Same Old, What's Old Is New Again

Rounding off what has been a solid month of Minecraft experimentation, that's pretty much what I did with my reverse-weekend, but I did get a bit of Don't Starve in as well.  Here's a few things I learned.

Point 1: As far as Buildcraft and Applied Energistics 2 for 1.7.2. are concerned, my grace-saving Minecraft mod is in another castle.

I spent most of Wednesday evening mucking around in creative mode in Minecraft 1.7.2 with Buildcraft and Applied Energistics 2.  I should use creative mode more often: it cuts to the quick about whether or not a mod mix will do what I want it to do without having to bother to harvest any resources.

Long story short, they seem to work pretty well in their current state, but they mostly just accumulate and shove around resources.  That's handy, Minecraft's inventory bloat is a serious problem, but I wish these mods actually did something for the gameplay besides mitigate inventory bloat.

Okay, sure, there are a bunch of other little things these mods do which are nice little frills.  Like a powerful projectile cannon or the ability to fill in areas with blocks.  Turns out there's a filler block that elevates the concern I had about quarries leaving giant gaping holes: that's great!

It just doesn't feel like it adds what I wanted. I wanted to be able to duplicate buildings or perform automatic crafting.  Turns out, those blocks are not in the 1.7.2. version.  Maybe a future version will fix that.  Without that, it feels like just a whole bunch of inventory accumulation that doesn't actually do anything in the end.  If you have to it by hand, it's hard to tell the difference from stock Minecraft!

Point 2: Thaumcraft is out for 1.7.2, albeit in a not-entirely-stable state yet.  That's great news... unless you're a Millenaire villager.

I like Thaumcraft.  It's quite balanced, and introduces some real game mechanics that make Minecraft more interesting.  I played around a bit with version for Minecraft 1.7.2, and it was reasonably stable, but it did have a tendency to crash with an Entity.Renderer error if I hung around taint fields for too long, possibly related to block-breaking.

I wanted to run it in tandem with Millenaire and do the whole, "Look at me, I'm a thaumaturge who uses his incredible Thaumcraft powers to help villages grow!" thing.  First village I run across is a Japanese village that thought it would be a good idea to plop their town down in a "Tainted Land" biome...
Thaumcraft and Millenaire are great mods on their own, but they have no idea what to make of each other.  The taint did not corrupt the village's rice paddies because it had no idea what a rice block was, so it left it alone.  Everything else, though...
...well, the Tainted Land biome pretty much turned the village into goo.  The villagers had no idea how to defend themselves against it, often being struck down "temporarily dead" by the various monsters spawned by the taint.  I had actually added tainted blocks to the "Villagers will avoid building on these blocks" configuration files of Millenaire but it did not show up on the village map.

I suppose it was kind of fun to watch, but clearly this mix isn't going to work.  Better to use Minecraft Comes Alive in this case, because the MCA villagers are basically just stock Minecraft villagers with additional functionality added, so Thaumcraft taint knows how to mess them up just fine, and there's nothing going on that would lend to the villagers doing anything on their own that taint would interfere with anyway.

Point 3: Minecolony has largely been playing catchup, and Rotarycraft is too hardcore for me.

Using a modified FeedTheBeast Monster build, I gave the latest beta version of Minecolony for Minecraft 1.6.4 a spin, and was pleasantly surprised to see the same experience I left behind in Minecraft version 1.2.5, back when the last working version of it was publicly available.

This bothered me just a bit: it was too samey.   It felt like I was going back in time to my days with Minecraft 1.2.5, the same old Minecolony blocks, the same old Minecolony villagers making the same old Minecolony sound clips, and so on.  This mod hasn't had the opportunity to progress, it's basically been getting revived from a long sleep.

Yet, the functionality wasn't quite where it was before.  All the little workers didn't quite do their jobs right, resulting in a lot of snafus as resources they needed didn't get where they were required.

The revival added raiding barbarians.  They're quite annoying because the guards don't fight them.  But then, there's not a lot the guards do correctly right now - they were a work in progress before the mod dropped out of development.

It's promising to see Minecolony come back, but they need to do more than get it working, they need to give it a direction.

Also installed in FeedTheBeast Monster was Rotarycraft, pretty much another factorization mod that lets you automate nearly anything, like IndustrialCraft, Minefactory Reloaded, Steve's Carts, ect.  The big difference with RotaryCraft is that they added a bit more realism to the idea of motors driving engines, you need to understand basic physics to know how to get them to work... sort of.  Honestly, if it's just a matter of putting down machine blocks to get the appropriate torque or rotation, that's easy enough to fudge.  I kinda wish there was bigger sprockets like in the latest versions of Resonant Induction.

After much fussing around in Creative mode, I managed to get a Rotarycraft laser canon up and deploy it to guard a Minecolony village... and the laser promptly burned the village down.
Apparently the laser beam stays on while the turret is swinging towards its intended target.  The beam sets wooden planks on fire.  The beam melts stone into lava source blocks.  The beam turns dirt into sand, and sand into glass.  In under a minute, nearly the entire village was ablaze, and the town hall was oozing lava source blocks from what was formerly its stone chimney.

It was a gloriously pyric ending to my experiments with Minecolony and Rotarycraft.

Point 4: Don't Starve is more fun and stylish than dabbling with Minecraft mods for a month straight, but hard.

Not wanting to waste the entire weekend just playing Minecraft, I returned from a long haitus away from Don't Starve, sunk about 12 hours of my weekend into it, and ultimately didn't regret it.
Don't Starve has an interesting pedigree.  It's a top-down survival game, true.  However, the graphics are heavily stylized to look more like an adventure game.  For that matter, it sort of is an adventure game: you need to collect parts in order to assemble solutions to the puzzle of getting to the next world and beating the "adventure" mode.

After my 3rd or 4th messy death, I realized that Don't Starve is actually quite mellow, if you know what you're doing.  Basic survival tips:
  • In other games, the rule is, "When in doubt, run."  In Don't Starve, the rule is, "Run unless you're here to fight." 

    Yes, you can escape most encounters in Don't Starve, but you may end up taking days to recover from the damage you took, so if you make a habit of getting into minor skirmishes then the cumulative damage will definitely end you every time.  Don't sit there gaping at that cthulean horror you discovered: run!

    Then again, from time to time, you might actually need to fight something, say to get some resources you can't get any other way.  In that case, prepare to fight.  Put on your best fighting gear, maybe hire some help, and take your best shot at it. 

    Also, if you come up with some way to fight dirty, do it.  The twisted realm of Don't Starve is no place for fair play.
  • Not starving can actually be accomplished fairly easily, depending on location and season.

    Living off the land is easy enough to do in Spring and Autumn.  Look for berry bushes, remember where you found them, and try to live close enough that you can make regular rounds to check for more berries, and chances are you're going to survive the season. 

