Flower Power

Bad Brain

This morning I am struggling a bit to get started with my normal blogging process.  Right now I am going through what I generally term as a “low spot” in my mental health.  I have been feeling depressed and generally disconnected from the world lately.  It is like I am staring out a window and watching the world go by in fast motion.  Additionally I seem to be focused on only the bad things.  Like I could have a dozen normal conversations, but my brain is heat seeking in on the moments that don’t go perfectly.  Analyzing them, breaking them apart, wallowing in my imagined failure.  What frustrates me the most is that I have a pretty awesome life, but when my brain is on a down cycle it certainly doesn’t seem like it, and my internal critic has been working overtime.

The thing is, it wouldn’t be quite so bad if my brain would just stop with statements like pointing out that I have gained weight, or that I am failing to live up to this or  that goal.  It always has to be the bully and take things one step too far.  My brain is telling me constantly that I am an imposter and that no one actually likes me, and that at best everyone simply tolerates my actions.  My brain is kicking things up another notch over the last few days, and incessant about telling me that the world would simply be a better place if I no longer existed.  The thing is… I know deep down inside my core that my brain is a liar, but man…  is it relentless.  I am not expecting anything from this, but I figured I would open up a bit more into my own personal struggles.  No one likes hanging around with someone that bums them out, but maybe me talking about it helps someone else who is struggling with the same demons.  I know my brain is wrong, and that this will pass in time… but right now, it is pretty hellacious to live with 24/7.

Flower Power

ffxiv 2015-04-29 20-59-51-21 Last night was yet another running of the second static in our Final Fantasy Free Company.  We are still struggling a bit to gather up the eight people needed to raid, but hopefully as people continue leveling and gearing that will change a bit.  Ultimately I would love it were I able to be an optional in this group, since I have my group that meets seriously on Monday already, and our secondary night on Saturday before the podcast.  That said at raid time we managed to gather up seven people and attempted to pug an eighth.  That didn’t go terribly well, because while we were talking about the fights he ran off and pulled some golems.  I mean on one level I get it, because we had not said much in the game chat, and were sorting things out on voice chat…  but taking it upon yourself  to pull is rarely the right answer.  After a few wipes he refused to resurrect and we kicked him, abandoning duty and bringing in Ashgar.  From that point on the night seemed to improve.

Things were far more tense than they should have been, and there was a bit of an outburst on Teamspeak but other than that things fell in place fairly well.  I would be bummed that this team managed to get turn six in a single night of tries, whereas it took our team two nights…  but this group is leaning heavily on past experience.  When we tried to do each turn we tried really hard to go in as a blank slate and figure things out as they happened.  It was cool though to get another raid boss killed with this group and we moved on to Turn Seven.  There are a lot of moving parts in that fight, and largely the group still needs to figure out how best to control the Renaud freezing action.  It is a really fun fight and even more than turn six, it came back to me quickly as we started going through the motions.  I am starting to wonder though if I should be running Paladin on these fights since Damai is a Warrior main.  Not sure what additional benefit having a Paladin would give the group since it has a slightly different skillset.  Would at least give me practical experience doing stuff as my “other” tank class.

Another Outpost

StateOfDecay 2015-04-29 12-34-32-25 The other game that I played a significant amount of yesterday was State of Decay Year One Survivor Edition.  I am back to playing Marcus after going on some crazy misadventures as Maya.  When I last played I got the radio announcement that a military presence had been spotted on the outskirts of town.  Having done this song and dance before I knew that it was best to take Maya over there to check it out.  Additionally at that point Marcus was doing the whole “not sure how long I can go on” thing, meaning he was exhausted and needed to be rested.  Around this same time I got reports that two hordes of zombies were getting close to town.  I’ve found the best way to take out a horde is vehicular zombiecide.  So I laughably grabbed the Pizza Delivery car and took the the roads running them down.  This ends up stirring up quite a few additional zombies in the process, but far less in my experience than trying to put down a horde with gun fire.

