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Friday, October 12, 2018

I Need Space

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When I went away to college in the fall of 1993 I was travelling to a school over 600 miles away from my home.  I was going to have to have everything I would to survive.  That meant taking a shit ton of stuff, packed into the covered bed of my Dad’s pickup truck with enough space for me to slide in and out of a me shaped hole a couple times over the course of 12 hours.  It wasn’t a great idea.  And after four months, I transferred to another school about 25 miles away from my parents’.  Clearly, I had learned my lesson and didn’t need to pack everything for the hour long trip of which I would be coming home most weekends.  Nope, still packed a single dorm room to the gills.  Then, during the summer of my sophomore and junior years, I spent three months working in an amusement park nearly 4 hours away.  Yep, you guessed it.  I didn’t learn and my parents paid the price literally and figuratively.  

But, by the time I got back from my first summer sojourn I learned exactly what I needed to get by on my own at school.  In five years of college, I never moved out of the dorms.  Best decision I ever made.  First of all, I didn’t need to worry about roommates, the two legged or multi legged variety.  The area apartments were nothing if not short of needing condemned and the last thing I wanted was to have rats or roaches as non-paying residents.  The dorms were furnished.  The bed and furniture supplied were all I needed for myself and any guests.  I had a mini fridge, a B&W TV, microwave, and hot pot along with my toiletries.  That was pretty much all I needed.  There wasn’t a need for multiple rooms or floors because quite frankly, I’d never use them.  Yes, I had to share a bathroom with 26-30 other guys, but I didn’t have to clean it and I didn’t have to stock it.  The rest of campus was my apartment.  I ate in the cafĂ© or our little food court, all rolled into my meal plan as part of my tuition.  No need to go buy a crap ton of food.  Outside of what I ate for lunch and dinner, I only needed cereal, a few boxes of Mac and Cheese, Top Ramen, and some snacks.

Unfortunately, after college I felt this need… or at least I was led to believe that I needed to acquire things as a homeowner.  Things I will never use save once.  Things that sit in an attic or the garage or shoved in a room somewhere, never to be seen until something goes wrong and I have to pitch a lot of damaged or broken items due to a catastrophic event.  I am getting better because mainly I see what lies ahead of myself and my siblings when it comes to my parents.  That house is going to be a ridiculous amount of hoarding to go through.  Still, at some point, while I have time and energy to enjoy it, I’d like to be able to build or move from my current house I deemed a starter house because I never meant it to be a forever home.  I intended it to be a place I would fix up and sell after raising a family and saving money.  I’m half way on one, on my 2nd attempt on the same one, and nowhere near complete on the other.

Now, in the world of gaming, my first ever attempt at building a house in Minecraft was pretty much indicative of my loss of imagination and creativity.  The only defense I have is that I began playing back in the days of Beta 1.3.  Upside down stairs were not a thing and if you broke a stair, aka roofing … it was gone forever.  There was no corner stairs either.  So, my house, consisting of mostly stone walls and cobblestone steps for a roof was pretty sad.   It didn’t even have windows.  I would go in there and just store all my resources.  I made connecting tunnels to other parts of the area, including my first place of refuge, the dirt house.  The Minecraft equivalent to living in a cardboard box.

Since then, I built many bases but always struggled when it came to building a house.  And usually, that’s the thing we want to build in Minecraft and now in No Man’s Sky.  We all geeked out over the prospect of building that dream base we all envisioned in our life only to find that spatial proportions made it look like a sad Barbie dream crack house. On subsequent worlds, especially ones I’ve recorded the house was either a requirement, for instance in Skyblock, or a nicety to show off whatever building skills I thought I possessed.  But in reality, the house in Minecraft is never really a functional space, it’s more for show and often times it is a pain in the ass to even have one, causing you to traipse up and down steps to get to your bed in order to quell the banging of monsters outside your door, or to store all your extra gubbins in your storage areas.

At one point, I condensed everything into an area that, disregarding chests for all your shit would be an area roughly equivalent to a 6x6x12 space. That takes into account the 2nd floor containing an enchanting table and bookshelves.  The bottom would have a stacked crafting table/furnace/brewing stand next to a bed and an avil/cauldron.  Granted you would be highly visible and vulnerable to any monsters that followed you home you run the risk of not being able to sleep because they are nearby.  Also, if you’re not careful, waking up can place you outside your house.

I guess I never saw the need or desire to build a house because I saw so much wasted space.  It never had any use other than to look pretty from the outside and everything inside would be so far apart and an inefficient use of space for a game such as this. For any game that involves building, adventuring, or exploring, inventory management this is the furthest thing from fun.  Every episode I recorded for Skyrim involved me taking a good hour to travel back to my house in Whiterun to drop off stuff, switch out gear, and stock up or sell items.  There is about 50% of the experience you never saw because it was boring and usually involved at least one instance where I accidentally took everything out of a bag or chest which caused me to curse and cry.  7 Days to Die took so much time to sort your inventory and you had only so much daylight or night to do it before you needed to get to whatever your were doing next before the horde, which took all your focus. 

