Water Issues at Detroit Central High School


In the name of improving my health, I’ve spent a fair number of mornings walking to the nearby track at Central High School, here in Detroit. Last week, I noticed that the school had been closed a number of days and only discovered over the weekend that it was due to water pressure issues at the school, as documented in this WDIV news story. The story also documents the disagreements between the high school/Michigan Education Achievement Authority, Great Lakes Water Authority, and the Detroit Department of Water and Sewage over where the problem lies, though it doesn’t seem to take into account a major part of the history of the site. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for over 30 of my 44 years, so I’m very familiar with the history, I hope that I can properly enlighten you about what I suspect is going on.

Central High School opened at its current location in 1926, along with Durfee Middle School and Roosevelt Elementary School (which was torn down a few decades ago and integrated into Durfee). At the time of the construction, and until sometime around 2004, the school complex had a steam plant that provided steam (and I believe electricity) to the three schools on the campus. The steam plant (and its long shadow) can be seen on the left side of this satellite photo from December 30, 2002 (courtesy of Google Earth):Central-Durfee Complex 30Dec2002

For documentation’s sake, Central High School is the large building at the top of the image, Durfee Elementary and Middle School is the large building at the bottom. During the improvements to the complex approximately 11-13 years ago, the plant was torn down and replaced with a plant integrated into Central High School. (Among other changes, the track and football field were relocated slightly, and one of the drive ways at the rear of the complex was removed.) The current complex can be seen in this satellite photo from April 11, 2015 (again courtesy of Google Earth):

Central-Durfee Complex 11April2015

What you can also see in this second photo, is evidence supporting my suspicion that the problem with water pressure at the schools has nothing to do with the water supplied to the complex by the Detroit Department of Water and Sewage, but water leaking into the old steam pipes from the steam plant.

Although I have only been walking at the track for a short time, I noticed on my very first visit and every visit since these standing pools of water:

In addition to these, there’s another pool I didn’t photograph next to the stands at the track. The photo below is the merged satellite photos with the locations marked in red.

Central-Durfee-Past-Present-Overlay

If you look at the April 2015 satellite photo, you can actually make out two of the pools in the access road from Linwood, which is an indicator that these pools of water have been present for at least a year. Given they haven’t changed much in size during the month or so that I’ve been walking at the complex, these pools must be getting fed by an underground water source that has saturated the land. I’m not an engineer, but I think it’s a short jump in logic to connect the water pressure issues at Central High School with these pools of water.

What I suspect is that the old steam pipes from the steam plant are still present underground, and are still connected to both Central and Durfee, and may even still run to the old location of Roosevelt which sat between the two schools. Durfee, on November 12-13, 2014, had heating issues as documented by another local television station, WXYZ in their news story. At that time, there was a small pit emitting steam near the northwest corner of the school; while that was probably a connecting pipe from the new steam/heating plant at Central, it still could be a sign that the old pipes are still in place and water might be leaking into them.

My final bit of supporting evidence is personal testimony; on several occasions while walking on the track, I saw the new steam plant venting large amounts of steam. I believe the date was Saturday April 30, 2016 when I witnessed it belching steam every 1-2 minutes while I walked around the track. Again, I’m no engineer or expert on steam boilers, but from experience with the boiler in my home,  they tend to build up a lot of pressure when the water level in the boiler is low. Releasing/venting steam might have been done automatically to prevent catastrophic failure of the system. (In other words, an explosion.)

Given the large amounts of water at and next to the track, I don’t believe that the Detroit Department of Water and Sewage is responsible for the low water pressure that Central experienced; I believe that the construction to build the new heating plant failed to secure the old pipes and is currently leaking water into the surrounding land. Given that Central is run by the Michigan Education Achievement Authority, which took it over from the Detroit Public Schools, I don’t believe there’s anyone employed at Central that would even be aware of the old steam plant, let alone suspect that there might be leaks to the old pipes.

Finally, given the sinkhole that opened up down the street at Linwood and Monterey on March 29, 2014, I would be surprised that there isn’t a very large sinkhole developing beneath this complex, and would recommend that the immediate area be given a thorough stability study in the near future.

