The Long Dark — Surviving a Really Bad Game

TheLongDark_CampfireCurrently in The Long Dark I have survived four days and some hours and I’m in a good situation except that now I’m faced with the true horror of the game — tedious boredom. It takes a lot of experimentation to survive four days and also requires a lot of luck and intentional death in previous game lives. You need to die enough to start the game in all the beginning areas and learn their particular quirks. You need to spend many lives simply exploring the sandbox, because there’s no map unless you make one. Since there are no instructions beyond the keyboard map, you need to waste lives finding out how to do things. Most answers you’ll find somewhere on the game forum or in update notes on Steam, but the answers are to questions no player should have to ask so first you’ll need to play and die often enough to be very frustrated. Then, when you’ve become insane because you can’t figure out how to do something terribly simple, you’ll find out through the forum research that the answer is either oddly complex or the game doesn’t allow this.

The sorts of people who write games today must be mentally deficient. If you grow up with computers and cell phones and video games and spend all your time working with those devices, probably one of the most exciting things you can imagine is a tiny keyboard with new key assignments, or maybe a very detailed game with an amazing number of pixels to sort through with your mouse. Thankfully The Long Dark is not a pixel hunt, and so far lacks the need for lying flat on the floor to look under things or jumping high in the air to look on top of things, but probably that is coming soon. No doubt there will be a mini-game within the Long Dark someday where you find a haystack and can actually spend many wonderful hours looking through it for the essential needle while you burn calories and die of hunger and thirst. Some people do think this sort of activity is fun, and those people write today’s games. I think the professional term for that is Asperger’s Syndrome and that might be the norm for the human race after another few thousand years of life with high technology. Then I suppose The Long Dark will be classical literature.

I’m old school when it comes to life in general. I’ve been outside a lot and I’ve actually done many of the things the game includes, so it angers me that the game designers state that they try to make the game as realistic as possible and caution that it’s not actually a survival course (implying that the game might actually include some useful real-world advice). I’ve seen nothing in the Long Dark that’s real, and despite having been told by people on the game forum that actual life is boring and takes a long time, I find the opposite to be true. The game is boring. Life is fine. They could improve the game by modeling it on life, but I suppose that would mean the game designers would have to get out and actually do things and try some of the things they’ve reduced to numbers and algorithms, in order to see what real life is like and how it might fit their game.

Here’s a list of some of the things that have infuriated me (I won’t post this on their forum because they’d have to pay me for this information — I have tons of it):

Fire. Fire is the fundamental resource for arctic survival and you must have it. If you have fire you can even survive naked for a little while, but without it you will surely die. In The Long Dark, until you’ve acquired an unusual amount of resources you really don’t have fire. You start out with 50 percent chance of success and the right materials, but in this game a one-in-two chance of success means nothing. You might use twenty matches with no success. You might use two and get a fire. That’s supposed to be fun, I suppose. Game Designers decided to assign different burn times to different fuels, so no matter how large a stack of firewood you gather, the fire goes out after one load of fuel burns and you have to try again. Use poor fuel and you’ll have to start your fire twenty times. You can’t cook food unless it’s raw. You can’t cook and melt snow and boil water at the same time. None of this makes any sense and it isn’t fun.

Water. You must boil any snow melt water or risk illness. Oh, that aggravates me so much! It’s so pointless! The first thing you learn in arctic survival school is not to eat the yellow snow, and even if you do eat it there’s no risk of illness. Snow is like rain, you can eat and drink as much as you want so long as you have fire, and you don’t need to boil it unless it’s dirty. Even frozen pee won’t make you sick, it’s a good source of salt. Grrr. In this game you can spend all freaking day trying to build a fire and melt snow and boil water and then die because the game won’t allow success. In real life I’d strip naked and go sleep in the snow if I were faced with this level of stupidity.