After quelling the two hordes I moved on to the Military encampment and it went just as well as it had in the past.  The military wants everyone to stay inside and shelter in place… which is fine and good until the zombies try breaking down your door.  The military house was next to one of the survivor houses I was working on gaining trust with.  Unfortunately the person that normally gives me quests to complete to gain their trust was not available, so not sure exactly where they wandered off to.  About this time I got a frantic radio message from Lucy telling me that her brother was trapped and needed my help.  He had managed to get himself pinned down in a barn, and I had to ride in and save the day.  This actually was tougher than I thought it would be and ended up having to clear about nine zombies to get to him and save him.  By this time Maya was going through her whole “too exhausted to continue” routine, but I managed to finish things off and get back home with Jacob.  So there we are, back home and ready for another jaunt out with Marcus.  Hopefully I will get in and play some more tonight.

Year One Survivor Edition

State of Decay

State of Decay Sept 2013 Back in June of 2013 I was completely amped with the release of State of Decay on the Xbox Live Arcade.  While I am not traditionally a console gamer I spent a good deal of my time out in the loft playing this game at launch.  When it came out that September of the PC I was even more excited because it meant that I would be spending more time playing it.  Since then I have picked up the two expansions…  that I have woefully not spent much time playing.  This has been one of those titles that when it goes on sale I sent copies to friends, considering it is as close to the perfect zombie survival game as I have ever played.  The only flaw however is the fact that this game desperately wants to be multiplayer.  In fact when I told my friends last night what I was playing before the raid…  the immediate response was an excited question asking if they added in multiplayer.

State of Decay: Year One Survivor Edition 2015 While I did not take the best reference shots, because I was too busy playing the game…  I did dig up one of the screenshots I took playing the original steam release in the above section, and now directly above this paragraph is a screenshot from the Year One Survivor Edition… which is essentially an HD Remaster more than anything.  I definitely find screenshot two more appealing.  The first screenshot uses a lot of deep shadow to mask the extremely muddy textures, whereas the second shot is more willing to let you see things more naturally.  Another thing that I really dig is that the game has some nice Depth of Field going on in the YOSE edition.  You can see this in the second character on screen but even more so below in the shot of my character climbing the tower in town to scout for a view.  The world feels more “real” which makes it all the more creepy as you are wandering the wastes looking for resources.

Year One Survivor Edition

Awesome Depth of Field Effects The biggest thing I have noticed while playing is that the controls seem much more responsive.  I am playing the game using the exact same black wired xbox 360 controller I did the first time, but this time around everything feels more fluid.  If this were just shooting I would think potentially it was me, since between the times playing this game…  I played a lot of Destiny with a controller, which has greatly improved my aiming.  I am noticing it especially when I am driving a car however, that things feel more controllable and less all over the place.  Additionally the melee combat feels more responsive.  This is aided by the fact that our character has now learned how to use a knife, instead of simply kicking zombies when your melee weapon breaks.  Stupid as this sounds, it feels even more “walking dead” thanks to this little motion.  This works unbelievably well when your companion holds the zombie and you finish them off with the knife.  I did a lot of this in the lake area before moving into the town for example.

All Three Versions in One I did not make it terribly far last night, because I was playing for about an hour before and after my World of Warcraft raid, but I did manage to get far enough in to remember why I liked this game so much.  Since it had been so long since I had last played, I opted to just restart the original campaign, as it tends to be the best way to ease into the game.  Additionally while running around yesterday at lunch I picked up a Xbox One copy for my boss, so I am figuring he will want to discuss what is going on in the game.  He is not much of a gamer but picked up the  Xbox One because his grand kids also have one…  and is a huge Walking Dead fan so I figured State of Decay was just about the perfect game for him.  I am one of those people that can do something, but struggle to talk someone through it… unless I am doing it myself.  I figured the only way I could be of any help to him was to actually be playing the content myself.