Castle: A Questionable End


(I wrote this a while back, when it was timely but never posted it. I felt I needed more time to digest the series finale before publishing it, but in the end, I still feel the same. So, here it is at long last.)

Last night, the final episode of one of my all time favorite shows aired, and I came away disappointed. I understand that there were cast problems, or at least rumors of such, in the last weeks of filming, but the whole episode was something of a mess.
The thing that bothered me most about the episode is that both Castle and Beckett not only looked a bit odd but behaved that way too. There was just something about their individual appearances that just didn’t look right, and I suppose it could be traced back to the rumors, whether true or not, of the fights Fillion and Katic had been having. Or maybe it was a deliberate action on the parts of the makeup department in an attempt to show the stress the two characters were experiencing. I can’t say. Hell, I can’t even say what it is about their appearances that didn’t look right. But the characters’ appearances were wrong and there was something about both the script and performances that didn’t gel well either.
The whole episode felt forced, which I suppose it was. The ending was especially bad; while they triumphed over yet another bad guy, both were shot and, in my opinion, appeared to be mortally wounded. Yet, seconds after they clasped hands while bleeding out on the floor, we got an ellipsis, passage of seven years, and little children running about the happy couple’s home.
I don’t know whether to consider that trite, a stab at a choose your own ending storytelling, or an indication that the narrator is unreliable. In any case, the explanations fall short for me.
Though I would have loved to have Castle and Beckett live out their lives with children, everything after them bleeding on the floor rang even more hollow than the rest of the episode.
Frankly, this was not the ending I expected or feel the fans of the show deserved, whether or not the couple lived or died. This was a very u n-Castle episode, and I can only be happy there will be no follow-up to explain what really happened there. Like a novel, the book of Castle is closed for me and I’ll remember the many chapters with great fondness, though I’ll forevermore wish I’d never read the ending.

I’m not the only one…


Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person in the world that feels a particular way about a particular thing. Sometimes I can’t even tell you why I feel like i do. I just do.
But with regards to Star Wars, I am most certainly not alone. It has meant the world to me since I was a kid, from the first time I saw it until now. While I have suffered many disappointments in life, it was almost never in relation to the Star Wars universe.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve read in excess of 50 Star Wars books (probably closer to 100 or more) over the years, and I credit the existence of the Expanded Universe with keeping Star Wars alive between the original trilogy and the prequels.
While I don’t like that Disney effectively killed the Expanded Universe, as a writer I can understand why they did it: they have the opportunity to tell new stories without having to lug around the history and baggage of literally decades worth of history and attempting to build something consistent with it.
That said, there was so much history in the EU that Disney didn’t even have to bat an eye to have dozens of waiting films if they literally made each book or story into its own film. I didn’t expect The Force Awakens to be The New Jedi Order or Legacy of the Force, but as I’ve said before, there’s no reason it couldn’t have lived aside then.
In this, I’ve felt alone. Only a couple friends of mine have felt the same way. But,  today I’ve discovered that I’m not alone.
Give Us Legends” isn’t asking Disney to ignore the new direction of the franchise, but asking that they allow the old direction to live on. There were many storylines that began before the Disney purchase of LucasFilm that have simply died and gone unresolved since the purchase because no new Legends/EU books are being produced, only official canon material in the new direction.
I think it would be an absolute shame to never find out what happens to the Skywalker-Solo clan after Fate of the Jedi, and I’m now sure many others think the same.

Dying Light: The Following First Thoughts


A while back I wrote a review of Dying Light raving about how much I enjoyed the game. To be perfectly honest, I still love the game though I haven’t played it regularly for months. So, as you might expect, I was really eagerly awaiting the release of The Following!

The official release was about 2 hours ago, and here are my first thoughts:

Why the hell would you have a 8 gigabyte update that did not include the DLC or some link or video on the main menu to tell you to go download it? I waited 30+ minutes for the update to install, launched the game, started streaming only to be left in the dark about what I needed to do to get to the new content. If it wasn’t for my buddy reading Reddit posts, I wouldn’t have discovered that you have to download an additional 2 gigabytes for The Following DLC.

