No Man’s Sky meets Mass Effect

In my version of the Mass Effect storyline, Commander Anna Shepard chooses to take over for the Reapers. They relinquish their powers to her, in shame and humility. To the galaxy at large, it seems that the Reapers have been destroyed and Shepard has disappeared. Only Liara knows the truth about what has happened, and she is good at keeping secrets!

Meanwhile, the galaxy has entered a new age of exploration. New alliances are forged.




These are screencaps from NMS that I played around with using GIMP (free art software!) and a Wacom graphics tablet. I’m just getting the hang of GIMP. I know the more I practice, the less awkward it will seem.

No Man’s Sky and Gamer Backlash

I was awakened out of a sound sleep last night by shouting and swearing. It was a gamer.

Let me explain. Once I have fallen asleep, I sleep like a log — but I have trouble dozing off. If I don’t have something to focus my thoughts on, my mind runs like a hamster in a wheel. It has to be something familiar enough to be relaxing, but still interesting enough to stop the wheel from spinning. Sometimes I listen to audiobooks or podcasts; lately I’ve been listening to familiar videos. Noah Gervais is a favorite (I’ve watched or listened to his videos multiple times). Last night I drifted off to his review of No Man’s Sky. But it turns out I had left my You Tube setting on “autoplay”… and so at 4 am I was awakened by someone yelling F-bombs in my ear. It was a gamer, ranting about No Man’s Sky.

I hurriedly hit “X” to close the window; I don’t even know who was speaking. The intensity of the anger was like the shouting I hear when there’s been a car accident in front of our house. Or the way our apartment neighbors used to yell at each other in the months before their divorce.

And I know it’s not just the one guy who is angry.

steam-review-nmsThat’s 65% negative reviews. If you actually READ the reviews, they are enough to blister your eyeballs. The hostility continues in the comment sections after articles (here’s an example at Kotaku). And the Reddit environment is caustic enough to challenge the most extreme of extremophiles.

Even my son, who is normally a soft-spoken person, howled in outrage when I started up the game. Something about the loading screen wasn’t right? I don’t understand. It seemed fine to me.  And as he watched over my shoulder, he kept doing this


This is frustrating for me, though. It’s hard to listen to. I LOVE the game (OK, I loved it more after my son hacked into it and added 2 billion credits to my account). I worry that the negative backlash will make it harder for such groundbreaking games to be produced in the future.

My son and his friends have been gaming since they were 10 and have experienced (I’m estimating) HUNDREDS of games. They are connoisseurs. They have very clear cut ideas on how things should be done.

I’ve had very little experience with gaming, but I’ve been a musician for years. I have clear cut expectations about what an instrument should be like. I have to admit, if I ordered a keyboard instrument online, and instead of this I got this


…I would probably be upset.




But I’d like to think that I could get over my disappointment, put my expectations aside, and at least give the new instrument a try. Noodle around with it. Find out what it actually was good at. Who knows, maybe it was actually something like this?




I hope that instead of dropping F-bombs and howling in outrage, my review would be something like “I wanted a piano, and this sure as hell isn’t a piano. If you were looking for a traditional piano, don’t buy this. But if you would like to try out some groundbreaking new technology, all I can say is…”




Credits and Notes

The colorful “definitely not a piano” thing is by Knock On Wood Quality Wooden Toys.

And for you youngs, the thing with all the knobs and wires is a Moog Synthesizer, which started to become popular around 1967 ( I was about 10). Nowadays the technology has become so mind-bogglingly advanced that the whole thing can be emulated, realtime, in your PC. Whoa. It’s available here



No Man’s Sky — Third Star System — Elfangol, Daubertia

For a more detailed description of these two planets, see here.

I’ve made my second warp jump


To the system Eiyodawak S77, which I renamed Locria, in honor of the Locrian Mode. It has four planets, one of which has a moon.

The first one I encountered was Elfangall Tachig, which I renamed Elfangol RFL.

This is the first planet I have explored that has large bodies of water. From the air it looked like a water planet


…and I imagined something Earth-like. However, Elfangall has high levels of radiation, and arched rock formations that seemed quite “unearthly”.



The pleasant temperature of 22 degrees C ( 71 degrees F) made me want to take off my exosuit, but the radiation level was too dangerous.

