Archive for April, 2011

Reflections on Portal 2

Posted: April 29, 2011 by Raparth in Uncategorized

Well, here we are again…
It’s always such a pleasure…

I must initially apologize for this being a a couple days late.  I got 4.5 hours of sleep and seemingly 30 hours of studying/writing done in the 36 hours from Wednesday to Thursday.  It was exhausting, to say the least, but I can now discuss at a fair length exactly how fun the philosophy of William of Ockham is.  But more on that… maybe never.  Then I also had the final submission of my Senior Thesis due today, so that certainly took up a lot of time the last few days.  Anyway, getting to the reason you’re here…

This is neither going to be a numerical review attempting to gauge some objective standard of excellence nor a particularly systematic examination of the game, either of the plot or the technical aspects.  Instead, I will focus on some key aspects of Portal 2 that make it both fun, engaging, and distinctly different from its predecessor. [b]Very light spoilers, alluding to but not detailing aspects of the game, may well follow. You have been warned.[/b]

There are certain that the puzzles present themselves. Portal 2 is more a game of observation and planning, where you spend a lot of time looking around at the level and visualizing certain strategies. This is a much different mood than Portal 1’s spirit of free experimentation. Much of the facility is in ruins, removing most of the portal-friendly surfaces from the areas. The player must, thus, be very careful to notice where there [i]are[/i] portal-friendly surfaces, and then see how they interrelate. This makes the game much more mental, rather than “physical” (i.e. trying things out), which while somewhat inherently limiting, also keeps you from trying out 20 things that will never, ever work. I obviously can’t say how many puzzles have alternative solutions, but having played the coop campaign through 1.5 times and seen the single player done the same number (I watched a good chunk of Cynthia’s trials from across the room, while I obviously did them all myself), I found only one puzzle that had two very different solutions (it was in the coop campaign).

The most interesting thing about Portal 2 is how much better the storytelling is that the first game. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very different story, requiring very different modes of transmission, but, overall, it was much more engaging that Portal 1. Wheatley, that little blue eyeball, was, from the very first scene, a great way to learn about the change in time from Portal 1 to Portal 2 and was a nice little reminder of the eccentric science done by Aperture Science Laboratories. He serves as a great source of that information, while (unintentionally from his perspective) being a very good filter for what exactly we might learn. He thinks some things are less important and others super important, utterly regardless to what a sensible human being would decide. (After all, he [i]might die[/i] if he tries this new thing.)

The portion of the game I am most impressed by is the point at which you start at the bottom of the facility, working your way up and (via the ruins) through time. Hearing the voice recordings progress from (I believe it was) the 50s all the way to the 80s is a lesson in visual and aural storytelling. We find out how Aperture began, seemingly so fitting for the reckless spirit of its time (if more reckless than the rest), progressing through the years less than gracefully (I particularly loved all the 2nd place trophies, no doubt losing to Black Mesa.) and seemingly becoming more and more sinister. No, that’s not right: more and more desperate, desperate to do that limitless science that Aperture loves. (As a brief aside, referencing White Wolf’s [i]Mage: the Ascension[/i], I hope I was not the only one to see Aperture Science as the reckless and spirited Sons of Ether, while Black Mesa is conversely portrayed as more dour Technocrats.) Still, there always seems to be the sliver of hope, still grasping onto this love of Science. Needless to say, the potato serves as a wonderful plot device that really turns around our expectations.

The story works so well, right to the end, but has me wondering where we are in relation to Half-Life 2: Episode 3… Where is that damned game, anyway? It was great until the end, and then we got another great song. I can’t help, though, loving coop more than single player, just because Portal works so [i]damned[/i] well in a group. How did we used to get by with only 2 portals? 4 works so much better. Plus, shooting your friends around the map, their little mechanical lives in your hands… Well, Science Collaboration Points are so funny. GLaDOS’s ability to try to turn two robots against each other sent me into laughter nearly every time.

But, my friends,
Now I Only Want You Gone…
~Mr. Pacman
(William/Raparth)

P.S. Back to WoW more dedicatedly, soon. I can’t want to fight the Zandalari. Warcraft Trolls just work so well, for me. Lately, between papers and finals, I’ve been trying out Supreme Commander 2 and Dawn of War 2, both are a couple years old but very fun.

