Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Among Us in 2020

Typically, the peak of my gaming happens in early winter as I avoid the cold real world for the warmth and coziness of the digital one. But this year, obviously, has been different in so many ways. The inside of my house's walls have become a bit too familiar this year, and I think that's messed with my normal routine.

I also had to deal with a kidney stone last week: painful enough to send me to the emergency room and large enough that I needed surgery to remove it as it began affecting my kidney function. Thankfully, the matter has been resolved and I've seen to have avoided contracting coronavirus from the hospital environment.

But there is one bit of gaming that marched on resolutely, our weekly Among Us session on Saturdays.

Part of my friend group from college got in to the Among Us craze a couple of months back. We've been playing diligently since, accusing and screaming and murdering one another in deep space. 

The game scratches a couple of itches for me all at once. 

Firstly, it's social at a time when I'm unusually desperate for such a thing. 

Secondly, it's strategic in a way I've personally never encountered in a video game before. We played a few games of Mafia back in the college days, but the whole 'social deduction' gameplay style has been a wonderfully refreshing twist for me. It still asks for some of my old skills, particularly being mindful of spacing and keep track of multiple player's pathing that remind me of my old Counter-Strike 1.6 and World of Warcraft Arena days.

And lastly, the game isn't mechanically complex like Counter-Strike and WoW are. I was still able to play and contribute even when zonked out on industrial-strength pain-killers. People in our group who have never played a video game before are able play using their iPads.

The meta our group is forming has been genuinely interesting to watch unfold. I'm one of, if not the strongest players. But when one of our causal members playing on their smart phone is able to outwit me you can feel their genuine happiness and I feel genuinely happy for them. The game gives people a chance to spotlight their cleverness in a way that feels organic. The 'good game's at the end of the night aren't polite and perfunctory, you mean it.

2020 has forced me to approach gaming in a way I normally don't. I've played Stepmania on a dance pad, Gran Turismo on a full racing rig, exercised with Ring Fit, and so on. I've rediscovered the fun in online gaming; a matter I thought I had tossed away more than a decade ago. 

It's a weird year that's given me a bit of a new perspective.


Friday, November 13, 2020

Destiny 2: Beyond Light

My first experience with the Destiny series was the original game; a rental of the PS3 version from the local Redbox. After the first 8 hours I returned the game back. I found it to be a generic shooter, with too many enemies, bosses with too much health, too much fussing about in menus, and writing that was too overwrought.

It was pretty though.

My experience with the second game didn't go much better. A extended free trial offered during 2018's Blizzcon, I suffered through an opening sequence that was so cringey in tone and dialogue I had to call my wife in to see it. The gameplay was much the same. Enemies seemed to be a bit more interesting to fight as they varied in their attack and defensive movements. The bosses were not better though. I almost lost the first boss fight as my morale was sapped from a bullet sponge boss fight that bored me to near tears. I gave it a couple of more hours as the game heaped system upon system on me. Eventually I hopped in my spaceship and Alt-F4 out of there. The game sat on my hard drive ever since.

So what compelled me to jump in for the latest expansion, Beyond Light? For one, the game and all of its expansions come with Xbox Game Pass. Secondly, I needed something relatively mindless to play on the upstairs TV. Thirdly, my therapist says I engage in too much all or nothing thinking. Taking a game I'm critical of and just enjoying it for what it is feels like a good test.

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Hyperkin Duke Wired Controller - Has Science Gone Too Far?


My school growing up didn't do the Console War thing. Whereas the schoolyards elsewhere were a dogfight of Nintendo versus Sega or Microsoft vs. Sony, our little rural town of Ohio was a veritable worker's paradise. In the halcyon years of 2001 and 2002, some our friend group owned, PlayStation 2s, some GameCubes, and the occasional Xbox. (The three of us who had bought Dreamcasts had fled to the other consoles by this time.) Instead of the typical school yard pissing match, we discovered the radical idea of going to each other's houses to play each other's consoles.

Small town communities can really shake out a lot of different ways.

Microsoft was a bit of an enigma to us at the time. We presumed the Xbox wasn't going to be much more than a Dreamcast 2. A short-lived console with some promising looking titles that would stretch our junior-high budgets too thin to buy yet another console this generation.

But our friend Matt took the gamble. The only one of us to take the risk of buying an Xbox at launch; he was naturally who we turned to when news of this Halo game surfaced. Word was the local multi-player was pretty good. We were also told that Fuzion Frenzy was the superior successor to Mario Party. Our information was sometimes incomplete.