    If you have a little supplementary food income from trapping small animals (they can often be lured or chased right into the traps without the need for bait), life gets even easier. 

    If you can find a beefalo herd, then the food can now come to you.  Dig up berry bushes and move them nearby, then fertilize them.  Build some advanced farms at home, now that you have access to plenty of the only rare component.

    Sometimes, you get tons of food dumped on you unexpectedly.  For example, you happen to visit a pig village and they're fighting off an invasion of frogs.  Regardless of who wins, there's going to be plenty of food laying around afterward!

    Summer and Winter change the rules considerably.  Many plants stop working, for starters.  I'd tell you more about how to survive those seasons, but frankly, I don't know how myself yet.
  • Self-sustenance isn't going to be enough to survive in the long run.  You need to advance.

    Each changing season brings its own hazard, so you need to have the necessary research complete to survive it before time is up.  Completing research often involves sticking your neck out and fighting something you normally wouldn't.  You might build some stout walls, but if you spend all your time cowering behind them, the changing world will eventually gobble you up.
Fantastic game; I love Don't Starve.  Of course, as everybody who has played the game will tell you, it does sort of suck when you die and have to start over from square one.   That's the main downside of the game.

My recommendation: don't binge play Don't Starve.  If you die and lose a lot of progress, do something else, come back tomorrow.   That way, things will feel relatively fresh, and it becomes that much easier to swallow having to start over from scratch.  This will also help to prevent confusing the map from the previous game with the current one.

Overall, I had a fun weekend.  Good thing, too: I'm not going to have a moment to myself for the next few days...

The Game I Want To Play Isn't Out Yet

All this desperate flailing with Minecraft mod mixes basically adds up to the fundamental fact that, despite how over-saturated the gaming market may seem to be, the game I want to play is not truly out yet.

However, I might have made a few steps in understanding exactly what that game is that build a bit upon my previous definition of that game.

1. It should be an immersive role-playing experience.

While the term "role-playing game" may invoke in many readers the ideas of statistics and progression mechanics, those are just clumsy means to an end.   What I'm actually going for here is immersion of playing a role; the player needs to be in the game, thereby evoking a sense of escapism.  This is why I've been dabbling with Minecraft and not Banished.

2. It should feature a dynamic, virtual-worldly simulated environment.

This role-playing game should take place in a simulated environment where a real space is being simulated and there is very little in the way of limits on prefabricated content.  I want this to be a role-playing simulation more than just a crude game.

MMORPGs dangled this as a promising potential idea that got us very excited before the theme park approach to designing them took over.  In any open-ended game I've played, encountering parts of the game which were clearly "theme park" in approach is really unfortunate.  Yes, I know it's a lot more approachable to design a set piece, but I want the unlimited potential that occurs when we eliminate the influence of developers trying to strap the players into a prefab experience.

Funny enough, when I punch "rpg simulation" into Steam search, I end up with a list of the games that is uncannily close to the kinds I have been the most excited about.  For example:
  • Craft The World - I was rather impressed with this Dwarf Fortress clone that does it in a side view.  It's really quite good, if a bit akin to taking a casual-gamer approach to many facets of the design.
  • Fallout 3 - All that Skyrim I've been playing is basically the same game as Fallout 3 with minor differences and a change of setting.  Made by the same company, of course Fallout 3 is a few years older.
  • Planet Explorers - Open-ended, shooter/builder/explorer games have a way of capturing the imagination, and even more so when they're not cliche fantasy.  There's a few other games being made of the same concept that have similar (e.g. Starforge) or dissimilar (e.g. Space Engineers, Starbound) executions.  I have not played it because I've burned out from pre-release versions of good games before, Planet Explorers deserves better than that.  Like any game, it's all a matter of implementation, and Planet Explorers puts on a good face.
  • The rest of the list branches out a bit in strange directions, but includes the likes of Project Zomboid, The Guild II, Mabinogi, Eldrich, even Recettear.
Combining "roleplaying game" with "simulation" is a very solid pedigree!  But something's missing...

3. It should include the extra-worldly simulation of a strategy game.

Alright, here's where things get a little more innovative.

When I was playing with Minecraft mods lately, the likes of Buildcraft and whatnot, I could not help but think, "Sure, it's great that I'm able to make all this stuff in the game, but what's the point of it all?"
There are other really cool mods for Minecraft that allow me to create elaborate gearworks and digitized item distribution networks, and that's all very cool, but I don't need any of these things because I'm ultimately just a spaz running around a block-based world with absolutely no greater purpose to it besides what I bring with me.  What a damn waste!

Yet, I happen to know for a fact that these greater purposes can exist because strategy games have them.  They introduce a genuine need for all these resources you are generating in-game, as well as some some serious conflicts to overcome.

Imagine, if you will, that everything you do in Minecraft is actually just being done as one citizen in an elaborate game of Civilization that is sitting on top of Minecraft.  Suddenly, it's important that you're developing all this excess wheat because you're feeding the people in town, and this helps support the local industry, so they can churn out all kinds of production (scientific, military, ect) and the civilization thrives.

What we have right now is endeavors like Civcraft.  They are made up of players straining themselves to try to create this greater purpose... but never quite reaching it.  Yes, you can get together a bunch of people on a Minecraft server and pretend to be playing Civilization on top of Minecraft, but players are flighty creatures whose agendas often run contrary to the game, so ultimately you're going to spend so much time herding cats that it's more work than play.   This is because technically all the game supports is the trappings required to be gank-happy despots, that's what it's ultimately fated to become.

In order for this idea to actually work, it needs to be coded into the game, and that's going to require NPCs are doing most of the heavy lifting while the players are just trying to be influential figures in something much bigger than themselves.  Does that sound familiar to you?  It should: it's the core of the pen and paper role-playing experience that has yet to gravitate properly to computers.

This is the game I want to play.  It should not ape Civilization in particular, of course; even a rudimentary city builder game is better than nothing.  The whole goal of this "strategy" component is to try to simulate something bigger than yourself in ways that merely marrying RPG to simulation does not.

I want all three components in the same game.