Making Progress

StateOfDecay 2015-04-28 22-56-06-48 Like I said earlier I did not make a ton of progress, but after having played this multiple times I feel like maybe my play is a bit more focused than it was the first time.  As a result I have already rescued one group of survivors, cleaned out the veterinary clinic, built an outpost, built a sleeping area, built a workshop… and am working on building trust with a second group of survivors.  Not too shabby for about two hours of play if I do say so myself.  The whole “knowing what you are doing” aspect definitely speeds things up, as well as having a basic understanding of the lay of the land.  The first time I played this game I was having to constantly check the map, whereas this time around I can navigate at least somewhat based on landmarks.  I remember on my first play I overshot the church by a huge margin, crashed my car… had to get a new one… and finally made it back to the church at night.  This time I went straight there, knowing there was no real sense in exploring until I had done the introductory stuff at the church.

This is still a really great game, and like I said at the start of all of this… the only weakness is it would be so much more enjoyable were I exploring with my friends.  The bane of my existence is just how fast melee weapons break.  I feel like this is a game about me searching for my next weapon, more than anything else.  I rarely use guns, and prefer to take on the zombies in close range… in part  because it doesn’t summon more zombies to the gun shots.  Additionally I really do not want to summon a zombie horde down upon me.  That said I did at one point clear out a couple of hordes with a random car, which was extremely gratifying.  The other strange thing I have noticed is that I no longer fear the zombies.  The first time I played this game I was scared to death of interaction with them.  Every time I would search a location I would take the time to carefully board it up before proceeding.  Now I just deal with the zombies as they come… so in a way it feels like the transition someone would have to make in this world.  I understand it better, and therefore I am less concerned by it.  Still having a blast after all of the time I have played the game in the past, which is quite the compliment to the developers.

#StateOfDecay #YOSE #UndeadLabs

eSports Needs Name Change

What is Sport

RBIBaseball Yesterday I managed to get into a conversation that I never really intended to, but I thought it might make for interesting blog fodder.  Over the weekend ESPN 2 hosted the Heroes of the Storm “Heroes of the Dorm” collegiate competition, with college teams competing for scholarship money.  Now this is not the first time ESPN 2 has shown “eSports” because the 2014 International DOTA 2 Championships were shown on the channel as well.  Both times now there has been a backlash from traditional sports fans calling the showing of video games on their precious sports channel all manner of expletives.  That said in both cases ESPN 2 got seemingly plenty of viewers because in both cases they brought in an audience that would not have normally watched that channel.  I personally have had trouble getting into either traditional sports or eSports, so as a result I am somewhat of a neutral observer to this phenomena.  However after both events twitter has been set ablaze with back and forth between sports fans and gamers.

I made a few sideways comments yesterday and one of the spin off threads was about the definition of what exactly a sport was.  One definition suggestion was presented as “I always took sport to feature/focus on physical exertion/athleticism”.  The actual dictionary definition looks similar “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”  The problem is I feel like the competitive gaming scene also fits this definition.  “Physical exertion” is such a generic term and the reflexes and fine motor skills required to play competitively in League of Legends, StarCraft 2 or DOTA 2 surely would qualify as such I would think.  “Sport” to me really has no meaning attached to it, because I do not hold it up to some higher standard than what the dictionary defines it as.  There is no nostalgia towards sports, and they don’t serve any greater purpose in my mind other than to entertain people.

eSports Needs Name Change

leagueworldchampionshipo One of the problems brought up yesterday was the fact that “eSports” in itself is a name that you can’t quite take seriously.  To tack the “e” onto Sport immediately tells you it is something that is trying to be but not quite achieving the same quality as the “real” Sports.  This to me sets up a false dichotomy between the two that really doesn’t exist.  For me at least they are both just “sports” because as a neutral observer, I see absolutely no difference between the two.  In both cases people are paid to play a game for the entertainment of others.  In both cases they are spectator driven events, and in both cases they draw huge crowds of people.  While they have not quite reached the level of the Super Bowl (114 million) or the World Cup (188 milion) as far as viewership, they are definitely juggernauts in their own right.

