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So...no long winding post this time. Just this message: my girlfriend's pregnant with our first child. He or she is due in January next year.
Can't really add much aside from "I'll probably be a lot less on the forums after that". I'm sure y'all understand.
(edit: renamed from 'about to be a father' to 'I'm going to be a father'...perhaps this doesn't give this as much a sense of "urgent stuff happening" )
This is sort of a follow-up of a previous rant. In there, I stabbed a bit at some popular board games of my youth. And really: there are some BAD board games out there. Games that are just being popular because people don't know alternatives. And because learning games can mean actually LEARNING, there is less incentive to do so. So many people just stick to what they know rather than broaden their horizons. It's not that different with video games, where the PC has a feud with consoles, both are stigmatizing mobile games, MMORPG-players don't really mix with FPS players and you CERTAINLY don't want to put run&gun first person shooter fans in the same category to the wallhugging "one shot will kill you so you better duck and cover" kind of FPS.
Similarly: board games differ as well. Some paint stories with new species and/or entire universes for players to explore where others are as abstract as chess. Dices and other elements of luck are frowned upon by some whereas others find games that are all about deduction 'too puzzle-y'. Some games are dished because they are too simple, others because they are too complex. And let me be clear on that: that is all okay! I'm pointing out these differences in games because they differ on aspects that do not inherently make the game good or bad.
So why is monopoly bad? No, it is not because "it entices players to become soulless capitalist tycoons" or the randomness of some items (why are the pawns as nonsensical as they are?). It is because
1) the randomness is so large that there is hardly a meaningful choice to be made, let alone a difficult one. Face it: you have no impact on where you'll land, and most of the cards don't give you a choice either. Your only real choices are in whether or not you want to buy a street when there's an opportunity for it (and this comes down to "do this unless you're SERIOUSLY starving on cash), and when you want to trade streets with your opponent. For anything else in the game, you could just be watching a cutscene.
2) it drags on way too long after winners and losers have emerged. You all know this situation: after 2 or 3 rounds, most of the streets are sold. The ones with the least amount will lose the game (unless in the unlikely event that they happen to have a set)...but because the game plays until you go bankrupt, these players just have to "be there" because it can lead to arguments if they quit.
See where this is going? This isn't a "this game is bad because I don't like its looks" or "it's bad because I suck at it" situation, but it is bad by metrics; by doing an analysis and coming up with the why and how of this. It's not that gut emotion in games isn't important, but that the chances of games touching you emotionally are simply more likely with games that follow rules about game design.
Oh, and...the above somewhat goes for video games as well, but board games differ mostly because they are inherently about social interaction. Play a game with a dry accounting department and the experience will be very different than playing the very same game with your buddies after a few beers. So in that regard, the question of "is this game good?" is more to be read in the vein of "is this game good when compared to other games when played with the same people and mood?". And even that is subjective, as e.g. horror games work better when there is nobody musing about how a sexual encounter between Cthulhu and Medusa would turn out.
Game design (not to be confused with game theory, which is...something different) has become an entire industry, so just me yapping about things that make games GOOD is at best scratching a surface of what someone else studying game design already told. Instead, I'll provide some recent classics and what they might bring to the table.
Some of my games...
One thing I've found is that many people consider games they don't know to be "more complex" than what they already know (at least my girlfriend is like that). This isn't impossible, obviously, but unless you've got a sadistic friend hellbent on torture, the first modern board games you'll play should be so-called gateway games.
More than anything, gateway games should be simple enough to pick up on what you should be doing quickly. Carcassonne? Play a tile and optionally put a meeple on it somewhere. Catan? Harvest and trade. King of Tokyo? Roll dice to kill all other players. Splendor? Either collect jewels or use jewels to buy cards. Santorini? Climb until the third story.
Mind you: this premisse - also called 'the hook' - isn't the same as the rules, but the rules should be built around that core idea. Exceptions should be little or non-existing, and they should feel intuitive. There is also another feature that separates "gateway games" from "simple games", but I'll better start with explaining the given examples a bit more.
In carcassonne, you and your opponents have a bunch of pawns (known in the hobby as 'meeples'). Each turn, you draw a square tile from the stack and place it somewhere next to the ever growing landscape (that starts with one single tile). These tiles depict (parts of) cities, grassland, roads or monestaries. By choosing where to place your tile you not only make a choice for the rest of the game but potentially enlargen your own influence, as larger cities or grasslands touching completed cities are worth more. You make two simple choices each turn (where do I place this particular tile, and do I place one of my meeples on it?), but these have far reaching consequences.
Catan is a known game revolving around trade. You each pick a starting position next to some resources. Then each turn starts by a random harvest of these resources, slowly granting (hopefully) each player more or less an equal share of some of the available goods - wood, stone, wool, wheat and ore. Specific combinations of these resources mean you can expand and/or upgrade your settlements, but unless you're SERIOUSLY lucky with the dice rolls, you'll never have enough of what you'll need by yourself. The interesting part is that the other players want to expand as well (it is what'll win the game, after all) but might need completely different resources. So while it contains some luck, the best part of this game is to figure out on HOW to progress, and what to trade with whom.
Catan's a modern classic, but IMHO no longer the best choice to start the hobby with. The problem is mostly in a long setup time, and especially: your initial location on the random map can make or break you for the rest of the game. So teaching this game is relatively hard, especially if your other players barely can calculate chance (the harvest is determined by 2 dice. But that means that resources with a value 6 and 8 are far more likely to show up than those with 2 or 12).
King of Tokyo is either playing Godzilla or a dice game, depending on your perspective. You and your enemies each have a monster and want to do battle it out in Tokyo (why? "Because", that's why!). the general idea is that one of you will be in the center (Tokyo), fighting everyone else at the same time. Everyone else can either damage you, heal themselves, load up on improvements or rise in skill level. And you do this...by rolling dice. Each turn, you roll the included dice "yahtzee style", meaning that you can pick and reroll some of your dice, and then once again pick and reroll some other (or the same ones). It's the end result of that third throw that will decide what'll happen. The goal of the game is to either be the last monster standing (meaning: reducing everyone else's lives to zero), or level up to your maximum level.
In this game, the fun isn't so much in the dice rolling (though that aspect is certainly fun) but in the social interaction. With miniatures depicting Godzilla, king Kong, a robot, a dragon and Cthulhu, OF COURSE you're going to root for your own monster. It's the typical game where you'll mimic fallen skyscrapers, literally kick other player's avatar out of Tokyo and (if the mood or the booze is decent ) howling noises fill the room. And the dice rolling becomes something concrete really fast ("no, you don't want to do that much damage to me. Reroll that die as well. You want to heal. Come on! Reroll that die! Nooooo!!!! ")
Meanwhile, Splendor is a simple engine building game. There are five colors of gems on the table (six if you count gold, which is a wild). Each turn, you either do
1) pick three different colored gems
2) pick two colored gems of the same color (if possible)
3) reserve a card from either the open stack or one of the 3 draw piles AND receive a gold gems
4) buy a card with your gems and/or your previously bought cards
There are three sorts of cards, but while they are separated from each other, they differ only in cost and in points worth (the cheapest color of cards has at best one point, but don't cost that much). The interesting thing, however, is that each card also counts as a self-replenishing gemstone of a certain color. So a card that costs 2 red gems and 3 black ones can either be payed with 2 red gems and 3 black gems; 1 red gem, a red gem card, a black gem card and two black gems, and any other combination. You always pay for cards with gems, but never with cards. So in the beginning of the game you'll spend turns pondering which colors of gems to pick whereas in the later stage you want to pick up high point cards simply by re-using other cards. The game is really a race in that regard. Reserving a card that your opponent is about to buy might set them back (which advances you), hoarding all gems of a certain color might help prevent your enemy from picking the gems you really want, and so on. The game is until fifteen points, but while it takes a while until players get, say, 4 points, it then quickly ramps up as the players become richer and can afford more expensive (but point-rich) cards.
In Santorini, you've got a five-by-five square grid; each players (usually two) have two pawns they place anywhere on the board. Then each player takes a turn, moving one of their pawns to an adjacent position (including diagonal). This position should be at most one position higher than the current one, and not occupied by another player. After the move, the player builds one cube adjacent to that same character. The goal is to be the first to move one of your pawns on top of a third floor.
...and that's the entirety of the rules for you. Sure, the game comes with "God cards" as well, granting you specific variations on this basic rule set, but the game is as tactical as go, even without using these. This is really a game of moves and counter-moves. The moment someone's on the second floor and is adjacent to a third floor, you should move in and build one additional floor on it (making the position unavailable for either player). Matches can be surprisingly franctic and deep. The game also has a cutesy Greek theme, but that doesn't hide the fact that this is at its core a game as abstract as chess.
Pandemic is another modern classic. Here, all players combine their efforts as a worldwide medical team while four diseases roam the world. Each of you have a special power, but each of you only have four actions to perform on a turn. So which actions should you take to make sure that the cures for these diseases are found before the world is overflooding with them?
While technically not the first co-op game, it is the one that made the genre a staple, and still the main 'go to' game. And for good reason: this game has a theme everyone can get behind and has a rising tension with each and every game. That is because your special powers by themselves aren't enough: you really NEED to work together as a team to overcome what's going on (diseases are added literally every turn!). The game is a bit more complex than the others, but simple enough to wrap your head around yet complex enough that you likely won't be able to find the optimal turn order every time.
So...six short reviews for modern board games. I admit I picked them because I have these and like them, but that's not the only reason. These games are all gateway games. That is to say: if you like them, there are plenty more that somehow expand on the concept. Isle of Skye is carcassonne with a bidding mechanic. Gizmos shares similarities with splendor. Pandemic has a whole slew of co-op games where you fight diseases together. I won't guarantee that you'll like them all. But I'm sure that you would like some, given the chance.
...and I hope you'll get a chance at some point. Because gaming shouldn't be limited to electronic devices.
alexander1970 likes this.
I moved to another province a couple months ago. One of the perks was that it'd be closer to my best friend. And since contact is better - we've been going to bars a few times, both with and without our girlfriends - I came to ask him about this relatively new hobby I got: board gaming.
Incidentally he avoided it, but told me yesterday: he and his girlfriend weren't really into that kind of thing. I understand him. And not only that: since they're about to become parents, time is rather scarce for them (meaning: they're in full preparation of "teh baby"). That our house isn't really up to snuff certainly doesn't help either (we've still got a good few months of renovations before it'll be more than a "slightly above camping" standard). But there's more going on: the games we've played as kids weren't all that good. And since I'm a bit bored, I'll rant a bit about that here...
First, let's look at the evolution of a few other media. Books are the oldest medium. they evolved from scrolls to books to ebooks. Movies changed from black and white to talkies, full color, high definition and now often assisted by CGI when needed. Video games changed from pixelated endeavors into the full blown powerhouses that we have today. And graphic novels...I'm not too familiar with their evolution, but there has clearly been changes as well.
In each of these cases, these leaps in technology changed the way the medium worked as well. Certain parts of 'em became classics which also set the standards for the works that came after them. You can clearly notice this when watching an old movie or playing an old video game. Even if it's a classic, there is a certain clunkiness to it. Blood is unnaturally red in movies...books use outdated words in them...video games have a limited amount of continues and no savegames...those kinds of things.
Board games are no different. Sure, they are an old medium. And arguably(1) the ancestor to video games. So shouldn't they be more evolved during the years and centuries?
The answer is both yes and no. There has been an evolution in games if you take a look at games of a certain age rather than just the classics (first, there was go. And then some centuries later chess and checkers), but it didn't evolve much because games only matter if you have free time to spare. It's only thanks to automatisation that there is a market for the mass entertainment media.
The second argument is the internet. While not a revolution as in video games, there as well, game designers found out a mass library of board games they didn't know existed. And because the markets grew, it became possible to publish a game without being limited to a handful of large corporations (kickstarter is pretty familiar on that front).
These two arguments have brought forth a current board game paradise that is, in terms of quality, head and shoulders over what it used to be...except in perception. And at least to people my age (mid thirties), this isn't something one simply adapts to. Heck...I remember when on a weekend out with friends and they had 'hotel' and 'pandemic' with them, my first reaction was to play the former, as I had played it before.
Since then, I've seen just how utterly wrong I was. But board gaming is still a pretty niche product. Even regular toy stores have about as much playmobile and barbie dolls (each) as the entire board game segment. And these three departments are usually smaller than the video games section. And I'm sad to say that they only occasionally carry an interesting board game. Modern(2) board games are mostly found in specialized stores. There's an easy separation: if you ask a cleric "do you guys carry catan?", and he answers "yes" then it's a toy store. If he answers "yes...but which of the gazillion expansions are you talking about?"...then you're in an actual game store.
Toy stores obviously have their place in the world. They're aimed at children, or better put: they exist for children (the main audience for the store is probably parents). That alone puts me at unease when I browse them, as it gives the impression that games are for kids. Which, incidentally, was what I've been told about video games as well ("grown-ups do not play video games"...this was obviously before gamers grew up to the age where they were old enough to prove those claims wrong ).
The real answer is, of course: games (both video and board) are aimed at their intended audiences. The toy stores just focus on the small segment. Sure, they'll stock up on whatever wins the spiel des jahres, which is basically the equivalent of the oscars for gaming. And that analogy lays out the situation: would you go to a movie theater if all they ever showed were disney movies and - once per year - the occasional oscar winner?
More so: the spiel award is mostly about family games (meaning: easy enough for kids to play as well). They're not bad in any way, but it's only since 2011 that they added in a 'kennerspiel' category, which are a bit more complex(3). So it's not as if those games don't exist...but you can cruise through entire shopping malls and hardly find a handful (unless it happens to have an actual game store...but I haven't seen that in Belgium yet). And this, in turn, results in them staying rather off the beaten path. After all: even if a parent wants to fulfill a child's Christmas wish ("a board game"), they'll mostly pick one of the monopoly clones ("oooh, I know this one. and this one has a Mario theme ") rather than the proverbial Oscar winners who are tucked somewhere at the back ("Splendor? Istanbul? Are these really games?").
...and my introduction ran away with me. I'd say "sorry", but this is a blog post so I'm not bound by ANYONE as to what I'm rambling about (MUHAHAHAHAHAAAA!!!!! ).
What I initially wanted to talk about were the games from my youth. On hindsight, they must have sucked, but we played them nonetheless because of the company and - okay, admitted - there was a chance that we could win from grown-ups. That was what made them fun. But on hindsight, they weren't. And if I ever have children, I'll refrain from pitching these to them. So without further ado...
Scrabble: ah, the classic word forming game. Is this really a bad game? It isn't, but it's not that good of a family game. The reason: the drawing of the tiles is random in a bad way. Randomization is okay in a game (each game involving cards and dice has it), but good games offer a way to mitigate luck a bit through skill. If one person draws an X and a Q, he pretty much has to either trade in his letters at some point or form the only small word they have the letters for ("I'll go with 'mix'"). Meanwhile, the person with the blanco has way more options to either make a long word or a word that passes over the bonus tiles.
Compared to a game of, say, hardback, where you can use each letter as blanco if you agree to forfeit the score on the letter, then the latter has a much better way of skill outranking a bad draw.
Unfortunately, neither are the best family games: someone who reads a lot has an advantage over less literate players, and scrabble itself doesn't alleviate the difference (meaning: the latter group can hardly improve by playing, so they'll quickly quit playing it all together).
Risk: I've heard that the rules of this one have changed, so I should probably retry this one. But in all, I remember this really DRAGGING ON BEYOND RELIEF!!! With three or more players, this really was a back and forth of gaining and losing territory. you gained some, you lost some. I often wondered why the objectives were even included, as you only got occasionally close to your to conquered regions (or you had the "gain 18 territories with 2 armies on each" card, which was about the only possible one to win).
I don't know the modern rules (or the modern risk variants...there's far more than the regular flavor now), but what that game lacked was a clear end goal. Lack of variety probably as well, but that's harder to pinpoint. In any case: most modern games have a clear sense of progression or achievable objective to work toward. If there's a score goal and no way to lose points, then the game will end in a timely fashion you can somewhat predict.
Hero quest: this was my favorite game as a kid, and it sort of saddens me to put it up, but I have to. hero quest is basically babies first dungeons & dragons. That in itself isn't bad. You get to play as cool characters, there are mini's, treasures, traps, an ever changing dungeon, monsters, a way to fight...it has all the ingredients a dungeon crawler needs. I guess it also has quite some clunkiness and repetitiveness to it, but that didn't bother me much (I always played as "the evil overlord" ). The main problem was something you won't find in modern games anymore: rolling to move. Properly moving around is crucial for tactics, and it being dependent on randomisation is also a sad choice ("hang on...I'm coming to rescue you from that orc. Oh...I apparently cannot reach him because I only rolled a 2").
The game of life: yup: another roll-to-move game. We've replayed it with my brother's family a couple years ago. I thought it was so bad it was hilarious. "oh, I rolled a three, so now I'm stuck with a child. If I had rolled less, I would've had a carreer. Oh, well... "). perhaps more than the next game, this game proved to me that what I had learned about board games wasn't a hunch or something (I'll get to that).
Monopoly: *sigh* why is this game so damn popular? Why are the few characters picked up by pop culture? Why is it that new versions are still being made and sold? I...I honestly do not get it!
Look...I can point at the blandness of the design (if it wasn't for the localisation in each different languages, it never would've gained traction), but that's not too bad. I can point at the premisse of wanting to become a magnate tycoon in times of economical crisis and Donald Trump (interesting trivia: monopoly was initially designed as a CRITIQUE of monopolies!) but that's okay as well. The terrible part of monopoly is threefold:
1) way too much randomness in the wrong places
2) too little actual meaning decisions
3) no proper way to recover
The first one is, yet again, the roll move. It's pure luck to land on a not-yet-sold street, and it's even more luck if you manage to get in a position where you can collect a set.
Then there is the part that I even learned as a kid: that the game of monopoly is decided over which trades you can make (if any). You see, after some rounds, most people will have parts of the set but rarely an entire set already (in fact: if someone has it, the chances of trading are almost nil). Whether you land on someone's hotel or in jail is completely luck dependent, so this is the part where you actually have some influence. If you were lucky enough to get the good cards, that is. Okay, technically speaking, the decision on whether or not you should buy a street if it's available is a choice too. It's just not a meaningful one (OF COURSE you should buy the street).
Lastly: you cannot recover once behind. Modern games often have some way to limit players from straying too far from the average by subtle means (a limited amount of space in a backpack, for example. while technically applying to all the players, it only hinders the player who has more than enough materials). Monopoly is a 'the winner takes all'. This wouldn't be so bad if the game was short, but it isn't. So this results in what you've undoubtedly had happen in games: people forfeit their games in annoyance rather than play out the game (and perhaps try again).
Those three points aren't limited to monopoly. But the sad part is: it isn't until relatively recent that these characteristics were even discussed, let alone would cause a game design to, y'know...not get published. More than anything else, it is the school of thought that has entered board game design. It has changed board games in the same way as the beatles and the rolling stones have changed music. But because games take longer to digest (certainly compared to a song), there is a delay in the general conscience. Games like monopoly would never made it to the press if it was designed today. It just gets a free pass because it's so popular.
(1): that is even assuming this is controversial to begin with. I personally don't think anyone would doubt that video games branched off the original idea of "games", but it would be presumptuous to just assume it
(2): I'd say 'adult board games', but that term is unfortunately coined by (without exception dull and -ironically- childish) erotic games. What I mean is "a board game that is aimed at an audience with fully grown brains"
...and yeah, I admit that doesn't sound much less condescending.
(3): still not TOO complex, mind you. This is the sort of game that's right up my alley, but I know quite some great games that really require more methodical thinking or have RPG like freedom of play to just "sit down and play" them. Perhaps it's blasphemy to more hardcore gamers, but I really don't know if the original Dungeons & Dragons would win the kennerspiel if the latter was around at that time.
chartube12 likes this.
So it's that time of year again: lists of the past year throughout. I'm no exception: this is the fifth time I'm posting a ranked lists of the best video games I've played in 2018.
