Friday, September 18, 2020

Final Fantasy XIV: I Never Thought I'd Fight a Moogle

I've continued playing Final Fantasy XIV. Quite a bit actually.

At the beginning of the month I declared that I wanted to "...knock out all of the side quests in the base game and level up some of the other classes first." I technically haven't leveled classes, I've only added the black mage to my collection of level 50s. But I have completed, as far as I know, all the side quests that launched with the game in patch 2.0. There's a bunch of them, so of course it's possible that I missed one here or there. I haven't of course, done all the class quests yet, as that requires leveling each class to 50.

I also haven't done the Coil of Bahamut raid. I don't know what to expect from this experience. I've done the Trials on Hard mode and found them challenging but not overly difficult. Is legacy end-game content in FF14 going to be a proper pain? Am I even going to find a group for it?

Either way, we're on to the 2.1 content. It's a small main story quest (that I've already done), a couple of side quests, and 'extreme' mode versions of all the trials (one off boss fights). Or at least that's the parts I plan on doing. I've already done the trials on both normal and hard modes. I'm finding my motivation to take on yet another version of these fights to be a bit flagging. These might get socked away in the MMO junk drawer for a while.

The main story quest has been ... 'alright'. I'd certainly be disappointed with it if this was a single-player Final Fantasy game. But the high praise given to the story in the expansions is keeping me motivated to see things through.

What was fun, and slightly absurd, was the trial fight against Good King Moggle Mog. I mean firstly, listen to this music that plays during the fight:


I'm pretty sure this theme, at minimum, heavily resembles 'This is Halloween' from Nightmare Before Christmas.


(Does this technically make this a Kingdom Hearts crossover?).

Borrowing aside, it feels absurd to be laying the wood to Final Fantasy's cuddliest creatures. What's next? Punching out chocobos? That doesn't feel that unlikely at this point.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Would Someone Please Take My Money?

About once a month I look over the Everwake family budget and update all the numbers. It takes maybe 20 minutes now that I have a system, and it involves mostly copying and pasting. But about two months ago I stared good and long at the line item in our savings budget, 'Vacation Money'.

It was a melancholy moment indeed when I deleted the label for the more generic "Entertainment" moniker.

With the Covid-19 pandemic going nowhere in a hurry, our outings have been small affairs, usually hiking about the various state and national parks that litter the lands around our home. Walking in public parks doesn't exactly eat into the budget.

And perhaps that's well enough. This holiday season has no shortage of money-sinks for the video game inclined with the launches of the Sony PlayStation 5, Microsoft Xbox Series X, and the RTX 3090 graphics card. Add a potential purchase of a Valve Index VR set to the mix and this is looking like a might expensive season even without booking a day at the beach.

That of course, hinges on these various company's ability to actual take the money I'm trying to give them. I've been sitting on the wait list for the Valve Index for about 3 months now, and at a certain point I have to wonder if sitting out until the Valve Index 2 isn't becoming a more prudent option. 

Additionally, last night Sony screwed the pooch with a pre-order launch of the PlayStation 5 that arrived a day early. Word on the street is that Wal-Mart jumped the gun on releasing pre-order sales and the rest of the retail world dutifully followed suit. For Sony, who may very well not be at fault for any of this mess, selling out of your product a month before you intend to ship it isn't exactly a failure in their eyes. But yours truly was apparently 12 hours too late to secure his own Alienware-knockoff console.

Restocks will happen, later rather than sooner, and I'll get my hands on the next-gen yet. But so far this season I'm 0 for 2 on hardware, and this Tuesday's release of the Xbox Series X pre-orders might be my last chance. The 3090 graphics card looks handsome enough, but I've had my 2080 for only two years and I have some misgivings about upgrading so soon. If my luck continues, it may either be consolation prize, or a clean sweep of my lack of consumer prowess.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Final Fantasy 14: In Search of a Quest

So the landscape is thus ...

I completed the 2.0 Main Story Quest on my Gladiator/Paladin. He is now at level 50, waiting to do the 2.1+ story quests.

I decided to level a Thaumaturge to 50 by doing all the side quests in the game. He is currently at level 24, having run out of quests to do for his level range. There are quests from level 26+, but you can't actually turn them in until you are the appropriate level.

I'm honestly surprised that their aren't enough side quests to level a second class. I mean there is certainly no mandate from up high that it must be so, but I do find it odd. This second class is even getting double XP by glint of having a class level higher than it. 

There is of course dungeons, levequests, and FATES to level up on. But those are all a bit mindless and tedious. I was hoping for enough unique, story content to level up two classes, if not more. FF14 has an awful lot of experience bars to fill up, but didn't bother making a whole lot of unique content in order to fill it up with. Every MMO is grindy, for some reason I was expecting FF14 to be less so.

All of this is even more odd considering the changes introduced in 5.3. My RSS feed has several bloggers reporting that the Main Story Quest is providing so much XP that's they're outleveling their main class beyond the MSQ's levels. Having a character that's in their level 40s while still doing level 24 MSQ quests seems common. 

It would seem to me that the XP curve is a little all over the place. Obviously, the developers want to stretch content out as much as possible while putting in as little effort on their part as possible, particularly in regards to older content. Repeatable content is the key to that, but it comes at a price. The questing is so anemic in 2.0 that it lets the entire world building down. A quest chain introduces an NPC with a problem, you turn in 5 bear butts, and then you never talk to them again. Again, lots of quests in MMOs work that way, but most MMOs have at least some quests that don't. 

It feels as if the developers made X number of quests for a questing hub, then turned 4-6 of them into levequests. Any quests left other got put on the world map and turned into side quests.

I've heard rumbles of complaints about questing in 2.0 in general. I wasn't sure if that was solely the MSQ, which can at times be both the dismally paced and tedious. But I suspect the side quests suffer because they're filler. The devs really seem to want you in that Duty Finder, adding population to low level dungeons and keeping the game seem alive and popular. 

Again, nothing here is the end of the world. It's no one's birthright to have multiple "alts". But the questing feels a bit stingy from an XP standpoint, and 5.3 was an opportunity to address that.

My goal was to knock out all the 2.0 side quests this month. Turns out, I may very well finish before the three-day weekend is done.

Assuming I'm willing to do a lot of non-questing first.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

September Goals

 I was doing so well. Knocking out my Promptapalooza prompts every day.

And then I didn't.

Rolling into our seventh month of quarantining and I'm just as angsty as ever.  But it's the first of the month and that feels like a nice, round reason to get back into things.

My last month has been light on video gaming. A pretty usual thing for me in August. I've filled in that spare time with more outdoorsy activities. I even did a bit of properly distanced socializing. 

Most of my RSS feed is a 'September Goals' post of one form or another. Let's do that then.

Gaming
I've been playing Final Fantasy 14 off and on for about two months now. I don't really know why. I like Final Fantasy. I like MMOs. Why haven't I played it more before now? Some questions don't have answers. I am playing it now, and recently completed the base game's storyline.
 
