And now for a little apocalyptic fiction: The Grind

The Grind

Maybe this is some kind of vindictive spin-off of karma. The world ends and there’s life saying, “See? You really didn’t have it so bad, did you? You should have spent less time complaining about your dull existence and more time being thankful you HAD a dull existence.” Karma can kiss my ass. Work did suck. There was a collective understanding that it was the thing you did because you had to, hoping that you’d be able to save enough money in time to stop and enjoy the final few years of your life. We certainly didn’t expect those years to look like this, though.

Somehow, I’ve ended up spending most of the apocalypse at my former place of employment, in my own cubicle no less. This is the truest example of insult added to injury. We always called ourselves corporate zombies, which is so not funny right now. We hated our jobs, we hated our bosses. We wrecked this place in our Glassdoor reviews, despite the fact that it paid our bills.

FYI, right now? This is the grace period. For the uninitiated, that’s the term used to describe the time immediately following an apocalyptic event, when the supplies and products from before are still useful, good, and available. The couple of years before canned food expires, and before metal tools dull and rust. Before the gas goes stale. “Grace period” is a funny thing to call hell on earth.

My favorite films and video games always made the grace period look, well… fun. You know, looting cans of beans, raiding vending machines, grabbing all the first aid kits and pill bottles from the pharmacy? Obviously, stopping by the liquor store, heading straight to the case where they keep the good stuff, the stuff you could never afford, and cleaning that freaking thing OUT. And maybe leaving your credit card on the counter as a symbolic middle finger to capitalism. Taking what you want without any concern for what you can afford, only limited by how much you can carry.

It’s not fun for very long. People often daydream about these scenarios because they want freedom from all the rules and constraints of society. Or at least think they do. The truth is, most of us don’t know the first thing about surviving, and wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves if we didn’t have a clock to punch every morning, meeting reminders throughout the day, and traffic lights to obey every night on the way home.

I worked in a large office park housing several companies. There was a computer manufacturer, a gym, and our company, a global SaaS provider. Software as a Service, which in essence meant we sold nothing. Nothing tangible anyway. But that was the beauty of modern times, you could make a living at that.

Even better, I worked in marketing, where we’d spend the day concocting campaigns to lure people to our website to buy our nothing for use by their companies that also often dealt in the nothing trade (we were B2B). Hell, they didn’t even have to buy; they just had to give us an email address and a name. We were the proverbial foot in the door, the camel’s nose sticking under the tent. After we did our part, it got passed to the sales teams to try and finish the job. That could take over a year, so it was some seriously fuzzy math trying to figure out what we in marketing actually contributed to the whole thing. And we got paid for that.

Granted, it was a nondescript weekday when the world ended, and a lot of people wound up stranded at their day jobs, but I always imagined I’d somehow collect my family and make it back home. We’d fill the truck with necessities and then be heading north to find some remote abandoned cabin. That’s not how it worked out. You’re always the hero in your own apocalypse fantasies, but in reality, most people don’t even make it. If you’re alive to tell the tale, you’re already lottery-grade lucky.

So now I pass down the dark halls of my old office building, walking the winding empty road down to the organic and over-priced lunch place we used to go to. About a mile further down is the main retail strip, featuring a large mall, several car dealerships, a big box store, and of course the ubiquitous Home Depot. And let me tell you, that’s one place you should avoid. If you’re thinking in your own little fantasy that you’ll be the first one there… trust me, you won’t.

There are actually plenty of us still here at the office. There’s safety in numbers, but not numbers too large. Large numbers use up resources, and also draw attention. In many ways, that’s more dangerous than being alone. Make no mistake, there’s a certain segment of the surviving population that’s violent. Those guys behave exactly like in the movies. Fear the living, right? Sad but true. I suppose their type was secretly looking forward to this day. They’re armed to the teeth, eager to shoot first and ask questions later. Or not at all.

I honestly wouldn’t have thought hunger would be this much of an issue. Of course, I pictured being one of those people holed up in a big box warehouse, surrounded by piles and piles of canned goods. Safely barricaded in. Well like I said, the people who are doing that were the ones quick enough to stake their claims immediately (probably worked there) and they’re not in a sharing mood. I’ve been reduced to eating squirrels. Like I’m not even kidding. Squirrels. God I miss takeout. I guess I should be grateful, learning to take advantage of alternate food sources. I’ll be one step ahead when more civilized food runs out.