Just like that, this becomes a game that isn't out yet.
 Oh, there's been some pretty near misses:
  • I tried using Millenaire, MineColony, and Minecraft Comes Alive mods for Minecraft specifically to add something like that... they're not quite there, yet.  Those Minecraft villagers could get there if only they had some genuine needs and ambitions of colonialism, but neither stock Minecraft nor these mods quite manage to get them to do that.
  • Hinterland and many of the games by Soldak have tried to pull something like this off from time to time.  Each time, they end up cutting the scope a tad too narrow.  They end up playing more like Diablo with rudimentary 4X aspects tacked on.  The marriage between RPG simulation and strategy game is incomplete, it needs to be seamless to work.
  • I understand The Guild II tried to be this game.  I never played it but, from what I hear, they backpedaled into Real Time Strategy territory overmuch.  Alas, it's almost a half-decade old now, and reviewed fairly poorly because of bugs.  Still, I should really give it a play one of these days...
  • Lets not forget Mount And Blade. Epic game, but you're never really an individual in Mount and Blade so much as you are a war chief, constantly leading men to their deaths.   Playing Mount And Blade feels more like I'm playing Sid Meyer's Pirates! with an overhauled combat system.
So what am I saying here?  Less Diablo or Warcraft, more Ultima Online or A Tale In The Desert?   Meh, the idea loses fidelity if you try hammering it into easy-to-understand existing models.  I think I was a lot closer with "Minecraft with Civilization on top," but even this is little more than a pitch statement that will be torn apart by the details of the implementation of such an artifact.

Looking forward, the mods for Minecraft might be the closest thing to what I want specifically because I want to keep the mutable nature of the world.  If you can't change the land, or use its resources to craft things, it loses important layers of the immersion in the process.  The shortest path to success might be modding Minecraft or similar game - something that already nailed "RPG + Simulation," just add strategy fixtures.

Somebody make that.  No?  God dammit, you're going to make me do it, aren't you?  Well, don't rely on me, my track record sucks.  Yet, if somebody doesn't get around to it soon, I might end up making some crude artifact out of utter despair... I wonder how hard it is to get into Minecraft modding?

A Jaded Look At Recent Steam Releases: April 11th, 2014 Edition

This has never been a particularly popular blog, because frankly I'm such a craven introvert that I don't care about popularity at all.   You know what's popular?   Reality TV and Fifty Shades Of Grey.  When that qualifies as popular, "It's popular because it's good" is obviously false.

And yet, looking at my blog view stats, I noticed this odd downward dip over the past few months.  That got me thinking: "Sure, what's popular isn't necessarily good, but neither is boring reading all that worth reading."

The problem is pretty clear to me.  Giant walls of text.  Talking about nothing but Minecraft.  Having no real mission in my content production beyond dumping what I have been up to lately.  Just who am I blogging for, anyway?  I really ought to respect my audience... whoever they are.

So here is an experiment.  I have not been diversifying my gameplay experiences much on account of how I'm too jaded to want to play other recent releases.  Why not have a serial feature where I discuss last week's Steam releases and why I did not buy them.  Developers can appreciate the honest feedback, gamers might pick up a few unique insights, and I get to bitch about terrible games while not being expected to play them.  Everybody wins!

So, looking down the "New Releases" tab on Steam, I currently see:

Smugglers V:
  • Genre: Freeform Space Trading presented as a turn-based strategy game.
  • My take: I actually played a demo of an earlier version of this game before.  The idea of turning a space trading game into a top-down turn-based strategy game isn't bad, but I had troubles with the combat balance: it was far too random for my liking, resulting in defeat despite my best efforts from a few bad rolls.  That said, this game is actually a pretty good showing for the first game on the list.  It's reasonably novel, not badly made, and a genuine labor of love.
  • My action: At $9.99, it's at least wish list worthy.  Maybe I'll snap it up when it hits $5.

Demolition Master 3D:
  • Genre: Casual Job Simulator
  • My take: 99% of the time, casual job simulator games are basically just cash grabs intended to sucker people who don't know gaming into buying the game just because what's on the cover looks interesting.  The other 1% of the time, we get Euro Truck Simulator, a labor of love from people who happen to like what's being simulated enough to do a good job at it.  From what I gather, Demolition Master 3D is a mobile device port job, which skews it in the direction of the former by default.
  • My action:  I'll keep an eye on the various YouTube channels who revel in making fun of games like this.  If it surprises me by being good, that would be a surprise.

Beware Planet Earth:
  • Genre: Tower Defense
  • My take: Tower defense games can be fun, but the formula is simple enough that they're easily trumped by existing games in the field.  When you played your last tower defense game, were you thinking to yourself, "Well, I guess this is alright, but I wish the game was just a whole lot cuter!" ... No, why the hell would you say that?  Unfortunately, that's the direction they decided to go with Beware Planet Earth.
  • My action: Pass.  I wager I bought and ignored better tower defense games than this.

  • Genre: 3D Action Brawler
  • My take: Actually, this looks like a pretty well done 3D action brawler, albeit one made in 2008.  Made by "Creoteam"- is that a misspelling of Croteam, the developers of Serious Sam?  Weird observation: is it just me, or do parts of those maps look lifted directly from S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl?
  • My action: Considering how I never did get around to finishing Dead Space 3 or giving Devil May Cry 4 a serious play, I'm not sure if Collapse has anything that makes it worth playing versus better alternatives I already own.

Finn And Jake's Epic Quest:
  • Genre: 3D Platformer
  • My take: I want to say, "Oh, cool, they finally made Adventure Time into a well-wrought Zelda-like action adventure game, what they should have done in the first place!"  Then I remember how many games Cartoon Network released with the Adventure Time license that were absolutely awful.  Odds seem poor that this one has turned over a new leaf.
  • My action: Considering what they've had to endure, only a diehard Adventure Time fan would take a chance on buying this game.  I just think it's a pretty good cartoon.

Imperial Glory:
  • Genre: Horrendous cadaver of greed in the guise of a Total War clone.
  • My take: First impression is that it's a low-budget Total War clone.  I was wrong... instead, it's a re-release of a 7-year old game that they didn't even bother to mark with the correct date. 
  • My action: I already wasn't going to get this game because I haven't bothered to play the superior Total War games I already own.  The fact that they're misrepresenting the game on Steam just seals the deal.
I'm not even going to bother giving you a trailer to look at for this next one.

  • Genre: Strategy game dragged noisily out of its grave and reanimated to seek the wallets of idiots.
  • My take:   Praetorians has the same problem as Imperial Glory: it's publisher and developer.  Hah, I kid.  Actually, it's just a strategy game that got an average score when it was originally released, years ago, and the press of time could only evolve that to being grossly inferior today.  In Praetorian's case, it was 11 years ago, which translates to 110 years ago in technology years.  Yet, on their Steam page, they're listing Praetorians as released this month, and even quoting ancient reviews like it's still relevant.
  • My action: Facepalming and wondering how they can get away with this craven misrepresentation without having the book thrown at them.  That's it: I'm boycotting Pyro Studios and Merge Games for being craven weasels.

