Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Red Dead Redemption - Part 2, 'The World'

Having now completed Red Dead Redemption 2 I can fill in the rest of my overview of the game world. This post pertains to the two epilogues when the 'exclusion zone' restricting your unhindered entry into the southern part of West Elizabeth (below Blackwater) and New Austin is lifted...

RDR2 Map - Epilogues

BLACKWATER & SOUTHERN WEST ELIZABETH TERRITORY

Up until the epilogue(s) the town of Blackwater is pretty much off-limits to you - as is the southern part of West Elizabeth (and as a consequence New Austin as well) - due to you being 'wanted dead or alive' in that territory. However, as the game resolves its story this area opens up and you are free to explore the map all the way down to the San Luis River, which marks the border with - a tantalizingly near but unreachable - Mexico.


Prior to the epilogue(s), I travelled as far as the very edges of the Blackwater exclusion zone, wandering down from the town of Strawberry to the Upper Montana River. Once you reach the epilogue you can cross the Upper Montana into the mid-western part of West Elizabeth which is characterised by the spooky Tall Tree forested area, home to the dreaded Skinner Brothers gang...

Red Dead Redemption 2 - Tall Trees Region
Tall Trees forest occupies the mid-western half of West Elizabeth and a demarcation zone which
separates the greener 'north' of the 'world' and the beginnings of the dryer and more arid 'south'.
You can also - if you prefer - cross the Upper Montanna closer to Blackwater. The game's plot makes this bustling town central to the later part of the storyline and you will be undertaking the majority of the final missions from this key location...

Red Dead Redemption 2 - Blackwater View
The booming town of Blackwater is the hub which links the wooded highlands of the north-west, the
grassy plains of the mid-east and the increasingly arid wildlands of the south-west.
From Blackwater - westwards - the grasslands of the Great Plains begin to turn into prarie as we make our journey to the last region in our story...

 NEW AUSTIN & THE 'BADLANDS'!

Crossing the Lower Montana River we see a marked change in the geography, climate and ecosystem, we are entering 'spaghetti western' country! Well, actually, it's the classic 'painted desert' country we see in Westerns shot in Arizona, beautiful red, mauve and pink sand and rock basins and escarpments.

RDR2 New Austin Territory Scene

RDR2 New Austin Territory Scene

It's amazing to think that New Austin, a minor territory in Red Dead 2, is - essentially - the main play area of the original game! This is how much more Rockstar Games have squeezed into the second game. And yet, frustratingly, we cannot visit Mexico which was the other half of the RDR1 'world'.

We can just stare, longingly, across the San Luis River - Red Dead's equivalent of the Rio Grande - wishing Rockstar had just gone that extra mile (or so) and allowed us to visit what we can see in the distance...

RDR2 - Looking Across San Luis River to Mexico
I look wistfully over the San Luis River at an intriguing Mexican walled town that I cannot visit!

There are just a few missions based in New Austin, mainly centred on the tiny hamlet of Tumbleweed. I would have preferred more, but the game had to end somewhere and - to be honest - even if Rockstar had stretched the game out with a few missions more  I would have still moaned when they were completed. I just didn't want the game to end!

RDR2 New Austin Territory - Tumbleweed
Tumbleweed, the ass end of the world!
It was probably fitting that Tumbleweed was - in effect - the end of the trail, cowboy... Ye-ha!

Red Dead Redemption 2 - The End

Monday, 10 February 2020

Red Dead Redemption - Part 1, 'The World'

...It's been a while since my last blog-post despite promising myself to post more regularly. However, in my defence, I didn't expect my free time to be completely hogged by a game which I think can be fairly described as clinically addictive!

RDR2_Gunfight

Red Dead Redemption 2 was the most anticipated game for PC in 2019, perhaps made even more desirable because - initially - it was only released on consoles. I was a relatively new convert to the Rockstar 'way' of making games - having just completed my first introduction to their 'Grand Theft Auto' series, GTA5 - and so I was completely on board with the idea of a Wild West 'version' of their seminal outlaw action-adventure format.