I complained about that kind of glaring oversight with Bungie’s launch of the Taken King with Destiny, and it’s just as annoying now with TechLand’s launch of The Following.  I get and understand that there’s undoubtedly been a lot of systemic changes in the game that the new DLC requires. Fine. If there’s a required separate download, don’t you think you need to specify that somewhere obvious like on the main menu? TechLand: you’ve used the main menu repeatedly to notify us with videos of upcoming stuff, hell, even now there’s information about catching a preview of The Following at the top of the menu. Why not REPLACE that and just say “if you purchased the season pass or The Following DLC, go to the PlayStation store to download and install The Following”?

So my first reactions and thoughts on the new content are “disappointment”. It’s late here right now; I got a late start on trying to get this up and running because I was out visiting an old friend, so I’m not sticking around to wait for the actual DLC to download and install tonight. I’ll have to get my first real experience with The Following some time tomorrow.

So, I Didn’t Hate It…


Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was not a part of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens record breaking opening though I did see the film today. I liked it. Like, in fact, isn’t a strong enough word; I was impressed with it. Enough, in fact to see it twice today. This is the first time ever that I’ve paid to see the same movie twice in theaters on the same day. (Albeit, once was in IMAX and the other wasn’t, though both were in 3D.)
My summary is that it was a very enjoyable film and I found no major issues with it. A friend nitpicked a particular point where the Resistance didn’t attack some First Order ships, to which I countered the First Order was kind enough to not attack the Millennium Falcon despite the precedence they set earlier in the film. Nonetheless, that was the only item I think is really worth considering a possible flaw.
There is the presumed death of a major character that I think is worth discussing. Contrary to my normal spoiler laden attitude, I’m going to avoid specifics, but this particular character dies in a fashion that leaves room for debate as to whether he or she is actually dead. The thing is, even though we see the attack that leads to the presumption of death, we don’t see the final disposition of the body and there are two objects at the location that could be escape vehicles. In film, the presumption of death is but actual death; usually the body has to be seen laying dead with on screen to be actual death. Given the actor’s health and age, I think that the character may have actually died despite what I’m saying here, but there’s a chance, however slight the odds, that he or she might have lived. To quote Han Solo, “never tell me the odds”, usually because they can be beaten.
Now to the heart of this post… As much as I enjoyed the film, as good as I thought it was, there was no need it necessity to invalidate all of the expanded universe comics and novels. No need at all. With some relatively minor changes to the movie we got, the film could’ve been consistent with the novels leading up to and including the Fate of the Jedi series of novels without destroying the plot. You could make the argument that FotJ is built on 20+ actual years covering 30+ book years and thus too much baggage to carry into the new trilogy, but then The Force Awakens and its new trilogy is reinventing those fictional 30 years from scratch, and still has to explain what happened. It could be argued that it was too much work to research and properly place all that lore in context in order to write the script, but for the bulk of the Star Wars fans, that lore has been Star Wars since the original run of Jedi ended decades ago, and the effort to include and build on it would have been appreciated so much more than simply giving us a good film. Instead, there are a lot of rabid fans like myself that enjoyed this film, but are sitting on 30+ books that are now completely meaningless. I saw some Force Awakens books at Barnes and Noble, after the second time through, and I couldn’t even bear to read the synopsis because the new LucasFilm, the Disney LucasFilm, is willing to trample all over the memories, dreams and wallets of those that have helped this franchise not only live when there was no hope for new films, but thrive! I can’t abide that by purchasing books or merchandise that would give the impression that I find that forgivable. I just can’t.
Many, many years ago, I accepted that there would be no films beyond the original trilogy. Then Timothy Zahn wrote the Thrawn trilogy (as I call it; Heir to the Empire and its sequels) and I had hope that one day there would be more books and maybe a new film. Lucas then promised the prequels and made them; they weren’t perfect, but I mostly enjoyed them. The books were still there and the films were working in concert with the books; virtually nothing contradicted anything else in the films or the books. The books advanced over 30 years while expanding the events and scale of the characters and conflicts. They delighted and amazed, bringing joy and sorrow and we were thankful for them. Then in one fell swoop, it was all rendered obsolete in favor of the new regime. How can I support that?
I don’t blame J.J. Abrams for it; it probably wasn’t his call or even within the scope of his power or influence though he did build upon the new ground that paved over the Expanded Universe, its creators and writers, and its fans. But I sincerely feel that someone owes those creators, writers, and fans a sincere apology for the loss of both time and money by this abandonment. I think until there is such an apology, there will always be a rift between those of us that supported the Star Wars franchise in the years between the original trilogy and the prequels, between the prequels and the new era, and the new direction of the mythos. There’ll be an open wound that just won’t heal with time.