T.E.C. 3001:
  • Genre: Racing game.  Alas, only that.
  • My take: I like it when Indies try to break out of the box.  Here's a game where you play this robotic-looking humanoid running down a track and avoiding obstacles in a cyberspace-looking background.  Unfortunately, this is a misleading first blush, as a quick look at the gameplay reveals that it's rather simple.  They haven't broken out of any boxes here, they've taken us back into boxes that we broke out of decades ago.  Even the developers themselves can't help but derail into epic wubs and weird camera angles in the trailer.
  • My action: Shoulder on, Indie brother!  Shoulder on, without my money!  Maybe I'll be seeing this game in a Humble Indie Bundle in the future.
NEC New York-New Haven Route Add-On:
  • Genre: Not applicable.
  • My take: A bunch of geography for Train Simulator for the unbelievably high price of $39.99.  Well, knowing there exists people who have basements full of elaborate tiny models to run their model trains on, perhaps $39.99 is a small price to pay.  
  • My action: I'm not one of those people.  I own Train Simulator and a small chunk of additional content for it, but I think it was discounted something like 95% during some holiday sale.  Wait for another one of those.
Technically, this video is the most accurate trailer for what's being offered.
Awesomenauts-Cyrican Vinnie And Total Spike:
  • Genre: Not even a MOBA.  Not even a lightweight MOBA.  It's character unlocks for a lightweight MOBA.
  • My take: It unlocks two characters for Awesomenauts, which is basically a simpler, less ambitious Multiplayer Online Battle Arena game.  Awesomenauts isn't bad, but I think its smaller scope probably makes more vulnerable to players to develop unbeatable strategies.
  • My action: If I wanted to play a MOBA, I'd probably go back to League Of Legends.

Tom's Clancy's Ghost Recon Phantoms:
  • Genre: Cheap escort.  Oh, sorry, I meant to say testosterone-sucking money pit.  Same difference.
  • My take: The good news is that it's free to play and looks pretty high quality.  The bad news is that it's just another Counter-strike clone intent to gouge you remorselessly with micro-payments. 
  • My action: This one looks well-made, but I say that in the same air I would complementing the quality of the guillotine I'm about to be executed on.  Also, it's always a bad sign when they don't want to show any gameplay footage in the trailer.
Warlock 2: The Exiled:
  • Genre: It's tongue-in-cheek because the developers are self-aware about all that 4X Civilization clone competition.  I like that they acknowledged the problem, it means they might be trying to fix it.
  • My take: The original "Warlock: Master Of The Arcane" was the closest thing I've seen to the original Master Of Magic, possibly even more so than Age Of Wonders.  Warlock was basically Civilization 5 (even borrowing much of the GUI elements) but with a lot more focus on the combat and implementing magic.  The sequel of Warlock is mostly just more of the same, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.  I bet most people will enjoy Warlock more than Elemental/Fallen Enchantress/Whatever-It's-Calling-Itself-These-Days.
  • My action: I liked the original Warlock: Master Of The Arcane.  This game is basically more of the same with a few minor improvements.  Plus, it's only $29.99.  On to my wish list it goes, right next to Age of Wonders 3, awaiting a day I may actually have time to play either.
Mirror Mysteries 1 and 2, Haunted Past: Realm Of Ghosts, Paranormal State: Poison Spring, Voodoo Whisper Curse Of A Legend, Dark Mysteries - The Hunt For The Truth, and House Of 1,000 Doors - Family Secrets
  • Genre: There are 7 hidden object games in that title, all released during the last week on Steam.  Can you find them all?
  • My take: Hidden object games have got to be among the easiest genre of game to make.  Got somebody who can draw well?  Got a programmer who knows how to make things activate when the user clicks on them?  Great, we're in business! 
  • My action: Maybe I'll buy one of these just so I can have a fair opinion on them, but my current impression that they're just a more elaborate version of "Where's Waldo?" is probably correct.
I'd like to reward their honesty about the release date of this next game by posting a trailer here, but the closest thing I could find on YouTube was some German guy playing it.

Aggression: Europe Under Fire:
  • Genre: Looks like a combination of Risk and Real Time Strategy with some decent-looking WW-II themed visuals.
  • My take: Well, it's a 2007 game, but at least they're being honest about that this time.  Judging by the screenshots, It's a toss-up as to whether or not the implementation is as good as Company Of Heroes.
  • My action: I'm going to guess, "Probably not, play Company Heroes, it's better."
LEGO The Hobbit:
  • Genre: Platformer with a built in floozy.  Sorry, I meant to say "stud collection mechanic."
  • My take: Traveller's Tales' LEGO games are better than you might imagine, as they put an admirable amount of effort into injecting humor and a respectable treatment of the IP into every game.  That said, the formula is basically the same for these games, and there's been a lot of them.  Kids will enjoy the gameplay, adults will enjoy the humor, and they both will have only a sketchy understanding about what the other sees in it.
  • My action:  Sure, I could buy LEGO - The Hobbit at $30 right now, or I could just wait until some other Travellers' Tales LEGO game goes on sale and get the same experience.
Strike Suit Zero: Director's Cut:
  • Genre: Broken-ass space combat action game.
  • My take: This is rather hilarious.  They re-release Strike Suit Zero (which was largely a kludgy space combat action game with elaborate visuals) in hopes of garnering some more bucks, slap the name, "Director's Cut" on it, and fudge the implementation so it's a bug-ridden mess.  So now it looks like the "Director" is basically a guy who had really low standards of quality.
  • My action: I bought the original months ago and still haven't got around to playing it, so there's no reason for me to buy a buggier version, even if they were classy enough to give an 85% discount to people who already own the original.
Avoid - Sensory Overload:
  • Genre: Audiosurf.  Oh, sorry, that's not a genre, that's the name of a game.  Well, it's still the most accurate descriptor of what we're looking at here. 
  • My take: How to describe it?  You pilot a vehicle that can only move left and right on a 3D isometric view that is constantly moving forward and try to avoid running into the wrong things.  Meanwhile, the level is being generated from the music files you provide.  Are you surfing the audio?  Are your senses overloaded yet?
  • My action: If Avoid is basically another take on Audiosurf that mixes things up a bit by adding some more gameplay elements, I'm not sure a purchase is required.  I already own Audiosurf, and I don't think a few gameplay elements are going to change my mind about not wanting to play it right now.
The bad news: There's no trailer for this game.  The good news: Jim Sterling bravely recorded crucifying himself by trying to play it.
Munich Bus Simulator:
  • Genre: Casual Job Simulator
  • My take: In theory, Munich Bus Simulator and Demolition Master 3D are very different games.  Funny how you can read what I had to say about Demolition Master 3D and it describes this game perfectly.
  • My action: Pointing and laughing.
Motte Island:
  • Genre: Truly original indy horror game
  • My take: It's a horror game that eschews zombies in favor of more insectine horrors.  Bravo!  Looks like it's mostly a top-down survival game with some rudimentary first person shooting sequences.  This is not the most technically advanced game out there, but I still bet it will be one of the most interesting games you've played this year.
  • My action: I'm not going to play it because horror games are scaaawy.
Evolution RTS:
  • Genre: Real time strategy like you wouldn't even believe.  It's so real time strategy that I bet they imported the sand straight from Dune 2, grandaddy of the genre.
  • My take: It's a free, open-source RTS game.  I can't pan that because, even if it turns out to suck, it didn't cost you a dime.  Just eyeballing it, I'm going to say it inherits mostly from Total Annihilation/Supreme Commander.  Not a bad premise.
  • My action: I already own Total Annihilation/Supreme Commander, so if I've a hankering to play this kind of game, I already can.
Super Motherload:
  • Genre: It's "mother lode," you illiterate bastards.  Oh, sorry, I meant, um.. side-scrolling action game with accumulation mechanics.
  • My take: For those who don't know, Motherload was one of the most popular Flash-browser games that involve a side-view mining game where you dig down, recover minerals, upgrade your rover.  Very addictive, but there's not much to it if you think about it: you're just getting minerals in order to get more minerals.  Super Motherload is bascially an attempt to turn that skeleton into a credible game. 
  • My action:  Honestly, it's probably half-decent.  This would go on my wish list if I wanted to play this kind of game.  If they turned it into a split screen competitive game, as the trailer would seem to indicate, I really have no interest in it.
Halo: Spartan Assault:
  • Genre: A top-down action game based on a wildly popular first person shooter series.  Go figure.
  • My take: Spartan Assault is based on Halo, Bungie Software's runaway success series whose love in certain circles was fairly well captured in the Awesome Reach flash animation.  I guess they got tired of making first person shooters because this one is a top down action game.  Ironic that they'd try to escape the monotony of a tired genre only to make a game based on an even more tired genre, isn't it?
  • My action: Meh.  I thought Marathon was more interesting than Halo.  I got bored of this kind of game around the time of Ikari Warriors.
So there you have it.  I think I need to work on brevity some more, but I think I've accomplished what I set out to do here.  Next time I set out to do it, I think it'll be on a day off, because this ended up cutting into the time I had off after work waaay too much. 