Opening cans. OMG. You do have several options if you have the right tools such as hatchet, can opener or knife. But if you don’t have any of those you have the smashing option, which yields less food but always works. This angers me because I’ve been in situations where all I had to eat was a couple of cans of food and I had no tools. I remember trying to smash open a can of pork and beans one night on the Nebraska plains when I was hitchhiking across the country and trying to live by civilized rules. I’d never been around civilized people much and I’d picked up some of their preconceptions while in the Army, where people wondered why I would do things like carry a personal knife and survival supplies if I wasn’t actually in a combat zone. Seemed rude to them and I tried to adapt. Then I encountered the can of pork and beans. Cans don’t smash open, they just deform. I know this from real world experience.

Things that don’t freeze. In this game no matter what you do you’ll freeze to death in twenty minutes, yet canned food and bottled water remains liquid. Duh?

Warmth. You can’t warm up by running or walking uphill. Yet you can warm up by stopping in the shelter of a cold rock outcropping and standing in the snow. I so very much want to go hiking with the people who wrote this game and see them try that! One person told me the game makes sense because it’s designed for conditions similar to the Pacific Northwest and he’s been running in the park there in winter. Dude, I lived there for 15 years, even in the summer it’s a great place to die of hypothermia if you actually get out on the water or into the mountains or the woods. But the park is fine, so long as you aren’t homeless and you can run to the next coffee shop and warm up. Warmth in this game just makes no sense at all, it happens for the wrong reasons.

I could go on, but there’s no reason to do that. Some people like The Long Dark, but for me and very likely for anyone else who has some knowledge of the world outside the office cubicle, it’s not entertaining. It’s a bother. World of Warcraft is more realistic and lots more fun. The simple things should not be insurmountably hard. In WoW I can build a fire and cook food, just like in real life, and go on to other things. Which brings me to my last criticism, the most important one of the many I could offer.

Story. There is none. A basic story is implied, as the framework for the game, but you can’t get there because they haven’t built that part. They won’t build it, because they aren’t the sort of creative people who can.

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Lighting Up “The Long Dark” Post-Apocalypse Survival Game


All about surviving in a game world designed by people who don’t get outside much.

I read some very positive reviews of The Long Dark, a survivalist game now in Alpha development and financed partly through crowd-sourced funding. So I bought the sandbox version offered on Steam, because it sounded like fun. Earth suffers a terrible solar storm, the grid goes down, all the machines crash, and you as one of the few survivors find yourself in Canada, thrown into a persistent winter. Survive.

You might like this game. I just find it limiting and frustrating, because I’ve lived in the north country and in the Pacific NW and I know that stuff. Living the hard way is a hobby of mine and I don’t think I’d have much trouble in this particular situation. The Long Dark manages to take something fun and exciting for those of us with minimal real world skills, and transform it into something irritating and pointless. There should be a character creation page where you choose the amount of stupid you want to incorporate into the game-play, but there’s not. There’s one setting, and it’s Maximum Stupid.

Get ready to die soon, and die frequently, if you play more than once. Everything is tweaked to make you die as quickly as possible. Survival depends somewhat on dying often enough that you know the map of the starting zone and can get to the good stuff before you freeze, but it also depends on mastering the clunky interface and learning to exploit the quirks of the game. Yes, you’ll be hungry, and the game will remind you of that, but you can eat everything you have at the start of the game and in twenty minutes you’ll be starving again. Get used to starving and you have a leg up on the Long Dark’s world.

Writers of this game seem to think that dying is fun and entertaining, because they’ve built early death into every part of it. Alice has also been playing and discovered while trying to build a fire outside to prevent death from freezing, that the game will set you on fire and burn you to death. I died recently of a sprained ankle, not to mention the many wolves which have killed me. This irritates me extremely, because I think I’m more than a match for any lone wolf, all I need is a stick or a rock or just my bare hands and I’m fine. Wolf and me will part ways and find something smaller to eat. The game doesn’t allow this, though, and if you are unarmed you find yourself with a lot of wolf in your face and then your only recourse is to press the Left Mouse button for a bit to build up strength, then press the Right Mouse button to punch. Good God! have the people making this game never been in a fight? With a few hundred fights behind me, I can’t recall ever having to stop and build up strength before I punch something. Advice to game writers: Left click equals left jab; Right click equals uppercut; press both for choke. Keep doing this and you get tired, it’s like real life.