This is is it Chief.

While Halo proved to be a good time, and Fuzion Frenzy proved to ... not, we made another discovery. The Xbox had a stupidly ginormous controller. 

And that made sense to us. The Xbox itself was the biggest console to date. It was marketed towards a "mature" audience. It wasn't made from a Japanese manufacturer with their "obviously" smaller hands. We saw the DUKE and we were impressed.

It wasn't until years later that I found out that that Duke was overwhelmingly unpopular. So unpopular that Microsoft stopped shipping this Titanic controller with the console and replaced it with the 'S', the smaller and more ergonomic controller that was shipped with the console in Japan. Turns out controllers are a certain size for a reason.

But I've always held a fondness for the Duke, even though I've never owned one. I didn't buy an original Xbox for myself until my adult years. I'm hesitant to buy used controllers online if I can avoid it and I've only ever found 'S' controllers in person.

I don't know why I like the Duke so much. But it does feel substantial and I like the button placement and distance. The GameCube controller looked like a toy comparatively. I'm not someone with a robust 'American' frame. I'm about average height at 5'8" (172 cm) and, presumably, have the proportional hands to go with it. But the Duke always felt proper in my hands. This is in contrast to the Nintendo handhelds over the years. The button distance seen on the DS, 3DS, and Switch joycons are too close together for long play sessions. Perhaps I'm just a bit ham-thumbed compared to most, but I find the PS4, Xbox One, and Switch Pro Controllers to be just about perfect. The Duke, however, has always struck me as an excellent fit for my hands.

So it was definitely on my radar back in 2018 when Hyperkin announced a modern day Duke controller with USB plugs for Xbox One and PC. It was expensive though, costing more than a standard Xbox One controller and I just presumed I'd need to pick one up used years down the line. But the thing always seemed in stock at various retailers. Amazon's Prime Day had one for cheap and I pounced on it.

The packaging is certainly premium. The controller is nestled in stiff black foam and comes with a small card thanking various people for their work on the controller. It gives off the impression of unboxing a successful Kickstarter project. And that makes sense: what could have possibly been the market for 20 year old failed controller? It's a niche product for enthusiasts and its treated like such.

First impressions? It's big. Just unnecessarily big. Comparing this thing to its successor, the Xbox S controller, is a laugh.

I thought I remembered how big this thing was but I apparently did forget. But it's easy to see why this wasn't a big deal to me back in 2001. Having owned a Dreamcast, I was used to unusually large controllers that had two slots for plugging in memory cards. The Xbox really did feel like the Dreamcast 2 to us at the time. And that begins to segue into discussing the features of the new Duke.

What happened to those two memory card slots? Replaced with a bit of plastic that looks a bit like a vent. It keeps with the overall "edgy" design of the controller. It doesn't look out of place. The other big feature? The animated jewel in the middle of the controller. The classic controller just featured a graphic of the Xbox logo. On the new Duke its literally a screen that shows the original Xbox startup animation whenever you plug in the controller. It's a complete gimmick and probably responsible for the higher price tag. It's cool the first few times but then I stopped noticing it. If the controller had a small speaker the like a Wiimote to also play the startup sounds it would have had more impact.

As for playability it mostly does pretty well. The analog sticks, face buttons, and triggers feel great. I think they feel better to the press than the Xbox One controller does, but mine just may be worn from use. What isn't great is the D-pad and the shoulder buttons. The D-pad isn't really a D-pad, it has some amorphously round shape that never really felt right. This was corrected to a proper D-pad in the original S-version, but the new Duke is accurate to the original. I won't be using this controller to emulate any 16-bit platformers.

The original Duke didn't have "shoulder" and "trigger" buttons like modern controllers do. It just had triggers plus a white and black button located on the face of the controller. The Duke keeps the white and black buttons, but also adds contemporary shoulder buttons near the top of the controller that duplicate the black and white buttons. The problem is that the shoulder buttons are in a terrible place ergonomically. The controller just isn't shaped to accommodate these. You basically have to reposition your entire hand every time to reach the shoulder buttons, which isn't acceptable in actual gameplay with modern titles.