Minecraft: Supreme Choice Spoilage

Of my odd weekly schedule, Thursdays are rapidly becoming my least favorite.  Thursdays are a 24-hour period in which I reflect on how badly I wasted the previous 72-hours off while looking forward to another 72-hours in which I will do little more but work.

As with the previous two weeks of this schedule, Minecraft has usurped what I had falsely predicted would be a very productive amount of time for me.  Yet, I do find the time spent in-game to be a considerable upgrade from aimless browsing on the Internet, and when I can't commit to doing anything that's usually what will happen.

Monday was an example of one such day.   I mostly tried to argue on Internet forums, watched Yogscast on YouTube, and defecated inordinately... I've heard of YouTube Poops, but this is ridiculous!  I did, earlier in the day, manage get in a game of FTL that was full of much exciting boarding action and an inexplicable propensity to encounter ships with missiles that ultimately accrued enough hull damage to destroy my ship.  The rest of the day was largely a waste.
By Tuesday, I had enough of my inability to commit to a simple game of Minecraft, so I downloaded the latest Sphax resource pack for Tekkit and made Minecraft happen.  Having been indoctrinated on the Yogcast Tekkit series lately, I immediately found myself at home among Sphax textures, and got to work on trying to get some Modular Powersuits up before ultimately getting sidetracked from a lack of gold ingots that many of the recipes required.

My mind was blown when I discovered compressed cobblestone.  I don't like throwing out the stuff I dig up, so my chests soon become stuffed with cobblestone.  The use of Buildcraft quarries utterly turbo-charge my cobblestone production, so what's a cobblestone-hoarding fellow to do?  Well, I could digitize it and stick it in an Applied Energistics item network, but that takes awhile to get up and running.  Simply crafting a square of 9 cobblestone into one stack of compressed cobblestone could be done right now!

I immediately set about automating the process.  In the process, I learned how Buildcraft pipes work at last.  I always thought them to be rather complicated, but they're really quite simple in execution:
  • Wooden pipes are always the input of the system: with the assistance of an engine, they suck something out of an adjacent inventory.
  • Cobblestone transport pipes provide identical, slow movement that the stone pipes do, but can't connect to each other and the stone pipes have less friction.
  • Iron transport pipes essentially allow items to go only one way, preventing them from being shot out of the tube for backing up.
  • Gold pipes accelerate the movement speed of items passing through the pipes.
  • Diamond transport pipes perform item sorting. 
Most of the alternative piping systems I've seen in other mods (such as Mekanism, Thermal Expansion, and RedPower 2) were mostly just trying to cut down on the amount of piping needed in order to make better use of the same amount of space.
A Buildcraft automatic crafting table (an "Auto Workbench" in latest versions of Buildcraft) is the cheapest such method, built of a mere 4 wooden gears (16 sticks) surrounding a crafting table (4 planks).  It requires no method of powering, but automatically distributes whatever resources are placed (or piped) onto its crafting grid.  Upon accumulating twice the needed resources (one for the template, another to produce the copy), the auto workbench will slowly produce the product.

A Buildcraft wooden transport pipe (1 glass block surrounded by 2 planks) can be attached to the automated workbench to extract finished products.  It must be powered, the cheapest option being a Buildcraft redstone engine (whose most expensive part requires 1 redstone dust and 1 iron ingot).

Just one crafting interaction will turn 9 cobblestone into a compressed cobblestone: a stack of 64 compressed cobblestone equals 576 cobblestone!  That's a single stack, and already enough to overflow a chest with the non-compressed alternative.  Well, I double-compressed it by combining 9 compressed cobblestone, and then triple-compressed it by combining 9 double-compressed cobblestone.   The top chest in the picture above has 10 triple-compressed cobblestone: that's 7290 blocks of cobblestone in one inventory slot!  You can compress cobblestone in this manner up to 8 times, which is overkill: would I ever mine 43,046,721 cobblestone?

The idea of "compressing" cobblestone by hand feels a bit like cheating, really.  Try folding a single piece of paper 8 times and see how far you get.  Do you think you'd get much further with loose rocks?  However, considering what I built not 200 squares away, perhaps I aught to waive the realism prospect...
The smaller set of 3 holes in the upper-right is from the quarry being run on its default 10x10 size.
I've had my fill of spelunking in this game, so I decided I'd just turn a Buildcraft quarry up to its maximum size (64x64 blocks) and turn the sucker loose.  I wisely built it underground so I would not have to worry about falling in.

By simple math, a square quarry that is 6.4 times longer will have 40.96 times the space to cover, and that means you need to provide that many times the energy to get to bedrock.  Yes, you could run a quarry on a few stirling engines and it would eventually get to the bottom of whatever hole you're trying to dig, but it would take days, if not weeks of real time to pull that off.  What you really need to run such a quarry at full speed are eight combustion engines that have been provided with refined fuel...
...and this is pretty much what I built.  8 combustion engines routing their power to the quarry with quartz kinesis pipes while being cooled by water being supplied by 4 Thermal Expansion Acqueous Accumulators, two per engine.  Thus far, none of the engines have come anywhere near exploding.  As a precaution, they are all activated off of a daylight sensor so they will shut down and cool off at night.