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Playing a game that’s only new for one person

Posted: April 25, 2011 by Cynthia 心雅 in Uncategorized

As you are probably aware, Protal 2 came out last week, and William got it immediately, and played through it both in single player and co-op. I played through the single player on his account, but didn’t have anyone to play co-op with (his account can only run one game at a time, so it doesn’t support playing co-op within it, and he played with his father) unless I got my own copy.

So, yesterday I got the game and we started playing together, and it inspired me to write this blog.

Sometimes you play a game for the first time with someone who’s played before, and sometimes you play a familiar game with someone who hasn’t played before. For some games, this is a non-issue because the game doesn’t have much of a story-line (e.g. RockBand and similar games.) Other times, it’s a big issue of making sure both players are enjoying the game.

Portal 2 is of the second batch of games. We’ve just started playing through it, and already we’ve been faced with three obvious issues.

The New Player Feels Like the Veteran Player is Giving too much Away.
-When you know the end of a story, and you’re playing through it for the second time, it’s hard to not openly notices points of foreshadowing, and “you wouldn’t get this if you didn’t already know,” references. What’s worse, though, is that it’s hard as a new player to not worry that ~everything~ the other person is saying is potentially a “spoiler.”

The New Player Feels Like the Veteran Player is “Helping” too much, or Rushing through Things.
-In a game like Portal 2, which is at it’s core a puzzle-solving game, once you’ve completed the game, you’ve solved all of the puzzles. They don’t change from one play to the next. Level 2 room 4 is the same no matter how many times you play. As such, the new player is fully aware that the veteran player knows the solution, so collaboration on solving it is sort of out of the question, because anything the veteran player says or does, is said or done with knowledge of the eventual solution. It certainly puts a strain on the “team-work” aspect of the game.

The Veteran Player Feels Limited on What They Can Do and Say.
-The previous two issues lead to a final issue on the veteran player. How do you play a game with someone, with the above problems without just mindlessly doing what they say, and letting them decide everything, regardless of whether you know that the decision is wrong and will only waste time, when you could just tell them the consequence of said decision, because you have previously made the same mistake. It’s hard to enjoy a game in which you feel very limited by what you can do without upsetting the other person.

We have yet to find a real solution to these issues, so I can so far offer you none. However, if we figure it out, I’ll certainly update here 😀

The Gravity of RIFT

Posted: April 20, 2011 by Raparth in Uncategorized

This week I would like to briefly comment on what I’ve been playing most lately: RIFT.    If you’ve played a MMO, and particularly if you’ve played one like World of Warcraft, it is instantly comfortable to play.  This is perhaps the best observation I can make about the game:  RIFT has very little, if any, true innovation, but seems to do everything so well.  In many ways, it looks (game-play-wise) just like Guild Wars, or World of Warcraft, or Champions Online, or a number of other MMOs (I list those 3 because I’ve personally played each one).  There are the core rolls of “healer,” “dps,” and “tank.”  There are multiple classes, specifically the four core archetypes of fantasy: Warrior, Cleric, Mage, and Rogue.  Each class has very skill trees, specializations, or (as they are known in RIFT) “souls.”

The Classes are something I fundamentally prefer to more traditional ways of having them.  There are only 4 classes (compare to WoW’s 10), but each class has 8 souls (compare to WoW’s 3 specs per class).  This is a whopping total of 36 talent trees; WoW has 30.  The difference, however, is that in World of Warcraft, every mage has the same three trees active all the time.  In RIFT, a given mage has 3 of their 8 trees active.  This creates a great deal more variation in play-style without requiring players to level 10 different characters (something I hate about WoW et al.).  I’m leveling my cleric, for instance, as Inquisitor/Purifier/Cabalist.  This seems to be a great soloing build (I can handle multiple mobs, but I’m better at single targets).  Instead of a “dual-spec” (i.e. 2 ways you can have your talents picked out, that you can switch between when out of combat), RIFT has up to 4 (or 5, I don’t quite recall) sets of souls.  I bought a second “spec” (called roles in RIFT) for my cleric, though I haven’t played it yet.  It’s Purifier/Warden/Sentinel (meaning I’m a healer, with particular emphasis on single-target spells, but with a fair bit of flexibility).