Destiny Has a Few New Tricks (Updated, Again)


I suppose I really shouldn’t be surprised, but I’ll confess I was and still am. Most of the time [in this modern era of gaming] when a developer releases a new update, or a new game, there’s little that’s really new to game. Sure, games have done a lot to distinguish themselves from other game franchises, but it’s rare to see something really new in that franchise. Look at Call of Duty, not counting the different versions of the game (standard, Black Ops, Advanced Warfare) it’s virtually the same game with each new release. The enemies change, but the basic game play stays the exact same. Though honestly, that could be said for most first person shooters. Doom is fundamentally the same now as it was when it was originally released twenty years ago; sure it has new creatures and updated graphics but fundamentally, just go and kill everything.

I’m not trying to say that’s a bad thing, it’s just that it gets ridiculous sometimes. I respected and loved Insomniac’s Resistance series because they changed things from release to release. The first one had some unique weapons, particularly in multiplayer. The second one introduced co-op with unique classes such as the medic which was responsible for keeping the team going. (Yeah, I know classes like that were introduced in some version of Quake, but Resistance 2‘s implementation was beautiful.) And Resistance 3 changed again. I respect that a lot, and I really, really, REALLY wish Insomniac would do a Resistance 4 (and more) for the PS4.

What I expected out of Destiny, based on The Dark Below and the House of Wolves was more of the same. Not “it’s the same as all other FPS games”, but more of the same that we’ve already seen in Destiny. Over the last 36 hours or so, I’ve noticed that there are some new, unmentioned things in Destiny. The new subclasses, weapons, armor, strikes, and raids are getting all the attention, but as far as I know, no one’s mentioned anything about the new details in things that we’ll probably find ourselves doing far more often. (Aside from play the Crucible for those who get off on that.) While what I’ve seen has only been in the Patrol missions, I’m sure that we’ll see new touches in the other modes as well.

So what am I talking about? For starters, what I’ve encountered twice so far while doing Patrol missions is a new type of mission; basically the goal is to collect energy samples for analysis. Unlike all the other collection or analysis missions in Patrol, you simply have to go and stand in various spots for a few seconds. Easy right? The catch is that you have to be fast about it; each spot gives you about 10% of the amount of energy you need, but it decays very quickly. If you stand still for a little too long, the energy that you’ve collected disappears. So you have to be quick to get the percentage up and finish the mission; that means riding your sparrow, which is really not suited for the job given it’s sluggish acceleration, terrible braking, and imprecise handling. And then there’s also the various enemies in the area shooting at you and obstacles to making maneuvering even more difficult. It can be done, and fairly easily, actually, but it can be a little frustrating as you try to do everything perfectly and as fast as possible.

The other mission caught me off guard. I was actually between missions at the time when suddenly Nolanbot said there was an incoming transmission from an unknown source. Initially I didn’t really think anything about it, I think I was slightly confusing the mode with the story mission when the Stranger first contacts you. When it finally did register that this was different, I started recording the video I’ll add below. (Long story, but I currently have the worst internet connection of my life, and that includes dial-up.) The gist of it is, that the Ghost can’t make any sense of the transmission, and works on decoding it. Initially, the mission description is nothing but question marks on the screen, and it remains on your screen unlike with other Patrol missions. As you’ll see in the video, I’m left running around trying to randomly discover what I’m supposed to do until enough of the message has been decoded to give me enough letters to guess what my objectives are. It then led to another two quest objectives . Ultimately, all three objectives were very easy to complete once you knew what they were, and I think it’s an excellent new addition to the game and hope there are many more similar missions and surprises in The Taken King.

