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 And while our house is nice enough, certain portions of it are more outdated than others.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.