So I just get off the phone with my friend, ranting about the gaming industry and their take on slipshod games. It’s another session of annoyance over this and that, and all I’m reminded of in the meantime is how much faith I’ve put in Star Citizen. They offer to create the best of both worlds, a game of quality and substance. Not many games can say that these days, a lot of them fall into either one or the other. They’ll offer something pretty with a six-hour campaign, or they’ll offer something that’s a bit lighter on the graphics but a good story. Not this game though, not our Star Citizen. This isn’t really an article on that rant, or even how much beef can be cast around on Shiver’s radio broadcast. This is about that game we all want to believe in.Mustang Alpha in Quantum Drive by Hasgaha
Star Citizen is a game that offers to give people an experience that many have craved for years. We, of course, have to have faith in the story since it’s not out but on the graphics – well on the graphics we can at least see those fruit hanging from the tree. While some might go for the low hanging one, there’s also a type of person out there that strives for something unique and nigh enlightening with the level put into capturing that picture. Time spent flying in third person to launch a rattler and get it captured against AI Vanduul pilots, or figuring out how to take the picture so you capture that story you want to tell. Those who look for that level probably have heard this name before, the string of typos that has become Hasgaha.
I sat down in a proverbial sense with him, a more e-mail laden and long pauses variation required for those busy in their lives. Not really me, mine is fractured time spent going from project to project hoping for something bigger, but the previously mentioned man from Kentucky. He’s a professional in a few fields (graphic designer, web designer, web developer, to name a few), but that doesn’t stop him from investing time in playing the game and snapping some shots for us.
It happened more or less by accident. He fell into the mix thanks to a job which required some work with using YouTube in his design, and resulted in videos and pictures. That happenstance-driven-content is now available for all to see and even resulted in Around the Verse calling him out for rampant tags and, more importantly, giving him that MVP for his trouble. He really seemed more surprised by his success than anything else, and I can respect that sort of ‘falling into it’ frame of mind. After all, who the hell wants someone who’s conceited or feels he’s good at it because he’s good at everything – that self-affirmation already runs too rampant.
Kind of on that whole note of, this guy’s not too bad, he even gave a callout to a guy named Ray Roocroft at the UK office. That guy gave him a leg up, not only as one of the first to respond to him on twitter, but also as a means to help capture additional pictures. Hasgaha says he’s only got an Avenger, but it’s that little nugget of joy, Ray, that helps him in leasing out ships for photoshoots. I suppose in a way Ray’s kinda like the agent for the swimsuit models named Sabre, or Khartu-al. Of course then that would make M3neillos more like a porn photographer, stripping away the layers with those glass ships.Khartu-al Wingmen by Hasgaha
Ship porn aside, his biggest gripe – and I’ve heard this a few times – is the lack of good camera controls. Seems that the CIG people fudge it by going in-engine instead of in-game to grab their snazzy footage. Who can really blame them though? Easier is easier, and as the saying goes in falsetto tones, time is money friend. I’m sure we’ll get them one day, considering that one of the ships is even touted as a “News Van.” I suppose that’s one of the things that make his shots impressive, his ability to take them even with the limitations on the system to begin with.
Somewhere in there I got to asking him about what sort of advice he’d give people trying to snag photos, and he was pretty straight forward about it. Plan out the picture, love criticism of all types, and make sure to understand your limitations or find a workaround. Makes sense, bit obvious in retrospect, but hey – even the obvious can be a bit convoluted to the uninitiated. If you’re interested in it, just go do it, is the crux to it all and probably the hardest step besides the pill that is critique (both real and abhorrent). Then all you have to do is learn, evolve, and keep trying to do better.
That Hasgaha guy turned out to be a veritable plethora of insight into who he is, I think he even apologized for being too in depth, but that’s what makes people interesting. There’s not a lot of fun in a person who isn’t willing to talk about themselves and, more importantly, why they do what they do. So go do it, do what he does, and tell a story about who you are in what you do. Write it, take photos, make a podcast, just do whatever. Have fun and make yourself more interesting. Spice of life.
As usual, here’s the e-mails nearly verbatim.
Q: If you’re game to say, where are ya from?
I find this to be such an odd question. Do I tell them where I currently live or where I was born or where I’ve spent the most consecutive time or where I most associate with my “home”? When I give my knee-jerk response of “What, originally?”, the person usually stares at me like I’m a pretentious ass, I realize they were just making small talk, and I have failed again.