So, having finally* reached 50% (80 hours worth of play) through RDR2's story campaign, I feel I've enough gaming time under my belt to be able to give a fair overview of what entering Rockstar's 'West World' is like...

Red Dea Redemption 2 - Entering Valentine

* I am not just sticking to the main story campaign, but rather I have been undertaking side missions, quests and achievements AND just doing a bit of wandering around. Hence why it's taking me a while just to get this far into the game.


THE WORLD... (Story Chapters 1-4)

They say size isn't everything (smirk), well we all know that isn't true! Rockstar has a reputation for creating amazingly detailed and massive game 'worlds' - GTA5's area blew me away with how enormous it seemed - but with Red Dead 2 they have surpassed themselves.

Red Dead Redemption 2 Screenshot 2020.01.16 - 18.59.23.86

Now I cannot say that - mathematically - the RDR2 play area (chapters 1-4, that's as far as I have gotten) is bigger than that of GTA5, all I can say is that it gave me the impression that it was very much bigger. It may have something to do with the fact that your main mode of transport is a horse - though there are fast travel options - or it may be to do the lushly detailed Western environments, but whatever it is Rockstar make you believe you are in a vast American 'West' in the 1890s.

Red Dead Redemption 2 Map
The Red Dead Redemption 2 game area map. This small picture really doesn't do the size of
the play area justice, it's huge! Follow this link to see a zoomable interactive map, but be
warned, this web page contains spoilers! ---> https://rdr2map.com/

I say 'West' as a generic term to describe the geography of the 'Western' genre, but - in fact - Rockstar has squeezed several different biomes into their map which we broadly recognise as 'Western' environments, even if some of them aren't strictly speaking 'west'!

Here's my take on the RDR2's habitats, although all the game's regions are amalgams of, perhaps, two or three US states (Rockstar packed a lot in)...Again, this is just Chapters 1-4 (50%) of the story campaign (as far as I have got)!

Red Dead Redemption 2 - Part 1



AMBARINGO (north): References Wyoming and 'The Rockies' or even Southern Canada (in the extreme north-west of the map) and will put you in mind of movies like  Clint Eastwood's 'Pale Rider' [1985] or Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight' [2015].

Red Dead Redemption 2 Screenshot 2020.01.20 - 13.03.42.47
The story begins in the snowy northern mountains...

Red Dead Redemption 2 Screenshot 2020.01.16 - 18.57.46.04
...And then moves out of the snowy north to the forested mountains as you journey to your new home.


NEW HANOVER (middle-east): References the mid-western grass plains and woodlands of Dakota, classic 'cowboy country', full of steers and...Er, squirrels. Think of highly underrated 'Open Range' [2003] starring Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall. New Hanover also includes Pennsylvania-like environs at its eastern edge.

RedDead Redemption 2 - New Hanover Plains
The plains just east of the town of Valentine.
Red Dead Redemption 2 - The Open Range (New Hanover)
The open range of New Hanover (looking west towards the town of Valentine).
Red Dead Redemption 2 - Looking South Towards Annsburg
The extreme north-east of New Hanover looking south over the town of Annesburg. This part of
the map is reminiscent of Pensylvania with its logging and mining. The mighty Lannahechnee
River marks the eastern edge of 'the world'!


WEST ELIZABETH (middle-west of map): Is reminiscent of Colorado and California, transitioning from the Wooded, rocky highlands in its north to the dry grassy plains in its south. Movies that put me in mind of these locations are either version of 'True Grit', the 1969 John Wayne classic or the very well crafted and very enjoyable 2010 version with Jeff Bridges.

Red Dead Redemption 2 - West Elizabeth

Red Dead Redemption 2 - West Elizabeth
The wooded valleys of West Elizabeth thin the further south your travel until they meet the
grassland on the border with New Austin.