And then there's the last big flaw: the controller has no wireless capability. That wouldn't be a deal breaker if it was priced like other 3rd party wired controllers but instead it's more expensive. They had literally all the room in the world to work with here and they didn't fit Bluetooth capability into the thing. The animated jewel is nice but I would happily trade that for wireless. As a last major nit to pick, the wire is just a simple USB micro cable and doesn't include the breakaway dongle feature the original controllers had. This was a small segment of the controller's cord that was designed to easily unplug in case someone tripped on the cord. It was a great feature that was never repeated. I'm sure manufacturing something radical like that at such a small scale was impossible with the new Duke, but it would have earned Hyperkin bonus points in my book.

So there are definitely some negatives here. But that was always going to be the case, it's a recreation of a flawed controller that introduces some flaws of its own. It's a bit of gimmick, especially at $70 retail. I think $30 is probably a more reasonable price to pay to indulge in a bit of nostalgia. The parts of the controller that work well really work well. Playing the Master Chief Collection on my PC with a Duke controller is a surreal and pleasant experience. I suspect the controller is more likely to go on my wall as art than see everyday use, but I'm glad to see a niche product like this find success. 

And yes, I checked. It still works with Fuzion Frenzy. The game still sucks, but the controller works just fine.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Complete: Super Mario Sunshine

I've read Super Mario Sunshine called the "black sheep" of the Mario franchise. Polygon's review for the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection is headlined: "Not even Sunshine can ruin this collection". Super Mario Sunshine's entry for "That One Level" is 1559 words long.

It's a game with some detractors.

I didn't use to be one of them. I played Sunshine back during it's GameCube heyday. It was a rare bright spot for an anemic console library. It was bright and colorful at the beginning of an era where browns and greens were the norm. The music is impossibly catchy and the tropical vacation theme is sometimes just the right feel when the real world is covered in snow.

But as a game it leaves a lot to be desired.

Even back in the day, Sunshine gave teenage me an observation. Sunshine's controls aren't bad in a vacuum. The problem lies in what the designers ask of the controls. Making minute controls to Mario's position is a problem. Light taps to the control stick are inconsistent in both which direction Mario ends up facing, but also what animation will trigger to get him there. Sometimes Mario simply turns like you would expect. Other times he takes a wide berth to get turned around, more boat than human. This isn't a problem, unless of course you design levels that require pinpoint precision with the control stick.

Sunshine very often requires pinpoint precision with the control stick. 

Platforming isn't a problem ... when it works. When you've designed the environment to give spatial cues as to where Mario is in a 3D environment? When you design the levels to give room for the camera at angles you can expect players to want? When you have a gradual difficulty curve that slowly introduces features and controls? Then platforming works.

Not only does Sunshine not handle these things, it actively shuns them. Similar looking platforms will be placed together, except farther platforms will be physically larger, making them seem closer than they appear and making jumps fiendishly difficult. Poor camera angles increase as you get further in the game. Nintendo clearly believes that fighting the foibles of the game's engine to be the core gameplay loop.

In fact, the designers clearly believed the weaknesses of the game engine was the most ripe for mining content. Even the smallest quibbles exist to be exploited for "challenge". For instance, talking to NPCs is a little off. You have to stand a little too close and there's a beat of lag from when you approach an NPC to when you get the "A" button indicator to talk. It's such a small thing that there's no real reason to even think about it.

Except, of course, in the level that relies on this clunky behavior in a timed mission.

But even fundamental concepts to a platformer are clunky as well. Momentum feels particularly unusual. Like illustrated in this playthrough of the infamous "Pachinko" level. (NSFW language). Momentum feels really off when jumping from one moving platform to another. You can see this wonkiness clearly on the boats around Delfino Plaza. In real life, if you jump up in the air on a moderately quick boat and you'll simply jump up and down like 'normal'. Momentum is relative to self. In Sunshine, it sends you flying backwards in an unnatural way. The developers count on this fact during a particularly obnoxious part of the game where one must jump from tiny boat to tiny boat. Missing requires restarting the very long sequence all over again. The problems with momentum are omnipresent, most of the difficult challenges in Sunshine involve moving platforms, it's a very core part of the game.