Last year the League of Legends World Championship had 32 million viewers, and “The International”DOTA 2 championship over 20 million viewers.   This tells me this is a phenomena that is not going to go away, and will only continue to get bigger.  I feel like the name somehow cheapens the experience by showing that it is trying to be something else.  Sports itself is rife with all manner of problems and embedded social issues.  Over the last several years we have been seeing these same issues playing out in the “eSports” arena as leagues attempt to emulate their traditional sports counter parts.  I question if it is time to just sever the ties with the “Sports” concept entirely and go off and create something new.  As it was pointed out yesterday, “eSports” shares some serious ties to the professional Poker or Pool circuits, so maybe all of these should just resurrect under the banner of “High Stakes Gaming” or something similar.

ESPN Needs eSports

cuttingcoax I feel like at this point these two attempts for ESPN 2 to show competitive gaming are more a bid for continued relevance more than anything.  ESPN is the juggernaut of traditional sports but I feel like there is an entire generation of people not being served by it.  The network of channels does a great job at covering their core demographic, but I would guess that demographic is slipping in total viewership.  If they did not see the need to branch out, they would keep doing the same thing they are doing.  32 Million and 20 Million are not small numbers, and the ESPN management understands this.  I would be surprised if ANY game they show currently gets those kind of numbers, because we are living in this era when television viewership as a whole is on the decline.  I think the calculus in the executives head is that there is a need to try and hook the  generation that is simply not watching their programming, and when they look to what it is being replaced by… they see Youtube.com and Twitch.tv.

The problem is I think this is ultimately going to work backwards.  I don’t see “eSports” hooking new viewers on traditional sports like ESPN might be hoping.  What I do see is that for all of the bluster and banter… that more than likely some people stayed and watched the Heroes of the Storm tournament instead of flipping the channel.  Those people are going to look into that game, and when it launches probably play it.  I think the net positive is in the favor of gaming, and not necessarily sports.  ESPN is very much the kingpin of the outdated cable television model, and I don’t really see “eSports” somehow changing that.  I personally get frustrated every time I look at my cable bill and realize that I am essentially paying an “ESPN Tax” to help subsidize a channel I will never actually watch.  Maybe just maybe if they do end up playing more competitive gaming coverage, especially something along the lines of EVO…  I might actually watch it.  In the mean time I will continued to be confounded as two side argue over doing essentially the exact same thing in my eyes.

Splashy Pony

The Lottery

ffxiv 2015-04-25 21-00-49-68 This weekend I had a pretty great time puttering around Final Fantasy XIV.  As of yesterday afternoon I am officially capped on Poetics again, and it seems like each week this is getting easier.  Right now my focus is on getting my dragoon 130 weapon since I am being called upon to dps in coil occasionally, and as such I feel like I should have the best weapon available to me.  Had I really been thinking straight I would have gone for the dragoon lance first instead of the axe.  At this point I need to cap one more week and then part of another to end up getting the weapon.  This week I got another encrypted tomestone, and this coming week I will get the carbontwine so that when I finally get the poetics together I will be ready for it.  We have a minor patch tomorrow, and I would really love if they completely removed the poetics cap or at least raised it…  but I don’t think that is actually going to happen.

Part of what makes my time in Final Fantasy XIV so enjoyable is the community.  In some games you want to spend as little time with other players as possible, but in FFXIV we all sort of congregate in several common areas and the casual interactions with other players ends up being a pure joy.  With the 2.51 patch they added the Golden Saucer and with it the Cactpot lottery system.  Once a week you can buy a ticket for the big drawing, that could be worth as much a million MGP.  This drawing happens every Saturday evening, and if you are there at exactly the right time you can see the above spectacle as a series of wheels raise from the floor and “roll” the new number.  What is awesome is a good chunk of the community gathers around to watch this happen.  I ended up chatting with a few people I had never met but that just had awesome outfits, and while I didn’t win anything other than the consolation prize… it is always a part of the week I look forward to.