Civility itself is definitely running out. I was shot at last night, crossing the highway near the Audi dealership. I’ve been spending more time around there lately because it’s next to the Home Depot. I know, I specifically said to stay away from there. It’s well fortified, and so dangerous, but you never know. Something could happen to the current tenants. Anyway, it was a new moon, and whoever fired wasn’t a great shot. I think they lost sight of me among the cars, or maybe just got bored. Or maybe they realized that spending a finite ammo supply in the dark is fifty shades of stupid. Maybe something got them, making all that racket. Can’t say the thought kept me awake at night.

It’s cold, by the way. I know… as a New Englander, I’m not supposed to whine about that, but I also used to be able to turn a dial and fix it. Heat and hot water is one of those “don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone” things. I don’t miss paying rent, but paying rent that includes heat and hot water? I’d give anything to be doing that again. But none of us will be doing that again. Which works out, since none of us will be getting a steady 9 to 5 paycheck again, either. Look, I’m not saying I miss paying bills, but yes, karma, I didn’t appreciate everything I had, and now I have an eternity to think about all of it. Can we agree, lesson learned, and I wake up and all of this was a dream? No? Well screw you.

I do think over time it’ll get easier. Our memories of what we lost will slowly fade, and we’ll get used to how things are now. I really hope the first thing I forget is coffee. That’s maybe one of the most painful losses right now, and I don’t mean the headaches from caffeine deprivation. I miss the ritual. The ritual of morning coffee. My mug is still there in my cubicle, with a dark dried-up residue in the bottom that used to represent life. The best part of waking up.

Are things getting worse? I feel like there are fewer people out there, but that the ones left are getting more desperate and dangerous. I was attacked in broad daylight today, just down the hill from the office. That was a first. A friend came to my rescue, but we were lucky to get out of there in one piece.  He was hit pretty hard, and sliced across the shoulder. In a world without medicine, stepping on a nail can kill a man. It’s not like we can stop by the local clinic, though, so there’s really no option but to hope for the best. We spent the next few days at the office, and did not venture out.

The inside of this place is a typical cubicle farm, with gray fabric walls – why did they always have to be gray? Were they TRYING to make it as dreary as possible? But the outside grounds are contrastingly beautiful, with a couple miles of pleasant walking trails. There even used to be a pair of turkeys living here. It was a welcome escape to see them during my walks, and they were almost always there. I was thinking of those turkeys more than anything today. We don’t see them anymore, and while I’d like to think they’re out there somewhere, doing fine… well. Yeah.

I finally got some food today, but I had to kill a man for it. That was definitely never part of my apocalypse hero fantasy. The worst thing is, I don’t even feel guilty. It actually just makes me think about those guys in the Home Depot. I guess when it comes down to it, I’m no better than they are. Morals are a luxury that you can’t always afford in the face of survival. And the thing about morality is, it erodes when tested for any extended time. Like a sand castle. Once the first few grains have been lapped away by the oncoming waves, it’s just a matter of time before the whole thing collapses. If I’m no better than them, they’re no better than me, and it’s just a matter of who can take from who with the greatest rate of success.

I hate to admit this to myself, but I like being in my cubicle. I guess I spent as much time here as I did at home. When you think about it, we often knew our cube neighbors a lot better than we knew our actual neighbors. There are many times I find myself just sitting here, staring at my work things. My pencil holder and notebook. A book on data analysis for digital marketers (I never read it, but perception is reality). The keyboard I used to slave feverishly over, when it used to drive the large paperweight it’s plugged into.

My favorite times were when I had spreadsheet work to do. A mindless heads-down project where I could spend uninterrupted hours entering numbers into cells. It really doesn’t sound appealing, but those kinds of tasks where you could just zone out and listen to music and nobody would bother you… those were nice.

My wall calendar is still here, too, and if I’ve been keeping count correctly, it’s April 15th. Tax time! Haha. Sorry, tax man, but for some reason my employer hasn’t sent out our W-2s yet. I’m flat-out with meetings today, but I’ll try and find some time to stop by HR and see what the hold-up is. Last time I checked, though, there was nobody in HR. Must have all gone out to lunch at the same time. Typical.

Today I was walking the trail that goes around the back of the building to the outdoor patio. It’s a beautiful little spot, overlooking a pond, although it’s increasingly overgrown in the absence of maintenance staff. My co-workers and I used to have lunch out here. I wonder what happened to them, at the same time knowing what probably did. They mostly left, and I haven’t seen anyone I know return. We couldn’t wait to get out of here, at the end of every work week. And now, it’s just the type of daily repetition that’s changed. The apocalypse is just a little more honest about its brand of daily grind.

I suddenly realize I’m not the only one on the patio this time. There’s a man here, back turned, looking out on the pond. Probably someone like me, who used to come here for a welcome few minutes of fresh air. Maybe he even worked for the same company. Hard to tell from here. He’s sporting the requisite uniform of khaki slacks and a button-down shirt, but those were practically prison-issue in their conformity in the corporate world. Who didn’t wear them?  