Well not recently, I actually did it last month, right before the 5.3 patch came along and shortened the quest line. Or reduced the XP needed, and still left the vast majority of the quest line? I'm having difficulty getting a straight answer on the matter but it's done regardless. I still need to complete the quests from the base game's patches. But first I want to knock out all of the side quests in the base game and level up some of the other classes first.

Biking
For living in one of the flattest locations in the United States, the local bike paths seem to have plenty of hills anyway. I dug my wife's old commuter bike out of the garage and handed it over to the local bike repair shop. They did a good job with it. And then I immediately went a broke part of the front brake taking it home. Thankfully, some percussive-based metalworking got everything back in order.

My hometown is small, a full-loop of the bike-safe roads is only about 5 miles or so. Thankfully, nearby towns have some longer dedicated paths and were only about 2 hours away from a proper 300 mile path that I won't be defeating anytime soon. Altogether I was able to do about 15 mile trip yesterday. Not a lot for experienced bikers but enough to make my legs jelly this morning.

I want to do a 25-mile ride before the end of the month. I can't really tell if this is ambitious or not. But I'm not that out of shape. I think it's plenty doable.

Blogging
4 posts a week. It's not like I really have anything else going on.

Drawing
In my never ending quest to own every computer accessory ever made, I purchased a Wacom Intuos drawing tablet and have begun doodling. I have no art talent at all. The only C I ever got in school came from 7th grade art class. And I had to hustle to earn that.

But I don't think there is anything inherent to it. I just haven't tried particularly hard at it. Writing and choir classes always came easily to me back in the school days and so I never needed to take an art classes in high school or college.

But I like doodling little pictures of our corgi and various stuffed animals. They make me happy and they make the wife happy. I also want to get some bits of art on this blog. Either some headers or in the side panels. I've looked into paying actual artists to it but ran into surprising amounts of friction getting people to email me back. Between this and home ownership I'm finding it puzzling difficult to give people money sometimes.

Either way, I purchased a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. It came up in recommendation threads more often than anything else and was only a ten dollar purchase on Amazon. So far, it has a lot to say about the psychology of learning and the human condition. I really just want to draw a dog with a fluffy butt. Nonetheless, I want to try to get through the exercises in this book before the end of the month.
 
Site Updates
I have been tinkering in the background on this blog. And by tinkering I mean rewriting it all from scratch. Blogger was never meant to be the long term home for this project. It's limiting and kind of ugly. I'm having no problem with the HTML and CSS portions of building a site, but trying to incorporate a CMS into my own code is proving to be a bit beyond my means, at least for now. 

I may actually give up on comments altogether. Most of my conversations around the blog tend to happen other places. I may just include an email form at the end of each blog and people can email there thoughts and I can include them in the next day's post. It sounds delightfully low-tech, but I suspect nobody is actually going to suffer through their browser opening a random email client and dealing with all that. But it's a thought.

Whether I actually push a new site live, stick with blogger, or give up and retreat to WordPress, I want to have it all done before the end of the month. I'm spending more time tinkering with this blog than actually blogging.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Blaugust Prompt-a-Palooza Day #8: An Excuse For a Picture of My Dog

If you had a mascot to represent you, what would it be? 

I already have a mascot. It's a stuffed sheep who goes by the name Happy.

Why? No real idea. Me and Mrs. Everwake bought him at a regional grocery store when we first moved in together for the heck of it. This started a long tradition of me buying stuffed animals, usually sheep or video game themed, whenever she had frustrations with her work and needed a pick me up.

We buy less sheep than we used to. Which is a nice metric.

Why sheep? Again, no real idea. I just think their funny.

I also consider the Everdog a bit of a mascot.

Unlike Happy, Everdog is terrible at video games. One could blame the lack of thumbs but I blame the lack of focus. My dreams of my furry daughter becoming an eSports star will not go away though.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Blaugust Prompt-a-Palooza Day #7: Which End of the Hammer Do I Use?

What skill do you want to improve on the most?

Is everything an answer? It's amazing how at the age of 32 I'm still mostly crummy at everything. I assumed at this point in my life I'd be able to juggle, change a tire, or basic gardening.

But as the owner of a newish house the skill I mostly desperately need is basic handyman stuff. I've never painted a wall before. Or replaced the carpenting. And while our house is nice enough, certain portions of it are more outdated than others.

Most of this stuff isn't hard. I just need to sit down and do it. I know for a fact that some of the dumbest people I know are capable of doing these things, so I best be able learn how to do it myself.

Stuff I had been meaning to do in the spring got put on hold because of the pandemic. When I've had contractors come out for quotes they either weren't wearing a mask or had it underneath their chin. The local hardware stores, both big names and small independent shops, have been incredlbly resistant to mask or social distancing measures. And of course money, it seemed prudent in a economic crash to be hoarding money, not spending it on expensive aesthetic upgrades.

But things are about as evened out as they can be in our neck of the woods. Our money situation is stabalized and hardware stores are mandated by the state to enforce masking. So as go about my day I'm making a mental list of which offenses are truly the most offensive. The old, stained carpet in the entryway. The ghoulishly awful vanity in the ground floor bathroom. The color of every wall in the house.

Winters can be very harsh here in Minnesota, particularly so when you live in the norther part of the state. So handy man season, for at least most projects, isn't going for too much longer.

So it's time to get my Bob the Builder on and start doing this stuff. I wish it was as drag-and-drop as the housing in most MMOs. But to be honest, I hardly ever did housing in those games anyways.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Blaugust Prompt-a-Palooza Day #6: "Neverwake" Quoth the Raven

What is a favorite Quote/s, and tell us why.

I had to think long and hard about this one. I don't really deal with quotes a whole lot. Using the same literary strategy as a takeout bag from Chipotle feels a bit guache. I quoted the Art of War to my mother last week and couldn't have felt more like a tool.

Then again, I hamfisted in a Poe reference on this post's title so perhaps I've got a bit more tooly potential in me yet.

Anyways.

Most Americans are familiar with Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player in the modern era. He was a tremendous player while dealing with the height of Jim Crow-era bullshit. He is an American icon and key player in the Civil Rights movement.

This post isn't about him.

I want to talk about the guy who signed him.

Branch Rickey was the general manager of the then Brooklyn Dodgers who wasn't going to let a little thing like a fuckton of racist fans keep him from signing the best ballplayer he could. He also innovated such concepts as job training (the minor leagues) and not taking a 90 miles per hour baseball to the head unprotected (batting helmets).

The bar for innovation was a lot lower 70 years ago.

Anyways.

He was a massively success man I wouldn't normally think about. But he has an enduring quote that sticks in my brain an awful lot: "Luck is the residue of design."

Like a lot of his contributions, this isn't exactly a profound statement. Nonetheless, I find it useful because I'm not a profound man. It's the execution of it all that I care about.

Sometimes I find myself having a string of rotten luck. Nothing usually too major, just annoying things like stubbed toes and accidentally leaving a bag of dog poop to fester in my entryway closet. But while bad things are always a threat to happen just because, I do sense that they tend to happen when I've gotten complacent. Maybe not getting enough sleep, I've let myself get distracted by a wrong opinion on the Internet, etc. It's never a comfort in the moment, but as a whole I'm soothed by the idea that life can go more smoothly if I'm vigilant about making it so.

