First, sorry for the earlier blog post false alarm. I went to save my progress on the draft, and hit the wrong button and published it instead. My bad. ¯\ _(ツ)_/¯
Ok, so it’s been a while since the last entry. As you are doubtless aware. My last entry was Feb 4th, a couple of weeks into my stay in Seville, and my time was starting to free up a bit. I was doing less gaming: leaving Skyrim, playing a little Fallout Shelter on the iPad, and doing a little more Elder Scrolls Online but not a great deal. I was doing yoga every morning, doing a little walking around the city (mostly, but not exclusively, in search of groceries), watching a bit more TV, and thankfully starting to read properly again. It was good to have the time back!
And then it all came crashing down.
The Elder Scrolls Online folks released an update in mid-January that added the ability to buy player homes in the game (with in-game gold or with real-world cash), and to add on to them, build structures, and decorate. This sort of thing is like crack cocaine to me — you may remember me mentioning the settlement building functionality in Fallout 4? I spent countless hours building up small towns around post-apocalyptic Boston, and setting the settlers up with food, water, and electricity, defenses, housing, etc. There wasn’t a settlement in Boston that wasn’t a fully functioning seed of a restored civilization when I was done with them, and it was time consuming and awesome. I’ve loved planning houses and building since I was a kid — age 8, designing underground homes based on stuff I’d read in my dad’s hippie, alternative living magazine (Mother Earth? Mother Jones? I no longer remember the magazine’s name, but I’m almost certain it was Mother Something. It was 1970.). And I spent weeks building Skyrim housing add-ons. Software architecture scratches much the same design itch, but in the last 5 years of building housing mods for Skyrim, settlements in Fallout, and now home building in ESO, I’m starting to suspect that I may have missed my calling as an actual building architect. Ah well, next lifetime, perhaps.
So, I buy a convenient home in the game, and then have to start roaming the landscape searching for building materials, and building a deck, and lights, and fireplaces, and laundry rooms, and all of that. In preparation for this blog post, I spent a little time recording what the place looked like before:
(Note: this is a little choppy at the start, thanks to running the game and the recording software at the same time and straining the system. It settles down after 20-30 seconds, after I leave the starting town.)
Mum recently talked me into entering the place into a little housing contest that one of our player guilds was having, and then she played hostess to the judges (since it was the middle of the night, my time, and I was asleep). I entered it with some reluctance, but Mum is quite the saleswoman (to me, and to the judges) and I took first place! 🙂 So, time well spent.
Just as I was winding down on home-building (I continue to tweak the place, but the basic work on it was done in the first month), ESO started an anniversary event for the release of one of their add-ons, the Thieves’ Guild DLC.
(DLC is “downloadable content”, extra stuff you can add to the main game after its release. Most big games have a few big DLC packages that you can buy, to keep the game fresh and interesting, and never-ending games like MMOs (Massively Multi-player Online games) will keep adding stuff indefinitely.)
I’d never played the Thieves’ Guild DLC (nor a couple of the others), because I was sunk into Fallout 4 when it came out, but there was some special stuff you could get if you played it during this anniversary event, so I thought that I probably should start it. I’ll omit all of the riveting details of my gaming experience and just say that it was, in fact, fun. And it took about a month, getting me from Seville to Barcelona.
Just as that was winding down, they started an April Fools event, the Jester Festival! More fun — and rather silly — stuff to do, and… well, let’s just say that you could get lots of fun/cool things if you did that stuff, repeatedly, every day, with every character you’d created for the game.
If this sounds painfully repetitive… you need not check your hearing, because how it sounds is pretty much exactly how it ended up being. I have a built-in inclination to try to optimize results, and if I can get the most stuff by doing a repetitive thing for a bit, then I’ll do it without thinking twice. Unfortunately, this meant spending about 3 hours a day for the whole month of the event — just doing the repetitive, administrative tasks, without even playing any new, adventure-y content — and I was really feeling pretty done with the whole affair as the end of that month approached. (This covered mid-Barcelona to my first couple of weeks in Edinburgh.)
Then they announced a Brand New Event, this time for the anniversary of the game’s original release 3 years ago. More. Stuff. You. Could. Get. Now, I was actually starting to get a bit cross. “OMG, give me at least a short break between events, it’s too much!” But, if you play the game, it was really good stuff to get! So, gritting my teeth slightly, I started the new event, running all of my characters (I had 8, and made a 9th for the event) through variations of the same activities every day. There were actually a lot more activities I *could* have been doing daily, but I stuck to the handful that got me the most rewards in the shortest amount of time; they were really as much as I could handle. (Have pity for my poor mother, who has something like 40 characters spread across 3-4 accounts. And understand that at least I come by the trait honestly!)
