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.