Friday, April 3, 2020

Blapril Day #4 - Totally Reliable Delivery Service

Human history is filled with records of desperate humans resorting to unthinkable acts in times of great distress.

On April 2, 2020, Mrs. Everwake and I were driven to an act of madness. Pushed to do so something so unthinkable that no one else as ever even attempted it.

We launched a game other than Fortnite from the Epic Games Launcher.

Scrolling through a list of games that were once claimed, but never installed, never thought about, lost to the obscurity of time, I chose a recent selection. Totally Reliable Delivery Service. Why? Does the hyena know why it laughs? Does the desolate night consider it's own darkness? Will Tim Sweeney ever stop lighting money on fire? Some questions are simply unanswerable.

We loaded into the world and were immediately tasked with delivering a box from point A to point B. This was made difficult by the loosey-goosey controls. Left mouse button grabs with the left hand, right mouse button grabs with the right hand. 'Q' and 'E' raise each respective arms. Walking is slow and unstable.

It's a physics sandbox along the likes of Goat Simulator, which I never played. The difficulty of basic movement is what makes the game what it is, but it also makes the game tedious to accomplish a specific task. The Mrs. and I quickly abandoned the pretense of delivering anything and simply ran around the map.

We found a draw bridge and raised it to it's max height. Then we got into the delivery truck and ramped over it. I made it, the wife didn't.

Respawns are quick and fast. So on we went.

We found a lovely boardwalk with a Ferris Wheel. She got in a cart and I turned on the power. Due to the difficult nature of the controls, she didn't get exactly into the cart.

Then it was my turn.

And on it goes. There seems to be maybe 40-50 little diversions on the island, either a new vehicle or perhaps a playground.

Eventually, the wifey and I found a hot air balloon and went for a little ride.

We tried to drag race a blimp but lost.

Then we found a light house and decided to end our hot air balloon ride by playing lawn darts.

We were the darts. We also missed.

We then found a mountaintop campground. Mrs. Everwake elected to take the sled down.

I went for the hang glider.

Not surprisingly, we got separated. I found a rocket base and figured that would be an expeditious way of getting back together.

It of course, ended exactly how you thought it would.

After testing the limits of the game's verticality, the Mrs. pointed out the difficulty of topping a rocket ride to the stratosphere. We played for a little under two hours and feel we got our money's worth. Which, for the next week is free on the Epic Games Launcher and also included as part of the Xbox Game Pass. I don't particularly think it's worth paying for, but it was a fun mini-date night in the middle of a quarantine.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Thunder Dome is the New Law

In times like these, it's important to remind ourselves of how fortunate we are actually are. I feel particularly privileged during this quarantine as I'm both young and healthy. Our jobs are not overly impacted by the crisis and we have a rainy day fund healthy to survive even the worst case scenarios of the social lockdown.

But then we lost electricity to an ice storm.

If you need me I'll be leading a band of Corona Marauders across the American Midwest. Mob justice is law and gasoline will be our currency. We will protect you, but we cannot save you.


Literally as I typed this the power came back on. We are fine. I will now return to my sweatpants.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Blapril Day 3: Same Old

A little late getting this post out, but then again, not a whole lot happened on the gaming front.

No D&D yesterday, the second session is happening tonight.

Animal Crossing is still slowly rolling on. Recruited my first villager from the Campsite. Naithin at Time to Loot remarked on how slowly things unlocked in Animal Crossing. At first I pushed back against the idea but now I think he's right. I'm about halfway through the second week of this game and things are starting to slow down for already. Hopefully the Easter event that starts today gets me interested.

And that's about it. I did play an hour of Faerie Solitaire Harvest but there really isn't anything say about that. Most of my time was spent reading my RSS Feed which has exploded as a result of Blapril. I'm gong to need to cut back somewhere, probably the more general gaming news sites like Destructoid and Rock Paper Shotgun. I think I read for 4 hours yesterday and finally emerged from my computer chair with enough back pain to sideline a horse. That's not sustainable.

Speaking of RSS feeds, I just noticed I was the 'headliner' for MassivelyOP's Global Chat article. It's weird and flattering to pop up on a site I've been reading for a decade or more. I'm sure my mom will be very proud. (And she might, she reads this blog. Hi mom!) It would probably be cooler if I didn't mention it at all, but I gave up on such thing years ago. Maybe I'll print the article out and put it on the fridge.