I think this keys into some of my resistance about luck, or "randomness", in video games. I can just about smooth over the potholes in my real life my keeping an iron grip on our budget, heeding health precautions in a pandemic, etc. But boot up a game of Hearthstone and all of that control over my life goes out the window.

Not a fun experience for me.

Again, nothing profound here. But it is a quote that affects how I think about my everyday life. Although announcing I'm a risk averse control freak is probably not news to anyone who has ever read this blog. Or met me.

But I'm definitely not a tool. I have that going for me.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Blaugust Prompt-a-Palooza Day #5: My Time in the Spotlight

It's my day in the sun! The wheel of Promptapalooza has turned it's terrible gaze to me. The eyes of Belghast's Blaugustosphere empire rest upon my humble blog. Will I seize the provided prompt? Will I provide a response that leaves the masses weeping with joy in the streets? Or will I scribe a dithering dump, to the eternal ridicule of my blog peers?

That's perhaps a bit dramatic. Let me start over.

Yesterday, Roger at Contains Moderate Peril discussed underrated media and then passed the baton to me for my turn in the Promptapalooza relay. I have it on good authority that he's both a handsome and clever man. He's also been a fixture of my RSS feed for longer than I can remember. You should read him if you haven't.

Anyhow, let's get to today's prompt. I was bit longer winded than I usually am. Apologies in advance.



Everyone has specific rituals that they follow, tell us about one of yours.

My favorite ritual is staying up late on an autumnal night, collecting bits of salt, spice, and incense in a purpose-made basket, and walking a lush, green, forested path to an ancient monument that overlooks the neighboring valley. From there, I sacrifice a virgin and say a few words to satiate the RNG Gods so that we might have yet another bountiful raid for our tanks, who are squishier than a bag of bread.

For the record, this is not true. I don't even live near a valley anymore. Or raid for that matter.

An earlier version of this prompt actually asked about routines. I'm not sure why the wording changed, but it had me thinking about the difference. When I think of routines I think of habits. When I think of rituals I tend to think of superstition. I used to have some specific superstitions back in the day, particularly when it came to either playing baseball as a youngling or raiding in World of Warcraft.

A common superstition in baseball is to never walk on the chalk lines when entering or exiting the field. I also found this important. Some of that was practical. I was often early enough to games that I was the one who put the new chalk lines down. But mostly it was about respecting the 'sanctity' of the baseball field.

No matter how hard you try, one player can have only so much affect in a baseball game. You only get 4-5 at bats and limited fielding opportunities. A great pitching performance can have an outsized effect on the game, but you can only do that once or twice a week for endurance reasons.

So there's a lot of wishing and waiting. The downtime can be excruciating. Whether it's flipping your hat inside-out to coax a home run, or repeating the same three motions before every pitch, you fill in the gaps with a ritual you can control.

Same thing with raiding in an MMO. No matter how well I dodge the fire, interrupt the doomsday spell, or coordinate my trinkets with my cooldowns, I'm still at the mercy of all the other players. And potentially randomness within the boss design itself. (I'm not sure what's worse.)

So I had my rituals there too. Some were practical, checking bags for potions/regents, double check I'm not still wearing my fishing rod, etc. But others were pure superstition, like only jumping on specific tiles of the terrain on the way to a difficult boss. Again, it was a way to inject a certain amount of control in face of the uncontrollable.

But at a certain point I had to stop. It's stressful trying to control the chaos of the world.

And that's when I began trading my rituals for routines. It's when I realized I needed to fix the bigger picture.

This was especially important when I began freelancing. Being your own boss has some incredible perks, but it also means that nothing is getting done unless you initiate it all yourself. And for me, that was always a big ask, mentally. Every morning, get up and start chipping away at a giant project, with no coordination and less guidance, usually about a technical topic that I only have a passing familiarity with. No one's there to cheer or pressure you on. Just a deadline and a vast empty sea.

It's hard to describe just how debilitating that can be.

And so every project broke down into smaller pieces. And I developed routines for everyone of those pieces, and life was good. I didn't have to think about what to do, I would just sit down at my desk and do. And I found that a particularly great place to be.

But it's freelance. You get some dry spells. You get some nightmare clients. You get some projects that don't end up working for reasons beyond your control. And then I moved halfway across the country, away from most of those clients. And then we had a pandemic.

And right now I'm left without many routines. And that weighs on me. I spend an awful lot of my day deciding how to get the best out of my day. Sometimes I have good answers though. I knock out a few projects around the house, get the lawn mowed, etc. Other times I play Final Fantasy XIV all day. Which is fine, but feels awfully inconsequential.

It's in writing this that I realized I've been a bit misplaced. I keep trying to return to my old routines. But there is no substance to build those routines around. Money right now is fine, so I can theoretically pick and choose what work I do. But the work that can be done right now stirs nothing in me. There's not much one can do outside our quarantine bubble. I miss my friends dearly.

So right now I'm back to the old days. Wishing and waiting. Wishing people would put on their damn masks in this country. Waiting on things to return to normal.

Wishing and waiting to get back to my routine.



Okay, that wasn't the cheeriest ending. Sorry about that. And now I have to pass the baton on to our next contestant. Hopefully I didn't get it covered in too much dirt.

Wilhelm from the Ancient Gaming Noob has also been a mainstay of my RSS feed for longer than I remember. I have it on good authority that he's both a handsome and clever man. That's just what I've been told. You should read them if you haven't. They'll be talking about some of their favorite quotes. Maybe even tell us why they like them so much.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Blaugust Prompt-a-Palooza Day #4: Underrated Is the New Overrated

What type of content do you feel is severely underrated?

I bounced around several ideas for this topic. Are non-combat features still underrated in games? Considering how many survival games include crafting or exploration into their themes I'm inclined to say no. How about features that foster the creativity of a game's players? I'm not sure that's been true ever, and especially not true since every human being on earth owns at least one copy of Minecraft.

I guess my struggle with this prompt brings two points to bear. Firstly, its difficult to get an accurate read of what the zeitgeist is doing nowadays. We may be more connected than ever thanks to the Internet, but we've all been filtered into easy to market silos that it's difficult to get a grasp on the bigger picture. What's super popular in video gaming? Probably several mobile games I don't play and never will play. Are standard platformers and action-adventures actually the underrated releases now a days? From a certain perspective the answer is probably yes, but we know in our gut that it isn't true.

Which brings up my second point: is anything underrated in an industry as successful as video gaming right now? Genres that aren't exactly in vogue right now still have a steady clip of releases on Steam. The RTS genre might not be getting any AAA releases any time soon. But Steam shows that plenty of interesting looking, and well received, titles come out every week. There's 100 point-and-click adventure games on Kickstarter at any given moment. You can simulate being a tank mechanic, murder your friends, build a bridge, and drive a rally car across Argentina

I don't doubt that there is a niche that is currently being unfulfilled for someone. And no doubt this is especially true for someone who doesn't have the typical interests of a middle-class white American male. But as it stands there really is an impressive amount of coverage in the games industry right now. Whether that's sustainable economically is probably the bigger problem. 