I was born in KY and still have extended family there. I consider it my motherland. I have a love of bourbon, UK basketball, fishing, and deep fried salty things as a result. As a kid, my family moved to OR and spent several awesome years there amongst the mountains, beaches and deserts. I now reside in the Chicagoland area.
Q: Tell me the story surrounding your name? It’s definitely a unique name.
My username is the result of repeated typos while instant-messaging with my friend almost a decade ago. We were frustrated by a project we were working on and he said something funny about it. I tried to type “ha” and hit ENTER. When I looked at the screen, I noticed I had typed “HAS”. So I retyped “ha” and hit ENTER again, looked up, and saw “GA”. Full frustrated now, I VERY CAREFULLY typed the incredibly difficult two letters, “H” and “A”… verified it three times, and hit ENTER. Then I looked at the screen and the string of mistakes:
I saw that & put it all together into “hasgaha”.
At that point, it kind of became our default battle cry when we didn’t know what else to say. HASGAHA!!! It wasn’t until a couple years ago, when signing up for some internet service, that I needed a username and found my usual one taken. That was odd since my usual username, while not unique, is still different enough. In a frantic scramble, I remembered “hasgaha” and thought, “it’s completely made up, it has to be available”. So I used it and have been ever since for select things.
Q: I’ve watched you play some Arena Commander, how do you like it?
I love it. The reason I bought into Star Citizen was because I grew up playing combat flight sims in the early 90’s and have been waiting for a modern version of them ever since. Sure, it could use some improvements here and there… but I feel like I got my money’s worth in AC alone. I still consistently have more fun in AC than the Universe. But you never know what’s going to happen in the Universe.
Q: Got any tips for people who do play Arena Commander?
Play. Play some more. If you want to be good at it, you just have to keep playing. And let me be clear: I do NOT consider myself to be any where near a top level player. I can hold my own enough for me to have fun but it still be a challenge.
For absolute beginners, I tell them to get to know the game and controls in Drone Free Flight. Once they can dance around asteroids and have a good handle on their bindings, move up to Drone Vanduul Swarm. Once they feel confident with combat against AI, try Spectrum Coop Vanduul Swarm. Having real players on your team forces an extra level of awareness of surroundings, your targets and your squad without increasing the combat difficulty too much. And from there, graduate to Squadron Battle. But it’s all about being comfortable with whatever peripherals you choose to use and how to bind them and how it all translates in game and how each specific ship reacts to those controls.
Q: I notice you run a dual joystick setup, why?
Why, don’t you? I’ve always been a stick user. Our family got our first PC back in ’92-ish. I was excited because I had been playing combat flight sims (among other things) on my cousin’s computer. I picked up Aces of the Pacific shortly after it appeared in stores and within a week had my first joystick: a two button CH Flighstick. When Arena Commander came out, I had an old, temperamental Logitech Wingman Extreme 3D joystick. It was old and well used and the axis sensor was not working that well. I took it apart and tried to clean it, desperate to play AC with a stick. I got it to where I could use it but it was clear I needed a replacement. The Thustmaster T16000M was getting a lot of attention on the subReddit so I got one as a gift for Christmas. Almost immediately after getting the T16000M setup, I started seeing discussions about dual sticks. I had flashbacks to my flight sims in the 90’s when I somewhat successfully setup a dual stick configuration and was shocked I hadn’t thought of it sooner. I pulled out that old, finicky Wingman Extreme and set it up in my left hand as a proof of concept… to make sure I would be happy with a dual stick setup. Within a week or two, I found a used CH Fighterstick on ebay for less than a new T16000M and never looked back.
Q: Have you tried other controls?
I’ve never tried a full HOTAS before so I don’t know what that’s like. Nor have a tried pedals. I have a gamepad but I think flying a flight sim with one is sacrilegious if you have a stick. I’ve never tried though so more power to the people who can do it. My experience is limited to joystick (single and dual) and mouse+keyboard. I can’t stand playing a flight sim with a mouse and keyboard. I can’t wrap my head around it… or maybe I don’t want to. I’ve been flying with a stick for so long, nothing else makes sense to me. I understand that a mouse is better suited for aiming and gimbals… but again, I play to FLY. I love the flight control I have with sticks. It’s the main reason I could never get into the old Freelancer game. The whole point-and-click flight mode was a real let down to me personally when I was coming from Wing Commander and X-wing.