So that teenage observation? Many games, particularly in Sunshine, seem to have a divide between the designers and the programmers. The designers in Sunshine have a lot of level design ideas that seem good on paper. Such as navigating a boat using your water pack for momentum. But when you have to actually execute them in game it's a terrible experience. The designers are writing checks that the programmers couldn't cash. No one with any pull played through Sunshine and asked, "Does this kinda suck?" Sunshine's development feels like it was dictated to the dev team by someone who never played the final product. With an overhaul of the jumping and camera systems that underlie the game, Sunshine could be a fun and imaginative platformer. But that's not the game that was shipped

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Journal: Among Us, Mario, FF14, and Chicken Nuggets

It's been a hot minute since my last post. Last week was a series of ups and downs. I was sick all week (with non-Covid symptoms) and generally feeling miserable. But then I rebounded and feel more or less better than ever. I even got some gaming in.

The post today has a little bit different organization today.

Things I Did

Among Us

The new hip, young thing on the market despite being two years old and on end-of-life when Twitch got a hold of it. We got a group together of 7 of us from the old college days to give the game a try. It was fantastic. I was feeling physically like crap but still had a very enjoyable 3 hours of game play. It's essentially a murder mystery game, in the vein of Mafia, Caesar, Town of Salem, etc. I was surprised at how well everyone was able to play. While me and the wife we're on our fully-kitted gaming PCs, others were playing on budget laptops or their phones. It seemed to make no difference to the playablity of it all. Those who never play video games seemed to have had just as much success as those who do. We have another gathering planned for Friday. I'm looking forward to it.

Final Fantasy XIV - Weaver to Level 50

It's time to come to a sad, but necessary, conclusion. I don't really like crafting in Final Fantasy XIV. I don't hate it, but I also don't actively enjoy it. It took leveling 4 different professions to come to this conclusion, but here we are nonetheless.

I like the simple crafting "mini-game" in Everquest 2. Simple, pleasant, and easy to do while watching YouTube on another monitor. FF XIV attempts to make it's crafting more involved by throwing two hotbars worth of abilities at you. You don't have to use them all, but micromanaging your abilities to increase your chances of crafting rares is such a big experience boost I feel compelled to do so. 

I like crafting in MMOs to be an end-of-the-evening activity. In FF XIV it wants to be the main show.

Super Mario Sunshine

I caved in and bought the remastered ports of Super Mario 64, Sunshine, and Galaxy. The ports aren't exactly perfect, but they're good enough and it's nice to play Sunshine and Galaxy without hooking up the Wii or WiiU again.

After a couple of days of play I'm at 67 Shines out of 120. Let me just say they don't make platformers like they used to, which is a great thing because Mario Sunshine kinda sucks. The control scheme is imprecise given the challenge offered. I've always enjoyed the charm of the game, it was a rare game using a colorful palette in a time of browns and greens. But I'm finding a contemporary play-through to be less enjoyable than my memories had offered. 

I plan to get 100% completion before it's all said and done. Doesn't mean I'll like it though. I'll probably play Galaxy after this. I'd rather light myself on fire rather than 100% Super Mario 64 again; that has literally never been a fun experience.

McDonald's Spicy Chicken Nuggets

When it comes to food, especially fast food and junk food, I'm a sucker for limited time events. I've always meant to blog about my various indulgences but I guess I'm not that hungry in the mornings when I write.

The new spicy chicken nuggets from McDonald's aren't good. I guess they're not bad, because that would imply that have some sort of flavor to them. They are bland followed by a bit of spicy aftertaste. There's no reason for these things when Wendy's Spicy Chicken Nuggets exist. I don't want to meet the person who thinks McDonald's are better. Embarrassing showing by the arches. 2 out of 5 stars.

I also tried the Travis Scott burger. It's a quarter pounder with cheese but with bacon, lettuce, and a higher price point. It's a promotion with zero effort. 0 out of 5 stars.

I will now write an angry letter to McDonald's manager. I don't care if supply lines are compromised from a worldwide pandemic, this is a lackluster showing. My girl Wendy is running laps on Ronald right now.

Things I'm Looking Forward To

Xbox Game Pass

Drake Hollow looks like a family-friendly mix of survival game and colony-builder. Doubt I'll play it. Playing Doom Eternal on a console when I have proper gaming PC feels icky. I would say that I'm hopeful future Game Pass updates will be better with Microsoft's purchase of Bethesda, but I've either played or owned nearly the entire Bethesda catalog.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas - Iron Man Mod

A full conversion that let's you play various Iron Man suits in the San Andreas world. Looks like they've changed the map to have some Avengers-related areas as well. Why haven't we had a proper Iron Man game yet? There was the poorly received movie tie-in by Sega, the VR game, and the Avengers title that was newly released. But the closest we've gotten to an open-world Iron Man game is probably the Lego Marvel titles. Very odd. Either way, the link to the mod is here

New Smash Bros. Character

It's Steve from Minecraft. Or Alex from Minecraft. Or a Creeper or an Enderman from Minecraft. I look forward to playing this character exactly once in Adventure mode and then wondering why I keep buying season passes to a game I don't play all that much.