But in Minecraft I always felt like a great use of mods or automation was to have a way to get stuff dropped into a central location to be sorted into storage and then recalled when needed without the mundane task of searching through every chest and walking up or down steps to find where I put that thing I needed for the thing. I get that there is a mod that has a computer that can hold all your items and allow you to craft on the fly and that’s cool and all, but unless you’re playing with mods it doesn’t help anything.  And other mods allow for pipes and sorting but those are usually resource heavy causing lag.  It also solves a problem but it leaned more heavily on function following form.  These industrial looking engines and pipes stand out as a stark contrast to the environment of Minecraft which usually exists in nature.  Now, if you were building a modern looking city that relies on a lot of electricity or metal working or concrete, then yes, these engines and macerators and whiz bang gadgets that automate processes would be appropriate.  However, I would like to see ones that match the era of technological evolution a game like Minecraft sets itself in. 

In the ancient city of Petra, you know the one that inspired the end scenes of the Holy Grail temple in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, there was a complex piping system using math and terracotta pipes to transport water from a source over three miles away.  If you could demonstrate through crafting functional machines from clay or sand or other primitive materials as to solve the problems a game like Minecraft presents to you without deviating from the aesthetics of your progression and surroundings I would be all for that.  Simply playing for ten minutes, building a dirt hut, then constructing metal machines that run on electricity just seems to bring me out of the immersion of such a game. After all, ancient civilizations had irrigation systems and even piped methane gas to nearby settlements which were far superior in their design compared to their relative place in history. Fully fleshed out and functional water wheels instead of a block that generates RF would be astounding… but probably lag inducing.

But I have truly got of track because those are solutions to a different problem.  The Minecraft house is such an impractical structure, in my opinion, because it doesn’t do anything except protect us from the dangers of the outside, something a dirt hole can do.  It’s a status symbol without the benefit of bragging rights because it isn’t earned any differently whether you work all day mining for precious resources or just dig up some rocks and chop down some trees.  It’s all about imagination and design and maybe that’s its saving grace.  It exists as a testament to the builder’s creativity, not development as a player in this world.  I’m just the stupid one who feels he can’t be bothered either because I am too lazy or not creative enough to embrace it.

Since base building became a thing in No Man’s Sky it’s been more of a distraction than an integral part of the game.  Think about it.  What purpose does a base serve in No Man’s Sky?
Shelter?  You spend 80% of your game in a ship, flying around.  The time you do spend on a planet is for exploration or gathering.  Any shelter you need is likely because you are on a planet with adverse conditions so you retreat underground or towards your ship.

Resources?  It makes more sense to just make simplified bases on every planet with rare or valuable resources and just portal to them when needed.  I remember spending a ridiculous amount of time doing the base missions, then doing them again, and then again only to have my base removed with the NEXT update.  The farming aspect was neat but not really very profitable unless you expand to a larger operation and then, it becomes unmanageable unless you multiplay. 

Cool aesthetics?  Yes.  This is the main reason.  Again, the only reason you build a house in any game that gives you some form of creative control over the process is to build something with some kind of aesthetics.  And No Man’s Sky has a very cool 70s retro sci-fi look to it.  Those of us who grew up in the shadow of Flash Gordon or Speed Racer and remember the original Ralph McQuarrie artwork from Star Wars have this exposure to a definite style of futurism with specific colors and shapes that we saw in other games like Prey.  And No Man’s Sky plays into that motif with the shapes and architecture available to us along with the planetary backdrops.  I’ve always had an affinity for space and science fiction.  Movies like Blade Runner, The Black Hole, again Flash Gordon, or Logan’s Run were favorites.  Art from McQuarrie or Chris Foss.  I was a big lover of the 70s and 80s space LEGO sets.  In fact, a recent episode of This Old House featured a guy wearing the space logo from that LEGO series which made me geek out, wanting to get one.  Moonraker, as bad as it was, was another favorite in that cheesy operatic space motif versus the 50s and 60s B&W space style.  For me, it wasn’t steampunk, it was that retro futuristic look.

But the real problem with base building is that it sucks up cycles to complete the quests to build the bases.  And quite frankly, like other games, bases in No Man’s Sky are not practical, they’re cool.  Yes, you need rooms for certain things, mostly storage as No Man’s Sky should have been called, “No More Room: An Inventory Management Simulator.” 

On my first go round with No Man’s Sky, I hurriedly completed all of the quests surrounding the base building aspect because I wanted to A: Complete the Game and B: Build a damn base.  I had grand plans to get towards the core of the universe and find a nice temperate planet to move all my slapdash placement of structures to and rebuild.  The original planet I was on that offered me a base was a cold tundra whose weather constantly fought me, even indoors, to keep from freezing.  And while I did all those necessary quests.. .TWICE mind you, I just sort of plopped things down wherever.  I needed containers.  I needed a place to store all the crap that was in my suit so that I could get stuff for building the base. That was the main issue.  And I still wanted to build out a freighter to hold stuff but it became so resource heavy to build all the stuff that you forget that there were other things you were supposed to be doing, especially when the Atlas update came out.  And then everything in those containers became obsolete or no longer usable.  Still, I can see where a base can be purposeful, but usually, I need a spot for storage, and a place for equipment.  The constant wandering around, looking for things when I need to grab it is wasteful, just like it was in Minecraft or 7 Days.

Still, the prospect of being able to construct a cool base in this genre I so love is something I want to explore, if for no other reason than the photo mode alone.  That has been one of the updates that I do approve of.  We’ll talk more on that another time.

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