Update 9/21/2015:

Alright, now that I’ve had about a week of playing The Taken King under my belt, I’ve encountered the mystery transmission mission several more times. While the list below isn’t necessarily the complete list of mission objectives for these missions, they’re what I’ve encountered most often. By cycling through these actions, you can frequently figure out which of the objectives you’re supposed to accomplish before the decoding process has even begun. I’m doing these from memory, so if I miss one, I’ll update the list again later.

  • Head shots (Heads Blown Off)
  • Dance emote (Dance Floors Mastered)
  • Kill enemies (Enemy Creatures Slain)
  • Find chests (Treasures Reclaimed)
  • Sit emote (I think…)
  • Dropped items from enemies (Bodies Looted)
  • Generate Orbs of Light (Orbs Generated)

Destiny Weapons (and More) Update (Updated, Ironically)


As I sit here waiting for this 17 GB update to download on my current impossibly slow internet connection, I thought I’d share a few thoughts with you about this new update. At this point in time, I’ve been waiting about 24 hours on the download to complete and my PS4 is reckoning another 18 hours before I’ll be able to really see the changes. That said, let’s take a look at my preferred guardian on my personal account. (Although I do have a warlock on my “work” account, it’s not yet high enough level to warrant looking at and doesn’t have so much as a single exotic item.)

image

Destiny Warlock

What we see here is that my level is 32, light level 145, with 34 intellect, 45 discipline, and 51 strength. For the most part, the latter three stats can be ignored. Until yesterday’s update, the light level and character level were inextricably linked past level 20. By that I mean that once you fought and quested to level 20, you had to get equipment with various light ratings to go any further, which is a fundamentally flawed system. Frankly, for all that I’ve done in Destiny, I should long ago reached level 34 but because the fucking random number generator in the loot system didn’t see fit to give me equipment with a higher light level than what I have, I got stuck at level 32. This leads me to believe that I could only have gotten higher if I had the opportunity to raid (Vault of Glass and Crota’s End) at all or hit the Crucible a lot more. (More the former than the latter I’m sure.) As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not really a PvP type of person, and I only know two people with PS4s and Destiny, and I rarely even get to play with them, let alone contemplate doing the raids because Bungie is too high on themselves to institute the grouping system on raids. Bastards. (This MAY be mitigated by a feature in the upcoming PS4 3.0 firmware update.) So, bottom line, no matter how hard I worked over the last year, I could never feel that sense of accomplishment by reaching level 34.
That changed yesterday.
With yesterday’s update, light level became a reflection of the quality of your equipment and was separated from your experience point total. This means that completing raids, missions, strikes, and just flat out killing things for the hell of it once again matter. I know I nitpicked about the stupidity of the light level, if not in a post here, then certainly with my aforementioned friends, and my inability to climb higher on the level ladder is a perfect demonstration of why it was bad. Perhaps it was intended to showcase the power of the exotic items or make you feel all the more powerful and fortunate once you got them, but to those of us that haven’t been able to raid, it’s been a source of constant frustration. So I applaud Bungie on realizing that this is an issue to many players and resolving the issue.

While I still, apparently, have between 14 and 24 hours minimum depending on the way the wind blows before my download is complete, I’ll delve into the new light level. In the past, the light level came from the total amount of light your equipment possessed at any given time. I believe the light only came from your armor, and as I mentioned above, it determined your level above 20. Under the new regime, the light level comes from an average of your armor, equipped weapons, your Ghost’s shell, and a new piece of equipment called an “artifact.” Without having a special Ghost shell or an artifact at this point, my light level is currently 145 based on my weapons’ and armor ratings. Considering the new maximum for “Year 1” equipment after this crucial rebalancing of ratings is 170 for weapons and armor, I’m doing pretty well. I should note that my currently equipped exotic weapon, Plan C, hasn’t been fully upgraded yet (I need an exotic shard from Xur) so that rating will increase once I get one. Assuming it’ll be sometime this weekend, I can probably expect my light level to increase to 150-155 or so once I upgrade the weapon or swap to a different, fully upgraded weapon. I don’t expect to hit 170 until I get an artifact and/or shell for my Ghost, but it’s possible those things won’t actually become available until next week’s launch of The Taken King. Which, I would like to point out, you and everyone else (except me, naturally) have already downloaded.