Previous entries: 2017,2016,2015,2014
Before I get to my best games, I should mention a few things that I've already mentioned in previous blogs and posts. Sort of a summary:
1) android games. I've mentioned this last year, and that trend hasn't died down. Rather the contrary: I'm discovering so much great mobile games that it's not even funny anymore. Last year I got a gdp win, this year I got a gpd xd+ (basically the same thing, but without keyboard and with android rather than windows). I was hesitant at first, but it turned out the best gaming handheld I've ever had. Granted: about half of it is emulation, but android games that can't be made to work with buttons are the exception rather than the rule.
2) linux. I've been on and off the fence on trying linux distros. Then valve released proton, and I've made the plunge. I simply cannot overstate how great proton is; it just about doubles the total amount of steam games, and that number is even higher if you don't count only having to make small tweaks to get a game working. On top of that: playonlinux also got pretty user-friendly. While the main exception is in the AAA-segment (meaning: it's not something I advice often), it more than suits my needs.
The result of this: I've pretty much lost track of how many games I've played. This also has to do with proton and android: I tried many games of my backlog, just to file a report on it on protondb.com. Does that count? I also pirated a few games for the sole purpose of attempting to getting it to run on linux. And on android, I've installed appsales. Result: temporary free games and seriously discounted prices for more than I knew existed. And I got to point out that only a small minority were ones I'd label as 'pay to win'.
I also have to point out that I've really started to grow fond of virtual board games and programming games. As such, there are more mentions of this on my list, for the simple reason that this is a list of the games that I have played. It is NOT a "best games of this year" list (heck...it's only accidental if the games are released this game in the first place).
Final point: my steam library surpassed 1000 games, and my GoG and android library are gaining traction as well. So even the worst game on this list is one I would thumb up. The ones I don't mention are either terrible, I couldn't get to run or are just not my taste. I know I went from a top 20 in my first years to 40 in this year, but that's because I just played a shitton of games.
That said...the runners-up (in random order):
bonanza the duel
craft the world
marvelous; another treasure island
geometry wars 3
frederic resurrection of music
12 is better than 6
SW Galactic battlegrounds
lords of waterdeep
tigris & euphrates
seasons after fall
hotline miami 2: wrong number
four sided fantasy
Upward, lonely robot
My top games:
40. Tabletop simulator (windows)
This is one I can not NOT mention, but at the same time don't want to praise too much. This is basically all board games ever created. However: a game that does everything excels at nothing. I didn't expect the community to just hack in AI or do anything but scan images of their board games, but even so...this game is butt-ugly in so many ways and has such a terrible UI it's not even funny (why is even a game manual so hard to come by?). And because it basically throws you all the pieces of a board game at you and says "here...now have fun" I don't even like it to simply try out a board game. But truth be told: I'm very, very happy it exists. There should be a sequel or - even better - some competition in this field, but having tabletop simulator beats the tool not existing at all.
39. Rollers of the realm (linux)
One of my first "let's check out proton"-games. The premisse is pretty wacky: a combination of RPG and pinball. It's certainly fun, and it's head and shoulders over pinball games "with an RPG element". It's fluid, fun and entertaining.
38. zelda: link's awakening (android/GBC)
This one obviously would've been much higher if this was the first time I've played it. But even so: using my gpd xd+ and an emulator, this is the best version of the game I've played (yay savestates. And yay, going from "opening console" to "gaming" in less than 10 seconds)
37. grandpa's table (android)
One of the many games I picked up on android on discount.I thought it'd entertain me for, say, half an hour, but spent much more time on it. It's a puzzle game in the style of quell: you move some diamonds around on a preset mazelike board, attempting to put them all together. With bonus points if you can do that on specific spots. Now...this game is ugly as hell, but where most of these games go all "now try this with less moves!" on you, this bonus system is much more relaxing. It's also much deeper than I'd give the graphics credit for.
36. battle chef brigade deluxe (windows/linux)
If there were awards for "weirdest video genre blends", I'd nominate this game: it mixes (2D) monster hunter combat with match-3 gem puzzles. And yes, this makes it work! It's sort of hilarious in that aspect.
35. le havre inland port (android/linux)
Digidiced quickly became my favorite porters for digital board games. They keep the (decent) interface between games, making things easier. On top of that, they always have full compatibility between the windows, linux, android and iOS versions of games. On Le havre inland port, I looked back on this game as "okay-ish". But more recently I tried the PC version that was part of a humble bundle, and remembered how original yet fitting this resource management game really is. It's still "okay-ish", but that's not a bad thing when compared to great other games.
34. terra mystica (android)
...and we directly get to the next digidiced one. This is, by far, the most complex board game (and perhaps game in general) that I know. Different resources, a strange handling of power, different roles, board manipulation...it makes sense, and I WANT to learn how to properly play this game because it looks so good on all aspects...but it's just so darn complex that I can't get my head around it...yet.
33.pocket city (android)
When saying "sim city alternative", most people say "cities: skylines", and rightfully so. But when I heard about a sim city 2000 hommage on android, I had to try it. And I admit I initially feared the leveling/experience system was a means for pay to win or stupid waiting lines. Neither of those are true. From what I can tell, this is the real sequel to sim city 2000. And on android, no less.
32. planetary annihilation: titans (windows)
Are there still modern RTS'es being made? Why, yes. Planetary annihilation is one of them. I hear that one of the other games in the franchise is terrible for some reason, but titans is pretty solid. It's also a bit easy, but that might be me.
31. juanito arcade mayhem (windows)
This game had me at "super pang clone", which...let's be honest: what this game really is. There is some theming from other video games, but to be honest I found the storyline mostly rather...childish. The gameplay is pretty decent, though, which is all that really matters.
30. hey, that's my fish (android)
Whenever gamers tout that android doesn't have decent games, I always assume that they either haven't tried out any non-free games, or that they aren't the target audience. This fits the latter group: it's a family game. Yes, you can play it solo against computers and yes, it's still fun. But this game is bonkers when you play it with 3 or 4 others on android. You each control 2 to 4 pinguins on a hexagonal board. Some of these hexes have fish on them, which you'll collect one you move there. The thing is: on every move, the starting position sinks. So this nice filled board quickly falls away into nothing. So the rules are extremely simple (I play this with my 8-year old cousin), but it has some very deep tactics. A very good investment for a couple bucks when you've got a tablet.
29. Minite (linux)
Okay, I admit: I had higher hopes for this game than it turned out to be. Would this be the next Braid? The next undertale? Well...perhaps to some. The premisse is that you die every sixty seconds, but you respawn with what you collected. It's good, fun to play and has some very funny characters and evocative situations. It is, however, also very short and I don't know what the black&white was supposed to add. So...a bit middle of the road.
28. The sequence(android)
This little program game shouldn't be on the list. It's small, it's abstract, and the UI could some use. But despite being a mobile game through and true, this one certainly has depth. Maybe not as much as some other programming games, but much more than I'd give it credit for. Honestly: if you want to know what "programming games" really are, you could do a whole lot worse than the sequence.
27. Tsuro (android)
Okay...I could fill up a list of "best board games" by now. This is a by the number conversion, but it so happens to be by one of the best filler/gateway board games out there. Basically: all participants get three square cards containing two paths on each side. Your action: rotate one tile as you fit and put it on the board next to your pawn, then all pawns adjacent to it must travel the paths (so at least you). The board quickly fills up with spaghetti. Your goal is to stay on the board longer than others. If it sounds complex, then that's my fault: it's simple enough to have everyone playing as soon as they see one or two turns played.
26. Reigns: game of thrones(android)
Earlier this year I played reigns: majesty. The idea was that you get a whole bunch of decisions, and you can either swipe left or right, basically answering yes or no. There are four meters that are influenced by your answer. If either's too high or too low (say...your stance with the population), you lose. It was an interesting idea (tindr for royalties, basically) that, unfortunately, wore off rather quickly.
...and then devolver digital made a game of thrones version of the game. The premisse is the same, but with all the characters from the books/television. Result: it was as close as a "must have" gets to me.
25. Furi (linux)
This was one of the dozens of games I tried to get working on linux (proton). Was it because I had to learn how to use parameters to get it working properly (it initially had weird artifacts, which didn't really stood out as this game has a VERY WEIRD theme) that I gave this more credit? In any case: this is...erm...it's somewhat between a 3D fighting game and a bullet hell shooter. You are a prisoner that has to fight a number of bosses to earn your freedom. On paper, I would've said that you can't have a meal that's just sause (even if it's awesomesause). Furi proves that games that have just great boss battles can very well consist of "just great boss battles". It's extremely hard, though.
24. Onitama (android)
I was looking forward to this game being released...and then it turns out to have a cost of 0 bucks. This board game is best described as "a concise version of chess". You and your opponent each have 5 pawns on a 5x5 board. You also each have 2 movement tiles and a fifth that you'll get after using one. You see: these cards determine how you can move your pawns. And if you use it, you'll pass that movement card to your opponent's reserve. The goal: either kill the fat pawn of your opponent OR move one of your pawns to the middle of the back row of your opponent.
So...all relatively simple in theory, but oh boy does this game have deep mechanics. You can play this on your phone against an opponent as well as against computer. So if you're an avid chess player: check out this game!
23. Rusted warfare (android)
Let's see...this RTS game strands 9 places higher than planetary annihilation (which, in turn, pushes 8-bit armies off the list ). The reason: THIS is the game that captures the original C&C feeling. Honestly: forget about what EA tried to pull. If you liked the original command and conquer, you'll love this game. It has somewhat different mechanics, but in a way it is BECAUSE the game looks so basic that it works.
And while this game is also on steam (and most likely handles better there), it is absolutely a blast to play on a touchscreen. RTS developers: steal ideas from this game!
22. hidden folks (android)
It's a stroke of genius: just program the "Where's Waldo?" books (okay...a lookalike) on android. As you can understand, a tablet is the perfect medium for this: you can scroll, pinch zoom and basically click whenever you find anything from the list below. The pictures are somewhat crude, but have some genuinely funny stuff happening in 'em. The main reason for this inclusion is, strangely enough, the sounds. Everything (or almost everything) is human made. Cars beeping, electricity wirring, the grunts of the peeps...it's so clearly amateuristic, yet so hilariously funny.
21. Dandara (android)
This one took me by surprise. I can't honestly say metroidvania, because it is much better than the genre would suggest. The visuals, the sound, the storyline...it takes all the best of the genre, adds some dark souls difficulty on it and - last but not least - its own feature. Dandara is the result. But before you rush out to the store, I've got to mention that feature: there is no gravity. And unfortunately, it doesn't play nice with external controllers on android (my only real beef with it, aside that it drains my battery fast). But the game is designed to be played with touchscreen. So...I won't blame gamers who condemn the game for that, as it certainly has a tough learning curve. But even so: this game is an absolute gem.
20. Doki doki literature club (windows)
Okay, I started playing this because it was free and was gathering a hype. It was good. For a free game even very great, but that's not a huge factor in this list. DDLC is a virtual novel that has you "dating" the all-female literature club members. It reminded me quite a bit of the anime series chobits: it's sweet and romantic, but the male protagonist (that's you) has no clue on how to read women.
The game is adults only, but not in the way that you probably think (if you fit the audience: go play it already!). I admit that that is the main reason it's on this list: it's like there are two short games stringed together, and both help you to keep reading/playing. If you want to know more, you can check my gbatemp review of the game.
19. Rayman jungle run & fiesta run (android)
Remember super mario run? Well...screw that game. I got this on sale, but even full price these games are cheaper, better, longer and don't require you to be online all the time. And what this is? A perfect continuation of the console rayman games. While one could classify this as an endless runner, the fact that Rayman can float and punch makes it at best something between platformer and a runner. That probably means that it won't work (or not well) on low-end phones, but on my nvidia shield and gpd xd+ everything was flawless. To those saying that mobile only has crippled ports...these two games (which I count as one, as they're so similar) prove those sayers wrong.
18. Starcraft 2: legacy of the void (windows)
When I started playing this early 2018, I assumed it'd make for game of the year. Protoss is my favorite SC2 race and for some reason I had always postponed that last episode. Unfortunately, I only like PLAYING protoss. The missions were great (I'd say "blizzard quality", but that term has eroded somewhat since), but why is everyone in that race so fucking arrogant/heroic/serious? These clowns can't even go to the toilet without booming how they are fulfilling their destiny. The result was...certainly not bad (again: I really like playing them), but I honestly had better playing experiences.
17. Isle of skye (android)
So...a virtual board game from asmodee, created by digidiced, that plays out like carcassonne? To you that most likely doesn't say much, but to me that's a triple whammy of goodness. And it certainly didn't disappoint. Every game has 4 different goals that score you points during six rounds. In those rounds, you bid for tiles that you place to your tableau in a way that they (hopefully) fulfill those goals and/or score you money for future bids. What surprised me most is not just that this is mainly a bidding game, but that estimating how to price your tiles is more fun than I would've given it credit. I haven't played the physical board game, but I really like it. And perhaps the virtual board game is better, because there's quite some bookkeeping the game does for you.
16. Sproggiwood (android)
You liked playing as the bard in Crypt of the necrodancer? Then this game is for you: it's a turn-based roguelite game where you play as a random character that's being abducted by this Sproggi character that has you going through procedurally-generated dungeons. Aside the fun 'quick' turn base play (think nova-101 or the mentioned Crypt of the necrodancer) and characters that play out very differently but all interesting, this game oozes charm at every corner. In terms of casual roguelites, this might just be my top game of all time (not that I know that many that fit those two genres ).
15. Offworld trading company (windows)
I very nearly dismissed this because I think I played it mostly last year. But this is a great game, and that is just because it really is "an RTS without vehicles". You see...whenever I attempt to play something like civilization I just want to build to crush my enemies (whaddaya mean, civilized? I wanna WIN, damnit!). This game hears me and provides something that at best looks like a futuristic city builder. What it really is, is a cutthroat attempt to overthrow your enemies through economical means. Build fast on the correct routes, earn what you need to build stuff that gains even more resources, and thwart your enemies in every way EXCEPT sending out military. I'm very willing to admit I totally suck at this game except against novice enemies. But playing it is so very damn satisfying!
14. Jaipur (android)
A card trading game. You and your opponents take turns either picking up exactly one good (of five open ones) in hand, trading more than one good with the table, or selling all goods from hand. This is a board game that is very simple to teach, but it's amazing how deep this concept goes. The prices, you see, shift per good, AND you get an increasing bonus if you sell more than 3 of the same kind. This puts you in all sorts of dilemmas: do you pick up one extra good to what you already have? Do you trade two other cards for that card AND that high value one? Would it be better to sell this good before your opponent does (and thus gets a better price)?
On top of nice visuals and good AI, the game offers a campaign modus that lets you capture different regions, build up an Indian castle/temple and even unlock different mods for the game (meaning: different prices, less or more starting goods, starting hands, ...). So for hardly a couple bucks, you can have more than a few hours worth of game, and that's not even taking a head-to-head into account.
13. Lost vikings 1&2 (android/SNES)
Why, yes, I have used my gpd xd for emulation purposes. Among others, I've played through the gameboy versions of donkey kong classic, super mario land 1&2, Wario land and Link's awakening. Maybe it's the short nature of the lost viking games (these levels can be tough and long). Maybe it's the fact that rewinding and restarting is easier than ever. Maybe it's been so long that I've forgotten these puzzles completely and therefore play it as if they're new games. Fact is: I've so thoroughly enjoyed playing through these games that they rightfully deserve this spot. Blizzard sure isn't what it was back then.
12. Ticket to earth (android)
Last year I nominated freecell quest as the follow-up to puzzle quest in terms of a game that mixes storyline and a puzzle-kind of combat. Well...ticket to earth blows freecell quest out of the water at the very least on the story element. The turn based battles play out on boards filled with 4 randomized symbols. During your turn, you have two actions to either run over the same kinds of symbols, attack or use a special power. You charge up both your attacks and special power meters by going over as many symbols as possible, and since opponents follow the same rules you can do tactical things like retreat out of range. Perhaps on paper it looks a bit nonsense (it's literally better if you can run around half the board than to directly attack), but it plays out so incredibly well. It has RPG elements that allow you to change your power or boost your health or attack status with certain symbols, so it quickly starts making sense. And as if that wasn't enough, you get a great story to boot: you play as a few colonists on a terraformed planet that face a prison outbreak and have to stop the chaos from spreading. So really: THIS is the sort of game that truly combines story and puzzle elements.
I do have to note that this is a hard one to judge as I discovered it only very recently. As such, it's much closer to memory (which might affect it in a more than positive way).
11. Onirim (android)
This game got on my radar as the solitaire cardgame that it really is. Then asmodee made an app out of it. For the price of zero dollars. And that immediately puts it on a solid "best free games ever" nominee. Or at least head and shoulders above what passes for free on android. The goal of the game is to unlock all doors by laying down cards by color. Aside one of four colors, cards have also 3 symbols (sun, moon or key), and you can never play two of the same symbol directly after each other. So there's a slight dilemma in how you play your cards, as your hand is limited and you lose if the deck is empty. On top of that, there are nightmare cards in the deck that'll also work against you. The key cards help against these, which furthers the dilemma on whether you play keys or keep them. All in all: a very simple but very engaging game, enhanced more by the beautiful theming.
There are three expansions to it that make it somewhat less light but not less fun.
10. Age of rivals (android)
If for no other reason, you should try this game as a reminder that a bunch of - on paper - terrible ideas can still make a good game if they're executed well enough. If I hadn't given this game a fair chance, it would have never passed my red flags. Collectible card games? Sorry, but magic: the gathering was too much of a money sink to go down that rabbit hole. Oh, wait...it doesn't even HAVE DLC. A game where all you do is pick one out of four games, and then exchange the remains with your opponent who'll do the same? Sounds boring. Oh, wait...there's an entire intricacy of reasons why cards can be good or bad. A civilizations game where you have to balance your civilization with military? Meh...no thanks. Oh, wait...this one does it RIGHT. Honestly...this game is almost ridiculously weird in how it turns my concepts of gaming on its head. I mean...it's a drafting game with only minimal graphics and totally different reasons, and yet I'd say that it encapsulates what I like so much about magic: the gathering (the deckbuilding where you attempt to combo out to the best of your abilities). I mostly wrote this review on it to collect my own thoughts on it, but as you can read I'm still curious. How does one MAKE a game like this? How come it is as good as it is? I honestly don't know. But I do know that once you get through the complex learning curve, it's one hell of a strategy & tactical game out there.
9. Cardinal chains (android)
Like Lyne, this is the sort of game someone just HAD to make on android: a connect-the-dots game. Your goal is to fill all the squares on the board by starting at the starting position(s) and either connecting horizontally or vertically to a square with either the same or a higher number. It's simple, easy to learn, starts and plays fast, it can be played with one hand...and it has a ****load of levels. 500, to be precise, and no, they're not churned out by a computer. I know this list is pretty weird (I mean...how can you compare this to today's AAA-line-up?), but in terms of fun-per-buck, I honestly think this scores higher. Heck...I even managed to get my nephew addicted to it just by showing it to him.
8. Monument valley 1&2 (android)
Yes, I know: the hype train is long gone for these journey-like Escher-perspective games. I just played them this year. And while much shorter than I had hoped for, they didn't leave me untouched. Great games, the both of 'em.
7. Cosmic express (android)
since I've got 'appsales' on my tablet and phone, some games just get up on my radar that I would otherwise never have heard about. This one's almost painful: after skimming over some ravingly good reviews I almost incidentally learned that this was by the same author (Benjamin - Draknek - Davis) as "A good snowman is hard to build". Which also happens to be the same author as Sokobond. These games are extremely simple in concept (sokobond and Snowman only have four direction buttons), yet are downright brilliant in design. I bought cosmic express, and this is no exception. What you have to do is lay train tracks on a grid in such a way that it can pick up aliens, drop them at their respective houses and end at the exit part of the level. The trick is that you cannot overlap. I repeat: you cannot overlap the tracks. It's almost ridiculous how often I'd just start saying "yeah, this is easy"...and then end up getting stuck somewhere. I admit that this can be a very frustrating experience, but at the same time it's on your phone and there is no time pressure. I've played this in 2-minute intervals and in some instances for about half an hour. But combined? About ten hours, maybe. Great hours.