I'm still not nearly to bedrock yet because it's a challenge to keep the engines supplied with enough fuel to run.   My Buildcraft refinery is just in a little room by itself, back at base, and refines fuel by being hand-fed buckets of oil that I have to retrieve manually from caves before taking buckets of fuel back to the refinery.  In order to take full advantage of these 8 engines, I'm eventually going to have to automate the fuel supply.

Of course, now that the quarry was running, I had a problem in that it could fill a double-chest completely in a few minutes.  Most of that would not be the ore I was so painstakingly avoiding digging up myself, but rather a bunch of dirt, sand, gravel, and foremost of all: cobblestone.  Tons of cobblestone!  Well, we know what to do with that, don't we?  Compress it!  Only, that quarry was pumping out so much cobblestone that a single auto workbench would soon become overloaded and spew it the extra all over the ground.  My precious excess!  What to do?
Note the bank of six auto workbenches stacked 3x2 towards the back: that's how I handled my cobblestone compression bottleneck for all the cobblestone sorted there.
I eventually ended up routing the cobblestone to six auto workbenches whose product ended up in a single auto-workbench to double-compress them before being deposited in a chest.  The dirt, sand, and gravel is not nearly as prevalent, I was able to store all that in a single chest.  All that leaves is the nifty ores I wanted to recover.  I barely have any of it yet, I'm running bone dry on fuel, but eventually I should have more ore than I could possibly need.

In the later hours of Tuesday, that same day, I rigged up a Steve's Carts 2 basic wood cutter to supply a Thermal Expansion sawmill.   The cart was unloaded via a Steve's Carts cargo manager hooked up to a Steve's Carts external distributor to get the logs to the machinery and then it should load some replacement fuel back into the cart.

The logs harvested by the cart were routed by a combination of Buildcraft and Thermal Expansion piping to the sawmill, whose sawdust was automatically crafted into compressed sawdust whose purpose is to be smelted into charcoal - I made that happen automatically.  Some wood planks were be routed to a Steam dynamo that kept all the Thermal Expansion machinery running.   I was going to do the same for the coal engine on the Steve's Cart minecart, but the solar engine I had installed as the primary engine did such a good job that this was not necessary.
There's actually quite a bit of improvement I could do to this sawmill.  For starters, I could put walls and a roof on it!  In terms of more technical benefits, the pipe routing could be improved in order to make sure the right items get where they belong.  Also, putting the autocrafter for the sawdust directly on top of the sawmill was a mistake, it would be better to use a diamond tube to route all sawdust there.  In its place, a hopper for all the log types would prevent the need for a log overflow chest, eventually they'd all go through the sawmill.  These kinds of thoughts are typical when using Minecraft factorization mods.
Before I built this sawmill, getting wood was a bit of a chore because it was somewhat a walk between base and the nearby forest.  In the space of a hour, this machine filled several chests with wood, logs, saplings, and planks.  I had to install an advanced detector rail on a switch just to shut down the cart, or I'd be drowning in wood and wood byproducts!  Now, the chore is in figuring out what I was going to do with it all!

With my supply of wood secure and easy access to steam dynamos, I can consider my Tekkit game as now having unlimited energy.  Sure, I would have to repair the wood cutter from time to time with a diamond, but even this short circuit of tracks is enough to keep more logs coming in than I know what to do with.  (Too bad trees don't grow this fast in real life!)   Having unlimited energy meant I could go ahead with an Applied Energistics system that would be able to intelligently divvy up the wood and such, the start of a system that would eventually put all of my items at my fingertips.

All things considered, can you blame me for forgetting all about the Modular Powersuit I wanted to build?  Well, it was on the "To Do" list, I just had to wait until my maximum-sized quarry started to provide me with the gold I was missing.

1.7.2 Or Bust...

On Wednesday, I decided to go in a different direction than to continue my ongoing Tekkit game.

To take a look at the improvements made to Minecraft 1.7.2, they are not insubstantial.  New biomes!  New blocks!  New fish!  Most importantly, 1.7.2 is a nice improvement on the stability, speed, and functionality of the previous version of the engine.

In terms of mods, there's actually quite a few that are 1.7.2 compatible now, including the most needed core basics: InventoryTweaks, TooManyItems/NotEnoughItems, TreeCapacitor, Zan's Minimap, and Optifine.

Most of the gameplay mods have yet to make the jump, yet.  What's life without Galacticticraft, Modular Powersuits, Mekanism, Thermal Expansion, Steve's Carts?  Upgrade to 1.7.2 and you'll have to find out.

However, there are a lot of 1.7.2. gameplay mods that are in "alpha" or "beta" status for 1.7.2, as well some that are deemed complete:
  • Minecraft Comes Alive - Complete.  This is mostly an overhaul that makes Minecraft villagers a lot more interactive.
  • Twilight Forest - Complete.  This introduces a cool faerie-inspired dimension with unique mobs and treasures to be found.
  • Archimedes' Ships - Complete.  Hurray!  You can build and pilot your own ships and airships out of blocks, even in 1.7.2.
  • Industrial Craft 2: Experimental - "Experimental".  Having leapfrogged 1.6.4 nearly entirely, the premiere industrial mod built to do everything is surprisingly well prepared for 1.7.2, but has a "use at your own risk" clause attached.
  • Applied Energistics - "Alpha".  This mod lets you build networks of items you have digitized, access them remotely, even order crafting to happen automatically on your behalf.  Sounds indispensable!  Maybe some core instability will change your mind on that!
  • Millenaire - "Beta, expect lots of bugs".  Having not seen an update for Millenaire since October, I'm happy to see that the biggest mod out there to add NPC settlements is still under development.
  • Buildcraft - "Pre-Alpha."  Can I use quarries and auto workbenches in Minecraft 1.7.2 already?  Maybe, or maybe it'll crash noisily when I try!  Still, it's good to see it's on its way.
  • Forestry - "Development Only."  Do you want to know what digital bees can do to you when they are agitated by code in transition?  You'll have to ask permission to find out!
Of course, there are just ones that are on the foremost of my mind.

I took at run at my custom 1.7.2 mod mix on Wednesday.  It was a mix that included Twilight Forest, IndustrialCraft 2, and Minecraft Comes Alive, in addition to many of the "core basic" mods.
Minecraft Comes Alive can't do everything.  You'll have to tell these villagers which houses they live in or else they'll often just sleep standing up in the middle of town, hopefully protected from nasties by the roving guards.