The Rifts are, frankly, even cooler that I’d anticipated.  At any time, a portal to one of the six elemental planes (Life, Death, Earth, Air, Fire, Water) can open up on top of me, or an outpost.  These rifts will expand, send out groups to attack nearby bases (both of PCs, NPCs, and even other elemental types) which they can destroy and take control over, giving them a foothold to launch further attacks.  It is a dynamic landscape that keeps questing even more fun and gives a true sense of urgency to the meta-plot of RIFT (i.e. that the planet, Telara, is under increasing stress and attacks from invading elemental forces, endangering the survival of the planet as a whole).  It gives a great reason (particularly to me as a roleplayer) to fight different wander groups of monsters, because, well, they’re probably on their way to lay waste to some town/village/outpost of friends of mine.  If the Quest NPCs aren’t there (since they were driven out or slain by the invaders), you aren’t doing the quests, after all.  To seal a rift you fight different waves of monster, and the better you do (as an individual and as  a group) the better rewards you get.

The game itself has so many great little features that I can’t truly list them all.  Individually, each is something so small that it isn’t a serious decider, but these little influences pile up every hour I play.  There’s a reason player characters can resurrect (when resurrection spells being used so often would totally change how life was lived by a society)!  If you die, you can “soul walk” (cooldown 1 hour) which gives you 15 seconds to run around before you resurrect.  This saves you from the vast majority of running back to your corpse.  Characters who cast spells actually use their equipment, something that’s a super nice change from games like WoW where a weapon just sits on my character and never gets used.  “Public transit” (done by giant portals) is instantaneous, instead of the long wait taking a gryphon(or equivalent) taxi in another MMO.  There’s a chat channel specifically for every 10-level range (e.g. 10-19, 20-29) which is great for finding other people to quest with.  You can get a mount from the very beginning (I didn’t have the money {or collector’s edition} get mine until level 17, but I enjoyed running around for a while), instead of having to run for soooo  maaaany leeeveeels.

The main drawback I’ve found is that, well, I don’t know anyone else who plays.  So far, my server (Faeblight, Defiant side) seems to have a great population of nice people willing to answer newbish questions without trolling.  Added to that, I haven’t really yet been looking for a guild/group to play with.  Still, with WoW being the heavyweight in terms of total population and in terms of people who I know who play… The social aspect (as I’ve told many people many times, the only reason I play WoW is this fact) always leans towards WoW.  Still, I’m really enjoying RIFT, particularly since I seem fairly burnt out on WoW (don’t get me wrong , raiding is still hella-fun, but daily quests, leveling, professions, even daily dungeons… they bore me to death already…).

If anyone plans on trying out RIFT, try out Faeblight and we should quest together.  I’d love to have people to chat with online and talk about the game.  If you already play, drop me a line (in the comment section or send me an email) letting  me know what server you play on (if you are already pretty established).  The more people who play RIFT, the more likely I am to play it.

Next week (or, maybe, before next Wednesday), I’ll write about Portal 2.  I’ve already completed both the single and cooperative campaigns, and thoroughly enjoyed both.  I’ll give more detailed feedback some time I’m not feeling so vaguely ill.

This is the part where he kills you,

~Mr. Pacman

(William/Raparth)

Real Life Games – Part Two

Posted: April 18, 2011 by Cynthia 心雅 in Uncategorized

Last week I wrote a long, pretty detailed post about Humans vs Zombies. This week I’d like to focus on why I thought that and similar activities are important in a relationship.

Playing video games together is a great bonding experience. It helps you to grow together through cooperation skills, healthy competition, and spending time having fun together in general. I don’t feel like it fills the entire need of a couple’s interactions however.

Having hobbies outside of “gaming,” is important because, well, most people have more than one hobby. You need something to fall back on when you decide that you simply aren’t in the mood to sit at a keyboard, or in front of a television set. There are a few activities in particular, that I very much enjoy, that still fit within the “gamer” context but fall just outside of “gaming.”

The first of these activities is Humans vs. Zombies. You can go to hvzsource.com to see if there is a game held in your area. Essentially, Humans vs Zombies is a real life, 24-7 video game that you play with your friends outside as sort of a highly advanced version of tag. The game requires players to make quick decisions, work on a team, and in general, be awesome.