The next planet was Batungbara Piptakm, which I renamed Daubertia in honor of a friend of mine who has a PhD in plant pathology. There was a diverse collection of plant-like and fungus-like things here which I’m sure she would have been fascinated with.


However, it was not an easy location to study botany. Within a minute of stepping outside my ship, I saw this


This Therapod-like lifeform (and other species similar to it) it were a constant source of danger. Several times I was attacked the very minute I left the spaceship. I wondered if they were able to see or hear the landing from a distance.


My Favorite Game Reviewers

There are several game reviewers who are responsible for getting this 50+ year old mom into the world of gaming. One is Alex Shaw (and his team of merry friends) who create fascinating, often hilarious podcasts. I LOVE their discussions of the Mass Effect series. Thank you so much Alex, Sharon, and friends for hours of enjoyment.

Dan Floyd of Extra Credits teamed up with James Portnow to give the infamously difficult Dark Souls games a try. Dan’s series, informally known as Dan Sucks at Dark Souls, gave me the courage to try the game myself. I mean really, could I do any worse than this?

Dark Souls # 10 — Loot Runs

Thank you Dan and James for hours and hours of pain despair fun.

And finally, there’s Noah Caldwell-Gervais.

When I was in high school I had a class called “The Rise and Fall of Practically Everything”. The class met for two hours a day and combined history, art, and literature. We wrote essays and term papers and created art projects; in my case I learned calligraphy and made my own illuminated manuscript!

Imagine if the smartest guy in the Rise and Fall class spent hours writing an eloquent, well-thought-out essay, and then used the essay as narration for a video. A video about gaming. That’s what Noah’s videos are like. I feel my brain expanding every time I listen to one. (I treat Noah’s long videos like podcasts, and have them playing while I do something else.)

Thanks Noah for expanding my brain, and challenging me to be a better writer.

Here’s the most recent of Noah’s videos —

No Man’s Sky — Sixty Hours In

One month later — sixty hours in — I’m continuing to enjoy No Man’s Sky. You would think  that a random assortment of planets would make for a story that feels sort of, you know, random. But instead the story feels dramatic, with twists and turns.

For example, after several planets where dangerous “animals” jumped out of hiding and attacked me, this latest planet seemed quiet.

Too quiet.


Welcome to Chadwickia 913!

The first half-hour I spent here, I jumped every time I heard a noise or saw a shadow out of the corner of my eye. I’m finally starting to relax and let down my guard.

I have not yet seen any forms of “animal” life except for these underwater organisms


At one point I saw something deep underwater that looked like bones — a giant ribcage from a huge vertebrate?  Uh oh, if there’s dead ones, there could be live ones nearby…

On closer examination, though, they turned out to be random rock formations, not “ribs” at all.

Are there any life forms here that we would call “animals”? In 3 hours of exploring, the only thing I have found that moved was this curled up plant-worm-scorpion thing. It lashed out at me as I walked by and sprayed me with a mist of toxic liquid.


The Toxic Squirt is the coiled up spiral thing on the far right.

Could this be one of the few underwater “animal” life forms that made it onto the land? Or is this a specialized plant, more like a Venus Fly Trap?



No Man’s Sky and the “Explorer’s Mod”

When I first heard about No Man’s Sky, my initial reaction was “Cool, an exploration game! I really enjoyed the exploration in Mass Effect; I just hope there isn’t too much combat in this game. Combat is so boring”.

Unlike so many other people, I was not disappointed in No Man’s Sky. I was hoping for hours of exploration and very little combat — so the game has greatly exceeded my expectations.

HOWEVER, I do have a special mod to my game, let’s call it the Explorer’s Mod, which improves the game a lot — makes it much less “grindy”.

To get the “Explorer’s Mod”, all you have to do is edit the memory of your game (in my case, I asked my son to do it) and add two billion credits to your account.



Think of it as a research grant.

No more mining for resources while hiding from sentinels! No more shuffling items in my inventory! Now I can focus on what’s really important —  to explore, take photographs of landscapes and lifeforms, and to catalog new species. Along with this scientific mission there are responsibilities. I have to find blueprints for the best technology, and learn how to use them.  I have to figure out how to use the navigation system…try to avoid getting lost…again.