Splashy Pony

ffxiv 2015-04-25 20-37-51-32 Before the podcast on Saturday evening we gathered together and worked on Leviathan Extreme.  Now a few weeks ago we had made some serious progress here, so we went into this adventure thinking we had a good shot at actually downing it.  Levi Extreme is probably one of the more enjoyable fights in the game I have experienced.  While it shares some unrecoverable mechanics with Titan Extreme, it seems to do so in a much more predictable manner.  The primary difference between normal and extreme modes is that when the elemental converter goes off, Leviathan knocks the sides off the boat making the players susceptible to being knocked off in the water if you stand in the wrong places.  Additionally there is a new add type that spawns that if not stun locked and burned extremely quickly can fear players off the boat.  The combination of these two mechanics and the fact that if someone dies… you have a few moments to resurrect them before their corpse is knocked of…  makes the fight extremely tense at times.

ffxiv 2015-04-25 20-41-29-38However we worked through all of these issues and on each attempt kept creeping closer and closer to success.  I think we had about ten minutes left on the timer when we finally defeated Leviathan, but as the night went on it felt more solid.  I think we could probably farm this encounter each week letting folks get their extremely awesome Leviathan weapons.  The amazing part is that we actually managed to get one of the mounts to drop.  These are not an every time occurrence from what I understand, and actually rather rare.  Not only did we get it to drop, but I actually managed to roll high on it.  Now in the above picture you can see me riding around on my splashy pony with water splash effects that it leaves behind everywhere it goes.  Leviathan has always been one of my favorite summons in the Final Fantasy universe, so I am damned happy to have his pony.  Hopefully we can get the guild a bunch more of these over time.  You can see Thalen sporting the Leviathan fist weapons, which are the item that dropped in addition to the mount.  I want the Leviathan axe so bad, so hopefully we can muster the oomph to do this one on a regular basis.

Ready for Heavensward

ffxiv_dx11 2015-04-27 06-21-20-50 This morning before sitting down to write this blog post I ran my way through the new benchmark application to test systems to see if they are ready for Heavensward.  I guess my system passed with flying colors, and there are some moments in the demo where it worked the hell out of my machine.  I tend to play Final Fantasy XIV on a frame locked 30 fps largely because that is what I have gotten used to.  I happened to be running fraps during the demo loop, and the highest frame rate I saw was around 75 fps and the lowest dip was during this “raid” section with tons of spell effects going off at around 35 fps.  All in all I am pretty damned pleased with that, especially since I never run with full spell effects on.  I prefer to run with the limited spell effect options because it makes 24 man raids feel less seizure inducing to be honest.  As the demo played out though I have to say I am getting really amped to be playing all of this content.  The world of Heavensward looks amazing, and the DX11 textures are so much clearer than what we are currently used to.

ffxiv_dx11 2015-04-27 06-20-41-93 The highlight of the demo reel however is seeing the new Dragoon rank 3 limit break animation.  If this is any indication then I think we are going to be really happy with all of the new class specific limit breaks.  The only thing that concerns me is that the dragoon dive is a really long animation, so I am wondering what the rest of the party sees as this is going off.  As you can see the Dragoon becomes a spirit dragon and then leaps up into the air crashing down on the target driving the force of the spirit dragon through it.  I tried to get screenshots at good times during its animation but it really does not do it justice.  Thankfully if you are stuck at work and cannot run the animation, they released a video of the entire benchmark so you can get your fix.  I am really pleased with the performance of my system however and I have no doubts in my mind that I will be able to run Heavensward without issues.  This whole releasing a benchmark thing is such a great idea, and I am wondering why more companies don’t do this.  This way if you do need to make upgrades, you have more than enough time to figure out how you are going to do this.

Grand Experiment – Year Two

AggroChat 54 – Darkest Dungeon Show

This evening we held the third episode of the AggroChat Game Club where we talk about my pick the early access rogue-like Darkest Dungeon.  I personally chose this game because so many of my friends had been talking about it, and purposefully delayed playing it in the thoughts of this eventually becoming an AggroChat title.  The result is that each of us played the game slightly different, and walked away with a very different perspective and feeling about the game.  Some of us loved it, but even among those that loved it…  we brought with it a completely different outlook and as such a different reaction.  Of course some of us absolutely hated the game, enough to actually Alt-F4 out of the window.