6. Frostpunk (windows)
This one's courtesy by gbatemp, of all places. I had placed a few reviews of games of my own, and then Chary asked whether I wanted to review this. I certainly did. I have to admit I'm glad that I liked the game, as it's more fun to write about good games than mediocre ones. And this one certainly is a curious one: a roguelike city-building game set in a frozen steampunk world. And it pulls it off amazingly well. Admitted: having to start over isn't fun, especially not if everyone was freezing to the point where you were thrown out before. But I always restarted with a "this time I'll do it better!" approach.
Granted: it doesn't play that well on proton, but that's just the burden of being on linux, I guess.
5. Patchwork (android)
One of my discoveries this year is of digidiced games. These guys produce digital board games that all share a similar interface and that has cross-platform play across all platforms they're rolling their games on (which is a lot, btw). While I've purchased the majority of their line-up (see also: isle of skye), Patchwork is IMHO their flagship. This also has to do with the fact that the board game it's based on is one of the highest rated family games in the world, but it goes well beyond that. The game - which is sort of an abstract economic race game - plays smooth, has aesthetics that can stack up to nintendo's epic yarn series and an AI that's more than a match for any human you'll play. Oh, right: I've made a full gbatemp review on it.
PS: indian summer and cottage garden are also good and fun games. They're just too similar to warrant a spot on this list. Besides: Patchwork is the best of these three.
4. Unreal, UT, UT2004 (linux)
What would it take for me to switch to linux? Why, my favorite games needed to be playable, of course. Even though it's been at least five years since I've played 'em, this was what would make or break linux. It made it: Unreal and UT (or UT99) work flawlessly through proton, and are as great - or better - than ever. UT2004 (my al time favorite game)...not so much. Oh, it starts and plays, allright. But as a multi-year veteran, those hitches were inexcusable. Luckily, the game is...somewhat native-ish to linux. That is, if you jump through some hoops for the serial key and provide some extra files provided in a patch, then you can get it to work more properly. And what was meant as a "just see how it works" just went on, and on, and on.
I honestly can say that these three are among my favorite games of all time, so they would easily pick the top spots. But because other games should get a fighting chance, I added some "better" games that just wowed me much more than I anticipated.
3. Mr shifty (windows)
I played hotline Miami 2 and was a bit underwhelmed. So I went and played 12 is better than 6, which is the same thing in the wild west. Fun game, but not spectacular (bow and arrows are so overpowered it's hilarious). And then I played Mr. Shifty. Almost from the start, this pushed all the right buttons for me. For starters: it is NOT a simple hotline miami wannabe. At best, it's a combination of such a game with a classic 'double dragon' style beat 'em up. Combine that with a shift/teleportation ability and you've got a recipe for awesome. One steam reviewer correctly pointed out that you're basically roleplaying as Nightcrawler in the beginning of the 2nd X-men movie. But on top of the gameplay, it is very clear that the developers had a lot of fun creating the game. Your enemies usually have guns, but you can pick up objects like bricks, flower pots and even wads of money to throw and stun or insta-kill your enemies. The plot has all these hilarious subplots and the awesome kind of villain. Things get all the more hectic and hilarious as things go on (think teleporting walls and explosive barrels), but it never comes at the cost of repetition. All in all...I think I flew through this game in one or two sittings, and I just want to play it more right now.
2. Opus magnum (linux)
Zachtronics makes two sorts of games. These weird kind of programming games and a sort of "build your own machine" games. Opus magnum (link to extended review) is the latter part, though it technically is also the former. You see, the goal is to create a combination of machines that picks up atoms (okay: marbles), fuses, splits and/or transforms them according to the requirements of the level. And if that sounds abstract, simply google "opus magnum gifs": these sell the game more than anything else. This game is pretty much what spacechem should have been: not limited by a finite amount of space or materials, although it does rate the end result on that. It's a puzzle game, but rather than having one hidden answer, this game is like lego in that you are tasked to build something that works. It's most likely not for everyone, but for those that it is: this game will suck you in and accelerate time to the point that hours will just fly by unnoticed.
1. Race for the galaxy (android)
I rated this game 9.3 in my gbatemp review of it, and if I'm honest: that might still be too low. Not only did I bought all three expansions for it, but I printed out the cards in the vain hope to teach it to my girlfriend in the hopes of playing it together (RftG is originally a card game). That didn't happen, but my love for this game isn't diminished. And that's pretty remarkable, as there is no real progression in it, and each game takes about 10-15 minutes (the app...the card game obviously takes longer) and has little enemy interaction. So what is it that makes this game so great? The synergy. The cards you play are investments to generate more cards and points in the upcoming future. Each decision you make in this game matters, and it's almost indescribable to play a card and see how it'll affect the rest of your empire.
On the technical aspect, it is also perfect: the icons take some getting used to but are extremely convenient once learned, the game is smooth, fast and the AI is top notch. All that is missing is it's sequel (roll for the galaxy), which...really should be getting an app, as my girlfriend also doesn't want to play the board game with me. [/B]
(note: yes, this is another Trump hate-rant. Don't like it, don't continue reading. I could've made it in a political thread, but there's nothing to discuss.)
I remember where I was when Trump the moment got elected. Well...more specifically: when I first heard that Miami went to Trump. Like many (including all democrats, I assume), I could hardly believe it: that guy who did nothing but spew hate at his fellow Republican candidates and then at Hillary somehow won the trust of enough Americans to get the most v...correction: that got the majority vote in enough states to become the next president. I knew then that things would be bad. Perhaps even as bad as W. Bush, who abused a genuine tragedy to attack an innocent country. Granted...when compared with "an unnecessary war for oil", Trump should not really be this bad. So he's a narcissistic, megalomaniac and potentially psychopathic personality...just exactly how bad is it when his staff has learned this and blocks his actions as much as possible? Well...bad. It's just been a continuous lowering of the bar of morale. So he lied about the size of his audience during his inauguration? It never was the largest, but arguing about that was just nitpicking.
Since then, all his lies have become the norm. Where's the time when Bill Clinton got nearly impeached when he lied about an affair with an intern? The current standard has Trump lying on so many issues that the audience gets numbed to it. Mostly. Whenever he's called out on it, he just adds another lie on top of it. Common decency be damned. And the pace is certainly sped up since it's became clear (and nearly proven) that he rigged the election, so he should never have been in that oval office to begin with.
The result: this sort of shit. Yes, it's in Dutch, but those who didn't call it quits and wanted to enjoy Christmas probably rant about this as well as me.
Rather than translating directly, I'll walk you through how I see things.
This all started with an election promise: he'd put up a huge-ass wall between America and Mexico...paid by Mexico, no less. The other candidates didn't take it seriously, and with good reason. Even the Mexican president did nothing more than send out a "nope, we're not going to do that, LOLOLOLOL!!! ". Those guarding the borders knew it was meant at stupid xenophobic voters who truly believed that Mexicans would sneak into America and steal American jobs...yet somehow would be stopped by a wall. Honestly...Clinton got backlash when she suggested that Trump voters wouldn't be the smartest crayons in the box, but SHE WAS FUCKING RIGHT because those who believed it truly had drank themselves retarded.
Truth be told: we're all used to politicians shelving promises the moment they realise that actually realising things is a lot harder than promising them. Trump has no political background. At first it was unclear whether he simply didn't understand why the government doesn't work as fast as business or that he simply didn't care. That cleared up during the debate on this.
Democrats won big in the midterm elections. Not much of a surprise, as despite holding the majority in the senate and the house, Trump could hardly push any of his stuff through. Rather than "draining the swamp" he added more swamp to it (meaning: business captains now hold more government positions in power than ever). His attempts at border security backfired from pretty much all directions. Not much of a surprise for those who know the immigration deal beyond the cliché image that fox news attempts to reduce it to. Tourists were massively hindered. Tech companies fought for their foreign interns. Judges overruled his policies. In that light, it could even be considered good news that the democrats won the midterms: the "it's all the democrats fault" now holds more merit. If things don't work out, it HAS to be because of the opposition and not because the thing itself is flawed...right?
Unfortunately, that doesn't hold true when taking the laws of power, or even simple things like time, in consideration.
One of the louder controversies in this administration revolved around border security. Trump's attitude of treating immigrants as criminals (at best until proven otherwise) creeped through on the field. The earlier methods of detaining and deporting illegal immigrants were made more strict. The border patrol was allowed to officially arrest them during the procedure. And while on paper that might seem like the same thing, it had consequences on the field. An immigrant isn't "just" the Mexican male sneaking in the border...they're often families as well. This was overlooked (because hey...looking into the situation as it really is takes time. And Trump really did want to lead the government as a business: fast and efficient). And as a consequence, children became separated from their parents.
I honestly don't dare to say on what scale, because at this point Trump had stepped on so many toes that everyone not sucking up to him really wanted all means to strike back. And boy...the picture of a crying child, separated from his parents because of what Trump did certainly damaged his image. Well...to those whose image of Trump was still somewhat reputable, that is. His response? Blame the democrats. Because surely having a minority in parliament and the senate surely means that THEY ARE THE ONES IN CONTROL. Poor Donald...he probably thought that being the president meant that actions wouldn't have consequences anymore. But they did. And apparently unlike in his business, he was expected to be responsible for the end result.
However, Trump believes that responsibility is something that you can claim for something that works and dismiss if it doesn't. So he takes credit for the economy (even though experts say this is only DESPITE his contributions to it) and makes outsiders responsible when his plans that blow up in his democrat's faces. I still haven't figured out whether what he's doing is smart or stupid. Seeing how he has a better paid job than I have, probably the former, but it really shouldn't be.
Oh, right...the above was before those midterms. For some reason(1), he brought back that stupid wall-idea from the garbage bin and put it on the table. Cost price: 5 billion dollars. There was a voting. Result: unanimous reject, from democrats and republicans alike (oh, and from Mexico as well, obviously). So really...if there is anyone besides Donald Trump wants this wall, can he or she please speak out? Please?
The debate on the topic can be summed up in one word: embarrassing. Pelosi and Schumer knew what it was what they were talking about. Donald Trump seemingly hadn't prepared anything and just repeated his same "we need the wall. A wall provides protection" line over and over again. Is that really what Americans wanted their president to be? A freaking child who throws a tantrum whenever he doesn't get what he want?
So where did this "shutdown the government" come from? Donald J. Trump. No one else. Not the democrats. Not the other republicans. Not Mueller, no Manafort, not Mexico, not even fucking Russia. He just said "if you don't pass this law, I'll shutdown the government AND I hold you responsible". Basic blackmail, really. But the government got shut down. But ey...it's a government lead by Trump, so at least that's good news.
It would've been bad enough if that Dutch article I linked to pointed out how Trump basically denies payment of the hundreds (thousands?) of loyal American civil servants who now apparently work without getting payed (way to go on the Christmas spirit, dude. It certainly brings people together. Sure, it's in their hatred against you, but ey...at least they're together). But it's even worse than that.
Back to the immigrants. One child died when crossing over, on Christmas eve. I honestly can't bring myself to dig into which party has thrown the first stone, but honestly: a president should be above the bickering. He isn't. Rather than the common "I feel sorry for the family", he not only blamed the parents ("the child was already sick when he crossed") but somehow forgot that the draconian-style border patrol is from his watch and blames the democrats for "their miserable immigration policy".
Oh, and a wall would solve anything.
I'm just so sick of all of this. When I was little, the USA was this cool looking country that had all the things that were great (and we as Europeans would be glad to catch up somewhat). It has changed since 9/11, but Trump still manages to find new grounds to lower any potential standards in terms of ethics. Just...impeach the fucker, all right?
For what's left of it: merry christmas. @US citizens: may you get an actual president one day.
(1): my bet is on "diverting attention away from his personal lawyer trialed guilty for actions in name of the Trump administration"
Migration certainly is a hot political topic. Where the political left sees refugees from wars and natural disasters, the right sees potential criminals and a more restrictive culture. Donald Trump and the Brexit are (at least partially) consequences of people being afraid of the changes within the country.
In 2016, the UN drafted up a text on how to regulate and co-ordinate how their members could go about handling migration in a decent matter. It's non-binding, so it's more a framework and guidelines than an actual rule.
Nonetheless, it wasn't much of a surprise that Donald Trump's USA chickened out and proclaimed it was inconsistent with U.S. his personal immigration and refugee policies. Despite being heavily contested, the USA isn't alone. Bulgaria and Slovakia also pulled out. And Belgium...is a special case.
I know that it's more fun (and more important on world scale) to talk about the US, but I feel I should explain a few things about my country (fellow Belgians: feel free to correct or add comments ). Up until a week ago, our federal government consisted of the following political parties: N-VA, MR, open VLD and CD&V. It's a "center right" government, though on US terms it'd probably still be left-leaning. MR and Open VLD mostly cater to the middle class. CD&V is about as centered as a centered party can be: always looking to please "the people", their opinion is pretty much what that friendly uncle of yours might say. N-VA is...it's not exactly a traditional rightwing party, but other than a party that's openly racist (Vlaams belang) they're the closest thing to it. All the parties have mutually agreed never to form a government with Vlaams belang, no matter how many votes they get. During the last federal government elections, N-VA was (IIRC) the largest party on flemish side*.
In spring of this year, our government reviewed the UN migration pact. Nobody (including N-VA) saw a problem with it, so our prime minister - Charles Michel of the MR-party - promised in name of our country that we'd approve the pact in Marrakech in december.
Opinions on how to word it might differ, but the fact is that since a couple weeks, N-VA strongly disapproves of the pact. Like Donald, they fear all sorts of consequences (mass migration! women forced in burqa! Mass unemployment!), but suggest more than that they actually say. Their arguments are in the trend of "if it's non-binding, then what's the harm in not signing it?".
As said: they represent a significant part of the votes, so our prime minister couldn't simply ignore it. But it was pretty clear from almost the start that neither side would budge. All the other parties (as well as everyone but Vlaams belang on the opposition) are in favor. Oh, and there are new federal elections in June, which undoubtedly also a factor.
That also causes another weird situation: neither side wants to be held responsible for crashing the government. The way I'm telling the story, it's pretty obvious that N-VA is responsible (they caused this crisis, and missed their opportunity to properly voice their concerns). They, on the other hand, try to frame it differently. "We give in so much, but when we ask for something it's suddenly denied!". And "We don't quit. It's just that when Michel goes to Marrakech to sign the deal, we consider ourselves fired from the government".
In any case: whether you want to blame the N-VA for this mess or not, we are now in a pretty strange situation. It apparenly IS possible and legal to have a government that doesn't represent the majority of voters. It's just that for every potential law change, enough political parties have to be found to agree to it. For the UN migration pact, that was fairly easy (as said: everyone but N-VA and Vlaams belang were on board). But the rest of the political agenda can get pretty strange. Opposition parties like Groen (who mainly focus on the environment) now say things like "yyyyesss...we MIGHT help getting some climate laws getting passed, but we don't want to be pinned down as a party only caring about the environment". This situation clearly isn't what N-VA had in mind and are now claiming/complaining/demanding** that parlement should intervene. The remaining government, however, does something I would describe as "nah na naaaaah...you've quit, so your opinion is but an opinion". N-VA pouts that the parties are "holding a coup", but it's a matter of perception on whether you believe that or not.
In closing comments...that migration pact is slowly shifting to the background. Is it signed? Yes. In name of our country? Yes. So does that mean that N-VA has nothing? I...honestly don't know.
What I do know is that this is all a war for perception. The brexit came out of nowhere. Trump's election came out of "extremely unlikely". And while I can say that N-VA is really neither (heck...their chairman - Bart De Wever - is mayor of Antwerp), I fear that our country is also starting to get far more polarized than it should have been.
EDIT: okay...ten days later, and this minority government ("minderheidsregering") is no more. And the whole "who is to blame?" question is even weirder than it was. I'll get to that.
First off: remember that we were scheduled for an election in May. I initially thought that a fall of the government would just speed things up, but apparently that's against the constitution. That may be, but that puts us in the situation of either having an early election for the massive length of 4-5 months, or just faffing along without a government. Knowing our country, it'll most likely be the latter. That's not even a joke: we hold (held?) the world record of forming a government. And with nearly 2 years without a government, what is 5 months really?
...except that forming a government can then only start AFTER election in May.
So what has really happened? Well...representing a minority of votes, it's obvious that the government had to change their tune a bit. Vlaams belang isn't an option, N-VA obviously not eager to backtrack on their earlier departure and every center political party in the government, it's only obvious that some leftist ideas are brought out of the fridge ("hey...perhaps keeping global warming under control shouldn't be the very last of our priorities?" /sarcasm). Result: N-VA claimed they "knew" that it was the correct course to bail out, Groen, PS and SP-A (basically the leftist parties) are highly skeptical of this sudden shift, and of course there's that Marrakech thing. Granted: our media would've forgotten about it, but y'know...you can always count on rightwing hooligans to eat up misinterpretations and protest against what the treaty was never about by riotting in Brussels. Well...at least they had the decency to do it in the Europa-zone (while it's in the same street, it's pretty separated from our government).
And then Open VLD made a move. While Charles Michel (MR) was seeking agreement with said lefties, Gwendolyn Rutte (chairwoman of open VLD; basically the Flemish counterpart of MR) twittered that it was never the intention to change anything on what the government initially agreed upon.
I'm all in favor of women in politics, but honestly...this is a stupidity of Brexit-calibre. While Michel tries to find common ground with the opposition, she basically shouts off the rooftops that the only reason said opposition is needed is to help out a government plan that they've been opposing for the last four years. Yes...OF COURSE they'll be eager to help out!
Result: the opposition (SP-A) files a motion of distrust, Charles Michel offers the resignation of the government to the king and that's that of our government. RIP.
So...who's to blame? Well, take your pick: everyone blames most if not every other party (it's just more fun because unlike in the US, there are more than two parties involved ). And everyone's fighting for the narrative.
At this point, I've got no clue what's going to happen. New elections? Another government? Hard to say. Nobody really knows. But wait...you might have recalled me mentioning "the king". That's right: Belgium is a monarchy! We have a king. A king that shakes hands, is part of the furniture when new buildings have to be inaugurated and is the poster child for post stamps, tourists and...erm...other ceremonial ceremonies. He doesn't have political power, of course, because democracy. But for matters like this, it's at least something to cling to.
Our king - Philippe - now has to meet everyone and makes sure everyone calms down enough and do some co-ordination. No idea whether he can order new elections, but I'd say he holds the most influence as of now.
*that's another weird and potentially unique system: Flemish voters can only vote on Flemish parties, Wallons only on French parties. And with our country consisting of roughly 60% Flemish and 40% French people (I'm excluding Brussels here, which...erm...is more or less a mishmash of both), it's virtually impossible to create a government that represents the majority of people, unless they consist of a multitude of parties. In this case: MR was the only Wallonian party, which brings tensions in itself. But in an almost ironical twist: in this situation, these tensions aren't an issue...at all!
**take your pick, depending on YOUR political view
I really wasn't going to do a third entry on this, but since the blogs became popular and I continue to experience things with my linux mint thingy, I'll throw some stuff down. Read at your own discretion.
(links to part one and to part two).
The quest for an audio switcher
I mostly mentioned this last time, but hadn't gone around to implementing it: from this page, I gathered more information than I could chew on how to do it. I assumed that creating a script and changing the correct lines to fit MY output was needed, but neither of these proved harder than needed (or even hard at all). Just copy-paste the code in a text document and set its permissions to allow to be executed as code. That was it (okay, I obviously tested it, but really: that was it).
I already mentioned the global hotkeys last time as well. Here too: I just added a new one that pointed to "my own" created script. Result: I can switch sound outputs with one simple hotkey, which is a double improvement over windows. Not only do I not have to rely on an extra command line program (nircommand), but it also cycles with one press rather than require two. Oh, and it works fullscreen as well, though this could've been my media player disallowing some shortcuts rather than windows itself.
Not that I think anyone would care, but there are three convenient programs I had to find alternatives for:
* foxit reader: I've used this for years on windows. It was one of the first real alternatives to adobe reader, which meant that it was about one tenth in size and worked twice as fast (I guess the original reader is less bloated now, but back then...jezus). While there is a linux variant, I thought it was a good time to check on what the internet had produced ever since I got in this groove. As such, I ended up with okular. While some shortcuts are a bit different, it is actually more lenient and performant than I would give it credit for. It's hard to compare it to foxit reader (it's a PDF viewer...not rocket science), but I would say okular just wins with a flash finish.