Q: If you don’t mind saying, what do you do outside of the game? Do you have any experience with photography/image editing/etc?
I’m a professional graphic designer, web designer, web developer, etc. I’ve been doing that since about 1997-ish. I’m currently self-employed and working from home while simultaneously taking care of my kids. I consider myself a photographer hobbyist and have been taking LOTS of pictures with SLR and DSLR cameras since I was a kid. Sometimes, my photographs find their way into my client’s graphic design projects… but mostly, it’s a hobby.
Q: How long have you been following Star Citizen?
Around November 2013, I went on an internet quest to find a modern combat flight sim. This was a ritual I went through every few months… craving something akin to the old Wing Commanders, X-Wing, and TIE Fighter games of the 90’s. Every so often I’d stumble on something that looked promising but they would never fill that void. I honestly don’t remember how, but Star Citizen suddenly appeared in my results that November. I looked into it… then looked more… and more. The more I read, watched, listened, the more I craved. Eventually I realized that my friend had told me about the kickstarter back in 2012 but for whatever reason, I never looked into it. Neither had he… but he was at least aware of it. By December I decided I had to support the game so I pledged for the Aurora LN package. A week or two later, I upped it to the Avenger Bounty Hunter package.
Q: What about the game drew you to it?
I loved Wing Commander (and others like it), I was looking for a space combat flight sim (like a real flight sim, not Strike Suite Zero type stuff), and was captivated by the pitch and goals. I had never backed a crowd funded project before, so I didn’t have all the scorn from being burned before as others have. I was a naive virgin.
Q: What do you think you’ll do in Star Citizen?
I’m a virtual pilot… I like going pew pew. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. BUT, as more things come online in the universe, I find myself expanding my gameplay options. Ideally, I try everything. I have no hard and fast plans… other than playing a cool game and having FUN.
Q: Tell me about the pictures you did. How long does it take to set one up?
In the beginning, I was just taking shots with little planning while I was playing. As time went on, the shots became more and more complicated. These days, I find myself loading up SC more often to take screenshots, not just to play, because I have an idea for a shot I need to try.
As for how long they take to setup, it all depends on the subject and what’s going on. The action/combat stuff can take a while especially if I’m actively trying to track a target to shoot at WHILE lining up the screenshot that I want. But sometimes, there is no plan and a picture presents itself. So it’s all over the place. One of my most recent, “Rattlers Inbound” took several play sessions to get right. I probably spent 45 minutes in-game taking shot after shot. The camera is facing the ship, so I can’t see what’s in front of me. But, in order to launch a missile, you have to have a target AND missile lock. In order to have missile lock, you have to have your target near the target reticle. It was a logistics nightmare because I was trying this in Vanduul Swarm on live Vanduul targets. I have one friend who plays SC with me and he wasn’t available to act as a dummy target.
After that, I bring almost all my shots in Photoshop and spend another 5-30 minutes doing post-production work.
Q: What’s your method for it?
If I have an idea for a shot, there’s a lot more involved. Getting to the location, getting in the right lighting, getting a good camera angle (which is tricky with the lack of control), etc. If it’s a combat shot, I have to get the target, fire the weapons, and all that jazz.
I use MSI Afterburner for both recording video and taking screenshots. It ended up being the best option for my rig after testing things like FRAPS and OBS as far as recording video goes. As a bonus that I discovered later, it can also take screenshots as uncompressed (lossless) PNG files. I’m all about starting with the highest quality source files possible.
I use a modified version of Bored Gamer’s custom user.cfg files (PERFORMANCE and ULTRA QUALITY). Basically, I started with his PERFORMANCE cfg and bumped settings up until I had something that looked good but was still very playable. My cfg is geared towards playing, not taking shots. But it is present so I mention it.
I’m almost always recording my gameplay with MSI Afterburner. If something cool happens on video that I didn’t have time to grab as a true screenshot, I’ll take a frame from the video as a screenshot. My monitor maxes out at 1920×1080 so video is taken at that resolution.
