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.