The second of these activities is one I have only very recently (in the past week) been introduced to. Model painting (for war gaming) is a great outlet for pent up creativity. I don’t actually have much interest in playing the game (I believe William is planning to try it out) but designing, building, and painting all of the landscapes, buildings, vehicles, and little figures? Totally awesome! William and I have spent a great deal of the last several days painting, and picking up random junk (like some weird plastic child’s toy I had) and saying “Hey, do you think this would make a good sky bridge if I busted this piece off and painted it?” It’s so much fun creating together, and so far we’ve worked together very well. I’d post a picture if I wasn’t ridiculous amounts of lazy (see: post date).

I think that life outside of video games is obviously important, and being able to share some of those outside hobbies with a significant other makes them all the more enjoyable. (I’m not, however, arguing that you should like every single thing they like, or vice versa. There should obviously be activities that you do apart from one another.)

Gaming Cooperatively – Competitive Fun

Posted: April 14, 2011 by Raparth in Uncategorized

A brief look into next week:  I received my copy of RIFT on Monday and have been playing it quite a bit.  So far, it is tremendously fun, though I haven’t done much beyond the solo questing experience.  (I’m trying the Defiant on the Faeblight server, my character is currently a level 15 cleric named Tzimios.  I have a level 2 Mage named Koldis on Shadefallen to try out the Guardians more later.  Yes, I wanted to try out RP servers, so both are RP-PvE servers.)  I’ll try to give some feedback and general perspectives on this next week.

Concluding the two-week segment from last week on Gaming Cooperatively, I’ll be concluding this discussion with some cursory talk about how to have Competitive Fun for all parties involved.  This is a topic that may bear returning to later, should I go through a larger section of competitive gaming (to be honest, it’s been a while since Cynthia and I have played a competitive game against each other), but for now I want to talk about the Purpose, the Type of Game, and the Way You Play.

The Purpose is rather simple, really.  Why do we play?  More than that, why do we play with other people?  Further still, why do we play with people we care about?  Simply put: to have fun.  This is a very particular sort of fun.  It starts as anything we enjoy, then (filtered through the social nature of games) it becomes what we can enjoy around others, then (filtered through the nature of the people we are playing with) it becomes a sort of fun we can enjoy “with” others.  By this “with,” I mean in a manner where both parties create more enjoyment than would have been experienced separately and neither party is destructive towards the other’s enjoyable experience.

What Type of Game do we play cooperatively and competitively?  Generally, this is a game where two parties are on [roughly] equally footing.  This doesn’t need to be as simple as an FPS where people have identical weapons, but needs to be a situation where gameplay challenges both parties and does so in a way that doesn’t frustrate them.  Left 4 Dead comes to mind.  As a Special Infected, you have very different strategies for victory that the Survivors do.  You can die, you will die, but the point is to pick off the Survivors.  Real-Time Strategy (and Turn-Based Strategy) games also come to mind, where people work in the long-term (ignoring rush-matches like Starcraft, which I barely think has any S in RTS.  It’s a Real-Time Tactics game.  See Supreme Commander for something more along the lines of my vision for a true RTS.) to different, sometimes competing goals.  These are perhaps some of the most fun, because you can agree to work alongside your fellow players (or computers), but you are doing so only insofar as it serves your goals.

The Way You Play is the real key to any success in playing competitively with friends/family members/significant others.  This is not a “success” in the terms of “Oh, look, I got the most kills that deathmatch game,” but more a “Oh, we really enjoyed playing today.  We should do this again another time.”  One needs to remember the Purpose of this sort of gaming at all times.  We’re gaming together to have fun, and specifically to have fun together.  I might beat Cynthia in Call of Duty 100 times, losing 0 times.  She might (and probably would) beat me 100 times in Halo <insert number here>, with me winning close to 0 times, but, well, neither of those would be fun.  Even supposing that we could enjoy such a single-sided battle, from either side (which neither of us do), the other member would probably be having little to no to some sort of negative enjoyment.  We need to have a sort of fun that fuels both our interests.  This is why you play games (or a game) that both of you are good at (alternating Call of Duty and Halo, or maybe playing some Tribes if both of us are good at that).  Playing in larger groups of shared friends in shifting teams is really the best experience I can describe, since you have people working with and against people they know.  There is a set-standard for the way you respect each other.  This doesn’t mean you can’t have a little trash-talking on the side, but it must be understood to be non-malicious and non-offensive.  When I frag Cynthia, I should probably say something along the lines of “Hah, didn’t see that one coming, did you?” instead of something like, “Hah, you fucking n00b.”  I never really endorse this latter discourse, but it’s most damaging when its directed at people we care about.  When she kills me, I might swear “Goddamnit!” but it’s because I probably did something idiotic (or, more likely, she surprised me from around a corner I wasn’t paying attention to), not me implying she’s a cheating or denigrating her success in anyway.