* screenshot captor: yes...windows has a snipping tool. However, for work I often have to screenshot parts and quickly copy-paste that. If the snipping tool just allowed me to do that with one or two clicks left, I'd never have used it. To my own delight, I found out that this "shift+screenshot" key to screenshot a part of the screen is already on board in linux mint. So...that is able to be replaced by...no program at all.
* ReNamer: another work-related one. I don't mass-rename much, but when I do I want to do it. Renamer is just such a nifty tool that allows this all in a (for me) intuitive way that I feared I'd miss it. This one I'm not 100% sure on, but at least métamorphose (version 2) has everything on board I want at a first glance. It'll probably do.
The file browser
I almost feel like this is a crowd request. I already stated that nemo was pretty decent, but I tried thunar and dolphin. Comparisons would take less time than I would think:
Thunar quickly fell out of the boat. At least on cinnamon, it looks almost exactly the same as nemo...except worse. One of the first things I noticed was that it didn't have a second pane out of the box. It's apparently possible with this or that plug-in, but to me these were already two strikes. I mean...on windows, I can't even begin to count how often I drag windows around (it's now halfway my workday and I have seven open). Half of those are destinations from copying over the first half so two panes are the natural progression. It's not that thunar is bad in that regard...It's just not what I want when there's already a (IMHO) better alternative as my default. Oh, and nemo also allowed to bookmark folders, in the same way as how you bookmark favorite web sites. Ingenious, but missing in thunar (at least: not visible).
Then I tried dolphin. This was at least a worthy competitor. This went a bit back-and-forth. A few things that dolphin had as default were options in nemo and vice versa. After a bit of trying, I settled with dolphin as my default, though nemo is still on the system. My only real disadvantage is that dolphin doesn't have a "open as root" option. It's apparently possible through tinkering, but at least for now they both reside on my system.
GoG versus steam
For those who don't know: Good old Games is awesome. steam initially got big on being the first online platform, but GoG is a worthy second. They offer quite some great games that sometimes don't even appear in steam (like...half of the anno games, tyrian, lula the sexy empire and some settlers games), and there is no DRM on it. Since DRM is often a culprit in screwing up wine, GoG windows games were my usual test cases when I tested wine, years ago.
Steam (and initially humble bundle) certainly made a push toward linux five years ago. Ever since, indie games often had a linux port. Maybe for completeness sake, but probably because game creation engines made it almost easier NOT to skip on linux. GoG announced linux support as well, but I can't deny that it's not on the same level. They have search filters, but their client (galaxy) simply isn't available for linux. At all.
Getting windows games to work under linux is...peculiar. Wine is changing versions much faster now, but even so it's amazing that there's a huge database on almost the most exotic windows software in the first place. You're up to the mercy of tinkerers like me who might have completely different setups trying completely different versions of the game to work on completely different linux distros. It can be pretty satisfying to get some piece of software to work, but it's not as fun as pirating. I mean...it's not very ethic, but when you attempt to get a pirated piece of software to run, there is no loss state: you didn't pay for the software so you can't be picky. Attempting to get Anno 1404 to work is like being slapped in the face (why, oh why did I HAVE to go linux???). You can't expect bluebyte to come to the rescue as they've made a windows program, and the online community is more likely to throw vague instructions at you than actually help (to be frank: I can't blame them. By the time I get anno to work, I plan to play it at least until I've forgotten how I got it to work in the first place ).
...and then a couple months ago valve released proton and opened a FLOODGATE of new games. In terms of a match between GoG versus steam, that's a huge uppercut. It's even a pretty hard blow against windows users in general, though this is more something in the long run.
You see: I remember playing windows steam games on wine. Despite it being DRM, it actually worked. What you had to do was install the windows version of steam under wine. This had slight flaws in the UI, but actually worked to install and even play games. Not all games, obviously...but if they worked on the same version as steam, they would work in the same way. You couldn't configure things individually and if you had the linux steam client it lived side by side to it, but hey...it worked.
Nonetheless: take it from me that proton is a heaven's gift compared to wine antics.
Lutris, wine and playonlinux
Playonlinux is one of those programs I can't quite place. Crossover is a different breed: that's a commercial package that uses wine as a main base and handles the configuration for you. Seeing how wine sometimes handles, I'm inclined to even consider paying for it (especially since it directly and indirectly funds wine research as well). In fact, I think that nowadays, crossover and steam aren't even so different (just that steam is limited to games, obviously). But playonlinux? It's a program that allows you to create virtual drives in which you can install windows games...but isn't that what wine does? It says it's not wine, but is it not wine if that's the underlying code???
Sorry...the bottom line is: I don't know the intricacies of playonlinux, nor how it really gels with wine. Is it a frontend? A plugin? I honestly don't know.
It gets even weirder since I heard about lutris. Lutris is at least clear in what it wants to be: a be-all-end-all linux client for your games. From what I understand, its idea is simple: if you can get a game to run on linux, all the steps can be captured in an installer script which might help a future poor user whom is stuck in the same situation of attempting to get that same game to run.
I thought I'd try it out with the aforementioned Anno 1404. At least it started out correct: I found two installers (one for another platform, one for GoG) and picked the GoG one. It wanted to know my installation files, so I gladly directed it to the pre-downloaded GoG files. I thought all I had to do afterward was lie back, but alas...first it informed me a certain "inaccess"(1) was missing. No clue how to solve it, but at least it was in mint's software center.
The game installed correctly, and ran fine...except the entire screen was black. The sound played and I could see a nice-looking mouse pointer, but that was it. Damn.
Now...the winehq page told me that this was because I should need the stagebranch version of wine. Yyyyyeaaaahhh....it's not that I hadn't heard of it, but if so, shouldn't the installer have caught that? And how do I solve it? and considering that lutris had installed it...shouldn't it be in the install list? In fact: is it installed in the first place?
My second attempt at lutris worked better, though I should probably add "alas". I wanted epic games launcher to start. This is a free launcher that just required my account credentials. Upon installing, lutris threw up another exception: no vulkan support. But at least it linked me to a page where I could check my video card compatibility (erm...as in: it told me to run a terminal command and check for the presence of "radeon"...if it was there it wouldn't have worked for me) and install the proper drivers. After this, the installer worked fine.
Now...I immediately spent the next half hour installing Unreal Tournament (still pre-alpha) and shadow complex. They both ran...at a snail's pace.
Granted: even my gaming PC isn't the newest of the newest anymore (and it wasn't bleeding edge when it came out of the boxes(2) ), but still...both these games ran fine on windows. If I'm still missing things, I've yet to find out what.
Even with these incidents, I'm sure lutris will prove itself a good program. I usually learn the best when I get something to work, and when I do I can often apply that knowledge elsewhere. I'm currently simply not there yet. But that doesn't matter: my steam library is already huge, I've already gamed quite a bit through proton (played through unreal 1 and now rollers of the realm) and my linux-compatible GoG account isn't small either. I'm just curious to know if I can make it grow some more.
(1): note: it probably wasn't "inassess" it could probably be "incontrol", "inattend" or something vague starting with "in"
(2): I assemble my own PC's from purchased products
VinLark likes this.
Upon checking through the political thread, I got entangled in a side-discussion about the 2008 housing crisis and buying houses. In part, this was me getting triggered by someone making an invalid claim on something that I'm rather knowledged about. In part, it was because my girlfriend and me are in the process of buying a house. It's her first; for me, I've bought an apartment nearly 5 years ago. As these things cost a lot of money, it's not something you do on a regular basis. But since the relationship between banks, governments, house buyers and sellers is a bit more complex than you might think, I thought it'd be a good idea to write down the process a bit. Note: this is under Belgian law. I have honestly no idea of the percentages in the rest of the world. Houses might be a lot cheaper or more expensive in your area, or involve more or less paperwork. Sorry, but I can't but tell my own experiences.
This writing will be about me and my girlfriend's personal journey in this adventure. It'll be important to understand all this so you can understand what I'm blabbering about in a future writing about the housing crisis (if I'm inspired enough to write about it), but neither of these are obligated literature. Or anything but the opinion of someone with an above average interest in these things. Here goes...
Houses are one of the most important aspects of the economy. Everyone needs one, and its characteristics influence your life more than you might think. The location influences your social standing. The isolation influences the cost of maintenance. The size determines whether you can work at home or not. Even the kitchen determines (to a degree) whether you're going to eat healthy or not. And as everyone needs a house to live in, they can also be a great investment. And I should know: my parents kept the house they bought when my brother and me were young, and it's been a cash cow pretty much since we became adults. Granted: I've been living in renovations pretty much my entire youth, but I can attest that it was worth it. My brother and his girlfriend kept their two apartments when they moved to a bigger one. It's hard for them to pay up the mortgage for three houses, but this is eased by tenants who pay the rent that'll pay off these apartments eventually.
Me, I was more lucky in the fact that I was able to save a lot. When I decided I wanted to buy the apartment I currently live in, I barely had to get any loan from the bank. The cleric told me that for the money I would owe them I wouldn't be able to rent anywhere. I didn't bother to reply the truth: I HAD a rent that was lower than that. That was also the reason I was able to save up to buy this apartment in the first place.
Let's focus in on that situation a bit more. Five years ago, I was living with my brother (whom had just gotten to know his current girlfriend). I had a job and payed my brother a rent that was almost symbolic (the same kind of apartments are on average two or even three times that amount of rent as normal). I also had little expenses, so my savings skyrocketed to almost 100'000 euro's. There was an economic fallback in 2011, but even so I wasn't worried too much.
Then I saw my current apartment for sale for little over 100'000. It needed renovations and I had heard that you should add 10% of the cost of the house for the buying expenses. That turned out to be true, but I sure hope that is lower when you get in that situation (note: I recently read that Belgian notaries are the most expensive in Europe).
The first hurdle is the estate agency. Most house owners don't want to do the hassle of selling their house, so they hire an estate firm. These usually get a percentage of the offered price. For this, they'll show potential buyers around the place and answer the most common questions (gas? electricity? the neighborhood? the size?). I was a bit different in that I knew immediately that I wanted THAT specific apartment and just that one. It was literally around the corner of where I lived, was within my budget and was great in all aspects (the apartment I shared with my brother had some loud neighbors. This one was on the top floor).
I wasn't the first one interested. The broker was fair with me and told me that there was someone else in the running. Did I want to place a higher bid? It was an invitation, but I just said no (it was easy: I wasn't in any rush).
On hindsight, it could've been that there was never someone else to begin with. The asking price isn't fixed but a guideline. The sellers and the brokers want the best buyer, but any buyer is still better than none. Regardless: my advice is to never get pressured in a bidding war. Before you decide to visit a potential house, you should already know that you can afford it(1). I repeat: never walk into a house you might not be able to afford. That takes some calculations in advance, but you really need a budget that you do not cross no matter what. Again: DO NOT CROSS THE LINE OF YOUR BUDGET! Talk to your bank in advance if you have to: they can give a pretty clear idea of your maximum budget. This maximum budget obviously should include any renovations and the 10% administrative costs that you'll be paying down the line.
If you want to buy a house with a partner, make sure he or she is on the same level as you. If a house is good, it's easy to fall in love with it. However, you shouldn't become blinded by it. Prices easily fluctuate in the thousands. I don't know how much you can save, but for most of us this means extra MONTHS working extra (or entire stacks of video games, if that's easier to visualize ).
Bidding on a house isn't easy. With my apartment, I had the luck that this previous bidder offered 100'000 (6000 euro's less than the initial asking price) but couldn't get a loan with the bank. As the seller had agreed to that price, it wouldn't be fair if I didn't had the same option. So that's what I ended up paying (well...not counting expenses, obviously).
For our current house, we offered 220'000 euro, which was 9000 euro's below asking price. This was a straight up gamble: we would be willing to pay the 229 price and half expected the sellers to meet us half way. We had much luck that the owners agreed, but it could've been that they would have refused us. Or would want to see other candidates instead. In any case: they accepted.
In any case...the next step is to sign the agreement. The agreement is an official contract wherein you both state that you are interested in buying the house at the agreed price (and have to make solid intentions of actually BUYING said house), and that the sellers cannot sell the house to someone else. This is a contract that goes for a couple months. The buyer - you - have to put a significant part of the money down. Up to 10% of the purchase price, IIRC. Remember I told you never to step in a house you couldn't afford? Well...never sign an house ownership agreement unless you have at least 95% certainty that you can get through the next steps. The reason: this is money you pay immediately, and which you'll lose if you fail to get an arrangement to pay everything.
In our case, we had to pay 9'000 euro's for the right to buy this house. It's in the real estate's bank account and will be given to the sellers (along with the remaining 211'000 euro's) on the day of the sale. In the mean time: you need to tackle the hurdles of banks and the notary.
The talks with the banks always happen in multiple stages. At this point, you should have already talked to at least one bank representative, to have ensured your maximum amount of money you CAN rent from the bank. I strongly advice to stay well below, but I'll get to that. Anyhow...the second appointment with the bank is more serious. Take any documentation you have from the real estate with you (at the very least the price and address), and it's a good idea to already bring proof of your earnings of the last 3 months. If you plan to renovate: make this as concrete as possible. For my appartment, I already had a list of tasks to do, whom would do it (either external or me & friends) and a general idea of the extra furniture I would buy. Tenders aren't needed at this point(2), but be prepared to have them made as soon as can be done. Depending on the situation, you might even agree with the current owners to come over with an electrician, mechanic, handyman or the like to have a tender written for a prolonged time in the future.
It's possible to shop around for banks, but in my opinion banks are prepared for that. Their salesmen are friendly, kind and understanding...but are trained to only give you information you already know. I'm not saying you should follow my formula, but I simply want to know in advance what I owe banks each month. That means you have a fixed monthly payment and a fixed...erm...I guess it's called 'interest percentage' in English ("interestvoet" in Dutch). Each and every bank I've been to pushes for variable payments and/or variable percentages. Simply put: I don't believe it's beneficiary. I have no doubt that as a client, this CAN benefit you. However, the thing is: you don't know. The bank doesn't know (perhaps one or two months in advantage, but that'll be it). So it's basically gambling.
...okay, I'm somewhat exaggerating. Banks get really creative with this stuff. You can get loans where you pay back a bit at first but more later, a lot at first and then gradually less. You name it, they've got a formula for it. That would be nice if the way things are stacked up differ, but THAT is something they don't let their clients get away with. You see: when you make a monthly payment, you pay partially back "the initial sum" and partially "the interest of what you still need to pay". And this is where you really need to have payed attention during math class: banks always put interest first. I'll repeat it because it's so important: BANKS ALWAYS PUT INTEREST FIRST.
Say you borrow 100 bucks at 1% interest and a payment of ten bucks each month. Banks then draw out this graph as follows:
month 1: you pay (1%*100) 1 buck interest and 9 bucks payback (remaining: 100-9=91 bucks)
month 2: you pay (1%*91) 0.91 bucks interest and 9.11 bucks payback (remaining: 91-9.11=81.89 bucks)
month 3: you pay (1%*81.89) 0.8189 bucks interest and 9.1811 bucks payback (remaining: 81.89-9.1811=72.7089 bucks)
And so on. This whole method of counting deliberately confuses your intuition. 1% interest of 100 bucks...that's 1 buck...right? Wrong. The extra amount you'll have to pay to hold their money long enough to buy their house is pretty steep (and pretty complex to calculate). Not only is this way of counting a way to ensure maximum profits for the bank, it also allows them a way to pretend that you still owe them more than your intuition tells you. In the example: if you ask how much you've payed back the bank, you would assume this would be 30. To the bank, however, they claim you only payed 9+9.11+9.1811=27.2911 bucks (not that much, but already over twice what your intuition will think is the interest).
So as you can imagine: in a mortgage, that interest ratio (even 2 numbers behind the comma) can spell out the difference of hundreds or even thousands of dollars over time.
So to get back at a couple of paragraphs ago...remember I hammmered on having the cost of everything nailed down as much as possible? It's because of this. If you do your homework, then after you've payed for everything, your bank account should be positive, yet as close to zero as possible. If you take a good look at that nice-looking graph the bank gives you, you'll see that lending from a bank actually costs A LOT. For my apartment, I rented 36'000 euros over ten year with 398 euro's payment per month. At the end of this period, I will have payed them 47'760 euro's...those "mere percentages" will then be 11'760 euro's. Or really in the environment of one third of the initial amount.
When I made that loan, I ended up with about 3'000 in reserve (ironically exactly what I expected to end up with, but I admit I rented a few thousands extra to cover any unforeseen costs in the renovation). It's hard to calculate the impact on the rent, but it'll probably be about 1000 euro's. So...do you imagine what that would be if I had loaned 46'000 euro's instead (y'know...just to be safe?) ? Then I would have to pay back a much larger amount, and all for basically holding on to some money.
The hard part in this whole deal is that none of this is a secret. You are not getting screwed per se because they're telling you exactly what will be happening (if you are aware, that is...It's easy to lose track of what's going on when this sort of stuff is discussed when all you really want is that darn house). This is how things will be happening (again: in Belgium, though I assume many of this translates to other countries).
That bank cleric that rolls out the red carpet for you, smiles and agree with most things you say, is getting payed. Heavily. In my example, the bank will get 11'000 euro's just on interest, and this was when both the loaned amount and the interest rates were low.
Okay, I'm not being entirely fair when it comes to that loan. Somewhere in those stages (probably at the end), they'll bring up insurance. You need insurance. It's obligated, and...well...not that you're untrustworthy, but there's a higher chance the bank will agree to the loan if you just sign to this insurance. Because, y'know...you want your furniture to be reinbursed when there's a fire...right?
This is a conditional sale, but it's a deal you can't refuse.
There are two other ways the bank makes money on your loan, but I'll get to that. First, it's time for that other party you need to buy a house. A notary!
If you're like me, your mental picture of a notary is a dusty, grey man reading wills in a monotone voice while the heirs eyeball each other. Truth be told, the notary I had when I bought my apartment looked like that Agatha Christie cliché. The official documents were wordy and incomprehensible and while they had to be printed, they looked like they were made by a typewriter (this was 2012, mind you). While you obviously need a trusted third party, their job always seemed pretty redundant to me. Yes, it's important to know all the attests, shortcomings, debts and other sorts of catches that come with a house. Very important, even (when you buy a house from person A, you don't want to discover that A also sold his house to B and C as well and ran off with the money). But how come this isn't a fixed price rather than a percentage of the purchase? The average Joe has to work a couple months just to pay a notary for this thing, and it's not like they work their butt off for you. But they all ask the same price and the sort of advice they give spell the difference between buying a house and...well...NOT buying a house (I don't want to know how that scenario spells out. you probably will be able to cancel the bank's loan arrangements, but it won't be cheap).
To my pleasant surprise, not all notaries turn out to be bores. For our current house, the notary was a woman of about my age (about mid-thirties) who spoke in a clear fashion and explained the documents rather than take proud in reading wordy stuff. It might have helped that her assistant is a good friend of my girlfriend, but I think she's always like that. So...I probably had an accidentally boring first notary.
Nonetheless, you can't get around the fact that notaries are like the waiting room for the doctor. You've talked with a broker, banks and the notary. All of these, the owner and yourself need to find an agreement with each other. Documents need to be fetched, inspected and agreed upon. And many of this is outside your hands. The waiting can be pretty tough. I admit it: I'm a hands-on person (so is my girlfriend, btw). When I bought my apartment, the owner, myself and the apartment were pretty close by, which was a blessing. While I technically not yet had a right to go in the house(3), the owner allowed me to go in and measure everything so I could correctly estimate my renovations. As such, I spent that time planning works and browsing furniture. I strongly suggest doing the same.
