Gaming on a Mac, Update

We’re upgrading all the main service production computers at my church. As part of this effort, I bought 3 M1-based Mac mini’s. As an experiment, I installed Elder Scrolls Online on one of them, to see how well it would run. I expected it to be at least passable. Oh how wrong I was. It ran, and at 60 fps, but I couldn’t run it at any decent resolution. The best the game offered was 1367×768 or something. Of course, this looked like pixelated garbage on a 4K monitor. So, I consider the whole thing an abysmal failure. I’m actually glad. It’s a relief to know that a stock M1-based Mac does not, in fact, run the game amazingly, and that I’m not really missing out on this single data point with my Intel-based Mac.

Lawn Mowing Simulator’s new expansion gets medieval on your grass

Source: Lawn Mowing Simulator’s new expansion gets medieval on your grass

Lawn mowing — I prefer to call it “LARPing Qix” — has its own video game.

I was going to post some super-snarky comment about how much I hate  yard work, and therefore not being able to imagine either the desire to make a game about it, or the desire to play it, but then I remembered that I’ve been doing some fishing in ESO, despite hating it in real life, and I guess that would make me a hypocrite. In my defense, fishing in ESO is the only way to farm one of the most valuable commodities in the game, and, done in particular ways, can get you achievements, and any time there’s a two-for-one deal in a video game, I’m in.

M1 Max Chip May Have More Raw GPU Performance Than a PlayStation 5

Source: M1 Max Chip May Have More Raw GPU Performance Than a PlayStation 5

So what?

Back in 2019, I was starting to think about an upgrade to my 2014 MBP, which is a darn-near perfect machine. (My son has it now.) However, I didn’t want a TouchBar, nor to put up with a lack of a physical ESC key. There was never a “killer app” for the TB to make it interesting, and I use ESC extensively when running vim. So I thought I’d just wait, and see what the next generation would bring.

But then my wife started saying that we probably had the money for me to upgrade, and I don’t need to be told twice. When your wife is open to you making a major purchase, you do it, even if you’re not quite ready. So I bought a 2019 with an i9, 32 GB of RAM, 512 GB SSD, and a Vega 20, hoping beyond hope that it would play some AAA games passably well. The total was $4,000.

The only thing I was really playing on the PC at the time was Civilization V. It played it about as well as my old PC, so I just kept playing it on there, to keep the heat load off the MBP.

Then I started playing Elder Scrolls Online, so I tried it on my Mac. It stutters every few seconds, like it’s texture thrashing, and I thought, well, Bethesda just didn’t optimize it for the Vega, and that’s too bad. But then I saw it running on a friend’s 2020 MBP, with only integrated graphics, and it runs… pretty well, actually! So I spent an extra $750 upgrading to the best GPU I could get, and it actually made gaming on the Mac worse for me. So I continue to play ESO on a twelve-year-old PC with an Athlon64 and a nVidia 9xx-series GPU. The fact that this rig plays the game pretty well only adds salt to the wound that my expensive MBP basically can’t play it at all.

The new MacBook Pro’s look perfect, and base models start out about half the price of this one. Ouch. If I had just waited a couple of years, and given up on the stupid idea that gaming on a Mac is ever going to be a thing, I’d be in computing nirvana now.

Whatever “power” they may put in the thing, I just don’t see gaming companies supporting it. Bethesda has already said that will not be porting ESO to M1. This isn’t surprising. I mean, there were only a handful of AAA titles ported to Mac when they were running Intel CPU’s and AMD GPU’s. Now that both halves of the whole are completely different architectures than their PC brethren, I don’t see any gaming companies making the effort.

Mac for programming. Playstation for gaming. Windows for ESO. God, I wish I could cut Windows completely out of my life. I’ve been tempted to move to PS for ESO, but I can’t give up my investment, and I couldn’t live without a whole slew of mods I rely on. I started playing ESO again because I’ve been shut in with health problems for a long time. Once I get better, if I would stop playing ESO again, I could put the PC back in the closet.