All in all, this probably seems like common sense to many of you.  I very truly hope it is.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many people try to play together who don’t understand these things and the results are never pretty.

Oh, and by the way, today is my birthday.  Hurrah. 🙂

~ Mr. Pacman

(William/Raparth)

Real Life Games – An HvZ Teaser: Part One

Posted: April 10, 2011 by Cynthia 心雅 in Uncategorized

This is the first half of a post about HvZ. This post deals with what the game is and why you should play it. The next post will tackle what it is about HvZ that makes it such a good game for couples and friends to play together.

Right now, for those of you who aren’t on campus with us, it is that time of the semester known by many as “The Zombie Apocalypse.” If you haven’t heard of or experienced this game, known as Humans vs. Zombies, you are truly missing out on a unique experience.

Imagine that for a few days every six months or so, your life becomes a real-life, live-action, 24/7 version of Left for Dead (or whatever other zombie game you’d like to compare it to. Though, Plants vs. Zombies and Minecraft aren’t particularly good parallels of comparison.) You wake up one morning to find that the Zombie Apocalypse is truly (not truly- it is a game) happening and that many of your friends have already become infected. You quickly grab your shotgun Nerf-blaster and try to hold on to some semblance of normality in your day by heading to class (also because no Zombie Apocalypse is going to keep you from getting an A on that term paper). Armed with a nerf-blaster, rolled up socks, and a band on your arm (labeling you as uninfected, so that other uninfected know they can trust– and should help– you,) you run at full speed, adrenaline kicking, toward the nearest building, and then from that building to the next. Did I mention that there is safety indoors? Something about this particular virus can only be transfer by physical contact, in open air. You find some solace in learning that you are not alone. There are others, peering through the windows of almost every building, waiting for an opportunity to escape, and reach their destination.

You begin to truly evaluate what is important in your daily routine. Class? important enough to risk a jolt across the quad. Quick bite at the Student Union Building? Not as much. You form new alliances and friendships with those standing near you by the door, when you learn that they, too, are trying to make it to the building across the Quad. You stop going out at night. You tell your friends that if they plan to see you, they best make their way to Baldwin Hall, because it’s surrounded by Zombies and you’ll probably be there all night. By friends, I mean the ones that are immune to the virus (as in… not playing) because none of your susceptible (playing) friends are going to come. They sympathize, but they’re not stupid. And the one’s that are infected? Well, if you’ve invited them, you are truly hopeless.

There are also a few essential rules of survival that you learn rather quickly, or… well… join the other side. (some of these are very Truman State University specific.)

Rule Number One:
Avoid the Quad. Don’t be an idiot. Don’t you know that the Quad is where Zombies practically live? Rain, snow, sleet, lighting storm, or droplets of pure death falling from the sky? doesn’t matter. There are Zombies in the Quad.

Rule Number Two:
Avoid the library. Can you access what you need/type your paper in the dorms? Then do it. Can you wait to check out that book until after the infection has been cured (or at least until after you’ve been zombified)? Do it. Let me tell you something… There is ONE exit from the library. ONE entrance to the library. Where is that entrance/exit located? ON THE QUAD. If you do ~have~ to go to the library, do NOT, I repeat DO NOT go there late at night. News flash: The library closes. Other news flash: Zombies KNOW when the library closes. Other other news flash: There are Zombies in the Quad!

Rule Number Three:
Travel smart. (this is many rules in one)
–Travel in groups
–Travel light
–Travel with the basics you would need if you were stuck somewhere for a long time.
For me, I carry the following in a small, light, easily accessible shoulder bag: Money, phone, phone charger, snack, and socks. (I’m what they call a “sock ninja” in that I do not carry a nerf blaster. I use “sock grenades” and speed as my only means of defense.)