So I'm not sure if trying to suss out what is 'underrated' ends up being a useful question. If the game industry was more efficient at matching player's interests with the games already available it would be something I would be more concerned about. But right now I suspect that most people have more game options they would enjoy than they could ever hope to play through in a lifetime. Doesn't mean things couldn't be better, just that things are pretty good right now.

Blaugust Prompt-a-Palooza Day #3: Let's Have an Existential Crisis About Video Games!

What are some key sources of media (games/movies/etc) that have shaped your worldview?

I almost passed on this one but my cursed need for all-or-nothing-ism compels me otherwise.

I've never though of personality traits as particularly granular.

Joe is grumpy. Sheila is shy. Roger is an angry, aggressive meathead. I don't think these are useful characteristics. I'll experience all three of these emotions during an average grocery store trip. Trying to characterize people with some sort of meta-trait is a fool's errand.

I think people fluctuate organically. Not just over long periods of time where we become more tempered than in our youth or wizened with age. I think people change quickly. Every situation, no matter how routine, is shaping our world view just a little bit at a time. Sometimes a traumatic event will change us a lot in a short amount of time. But I think the only constant really is change.

For some there is a clear and linear evolution of who we are as people from childhood to death. But I don't think that's very common. I think for most life is a journey with a lot of backtracking, a lot of oscillating between ideas, and a lot of the same mistakes made in different ways.

So I think narrowing down key sources of media that have shaped my worldview is practically impossible. Everything has influence. Probably a lot of it whether we notice or not. But what has influenced me most? I suspect even I don't really know that.

Perhaps it was all the episodes of The West Wing I watched growing up that urged me to a major in political science. Dealing with actual constituents chased me out of that career, but it did introduce me to my now primary friend group in college, and ultimately my wife. So I have to consider that a net-positive.

World of Warcraft, a game I have played at various levels of seriousness for it's entire life span, must have had some impact on me. If nothing else, it was a transition from an old friend group that never really suited me to aforementioned current friend group.

Also, watching WOW's development team fall over themselves making the same mistakes time and time again taught me an important lesson. No matter how competent, well paid, or well regarded someone is, they will inevitably follow the same path to creating anything: running full speed into a brick wall. It's how well you can continue after your collision, and how well you can pretend said collision never took place, that has a lot more to do with success than almost anything else. Also starting with a boatload of money helps too.

There's lots of other, smaller, influences. The Turks from Final Fantasy 7 imparted on me the importance of being well-dressed no matter the occasion.

Everquest 2 taught me how much I value atmosphere: both in fictional worlds and real ones.

Gran Turismo taught me that slowly and incrementally improving on a skill, such as whipping a Ferrari around a track ever a tenth of a second quicker, is when I'm happiest.

Metal Gear Solid taught me an appreciation for over-indulgent displays of self-masturbation. To this day, I'm the only person I know who enjoyed the last two Matrix films.

And so on and so forth. I'd like to think that everything I consume is having some affect on me. The problem being, as I get older, it gets harder and harder for any individual piece of art to make the impact on me it could have as a kid. Is that where these 'traits' become relevant and accurate descriptors? Is my worldview finally going to slowly and inevitably petrify until I'm a hardened husk of a mind?

If video games, or movies, or television ever lose their ability to influence how I look at the world after I'm done with them, then I'm likely to jump in front of the nearest bus. That'd be all the magic out of the world for me.

But thankfully, I'm highly dubious of that thought. Being easy to influence and being able to be influenced are perhaps a matter of circumstance and not a linear progression that sits parallel with aging.

But then again, I wonder what I read or played that made me think that.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Blaugust Prompt-a-Palooza Day #2: I Don't Understand Many Things

What is some popular piece of content/media that seems to be universally loved that you have never been able to understand?

It's inherently difficult to talk about something you can't understand. There are perhaps, many genres of video games that I don't enjoy very much, but I can easily understand their appeal.

For instance, fighting games hold no interest for me. But the idea of you and a partner, sitting under the glow of a TV as you both constantly sharpen your swords against one another, holds obvious appeal.

Reading anything about EVE Online makes my eyes roll back into my skull, but again the appeal is obvious. Being part of a gigantic universe where players have an actual impact not just on each other but the universe itself is powerful. Establishing yourself, finding your role to play in the world, and then executing it as best you can while perhaps striving for more is the actualization of a theme that most video games only allude to.

I like variety in my games. Even if I find myself retreating to the familiar, I really do crave the new and novel. The voice of my blog is often critical. Ultimately I don't like a lot of the video games that I play. But I do enjoy the process of figuring out what they are. I might enjoy discovering what a game is about more than I enjoy playing video games in general. I don't view this as an inherently inferior or odd way to enjoy the hobby. It's just my style. And in an industry full of cheap or free games, it's a pretty easy thing to do as well.

It's a bit cocky to assume that I understand every universally loved bit of gaming that comes my way. That's writing a check my brain can't cash. But throwing my hands in the air and proclaiming that I don't understand a game or that I don't want to understand a game is pretty much the antithesis of my approach to gaming.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Blaugust Prompt-a-Palooza Day #1: I Don't Care for Fandoms

Well it's been a hot minute since I've updated this blog. So let's blow the dust off the cover and dive back in.

So what has happened in the past two weeks? Like for most, not much. While much of the civilized world is beginning to emerge from it's Covid-cave, blinking into bright sunlight of normal life, I'm stuck in the US where we are just now beginning to do anything useful at all.

Our state has finally issued a mandatory mask order, roughly four months after the fact. Thankfully, my small town seems to be cooperating without complaint. Trips to the grocery store have seen everyone 100% masked and not particularly grumpy about it. When even the grown men wearing denim coveralls are wearing their masks properly you know things are turning around.

But for now we continue our waiting game.

Blaugust
Belghast wisely deployed the annual blogging festival in April to minimize the community's sequestered flailing. He's now offered an additional, alternative blogging event to keep the doldrums of August at bay, a Blagust Promptapalooza. I'll be participating, my day in the hot summer sun coming on the 4th. I'll also give each prompt a shot, at least most days. Not every prompt is of interest to me and not every day is a good day for writing mentally.

Today's prompt for instance: If you could change anything about one of your core fandoms, what would it be?

Am I part of a fandom? I'm a fan of things, but I'm not entirely sure I'm part of a community that is a fan of any one thing. I'll exchange pleasantries at the beginning of a dungeon in an MMO. Or read through the Formula 1 subreddit after a particularly spicy race. But I don't particularly feel a part of a fandom.

In attempts past, I've found that throwing myself into a community usually just puts me off of said community, and eventually off the game/sport/book/etc. itself. Browsing the memes of the Formula 1 meme subreddit is a good old time, up until the discussion moves to the recent Black Lives Matter protests. Then the hot takes come out. I was surprised to learn this summer that Europe has no racism. It's apparently a uniquely American phenomenon. That a predominantly European sport would even bother printing t-shirts saying 'End Racism' is just a distraction. Apparently.