It's neat that Microsoft and Nintendo keep teaming up on things. Now if we can get Game Pass on the Switch and Microsoft offering their actual functional online infrastructure to Nintendo titles that would be great.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Another Day, Another Profession Mastered

I've been game playing considerably more this week than at any point in the past.

My grinding-lust in Final Fantasy XIV continues unabated. Alchemy now finds itself at level 50 with it's sibling profession Botany. I don't know why I routinely zero in on Alchemy and Herbalism/Botany in RPGs. I guess it just makes flavor sense to me. Foraging for materials and turning it into temporary buffs makes sense in my brain.

Whenever I play an RPG, MMOs in particular, I always "mentally" role play as a self-sufficient character. I don't treat my army of alts in World of Warcraft and their relative professions as distinct characters. They're all just extensions of my main's polymath gimmick. A one-man industrial powerhouse with a needlessly cumbersome UI.

Final Fantasy XIV is much more direct. Every job can be leveled on the same character. Heck, every battle class can be functionally leveled as well. This fits into my style from both a flavor and gameplay style a lot more.

So am I playing more because I found the right game? Or because I'm in need of a little more relaxation than normal? Bhagpuss posit that it's the weather that's inducing his gameplay mood. I think I've written about weather-related gaming before. I do end up playing a lot more in the late fall and early winter. It's a little early in the year for me to be on the uptick but it's been a weird year in general. 

I'm going to finish leveling my weaver and pugilist/monk to 50. At that point I need to decide between continuing with FF14, finishing off Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1+2, or, if Mercury is willing, my copy of Super Mario All-Stars 3D will have arrived and I can begin playing that.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Xbox Launch Woes and I Pick Some Flowers in FF14

Another launch day, another big bag of nothing for me. Despite making fun of Sony for their pre-order troubles, Microsoft showed no better ability to deliver a console to my hands. At this point I'd sell the family car for a slightly used Tiger LCD game.

It's a bummer, missing out on the launch hysteria these things always produce. It's easy enough to call it all a cynical marketing ploy (because that's exactly what it is), but I remember many launch events fondly. The Game Boy Advance launch where I almost got stuck with a hot pink version, until the retail worker found a purple one  behind the counter on the floor. I then preceded to burn through 2 sets of batteries in one day before investing in an AC adapter. The Nintendo DS Lite launch, the first major purchase I ever made with my own money. The WOW: Burning Crusade launch where me and a college dorm friend stayed up for the midnight launch at Gamestop. When their credit card reader went down it was a race to the ATM and back. Then we leveled Blood Elfs together. I genuinely enjoy getting caught up in the hype. My post yesterday was me pontificating on the practicality of entertainment; that we should embrace what we enjoy without hesitation. I enjoy launch days, but it seems I won't get to enjoy this one.

On the other end of the scale, I woke up yesterday morning and began leveling Botany in Final Fantasy XIV. Why?

Me neither little buddy. But now I stand as a somewhat-proud level 50 flower picker. Now that I think about it, I always level herbalism in World of Warcraft as well. I have never successfully taken care of a plant in my life, why am I drawn to it in video gaming?

Anyhow, as I was wondering about my sudden grind-lust, two entries in my RSS feed piqued my interest. Syp is grinding out levels in WoW Classic and Belghast is finding leveling relaxing in WoW Retail. Maybe as the outside world is spinning itself to pieces, several of us are finding the relaxing and steady nature of leveling to be a balm. MMO leveling as therapy. Which is good since my actual therapist is so booked right now I have to wait a month and a half in between appointments. 

I guess I'll level fishing next. My mental health depends on it.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Moral Minesweeper - Ethics in Game Buying

A thread of thought has been making it's way through my RSS feed as of late. It started with Wolfyeyes initially, then to Roger at Contains Moderate Peril, and onward to Telwyn at GamingSF. It concerns a common topic, one might even call it evergreen. It's the role of ethics in consumption in a capitalist society.