That’s right, I said you’ve already downloaded the next expansion. While I have no evidence to back this up, think about it. Why the hell is a weapon rebalancing update so big? I’d give the update 1-2 gigs if the only things it was doing were changing some of the core files to handle the new balancing system, updating the sound files for the Ghost voice from Peter Dinklage to Nolan North (not sure if the switch-over was activated yet), and a few performance and tuning changes. In these days of high speed broadband, which I’m sorely lacking at the moment, terabyte sized drives, and 50 gigabyte games, we tend to forget that 1 gigabyte is a huge amount of data. Having worked with audio recordings as part of making films, a few megabytes can record many hours of high quality sound, and most of the weapon balancing data could be done in a XML or even comma separated values file probably less than 5 megabytes in size. So why is this weapon balancing update 17 gigabytes?

The simple answer is that it downloaded all the new assets necessary for the Taken King, including the Dreadnaught, the Taken themselves, new weapons and armor, new audio files, and god knows what else Bungie needed for next week’s launch. It makes no sense that Bungie would launch an update this large this week, and then turn around and do another one on Tuesday. For those of us that already have Destiny, yesterday’s patch IS the next expansion. When next Tuesday rolls around, those of us that pre-ordered the expansion digitally will probably see a very small update take place that unlocks all the new content, but it’ll be just that, a very small update. Bungie wants players to start diving into that new content immediately, so it makes perfect sense to put it in place ahead of time. It wouldn’t surprise me to see videos showing exploits to get at the new content early start popping up at some point today or tomorrow.

That about covers everything… I think I’m going to sit back and listen to the Ramones while I wait for this turkey to finish downloading… By the way, what’s up with AT&T? They promised U-verse service in Detroit over 7 years ago, and the best I can get in my centrally located home *IN* Detroit, is their 1.5 MB downstream DSL. What the hell is up with that?

Update: Now that this gigantic update/expansion is finally installed, nearly 48 hours after it was released, I’ve had a little bit of time to play around with it. First of all, like I mentioned, the levels are now completely experience based rather than light/equipment based. That left me free to climb to level 34 ahead of the official release of The Taken King. But I think that that ascension was a little too fast. I literally went from 32 to 34 in the span of minutes as I did several bounties and quests. Minutes. While I acknowledge some of them were experience heavy, Bungie should have tweaked the level profession at higher levels to reflect the increased difficulty in leveling. Maybe it was a fluke, I’ll find out as I work on my other characters.

Another thing is that a fair amount of content that shouldn’t be available until Tuesday is now through various bugs and that’s even affecting rewards. Faction specific quests should probably be avoided until the official launch.

Also, don’t forget to visit the gunsmith and try out the prototype weapons; the ones for which you do the telemetry testing are supposed to be sent to you free of charge on weapons day. Well… One at least. It’s unclear if you’ll get all of them if you test multiple ones

Destiny, The Taken King, and Further Thoughts


To be completely honest, I give Destiny and, by extension, Bungie a lot of shit because of the economy and the bullshit idea that people are attracted to the endless grinding in the game. I will continue to do so until those things improve.

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Destiny: House of Wolves or Fuck This Game Part 2


In my previous review of Destiny, I stated that aside from some key issues, that I really enjoyed the game and frankly, that still hasn’t changed. In fact, despite the new content in the game with the second major DLC, The House of Wolves, the same flaws are still present (getting worse actually) and the basic game play is still fun. If you don’t want to read my ranting and raving, you can pretty much stop reading now. The content is great, but the random number generator/lookup table lottery and the currency issues are still there: fuck Destiny.

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TLoU Factions: A Few Survival Tips


Although The Last of Us has been out for nearly 2 years on the PlayStation 3, and nearly a year on the PlayStation 4, it is still a massively popular game both in terms of single player and multiplayer. The latter, called Factions, has just started getting a whole new wave of players because Naughty Dog and Sony just launched a standalone package of it this week. No longer does it require a full copy of The Last of Us to play; for $9.99 (US), you can now get the Factions multiplayer by itself in a fully usable form, though you may wish to invest a bit more and get the additional map packs and maybe some of the additional weapons DLC packs. While you can kill with any weapon in the game, some of the DLC offers distinct advantages that are well worth the purchase price.