And this is where I disembark from the fandom train. And dumbasses with dumbass opinions are so omnipresent in these circles that I don't even bother getting on the train anymore. The powers that be in these communities are never in a hurry to cull these rotten fruit and are often as not the most rotten of the bunch. Even in the blogging community, we have no shortage of shitty people. For instance, Tobold is pretty sure that consequences against racists is the actual problem, not the racists themselves. We really ought to just be nice to them you know, talk it out. Because as we've seen from the Donald Trump camp, these people always approach the forum of debate with the most earnest of intentions; with open minds and a willingness to admit their mistakes and learn.

I grew up in a small town in rural America. I spent two years as the guy answering the phone/e-mails for a state senator in a very conservative district. I've heard enough terrible shit for one lifetime, thanks. I don't particularly feel the need to invite any more into my life. Throwing oneself into a fandom just invites the loudest and crudest voices into your mental home, and experience has shown me that eventually they'll just track mud through the place.

So what would I change about fandoms? I'd love to see more communities that actually acted like communities. Police those who act in bad faith. Trolling and ignorance are the same thing manifested in different ways. Viciously remove both. Disagreements are for the best DPS rotation, not for whether trans people deserve human rights. Invite newcomers with open arms, but let them know that their are standards of behavior, and that not even long time forum veterans are above them.

These islands of sanity exist. The Internet is too big for them not too, if not just by sheer luck. But they are few and far between. And if they exist within the hobbies I enjoy I seemed to have missed them.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Timely Reviews: Ring Fit Adventure

Getting enough exercise is always a challenge in the best of circumstances for me. But in the midst of a pandemic when my fellow countrymen are dedicated to spreading coronavirus and quickly and efficiently as possible? Doubly so.

I was in the habit of taking some long hikes but the brutal Minnesota humidity zapped most of my motivation on that front. StepMania (or Dance Dance Revolution) is a good cardio workout, but finding songs that are actually playable continues to be a challenge.

So I solved the problem the Everwake way: with another gimmicky video game peripheral.

Ring Fit Adventures



If the name doesn't immediately leap out to you, it's the game that pairs your Nintendo Switch joycons with a plastic ring and a leg strap.


Ring Fit uses the accelerometers in the joycons to measure your movement. The leg strap is used for running in place or exercises like squats, while the ring is used mostly for resistance training. The ring is surprisingly sturdy and bendable. You can squeeze the ring all the way in, making opposite sites of the circle touch, and you don't feel like you're breaking anything. As a medium sized man it provides plenty of resistance to get a decent workout in.



Is it a "good" workout? Probably not. But it is exercise which is better than the nothing at all I was getting before. Some of the exercises are clearly more effective than others. Some of the more "yoga" exercises don't seem to activate anything in my core. Others, like squats or anything to do with pushing and pulling on the ring make me sore the next day.


It's a casual game through and through. There are RPG and mobile game "runner" elements. You gain levels which increase your defense and attack stats, which make the set battles in any given level on the world map easier or harder to do. Attack in battles come from individual exercises. Turn 1 you might select a sweeping motion with the ring to do AOE damage to multiple enemies. They attack on their turn and you have push the ring horizontally into your stomach, pushing as hard as you can to get more defense. On your next turn, you'll need to select a new attack: the AOE attack is on cooldown. I usually pick individual exercises like squats, leg stretches, etc. do single-target the enemies down after that.

 

In between battles, you run in place as your character runs through the level. You push and pull on the ring to interact with the environment, collecting coins, health, and experience. You also sometimes have to run through "mud", meaning you need to high step it in real life, or conveyor belts, which force you to run harder in place.

Gaining levels sometimes unlocks new exercises that you can slot in your attack options. I'm level 10 and have only received two attacks though, so it doesn't seem like there is a lot of variety in the exercises. But maybe I'm wrong and the pace picks up later on. The media kit screenshots seem to suggest as much.


There are also minigames, quickplay, multiplayer, different outfits to wear, etc.

It's about what you would expect a game like this to be.
 

And that works fine. I don't know if I'm having "fun" with it, but I'm not really playing it for the fun. It's exercise and its vastly more interesting than running on my treadmill. I can see it getting boring in the future, and it'll eventually get thrown in the video game closet with other gimmicks like the Donkey Kong Bongos and the DS Guitar Hero game.

But for now I'm committed to making it a daily activity and it's nice to see a video game company think outside the box. I think the ring is actually a pretty well made piece of equipment. Unfortunately, the joycons are not as sometimes lose track of my position or just flat out desync themselves from my Switch during movement. But it works a vast majority of the time.

If you're desperate to work out at home and are bored to tears with normal stuff, I think it's a perfectly good option. Particularly so if you have a soft spot for gimmicky technology.

Rating: 4 Nintendo Power Gloves / 5

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Trackmania First Impressions

The newest in the Trackmania series launched today. My first impressions?

It's a mild disaster.



I'll talk about the particulars in a bit. But I want to broach something broader.

For months, every time I launch a new title I feel like I'm being served a lukewarm meal with the chef's hair generously sprinkled throughout. And the waiter is surly. And where was the bread that I ordered?

If you read this blog it's probably easy to assume that I just hate video games. Or at least that I'm an overly negative person in all aspects of my life, but I really don't think that's true. I'm certainly not accentuating the negative for clicks. I'm just tired of every game being a compromise of developer effort and business model.

So I'm sorry for the rampant negativity. There's enough to be negative of in the world right now and you probably don't need anymore. But, I'm pretty disappointed at how badly the latest releases have panned out, and I feel the need to explain myself.

To start with, Trackmania is a racing game franchise. It separates itself with an addictive, arcadey racing style that concentrates on repeating individual levels until you get the lowest track time possible. You do not physically race against other players, you only see their "ghost"; either in real time on a live server or a recorded version of their best lap time. Imagine a game like Super Meat Boy, where you attempt a difficult stage, die, respawn immediately, and continue trying again and again until you get it right. That's Trackmania, except as a racer instead of a platformer.

 

The franchise has been coming out since 2003. I've been playing it about that long. I love both the feel of racing in a video game and the drive to improve incrementally improve myself on a difficult, but doable challenge. Needless to say, Trackmania is right in my wheelhouse.

So I'm quite disappointed when I pay my $10 "subscription-but-not-a-subscription" fee and find the whole thing extremely lacking.

Trackmania's "Not-Subscription" Tiers
Somehow, it's a subscription game. Except Ubisoft has been very, very particular in not calling it a subscription game. To quote directly from their representative:
Actually it's not a subscription model but an access to the game for a limited time. You pay for having access to the game for one period and that's it. When the time is over, you have to buy the game again for the time that you want to access it again.
This isn't a joke. This is something a grown adult wrote on the Internet for other people to see. You know an explanation is good when it starts with the word "Actually".


So we're not off to a good start. When you're already bullshitting every human on earth before your game is released, it doesn't exactly bode well for the critical thinking that went into the making of the game either.

At this point, I probably should have just noped out. But all I really wanted was a "level pack". Like back in the day, where you bought a game, and then occasionally the developers or a third party would throw a bunch of new levels or tracks onto a disk (or disc), charge you a nominal fee, and you got a bunch of extra content. That's all I wanted.

