and didn't even move to Yorkshire until circa 1910 (when he was in his 40s), I can only imagine he was some kind of reservist.

It may have been that because my dad liked the Army Cadets, this is what prompted him to try the Special Constabulary. He later used his experience as a special constable to get a weekend job as a security officer, which did pay money but meant he was away a lot of the time; he stopped after a few years because it was boring and he missed his family.

Interestingly, being a quartermaster sergeant gave him logistics skills that he was later able to parlay into a promotion at the Gas Board to Planning Superintendant. It was he who decided which fitters were going to do what work where each day. His position was eventually replaced by a computer system and the Gas Board had to pay him redundancy money. This is why he was able to retire at 55 yet I'm still working at 64.

My father died a year ago today.



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10:52am on Wednesday, 15th May, 2024:

Another Drop of Bhéwonom

Anecdote

It's time for the mid-week drop of Bhéwonom stories.

Matters 46-50 can be downloaded from https://www.youhaventlived.com/bh%c3%a9wonom/Matters%2046-50.pdf. The whole book so far is at http://www.bhéwonom.com/.

Titles:
Matter 46: Miracle at Monte Albán
Matter 47: Important Notice
Matter 48: The George Eliot Prize for Poetry
Matter 49: The Judgement of Marjorie Laleek
Matter 50: Daemon

There are only two more drops after this one. Your ordeal will soon be over.



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8:21am on Tuesday, 14th May, 2024:

The New Bartle Test

Weird





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7:48am on Monday, 13th May, 2024:

Twinkling

Anecdote

The nursery rhyme Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star was written in Colchester in 1806 by Jane Taylor. Lest any visitor be unaware of this, a statue of Jane and her sister Ann was recently erected in the High Street.

The statue depicts Jane (or maybe Ann, we've no way of knowing) pointing into the sky. I guess we're supposed to think she's pointing at a star — but are we?

I followed the line of her arm and no, she isn't pointing at a star.



Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Streetlight?

Get some glasses, Jane!



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9:34am on Sunday, 12th May, 2024:

Another Drop

Anecdote

Oh, it's Sunday! Time to release some more of Bhéwonom!

Matters 41-45 can be found at https://www.youhaventlived.com/bhéwonom/Matters%2041-45.pdf and the story so far is, as usual, at http://www.bhéwonom.com.

The titles are:
Matter 41: Live-Action Role-Play
Matter 42: Walt Disney World
Matter 43: The Judgement of Clive Phillips
Matter 44: The Magic Girl
Matter 45: The Muses

Let me know what you think.

Er, that's on the topic of the book, anyway, I don't want a transcript of your internal monologue.



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9:21am on Sunday, 12th May, 2024:

Eurovisioff

Comment

Switzerland won the Eurovision Song Contest yesterday, largely due to the votes of the juries. My own favourite, France, came third, but I wouldn't have minded if Croatia, which came second, had won. I also enjoyed the Armenian entry, not because of the song but because the lead singer was engagingly bonkers. I didn't like the Swiss entry, because it featured an attention-grabbing, low-high-low 3-note sequence, which is what Sweden's winner did the year before.

As usual, old people singing reasonable songs are punished in the public vote. Sorry Spain, sorry Norway.

As usual, similar songs sung by similar long-haired female singers are disambiguated by the voters on the basis of how pretty they are.

Not as usual, there were many buttocks on display. Some of these should not have been on display and will have cost the performers votes.

This was a bad year for the UK. In the past, I've argued that we should recruit a major contemporary singer with an international reputation as our entry, on the grounds that the juries might take against the UK for whatever reason but the popular vote would be in our favour. We tried it this time round, deploying Olly Alexander, lead singer of Years & Years. It didn't work. His was the only act that got zero votes in the public vote. No in-fashion British singer is going to go anywhere near Eurovision as a result of this.

His song was mediocre, but the same could be said of 20 other songs in the final. The homoeroticism was over-the-top, but his wasn't the only act to fall into that category. The staging was first-class and the production values were also exceptionally good. He suffered a bit because of a problem that affected the whole competition, namely that the balance between microphone and music was too heavy on the music side so his voice didn't sound strong, but (obviously) so did everyone else. I get the feeling that when it comes to voting for the UK, it's binomial: either the song and performance are so good that they reach a threshold where voters think OK, fair enough, that does deserve my vote (as happened with Sam Ryder), or it doesn't and we get nothing. Other countries will pick up votes here and there, but for us it's all-or-nothing.

Three solutions now spring to mind.
1) Get attacked militarily by external forces. Israel and Ukraine both did much better in the public votes than their songs merited.
2) Cynically have our singer be a 16-year-old girl who will burst into tears when she gets zero in the public vote, so the "don't vote for the UK" tradition is perceived to have non-amusing consequences.
3) Don't participate for a few years, like France did when it realised that it wasn't going to win no matter how good its songs were. People can decide not to vote for Germany instead of not voting for us.

To cap it all off, the northern lights didn't make an appearance in our part of the world even though the skies were clear apart from some low-lying mist. Bah!

On the plus side, my wife and I ate an entire bag of toffee popcorn between us and almost finished a 310g box of Maltesers, too.



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12:38am on Saturday, 11th May, 2024:

Too Late

Anecdote

I took this photo of the aurora borealis a mere three hours too late.



Damn! I was hoping we'd see them so my wife wouldn't make me go on a northern lights cruise at some point in the future.



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8:51am on Friday, 10th May, 2024:

Examination Time

Comment

It's the first couple of my exams today.



This is when those students who declined to attend the lectures and classes have their first tinges of regret.



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8:50am on Thursday, 9th May, 2024:

Steps

Weird

Steps for people who couldn't otherwise reach the handle on the fire extinguisher.





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7:37am on Wednesday, 8th May, 2024:

Mid-Week Drop

Anecdote

It's time for more Matters from Bhéwonom.

Those among you with no interest in this will perhaps be relieved to know that you'll only have to put up with it for another 3 drops after this one. Well, I might make it 4 drops as there are 56 Matters plus a Coda in total and ah you really don't want to know this stuff do you, I'll shut up.

Matters 36-40 can be found at https://www.youhaventlived.com/bhéwonom/Matters%2036-40.pdf, with all the drops so far being at www.bhéwonom.com.

This round's titles are:
Matter 36: White Dead Rooks
Matter 37: The Living Statue
Matter 38: Gracelet Reincarnated
Matter 39: Strange and Enigmatic
Matter 40: Male Charged in Connection with Murder

As usual, let me know your verdict. Better I'm told the faults before anyone writes bad reviews on Amazon.com than afterwards.



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