I creep up slowly, not breathing. He doesn’t hear. In fact, I’m within arm’s reach before he even starts to turn around. Our eyes meet, and though he’s definitely surprised, his expression is primarily vacant and resigned. I actually recognize him. It’s Bruce, the web developer who used to work two cubes down from me. He was a fan of the turkeys, too, and had jokingly named them “Thanksgiving” and “Christmas”. We were friends. But not anymore. Now… he’s the enemy.

His eyes are sunken, his face gaunt. Jeez, I thought we were burned out before, but he looks 10 years older than the last time I saw him. If he recognizes me, he’s probably making a similar assessment of my appearance. Conversational small-talk is a thing of the past, though, and we share one single, unspoken mandate; kill or be killed. The corporate world remains dog-eat-dog.

And as much as I loathed work, I feel some level of ownership and entitlement to this location. Like its existence somehow keeps a piece of my own past alive. My office park. My lunch patio. Bruce is, in theory, just as entitled. More, really; he worked here about 4 years longer than I did. Unfortunately, the world’s undergone some restructuring, and I’m sorry to inform you, Bruce, you’re being terminated today.

The stories got one thing right; it all comes down to destroying the brain. But getting at a human brain isn’t as easy as the movies lead you to believe. Obviously it helps if you’re armed with something, but what if you’re bare-handed?  The skull is a formidable barrier. That’s what it’s there for, after all.

We engage, struggling like geriatric wrestlers. Our physical strength is equally waned at this point. It’s going to come down to who wants to see tomorrow the most. Perseverance. Determination. Did I mention my wall calendar is one of those motivational ones with pictures of mountains and eagles? Let me tell you, I am NOT dying today. I use the only weapon I have; my teeth. There’s a lot of blood, but at this point, intestinal fortitude is driving my actions, and I barely notice. It sounds barbaric, but I bite, tear, and break my way to survival. My opponent’s struggles ceased at some unnoticed moment prior.

What’s the point of going on, when one day is just a mirror of the last? It’s a question the worker drones of the corporate world have been asking ourselves for years, but right now my only consideration is feeding the hunger. This is the grace period, after all, and we won’t be able to get human brains forever.

Survival Gaming at its Finest: 7 Days to Die

Survival games don’t have to have zombies. But my all-time favorite one happens to. I still remember the day that a friend at work sent me the link to the 7 Days to Die Kickstarter. The game went live as an early access alpha in December 13, 2013. It was one of the biggest backings I have ever done of a Kickstarter, and I don’t regret it for a minute. The Fun Pimps are the most dedicated and consistent developers I’ve ever seen. Here’s proof. This video just came out FRIDAY. It’s nearly 2018, and look what they’re preparing for the next update:

For those of you keeping score at home, this is about 4 years post-launch. In an era where so many early access games are abandoned by their developers, these guys deserve some SERIOUS kudos.

The game is currently in Alpha 16 build, and I hadn’t played in a while. I have it for PS4 and on Steam. Since I already had the PS4 set up to stream to my YouTube, I started there. But within 10 minutes my son was asking if we could play on Steam together again, like we used to.

7 Days to Die scrap armor

I hadn’t done local game hosting since owning Windows 7, and it’s not QUITE as easy to get to the command prompt and figure out your ipv4 address as it used to be, but you can just use the search function to find cmd. Then enter ipconfig, note your ipv4 setting, and you’re good to go. The port 7D2D uses in our case is not 2500 anymore, but you’ll see this when you’re setting up the game. It’s the ipv4 that’s kind of tricky to get at. Here’s a great little tutorial on how to play 7 Days to Die on LAN.

So before I knew it we were back in survival mode. The first thing we noticed was the new settlement, with a trader NPC. That was exciting and new for us. I wondered if it might make the game too easy, but we were still grateful for it as night descended, even though we couldn’t put down a bedroll in there.

But then a voice came on a loudspeaker announcing that the trading post would be closing. Very impressive, they didn’t used to have voice-overs! We didn’t know what would happen, but were surprised to find ourselves thrown out of the place. Guess hiding behind the fantastic walls of that stronghold wasn’t going to be an option. We hastily constructed the typical base survival structure, ugly as sin, and managed to get it finished and get quiet before the shuffling feet of zombies could be heard. We survived the night.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Why do I love this game so much? After all, I have started over countless times, and generally never make it to the progress point where I’m, say, smelting bullets or riding around in the motorbike. And yet I relive the early phase scenario of the game over, and over, and over.

sunrise in 7 Days to Die Alpha 16.4
Hello stone axe, my old friend…

There’s just something about punching grass. Making stone axes, and wooden bows. Finding a broken down cabin and fixing it up, working your way up the skills and supplies ladder to the point that you establish a garden. It’s that challenge of starting with nothing, you hit the ground and the clock’s ticking to find a water source, and a shelter to hide in by nightfall.