P.S. It’s so great to see Apple responding to clamorous and sustained criticisms of their MBP hardware from power users in places like Hacker News. (Including last night’s update to the Monterey public beta, which restores proper tabs in Safari.) It gives me hope that the platform will continue to be a good one for developers, and not be morphed into a mobile-like experience.

P.P.S. World of Warcraft has been ported to native M1. Maybe I should just switch MMO’s. I wonder what New Worlds’ situation is… Oh. Bootcamp. Nevermind. I didn’t buy a Mac to run Windows. I dual booted my PC’s between Linux for work and Windows for gaming for decades. No more. I think you should just buy a PC laptop if you’re going to do that.

The Continuing Saga of ESO

So I continue to be tortured by ESO, and my inability to hit “high” DPS numbers. I can still only do about 32K DPS. I’ve reached a point where I don’t have to be ashamed about running any non-trial content in the game, but trials seduce me. There’s a pretty clear delineation between trials and the rest of game; you have to be intentional about playing them. You have to group up, and block out time to do it. But it’s the only way to get the best gear in the game, and if I can’t ever get to a point of being able to run veteran trials, it really turns me off from playing the game at all.

The reason this is all coming up again is because I tried to jump into a PUG to do a vet trial while I was running around scrying and collecting in Craglorn. Someone was pointing out that there were currently double drops happening! Well, count me in! Except that I was told that I needed to hit 70K to be able to join the effort. Oops. At least he wasn’t a jerk about it.

I’ve continued to gear up. I’m carrying around False God’s, New Moon Acolyte, Mother’s Sorrow, Law of Julianos, and a set of Willpower jewelry. (And I also have a set of Coward’s Gear, with swift-traited jewelry for collecting!) I’ve tried many combinations in the armor and weapon/jewelry slots, but all of these tests only seem to confirm that — despite the endless arguments about the “best” gear or traits or abilities or weapons or enchantments or Mundus boons — it’s all essentially a wash. There’s enough going on with all the math involved that losing particular bonuses seems to get made up for by gaining different ones.

I ran the Maelstrom solo trial, and actually got a Crushing Wall inferno staff on the first try. (So the RNG actually worked in my favor for once. Meanwhile, I’m 0 for 9 on a 2-in-6 chance at getting the shoulders I need to complete one of my monster sets in a configuration that will satisfy the Undaunted Mettle passive.) This alone was supposed to boost my DPS numbers by “5-6K.” I can’t see that it makes any difference at all. (And, yes, of course, I’m pairing it with Wall of Elements.)

Because of the way the game stacks and scales the various modifiers, it gets very confusing to see which components of a build combine to produce a particular result. I understand that’s by design, and I guess Zenimax has enough people who can get past the learning curve and find enjoyment in that to make the service profitable, but I find I’m sliding back down the hill before getting over the hump.

I finally found this video, by one of the most detailed-oriented people I’ve ever run across on the internet (and that’s really saying something). I also just found this video as I looked for the other video. Both prove about the same thing. The difference between 300 CP and 810 CP is an increase of about 20-25% DPS.

The first video also tries to account for the difference between using end-game, trial-level gear versus mid-tier, dungeon-level gear. The difference from this also seems to be about about 20-25%. All of these examples are using all-gold everything, even at the lower CP, so it’s an unfair comparison with my setup, which is still limited to purple gear and blue jewelry. (The gold jewelry alone would cost $1M in-game gold to get to.)

I still can’t get anywhere near a number that gives my hope I will ever hit 70K. If I were to expect that getting gold-tier, end-game gear, and maxing out CP would get me to 70K, I estimate that I would have to be hitting about 50K right now, with current gear and CP. I’m only hitting 30K. I need to find another 20. This means I need to somehow find a way to increase my DPS by two-thirds, just by rotation and animation canceling. So it should be obvious why I despair at the prospect.