That said, here are a few important and good things to know.

Factions Has *NO* “Levels”!!

The numbers to the left of a player’s name in the lobby screen are not an indication of how powerful the player is, with one caveat. This number is the number of “weeks” their character has gone through with their colony of survivors. The longer the colony survives and the more parts you earn, the more one-time boosters you earn to help you in the game, and potentially the larger your colony. Initially as you survive to and through a certain number of weeks, 15 I believe, you gain more load out points which enable you to pick up more and/or better skills and weapons, including an in-game “purchasable” weapon that is usually absurdly powerful. But once you hit 13 load out points, you’ve hit the ceiling, the only differences between you and someone with 100 or more weeks of survival are skill and experience. They will have no special advantage over you which is a great equalizing factor. This weeks indicator should imply that the player has a certain amount of experience, and should be better than a player that hasn’t played as much, but in all honesty, it rarely does.

The reason I have to emphasize this is that my buddy was playing in a match recently and after the match got a PSN message that basically read as the following:

you’re an asshole, My friend and i just started playing and you were a dick. level 200’s should have their own areas.

First of all, since there are no levels, there’s no way to protect a new player from vastly superior players that have thousand yard stares; the game just doesn’t distinguish player skill or ability that way. While I’ve played TLoU on both PS3 and PS4 and have gotten a lot of experience in both single and multiplayer, my colony survival length has never been all that high; currently it’s at 22 weeks, which makes me seem like a newer player; I may not be on the same skill level as some of the more dedicated players, but you’d be a fool to take me for an easy mark in this game. Similarly, while my buddy and I were playing a few nights ago, a member of our team had a colony that survived for some 800 weeks; frankly, he played like shit.

While I do mostly agree that more experienced players should be put in games together as opposed to dropping new players into matches against them, it’s the perfect place and way to learn. I hate to admit that this is true, but the best way to learn is from players better than you. Second best way is to learn from players that at worse than you if you have enough sense to figure out what they’re doing wrong.

In short, think it’s unfair some “level” 200 kicked your ass? You may actually might have only caught them on a good night; everyone gets lucky some time. Beware the “level” 5 that has been in the entire match but some how managed to avoid death altogether while racking up 6-10 kills; they’re the ringer you need to look out for.

Think Like a Tactician

Watching my aforementioned buddy play this evening, I saw him make a silly mistake that resulted in him getting killed in one particular match: he walked into a room and went straight towards the exit on the other side. A few steps into the room, he was shiv’ed by an opponent. To taunt him, I wrote a message a little less revised than this one to him on Twitch:

Lest you seek a wake with mourners, always be sure to check the corners.

I think that’s pretty clear; check the corners to make sure there’s no one standing there next to you, wondering how you didn’t see them. It might be a little slow to do it, but it’s far better than having someone kill you a moment later because you didn’t bother to look for them. A lot of the time, if they’re hiding like that, they’re out of ammo, and looking just to get to a supply box to get some ammo; very few players are actively waiting and looking for situations like that, though it does occasionally fall in their lap. Don’t be a statistic!

Related to this idea, is to be mindful of your flanks and those of your teammates. Always keep your eyes open and if you see an opponent moving in a teammate’s blind-spot, mark them by aiming your weapon at them and tapping R3 (press the right stick in). Unless they have Covert Training 3, they’ll be marked and your character will shout out a warning; this works even if you don’t have a headset or don’t feel like talking to the other players, and helps you and your team. In fact, marking an opponent can even be more helpful than shooting at the enemy in some situations. I’d like to say I hate to quote a character or movie, but keep your head on a swivel, always look for your enemy to come at you from the side or back or above or below. Never just approach anything looking in a single direction.