And here we are, doing it once again. I guess part of it is that the game keeps changing. They’ve been making consistent updates and improvements for years. Now it’s vendor outposts and sleeping zombies that rise up when you don’t expect it. Before, it was a treasure map system, and a player leveling and skills system, and of course a constantly increasing assortment of buildings and locations.

7 Days to Die Skills
Skills and level progression are examples of some of the big changes this game has gone through since launch.

As I said, it’s more about the survival for me and less about the zombies, but I think this game has nailed the zombie aspect better than anyone else. They are truly capable of making me jump.

The Walking Dead Pinball

Pardon me, sir, but did you know there’s a Walking Dead pinball machine? Yes, I know, mind… BLOWN. You’re welcome!

With season 8 of AMC’s The Walking Dead kicking off tonight – with its 100th episode, no less! – I thought it would be a good time to chat about a Walking Dead property you may not be familiar with. You’ve probably heard of Telltale’s The Walking Dead video games, and perhaps the solid entry into the mobile gaming market, but you’d have to be part of a pretty elite group of fanatics to know about Stern’s The Walking Dead Pinball machine.

Stern Pinball is the only manufacturer left from the golden age of pinball. And surprisingly, in all that time, there hadn’t been a zombie-themed pinball machine. Stern addressed that oversight in 2014. There were 3 versions of the machine made, as is the current trend with pinball. Starting with the pro version, a base model which is the cheapest at an MSRP just over $6k (note, if you contact a pinball dealer, you will pay lower than MSRP in most cases). The pro model is typically the one that you may find on location in arcades and pubs. Then there’s the Premium, a few more bells and whistles and a higher price tag. This one’s the sweet spot for the home collector, and clocks in at an MSRP of $7700.

The Walking Dead Premium model

But if you’re wealthy or very dedicated to either pinball or The Walking Dead, and simply must have the best of the best… there’s a pinball for that. Enter the LE version. It’s got unique art, sometimes additional bling, and most importantly is limited to a set run of machines. Despite the $8600 MSRP, Stern’s Walking Dead LE has been long sold-out. You could find one on the secondary market if you really wanted to, but given this title is pretty well-regarded in the pinball community (currently #20 in Pinside’s Top 100), don’t expect to get a huge discounted deal just because it’s “used”. That’s not how the pinball seller’s market works.

As mentioned, this is one of the favorites of modern Stern machines. It’s designed by John Borg and Lyman Sheats, two industry veterans whose work is highly regarded. Fans of the show might be put off by the audio callouts, however. The callouts are done by a voice impersonator doing Rick Grimes, but it’s a lot more red-neck than you’re probably expecting. If you can get past that, though, it’s a great play experience that’s flashy, fun, and challenging.

Elements from the show such as Daryl’s crossbow, the prison, the CDC, the barn, “bicycle girl”, and the well zombie are all here, as well as the Governor’s tank of zombie heads (Premium and LE models). The art is all from the tv series as well.

If you’d like to play this bad boy but don’t have a pile of cash sitting around, you may be able to find one on location near you with either Pinside’s Where to Play Map or PinballMap.com.

Survival Games Coming in 2017 and 2018

Well hell, looks like there are a LOT of survival games coming out in the next year or so! I only knew about a few of these.  I was just getting started on a second play-through of Fallout 4, but now I feel like maybe I want to save myself.

Note: I realize I’m horribly mixing survival games and apocalypse games here. That’s really not appropriate, but since I’m a huge fan of both, it’s hard not to. Survival games, for the record, are games where the basic needs are a focus for the game’s success mechanics. So like Don’t Starve, where you need to be worrying about food constantly. A game like Days Gone, I believe, is less focused on those survival elements, and it’s more just about the apocalyptic setting. Which is still just fine with me, but I thought I should acknowledge the distinction.

Here are the ones that I probably won’t be able to resist.

Survive the Nights

This one’s got a very 7 Days to Die vibe to it, and that’s a game I have 500 or so hours of gameplay in on, so the odds are good I’m going to try this one out. The only downside for me is that it’s on the PC. I’m at a point where WASD gaming takes a horrendous toll on my hands, so hopefully it’s controller compatible.

Looks like it should be available any day now as an early access game on Steam. I know a lot of people who flat-out detest early access games, but I am not one of those people.