It ran just fine, but I was basically trying to make friends with the villagers in Minecraft Comes Alive, and I find myself not particularly caring - it's not like they had anything worthwhile to trade.  Even less so when I'm looking forward to the likes of quantum bodyarmor and nano sabres, right?

Late that day, I broke down and decided to install Feed The Beast at last.  It's basically a modpack Minecraft launcher like Technic, but it does have a few cool features Technic doesn't.  One of those features is the ability to tweak the custom mod packs you have installed, so if you want to inject Optifine or remove a bunch of mods from a given package with Feed The Beast, you can.

I was now a bit spoiled for choice. 
  • I could just play tekkit. 1.6.4 or not, it's fairly well balanced, well supported by the Sphax texturepack, and includes plenty of cool blocks and tools to play with.  Look how much I accomplished in one day I focused on playing tekkit!
  • If I want to play 1.7.2, I could play my own custom 1.7.2 modpack, or even tweak the Feed The Beast 1.7.2 "Unstable" modpack.
  • There's plenty of cool 1.6.4 Feed The Beast modpacks.  Most of them would have to be tweaked to adhere to my odd ideas in modpacks, but the nice thing about the FTB launcher is I can.  It's sort the whole idea behind the Monster pack that is the primary FTB modpack: just disable the ones you don't want.
Funny enough, for what little time I played on Thursday, I mostly played around with Lapitos Galacticraft modpack, which is not the most extensive modpack out there, but it is the only FTB modpack for Minecraft 1.6.4+ that I could find which included either Mekanism and Galacticraft!

I really miss the sound effects from Mekanism.  They're quite satisfying.  Oddly enough, the machine blocks from Thermal Expansion in tekkit don't make any sound at all.  How boring!

I still never got to the moon in Galacticraft.  As far as goals go, it's not bad, but I have to wonder why I want to go there so badly... it's just an airless void full of hostile super mobs.  Basically, it's hard mode for when The Nether seems too easy for you, perhaps even more exciting for astronomy buffs.

Consequently, of all the FTB modpacks, I actually ended up using Lapitos' Galacticraft... but I had to tweak it extensively:
  • I updated Mekanism, Galacticraft, and Modular Powersuits to the latest version, as well as included an addon pack for the Powersuit modules - the auto-feeder could be quite useful for protracted engagements.   
  • I added Optifine, Computercraft, Minefactory Reloaded, Steve's Carts 2 and Applied Energistics.  
  • I removed all the magical-themed mods that had found itself way into the modpack, as well as a Minecraft Elements thingy that looked scientific but rather unnecessarily bloaty
Basically, I'm looking at my "Tech Conveniences" build from before, without a few minor things, but with a few enhancements, such as ICBM and Modular Force Fields.  I figure that, considering how powerful Mekanism Bronze and Obsidian are, I might as well just enjoy Mekanism while wearing Modular Powersuits.  Go the moon, maybe?  Enjoy the finest in technical conveniences.  I even managed to get my old saved game to work.

Which brings us to the present.  I just can't give a damn.  I have plenty of choices about how I could be playing Minecraft, but I don't really know why I should.  It's not a new complaint for me, but it seems to be aggravated when I get involved with these mods built around the idea of factorization: yes, my productivity in Minecraft is way up, but who am I building for
  • So I can get all sorts of agricultural crops, such as wheat, seeds, ect.  My Minecraft character only has so much of an appetite, this is massive overkill for me, so who am I feeding?  Minecraft villagers don't eat.  I could feed cows, sheep, and chickens with it, but that just makes more of them.  An excess of agriculture becomes an excess of something else; just how much leather, beef, wool, feathers, and poultry does a fellow need?
  • So I can get a bunch of wood.  It's a lousy building material because it can go up in flames, and it doesn't take nearly that much planks or charcoal before I don't need it anymore.
  • So I can get a bunch of cobblestone.   In vanilla Minecraft, the only real use for it is to make stone blocks out of it, which can be used to make buildings, roads, ect.  With the assistance of mods, I can crush it into sand, turn it into lava, a few other things... but it's still mostly clutter.
  • So I can get a bunch of ore.  Ore builds things that do things.  Eventually, you run out of things to build, or you run out of ore.  What am I even doing anymore?
The answer, as I see it, comes down to the same thing I saw before: we need a narrative.  It's not the destination, it's the journey.   Going to the moon is not important.  Building a large village is not important.  It's the process itself that makes the gameplay and will generate the memorable experiences.
To an extent, more people might help just because it makes more of a story.  One person scales a mountain, who cares?  An expedition scales the mountain, and that's history being made.  Funny how that works - I think it has something to do with a core instinct that realizes it's a bigger deal when a lot of people are doing something versus a single person.

However, my introversion is such that I don't find throwing a party to be a lasting solution.  It seems to me that what might help is if Minecraft had seen through its aspirations to be more Dwarf Fortress.  In other words, create a reason why all this production is necessary.  When it's just the players running around making food and building walls, that doesn't mean a whole lot.  When you actually have to keep a whole community of NPCs fed, and have an ultimate goal of perhaps having a well-oiled machine of a village with 400 NPCs and extensive defenses or something, that's actually quite interesting.

It's looking like I'll want to do one of these things:
  • Find or make a Minecraft mod that introduces this level of "bigger than yourself" goings on.  Millenaire is actually pretty close, I'm just a little bothered by its instability and how the villagers don't actually need food so much as it bolsters their population growth.  In Minecraft Comes Alive, not only do they not eat, but the economy is the rather obsolete excuse found on default Minecraft villagers... well, at least you can sire helpful children in that mod.  Turns out Minecolony is in public beta for 1.6.4 now, that's quite encouraging, it is the closest Minecraft mod I've seen when it comes to this whole "keep your people fed and grow a town out of the wilderness" premise.
  • Play something else.  Something like Castle Story or Banished might work fairly well here.  However, I kind of want to be in the game, and these are third person god games.
Hmm... I'll have to put some more thought into this.  There does exist MMORPGs which try to be virtual worlds, things like Notch's previous game, Haven And Hearth, but thus far the developers haven't really figured out where to draw the line, griefers tend to ruin it...

I think I might have just figured out what I want to play.  Now, I just need to find it.

Thaumcraft: Restarting. Tekkit: Rekindled. FTL: Reunited

For a fellow who has no spouse or kids, the weekend is nothing particularly sacred, and so I spend it at work.  Monday is my Saturday, Friday is my Monday, and I am temporally reinforced in my definition of a weirdo.  The other consequence is that blogging today (Monday) means I'm actually reflecting on what happened before everybody elses' weekend came and I found myself with virtually no time to do anything at all after work.