Oh, and one other significant thing… DON’T FUCKING RUN UNLESS YOU HAVE TO!!! And *IF* you *HAVE* to run,DON’T RUN *TOWARDS* your allies! When you run, you appear on the minimap as a red dot that is clearly visible to all enemy players. When you run towards your teammates, you effectively tell your opponents exactly where they are. Similarly, although not necessarily as important, if you get downed in combat, I strongly recommend against crawling towards your teammates as that tells the enemy where they are or what direction they’re in. Crawl away from them or sit tight, and if someone’s nearby, they’ll be able to catch-up with you easily enough to revive you.

There are times in Factions when you can and should run-and-gun, but Factions is not Call of Duty, Destiny, Gears of War, or similar game. It’s a game of strategy and patience. I’m not an expert on it myself, and I usually die more often than I kill in it, but it’s a game that balances stealth with brutality, teamwork with opportunistic action, strategy with spontaneity.

Accept That Your Teammates Are Idiots

Unless and until proven otherwise, accept and expect that your teammates are complete idiots with one exception: you know them and you’ve been playing with them for a while. Playing with strangers has frequently left me speechless, and not in a good way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve actively gone in the opposite direction of a teammate because he or she decided to run full speed across the map, or walk right past an enemy to try to get a supply crate or help an ally up, just to get downed a moment later. In one game, where my best friend was on the opposing team, in the middle of a mass firefight he retreated from the fire I was pouring his way. I took off after him; so did my three teammates who were firing on the rest of the enemy team, so we all got shot in the back because they all wanted the easy kill — the kill I earned.

Which brings me to another minor irritation, kill theft. While it doesn’t really matter if someone else finishes off a kill you started, it’s something you start to take personally in game. The catharsis of downing an opponent, and then executing them is what mainly makes playing Factions worthwhile. I could make the argument for sharing the kills — all participants in a kill get parts (points), after all — but when your adrenaline is pumping because you just faced a [virtual] life and death encounter and lived to tell the tale, you want your points and you don’t want to share them. But what’s REALLY killer about this, that proves that your teammates are idiots, is when they would rather go for an execution rather than fight another nearby opponent or pick-up (revive) you or another teammate.

Your teammates will also lob nail bombs and Molotovs and smoke bombs on the freshly dead opponent you just killed or, worse, empty rooms. They will anger you in many unique ways. Get used to it; this is the world in which we live and play.

All Weapons Are NOT Created Equal

While there was a large range of weapons in the game to begin with, recent DLC has added some particularly wicked ones including the frontier rifle, tactical shotgun, and crossbow. I have only tinkered with the frontier rifle, but it is just about as deadly as the various sniper and hunting rifles, capable of downing a foe at a long distance in a single hit. The tactical shotgun takes a few hits to down your enemy, however it’s rapid fire enough that you can usually accomplish that up close or at a distance with a few taps. Perhaps the most wicked of all is the purchasable weapon, the crossbow. In the real world, a crossbow is no more or less deadly than a regular bow. In Factions, it probably does just about the same amount of upfront damage as the bow as well, however, it also has a bleed effect that can be just as deadly. When hit by a crossbow bolt, the target starts bleeding out, and if they’re not bandaged within a certain length of time, they will be downed even from a single bolt. As of this time, no other weapon in the game has the bleed effect, so it’s particularly nasty and a little unexpected if you haven’t encountered it before. Even if you have, it can still cause you (or your opponent) to waste time and bandages fighting its effects, effectively removing them from the fight for a short period of time. Being a[n in-game] purchasable weapon, thankfully, players just can’t start the game with it, but have to find or earn enough parts to buy it.

While the bow and shiv are the classic silent weapons in game, a number of weapons have silenced versions that require the use of additional load out points. I highly recommend using the silent or silenced versions of a weapon whenever possible in Factions; unsilenced weapons can generally be heard across much of the map, and certainly give away your location. When used in combination with Covert Training 2 or 3, a silent weapon will keep you off the minimap unless you start running.

More to Come!

This will be a post I update as I come up with or receive tips from you and the gaming community at large. I don’t think there’s a single person playing Factions that doesn’t want a challenge; while we all relish the easy victories, they ultimately are boring. We need new players to be ready for and to inspire us. So get cracking.