The last time I visited this topic was last year, when Blizzard found it wise to light itself on fire to please their betters in China. It was the Hearthstone fiasco where a professional player used their platform to support the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. Blizzard reacted harshly. They handed out a suspension longer than they give to actual cheaters, six months to be precise. Blizzard's messaging was also terrible: making it clear that disruptions to Blizzard's money streams were the company's sole concern. 

I can't speak to how the world at large reacted. Blizzard's already declining reputation as a maker of quality video games was certainly hurt, but the actual financial impact was small, at least in the short and mid-term. Will there be a long term affect? Who knows?

Taking a page form the Buddha's playbook, I can't control what other people do. Shitty people probably won't stop being shitty anytime soon. The people who work for those shitty people still have rent due to next month. And people will still buy the products of ethically bankrupt corporations. 

And that circles us back around to the topic at hand. As John/Jane Doe what is our place in all of this? I don't play Blizzard products anymore. In fact I don't even have installed on my computer. But as I wrote back during that whole mess, this isn't a formal boycott. I don't have any interest in a 'political gesture' that literally no one will ever see, least of all those that I'm displeased with. 

But conversely, I'm also not inclined to pretend that Blizzard's downward spiral hasn't affected my enjoyment of their products. The same perspective that informed their view on Blitzchung's protests on their live stream, also informs the rest of their product stack. World of Warcraft is so hyper-focused on keeping players playing that they often forget to make anything worth playing. The Warcraft III Remaster is a mess that's flat out worse than the edition it replaced. WoW Classic is a perfectly great experience ... that had to be pried out of Blizzard's cold, dead hands.

It's not a Blizzard specific phenomenon. If you weigh your game down with endless monetization, it usually compromises the gameplay experience itself. If you endlessly crunch your staff, you usually end up with a game that's had all the soul sucked out of it. If you launch a game before it's ready to meet your quarterly guidance, you end up with a game that may very well not work at all.

I'm not so naive as to believe that this is always the case. Of course you can list products that had a tortured development and nonetheless came out pristine. But that's the exception rather than the rule. It's hard to produce something great when your production is flawed. For every Red Dead Redemption 2, there's a L.A. Noire and a dozen or more other projects that abused their staff and came out the worse for it. 

My gut instinct: you don't need to keep a list of every game that might have been made under ethically dubious pretenses. You don't need to articulate an absolute line a developer/publisher can cross before you won't buy a product. I genuinely think that these matters eventually sort out. I don't mean they sort themselves out, mind. Talented workers push back against overbearing bosses and use their leverage to improve work conditions. The same workers leave the AAA grind and start their own companies. Journalists expose bad behavior and become the nightmare of these company's recruiters. And yes, the ever temperamental fan base, will occasionally roar into action and end a few careers over the most egregious, and visible, of the sins.

Things are better. Not everything is better. Progress has never been efficient and it's never pointed in one direction. Sometimes the setbacks are absolutely demoralizing. Victories in this area are rarely given the headlines of the defeats. They certainly aren't given the same emotional bandwidth. 

When this topic comes around, it's easy to try and separate our feelings into silos. Our enjoyment for a game in one, our displeasure with how it was made in another. Should we focus on the meddling of the executives? Or should we focus on supporting the rank and file who actually made the game? I think the dichotomy itself is a mistake. 

Video games are entertainment products. Either they entertain us or they don't. If the behind-the-scenes news of a game affects your enjoyment of it, I see no reason to bury that feeling deep down inside. There's nothing heroic about it. Separating the art from the artist is a mug's game. This stuff doesn't enter our world by way of wormhole. How something is made is inherent to what eventually becomes. Why ignore that? A video game either makes me happy when I play it, or it's worthless. There are no other metrics here. I don't need to qualify a damn thing about the experience that I don't want to qualify.

But, if you buy and enjoy a game you have misgivings with, then you just have to be honest with your feelings on the matter. The scrambled eggs you had this morning have nothing to due with Humpty-Dumpty's fall. You're not complicit in shit. Ubisoft executives aren't sexually harassing an employee for every copy of Far Cry 38 they sell. It's not heroic to beat yourself up about something you can't actually control. It just bleeds away the energy and confidence to do something about matters you can control. If it's not affecting how you feel about the game than that's how it is. There are no gold medals for hating yourself sufficiently.

But my perspective on the matter is an inherently optimistic one. Which is unusual for me. I have a lot of faith that good processes result in good products. Not all the time, just most of the time. Complex process usually work like that. And we all know that making video games is a very complex process.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.


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.


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.

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