The end result however is what I feel like our most successful game club title to date, because it certainly spurred on some conversation.  Next months title is announced towards the end of the broadcast and I am sure it will be an equally interesting discussion.  As for my own feelings…  I really enjoyed the game, but it seems like I might be the most heartless bastard on the planet when it comes to how I treated my dungeoneers.  Some of my co-hosts developed bonds to their spelunkers and for me… they were just fodder to be thrown at the problem like minions in a Dungeon Keeper game.  Of all the games we have played for the game club so far this is the one that I am most likely to visit and keep playing, but I might be waiting until it exits early access.  There are certain things in the game that I don’t know if they are broken or simply that they have not been finished yet.

Grand Experiment – Year Two

I've Felt Strong Enough to Even Show you Me This Year Two years ago today I set about to change the nature of my blog and embarked upon what I termed the “Grand Experiment” which was more than anything blogging every single day no matter if I had a thought in my mind worth writing down on paper.  Now 730 posts later I continue to question what I was thinking when I started down this road.  The end result has been an interesting ride to say the least.  What has happened more than anything during these last two years is that I have gotten closer with the community of my fellow bloggers.  This has been more important than anything else to me, and it is through all of the various events like the upcoming Newbie Blogger Initiative 2015 that it is happened.  So while I question if I did anything that really mattered over these last  two years, I am thankful for every single reader and peer  that I now have.  There are lots of bloggers that write daily, and they have not made a big deal about it… but for me this was huge.  If you scan back through my blog there are several six month long lapses in content… and very rarely did I actually make it through a month without having a week with zero posts.

It has been so much more than just writing a blog for me personally.  I have allowed myself to open up more about myself and my life than I ever had to date online.  I’ve talked about my personal struggles, and shared with you my excitement and joy.  I’ve let you all into my life, and while I still for the most part am scant on the details…  you are seeing the impression of something very real that is happening.  I figured out early into this process that there would be days when I simply don’t have anything game related to talk about.  There would be days that I would have something on my chest that I needed to get out there, right or wrong… and I am thankful that you all have supported me.  I’ve been told that for many people my blog post is now part of their morning ritual, and if they get to work… and don’t see one they start to worry if something happened to me.  The first day I was late with a post and I had a deluge of people pinging me over twitter and IM to make sure I was okay…  was absolutely overwhelming.

Year Three

Not My Cat - But I Have Decided it is my Spirit Animal :) So tomorrow I begin the third year of this journey.  There are days I question myself why I am doing this… what exactly I am trying to prove.  The thing is I don’t really have an answer for either of those things.  I enjoy this connection that I have to my readers, no matter how ephemeral it might be.  There are days that I am doing this as therapy, other days doing it to share my excitement that I might burst if I don’t get it out onto the page… and in other days…  the days I cannot seem to find the words, I am struggling forward for you.  I feel like we have this contract, that I will write and you will read and together we will have this connection.  I don’t want to be the one to sever that connection.  I don’t want to be the one who lets down my end of this contract.  So I will keep living and experiencing and doing my hack job of sharing that experience with you.  This time next year I have no clue what I might be talking about… but I hope to still be talking and looking forward to our next journey.

Now I ask something of you.  Since we have been sharing these moments each morning for some time…  tell me about what you have done over these two years.  Granted a lot of you have blogs of your own and they are in my RSS reader that I consume at irregular intervals like drinking from a giant firehose of words.  But some of you out there have been with me this entire trip, and have never commented.  I would love to hear from some of you, and let me know how your life has changed over these last two years.  I might not even know you yet, but I would like to.  What major changes has my readership gone through while I have been on this journey.  I’ve upset a few people along the way, some of which have blocked me out of their lives…  but I have gained several orders of magnitude more friends along the journey.  That is the really important thing to me… all of the friends I have to show for my trip, and that I still keep in contact with on a weekly basis.  You are the ones that give me the drive to keep moving forward, and hopefully this next year will be a fun trip shared together.