For what it’s worth, much of this was, in fact, fun. I did actually manage to get a lot of long-term game goals accomplished during this event, which made me very happy, and I’ve been getting the benefit of that time investment ever since. And I spent some serious time with that brand new 9th character, and got him quite advanced in abilities and he’s going to be very useful for certain types of game activities. But by the end of all of this, I was about ready to bite the head off lead game designer.
This was roughly weeks 3 through 6 in Edinburgh. Around weeks 3-4, I deleted Fallout Shelter from my iPad; I don’t know how much time I’d spent building up my Shelter in the 20 months or so the game had been out, but it was just too much of a time-suck in addition to the other things. So, I threw it out. This may be reassuring to anyone who worries about game-addiction: once the experience stops being fun, I move on. (To another game, but whatever. Shut up.)
“Newly announced: ‘Morrowind’, a massive, new addition to the Elder Scrolls Online, coming out June 6th! Help us beta test the game! Here’s your exclusive key to download the pre-release software!”
No. Uh-uh. I’m done. By this time, it was the end of April and I needed my space. So I dialed back. I did some beta testing, and it was cool, and I reported a bunch of bugs that I found, and it was nice being able to help them out. But it’s nothing like the time I was spending before, maybe 2-3 hours a day, and I start getting out more, walking more, reading more. And I think that’s the level I’m going to be at for a while, even if they add new events down the line. I expect I’ll cycle up and down a bit on time spent in the game, a bit more when I have a goal I want to accomplish, less in between. That works for me.
They released the expansion early, to people who preordered it, so at the time of this writing I’ve been playing it for about a week and my previous time balance is what I’ve been maintaining, quite easily. A little more, a little less, depending on the day, but it’s been much more balanced.
And that gives me time to catch up on the blog. In theory. No promises. We’ll see how it goes. 🙂
Where Am I Now?
Currently, we heading towards the end of May — at least, that’s what my friends in Scotland are hoping is the case, but the election is still 2 weeks away. Still, Labour is doing really well in the polls, after coming back from terrible polling before the snap election was called. And Jeremy Corbyn had a great and widely watched TV interview, back-to-back with a terrible Theresa May interview, so that helps. Fingers crossed, that the UK should get back to principled and competent leadership. (At least one of us should escape!) In case it wasn’t clear, I am in Edinburgh.
I was originally planning to be here for 2 months, while I possibly looked for a place to possibly stay longer term. But getting a permanent place here has proven to be impractical, as neither of the conventional options works for me. I can’t really rent, because I can only stay in the UK (on a standard visa) for 6 months a year, and renters don’t want to rent to someone who plans to then (effectively) sublet the place on Airbnb for 1/2 the year. And, I can’t really buy: paying cash isn’t an option when my money’s in longer-term investments, and mortgages would be hard to get (local banks don’t want to lend to non-citizens, U.S. banks don’t want to lend on foreign properties).
And, as I’ve had time to let the idea sit, I’m not sure that I actually want to get a place for a longer term. I *love* Edinburgh, it’s my favorite city in the world so far, but there are still other places to see — and certainly cheaper places to live. (My spending rate has been too high this year, and I need to head back towards my original plan of staying in cheaper parts of the world, in keeping with my ‘Jane Austen heroine’ lifestyle.) And, as much as I like being in nice places while I’m in the place, I like moving on to the next new thing even more once I’m on the road again. Which, I guess, means that no matter which I’m doing — staying put or traveling — I like that thing the most, at the time that I’m doing it. And so I guess I can’t complain about that too much. Hence, continuing with my travels really rings more true to me now. It took me a while to resolve that in my head, but I eventually did.
But I decided that, even if I wasn’t moving here, having a break where I didn’t have to move around would be nice, so shortly after I arrived I talked to my host here, Murphy, to see what he thought of my staying an additional 2 months, for 4 months total, and leaving in mid-July. He said, essentially, that I was genial enough, so sure, and that’s what we’re doing.
That means I’ll be here, in Edinburgh’s New Town, a few blocks north of Princes Street, until July 17th.
Where Am I Next?
OMG, I spent so much time and worry trying to figure this out. Lest you think that all I have been doing for the last 5 months was playing games. Which, in fairness, is probably what I was implying above. Granted, I was mostly gaming. But I also:
- Watched the new season of Sense8 just after it was released (goaded into timely viewing by my friend Jenni, who wanted someone to discuss it with)
- Finally watched the 1980s movie A Boy And His Dog, based on the Harlan Ellison scifi novel. Its tale of a boy (late teens / early 20s, played by Don Johnson) and his telepathic dog (played by some sarcastic curmudgeon of a voice actor) surviving in a low-budget, Mad Max, post-WW4 wasteland was one of the inspirations behind the recent Fallout games. The movie is terrible. Teerrrriiibbblllee. Its only redeeming virtue is that it has a happy ending. Of a sort. I liked it. (Read the wiki for spoilers.)