So yeah, a light day gaming wise, but today is looking promising. D&D, Animal Crossing Easter event, maybe finish up Shenmue 1, and try out a new early access Steam game called The Coin Game. It's an "arcade simulator" where you walk around playing crane machines, Stacker, etc. Not hard to see why a proxy of real life would appeal to me during times like these.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Blapril - Day 2: More Animal Crossing and Dungeons & Dragons

Today was our first real D&D session. Like many first sessions, it was all role play and no combat. Our adventure is taking us to a jungle along the Sword Coast, although we started the session in Baldur's Gate. At least I think I have the geography right. I know all these proper nouns by reputation, but I've never really played a D&D session or video game in these worlds. My only other D&D campaign took place in what seemed to be a generic setting. If I've played a D&D video game, I don't remember it, although looking at my game libraries I seem to own plenty of them. 

Anyways, we spent our two hours filling out the flavor aspects of our character, going over some of the technical aspects of the Fantasy Grounds Unity program, and setting our story in motion. Our party formed when we each individually answered the ad of a well known wizard. It seems there is a MacGuffin in a jungle that keeps people from resurrecting the dead. Consider how inexperienced we are in playing D&D, this might become a practical problem for us. Either way, we are teleported to a port town I can't remember the name of and then set off to the local tavern to find a guide.

I decided to throw some spanners in the works for RP purposes. My character doesn't drink and doesn't approve of those who do. He's also very evasive about spending money. Both are a bit out of character for a noble. There's obvious reasons behind both of these traits but I'm trying to slow play it and let the other players deal with those potential storyline threads as they wish. This is my first time taking RP seriously, so I don't know if I'm helping the session along or just being annoying.

As a side note, Fantasy Grounds Unity let's me use the /ooc command in the chat box. It's a dumb little thing, but reminds me of older MMOs who also have the same chat channel. MMOs take so many ideas from D&D, and here's a slice of D&D that's taking the idea from them. /camp does not begin slowly logging me out though.

Animal Crossing continues. I've made myself a little checklist of 'chores' to get through everyday. My goal is to move the 'storyline' along and unlock all of the features of my island while buying out all of the vendors everyday to increase the size of my catalog. I'm slowly saving up to pay off the second house expansion, which is 198,000 bells.

Today I unlocked the campsite. If I recall from the 3DS version of the game, this unlocks Amiibo functionality. I own every AC Amiibo figure and not a small portion of the AC Amiibo cards. I also want to unlock Scoot for my village. Scoot is the duck in my avatar for both Blogger and Wordpress.

I played several hours of a casual game called Faerie Solitaire Harvest, a sequel to the original Faerie Solitaire. They're not solitaire in the Microsoft Solitaire sense of things, but closer to puzzle matching games. They have a nominal story, progression, talent trees, things to unlock, etc. I tag these kinds of games on Steam as 'Busy Hands'. They don't require overly much concentration and can be played in a Windowed mode. It's literally just a game to keep my hands busy as I'll plow through my RSS feed every morning. The 50% off sale for the game was timed nicely, as my blog feeds have runneth over as a result of Blapril.

It's nice to see so many people blogging once more. I know it's a smaller number of people than during Blaugust, but I bet more people will stick with it during this event, if for no other reason than a lot of us don't have much else to do.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Blapril - Day 1: Animal Crossing and Dungeons & Dragons

This first day of Blapril has arrived and it's a good time for it. All the days these past two weeks have begun to blend together. It's a bit gauche to complain of boredom in a time when many would only wish they were bored, but it's the hand I've been dealt and it's the one I'll have to play.

Today was session 0 of the first Dungeons & Dragons campaign I've played in 4 years. It's functionally the second campaign I've been part of overall.

There have been some changes in four years. We're running D&D 5th Edition instead of 3.5, we're running only three party members instead of four, and of course the campaign is being run online instead of on my dining room table.

We ran into any number of technical hurdles this session, not the least which was Fantasy Ground's servers being down for the first two hours. We're using the Fantasy Ground Unity software, which is in beta, so trouble was expected anyhow. When we were able to get in, it seemed mostly functional. I like how the D&D Handbook, as well as all the other purchased supplemental material is seamlessly worked into the UI. If you're not sure what a feat on your character sheet does you can just mouse over it and get the explanation. A pretty useful bit of tech for someone who understand the D&D broad strokes, but not necessarily the actual execution. I do enjoy having the physical books, D&D material are fascinating reads whether you actually play or not. But not having to break out the tomes of law in the middle of a game session will keep play smooth and more focused on the role play.