LEMOYNE (south-east): 'The South', very little doubt about this although it does still combine various ideas of what 'the south' is, geographically and politically. Lemoyne incorporates what is referred to as the 'deep south', the cotton plantation area (Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina), to its west. In its northeastern third, it features the swamp infested Bayou with the mighty Kamasa River (Mississippi?) running south through it. And at the region's south-eastern tip is the glittering city of Saint Denis (New Orleans?), RDR2's largest municipal. I'm a bit hard-pushed to think of 'Westerns' that were set in 'The South' (outside of Civil War-themed movies), the best I can do is Tarantino's 'Django Unchained' [2012].

Red Dead Redemption 2 - Plantation
The east of Lemoyne is commensurate to the 'deep south', with its plantations and echoes of the
Confederacy...

Red Dead Redemption 2 - The Swamps

Red Dead Redemption 2 - The Bayou
The feted 'Bayou' north of Saint Denis, infested with the creepy 'Night Folk' and hungry 'gators!


NEW AUSTIN (south-western region): Although I haven't 'visited' this region yet (it seems to feature in the latter half of the game, which I haven't reached yet) from what I have seen and read - tangentially - New Austin seems to be intended to resemble New Mexico and Texas. So, think of Clint Eastwood's 'Pale Rider' [1985] or 'The Magnificent Seven'! (We are getting into Spaghetti Western country!)

Note: Unfortunately, I have only just reached the border of New Austin in the game. The picture below shows as far as I can travel at the moment as I am wanted 'Dead or Alive' over the border. You can just make out how New Austin is a drier territory than it's northern neighbours. I will be updating this post as I progress through the second half of the game.

Red Dead Redemption 2 - West Elizabeth's Southern Grass Plains
West Elizabeth's southern border, the greenery of the mid-west begins to give way
to the dry grasslands of New Austin territory.
And that's 'the world' of RDR2...At least, until Chapter 4 - I'll update this post once I complete the game with the additional locations...

BUT...HOW DO YOU GET THERE?

GTA5 was a game of automobiles and freeways - the clue is in the name - and although the map was big you didn't get the feeling that anything was too far away. With Red Dead 2, however, the horse is central to the gameplay. Your four-legged friend is not only a mode of travel it can also play a decisive role in how some of the adventures pan out! (I will say no more at this time, BUT unlike cars, horses have a mind of their own, be warned!)

TheGang_Onhorses_0001


That said, galloping across the breadth of the RDR2 world can push the realism versus players patience dynamic to breaking point! There are times when it's nice to trot along admiring the beautiful scenery, but there are other times when you just want to get to the next mission or quest. Because of that, there is a fast travel option (in fact, there are three)...

Fast Travel Option No. 1 - The Campfire
Wait, what? A campfire is a fast travel option? OK, this sounds strange but think of it this way, Red Dead takes a lot of its cues from the Western movie genre and in a movie you don't see the cowboy travel all the way on a long journey, do you? No, you have a cut transition or maybe a montage to imply he has undertaken a long journey.

Imagine a Western without the transition, a classic movie like 'The Searchers' [1956, John Wayne] would be many days - if not weeks - long! No, we all accept the suspension of disbelief when it comes to the time in which it takes to travel in Wild West movies. And that's what the campfire is, its a cutscene...

Red Dead Redemption 2 - Camp, Fast Travel


Fast Travel Option No. 2 - The Stagecoach
While the stagecoach is a more conceptually realistic mode of transportation - than the campfire's 'teleportation' - it still relies on the movie technique of implied passage of time via the use of the montage.

You board a coach - at one of the several stage stops dotted around the countryside - and after a few pictorial transitions hey, presto you are at your desired location! This service incurs a small charge...

Red Dead Redemption 2 - Stagecoach


Fast Travel Option No. 3 - The Train
Very much like the stage, train lines snake around the map and you can take a ride if you buy a ticket at one of the stations. It's worth noting that the campfire, stage and train do not all cover the same locations and, in fact, you can only fast travel to certain locations by means of a particular fast travel system. It would be worth mapping out which fast travel system goes where just so you know how to quickly and reliably get from A to B in Red Dead 2...

Red Dead Redemption 2 - Fast Travel by Train

A point to note: In all these travel modes your horse travels with you! Yes, even if you take the stage or a train, when you arrive at your destination your trusty mount is there waiting for you. It's a bit of a fudge, but saves you from renting or buying a new horse every time you go on a long trip.