I actually stumbled on an unbelievably-helpful person a couple months ago, who ran me through Skyreach about 6 times, then took me to his guild’s house to show me how to weave. I shared my screen on Discord, and he respeced my character, setup my bars, and helped me break into the 30’s. I saw 34K at one point. Clearly not the answer to everything, but he got me to slow down, and actually be conscious of my button presses. I’m still not perfect at it, but I’m a lot better now. This video is pretty good at illustrating the timing of the pattern, where the others are not clear.

I’ve loaded up the “light attack helper” mod, to show when I’m actually hitting the light attacks. My percentage is around 0.77, which is low, I know. But I also understand the amount of DPS I would get if I could manage to hit 0.90, and it’s not the difference-maker. Even when I’m screwing up and only hitting, say, 0.58, my numbers only drop by 1-2K.

I’ve loaded up my bars with the best abilities everyone says I should be using. Different combinations of abilities always seem to work out about the same, if you do the math. Sure, you can use, say, the Psijic order ability to boost your next light attack, or, say, the Mage’s guild ability that gives you a 30-second spell crit boost, but then you give up a slot where you could be using a DoT effect. Again, like gear or boons, it all seems like six of one, half a dozen of the other to me.

The whole business just makes me feel like there’s this magical membrane which, if I could pierce, would usher me into a luminescent enlightenment. I’d smack my forehead, say, “Oh! Of course!,” and be able to hit 60K without even looking at the screen. This Zen-like state has eluded me, but, even if I were to suddenly “get it,” what would that mean? That I could run vet trials, finally? And so what if I did? I could start collecting the best gear? For what? Running harder trials? Running around, griefing noobs in PvE? Neither of those things particularly appeal to me. So I guess there’s not much point in mastering the technical mechanics of the game. Except for the principle of the thing, which I find I can’t escape.

My friends find enjoyment in playing the single-player aspect of the game, but I don’t, particularly. Which leaves me the multiplayer aspect, but I don’t enjoy the online-only nature of the relationships that this style requires to play. So, after 880 hours invested in the game, I feel like all the options are closing off to me, and I think I’m going to retire again. But they’re going to start the Halloween event soon, which tempts me, as it’s the only time you can get some of the best recipes in the game, which can sell for hundreds of thousands of gold. Gah! What to do!?

If all this seems obsessive, you’ll certainly get no argument from me. Of course, it’s this sort of obsessiveness that’s caused me to fight with computers for hours, weeks, months, and years, to learn their deepest secrets, and which makes me good at being a full-stack developer. So I guess I got that going for me, which is nice, even if I will never be good at ESO.

Crafting in Elder Scrolls Online

Naturally, crafting in ESO is a very MMO-grindy type of thing. Since the start, I had been intending that my main character would be able to craft all the gear that I’d want to use on him. The best set of craftable gear for a light-gear magicka user seems to be the New Moon Acolyte equipment. It requires knowing all 9 traits to craft, and the 9th trait — nirnhoned — is a rabbit hole in and of itself, which I won’t even bother going into here.

Even after solving the nirnhoned rabbit hole problem, there’s the simple issue of time. Researching the 9th trait on any single piece of light gear takes 64 days. Sixty-four in-real-life days, though you can do 3 pieces at a time.

Now, you only need 5 pieces to make a set, so the natural thing to do is to create shoes, pants, chest, belt, and gloves, and finish your armor with a head-and-shoulders monster set. So, at a minimum, there’s something like 8 months required to research enough traits to break into this end-game build-out.

So, for grins, I just searched around on Tamriel Trade Center, and found New Moon Acolyte gear in a guild store. Turns out some master crafter had the same idea. I found all 5 pieces, with the divines trait, and magicka enchantment, just like I intend to create. It costs, like, $6K per item. So it only cost me like 30,000 gold to just buy the stuff, and anyone can afford that.