With the server troubles, only our DM was able to log into our session. Discord's screen sharing feature, which was recently made available to all because of the Corona outbreak, came in clutch. We were able to build all of our characters live as the DM filled out our character sheets for us. I'll be playing a sword-and-board fighter with a noble background. The DM's girlfriend will be playing a Bard from the College of Glamour but with a mysterious past. Mrs. Everwake will be a Cleric following the goddess of agriculture.

Because of the self-sequestration, I've been subject to any number of teleconferencing software and am genuinely impressed by just how well Discord handles any number of needs. Having to dig out my copies of Google Hangouts and Skype have shown just how far we've come in this regard. Gaming communication on the computer has come a long ways in general. I never particularly hated using Roger Wilco or Ventrillo back in the day, but it would be hard to go back to such crude interfaces or having to rent servers today.

Animal Crossing continues on. I'm purposely not trying to munchkin my experience and have been playing pretty casually overall. Maybe an hour or two a day. I get my town center to today, which I know brings back Isabelle but I'm not sure what else. I've been focusing my energies and my Bells to populate my catalog. I'll leave the decorating of my house and island until I have more pieces to work with. I've played most iterations of AC since the GameCube edition, so this is all old hat to me. It's a visit to an old stomping ground during trying times.

Playing everyday does make me yearn for a vacation to a tropical island in my real life. For now my digital village will do.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Genshin Impact - How many times can I say Breath of the Wild?

Like most beta invites that arrive in my inbox, I don't think I signed up for the closed beta of Genshin Impact. (It's possible that I did and just don't remember it.) But it arrived at a good moment as I obviously have nothing but free time right now. At first, it seems to be another generic anime-esque MMO offering that I would otherwise ignore. But having played it for a couple of hours it really is quite different. Well different from a generic MMO. In fact it's not an MMO at all. It's a rip off of Breath of the Wild. A fairly stylish looking one though.

The words 'Tap to Begin' are rarely a good sign for a PC game's quality.

It really is anime Breath of the Wild. The main difference is that Genshin Impact actually uses anti-aliasing and Breath of the Wild doesn't drop to single digit frame rates in the open world. It's closed beta so maybe they will get that bit sorted before launch, but nothing should ever chug on my RTX 2080.

I do think the combat feels a little better here than in BotW. Perhaps I'm more comfortable with keyboard and mouse controls. It doesn't have Nintendo's newest addiction, weapons that break every minute, so you can actually play the game without fumbling through the menus all the time.

(RANT ALERT: I HATE, HATE, HATE this constantly breaking weapons nonsense in BotW and Animal Crossing. This "feature" is a gigantic hassle that exists only to make the developer's lives easier. A developer can promote using a variety of weapons the same way Doom does it, by making certain weapons effective against certain types of enemies and in certain types of situations. You can stimulate an economy by making a large variety of interesting weapons, tools, and objects that you genuinely want to craft. But that's hard to do and taking away something you already have is much easier. If you don't mind it now, you're going to hate this stuff too when every game developer is copying it into their games in 5 years.)

In-game cinematic. Everything here is genuinely reachable.

It has the same cooking and crafting features that BotW does. It has the same endless gathering of materials that BotW does. It has the same interminable walking about that BotW does. It has everything that BotW does. Where it stands out is the inclusion of little things: hotkey special attacks, multiple party members that you can switch to at anytime, and an actual level system. I don't know if there are enough ideas here to separate it from BotW, but for anyone who just wants something to play between BotW and BotW 2 then you have your game.

The UI gets a bit buys at times.

Now that I know it's a single player game, I'm going to stop playing it and just wait for a full release. It's something to keep an eye on, but I suspect I may wait for it to go on deep discount instead of pre-ordering. I didn't love Breath of the Wild for any number of reasons and I have my doubts if I can take the overly cutesy anime aesthetic for long periods of time.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Phantasy Star Online 2 and Some Troubleshooting

Taking screenshots on the Xbox One is an awful experience. You have to press the big 'X' in the middle of the controller (I think it's called the guide button), and then press Y. This is in contrast to the PS4, Switch, and PC where it just takes a quick button press. And then actually getting a hold of the pictures is a pain in the butt. I can access my Xbox Activity Feed through a browser and see every screenshot that I took. But I can't right-click my own images to save them. It's like a crappy mid-2000s bit of JavaScript that disables right-clicking to protect their images. Except they're not Microsoft's images, they're mine!