I didn't even get that.


The game launches with about 50 tracks, plus drip feeds us one more a day and maybe an extra 20 or so every month. That is not a lot of content. They're obviously counting on the community to make the rest of it, but considering there's more player-made content in the Trackmania franchise currently than any human could possibly play right now, it's not that appealing of a prospect. I wanted to see what professionals could do.

Even the content moderation for this game is top-notch!

But even the tools for players to make their own tracks is underwhelming. What did developer Nadeo spend their time on? Ice physics apparently. A handful of gimmicky "power-ups" or "power-downs" and ice physics.
 Nobody, in the whole history of video gaming, as ever wanted to play an ice level. Ice levels exist for one reason only: for unimaginative developers to add another bullet point to their list of "features". That's it. This is a theme I talk about again and again on this blog: "features" in video games that exist purely for the benefit of the developer that no player wants.


I'm very tired. Nearly all the time.


This is the least-featured game in Trackmania history. They've removed terra-forming in the editor. There is no developer content, and what little there is available is being dripped-fed as part of the subscription model. Customizing your car, which doesn't even currently work right now, is hidden behind yet another pay-wall: $30 a year to be precise. The UI is an amateurish mess. They've removed the first-person camera angle for "simplicity's sake", as if human-beings don't live their entire lives from a first-person perspective and would somehow be confused by it.

At least with the Command & Conquer Remaster there was visible effort from the developers. The graphics, sound, cinematics, and netplay were all upgraded. None of these things matter of course, because the gameplay is too archaic and buggy to enjoy. But it's certainly not inconceivable that someone with enough nostalgia or self-hatred could actually finish that game, and be appreciative of the work that did go into it.



But Trackmania is a literal step back in every sense. Every feature, every graphical detail, even the business model, are worse than Trackmania products that already exist. The only purpose of this game is to generate revenue for developer Nadeo and the publisher Ubisoft. The only possible benefit for the player base itself is that user content will be made here instead in one of the other games. But that's not a feature, it's a haranguing.

For $10 a year, or god forbid even more, Ubisoft wants a cut. It's unclear what they are providing in exchange for that $10 a year. In defensible just how little Nadeo has done here. It's been four years since the last Trackmania game. What could they have possibly been working on in the mean time?



Oh and did I mention that the game currently has a bug. A teensey-winsey little bug.

It doesn't save progress.

It doesn't save your track times. It doesn't save your medals. It doesn't save your progress or unlocks.

In a racing game that is fundamentally about high scores, Nadeo released a game that doesn't keep track of your high scores.



The developer swears that it's just a synchronization bug. Your progress is being saved somewhere in the ephemeral cloud and will be brought back at the right time.

Let me correct that. A developer, on an unverified Twitter account, that I had to sort through an unofficial Trackmania Discord server to find, says that's the case. He says it will be fixed in the morning. He has corrected himself and no says it will be corrected in the afternoon. It is now currently 7:00PM for the developer on the second day of this game's launch. There is no official word from Nadeo or Ubisoft on why the most basic feature this game could possibly have is not currently present. There isn't even an acknowledgement of it. No review of the game currently acknowledges it. Downloading the game puts a large disclaimer on your screen saying that you can't refund the game.

Video gaming in 2020.

Note: Literally 3 minutes after I posted this blog, Nadeo pushed an update that seems to fix some of the synchronization issues I complained about here. Except, of course, it didn't fix it at all. The game continues to be unplayably broken.

Monday, June 29, 2020

(Very Imprecisely) Command & Conquer

I am desperately someone who needs to get their eight hours of sleep in.

I can do a sleepless night every once in a while. Maybe two days in a row with only six hours. But anything more and I'm a zombie, simply bouncing from one stimuli to another until I eventually crash on the closest horizontal surface.

Sleep has eluded me this week. No particular reason. Sometimes it's an overly vivid dream that wakes me up and keeps me from falling back asleep. Other mornings, it's the sun, the great enemy, that overcomes our shade's defenses and launches it's dazzling assault into my eyeballs. Occasionally, it's our corgi, who finds the exact geometric shape necessary to take up as much of the mattress as possible.

So my ability to game has been compromised as my ability to form a coherent thought has gradually slipped away day by day. It doesn't help that most of my gaming has been of the hard as nails variety. Namely, the recent Command & Conquer remaster.

The game opens with a cinematic showing the computer inside the game itself, which is used as a conceit for the UI, as getting a graphical and audio upgrade. Apparently, the GDI and Nod Forces in game were using a Sound Blaster Pro in their computers: good choice.

The level of graphical spit shine is everywhere. In the UI, in the gameplay, and in the upscaled cinematics. C&C was an excessively ugly game, understandably so as it was pushing the infancy of the RTS genre and the use of live action FMV in just 1995. 

 I had played bits and pieces of the original back when it was newish. The original PC version was available at our local library, hidden amongst the edutainment and productivity software. I also recall having rented it for the PS1 at the local Blockbuster and hating having to control an RTS with a controller. Somethings never change. I had played more of the game in the mid to late 2000s. I own the complete collection of C&C games from a physical box I bought back in college and whose product keys curiously worked in the Origin gaming platform.

The game had become largely incompatible with modern versions of Windows, and the poor AI pathfinding and just straight up buggy micro control eventually made the game unplayable to me. So I was understandably excited with the release of the Remaster which came paired with a measly $20 price tag and some glowing reviews.

The problem, of course, is that while the graphics have been gussied up, the developers didn't bother actually fixing any of the gameplay.

The AI's hare-brained pathfinding remains as is. Moving units from one place to another is a roll of the dice on how and if they will actually get there. Attacking is also incredibly imprecise. Focus-fire is a thing, and usually works, but general orders to attack or defend an area functionally don't work. As often as your units attempt to kill something, they will just as often not do anything at all, or actually kill themselves. Friendly fire is a thing in this series, and your grenadiers don't particularly differentiate between enemy forces and your own. If your own units and are somewhat near an enemy the grenadier wants to attack, a virtually certainty consider the poor pathfinding, then all of it's getting blown up.

It ends up making the graphical upgrades somewhat pointless. Most people are going to play this package for an hour or two and bounce off it. EA is going to see a huge number of Steam Refunds here, the crust shows itself early and often. There's very little control here, as a commander you're mostly reduced to flailing your arms to command the dumbest soldiers on alternate earth. It's a bit like playing the first Street Fighter game, the genre as we understand it is too primitive here to enjoy. It's just not a fun time. Online play is going to dry up immediately, whose going to play this once the novelty wears off?

There is mod support. Perhaps the player base will fix what the developers neglected to.

It's perfectly understandable that the development team kept a hands-off approach. The graphical and netplay updates were probably more than enough for a small team to handle. And EA never marketed this as an overhaul, just a graphics upgrade.

But it would have been nice for the first big RTS game to have gotten a proper re-release. Lord knows the RTS genre could have used it. But considering how underwhelming the reception for both the good Starcraft re-release and the not-so good Warcraft III re-release got, it's not surprising that EA didn't commit a lot here.