I guess I’m going to be playing the game, and time will be passing, so I can keep researching, and eventually be able to do this myself, but this experience has really slowed my roll on bothering with the whole thing. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of upside to solving the nirnhoned puzzle to get to the point of being able to create 9-trait gear.

The Reports of the End of an Era Were Greatly Exaggerated

I’m still working through the issues of getting respectable DPS numbers in ESO, because — of course — I can’t leave it alone. It’s impossible to dictate a single approach to any build, because there are so many factors involved, and so many ways of going about it, and most of it seems to be interchangeable. Is it better to have higher base damage, for every hit? Or it better to have higher critical damage, which fires by chance? Or is it better to have a higher chance of hitting critically? Or is it better to have higher damage on elemental effects? Or… on and on it goes. Videos like this help, but the numbers are also affected by the way you play the game, and are not always absolute.

I bought a better secondary set of gear through a guild store (which turned out to be much less expensive than I thought). I re-enchanted my main weapon with a different glyph, and changed the trait with transmute gems. I re-spec’d my CP. I obtained the “monster set” that everyone recommends for my build (which is really cool, when it proc’s). I’ve changed my rotation to what I want to do, with the understanding of exactly why I have each item on my action bar, and when to use it.

I’m getting 13K without trying. If I really concentrate, and apply all the buffs I can, I can get into the high teens. I’m hitting groups for over 30K, sometimes 40K. While this isn’t winning any awards, I no longer have to feel like I’m effectively shut out of running trials. Most importantly, the game is just fun now. I don’t have to dread walking around the over world. If I pull aggro from a random encounter, I can kill it in a second. It no longer feels like everything is a slog. I solo’d a public dungeon with 7 bosses in it last night. I only died a couple of times, and that’s because I was talking to people while doing it.

Now the situation changes. Now I’m going to start working with one guild to sell stuff to make the money I need to buy nirncrux and work with another guild to get the nirnhoned-trait gear I need to research so that I can unlock crafting my own set of high-end, end-game gear. Maybe by the time I can create that, I can also max out enchanting and jewelry to make the best glyphs and jewelry, and collect the improvement mats to upgrade everything to legendary, and the transmute gems to correctly trait everything (whatever that means).

I’ve maxed out the fighter and mage guild lines. I continue to work on the psijic guild line. I’m still trying to collect all the sky shards in the game. If you really work at it, I’m thinking there really are enough skill points in the game to max out all the crafting stuff, and still have all the skills you would want for fighting. I’ve managed to collect all the crafting except metalworking, and I have more skills than I know what to do with, and I still have, like, half the sky shards to collect, and that’s not even counting all the questing I haven’t done, or half the group dungeons I’ve not done for the first time.

The point is that there are still several more passives — and about 600 more CP — I can throw on this build, and I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I feel like I can lighten up a bit now, and just get on with collecting while I wait for researching to finish. Something tells me that I’m going to wind up buying research scrolls, if I’m going to really see this through…

Is This the End of an Era?

I don’t have a lot of memories from when I was young. All I have are a few bits and pieces from my early grade-school days. However, one thing I remember pretty vividly was discovering a Space Invaders arcade game in the super market when I was 6. It started a lifetime pursuit of video gaming that has been obsessive at times.

I’ll be honest: I stunk at early coin-op video games. I couldn’t clear 4 boards in Pac-Man. I couldn’t get through 3 levels of Donkey Kong. I fared a little better in Asteroids. It wasn’t until Defender that I found a game I could actually play fairly well. I got to where I could always get to the space stage, and usually back to Earth again. This was around 6th grade for me, and it was probably just a function of getting a little older, and able to understand more of the mechanics.

By this time, I had a Commodore 64 at home, and was playing a lot of games on it, too. Badly, of course. Hard Hat Mack stood out as a platformer which was particularly difficult, but one which my sister and I spent a lot of time with. There was Archon, which I mastered. And M.U.L.E., which I could win. But getting good at these games came at a cost. I, uh, “went through” several joysticks during this phase.