Surprise: I mostly played Minecraft.  I played two kinds of Minecraft, in fact.  The first mod mix being the tekkit pack from Technic.  The second mod back being my "Everything Tekkit Isn't" custom mix that included the likes of Thaumcraft, Tinkers' Construct, Mystcraft, and Minecraft Comes Alive.
In one particular run to earn some experience points for enchanting my equipment, I attracted a positively ludicrous amount of zombies.
Virtual life with a heavy Thaumcraft focus has one rather large difference from most Minecraft mods.  Usually, the challenge is in getting the resources to build new tools and blocks and (much more challenging) then figure out how you're supposed to use them.  In Thaumcraft, you first need to perform a major research activity to unlock the cool new tools and blocks.  It's a good idea, a very balance to counter how technically these cool new tools and blocks are increasing your capability over what you can normally do in Minecraft.... but it essentially adds a whole additional hurdle to overcome before you get to do cool things.

Despite this precaution, I managed to break the balance almost immediately.

This is primarily due to my choice to use the Enchanting Plus mod, which adds an advanced enchantment table that allows players to choose the exact enchantment they want to invest their hard-earned levels in.   (As it turns out, Thaumic Tinkerer added an Osmotic Enchanter that already does this, but with a lot more Thaumcraft-appropriate balance to it.)  Thus empowered, I made a full suit made out of thaumium and invested 40 levels worth of enchantments into each piece.  Thaumcraft introduces, among other enchantments, a "repair" enchantment, and so my perfectly enchanted armor could now last forever.

Suddenly, I was the male equivalent of an immortal Valkyrie!  My armor included enchantments that caused me to fall slowly and jump very high, which meant that I could essentially launch myself into the air and glide across great expanses at a high speed.  This was also useful in combat: not only could I sweep across the enemy ranks and whack them all with my sword, but I could also use the knockback effect of their attacks against them to propel me to safety when it was time to eat and heal up.  Even on the ground, the "haste" enchantment on my boots permitted me to dart where I wanted to be on the battlefield.  Suddenly, those zombie pigmen that caused me such trouble before were no longer able to gang up on me when it mattered.

This was not my only balance mistake: my choice to add mix Tinkers' Construct with Thaumcraft turned out to be redundant in several ways:
  • With the inclusion of the "repair" enchantment in Thaumcraft, it's possible to enhance a weapon or tool via the enchantment system in roughly every way Tinkers' Construct does, and you don't need to worry about them going away so long as you don't use them to depletion before they self-repair.  
  • Tinkers' Construct tools such as excavators and hammers do the same thing that the much-harder-to-obtain artifice tools do in Thaumcraft.   There are a few unique things Tinkers' Construct tools and weapons can do, but not enough to justify adding a whole separate crafting system.
  • Thaumcraft 4.1+ provides ore processing in the form of ore clusters and this is redundant with the Tinkers' Construct's smeltery doubling ores.
If I had to to take another run at this mod mix, it's clear I've a few mods here that did not mix particularly well.  For that matter, perhaps I would risk a corrupted saved game by using Millenaire again instead of Minecraft Comes Alive.  Minecraft Comes Alive is mostly just playing house with Minecraft villagers, and there's not necessarily anything wrong with that, but I desire more gameplay ramifications to my villager interactions.

I am mostly thinking in terms of the economic balance: Millenaire villagers have a need to buy materials from the player (to build their houses and to meet basic needs), and sell things the player might actually be interested in.  Minecraft Comes Alive villagers don't eat, don't build houses, and only do the basic Minecraft 1.6.4 villager trades that are only rarely of any benefit to the player.

I was not completely off with my mod mix, though.  It seems Bibliocraft and Better Storage mix with Thaumcraft quite well, possessing not only aspect support, but also bonus Thaumcraft tools and blocks!  I have not yet used Mystcraft enough to assess its compatibility with Thaumcraft, although I can confirm that the symbols have no aspect support.
One nice thing about trusting the Tekkit crew to do their mod mix for me: the frequency of my restarts is not nearly as pronounced.  In fact, I'm still using the same Tekkit world I had in early march, including this storage room.
On the other hand, Tekkit is just fine, and adds all sorts of potential fun.  I'm happy to report that the latest versions of Tekkit even seem to include more recent versions of Galacticraft, which means you can actually go to Mars.  (At least, I assume so, as the Not Enough Items readout shows Desh and tier 2 martian dungeon resources.)

It seems to me that Tekkit is quite reasonably balanced, after all.  The Modular Powersuits turned out to be less overpowered than the Mekanism obsidian armor when I investigated it.  They're more expensive to make with the Thermal Expansion formulas, and harder to keep powered with the means of power generation found in Tekkit.

In fact, the only limitless power generators I've found in Tekkit are the solar panels from Galacticraft.  I'm not entirely sure that they can be routed into the Redstone Flux used by most of the machine blocks in the game.  Yet, I would have a hard time complaining if they could, as I know how to create limitless energy by simply routing automated tree farms to a furnace... still, it feels a little more like I'm earning my energy when I have to grow it on a farm, instead of just plucking it from the air or sun.

For the time being, of the two mod mixes, I'm more interested in playing with Tekkit right now.  After all, I sort of broke my Thaumcraft-focused game balance by capsizing it with Enchantment Plus and Tinkers' Construct.  If you're going to go Thaumcraft, you really need to go all the way, otherwise there's no need to bother with the whole research rigamarole because there's other mods that will give you functional alternatives immediately.

I also gave the newly-released FTL Advanced Edition a spin, and can say that does indeed breath new life into a game I had formerly exhausted all of the unique events and ship upgrades.  Some of my favorite improvements include:
  • Vulcan lasers and flak cannons - These weapons really put out a lot of hurt, which is both empowering when you have them and spooky when you're up against an enemy ship equipped with them.
  • More crew stations - It often bothered me how half of my up-to-eight-person crew were little more than freeloaders who might occasionally repair damage or repel borders.  With the inclusion of a crew station in the doors and sensor rooms, I can put another couple of them to work.
  • The clone bay - This is an option to replace the medical bay, and resurrects any dead crew members with a hit to their acquired skill points.  Though you get some passive healing with every jump, you cannot heal your crew members without a medical bay, so it's a pretty important choice whether you'd rather have your crew members resurrected on death or have available healing.  I like important choices in my games.
I'd probably play more FTL, but it takes about 3 hours to complete a run in this game.  That's such a hefty time investment that I actually don't have enough time to play a single game after work.  I suppose I could opt to save the game, mid-completion, but it would be too tempting to stay up too late and finish it off, and I owe my job more than showing up a wreck.

Overall, I guess I have something to play.  I am a little spooked about how exclusive I am about my game playing experiences, though.  Honestly, why not play Don't Starve?  I own it, I've dabbled with it, and I know it certainly possesses much of the challenge and balance I gripe about not being in my various Minecraft mod mixes.  There must be something specific to Minecraft that keeps me coming back, but I can't quite put my finger on it.