Maybe now that I've gotten a decent nights sleep I'll throw myself back into C&C's grinder of a campaign. Or I maybe I use my newfound energy on something a bit less archaic.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Guess Who's Knack? Knack Again.

In a nice change of pace, my real life world seems to be doing quite well while it's my digital world that's feeling a bit sluggish.


I knocked out two difficult and physically painful goals this week. First, I finished hiking the local trail. 21 miles from one town to the other with no breaks. I finished it in about 6 hours and 45 minutes. That's a pace of about 3 miles per hour. Both the pace and the length would be respectable by experienced hikers, although my load was probably a bit less and I only did it for one day.


Nonetheless, I preserved through the sore feet, bad equipment, and the chafing. Oh the chafing. Also the ticks. Minnesota has a lot of them, I pulled probably 10+ in all off my shoes, socks, and legs. And that's with enough bug spray to make even an World War 1 commander nervous.


But that was not quite as painful as my other major accomplishment this week: beating Knack. Knack was a PS4 launch title and served as the butt of many jokes this console generation. I wanted to see if the jokes were embellishment and found a used copy for cheap from the local game store (pre-pandemic).

The jokes were not embellished.

Imagine if you were playing Street Fighter, but the collision hit boxes were off. Not by a lot, but by enough that even a casual player would wonder why punching the other dude in the head didn't result in anything happening. Imagine if the animation 'homed' in on the other player. Again, not by a lot. But enough that you execute your super-duper-hyper combo and still hit your opponent even though they clearly jumped over it.


Now imagine if the controls were just suggestions. You execute the 'Dragon Punch', except sometimes it just comes out as a normal punch. Or maybe it careens your character off-screen. Maybe it just doesn't do anything.


Even if all this stuff is only a little bit off, nobody would play that fighting game. It either has to work perfectly or it doesn't work at all. It's not like a racing game where you can flub some of the collision detection, or the cars can be a bit floaty. Everything would still be fun.


Knack wasn't that far off of being a good game. But if you want to make a hard-as-nails action platformer with one hit kills you really need to nail everything. There really isn't any graceful way for the game design to 'decay' here.


Combine that with the game's interminable length, lack of variety in both attacks and enemies, sterile graphics and music, frustratingly bad story, and graphical slowdown and you've got a game that deserves every joke made about it.


Knack does have a sequel. The trail I walked does have an additional 29 miles to it. But my body is not currently ready for more of either.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

It's Certainly Been a Week

I have admittedly not played a lot of video games recently. Some stuff here and there:
  • Minecraft Dungeons: It's baby Diablo. Except Diablo eventually gets a bit boring, but Minecraft Dungeons gets boring immediately.
  • StepMania: In 'normal' Dance Dance Revolution games, the difficulty scale goes from 1-10. With fan mods that scale goes much, much higher. But as a mortal man with a dance pad that likes to slip around my carpet as I play, a scale of 1-10 seems just fine to me. I've gotten to the point where I can beat a song on a difficulty of 6 on the first try, but I tend to fail at 7. It's time to pick a song and learn it, as finishing a 7 is my new goal.
  • Knack: Yes, the PS4 launch title that everyone uses as a punching bag. It's actually kind of a Dark Souls-light, at least on Hard difficulty. The animations are maybe not as tight as they should be, which leads to some frustrating deaths when I get hit by an enemy attack that doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense. But dying only pushes you back a couple of minutes to an automatic checkpoint. I'm only on the 4th world of 12 but I really don't hate this game. Maybe it isn't what people wanted as a launch title but on it's own it seems perfectly fine to me.
But the weather and the news cycle has changed, one for the better and one for the worse, and video games are just not a priority for me at the moment.

The weather has been clear, sunny, and not too warm. My energies are feeling a bit pent up from having to stay inside because of the Minnesota winter followed by an Earth plague. There's a trail just outside of my town that goes on for about 50 miles. I have a long-term goal to walk this trail one day. With proper conditioning, and some good equipment, this can theoretically be done in two days. But these legs of mine have sat for about 6 months so it's time to get them off the couch and into the game.



The first outing ended up only being two miles. I decided to take Herbert the EverDog on my journey. She's a trooper, but unfortunately, her tiny Corgi legs aren't really built for distance. We just about made it to the first mile marker when she needed her first break.


We just about made it back to the trailhead when Mrs. Everwake rescued us with the EverCar. She took a big nap after that. The dog that is.

The second day I did about 7 miles. I could have done more but I didn't think to pass a lunch and it turns out hiking eats up a lot of calories. I did manage to go at about 2.75 miles per hour, which is a perfectly good pace, assuming I can actually keep that up for an entire day. I'm eager to get back on the trail. There's a small town about 20 miles into the trail that I would like to make it to next.

I could post more pictures but oddly enough they all pretty much look the same.

But that project has to wait at the moment because one of my basement walls is curving in a way that I find most unsettling.

We've lived in our new house for less than a year and during the winter the basement wall has begun bulging a fair amount. It wouldn't be super noticeable if I didn't have a tall bookcase up against the wall. It's not super uncommon for foundations to move around where we live, my wife, who happens to be an academic in these sorts of things, says the soil is just like that.

It's also causing problems around the house, some of the main floors are uneven, the driveway now slopes down towards the house (channeling water the wrong way) and the garage floor has giant cracks in it.

So the first of three contractors comes today to give us an estimate on the damage. Hopefully, it's only a couple thousand dollars which is a hit we can afford to take. But foundation problems are the most expensive of any house repair problems so it's not unheard of for the final price tag to be in the tens of thousands.

The joys of homeownership.

Hopefully this is just me overreacting and the problem really isn't a problem. Me and the wife have rented for most of our ten years together so it's tough to get a baseline for this stuff. And Google searching the problem leads to a bunch of SEO-optimized crap that doesn't actually help at all, so we are at the whims of the advice of contractors who are here to make a buck off of us. Not a situation I'm loving.

WARNING: POLITICAL RANT BELOW
I've written and rewritten a couple of paragraphs on the protests surrounding police brutality in my country about a dozen times. If you're not interested in anymore discussion on this, now would be the time to close the tab. As someone who worked in the public-sphere, particularly in one of the major cities that's seeing protests right now, I can only say that this is the inevitable happenings of what has been wrought.

From my own perspective, police misbehavior is systematic because large swaths of our country view it as an essential feature. I think this Twitter thread from one Minneapolis' councilmen is a quick view into why this is such a difficult problem to solve.