The difference between a house and a home is how well it is adjusted to your standard of living(4). Of course you've chosen a house that appeals to you (hopefully in a neighborhood that equally appeals), but it'll never be 100% perfect. Maybe it's the walls, the way that inhouse door looks or the stones on the porch...remember: it'll be your home. You'll be spending a significant amount of time in it, and - most importantly - it'll be YOURS. This is a huge difference with renting, where the owner can make all sorts of demands, and can throw you out and force you to turn it back the way it was before. That simply doesn't apply here. I can't say that I was very excited to browse through ikea furniture (let alone other shops) or having to choose which color(s) to paint the wall, but this is the sort of thing you should just get through.
Do you have to do this the moment you move in? Yes and no. Mostly yes. There is certainly something to say about not doing it: the move in itself will cause lots of work, and because of the loan money will be tight. In that perspective, it's better to postpone. It's also the wrong reason, though it's more based on feeling than empiric measurements. Here are two counter-arguments:
1) renovations in an empty room are much, much, MUCH easier than in a furnitured room. I can only speak from experience, but I've seen amazing differences. It's like driving a ferrari on an open road versus driving one in a traffic jam. Say you want to paint a room. It's "just" a matter of moving a wardrobe to the middle of the room, painting the wall and then putting it back. Said wardrobe is still in the middle of the room. Paint tends to get EVERYWHERE, so you'll need to cover said wardrobe in plastic. The floor? Sorry...not only does that need to be covered, but the entrance and exit of the paint area need to be carefully inspected EVERY TIME (it's a classic error that you absent-mindedly step in a patch of fallen paint and then go to the toilet, causing an immense trail).
Want to paint in different colors? Then you need to tape off the edges carefully and methodically (take note: depending on the shape of the room, the taping process can take up almost as much time as the actual painting. That's no exaggeration). Two times if you want to do, say, the ceiling in a different color. And that's just painting over a white(ish) wall. If it's already a colored wall(5) you need to apply at least one layer of white paint before anything else. And once that is all done, it takes at least a couple days for the paint to dry (during which the room very strongly smells).
I helped move a former girlfriend once. The was to get her keys on wednesday and wanted to move on friday. She also wanted to have everything painted by then. Being experienced already, I predicted disaster. She insisted, but alas: I was right. Worse: I was right in a worse way than I predicted. Her father had started out wednesday by taping the side of the ceiling and painting the wall in clear sky blue. He then proceeded to tape the upper side of the wall and painted the ceiling. As such, the paint could dry on thursday, and the furniture moved in on friday. Almost everything to that same wall, which...sort of defeats the purpose of having a wall in a contrast color, but that's not the issue. All in all: it actually looked pretty decent. And if you read the start of this paragraph again, I bet you didn't catch the one glaring problem in this course of action...the tape.
You see, the tape was applied on the upper side of the wall before it was completely dry. As a result, it turned out to be impossible to peel the tape of the wall without completely removing the paint with it. I can still envision the incredibly ugly upper side of the wall once we had the tape removed (of course her father was nowhere to be seen at that point). That the entire rest of the wall was good was covered up by furniture, leaving that one part of the wall horribly visible.
I broke up with that girlfriend not too long afterward (not because of that, obviously), but I can only assume they had to move all the furniture again (twice), all just to paint that upper part of the wall correctly.
Keep in mind: I don't tell this story to make a statement in a family feud but because these things are real hazards. I've moved a lot of furniture around in my youth, and one of the rules of live I've learned is that I simply do not pick up a heavy item with someone else if I don't know where it should ultimately go. You really want a minimal of guesstimation. "Over there" can mean a lot, but it's not fun figuring out when you're both holding a 100kg cupboard, can't properly see the other and the other can only signal with his nose. For all these reasons and more: do this in advance. The weekend in which I had my apartment, me and two friends had painted four or five rooms, put laminate in two rooms, tore down a kitchen and put up at least an ikea bookcase and wardrobe. The apartment was done in 2.5 months (while working during the day, mind you). This was to the astonishment of my parents, who had estimated at least six months. My "secret" was simple: I had put all the renovations in the correct order, had close to no waiting times (at one day I had 4 working groups: a plumber, a locksmith, someone taking measures for double-sided windows and a group that was plastering the chimney) and had the furniture move in AFTER things were ready for it.
2) in Dutch we have the saying "van uitstel komt afstel"; it translates to "delays end up in cancellations". The more you postpone things, the more likely it is that it'll never happen. It's sort of a mental state that might explain why some household chores are still left undone at your house (admit it! You've got some! ). I'm in no means an exception to this saying, except perhaps in that I recognize this of myself. I AM lazy. and I HATE renovations. However, I use those treats to my advantage. Doing it correctly from the start is, in the long run, the way that requires the least work. As said: I did in two and a half months what would take MORE work if I had planned improperly(6). Moving houses also changes your mental state. When I moved to my apartment, I didn't have much stuff, but I packed it long in advance and threw away what I couldn't be bothered to drag "all the way to across the street"(7). We do have much more now, but even so we've got a lot to throw away before the actual move. Last weekend - at the very least three months before we'll be actually moving to the new location - we cleared out the basement and argued a bit over which stuff was to be taken to the junkyard.
Which, by the way, isn't the sign of a bad relationship but of a healthy one. Every relationships, including mine, have bickering. I want to keep stuff because it hold emotional value, she points out that it hasn't left the basement in over 2 years (and that I hadn't missed it in that time). Doing this long in advance helps to come up to terms with things (eg: admitting that that singlecore pentium isn't going to see much use anymore).
...and I digress. The point is: this whole "I'm moving out!!!!" tends to take possession of your mind, and if you wield that state right, it can be a powerful ally to Get Things Done. For me, I'm delighted that doing jobs that I know will have to be done anyway won't take more time than they need. My girlfriend's motivation is in creating an even more perfect household than we currently have. But while we know it's going to be tough and will require lots of long and dirty jobs, we take motivation in the outcome.
Which is why this darn waiting can be annoying. I had it before I moved to my apartment, and I have it now: I just want it to start. I know I'm strong, smart and proactive when I need to be, but beforehand I'm mostly doubtful and lazy. That's a pretty hard situation to be in. I mean...two weeks ago, colleagues and me participated in a "spartacus run". That's a 10 km run with over 25 hindrances. Running through water, crawling through mud, climbing walls, making a human pyramid...a very powerful teambuilding experience, and on hindsight one of the best experiences of my life. But just before the start, I was shitting bricks. You started in waves with 5 minutes apart (which made it MUCH easier to stick together with your team), and the sight of the groups before us racing in the water and helping each other climb a 2 meter wall while being sprayed at by water cannons was terrifying.
I just want the renovations to start...
MORE BANK SHENANIGANS
While you and your family dream your house into reality, The bank and notary stay in touch with each other. If your loan gets approved, it'll...
...hold on. Approved? Loan? Why would the bank do that? What if you would DIE while paying off the debt? Erm...yeah...then what?
I've learned this Dutch word called "schuldsaldoverzekering", that I can at best translate to "an insurance that you can pay off the debt". I first heard about it from my brother (whom had bought a house before me) in the preparations for my apartment, but couldn't quite understand it. The way the loan is set up, I thought, wouldn't that mean that the bank take priority over your estate? Didn't the bank issued the notion that they could recover what you owed them by selling your house in case you died? Doesn't that mean that they were in a win-win situation already?
The answer to that is, of course, yes. But why settle for a win-win situation if they could be winning more? That's why this insurance thing is a thing here. On top of the loan, they want you to be insured against your own death. With them, of course, because God knows everyone but themselves can be trusted. Or, to put it less mildly: they want you to pay more as a punishment of having the guts to say alive.
My brother had warned me: it is perfectly legal (and even obligated) that banks have a way to pay off this insurance immediately. It's both more and less expensive to do that. Less expensive in that if you choose to pay the insurance each month or each year, the individual amounts are lower. More expensive in that the sum of these individual amounts dwarf the sum of the one-time payment.
The only problem is that this one time payment needs to be done at a time that your savings is at its lowest (I've already explained why). Though I knew this from my apartment, I had seriously underestimated this: it was TWENTY TIMES higher than before. Or over 6'000 euro's instead of the 300'ish from last time. Granted: the loaned sum is also much higher, but "only" about 7,5 ish times higher. I hadn't taken into consideration that this would be a loan of 25 years (compared to the 10 from my earlier loan). Oh, and I was five years older now as well.
It was even more painful for my girlfriend. Initially, this was considerably lower for her because she's ten years younger than me. But she made the mistake of filling in her medical questionnaire correctly (ironically: while complaining that I shouldn't put that ONE SINGLE JOINT I smoked in the course of the last ten years). The damn thing came back at us with the mention that she was obese, which increased her chance so much that she had to pay over 3000 euro's extra in insurance.
So...whenever someone says that being skinny doesn't pay: there's THAT. Banks rely on doctors that rely on statistics. My girlfriend has a BMI that's simply too high, and no matter how much she pleaded that she was on a diet, that she'd already lost 5 kilograms ans so on, she's stuck with that extra cost. And it can happen to you as well.
As if that wasn't enough, the bank also charges for all those visits, calls for information and so on. These costs ('dossier costs') are relatively small, but still...500 euro's for at best 5 or six hours of a bank cleric's time...for an investment that is already a triple whammy for the bank. That too is something you best don't think too hard about...
THE DAY OF THE SALE
If all goes well, the day of the sale is a formality. Your bank and notary stay in touch, the money get wired to them, the notary meets both you and the current owners, you both sign the final agreement and the notary guarantees the owners that you are good for the money. They get payed (this usually means that their mortgage on the house gets payed in full, and they get -hopefully- remaining money on their bank account), you get the keys to the house. Oh, and a congratulations, because from then on, YOU are the owner of the house.
In theory this all goes butter smooth. In practice...I'm not so sure. I'm no financial expert, but my brother is. Because both our current project and my apartment took place in the fall, it was imperative to seal the deal before January. I thought I was lucky, but then the (remember: pretty grey and dusty) notary suggested that it was a bad time at the end of the year because he wasn't so sure that the current owner would agree to it. It's five years later and I'm still pissed at that joke. Since I lived nearby and had a reasonable/good relationship with him, I just called him. He immediately agreed, and was surprised that he had to hear this from me (meaning: the notary hadn't even bothered to call him ABOUT A FREAKING 100'000 EURO DEAL!). So I pretty much crammed us in between his agenda. I'm normally a nice guy, but I was well aware of how much I was paying him so I had no issue on that whatsoever (heck...I had that take place at midnight on Christmas eve if I had to). I'm not sure whether it was the notary, an assistant or the (past) owners who asked when I was planning to move ("you're not going to do it during christmas time, right?"). I think I surprised them by saying that I already had all the equipment to paint walls and do the floors, and that friends of mine were already en route as we were about to sign this deal. And they were. I was in full forward momentum, and I didn't rest until my apartment was inhabitable.
It was apparently even more tense with my brother. In the end, I just kept with my own bank. He checked different banks and even "immothekers". I don't even know whether there's an English word for it, but it's basically a specialist in financing houses. He had gotten a better percentage there, but due to circumstances on the immotheker's side, he only got to finalize his loan on the same day as the actual sale.
For our current project, we have the peculiar feature of the house currently being inhabited. They're very nice people with two adorable daughters (unfortunately, they liked their bedroom bright pink), but of course this creates a dilemma. They're selling their house to buy another one...but that other house still needs to be found and bought. Meaning: they too will have to start this whole endeavor. Our offer on their house was slightly below their asking price, so we compensated for that by allowing them a couple extra months to pay us rent to stay in their former house...with a maximum of three months (january up to march). We agreed to it, all hoping that they would find their new home as well.
The thing is: that meant that the day of the sale wasn't likely to be even near the day that my girlfriend and me will be moving in. If it wasn't for the end clause at the end of march, hardly anything would even change for them. They wouldn't be the owners anymore, but that means that instead of paying the bank their mortgage, they would pay us rent. Rent we would be paying the bank because...well...we've loaned a shit ton of money from them. In normal cases, this rent wouldn't be enough to fully pay back our loan (we've got to pay back 900'ish euro's per month, they pay us 650) but I think I already told you that the bank likes to get creative. Well...they did. While it is considered "one loan", it's somewhat split in two. The majority goes into - you guessed it - paying the actual house. However, we've loaned 50'000 euro on top of that for renovations. Or rather: we'rea loaning UP TO 50'000 euro's for renovations. While my girlfriend and me visited pretty much every store that has ANYTHING to do with renovations and she turns out to be excellent at matching prices, choosing the correct furniture and keeping an eye on finance (okay: I sometimes have to step in on this one), it's still a bit of a gamble. In theory, it's simple math: a kitchen for this many euro's, a floor for that many euro's, bathroom for thus many...add this, that and thus, and voila: this is what the renovations cost. In practice...you don't KNOW. When my brother and me moved in our previous apartment (this was before I bought my own), we painted it in a certain color. About halfway through, my brother decided that it was too dark (it was grey with a bit of green in it) and did something we both learned was stupid: we mixed in "some more" white. The color was better so we started over using that. But it wasn't enough to cover the entire room. It was only then that we realized that one doesn't simply go to the store and get more paint of the same color. We could ask more of the original color and more white, but there was no way to accidentally hit the very same tint as was on half the wall (and man, it's amazing how just a tad bit of less or more white in paint shows). Long story short: we ended up with YET ANOTHER COLOR and starting all over. These sort of things cost extra money and damage morale. For my apartment, I ended up EXACTLY where I wanted to be (or maybe not: I didn't dare risk not having to continue to work, so I loaned two or three thousand euro's extra...after everything, I ended up with about that amount ), but that was more luck than anything else.
So when the bank proposed this to us, we could hardly say no. In the off chance of renovating less than 50'000, it would just be a loan of less than that(8). On top of that, we would get financial benefits for renovation (so better in getting tax revenue and/or a lower interest rate from the bank). And the only drawback would be that we would have to bring in proof that we genuinely bought a kitchen, bathroom accessories and the like. There's an angle to that as well, but it's more like the gamer's dilemma: EVERY FREAKING STORE OFFERS DISCOUNTS!!!! On our kitchen we got three different kinds of reductions and a free power outlet. Our bathroom varies two to three thousand euro's because we couldn't buy it at THIS discount, but when we CAN pay it, it'll probably be at THAT discount. It's as if valve is running the real estate business!
But to get back to that renovation loan: there is a two-sided catch. The renovations can take up to two years (we aim at two, three months max). During that time, our payback of the loan is just the interest.
Let that sink in for a moment, and don't have the initial reaction as me (which was "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!"). Think about it. Yes...that two year maximum means that the last payback periods also get extended up to two years. Or also: we basically pay the bank in order not to have to pay back the bank (c'mon: laugh it up. At least someone will enjoy that situation then ). I obviously describe it the way I see it, but there is a strong positive on this. Lemme explain...
For one: that interest is lower than what we would otherwise pay. It's somewhat in the 400'ish. That means that it is effectively LESS than the rent the then-no-longer owners will pay us. We can't start our renovations, but despite our huge-ass debt, we can actually save a bit of money. And as I've outlined earlier: that initial period of the loan is financially the most worrying. It's not that we'll be saving much, but since we still save money from our jobs as well, it is (hopefully) enough to overcome any renovation blunders that we hopefully don't make in the first place.
The second advantage: the payback is fixed in money...not in value. That's something I have trouble grasping with on short term, but since this is such a long term (this is for 25+ years), it's a lot easier. It's best described as "take a look at prices 25 years ago". Unless the entire monetary system crashes, inflation will ensure that money will be worth less over time. Crisii aside, this is just below 1%, but even that spells out quite a difference in 25 years. Or look at it like this: I currently make (netto) about twice what we owe the bank. This is very tight, so I really need my girlfriend's paycheck to pay for her half of the house as well. In 25 years, however, it's not only reasonable but downright expected that we will get raises because everything gets more expensive. The owed money, however, stays the same. And as such gradually takes a smaller and smaller percentage away from our household income.
There's also a third, but not many of you will be in this "luxury" position: my apartment. I'm not going to sell it. On the contrary: I'm going to rent it out. The first four years, that rent will be used to pay off the remaining mortgage on that apartment (for the record: that first loan was a relatively small one. If it wasn't for this purchase, I could've payed off the bank immediately if I wanted to). After those four years, the income from that apartment will come into my income, thus making the payback a whole lot easier. I'm putting "luxury" between brackets because we owe the bank a lot of money. I've been able to live relatively cheap for years while not having mayor expenses (I've never had a car. You'd be amazed at how much you can save if you can survive without one). That allowed me to buy the apartment, that, in a way, reduced my living expenses to zero (I do have to pay the bank, but with each month, the apartment is more mine). The same goes for my girlfriend: she simply NEVER had to pay rent anywhere, which is why she's financially pretty stable for her working history.
I won't lie: I'm already in a much better financial position than many others, but I'm not really "there" yet. For one, the apartment can only be rented out after we moved out. That initial mortgage just remains a constant recurring payment, and there's about to be a second monthly one joining in.
...and maybe you shouldn't tell the bank, but there's also a third loan being made. This isn't by a bank, but by my parents. Simply put: a bank won't loan to you unless you can prove you don't need it. Especially after the financial crisis I can't predict just how risky our loan would've been without it, but we're not playing 100% fair about our starting capital. That starting capital is really 45'000 of the 70'000 we told the bank. The remaining 25'000 is...a "gift" from my parents. That is: officially, it's a gift. They want us to be happy in this house, so they're chiming in (same reason they're going to help us with the renovations).
It is, however, a loan. They are expecting us to pay it back over the years. Not in a stranglehold contract like the bank, and with literally half the interest as the bank it's far more bearable (in addition to the fact that it remains in the family). But it is something we have to live by. It is extra money we have to put aside to pay them back in the course of 10 years.
I've calculated it: if I can't find a tenant for my apartment, I can survive...barely. Without taxes, I make about 1800 per month. Subtract 450 from the house mortgage, 400 from the apartment mortgage, 600 from daily expenses like food and electricity and about 200 from that third loan (note: this is all my part; my girlfriend pays the other half), and I strand with "savings" of 150 euro's. I don't know about you guys, but I sure hope you can save more on that per month. Unexpected costs are a thing that are...erm...well, not really expected, obviously, but overall something that might happen. I want to be ready for it. I want to move out, tenants in and get this renovation started.
Or better yet: finished already. The way it stands, I'm just seeing too many potential issues. It clouds the potential of our dream house.
(1): we have a local television show that attempts to flip this on its head: it shows couples looking for houses with features X, Y and Z for a maximum budget of <number>. Then three agents "compete" with each other in offering that...but they always leave the price until after the visit. NEVER EVER FALL FOR THIS!!! It's bad enough that these agents just assume that the potential buyers can just pull thousands of extra euro's out of their ass, but this downplays the value of money all together (last week one dipshit even managed to show a house that was over 100'000 euro over the budget).
(2): there's a bit of a paradox in this: in this period you have to act as if you're going to move in the next day, while at the same time not be disappointed that it will take a few months.
(3): the problem here is that houses are as expensive as they are, and that humans can react pretty weird when money's short (and remember: if you're money isn't short. For example: if I had no conscience, I could go in my future appartment, smash the parts I wanted to renew anyway and then - at the actual sale - claim that I want to pay a lower price because things are smashed. This is a relatively easy way to "save" hundreds if not thousands of bucks, as there isn't much the other parties can do. That's why seemingly arbitrary rules are in place: because there are people without conscience.
(4): some might say that it's a woman's touch, but that's just sexism. At best, women are better at pretending it to be (my girlfriend changed a couple posters to different ones and we got a dressoir...compared to the remaining 95% of the furniture, the floor and the wall color, that's pretty meager).
(5): the owners of the house we're about to buy have two pre-teen daughters. In other words: my girlfriend and me buy one completely pink room.
(6): perhaps I should mention my job at that time as well. My job as PC technician unfortunately involved moving people's PC's when they were ordered to another seat. And this company was batshit INSANE on that field. Having to move over a dozen people in the course of a couple days was more the norm than exception. Because this came on top of all my other tasks AND any mistake would come back to haunt me, I quickly learned to do things as fast as I could do flawlessly (but NOT faster). Couple that with inaccurate planning by a facilities department that was run by a moron, and you'll understand that basically redoing the planning (but properly) was crucial to get things done in the correct fashion.