The landscape truly changed for me in my sophomore year of high school with the release of The Bard’s Tale. As much time as I had been spending with video games, in general, they were self-limiting because of the difficulty. But The Bard’s Tale was different. If you were getting beat by the game, you could retreat, lick your wounds, level up, buy better gear, use a different strategy, and then have another go. This was different. It wasn’t so punishing. I played a lot of Bard’s Tale. My sessions would last so long that I took the cover off the floppy drive, and used a house fan to keep it cool. I’ve never been any good at staying up all night, but I do remember playing the game for 25 hours straight once. Then there was Bard’s Tale 2 and 3. And Centauri Alliance.

During college, some good friends a couple doors down had a Nintendo. I missed out on the first Zelda, because I didn’t have one, but I remember staying up many nights playing Zelda II. I can’t remember for sure if I beat it, but I think I did. I do remember it being super difficult. It was the first time that I broke through the “git gud” in order to play a game. I know what this looks like. I know what it feels like.

After 30-35 years of obsessive video gaming, I’ve noticed that I’m really slowing down. There are times where I don’t really want to play video games, but I’ll play one any way, because there’s nothing else I want to do instead. There’s not much I want to stream, and even though I read voraciously as a kid, I don’t enjoy it very much any more.

My issue with gaming and difficulty has really been coming to a head with the quarantine. I’ve been part of a great group of guys who had been playing Gloomhaven every week for several months leading up to the pandemic. To keep playing, I bought 4 of us the “game” Tabletop Simulator on Steam, which has a free plugin for playing Gloom. We tried it out over the course of a couple sessions, and found that it was fiddly, and prone to irreversible error. So we kept looking for something we could all play online, and finally settled on Elder Scrolls Online. That first week, another friend turned to me at our first streaming-only church service, and asked, “So what MMO are we going to start playing?” I said, “Funny you should ask…”

We’ve been playing it a lot. Like, a LOT. I just checked Steam, and it reports that I’ve spent 247 hours with it in the past 2 months. That’s 6 man-weeks. That represents a solid chunk of time I could have spent doing something else. Something productive. Something self-improving.

Two of the other guys had played a lot of World of Warcraft, but I’ve never played an MMO before. I was prepared for the infamous WoW “grind.” ESO is not like this. You can max a character in probably 20 hours. Then ESO’s system of Champion Points kicks in, and starts a long process to max out. But! Those CP’s are shared amongst your characters. I really like this system. It’s not overly grind-y. If you start a new character, you can get them into the CP fairly quickly, and then they also collect and share CP’s with all of your other characters.

The problem for me has been player-versus-player. I never wanted ANYTHING to do with PvP, because I didn’t want to be humiliated by “bucket” players. However, in my quest for sky shards and their attendant skill points, I ventured into Cyrodiil, and into raw player-vs-player interaction. As predicted, everyone I’ve ever run across has killed me in a couple of hits. If I even bothered to try to fight back, I never even scratched my opponent. Likewise, the battlegrounds are an utter joke for me.

This led me to get serious about looking at my build, and what sort of damage a magicka sorcerer should be able to do. Based on build guides I had read, I thought I had a decent setup for PvE. Then one of my guys joined a PvE guild, and told me that they ran trials and world bosses on a regular schedule, so I joined too.

I joined the guild’s Discord. Before my first run began, I asked what sort of DPS numbers they would expect me to be doing, and the clan leader said “around 20K.” I had just used a target dummy before this, and had gotten 18K DPS, so I thought I was good to go. We ran the trial, and the combat metrics add-on showed me that I had done a mere 3.3% of the total damage in the final fight. I was doing about 3,800 DPS. It was, frankly, embarrassing. Turns out the dummy I had used in the clan-leader’s house was one which represented having all the buffs you could get in a trial, from the whole group.