My own, summarized view, is:
  • Civilian control over the police is not great in our cities. Police forces in many cities act autonomously and are very successful, and motivated, to reject any control over their power.
  • They do this through a variety of methods: strong police unions, withholding policing from neighborhoods and council districts that displease them, and aligning their budgets and training through the federal government or even private resources instead of local or state sources.
  • This is all very much by design and coordinated on a nationwide scale. Republicans have long failed to win mayor and council seats in large cities. Instead, conservative groups have made a concerted effort to win favor of policing groups, local judges, prosecuting offices, and influential bureaucrats through any means that isn't actual voting. The justice system in most areas have been effectively captured by a will that doesn't overlap with the cities it represents.
So this situation is going to get worse before it ever gets better because one side is essentially trying to remove a well-entrenched, well-funded, and well-motivated enemy. The other side will defend themselves with a religious zeal because they view "law and order" and "patriotism"  as their exclusive domains, and any criticism of that is a direct attack on them as people. With the demographic shifts in the USA, the Republican Party is forced to resort to more and more desperate power grabs to maintain influence as their ability to win elections becomes diminished. Both sides are scared, and both sides are flailing. And that means it's only going to get messier.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

My Complaints about Blogger, the Shire, Cereal, and My Inability to Phase Through a Graphics Card

For now, I want to return the blog back to a journal style site. I know I'm whiplashing the blog around but I'm stuck at home and bored. And when I'm bored I tinker with things that are working perfectly fine.

At least a blog is a lot less expensive to replace if I can't manage to get it back together again.


Blogger Forcing the New Design, and Why I Want My Own Website


The march of progress continues on unstoppable. For a Google product, that means tinkering and overhauling it while stripping away features and eschewing your current audience in favor of one that probably doesn't exist.

Blogger is no exception to this.

The now inevitable Blogger Redesign is just a "mobile-friendly" version of the site. I think it looks ugly and it makes the dashboard less dense with information. I shouldn't have to scroll through this much to find information I need on a large monitor.

Blogger will allow use of the "old" site for now, but Google kills off actual viable products all the time, there's no chance that a now niche product is going to keep two different versions of the same site.

But I've had problems with Blogger for while longer than this recent development. Recently I found they removed the ability to create pages independent of the blog with their own custom URLs. I don't really use social media and I'm tepid about using flaky cloud services to share things like photos. Recently, I tried sharing a page of my dog's birthday party with my family and it turned out to be way more difficult than it needed to be. The URL to that page is still a mess. I want to do more things like that. Also, things like margins and resizing photos are just a little bit funky. Thus the change.

I haven't been posting this week because I've been working on a new design for this site. I'll probably end up using WordPress for the actual blogging software and something like Digital Ocean for the hosting, but I want the actual HTML and CSS to be by my own hand. I want to create pages outside of this specific blog, but are still tied to this same domain.  This was always the plan way, way back in the day when I started this blog. I obviously have some free time on my hands nowadays, so better late than never.

Blogger is making it difficult to share this dog's smile. Unacceptable.
To borrow a phrase from a once great game developer: The redesign will be out soonTM.

Chex Quest HD


Back in the days of my youth, access to cheap or free games was limited. Every release that made it's way into my grubby hands was a nectar from the Gods. So desperate were these times that one was often forced to terrible acts to obtain gaming goodness.

One of those acts, I am ashamed to say, required the purchase of some god-awful cereal.



Seriously, who eats Chex? Just tear up an Amazon box and pour milk on it. Same thing. Probably the same nutritional profile too.



Anyhow, for those not in the know, Chex Quest was a 1996 promotional game included in boxes of Chex. It was a first person shooter based on the Doom engine. Unlike Doom, it was a family-friendly affair. One does not shoot aliens, they teleport them back to their home dimension.



It was relatively short, but it only cost the price of a box of cereal back in the 1990s. Which was probably like a quarter. I don't remember, I was 8 at the time and wasn't doing a ton of grocery shopping.

Skip to today and the recently released Chex Quest HD. It includes all five original levels, plus some local multiplayer action, and additional characters to play as if you purchase bags of Chex Mix with the corresponding codes. Or just copy the codes from the Internet because I'm not making a convenience store run in the middle of a pandemic for character codes in a multiplayer mode that no one will play in a week. In fact, here are the bloody things:

Fred Chexter - D2af3W
Wheatney Chexworth - D3bg4E
Dr. O'Ryen - D4cj6R
Shane 'The Dread' McBread - D7Gy2u
NACL96 - D5eK9T
P.R.E.T.Z.L. - D6ft1S

Put the code into the prompt on the menu screen.



Does it hold up? The gameplay actually does. For a free, kid-friendly game this would actually be kinda perfect for an hour or two of play.



What lets it down is the terrible performance of the game. Moment to moment gameplay is somewhat choppy and everything feels like its in slow motion. I have this problem even on the lowest graphical settings on the lowest resolution. For the record, I have a RTX 2080 paired with a i7-8700K. I can run Battlefield V at 4K resolution with 60fps. Chex Quest is not optimized well and it makes gameplay distracting. It runs on Unreal Engine 4, we know the engine can do much better than this.



So hopefully they update it with some improvements. It won't matter to me. It takes about 1.5 hours to finish the game and there's no real reason to go back. No Steam Achievements. Apparently each character gets a different ending scene. But I'm going to be honest with you. I don't go deep catalog into Chex Mix Universe.



Installing New M.2 Drive
An M.2 drive is just a fancy hard drive. It combines the speed of a standard solid state drive with the ease of installing a stick of RAM. Find the M.2 slot on your motherboard, unscrew the screw sitting nearby, slide the drive in, and then screw the whole thing. In and out, should be a 2 minute process.

That's the theory of course. And a theory I mistakenly believed in when I bought this thing.

The reality is that the screw needed for the drive was sandwiched in, almost perfectly, in between the fan for my CPU cooler and my graphics card. In order to get to this screw, I had to unscrew and unseat my graphics card, and then disassemble part of the fan. It's not that big of a deal, but it is certainly more than I bargained for.

The culprit here is my motherboard: the MSI Z390-A Pro. It's a large motherboard with room to have put this M.2 drive anywhere it pleased. Sandwiching everything together like they did was asking for trouble, and trouble I received.

My next computer is going to be the size of a small car. Not because I'll need the space to fit all my components, but so that I'll have the space needed to upgrade and maintain my computer without needing to take up a second hobby as a contortionist.

Lord of the Rings Online 
The Shire killed me. I was excited for it. After doing the relatively uninspired Dwarf and Elf starting zones, I though I had saved the best for last. I like Hobbits. I like the Shire. I liked seeing the Shire. But all those running around quests? Delivering pies and mail on foot? LOTRO's version of the Shire is crap. Looks nice, plays like a shopping cart with uranium blocks for wheels.

Ironically, the day I write this I read two different posts in my RSS feed showing love for LOTRO's Shire: Syp and Eliot Lefebvre at MassivelyOP. But both writers of these posts openly credit nostalgia. I do not posses such a thing. The only character I played back in 2007 was a Human leveling in Bree-land.

I did finish the Shire. Every quest in the zone on my Hobbit Burglar. I have every starting experience finished now, at least of the four races that launched with the game. With that done, it was time to return to my Human Champion in the Forsaken Inn. But when I got there I had to read through and accept about 15-20 quests. That's too much reading even for a Tolkien game. My sub ran out the same day so I'm going to let LOTRO cool by the fire for a hot minute. Play some other stuff, and then jump back into it later. Or maybe not, I finished up the base game for Everquest II and haven't been in a huge hurry to get back to that one either. But my moods are cyclical. Anything can happen.