(7): this was in stark contrast with my brother's girlfriend, whom is addicted to her possessions. We helped her move. I kid you not: that initial house resembled a clown car. Every nook, every cranny...EVERYTHING had to be moved. Boxes and boxes of children's toys. Dusty tablewear that a niece had given her to her birthday 12 years ago. A track mill that wasn't used in five years. And so on, and so on. The result: their new house was too small to even unbox everything.
(8): I would've thought twice about this offer had I known that my girlfriend was a woman. Yes, it's sexist, but really: tell your girlfriend to buy something "up to 100 bucks", and you can be assured that everything but perhaps a dime gets spent. This is the same thing, but on a larger scale. I barely had time to be proud on the fact that we managed to get over 1'000 bucks discount on the couch (it's still 3'500 ) when she announced that "the front door REALLY needs to be changed". Since then, discounts worry me more than that they bring me joy. After all: what else will she come up with to make sure that that budget gets spent to anything? And what will that mean if there IS a miscalculation?
(preface: this is a continuing of this blog...you might wanna check that one first).
Here's a conversation you'll never have:
<insert some random small talk conversation>
You: ...by the way, I moved houses a month ago. I now live in Otherville.
Random person: Otherville, eh? Hmm...have you considered moving to SomeCity?
You: erm...I just moved?
Oooh...and here's another one you'll never hear:
You: check this out: I've got this new tattoo.
Random person: Really...you went with a dragon? You should get one of these tribal-themed wolves instead.
You: erm...thanks for dissing my choice of self-expression?
It would seem obvious to me why not, but for some reason the linux-equivalent is all too common. In fact, I could've seen it coming. I don't know about you, but I don't format my computer every six months (hint: the pre-windows xp days are over). When planning to move over to linux, the "which distribution" was the second main question I had to answer to myself (the first one obviously being "will I find ports or replacements of my software?"). Thanks to pen drives and old laptops, I've tried a pretty wide range of distros over the past couple years: ubuntu (and variants), elementary, mint, deepin, zorin, manjaro, solus, debian, fedora, steamOS...yes, even peppermint. Not always very long, but usually enough to get a good feel on the what and the how. Mint (cinnamon) was one of the first, and had been the staple comparison ever since (only manjaro and solus were real competitors). My main computer, however, is my home in more ways than I like to admit. It needs to be cozy, smooth and tailored to my needs. I'm an ICT technicus, and the last thing I want is to come home and do more work. I've got a girlfriend and a dog that demand my attention and a television that steals my concentration from computer problems. So I want the damn thing to "just work".
Maybe that's just me, but that "tailoring" goes pretty far. I pointed out some of those earlier quirks and will point out some more here (hint: all thumbs up to linux and/or mint). But all in all, I don't want to spend more time on it than I need to to get the thing to listen to ME rather than the other way around (that'll be windows, but I get to that).
Maybe linux users are a different breed. Maybe it's a sense of identity, but really...those conversations from earlier miss their mark on me. Maybe they thought I was exploring possibilities? Maybe they thought they could convince me that grass is greener on the other side? Maybe they own stock in a distribution and want to increase it?
That latter is also something I have to get back to, as it's less a pun than it is satire. The "stock" isn't so much in monetary shares as in numbers. You see, the linux distro's are entangled in a (probably eternal) popularity contest. And since a large majority of linux users are pretty tech-savvy, I can see why you would want to draw someone to YOUR distro.
Nonetheless...thanks, but no thanks. I did my trial and error-ing. Maybe I'll start looking around again in 2023 when the long term support of mint 19 starts expiring, but for now I'm not looking for potential half-forgotten distros.
Like it or not: that's an advantage to windows. The latest version is always the best, and if you're running an old model then there's windows 7 to back it up. That's a pretty hefty difference with linux, where every programmer and their dog seems to have their own distribution. And since they share a rather large underlying codebase (especially the kernel), I wonder how much of that comes down to "how would you like your GUI, sir?".
I bought my first PC in '98 or '99. My best friend bought one a couple months later. Of course it was a faster one (this was a time period where PC's were considered obsolete after less than 2 years), but it had...a multimedia keyboard. "Multimedia" was one of the buzz words of the time, and because I "knew computers" I somehow managed to both dismiss it as irrelevant (it would be as promoting a bike as "a transport medium") as be jealous of my friend's keyboard. This keyboard had extra buttons for surfing the web as well as the basic options for music manipulations. I never bothered with the former (I had a 56k modem, which was only marginally better than the absence of a modem he had ), but quickly found a program that allowed to bind global hotkeys to manipulate music (start/pause, previous track, next track, volume up, volume down). This changed a couple times with later versions of windows and a different music player (I ditched winamp for another one I can't remember now, and then ditched that for AIMP), and had to be done in the settings somehow.
I admit I've liked clementine more than AIMP, but those global shortcuts were nowhere to be found...within the program. As it turns out, mint just has global shortcuts for...well...many things, among which the abovementioned music manipulation. The multimedia keys (if you have them) are bound by default, but you can set up to three per action. So I solved this "issue" in an almost anticlimax way. A much better way as well, because these global hotkeys are maintained centralized instead of per app.
Like android, linux isn't too concerned on the file manager you use. Windows explorer is a harsh necessity for me. I've tried a couple alternatives (total commander and even a few commercial ones), but I never got it really through windows's skull that I want THAT file manager to be the default rather than explorer. Nemo - the default manager in mint - seemingly has far less options than explorer (I'm looking at one such window right now), but upon closer examination you'll see that it's an illusion. More precise: it's like a television remote. Before my girlfriend moved in and demanded cable television, all I used were six buttons: on/off, change source (to swap between consoles), the up and down arrow keys to choose that source, and volume up and volume down. That was literally everything (there was even dust on the rest of the buttons). All the rest of the remote was clutter. In fact: I'm sure a lot of the buttons are STILL clutter on that thing.
Nemo (and I suspect many file managers with it) just put whatever you don't need out of the way, whereas windows' explorer just throws icons and tabs on its interface for the heck of it, while still not having something obvious as a second tab (seriously...copy-pasting is usually done from directory A to directory B...so why does it need 2 windows for it???).
I'm not 100% settled on nemo yet (thunar and dolphin sound interesting as well), but it's certainly not a bad choice.
I complained about the lack of executor in the other thread, but after not really understanding kupfer or synapse (assuming they even did what I wanted to do in the first place), I finally found what I was looking for in Albert. I'll get to that in a jiffy, but first this: albert is one of those programs that was written for another distro. Because mint is so popular, instructions were made to get it to run. This "sudo apt-get" thing is quickly becoming routine for me...but it failed. The needed package wasn't where it should be according to the website and even a youtube video (yup...there are even youtube video's of people typing in linux commands. how cool is THAT? ).
It took some tinkering, but finally was able to...erm...download a newer version from an older repository that...erm...sorry: I can't really remember (it was almost a week ago now and I was drunk). But albert got installed and ran smoothly. And more importantly: did what I want.
So...what IS IT that I want from it? Well...obviously "launch programs". But more than that, I want to be able to quickly run programs with parameters. As an example: I'm Dutch. I usually know my sh** in English and French, but there are times where that one word eludes me. Or the inverse: when I think I know the word that describes what I want but am not sure (like..."eludes"). For these cases, I got used to just mashing ctrl+w, en elude and enter. Kupfer, synapse, albert and similar all have global shortcuts you can assign (ctrl+w) to open them and put the cursor in the front. They all allow you to write, say "https://translate.google.com/#en/nl/elude" and give the result back in a browser. What I want, however, is to be able to write my own shortcuts in this way. I want to add the equivalent of "en = https://translate.google.com/#en/nl/%s" and pass the argument ('elude') to that %s. It's this part that albert does where the others either fail or where I simply cannot see how it is done.
Albert is in that sense also more focussed. Especially synapse is a swiss army knife of all sorts of features I don't know what they mean, let alone that I might want it. Even in albert, I've turned off everything but the calculator, programs and these "google" searches. I do that not because I want to keep things hidden but because I want to ADD WHAT I WANT rather than have the darn thing catalog everything on my pc and throw me ten possibilities whenever I write anything on the prompt. I'll probably add chromium shortcuts later, but truth be told: I have collected so many of these over the course of 15+ years that half of them don't even work anymore. There too: I just want what's relevant, so I have to keep my gaming "favorite bookmarks" down to at most a dozen or so (down from around 100).
THE NEXT PET PEEVE: SOUND OUTPUT SWITCHING
My next project was pretty difficult on windows. For this, you have to understand first that my television is hooked up directly to my computer as secondary monitor (that mirrors the first). This allows for watching youtube long before smart televisions existed and thanks to HDMI it's all done with a single cable (note: in my previous appartment, I had set it up with a vga cable and some exotic sound cable...this was before HDMI became a de facto standard ).
...but the audio, of course, defaults to my speakers. On windows, I stumbled upon it almost by accident after learning about what nircmd could do. it could solve this self-created problem: automate the switching of audio output to almost a single click (I opted for two because it had some weird result).
I had thought it would be near-impossible to find something similar on mint, but I was wrong. It was almost the opposite, in fact. At first I found one user asking something in the same vein, which yielded me the command "pacmd". With it, I was able to identify the linux-equivalent names of both kinds of speakers (PC speakers and HDMI-speakers...called "audio sinks" in linux), and it was a mere command that allowed to switch between these. The only problem I'm currently running into now is: programs are hellbent to keep the current setup, even with the default audio output elsewhere.
Again, I assumed wrong that this would be a shot in the dark and that google wouldn't know the answer. Instead, I almost immediately found the opposite: a thread with this discussion, with three or four programmers exchanging possible codes and improvements on that code ("this should be able to change the audio output on the fly", "here's some optimization on that code", "here's a solution that would toggle between the different streams with one button-click", "interesting...here's THAT program in half the amount of lines"). While I haven't really tried any of these solutions, the mere existence is pretty weird. I mean...Think about it: compared to windows, linux has a share of what...a couple percent of total PC users? Split that between the different kind of distro's, and you'd think there'd be hardly a user left, let alone someone who would know this sort of stuff. And nonetheless...this sort of thing is a thing.
It's been hardly two weeks since I went all linux. I've worked out the major quirks, tried some games (GoG lets you download .sh files, which are apparently the same thing as .deb, except that you have to set them to execute manually at first), and I'm dibbling into lutris now.
EDIT: I was somewhat wrong on .sh files (see comments), and I don't want to give the wrong impression to people. These are shell scripts, meaning that once given proper access, can basically do anything on your computer (I take it that .deb files are more restricted in what they can do).
This morning, I was afk during the boot of my pc and it auto-booted into windows. Even the act of clicking seemed to have a delay on it (note: both OS'es are installed on SSD). Upon attempting to restart, it told me to wait some minutes because it was "getting windows ready"(another plus for linux: transparent and non-invasive updates, up to the point where you can upgrade the entire kernel without restarting).
EDIT2: about that updating: here's another antic from a windows 7 computer at work. It downloaded and attempted to install a 60mb .net update for about 5 minutes and then failed with a cryptic error message (80243004). After doing this a couple time (each time taking five minutes, meaning it either was downloading from the slowest server from Hawaii or it was just goofing off for no reason), I looked up the error message. Turns out that I had to uncheck the setting that would hide icons in the taskbar. That did the trick, but honestly: WHY ON EARTH IS THE CAPABILITY OF INSTALLING A .NET UPDATE DEPENDENT ON A FREAKING GUI SETTING??? And why does it need to restart after intalling it?
So...I now set grub to auto-boot to "the last booted entry". I'm almost curious to see how long it'll take before it'll be windows again.
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Okay, I've finally done it: I went linux. Not the "lemme take this prehistoric laptop, throw some distro on it, watch grub in action, install steam and a few games, game on it, feel like I'm making a statement and then put it back to gather dust" kind of "going linux". I installed it on my main computer. On a dual-boot that currently still auto-launches windows 10 after five seconds, but with the intention of completely migrating. And that means...I'm on a rambling spree.
Truth be told, I've been doing half-assed steps in the direction for some time now. The aforementioned "trying some distros" is one. Using libreoffice for years. Swapped my preferred porn image viewer for one that has a linux client. Things like that. I knew it'd still be a big plunge: I'm one of those thinker types that collects all sorts of little program doodads that make my life easier. Having to find alternatives is one reason I've postponed to for so long (meaning: I'm lazy).
Of course my windows 10 isn't what it was when it first arrived on my PC either. It has these moments where, instead of loading a web page, it just hangs as this "waiting for cache..." message. I'm not sure why it's waiting on something that should be already on the drive (on an SSD, no less), but I got fed up with it being busy doing things. The "it" is the entire PC, by the way...apparently loading a web page is enough to block the entire rest of the PC apart from the ever-important ability to move the mouse cursor. I'm sure I'm not the only one who got that thing that I'd like to call delayed multitasking: because opening a page doesn't work, you try opening a second page. Then attempt to restart the browser. Then attempt to close that one windows that was still open. Pick your nose. And so on, if for nothing else to feel like doing SOMETHING is better than nothing...and then it suddenly opens up your page twice, closes it, closes that other windows, picks your nose and does "and so on" all in a fraction of a second. It's annoying...but never enough to deal with.
It's also annoying that malwarebytes insists that crxmouse gestures is a trojan (followed by lots of other non-shady sites). I've come to accept that avast has evolved from this robust free antivirus scanner to this pop-up program that tells me that it can improve my PC's speed tenfold...if I upgrade to premium version(1).
The most recent of these antics - and the last straw for me - was that all of the sudden my windows clock sets itself exactly two hours earlier than the real time. Disabling and then re-enabling automatic time fixes it, but why does it do that every freaking reboot? Was the code that shows the time really in for an update?
Anyhow...I just wanted to leave that stuff behind me. Granted: steam's proton was a large influence as well, but still...it was about time I moved over. I can't be bothered with the internet slut-shaming people that use the operating system of a company that apparently randomly deletes your data (on that note: how the hell did you manage to use windows sincs 1995 without ever creating a backup?).
INITIAL STEPS, PRINTING
I've hesitated between linux mint and manjaro. From what I can tell it's a split finish between the two, and I only went mint because I knew it longer.
First boot went as smooth as on my test laptops, but I almost immediately ran into my first problem: the printer wasn't recognized. No, wait...worse: it WAS properly recognized, initialized and configured. It was just that when I made a test page, mint said all went fine and dandy and my printer (an old HP 1020) just went "huh? Print something? Naaaaaah".
I won't lie: I expected some quirks. My main desktop is a mishmash of all sorts of partitions, reasonably old hardware, custom configuration scripts and junk like that. And on hindsight: troubleshooting wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be. You see: at this time you can pretty much google any windows problem and find dozens of answers. Since linux is far less popular and that smaller population is split over even more distributions, I initially feared that I'd be out of luck. I was wrong...but I started with what I got the thing for: tinkering with settings!
It wasn't very successful. The UI was certainly more clear than some windows printer menu's, but I swear some people mashed their keyboard when they had to come up with a name of the default drivers (I'll look it up, but it was something like choosing between slighqhkjl, mkjqmflkjqer and qpokushjfoirhu). I've tried all three, but aside from a hiccup of the printer on one of those: nothing.
After some googling, I've managed to set it up by installing something called "hplip-gui". I admit I like the community's whole "here...put this in yer terminal and watch it fly" rather than windows users' approach of "here's a link to hp.com" that's basically an invite to a hall of mirrors (ever tried finding drivers for old devices? if they're not on the publisher's site, you can only get them by essentially getting them from the equivalent of Mad Boris in a dark alley. I don't know who made that hplip-thingy (probably disgruntled HP employees who disliked all the bloatware), but congratulations: your support for old stuff is BETTER than on windows.
Second...a minor annoyance: steam suddenly decided that games shouldn't need shortcuts anymore. This is a pretty weird issue that only happens on some games. But thus far, I haven't figured out why it happens.
In the same vein: shortcuts in general. I'm a keyboard junky, and I truly miss executor. That's a simple launcher that lets you define keyboard shortcuts, that allow you to quickly launch the programs, folders,... you want, with parameter if you want it to. There are similar launchers (I've tried synapse and kupfer), but while they work razorfast in opening what you have already on your hard drive, I honestly can't seem to find how to assign my own shortcuts to them (which I can only assume must be possible, because you want a launcher to be fitted to YOUR level, not the other way around).
Creating shortcuts isn't as straightforward as in windows either. I'm not sure if this is mint-exclusive, but it doesn't like to create shortcuts to another drive anywhere but on the desktop (though you can move them around afterwards).
Another struggle was with clementine. AIMP is another music player that doesn't exist in linux (I haven't thrown wine at it), so I went with clementine. I like the interface and way it handles, but despite its stability I almost removed it. Why? Because it insisted on rechecking my entire library every restart. It took me a while to figure out why: this is on a separate disk. Windows auto-mounts it, but mint doesn't. It was a matter of finding and correcting the issue where it appeared. Meaning: I had to set that drive and another to auto-mount, and the problem solved itself.
...or so I thought. After a few days, I noticed that this auto-mount decided that read only was enough. Granted: it IS enough most of the time. But I'm not really sure how to approach the main issue. Using the "Disks" program in linux mint, I thought I was able to properly mount the two partitions on that drive. It certainly seemed that way on first glance. I mean...I could see and read everything. Since this was mostly a backup storage (how often do you add music to your 10-year-old library?) it took me a couple days to notice...that it was read-only. A certain mr. root was owner of the drive, and I wasn't root. Yyyyyyeeeeeaaaaahhhh...
Look: I get it. Windows is inherently "potentially unsafe" because you're defaulting to the administrator. Having to enter the root password in linux every time you want to intall something is something I can live with because that only happens when I want to install something. But this whole "whoah, buddy. Just because there's this unprotected hard drive in my system doesn't mean that you can just, y'know...MOUNT IT AS A WRITEABLE DRIVE" thing starts getting on my nerve.
Luckily, I found a web page of someone with 99% the same problem (he had three of these partitions, I had only two). That someone was immediately greeted by someone who suggested he changed a few lines in the /etc/fstab file (I had no idea that that info was there to begin with). The guy with that problem was immediately helped, praised the one offering the solution, was counter-welcomed to the linux flock by a few others, and everything was nice.
...I tried the same thing, and all I got was the same read-only drive. No, wait...not really: that initial auto-mounting that the disk had done had politely named the drives 2DDFZER51231SDFSF and 2DDFZER512QSD512S. Though I considered that a grade up from the limited drive convention at microsoft(2)(3), it wasn't quite as intuitive. At least I was able to rename this to the slightly more intuitive names 'Stuff' and 'Games'. So I got experience points for serendipity, but am thus far still stuck with the original problem. Perhaps I'll find the answer to this by investigating a DIFFERENT problem.
Popcorn time is another "issue". More specifically: it's the most linux-y installation yet. I quickly found this guide with pretty straightforward instructions on each step. While certainly harder than installing anything on windows or a mobile device, it's not really more complex than it needs to be. And it's a great way to learn how to PROPERLY use linux. I mean...look: I once took a class on android, mistakenly expecting it would be about understanding the system, rooting the devices and exploring the capabilities...I ran off when I learned that it was a course for 'those seniors' who took proud in "being able to turn it on", and "sending a text message". This, my friends, is part of why linux is awesome. Not because it IS awesome, but because it is at least abstruse enough to scare away the people who want to know why their e-mail doesn't leave their draft folder until they click "send".
Don't get me wrong: I like the software repositories. In fact, I'd even declare them a must if it wasn't for the implications we're already seeing (microsoft attempts to reinvent itself with the app store without leaving the traditional path, and apple downright has their store acting as a gatekeeper). They're convenient, quick and don't provide a hassle for the user. The other side of the coin is that as a user, they make it that all you need to know is how to spell the software you want and the root administrator password. Those popcorn time installation instructions help getting some commands under my belt (I loved writing scripts in MS-DOS when I was a kid). And because some friends stormed in about halfway through, I made an impression on one of 'em (the girlfriend of the brother of my girlfriend); she thought I was hacking my system.
Grub is also one of the little quirks. Of course I didn't bin my windows partition, and luckily mint provided a nice grub-config predefined setup that sets a dual-boot screen that pits linux mint, linux mint troubleshooting, linux mint last working config...and boring old windows 10 in one nicely convenient list together. It initially booted up linux mint after 5 seconds, but that unfortunately won't do. The reason: my girlfriend is convinced she'll never get the hang of another operating system(4) and insists that it should at least auto-boot to windows.