So I’ve looked at various other build guides. I’ve watched videos. I’ve respec-ed. Crafted and bought better gear. Spent more CP. Last night, after staying up too late, I tried a target dummy with more changes, and I got 5,500. 5,500? 5,500! All of the guides I read agree that 20-25K should be no problem. Like, no effort at all. Lots of people say that they can get upwards of 40K, but many agree this takes real talent at “weaving.” I see people who demonstrate 60-70, and I’ve even seen one at 95! I’m getting all of 5.

I saw a post on the ESO forums from a guy who was stuck at 15K, and people were telling him “simple” changes to get into the 20’s. Meanwhile, I can’t even get on paper. And the worst part is that I have literally no idea how I could be doing any better. OK, sure, I could grind to CP810, and then grind trials, group delves, and world bosses to get top-tier gear, and then spend the resources to improve them, re-enchant them, and re-trait them, but the way the math works in the game, these kinds of changes look like they might add up to 20-30% better stats. I’m behind the curve by at least 400-500%; maybe even 1000-2000%. More CP and better gear will not fix my problem, and I don’t know how I could be executing people’s supposed 40K-rotations any better.

And even if I could master some 40-60K build/rotation on a target dummy, I literally have no idea how this would translate to actually running around the game, where you have to keep moving to avoid enemy attacks and AoE’s.

In all my years of gaming, I’ve never been stuck like this. And I’ve played Battlefield! I know how to work on fundamentals and learn the mechanics, and get to a competitive place in difficult games. I may not win, but I’m almost always a threat. I literally have nothing this time around. I realize that this is the game. The weaving and the rotations, working in tandem with your gear, is the main mechanic. I get it. But, as of this writing, I have no clue as to what to work on or change.

I’ve been noticing a trend with me and video games. I think it started with Rogue Legacy. This is a great game with terrific mechanics, wonderful graphics, good music, a great premise… and I absolutely suck at it. I can get to a certain point, and then I just can’t go any further. I’m not good enough to get far enough into a run to earn enough gold to pay for any of the available upgrades, and the restart “tax” effectively stops any further progression. Which is too bad, because otherwise, I love it!

Other games that come to mind are Crystal Catacombs (which I helped fund), Wasteland 2 (which I also helped fund), The Binding of Isaac, FTL, Dicey Dungeons, and Children of Morta. All of these are games I like, but which get to a level of difficulty I just can’t be hassled to overcome. These are mostly short-run, “rogue-like” games, but there are triple-A’s in there too, like Dishonored, which made me give up early on because every approach I tried to be stealthy on one level wound up failing. I just don’t have the requisite patience. Then there are games like Spider-Man PS4 and Borderlands 3, which are such utter slog-fests, that they just wear me out and take the fun out of it. And, finally — and especially — DOOM Eternal. I’m trying to play it on the easiest level, and it’s still such a chore to clear the levels that I consider the $90 super-deluxe pre-order (because I loved the first one so much) to be akin to throwing my money in the toilet, because it’s just not… you know… fun! The first one was amazing. This one? Ug.

It would be one thing for me to complain that I’m an old man now, and don’t have the patience to “git gud” at the “hard” games any more, but most of these are more-casual games, so I’m kind of stuck with modern gaming, in general. It’s kind of depressing to effectively be told that my favorite pastime is forcing me out because I suck at it. I guess the industry is telling me to go suck my thumb and play Minecraft or Terraria or something, but those kind of games never appealed to me.

What’s been surprising to me is that I can easily solo the content I’m supposed to be able to in ESO, so I’m clearly not doing something fundamentally wrong. But I’m also clearly not doing enough right to succeed at the end-game content, and there are no hints or clues from going through the game missions to point me towards what I should be doing any differently. I don’t know if I’m going to continue trying to fool with this or not. I don’t know what comes next, but I felt the need to save at this checkpoint, and get my thinking out of my head.

And maybe it’s time that I don’t figure it out this time.