Recently, if I’m taken a screenshot from the game (not video after the fact), I’ll use AMD’s “super resolution” feature (from my R9 390) to fake my resolution higher and make 3200×1800 available as a selection in the game’s settings. Using that resolution for more than a few minutes really puts a strain on my rig so I try not to play at that setting for long. Once I get my shot, I’ll bring the resolution back down to 1920×1080. But this is why some of my shots are at 1920×1080, 2560×1440, or 3200×1800. Sometimes I’ll intentionally scale a 1080 image up to 1440 to help blur some of the aliasing… but that obviously results in a lower quality shot.
If it’s a complicated or moving shot, I’ll often take 10-20 shots before I think I’ve got something decent. So I’ll then have to weed through the options and narrow it down to one or two good ones.
What ever the source, I’ll always pull the image into Photoshop and do light to heavy post-production work like cropping, rotating, adjust levels, color and vibrance. Some need more work like removing UI/HUD elements. Since there is little-to-no anti-aliasing right now, I’m always trying to smooth out the most jagged lines. Basically, just trying to take a regular screenshot up a notch without being heavy handed with the manipulation. If I do alter the shot significantly, I call it out. I don’t want to mislead people with my shots.
Q: Why did you decide to start taking them?
Initially, it was secondary to my YouTube channel. In December 2015, I had a client asking to integrate their YouTube channel into their website beyond the normal mundane ways. I had absolutely no experience on the creator end of YouTube so I knew I needed to create a test account to learn the ins and outs. I quickly realized I also needed content to post. I thought, “well, I play this cool game, why not make simple game play videos… no one will want watch them anyway”. On a whim, I shared my second ever YouTube video (“Gonna Hit the Brakes and He’ll Fly Right By”) on the main SC subReddit and had 8,000 views and 10 subscribers in 24 hours I think. It was INSANE. It was also featured on ATV. What else could I do… but keep making my little gameplay videos.
I like making interesting and relevant screen captures for the video thumbnails but I thought if I shared them and mentioned the video, I might get a view extra views. I didn’t really think my shots were any better than other screenshots. At some point though, I got annoyed with seeing the UI/HUD in a lot of other people’s shots and thought there could be some epic and beautiful shots if they were tweaked a little. And, being a veteran Photoshopper, I decided to take some shots and clean them up.
I own only one ship: the Avenger. So most of my early screenshots focused on the Angry Space Penguin. Because of that, I found a group of backers on the subReddit that shared my love of the Avenger both aesthetically and functionally. I got a lot of positive feedback from my Avenger shots which spurred me to try bigger and better things. It’s been snowballing out of control ever since… so I guess I blame the community?
So, I continue on, for better or worse. This is still just a side project/experiment but also very enjoyable.
Q: What are you most proud of with them?
I’m proud of each and every one of my public images for one reason or another. The shots that I share are a small fraction of a mountain of horrible screenshots though. So, because I see how bad it COULD have been, I may see things differently.
But I consider a shot truly successful if:
I am always amazed by which images do well and are praised by the community and which fall flat. But that’s true with any creative endeavor.
Q: What’s the most difficult part to taking your pictures?
Aside from getting the camera into a good position; dealing with aliasing, LODs and general graphic anomalies. It’s easier to take a shot from further away than you need and crop it down (which helps remove UI/GUI elements). But in doing so, you run the risk of triggering a lower Level Of Detail on a ship. Look at this shot which was not cropped and this one that was cropped a little tighter. The Avenger in the sunrise shot is smoother and lacking detail. That REALLY bugs me.
Q: Did you run into any problems while trying to take them?
Usually with the camera fighting me. But at the same time, it’s that lack of control and limited options that I thrive in. In art classes, I performed much better when I was creatively solving design issues with very restrictive rules. One exercise would be something like, “use 3 circles of varying sizes to create an interesting composition inside this 4″ x 4″ box using only white and black”. On the flip side, if a teacher dropped a lump of clay on my desk and said, “make anything you like”, I’d sit there dumbfounded for most of the class.
Q: If someone wanted to start trying to snag snazzy pictures for Star Citizen, or any game, what would you give them as far as advice?
I break gaming screenshot critiques into two very broad categories:
(1) For a shot to really be successful, I think the game needs to running at a very high graphics level. For a game like SC, that’s hard for a lot of people, me included. I’m lucky that my 3 year old i5 doesn’t complain a whole lot, but I’m not running at Ultra or anything like that. If a game is a low fidelity game, that’s fine. But it should still be captured at really high settings within that game. I don’t think a low resolution shot should effect the judgement of the composition, but it definitely hinders the reception of the image.