Now...while I'm certainly proficient enough to follow tutorials on that, I honestly don't want to mess things up. It's one thing to accidentally mistake a "makedir \etc\mnt\qdfpohqfpuhqf" command with a "makedir \etc\mnt\qdfpohqfpunqf" command: those things leave you being the laughing stock of the internet at worst for a stupid mount point(5). If that grub-configuration has an error on it, there is no safe booting to the last known configuration or even to <*gasp*> windows. If it fails, it'll turn my precious pc in an aquarium. It'll hold all my files hostage, quarantine my cloud savegames and erase my existence from this dimension!
...okay, probably not THAT drastic, but I don't want to find out. So I went with a nifty little tool called grub analyzer EDIT: this should've been grub-customizer (sorry) . I've used it on old laptops to have them boot multiple OS'es, so I thought it'd be easy.
In a way, it was. Install from software repository, run, set windows 10 as default OS after ten seconds. No complaints on that front: it worked and did all that it needed to do. The strange thing, however, is that it insists on calling my mint operating system (or systems, if you count the troubleshooting entries) "ubuntu". And because it seemed like a cool touch, I thought I'd redecorate things a bit using some color and a background that would show my girlfriend who's the man of the house.
...except that that part didn't do anything. At first I assumed it'd be the picture background dimensions, but no matter what I do, it somehow either doesn't save or doesn't click despite the program saying that all is dandy. Hmm...
CONCLUSIONS (FOR NOW)
I hope I don't come across as someone who bitches about all things linux. I'm not. The above are luxury problems. Especially now that I've got my music player working, I can easily spend an hour on checking sites and trying out different solutions that mostly fail for some reason. That's okay: I'm a tinkerer. For the most part, I'm on par with what I can do on windows (though I'm not kidding when I miss executor), and as far as my software library goes: most of what I like have ports on linux to begin with (6).
(1): I had done that once for a year. I wouldn't mind doing it again, if it wasn't from one thing I learned at the end: at the end of that year, there were MORE pop-ups and beg screens than before. I wanted to help out the avast programmers...not being loaded with guild for not repaying them year after year.
(2): a question for you youngsters: why is your main windows hard drive your C-drive? Answer: it's because the A-drive is reserved for "regular" floppy disks while the B-drive is reserved for actual floppies. And no, I'm not kidding: that convention is still around LONG after those things went extinct.
(3): your average household only has a handful of drives and partitions, so the 24-limit (C->Z) on these things are only a hypothetical limitation. However, microoft also allows to mount network locations as "virtual drives" as such a letter. The result is that on all three of my jobs I had to create lists with the full network locations because people who lost files "on the K-drive" had no idea that the K-drive for THEIR department could be radically different than that same "K-drive" from another department
(4): this, of course, despite the fact that she has an android phone and an apple tablet
(5): I admit it: I'm not even sure I understand what a mount point is to begin with.
(6): weird side-effect I hadn't considered: probably all pirate sites offer cracked WINDOWS versions of games. As such, it's harder to pirate on linux
INTRODUCTION (THE PAST)
To my own surprise, it's been nearly five years since Valve pretty much openly declared war on microsoft. Valve argued that microsoft has a monopoly on the home PC market, and can (ab)use that power to play valve off the market. Microsoft had their own store preinstalled with the (then new) windows 8, and valve feared that this would give them an unfair advantage...kind of like how netscape navigator sailed into oblivion because windows came with internet explorer preinstalled.
Valve's answer: promote linux. And they did so in three ways:
1) steamOS. Valve's own version of linux, specifically tweaked for gamers
2) a few peripherals that would aid to 'transform' your PC into a console (a controller and a link that transfers your PC output to an external television)
3) steam machines: a bunch of sleek prebuild PC's that would allow you to play your own steam games (note: these PC's weren't made by valve)
This was initially greeted with some enthusiasm...but it didn't last. The third part was the first to fall. SteamOS certainly wasn't a half-assed endeavor, but one doesn't simply launch an operating system of windows-like quality. Some steam machines even opted out of steamOS and came with windows instead. They never became popular, which is most likely because critics were right: the things were too expensive for what you got and they had no audience (tech-savvy people could build their own steamOS pc whereas newbies couldn't be bothered to care why they had only games with a linux port to play). It was only a couple months ago that these machines were quietly removed from the steam store, but it wouldn't surprise me if the sales were abysmal well before that.
The peripherals...they're fine, I guess. I got the controller and still use it from time to time, though I have to stress that the end product was way over hyped. No matter how valve catered to people who wanted to plug their PC into their television, keyboard/mouse games are meant for keyboard and mouse.
SteamOS is hard to judge as well. It could never really compete with popular distros like ubuntu or solus (which wasn't even around at that time). That too seemed to fade into the void...except maybe it's not. Because there's change in the air...
PLAY ON LINUX (THE PRESENT)
I'm not much of an expert as far as linux goes. Like many others, I'm "stuck" on windows for the simple reason that A) I've used it for years, and B) my programs run on it. As I've played around on spare computers I can say that some distros (mainly solus and mint) are perfectly tailored to me and will fulfill most if not all of my daily needs (the "most" part is of course rather misleading when you compare it with windows where I know that it DOES fulfill it all). The B-part is a lot harder. Why trade what you know and love for something else when you know in advance that it'll require more tinkering to get (in the end) less stuff working?
WINE is a bunch of tools that allow you to run windows programs on mac or linux. It's not an emulator (in fact, it's in the very name: "Wine Is Not An Emulator"), but I'm not skilled enough to know the difference, let alone being able to tell you that. So...for purposes of reading this rant, assume that it's emulating windows even though it is technically incorrect.
Console emulation is relatively easy: there's one set of hardware with one set of program instructions. Software that runs on windows relies on a lot of code of that operating system. Whether or not software will run depends on how the program is built, so factors like the programming language, dependencies, targetted windows version, dot net requisites, java dependencies, screen resolution and the stance of the moon can make or break a program. I've dibbled with wine, and I can say from personal experience that it went from "an absolutely horrible way to attempt to get something to run" to a mere "an inconvenient way to get programs to run". I have anecdotal evidence of programs (okay: games...always games) that completely refused to work that, after a few years, simply worked. Oh, and one that went from a glitch-fest to completely smooth gameplay, but that was just one instance (for those who care: that game was "desperados: wanted dead or alive"). The situation then was that you could get a steadily growing amount of windows programs to play under linux, provided that you jumped through enough hoops.
So what did valve do? Easy: they facilitated the process so it went from "an inconvenient way to get programs to run" to "an easy way to get programs to run". For steam games, because ey...they've still got their own interests. But that doesn't mean that the effort is worth less, or the task less immense. You see, steam has multiple thousands of games that "only work on windows". Even though built upon the foundations of wine, making what essentially boils down to a windows emulator is still a huge task. A HUGE task.
...but it's one that valve is attempting to tackle nonetheless. And that's fucking interesting.
Not meaning to brag, but I've got a huge steam library. A relatively large part is cross-compatible (say...40%), but even so that leaves hundreds of windows only (or win+mac only) games. Installing games through wine was pretty cumbersome in the past but could be done. Now the process is an easy four step program. After that, you can install and attempt to play windows games on linux with just a few clicks.
I have to be honest here: I really can't leave out "attempt to". Valve whitelisted just 27 games, but as far as releases go, it would be lunacy to whitelist much more. Remember: this isn't a console...not only does each of these games need to be run on a wide variety of hardware, but linux comes in so many distros that it adds even more variables in ways that things can go wrong. Since the announcement, valve employees could be busy troubleshooting everything that came up on these games alone. And these games are pretty interesting: a good mix of old and new, system heavy and indie titles, and in a good amount of genres. I doubt anyone wants or even would like all of these games, but very probably is interested in some of them. It's probably enough to gauge interest from the linux userbase...
And I was thinking of making a stab here ("al 5 of them"), but as it turns out, the linux community isn't ignoring this opportunity. I'll get to that.
Anyway...The good thing is that whatever issues that comes up with those 27 games is fixed, it might help other games with (similar) issues as well. That would be good news. But it gets even better: if you opt into the beta program you cannot "just" play whatever of these games you happen to have in your steam library, but attempt playing any (windows/mac) game in your library. Proton, which is valve's incorporation of technologies (wine, DXVK, vulcan, and so on), attempts to run this program. It's simple, it's easy to do...and the results are pretty good.
I'm not saying the latter of political reasons or hope but of scientific approach. A lot of linux users have jumped on board and started testing games they might have forgotten they even owned. After hastily slapping together a google sheet and publicizing it for everyone, about 1000 games have been marked as "completely stable". And that number is growing as more games are tested and added to the list. In other words: it's not unlikely that the amount of steam games that work under linux (with perhaps a few tweaks) might double from the 3259 that it currently has. And for a beta release...that's pretty huge.
Now...I've done my own testing (that is partially added to the list, btw) and I've got about the same trend as in that article: 10 working right out of the box, 2 having a few minor issues (one has an effect that slows it down - something that might not even happen on stronger PC's - and another required one or two restarts before it worked) and 10 that crashed out in some way.
When going through the results, three things strike me as noteworthy:
* unfortunately, there's a wide variety within results. Instead of going with the platinum <-> bronze idea on winehq (where you can quickly check the status of your program in wine), it goes from "completely stable" to "garbage". This leaves things open to users' interpretation, as some argue that a game is "completely stable"...but misses sounds. I am Setsuna is ranked both as 'stable' and 'unstable' because models are transparent. Two people with near-identical setups have completely different results on the game Intake, and when there are four or more results, there's always at least someone who manages to crash said game (ahem..."No man's sky"'s results are all over the place).
* there is no correlation in terms of age, required horsepower and performance. Magicka apparently crashes for most people while MGS V phantom pain works fine. The indie game One finger death punch uses simple sprites but doesn't work while Ori and the blind forest is really stable.
* the winehq status of a game mostly correlates with the behavior in play on linux. This seems obvious (play on linux is built upon wine, and those wine results also incorporate results from other "not-emulation" technologies) but is less a given than it should. There are some reports on games working better than wine or even windows(1), and some where things didn't work even though they worked in wine. In other words: this is why this is called a beta.
CONCLUSION (THE FUTURE)
And that user friendliness is worth striving for. After all, the ease to start a game is the main difference between PC and console gaming. Valve certainly sees this potential. It's not that this will spell doom for microsoft (after all, windows is mainly used in offices. And this setup doesn't change your basic non-steam programs in any significant way). But for gamers, this is at least a strong contender for "news of the year".
The caveat? This is the long term we're talking about. Alongside the thousand of working games are hundreds of notes of controllers that don't work, resolutions that look weird and similar quirks. It will take years before the status is noticeably better than now. It'll be a slow and steady process, and those things are almost by definition boring as hell. Meanwhile, microsoft's hegemony is damaged but not broken. They've backpedaled on their windows store idea and even release more games for windows (and only windows) than in the previous generation. Guys like me - tech savvies but not hardcore linux fans - might switch, but not the general audience(2). Those just stay where they are because microsoft windows was, is and always will be.
But ey...the main question is for the future. The thing I'm most interested in is the following: of the currently upcoming games...which percentage will be native or easy to play under linux?
(1): I tested two games - offspring fling and Z - that had minor problems to get running in windows but worked flawless in linux. IIRC, the former had me running it in windows XP-compatibility mode to work and the latter had to be forced the proper resolution beforehand.
(2): after the uphteenth crash of windows 10 on my girlfriend's laptop, I suggested installing linux mint on it. She looked at me as if I had suggested her to tattoo a Satan's cross on our dog with a chainsaw.
oofio likes this.
A bit of history (partially for those living under a rock): humble bundle is a site that started out in 2010 with the initiative to bring small (indie) but awesome games under the spotlight, bundle them together for a small (humble) price that for a large part went to charity. On top of that, it had the intention to encourage programmers to port their games to linux. Though admittedly: when I discovered the site myself a couple years later, that latter had become a very loose optional thing (I remember a couple bundles with "never before ported to linux" games, but at best a handful).
For me, it was a revelation. As a PC gamer since the late 80's, I had only seen PC games enlarge in scale. There were some trends and breakthroughs in it (dedicated 3D cards and "the internet" heralded the time of FPS'es, RTS'es and later MOBA's), but that was considered "the future". If you wanted simple, casual games, you better got a wii and played some platformers because you weren't a REAL gamer if you disliked long loading times or expensive graphical effects. The first slew of indie titles (obligatory cave story mention) seemingly took at least two steps back in horsepower. They had less developers and, as such, cost less. And it might be my impression, but I think they were also regarded as "less" as well (as an example: magazines crammed them in the "also releases this month" semi-page while faffing on and on about large studio games). Humble bundle was one of the pillars that created the game industry we have today.
...and it's falling.
In their defense: the industry has changed in a weird way. Game editors became cheaper than ever, and game development is also easier than ever. The flipside of that good news is that every yahoo who spends a weekend on the unity engine can cram out a game. Worse: when easy money can be made, introspection takes a backseat (I...don't even dare look up how much the investment of getting a game out the door now COSTS your). In other words: steam suffers from too-many-games-itis.
The industry is neither unaware nor ignorant of the problem: admission costs rise, award ceremonies are held and there are dedicated youtube videos that separate the good from the bad indie games.
Humble bundle, however, is anything but the pillar it once was. They gradually branched out. These were little steps, but certainly on hindsight: steps in the wrong direction.
-the humble store was first. There are some non-steam games on there, but I TBH I can barely tell the difference. Yeah, "a portion goes to charity". That portion usually being 5%, so on cheap or discounted games you'll donate an embarrassingly low amount to charity (amnesty international can get by on the 5 cents from my one buck purchase, right*? ). And the amount of tie-in deals are on the rise as well. They even stack to a degree: I once added -10% of a monthly subscription on top of a -90% discount (that's -10% reduction AFTER the -90% discount) on the humble store sale, and then payed with store credit from another humble bundle. In other words: if the humble store was an actual store, I was the cheapskate coming in with all the coupons and counting out each penny. I'm not proud of that, but damnit: they encourage that behavior more and more.
Also an effect of the humble store: the more games available, the less spotlight per game. And at this point, I'm sure that their policy is at best a "when over a metacritic score of 60, you're welcome" sort of thing. I'm not against AAA-titles, but what's the point of having a site originally dedicated to indie games if you put a AAA-title directly next to it.
-the humble monthly was next. The promise of "great indie games, never before in bundles" for 12 bucks per month. No, that's not a typo: this too was originally meant for independent games, but it wasn't long until large scale games became part of it. The catch was that you had to pay before knowing which ones these were, which lead to situations like me having a bundle with 2 AAA-titles I already had.
I cannot really complain about this because from what I can see, this is the only bundle still offering genuinely interesting games. It would be interesting, though, if it had more interesting games instead of iterations of franchises.
-also new: ebook bundles. Since we're gamers, we surely like books about games, right? Or programming games? Or programming in games? Comics are fine too, right? Then it was about "life hacks" (basically feelgood books). And...well...it's not that I mind bundles about cooking books, but what does this still has to do with anything? And as hilarious as Chuck Tingle might be...it's not about gaming, right?**
-software bundles. because companies that sell software is...the same as games? In a way? If you want to stream? Perhaps? Yes?
-build your own bundle. Why do I even mention this here? It's not a bundle but a conditional sale. The argument "but how would I know I'll like the games from the bundle?" is moot for the very reason you buy a bundle: because you DON'T know whether you like it until you try it.
As I obviously have to remind people: IGN acquired humble bundle last October. I can't find the gbaemp thread about it right now, but people were pretty upset over it. I wasn't: I was curious to see where this would go. And by now, I should admit: the wrong direction.
See, IGN doesn't just have a stake "in video games". It has a stake in video games they cover, and if not for other reasons, they simply cannot cover all games on the planet. So they stick mostly with what's either already large and/or already popular. In other words: bring more spotlight to what's already on the spotlight.
It's up for debate, but at the time of writing (7th of August), I'd say the last actual humble bundle was in June (the Daedalic bundle). And even that contained some games already in previous bundles. In any case: since ING IGN took over, AAA-titles and games from a larger studio have become more prevalent in the picks. As such, just finding out the existence of interesting games simply isn't humble bundle anymore. Heh...if it wasn't for channels like get indie gaming I would think that quality indie titles were dying out because (ironically enough) there are too many on the market.
Oh,and I forgot the latest stunt: for the upcoming humble bundle of september, you can choose between option A: sniper elite 4, tales of berseria and staxel ...or option B: Rise of the Tomb Raider. This as well is a blow in indie territory. How are you to explore new kinds of games you can choose between that and something you're already familiar with. It's like trying to diet when someone comes up and says "you know...you CAN trade those salads for this burger here".
Ahem...and this blog entry has become a much larger rant than I anticipated. Anyone reading this...do you agree or disagree with these views?
(note: this isn't a discussion. Probably nothing of what you reply will make me change my mind, so...keep that in mind )
*that is, of course, if you handpick an actually known charity enterprise. There are some charities among them that I really wonder why they're called that. I mean...backyard USA isn't a third world country, right?
**fine: he wrote a shortstory about someone getting sexually aroused by having a switch-lookalike in his ass that also allowed him to control his game. But come one: that's more an extra nail in the coffin than actually about games
A year ago, I got my hands on a GPD win. Basically a DS-sized handheld PC with built-in gaming controls. It was - and still is - an amazing product. Being able to play actual, genuine windows games on the go is awesome. That this doesn't include the newest games was a given, but while its successor looks appealing in all aspects except the price, I was more interesting in that other product they released somewhat quietly: the GPD XD+.
My recent bloggings already reveal my increased interest in the android operating system. I got an ipega 9023 controller to hold my tablet, but even though it became about the same size as a wiiu tablet, it didn't feel right. This wasn't due to technology, however: response time was excellent, and the buttons and controller feel great. The problem was that a nvidia tablet (as well as most 7" tablets nowadays, I imagine) is so simple and elegant in itself that the act of sliding it in and enabling bluetooth was weighing it down. I mean...if you had to unbox and rebox your console controller between gaming sessions each time, I bet it'd start to wear down a bit on your end as well. Especially if you're me, who often gets interrupted by the dog or my girlfriend who needs assisting with mundane tasks.
So...the GPD XD+. I practically dare you to find a negative review on the thing on the internet, because the most negative I could find was "not much of an improvement of the GPD XD". As such, it was almost guaranteed value for money. Now that I have it a couple weeks, I can only attest that.
There are plenty of unboxing videos already on the web, so I'll just stick to my own opinions on this one:
* this time there was no English->Belgian connector in the box. Not much of an issue because USB chargers are common enough
* microUSB instead of usb 3.1. Less future proof, but plenty of...erm...present-proof.
* the device looks sturdier and better than the GPD win.
* buttons are of the same quality as the win (meaning: absolutely awesome), but located in a better position (especially L3 and R3).
* android buttons take some getting used to, but certainly not bad
* the built-in key overlay is rather basic, but works the whole time. Combined with apps that detect the gamepad (like just about any emulator), you'll easily play the majority of android games
Standard software overview:
On the software end, the XD+ makes it pretty clear whom this device is for. The GPD win only had steam preinstalled over a barebones windows environment. This thing immediately boots in a smorgasmbord of emulators (ppsspp, retroarch), apps and even preinstalled pirated roms. This is obviously pretty welcoming, though I'm not sure of the value in the long run. I mean...the UI is intuitive to use (either by touchscreen or the controls), but if you're used to android, you probably want to switch it to your preferred launcher (nova, in my case) at some point. Luckily, the play store, google settings and even an UI switcher are close at hand.
GPD isn't different than other manufacturers in the fact that they add a bunch of software on their device. Some are known popular ones (kodi, netflix), other...not so much. In theme with the gaming aspect, it even has a chinese playstore equivalent that lets you download and install cracked apk's. Pretty sweet, but it sounds kind of risky on GPD's behalf.