And that's as far as I've gotten...

As I've mentioned (repeatedly, sorry) I'm just 50% through the game and about to start Chapter 4. So, how the game might expand 'the world' from here I'm unsure. But, I will update this post to reflect any additional geography that comes into play. I'm quite looking forward to New Austin.

Next in the series: 'The Story & Weapons'...

Sunday, 5 January 2020

PC Desk Refurb 2019/2020 - Part 1

2020 is the year I intend a big refurb of my 'man cave', my craft stroke Hobbie stoke PC gaming room had become little more than a storage dump for the rest of the house. It had gotten so bad that I could hardly get to any of my desks without having to clamber over boxes and crap and in the end I just gave up on certain hobbies (like model making) and all that was left was my PC gaming because I managed to keep a narrow alleyway between the stairs and my computer desk!

So, just before Christmas, I started cleaning things up a bit and made plans to rejuvenate each individual workspace by upgrading the desks and some of my equipment and storage space. First on my hitlist was my computer desk...

PC desk setup 2014
My 2014 computer desk setup. Geez, look at that monitor! Still, at least it was neat and uncluttered,
by 2019 you could hardly see any desk for the piles of crap that infested my attic room!




 

Man Cave Refurbishment 2019 - Project No. 1: Upgrading My Computer Desk...

 

The main issue I was having with my computer desk arrangement was the yards of unorganized cable spaghetti underneath which I was constantly catching my feet in! I have actually tripped myself over and nearly broken several peripherals as I have gotten up from my desk with wires wrapped around my ankles. That needed sorting.

Also wiring related was the number of loose cables I had all over the top of the desk. I have so many gadgets scattered around - and they are all wired - that I often got tangled up while gaming. It was not an uncommon thing for me to 'die' in a game because my mouse wire had got knotted up with some other device... On those occasions, the air was heavily laden with expletives.

Step 1: Repairing My Desk
My trusty old desk is a cheap flatpack 'veneered chipboard in mock 'pine'. It's been with me for nigh on 15 years and has been put together and taken apart again and again, and as a result has been bashed about and chipped. So, job number one is for me to repair some of the chips and dents so that I can begin with a pristine piece of furniture...

Desk edge repair
Some of the worst damage to my desk is right at the front edge and so very obvious and, therefore,
I'm going to fill in and sand these dinks so I get a nice sharp edge again.

Cheaper than buying a new desk, I filled in all the big gauges that had accrued over the years using Milliput putty. This is great stuff as it dries very hard and can be sanded smooth. So, once I had a nice sharp edge again I could spray this my chosen colour and the desk should look new-ish again...

I'd decided to go with black for my 'new' desk as I wanted a 'blackout' look to my computing area (everything black so that when the lights were out I had few visual distractions). However, I did not want to spray paint the whole desk as that would be expensive, time-consuming and messy. While I would spray paint my repaired edge I would be covering the rest of the desk surface with vinyl plastic...

deskproject_003

Sorry about the quality of photos, by the way, my attic is a bit dark and I was using my iPhone for the snaps! Hopefully, you can still make out what's going on...

Rectangular Cabel Grommit
160 x 80 Black metal desk cable tidy outlet. (Amazon, set of 4, £8.49.)

Anyway, satisfied with my desk's new edge I had installed some access panels in the top so I could thread my peripheral cabling though.

I would buy several sizes and shapes of these cable 'grommets' and fit them all over my desk to make threading wires a lot easier. To do this involved a lot of drilling of holes and this turned out to be a bit of a pain and required a special drill bit for the round-shaped grommets.

Additionally, and very much typically, my desk turned out to be made of bullet-proof compressed chipboard! Honestly, it was really solid and took ages for me to drill and saw through, even with the proper tools...

Desk cabling grommets
View from underneath my desk. Here I have fitted two different types of cable grommets, a
rectangular 'letterbox' type for my desk surface and a round plastic version for plugs sockets.