(2) And then there’s the act of actually taking the shot. It may sound silly to some, but taking screenshots can be considered an art. There is a surprisingly large community on Flickr of people doing just that. And the images they put out are INSANE. Beautifully composed shots with great attention to detail. The good ones convey a story or an emotion just like a great photograph would. Most of them are photographers in real life or at least have photography experience or training. I’m not on that level but I’m gunning for it.
And try to capture or convey a story or emotion or something to be interpreted from the shot. Most of mine fail at that. But the shots by others that I feel are truly epic, they say something… at least to me.
And finally, be accepting of criticism. Crave criticism… it’s one way we learn and improve. While internet points are super ultra important, I actually get upset when no one comments on a screenshot or video of mine especially if it doesn’t seem to be doing well by internet metrics.
Q: Think you’ll keep taking the pictures?
Absolutely. I’m very excited to see the current test Universe expand out and give us more places of interest. And of course, once the full Star Citizen universe goes live, I’ll venture out and try to find unique imagery (not necessarily unique places). I never fancied myself an explorer… but this screenshot thing has me itching for new places.
Q: What would make taking them easier in the game?
Better camera controls. I was talking with Tyler Witkin over Twitter one day. He had just shown me this incredible screenshot he had taken. He admitted to “cheating” since he did it in-ENGINE (not in-game) where they have much more freedom of camera position. I asked if he knew when WE might get more in-GAME camera control and the ability to remove the HUD and such stuff. He said not until those types of tools are released. But in the end, a main draw for me in taking these screenshots is the challenge of capturing something interesting and unique within the restricted confines of the game and its settings.
Q: What’s your favorite ship in Star Citizen? Why is it your favorite ship?
The Angry Space Penguin is my overall favorite! And that’s mostly nostalgia talking since it’s the only ship I own (owned the Aurora LN for about a week before upgrading). In recent patches, it’s performance has finally been brought back down to be more inline with it’s role compared to the dedicated dog fighters. The Gladius is one of the most aesthetically pleasing ships to me and is decent in a fight. But for pure AC combat, the Sabre is my go to. I’m a single seater kinda guy.
Q: How did you feel when you were announced as MVP?
I don’t watch ATV until Friday’s during lunch.. part of it is because I’m busy in the afternoon and part of it is because my kids like to watch with me. So I had no idea until Tyler Witkin sent me a direct message on Twitter saying “Grats on MVP”. He did the same thing a few days later to let me know they borrowed a couple shots for the monthly report.
Q: If you had one thing you wanted to tell the community as a whole, what would it be?
One thing? Tag @DiscoLando on EVERY tweet you send. He loves it.
THANK YOU! Like I said, I’ve never been part of an online gaming community before. I really had no idea what to expect or that I would end up “creating” stuff. The community has been entertaining, helpful, supportive, etc in every interaction I’ve had with it. And that’s exclusive to my screenshots or videos… it goes for everything. The internet came be a dark and scary place… but there is a lot of good out there.
Q: Is there anything else you want to add?
I need to give a big thanks to Ray Roocroft, the “Customer Experience Manager” at the CIG UK office. When I decided to expand my “Hasgaha” experiment to Twitter, he was one of the first people who started responding to me for some unknown reason. I’m not even sure how he found me… I certainly had no idea who he was and was not tagging him in my tweets. After I shared a few screenshots, he sent what I considered to be a cryptic message, “ps hit me up if you want a test drive of any potential ships! :)”. I thought, “wait, did a CIG employee just offer me ships? That can’t be right”. I then had him clarify it repeatedly because I still couldn’t believe it.
He’s since been incredibly supportive and helpful. Remember, I only own an Avenger, but he’s given me access to other ships and the means to REC a lot of other items for screenshots and videos. Initially, to put his offer to the test, I requested the Khartu-al shortly after it hit the LIVE branch. Later, I asked for the Freelancer to create screenshots for a project the Hunter Comic guy was working on. Ray’s reasoning was that I was creating content and promoting the game so he wanted to help make sure I had the assets to continue. I can’t tell him “thanks” enough.