I suppose there might be interesting parts of the game ahead, but the art and storyline alluding to such things probably refer to what might be if you send the game-makers free money. So far there are two areas, a frozen lake and a coastal highway, and there’s no story to it. You just wander around. If you manage to acquire enough supplies, it’s an easy gig, but some people who have lived in-game for 150 days get so bored they experiment with killing themselves by kindness. Eat everything you’ve stored up and you’ll get food poisoning and die. Do everything perfectly with no chance of failure and I expect a meteor will land on your head. These people like death, so if you would rather explore and investigate and encounter the primeval world with a basic level of skill and some respectable intelligence, don’t play this. I sense that this is how the game will be, even if it gets bigger.

OK, I’ll make some positive comments now. I liked the way the weather changes, and the graphics are not spectacular but they are pretty and appropriate. The game could get better. Can’t think of anything else. Honestly, if a game is this bad, it’s not ready for Alpha yet.

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Getting My Old VCR Tapes to Play Again

A Simple Fix for an Old VCR Cassette that Won’t Rewind or Fast Forward

Yes, some of us still have VCR’s (I also own an abacus and a slide rule and I know how to use them). My tape collection includes some wonderful stuff that might not even be available any more — I have videos from a survey of martial arts masters in China that includes internal energy demonstrations and kata from styles no one here in West knows. I have taped lessons from Russian Spetnaz experts and retired cops, tapes of all sorts of interesting things. Video tape doesn’t last forever, though, and currently I’m trying to transfer my collection to DVD and hope that media doesn’t go out of vogue as quickly as the VCR did.

I’m finding some of these old tapes to be a little cranky the first time I try to run them. Heat, cold, humidity and who knows what else makes them reluctant to unwind. Sometimes the first try yields nothing but static, then magical things happen and shattered sequences poke through the haze, and if I can get the tape to fast forward and rewind just once it’s usually ok.

Other times, such as today, the recovery method fails. Today’s project was a study of the 18 Lohan Set developed by Da Mo. I got it all the way through the fast forward part of the fix, but then it jammed and wouldn’t rewind. For awhile I thought my ancient VCR had broken, because it refused to play other tapes I’ve played recently, but I remembered my technical training. I turned it off. I turned it on again. Suddenly the good tapes played — some mysterious cog inside snapped back into position during the reboot.

My problem tape, however, still wouldn’t work. The tape wheels would not turn at all, so I decided what the hell, might as well take it apart and see what’s in there. Five Philips head screws hold the case together and the windowed top of the case lifts off easily if you don’t miss screw number five like I did. By the time I did see the recessed center screw I’d forgotten to lift the top off and instead lifted the bottom of the case first.

Don’t do that. Little pieces fall out and suddenly the tape isn’t threaded properly through the rollers any more. I compared what I had to a cassette that was still functional and combining that with my recollections of running the school projector in eighth grade I got everything put back. Wheels turned, I spun a little ways into it manually to see if something was sticking, and nothing was.

Two anchor pawls at the mid point of the case lock both geared tape wheels in position for storage. Inside the VCR tape compartment you can see an upright metal tab that pushes a recessed button on the underside of the cassette when it settles into place. I suppose that the tape was so sticky that when the pawls locked down the tension on them prevented the button from releasing the pawls when pushed. It’s not a tight fit between button and case, and the push tab is thin metal, so it was probably just slipping off.

So the next time this happens I won’t bother taking anything apart. I will just take the point of an ink pen and push the button on the bottom of the cassette. That will release the tension of years of poor storage and then, if I remember to turn the VCR off and then on again, I’ll be back in business.

I found lots of advice online, but I didn’t find this simple fix described anywhere.

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