You'll notice that in the above picture - showing a couple of grommet installations - that I did not bother to paint or cover the underneath of my desk at this point. I decided that I would quickly spray the vertical back panel black once I had test fitted its grommets, but I was not going to bother covering the underneath of the desk surface itself as nobody was going to see that!

Step 2: Painting and Covering My Desk
As mentioned, I decided to go with a black desk, but also wanted a nice wood grain effect on the top. So I bought some JLCorp Matte Black Grain Wood Textured Self-Adhesive Contact Paper Vinyl Film from Amazon for this. I could have got something similar locally, but not the width I wanted. Even so, the sheet was still not big enough to cover the whole desktop in one go so I had to lay it in two strips and hope the join wasn't obvious...

deskproject_004
Again, sorry about the quality of the photos.
deskproject_005

This stuff really has a beautiful fake wood grain on it and it has really smartened up my old desk. Ones stuck down I re-installed my grommets and continued drilling holes elsewhere in my desk. Everywhere else I wanted black I just sprayed with Wilko's Satin Acrylic spray paint, it was a bit smelly (had to have the windows wide open) but it was very quick.

Desk Upgrade - Drilling Cable Holes
Having the right tools for the job is always advisable. Even so, cutting the round holes in my
chipboard desk was a bit of a grind. If you decide to do this I would suggest you use a proper
wired drill or a high-powered professional battery drill. My cheapo 18v made this hard!

Step 3: Fitting the Wiring System
An important part of this project was that I wanted a proper cable tidy system. I got completely fed up of getting my feet knotted in loose hanging USB cables and pulling stuff over. Although I have decided - finally - to go down the wireless route when and where I can this will be a long term project (due to the expense) so in the meantime, I am making sure all the cables I have are neatly laid and securely tucked away.

Desk Upgrade - Cable Tray
Ikea SIGNUM Cable Duct Horizontal, Silver Metal Clips, Grey, 86 x 21 x 5 cm

The centrepiece of my cable tidying strategy was the purchase of a cable duct - a sort of wire cradle for keeping all the wires which run the length of my desk from hanging down untidily. There are a lot of different designs of these ducts and as it turned out I sorta went for one of the larger ones and this particular purchase decision would come back to haunt me later. So - TIP! Measure up your desk in detail and match it to the purchases you make. Amazon lists dimensions so you should be able to get a fair idea about fit before you actually purchase... I wish I had! :)

Anyhoo... At least the thing was very easy to fit and I did like the open wire construction which would allow me to weave cables in and out of the cradle at any point along its length. I was originally going to spray this cradle black to help hide it, but as it tuned out it wasn't actually silver - as it looks in the pictures - but actually, a gun-metal grey, which I liked so I left it unpainted.

PC Desk Project - Cable Tidy System

With all my cable tidying bits and bobs fitted I then sprayed the desk's back panel black and attached the electrical socket extension. I went for a large eight-socket extension (I could have gone 10) and wired it's cable back through a round grommet so I could stick it up on the back of the panel using some little self-adhesive 'hooks' so that the cable was hidden.

I decided to mount the socket extension front-facing so as to make plugging and unplugging convenient, but there was actually plenty of space behind the desk panel for me to have mounted it behind instead. I'm still mulling over whether I actually should have done this. Hmmmmm...

...And Pause!
And that's about as far as I was able to go at this point in time. I was going to start wiring up my gadgets BUT sudden;y realised that I had more USB devices than I had USB ports on my PC!

Now I did have a nice USB 3.0 powered hub, but this only had five ports in it and I calculated that I really needed seven. This was a by-product of my opting for some desktop 'mood lighting' with extra LED strips and accessories. But it means that I now have to pay out for a good 7-10 port USB hub and they ain't cheap...

So, sadly, I had to pause here while I waited for the next payday - as Christmas was nearly upon us and I just couldn't justify splashing out £20-30 when I still had pressies to buy! This also meant that my original plan to 'have this done by Christmas' was blown out the water and that the job would now stretch into 2020! Ah well...

Next: I continue with my wiring and think about some other little additions to my PC 'workspace'.