- Watched the new Iron Fist series, the next part of the Marvel/Netflix collaboration. It was… not good. In short, weak writing and plotting, and a lead actor who was supposed to be the world’s best martial artist and instead looked like a sulky harem boy. I’d have gladly watched a series about a sulky harem boy, but not one pretending to be a martial artist. They couldn’t have found *one* young actor with real martial arts chops? One who could hold a basic form? Jeeze. I’d had high hopes for that series, knowing the brilliant comics it was based on and knowing how good the other Marvel/Netflix series were, and I was very disappointed. 🙁
- Read a few books, some of which I’ll mention in these blog posts.
- A *lot* of Twitter. As usual, really — though in the depths of ESO, I mostly read a pared down subset of my usual feed because I just didn’t have time otherwise.
- Just a few days ago, I watched Colossal in the theaters. It may have already come and gone where you are, but I highly recommend it if you can see it. It was weird and funny and kind of horrible and wholly original, and did *not* go where I was expecting, and it’s a wondrous and rare thing to be surprised in the movie theater.
And, within a couple of weeks of arriving in Edinburgh, after confirming with Murphy that I could stay here until mid-July, I started planning my post-July year. As I mentioned before: This. Was. A. Hassle.
I’ll try to compress this hassle into something not too meandery. The Schengen Agreement is the bane of my European travel, particularly this year, because while it creates a single travel zone and conveniently eliminates border checks across nearly all of Europe, it also limits your stay across that whole area to 3 months out of any 6. I barely had to deal with this last year, because most of my places — Croatia, Ireland, and the UK — weren’t part of the Agreement. But this year, I started my trip with 2 months in Spain, so my Schengen 6-month block began in early/mid-January. Then came to Edinburgh, and, if I plan to leave Europe in early November to return to the U.S., that really means that I’ve only got 3 months I can stay in the rest of Europe after I leave Edinburgh. So I either go into the Schengen territories for 3 months and then return to the UK until it’s time to fly home, or I stay in the UK until early August.
I’d thought about Amsterdam and Berlin, but I’d also thought about Norway. A Norwegian cruise was *very* tempting, but *super* expensive; I could live for 3 or 4 months for the cost of a week or two on one of those boats. And, the World Science Fiction Convention is being held in Helsinki, Finland, this year, from August 9-14th. I was pretty sure that I wanted to go to that… but that clearly puts me in Scandinavia in August. And I only have 3 months. And I want to go to Norway. And Airbnb is usually way cheaper if you book for a month at a time. So, 3 months = 3 places. Finland, Norway, ????. And where do I kill time before August 9th that’s not Schengen? It’s pretty much got to be the UK, but where?
Locking this in, as I was researching places and travel arrangements, I tripped across an amazing flight deal: on November 7th, a direct flight from Oslo, Norway, to LA, for $218! There really was no passing that up, so I grabbed it. You may await with anticipation my stories of what a hell flight this surely must be — I very much fear that I will be forced to check my trekking backpack for the first time, for example, and may the gods have mercy on my gaming peripherals. But there we are.
So: Helsinki at the Start, Oslo at the end, and anywhere not in Scandinavia is going to be a nuisance to get to and back from. I toyed with a bunch of variations on this theme, sent a *bunch* of Airbnb requests to places that often had not updated their listings and were not really available for many different reasons, and the only arrangement that ended up working out was: London -> Helsinki -> Oslo -> Stockholm, Sweden -> catch a train back to Oslo and fly home. It’s a slightly imperfect arrangement — it would be better, obviously, if I my last month could have been in Oslo, since I’m leaving for LA from there, but the only Oslo places that I thought were appealing (and affordable) were booked for a chunk of that last month. So, there we are. I’ve updated my itinerary page accordingly.
On with the blog
So, where does this blog go next? I’m going to end this here now. I was considering including the last leftover photos and such from Seville in this post, but after my publishing failure a few hours ago, I think I should just kick this guy out as a general status update, and then do the remains of Seville in the next post. (I’ll start that in the next few days.) Then I’ll write up Barcelona in the post after that, and conclude with Edinburgh — which, in truth, has not changed much since I was here last fall. Except for the weather, which has been amazing and very uncharacteristic of Scotland in late spring. It was 84° a few days ago, warmer than it was in L.A. that day! Simply nuts.
So, thanks for bearing with me these last few months. This blog is always a bit irregular, based on my distractions, and this spring it has been excessively so. But that should be done now. I hope. Feel free to berate me if it’s not. I give you leave. 🙂