Rule Number Four:
Go to missions. Missions may lessen your chance of survival in the short term, but they are the only means of survival in the long run. If missions are not completed, the infection will never be cured, and your fate will inevitably sealed. Go to missions!

Rule Number Five:
Have so much fun you can’t stand it. This is, despite my in character writing, a game. It’s arguably the most fun no-purchase-necessary, outdoor multiplayer game ever thought up. Enjoy it!

Rule Number Six:
Do not overestimate your abilities. Playing HvZ doesn’t magically make you faster, stronger, more agile, or able to scale small buildings in a single bound. If, in real life, you wouldn’t be very confident in your ability to get to the other side of a tall fence without the use of a gate, it’s not the best idea to test this ability while being chased down by brain-thirsty zombies. I had to learn this one the hard way. When you’re running, full of adreneline, you approach a fence with the following thought process, “Oh shit, a fence! Well… they’re far enough back. I can probably manage to get myself over this thing.” And your mental image of such is something like you launching yourself upward by one foot in a hole of the chain-link fence and then perching spiderman-like at the top before hopping down gracefully to the other side. What actually happens is you trying to cram your tennis shoe into a hole that is much smaller than anticipated. You realize you can’t possibly “launch” from this stance and elect to swing your free leg over the fence. Again, you overestimate your leg length or underestimate the height of the fence. Either way, you now have your knee bent over the top of the fence and you try frantically to pull yourself up to it. You manage to get to the top in a position that is as far from a “perch” as a person could possibly get, and you manage to throw your other leg over. Now for the hop down, which should be easy compared to the acrobatics you’ve just tried to accomplish. You push off and let go of the fence. Guess what? That first leg that you got up there… the one that was rested on top of the fence at almost a right angle from the rest of you before your leap? Yeah, it (along with some of your thigh) was caught on the rough cut thick metal wire at the top of the fence. Given that all of your weight cannot be held by such a small unequipped area of your body, it rips… a lot. Have fun going to class with a hole in your pants from the crotch to your knee.

In a nutshell:
Humans vs. Zombies is an extreme form of tag.

The game begins with a set number of players (1-5% of the # of total players is usually good) who become infected. For the first 24 hours these subjects show no signs of infection. They walk around with arm bands (those “uninfected” markers) like anyone else, except they ~know~ they are infected, and they have a strange urge to spread the infection. The infection is spread through human physical contact of any kind, provided it is outdoors (depending on the game-rules you set, anyway) and takes approximately one hour to take effect. Those infected by what are known as the Original Zombies (OZ for short) become normal Zombies, and must wear their band on their head (ninja style across the forehead) to acknowledge that they are infected. They may also infect other uninfected through human contact. A human has two main ways of survival against a Zombie. The first is out running them. These Zombies are not your typical stagger and moan with outstretched arms Zombies. These are sprint at you like a mountain lion without hesitation or apology Zombies. These Zombies will own you. If you are not a track runner, I suggest option two. Option two is a human’s arsenal of defensive mechanisms (we’re not allowed to call them weapons, because they are NOT weapons, or guns.) These mechanism consist of nerf darts, and sock grenades. Both of these mechanisms have proven in studies to stun a Zombie for up to 15 minutes, though, strangely, if used on a Zombie while the human is “safe” (in a building for example) the Zombie seems to only be rendered harmless for one minute. (I’m sorry I keep falling in and out of character…)

For the Zombies to win the game, they have to kill/zombify all of the humans. In a way, everyone both wins and loses if the Zombies win. Everyone wins because everyone is a zombie, and everyone loses because well… everyone is dead.

For the Humans to win the game, they have to complete a series of preset missions to either cure the infection or escape the quarantine (Depending on the particular storyline. The Zombies also have missions designed to stop human missions, or to make them harder.

Comic – Week 6

Posted: April 6, 2011 by Cynthia 心雅 in Comic

Can't wait to play Portal 2's multiplayer!

I apologize for this being later in the week than usual. I’ve been using a friends Wacom tablet, and it’s taking me a while to get used to drawing on plastic. Hopefully the quality will improve week to week. 🙂

EDIT: Dammit WordPress!! I don’t know why it’s so squished… I’m working on fixing it though, I promise.

EDIT EDIT: Well… I got it to stop being squished, but it’s still small. It’ll have to do though… for now at least.