Part of the Explorer’s Mod Research Grant is the constraint “DO NOT KILL ANY CREATURES”.  Not even in self-defense. And ever since the time I saw a clump of “mushrooms” get up and run away, I haven’t killed any “plants” either.

It’s great not having to worry about money, but there are still many challenges. Here I am trying to take one more picture of a new species before my shields fail.


In that case, it was not a good decision.




Another challenge is the calculation “Do I have enough resources with me to go to that area over there on foot, or should I run back to my ship before I freeze to death?”

And, I have had to bargain with dozens of aliens in order to find the ship that had the technology I wanted. This was a slow process that took endless patience. Although, I have to admit, it was great to be able to afford whatever caught my eye. (Don’t you just love that new starship smell?)

Wealth does not solve all my problems — it appears that some resources are not for sale. I need Emeril to construct a shield upgrade — but I couldn’t find it in any of the space stations; no fellow travelers had any for sale either. My research grant doesn’t help me here. I really will have to brave the Sentinels and mine for Emeril myself.

Another challenge is Space Pirates. In this case, I have broken the rule “do not kill any creatures”.


I’m hoping it’s possible to improve my shields so much that shooting pirates is no longer necessary.


One Year Gap

It has been about a year since I’ve written here!

I have had some wonderful experiences in the gaming world in the past year…

First of all, I finished Mass Effect 2 around Thanksgiving.

The plot of ME 2 is that Commander Shepard gets the old gang back together in order to carry out an extremely important mission…one which will probably result in the death of the entire crew even if the mission is successful. A suicide mission. As Commander Shepard recruits team members, sooner or later they work up the courage to ask her if there is something they could take care of, some unfinished business, before the final mission takes place. As Commander Shepard and her crewmates go through these experiences, they bond as a team and as friends. In my playthrough, Joan Shepard developed a close friendship with the icy perfectionist Amanda, and fell in love with Thane Krios. With Amanda forging ahead, clearing the way with her bionics, and Thane at her side, Shepard was able to get her entire team through the mission. Even Zaeed, who was not loyal, made it through.

I then moved on to Mass Effect 3.

However, I got stuck a few months in and haven’t yet returned to the Mass Effect universe. The story is very dark right now. Every planet we visit is in the process of being destroyed. Garrus is endlessly worried about his family (caught behind enemy lines) and Thane is far away, slowly dying of Kepral’s syndrome. The ship was ravaged when it was re-possessed after Commander Shepard’s court martial (long story) and looks gloomy and derelict. Exposed cables and pipes everywhere. On the plus side, it’s great to have Liara back on board, and I like the new crew members Steve Cortez and James Vega. The DLC “Leviathan” was beautiful and exciting, and I still have the DLC “The Citadel” to look forward to. I will definitely be back.

My son introduced me to Undertale.

Over Christmas break, in a massive session that lasted til 6 am, he took me through a pacifist run. (He handled the combat and I did the exploring.) What an amazing experience — excellent story, and the art and music was a big part of the emotional impact. As the final scenes rolled, I had to blink back tears. Happy tears!

During bleakest February I started Dark Souls 1.

…And all spring and summer I slogged away. Since I had literally NEVER had a game controller in my hands before, there was a steep learning curve. As of July, with the help of my son, two of his friends, and the ever-cheerful Solaire, I was able to survive Blighttown and ring the second bell. Then when I returned to Firelink Shrine, there was a very weird new character where the pond used to be. I still haven’t spoken to him. I’ve watched several play-throughs and I know what he wants.  He will send me to Sen’s Fortress, and I don’t want to go.

That was July. In August I started…No Man’s Sky.

The varied worlds of No Man’s Sky remind me of the different landscapes and environments I’ve seen in Minecraft — those wonderful, evocative landscapes of the imagination. I have been so immersed in No Man’s Sky for the past month that my Facebook friends are tired of  hearing about it.

So that’s why I’ve dusted off this blog!



The Making of Mass Effect

Here is a series of videos about the making of the video game Mass Effect. What I like about these videos is that they talk about the creative process. At one point they say “we wanted to create a world that we would like to visit”. That was inspiring to me because I have ideas for a science fiction story that takes place on one of my Minecraft worlds!




There are also videos # 5, 6, and 7.