Trying to share the images through the Xbox console app via Twitter causes a confirm prompt to pop up. Except that immediately closes itself before I have a chance to do anything. I have a bunch of screenshots on this device and absolutely no way of doing anything useful with them.

Then I found a feature hidden in the depths of the Xbox console itself to manually upload each screenshot to OneDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage product. This would actually work out just fine. If it actually ever uploaded my screenshots.

Did I mention the several seconds of stuttering lag the console makes whenever I take a screenshot? If the budget mobile phone that is the Switch can handle this without a fuss I really think the Xbox One S should do better. Maybe it's just certain games that cause it to lag out, but surely taking a screenshot can't be that taxing to the entire system.

You would think a software company like Microsoft would have had the ability to do something as basic as screenshotting and then sending those screenshots somewhere useful. Maybe if they weren't committed to changing the Xbox's home screen every two weeks they could get some of the basic features working better.

UPDATE: But alas, I have done it. Despite Microsoft's best efforts I have managed to download my own screenshots. The key is the Xbox Activity Feed that I can access via my browser. While the website won't let me right-click my own screenshots, I can use Firefox's built in 'Page Info' feature to scrape all the media off a page into a list of URLs. From there, I can pick out my screenshots from the various HTML flotsam, copy their URL into another tab, and then right-click and save them to my screenshots folder. Of course, it saves the screenshots in some obscure photo format that I then need to manually convert to .png. Jokes on you Microsoft, I'll turn your console's disaster of a UI into a serviceable piece of software yet.

Anyhow, on to the actual game.

I had somewhat played Phantasy Star Online back in the halcyon days of the Dreamcast. I say somewhat, because, as my friends enjoyed playing with one another on their broadband connections, I was stuck playing the single player version because of my 28k modem connection. PSO as single player is not a particularly thrilling experience. Take the controls of the first 20 levels of EQ1, combine them with the cramped, linear maps of the early 2000s and then repeat the exact same process for an interminable grind.

So I walk into PSO2 with more of a meta-nostalgia. I like the Phantasy Star aesthetic as a whole. It's a mix of high fantasy and sci-fi that is probably super common in the MMO space, but not one I experience all that often.

Graphics wise there isn't much to get excited over. The game is originally from 2012 and it looks like it. Some scenes look like they've been redone with contemporary anti-aliasing, others very much do not. Perhaps things would come together a bit nicer if I owned a Xbox One X, but that's not a purchase I'm going to make this late in the console cycle.

The first hour or two of gameplay are exactly as I always envisioned it. Lock on to targets with 'Lb". 'X' button for normal attack and 'Y' button for a power attack. Try to time your attacks when you see a red circle around your character to do higher damage. Dodge or block with 'Rb'. You can change the attacks available to you mid-combat but changing your 'palette' to a different set of two attacks, or by switching to a different weapon and getting another set of two attacks. It sorta works like the Guild Wars 2 combat system, but much less robust.

I'm playing as a robot, because why play as a human if you can choose to not. I'm playing as a female robot because apparently robots have a gender in the Phantasy Star world. I'm also playing as a female because PSO2 continues the long and grand tradition of featuring robust character creation tools that nonetheless make all the male characters look like tools.

Playing an MMO on a controller still feels limiting to me. The game itself is obviously designed with a controller in mind, so the gameplay feels perfectly fine. But there is a zero chance I ever chat with somebody using the software keyboard. It's just too cumbersome. If I stick with PSO2 I'll see if I can connect a Bluetooth keyboard to the Xbox One.

The story is some hand-wavy nonsense. We are a member of a military/expeditionary force called the ARKs. We go to some planet, the universe's bad guys are also there. we beat them up, we return, a vague cut scene alluding to us being a chosen one, yadda yadda.

It's nothing I wasn't expecting. It's an iteration of PSO1 and doesn't seem to be trying much harder than that. Which is fine, I wasn't deluged with 8 years of added gameplay features and events on my first log in. It's a gussied up button masher in the skeleton of an MMO and that has it's place.

Not sure if I'll log in again. It does require an Xbox Live Gold subscription which is a hard sell when I don't play other multiplayer games on my Xbox. But maybe Microsoft can throw some money Sega's way and also get this as part of the PC version of Xbox Game Pass. That's would be a great deal.