Two apps deserve special mention. As I would quickly discover, not all games that use controls use the same type of controls. But there is a 'gamepad' app that quickly lets you switch between PS4, xbox360 and 'null' controllers. If a game doesn't have any touchscreens, there is also an app (that even has its own button) that lets you bind touches in specific areas to gamepad buttons. This app...mostly works. It's UI is kind of clunky and doesn't have options for all games (e.g.: some games use a sliding motion to initiate going in a certain direction. It's unfortunately not possible to properly bind this to the D-pad).
My own stuff:
Obviously, I bought this thing for gaming. So pretty soon after making sure the thing worked, to following games were added to the device:
-In between: this was the first actual android games I tried. It was also the one that made me discover about the gamepad app (this one uses PS4 configs). But after that, things were fantastic. By the way: In between can stand toe to toe with braid. The cloud saves also worked wonders for my savegame progress.
-Munch's Oddyssey: just as smooth as on nvidia shield tablet. Only problem was getting the savegames ported over correctly, because the cloud saves were unavailable.
-Crush (PPSSPP): the obligatory thing to test. Of course I'm in the luxury situation of only having played a few low-demanding PPSSPP games on my gpd win. Crush certainly ran better here, but I can't say whether that's android, the PPSSPP version and/or my hardware speaking. Probably a bit of everything.
-Super Mario 64 (superN64): the Nintendo 64 is a bit of a lost generation for me. The SNES had better 2D graphics and it's only at around the gamecube that 3D starts to look decent. But at least it plays as smooth as one could imagine.
-Limelight: a minimalistic puzzle-platformer...and near impossible to control well, because the makers not only not opted for gamepad controls but also went with a slider touch. But because this game requires pretty quick reflexes, it's near impossible (and downright not fun) to play.
-steam link beta (geometry rush): just by lucky timing, this app got out as my gpd xd+ was on its way. Now that I've tested it, I can say it's just MADE for a device like this. It basically streams your PC directly to your device, so you can play even the heaviest PC games from your couch. Geometry rush is a good test for this: it's one of these 'one button endless runner' kind of games. Assuming you've got 5GHz wifi, this baby will cause a delay so low that you'll soon forget you're streaming in the first place.
I also played seasons after fall (a Ori & the blind forest clone). I anticipated more from the game itself, but the technical part was flawless: it just threw all the graphical fidelity to the xd+ without a hitch.
-stealth bastard deluxe: an interesting one. Like limelight, it does the joystick thing. But perhaps because it only does left and right movement (and actions on buttons), it's playable. Frustrating at times, but playable. For now...
The gpd xd+ does not come pre-rooted. It's possible to do so (in fact: I have it rooted now), but it took me so much effort I'd advice against it unless you REALLY want it. You see, the tutorial I found was this one. Simple, clearly explained and basically fool-proof. And in the end I can attest that what is said isn't a lie. However, I strongly suspect that you need your bootloader unlocked AT BOOT. I don't think the option you easily change doesn't do that. I unlocked my bootloader at boot in the process of attempting to flash a fucked up iso that put my gpd xd+ closest to being a brick than I ever had happen.
I'll spare you the details, but if you come across someone claiming a working TWRP-image with 20180401 in the file name...DO. NOT. FUCKING. INSTALL. IT!!! It's not that it doesn't contain TWRP, but navigating TWRP is done on an inverse screen, external inputs aren't possible and the damn thing doesn't come out of boot. I ended up with (somehow) managing to restore boot, recovery and system from stock. So if you feel adventurous, make sure you AT LEAST have that downloaded, and be prepared to sacrifice your warranty (I now get the message that it's voided each time I do a cold start).
Granted: after this endeavor, the earlier linked youtube-video worked and I'm now rooted. But I'm summarizing a lot in this part of the text.
Comparisons and conclusions:
As I've found out, the main difference between the XD+ and the (first) win is the time-to-game factor. I can start, stop and/or continue playing in a matter of seconds. Android is as snappy and responsive as on the first day, and with the exception of a few slowdowns while using some rooted apps, completely without flaws. And as little as that might sound, but the difference between 5 seconds and a minute (about the time to boot/unhibernate the win) is a lot when discussing an 'on-the-go' device.
As mentioned in a lot of reviews: the XD+ has almost exactly the same dimensions as a 3DS. I was unsure whether this would replace my PSP, but a quick comparison quickly convinced me: the latter is WAAAAY bulkier and has a much smaller screen than I remember.
For me, it's an absolutely awesome device. If you want an emulator device, I can absolutely recommend it. The question is more whether you want to use android as a gaming device. Every time "mobile" and "gaming" gets used in the same sentence, some guys pop up proclaiming that there should be a "DOESN'T EXIST" in it as well, and I'm getting pretty tired of pointing out games ("exceptions!" "ports of other consoles!" "older titles!"). So I'll just leave it at "you can play android games as well if that floats your boat". It happens to float mine, in any case.
I was thinking of blogging about this before, but then I read an article that basically proved my point (for Dutch speakers: this one). Basically: gaming on mobile among children nearly doubles in 2 years (from 44 to 82%). My own motivation is in my nephews. Aged 5 and 8 (or 6 and 9? I can't exactly keep up with their birthdays), they love games. They're avid soccer players, have a chest full of boardgames, boxes full of lego, a wiiu, a PS4 and a tablet. The latter one sees the most play (although that might be because we tend to see each other at my girlfriend's parents, aka: their grandparents). The youngest one recently won a science fair project, and blew all the winnings on probably the largest tablet in the store. Of course I was the one who had to install "that one game with the boxes" (tsuro) on it.
In and of itself, it's nothing out of the ordinary yet. As an ICT guy, what was fascinating was more that was missing: a traditional personal computer. Back in the zeroties, this would be unthinkable. You needed one to get on the internet, and you needed the internet because everyone and their mum had it. But as much as I love home computers, I can't deny that it's past its prime. In terms of functionality, windows has hardly improved since XP. And as far as PC games are concerned, it is showing that Moore's law is slowing down. I mean...when talking about the most demanding games, GTA 5 and witcher 3 are still among the first to pop up, and they're over three years old at this point. And I'm glad for this: I'm old enough to remember the time that upgrading your PC every 2 years was considered conservative. As it stands, the only ones still upgrading their PC's (when it's not broken) are hardcore gamers. But I feel it's losing in terms of percentage.
Things look very different when considering smartphones and tablets. Yes, the google play store has a reputation of freemium games with hidden gambling mechanics. The touchpad is yet to be taken seriously by gamers*. The question is whether that reputation is still deserved. On the hardware front, there are many types of bluetooth controllers that pair with your devices smoothly (and in some cases: also hold these). Recent android versions support these immediately, and the list of games that support these is steadily growing. Nvidia sort of pioneered the market space with their shield lineup, but nowadays "gaming smartphones" isn't even a contradiction anymore (though I'm rather skeptical in what it really offers aside a nuclear green side color). And that all gets backed up by actual android-based gaming devices like the GPD XD(+), pyra and the JXD lineup.
Of course this all wouldn't mean much without software. This too has evolved quite a bit from snake or angry birds. Android supports vulkan since version 7. Unreal and unity work fine on smartphone. The result is, as you could guess, adoption by indies and tiptoe-ing by AAA-studios. Let's see...on android you've got ports of indie classics like this war of mine, limbo, telltale's games, Munch's oddyssey, don't starve, baldur's gate 2 and the older rockstar games. Then there are known AAA-titles like half life 2, injustice, doom 3, Tomb raider and a need for speed game, and that's not even pointing out ports of fortnite and playerunknown battlegrounds. It's in no way a match for the 'big three', but the line-up is growing.
Take it how you will, but the fact that gaming engines now have simple ways to compile for android and iOS has its influence. Steam finds many of its new games containing very large fonts and lack the use of the right mouse button. This has people complaining, but valve just makes use of this: they release the steam link app (not to be confused with steam link, which is), that lets you stream your steam games to your phone.
Of course, you can't talk about mobile gaming without mentioning the switch. I'll be honest: I had no idea it'd become such a success. And I still find it hard to believe, considering that its main selling point is being a wiiu you can play further from your television. One can obviously point to the quality of the software, but it's not enough to explain the success (the wiiu has gems as well). And seeing how at least half the users use it in offline mode**, it's safe to say that it is at least the potential for mobility that sells the system.
As I've pointed out in an earlier blog post, I've (re)discovered board games on mobile devices. That has lead me to install appsales, which tracks sales on apps. That, in turn, brought a lot of great games on my radar that I didn't knew existed (wait...since when is Munch's Oddyssey on here?), or of which I was stunned by the sheer quality (Rima has A LOT of resemblance to Ori and the blind forest...and it ran fine on my nvidia shield tablet+ipega controller).
The result of that: I ended up buying a gpd XD+ because I wanted to play more games than my tablet has room for (this was just a day before the steam link app announcement, so it's already busy paying for itself ).
I'll probably review this device at one point (hopefully today). But I have to stress that I'm in no way dissatisfied with the gpd win I got last year. Rather the contrary: that device's quality is the main reason I'm buying it.
That wraps things up for now...I'll keep you informed...
EDIT: hmm...I posted this pondering a bit too soon. In the reactions of the Asus ROG, someone posted a very interesting article: click me. According to a gaming marketing intelligence company called Newzoo, mobile gaming accounted for 42 percent of total gaming revenues last year. FORTY-TWO PERCENT! As you can guess, that's a larger number than consoles or PC gaming. And while I think that rog phone looks terrible, those numbers illustrate why it got built in the first place.
EDIT2: googled around a bit for confirmation, and found that the predictions for this year are even "worse": 51% of spendings on mobile. Christ...that's seriously impressive. Thus far I didn't think google or apple really fit to make a presence at E3, but at this rate they pretty much should have been there. (...or even better: it'd be better if the ACTUAL largest players of the gaming industry are NOT there ).
*despite their sometimes toxic opinions, gamers aren't wrong on this: the physical movement on a joystick, D-pad or plain buttons creates a better player<->avatar connection than statically sliding over glass ever will. However: this is only really matters for games that require navigation or twitch- or reflex-based games.
**sorry...I forgot the source on this one.
About one and a half year ago, I posted a blog post on virtual board games. I wrote it half in a hurry because I wanted it out the door before humble closed their mobile board game bundle they had back then. It had some positive replies, but nothing spectacular. And granted: it was a bit too uncanny for most.
Offline, my love for board games hasn't ceased. Rather the opposite, actually. I have without a doubt spent more bucks on board games than video games (in the real world, -10% is a lot...on steam, anything above 50% just stays on my wishlist ). It's also something I can enjoy with my girlfriend, and my little cousins-in-law are becoming the age where you can actually get them to play (simple) board games with. I remember getting the ticket to ride app on my girlfriend's phone, but somewhat missed the result. She loves it. In fact...over a year later, she still plays ticket to ride and splendor on her phone on a regular basis. And with good reason: the AI on those is smart enough to give you a challenge but not ridiculously overpowered. Personally, I've played those board games a bit, but while they were certainly above-average when it comes to mobile games, I sort of forgot about them later on. And for the wrong reasons, as I've played those games on my 4.3" phone rather than my gaming tablet. And as you might have guessed: that makes a huge difference.
Board game apps only recently came back on my radar after almost accidentally hearing about an app called onirim. Onirim was on my boardgame wishlist. It's a solitaire card game with a shamanistic theme. It's pretty hard
to come by in physical form, but the app obviously wasn't. More specifically: the game is free. The first expansion just requires you to create an account with the makers (asmodee digital) and the other two
expansions are slightly above a euro (one dollar, I presume). If this smells like pay-to-win shenanigans, I can't blame you. If it wasn't based on an actual card game being recommended to me, I probably wouldn't have tried it either. The problem with free games is that the expectations are very low, and usually for the right reasons.
Lemme tell you: I was wrong. Onirim is a FANTASTIC game. At heart it's a simple kind of solitaire game where you want to lay down a serie of the same colors. I could explain the premise here, but it has a great tutorial and the game has you taking some tough guesstimates. On top of that, the app delivers some nice mood in music and visuals (the nightmare cards resemble the Babadook drawings). Granted: after playing with the expansions, the base game feels a bit meager, but the base game absolutely sells itself. I'd say the same for the expansions, but really: try the base game first.
Similarities and differences
In any case...this experience got me pondering. The more I thought about it, the more I felt that mobile video games and board games are quite complimentary. To summarize:
-like video games, board game apps don't require logistic or transportation costs, making it able to be sold at a fraction of the price.
-mobile devices are, in fact, mobile. Board games often rely on hidden information to your opponent (usually cards in hand). Playing these on a television or monitor requires you to rely on your opponent(s) to look away from the screen, whereas playing on a tablet or phone makes it easy to just pass the device along at the end of the turn. And that's just on one device. Since everyone and their dog has a smartphone nowadays, setting up a multiplayer game isn't hard
-Artificial intelligence. Most (but not all) boardgame apps can be played against a computer, so you're not dependent on others to get to playing.
-the mobile environment is often spat upon by gamers because they lack physical buttons. But since board games rely less on skills like reflexes, timing or hand-eye co-ordination, they don't need them as much. Rather the contrary: placing something somewhere on a board is more naturally, and swiping to play a card from your hand is also just common sense.
-computer assistance. Setting up a board game or putting it away can be a time consuming task (shuffling cards, setting up the components, looking in the rulebook for starting capital...that sort of stuff). Often you'll need someone to play as the bank, and sometimes it can be quite a tallying match just to see who's ahead. A computer can take care of all of that.
-theme. Granted: most PC games beat board game apps with flying colors when it comes to setting a theme or building a world. However: even with just basic graphics and sound, literally all board game apps I've played thus far beat their actual board game counterpart in conveying its own theme.
Onirim started me searching outside my traditional borders of gaming. Until now, I bought most video games from humble bundles and most board games online (I'd give links to those interested, but these'll be mostly in the Belgium region). Thanks to the dice tower and boardgamegeek, I've got an idea of what actual good board games look like and WHY they are considered good, and those 50+ board games in my collection gives me a fair opinion on that myself. But how do you recognize a good *app* of a board game?
Well...enter pixelatedcardboard.com. It's a site designed to highlighting and eventually reviewing digital board games on a mobile platform. And that's not an easy assignment. Just glancing at their database sort of reveals that chances of your favorite board game being on an app store somewhere are reasonable (216 apps and counting...and it doesn't contain the many classics like chess or checkers).
Some random apps
Of course I haven't played all these apps. But after Onirim, I've discovered quite some gems:
-patchwork: this one's a combination of an economics game, racing and tetris (I kid you not). It's visually very pleasing (nintendo isn't the only one who can make quilt-like games ) and reproduces the board game very good. The best part, however, is the AI. During this game you have at most 4 choices (pass or buy one of three tetris pieces), as well as placing purchased pieces on your board. Despite that, I can barely keep pace with the normal AI (meaning: there's a HARD AI as well!). Aside from it's simplicity and depth, the fact that there's no hidden information is also a plus. You can just sit next to a friend with you both watching the screen.
-Tsuro: this tile laying game is absurdly simple: lay a path in front of your own character and try to remain on the board for as long as possible. It's so simple you can teach it to a five year old (which I, in fact, did). Again: looks as beautiful as the board game - which I also have - and plays just as well. AI is hard to test because of the nature of the game, but this is a game that easily devolves in pretty chaos if you play it with multiple players. This game would've been worth the money without the beautiful graphics, the extra game goal options or even the pass-and-play options...but it has all that as well. For one dollar.
-hive (with AI): of all the board games, I'm most surprised by the AI of this one. Hive is a hexagonal tactical movement game where your goal is to surround the enemy's queen bee. About the only rule is "do not break the hive", but aside that, all the pieces have their own move set. It has some similarities to chess in terms of weighing options. But where I just barely get an idea on what a good move MIGHT be, the AI handles it very well. For free, no less. It's certainly not the most polished app - rather the contrary: this is as minimal as you can get - but once you get used to the barebones UI it works really well and fast (meaning: you can easily play this on toilet breaks).
-Jaipur: from the makers of Onirim AND praised on pixelatedcardboard. But as with many board games, the initial explanation just confused me until I got around to playing it (I've never seen the board game). I dove in, knowing little more than it being a 2 player bidding game with an (apparent) advanced campaign modus.
My initial reaction after playing was a bit disappointing. The game consists of grabbing one card from the open board, trading multiple cards from the board or selling all types of one good from your hand. Even with camels acting as a sort of wild card, the game seemed boring...at first. Yes, it's short and simple, but actually gaining the highest score against anything but the lowest of 4 or 5 AI levels requires quite some tactical thinking. And the campaign is indeed remarkably good: you've got a map divided in many regions where you each need to win a game. Usually a game consisting on little variations that really shake up the game (different values for goods, hand limit, ...). So despite this probably being the fastest playing game (you can finish a 3-round game in about 10 minutes), I might have clocked in the most time on this one.
-Le havre: inland port: this isn't only made by the same makers as patchwork, but it's also based on the board game of the same creator (Uwe Rosenberg). As with Jaipur, I haven't played the actual board game. What I can tell you is that this isn't one for everybody. It's a resource management game with four goods (five if you count coins) where you either build buildings for victory points, or use buildings to replenish your goods. In terms of resource gathering it's fairly standard, but I've got to be honest: this is the sort of game you want to play if you like a game like San Juan. Both games are about setting up this sort of synergetic engine you want to build (meaning: you want stuff that combo's with other stuff), but this game has you thinking more in terms of spending resources correctly and
At this point, I'm absolutely sure that there are plenty of other great board games available. Better yet: Quite some of these are relatively new. Android has significantly less than apple, but that gap is slowly closing. And while some gamers strongly advocate against steam filling up with "mobile trash", some of these games are available there as well (though at a higher price...probably to counteract for steam's profit margin).
Board game simulator
Mentioning steam neatly brings me to a part I really should talk about: board game simulator. On paper, this PC game sounds like a boardgame fanatic's wet dream: a virtual sandbox boardgame. The chance to create your own boardgame using either the many preconfigured board pieces (cards, dice, figurines, ...) or whatever you upload yourself. Because it also has steam workshop functionality, you can guess the rest: the "game" has exploded into being a warez equivalent for boardgames. Browsing through the many workshop extensions or nexus games is like being a kid in a toy store. The game seems to offer an endless supply of boardgames.
Unfortunately, there are some large "buts" in place. The main one is that games that provide anything specialize in nothing. For starters, it has no AI. That's obviously to be expected when the community is expected to deliver everything (carving out virtual models and scanning cards is very different than programming an artificial intelligence who grasps what all of that is meant to do), but even the included chess game has nothing but the actual pieces. It's also not possible for game designers to actually limit what players can do. This means that you can spend a couple hours making a monopoly variant, but you can't prevent anyone from summoning a playing card on the table (okay, there's an undo button, but still...). The 3D camera is most likely important for some games, but a fixed isometric perspective range would've been nice. So would having a larger table board. Or the option that shaking your mouse while holding a deck of cards DOESN'T shuffle the deck. Or...well...it goes on. I wouldn't go as far as to downvote board game simulator, but you should know what you're getting into. There's a myriad of little annoyances to get used to.
Also: it's not as simple as "pirate everything". I had personally purchased the game in the hope of trying a board game virtually (against myself) long enough to grasp the rules and come to a decision on whether I would actually like it. But (in a way) alas...boardgame developers react different toward this phenomenon. Some companies take action against boardgame adaptations (asmodee did that with onirim...which makes sense because that game is on steam as well). Others simply re-release their game as board game simulator DLC. The best news is probably that I've heard some game designers actually using BGS to create and beta test their next game. For that alone, BGS deserves its existence. In fact, if that isn't proving that board games and video games can co-exist, then I don't know what is.
I've just started following pixelatedcardboard, so perhaps I'm a bit too optimistic (I've already read that e.g. Stone age is in development hell for years). But with announcements of apps among others for Scythe and Terraforming Mars (both recent and highly praised board games), things look pretty good for the mobile future. I mean...I know what video games will make my top 20 for the end of this year.
In an interesting twist, I've recently dabbled into reviewing (check out this doki doki literature club review!). While writing down these ponderings, I noticed that board games can now also be submitted to reviews. And I don't know...I just might give that a try (meaning: depending on when you read this, my review queue might be filled with extensive board game reviews ).
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