Raft

This is one I already knew about but it has come a LONG way from the initial alpha version I watched. I love that you’re essentially building a floating city.

Rise of the King

Oh heyell yeah. A wintry theme, which is one of the things I really like about The Long Dark, but with a more medieval flavor.  This appears to have been a Kickstarter that was cancelled. That in itself is not a game over; DreamCade Replay failed the first time around but leveraged what they learned to come roaring back for a very successful second try. However, the last post on Rise of the King’s Twitter account was back in May regarding that cancelled Kickstarter. Never a good sign when a game dev goes silent for that long. Also not a good sign when their website’s blank.

Ylands

Not for me, probably, but I think my kids are going to LOVE this one. They’re big into Minecraft and Roblox, and things like Terraria and Don’t Starve. I tried playing Minecraft with the kids, but for survival gaming, the graphics just don’t work for me.

State of Decay 2

I didn’t actually play a ton of the original State of Decay. It was a little too “on the rails” for me, I prefer more of an open world style (and I know it became that, but not in the time I played it).

The sequel sounds more open-world, so I’ll be tempted, but I don’t have an XBox anymore, so that leaves PC as the only option yet again. I have a decent gaming laptop at this point, but I tend to be more PS4-focused these days.  The multiplayer elements do sound interesting, but they require an XBox Gold subscription. This one’s probably going to get cut from my roster for that reason, but I’m leaving it here because it’s a solid entry in the survival games genre.

Frostpunk

As I watched the video above, I was writing down games that caught my eye. I drew 2 stars next to this one. It was only later I found out it’s from 11 bit studios, the creators of one of my all time favorite survival games, This War of Mine.  Count me in. LOVE these guys, and I have no doubt whatsoever that this game is going to be right up my alley.

It’s obvious they’re carrying forward the tough choices element from This War of Mine.  Which, by the way, if you haven’t played, get it. But be warned, it’s brutally difficult.

Days Gone and Far Cry 5

Caught the reveals of both of these during this year’s E3, and I’m on board for both, no question. They look fantastic! Days Gone reminded me of Dying Light, another one I really enjoyed playing, and one of the few I’ve finished in recent years. And I realize that makes me sort of a hypocrite, not liking State of Decay for being on the rails, but loving Dying Light, which is very much on the rails. Hmm. Maybe it was playing in 3rd person that turned me off on State. If so, that’ll be a point against Days Gone, too.

Days Gone: They see me rollin’… they hatin’…

I’m a late-comer to Far Cry, but I played almost all the way through Far Cry 3. The “burning the drug fields” level is one of the most memorable segments I’ve experienced in any game, ever. It was a perfect song choice, and gave you that feeling of being the star in a movie.

So that turned me on to the Far Cry series, and I’d be interested in Far Cry 5 even if it weren’t for the fact that it takes place in Montana and I grew up in Montana. Done deal. Where do I sign? I’m also really enjoying the character videos they released. It’s feeling like it’ll be a world I can lose myself in, and these days, that’s really what I’m after. Plus, there are indications it may have fishing…

I will acknowledge one problem with the list above. There’s no way I have time to play even just the games mentioned here, and Red Dead Redemption’s coming in 2018. I’m not sure how I’ll handle this problem, something’s gotta give. All I can say is thank the gods Bethesda hasn’t got an Elder Scrolls coming in 2018, because then I’d REALLY be screwed. Gah, but the new Wolfenstein’s due out in October. It’s Bethesda, it’s a Fallout-ish aesthetic, and that’s my kryptonite.

I have to come to grips with the fact that I can only play one or two big games any given year. At the moment, these are the “gotta haves”:

  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (Oct. 27, 2017)
  • Frostpunk (TBD, maybe by end of 2017)
  • Far Cry 5 (February 27, 2018)
  • Red Dead Redemption: (Spring 2018)

Raft and Days Gone are tier 2 for me. I’ll play them if by some miracle I get through the list above and don’t then go back to Fallout 4. Survive the Nights is kind of a wildcard for me. If they can actually pull off what their teaser video showed, I would have to get it. But it’s coming at a time when there’s just so much survival games competition. I like wine, but I can’t drink wine 24/7, you know?

And it gets worse. I just found out that Mojo Bones actually did wind up releasing Impact Winter this year. I was one of the Kickstarter backers for this one, but it was another Kickstarter that didn’t work out. And another dev team that didn’t let that stop them, it seems:

Impact Winter appears to be having a rough time of it right now on Steam, though, with mostly negative reviews focusing on bug issues. Bugs can be fixed, so I hope they sort it out, but I’ll hold off for now. At this point I’m kind of glad to have the excuse.