The Arcade Community

One of the odd things I have been struggling with over the last two years of writing daily is why on the week days I can bang out a post in usually less than thirty minutes, but on the weekends it takes upwards of three hours.  The problem is I think that I simply don’t feel quite the same pressure to perform on the weekends.  I know I am not under the gun to produce in a short period of time so I faff about more.  This morning for example I have read half a dozen articles, done my daily garrison chores in World of Warcraft and am finally just now setting down to start writing.  I think the pressure to perform is crucial for what I do, and without it I likely would not have kept this up all this time.  All of this said there are days when the process of getting up every morning to stare at a blank screen becomes frustrating.  On  those days I wonder just how long I can keep this ritual up.  Tomorrow will be the second year anniversary, and so far the will to write has not left me.

Fighting Games

streetfighter1 Last week Mortal Kombat 10 was released, and I will admit there is a part of me that wants to purchase it and wallow in the nostalgia a bit.  The problem is another part of me knows that I could do this, but it would not feel the same.  In fact no fighting game I have played has felt right to me, and I cannot really place the reasons why.  Ultimately I think its because I myself am in a different place than I was when I first played Street Fighter 2 all those years ago.  I touched on this a bit with my story about my friend Wade, but I thought I would delve more into it this morning for Storytime Saturday.  While I have heard the fighting game scene is alive and well with the EVO Championship Series, there is just something missing from it without the existence of the arcade element.  There was a critical friction required of actually getting to the arcade that somehow made the experience worth that much more.

I remember in the days before I had my drivers license, I took any opportunity I had to get my hands on a stand up arcade cabinet.  I spent many trips to Wal-mart hanging out in the lobby and playing whatever games they happened to have available there, trying to make that handful of quarters last an entire shopping trip.  When the Circle K in town first got in Street Fighter, I was not exactly drawn to it… because at first it looked like the boring Karate games that came out in the late 80s.  We of course did not have a “real” Street Fighter cabinet, but instead one that was recycled from some other game with Street Fighter innards.  As such we didn’t have the helpful stickers showing us the moves, so the first time my friend stumbled across a special attack it was like magic.

The Gaming Bible

egm31Electronic Gaming Monthly became my bible, and I anxiously awaited every single issues because they painstakingly printed move lists for all of these fighting games.  By the time Street Fighter 2 was released we had an arcade in town called the Wooden Nickel and any time I could I tried to get out there to camp the fighting game machine.  It was at this point that I was first introduced to the etiquette of the arcade.  On that machine at Wooden Nickel was a plastic strip attached to the bottom of the bezel, with eight numbered coil slots.  My friend who was much more of a regular than than I was, explained to me that it was how you requested the next game aka “Winner Stays, Loser Pays”.  You could walk up to any machine, plunk your quarter down and you were immediately in line for the throne.  It became a challenge to see just how long you could stay on the machine, and it became my mission to stretch my quarters as long as I possibly could.

I could play a mean Ryu or Guile, but there were always challengers that I found difficult like someone who really knew how to play Dhalsim for example.  Around this time Mortal Kombat released but we continued to plug away on Street Fighter 2, it felt like the superior game in every way.  Mortal Kombat had the cool gimmick of fatalities and photo captured graphics, but the gameplay itself was just more fleshed out in Street Fighter 2.  That was the case until the release of Mortal Kombat II, when most of us changed our religion.  By this time I had transportation and was regularly going to Arcades in both Bartlesville and Tulsa.  There we started to find various “beta boards” for Mortal Kombat II, and quite honestly this was the strangest time in video games that I can remember.  At this point there was really no such thing as “patching” a game, but Midway distributed Mortal Kombat II in such a way as to allow for the swapping out of chips as upgrades came out.  The first MK2 board I can really remember playing on was one that I think was labelled “.98” but honestly at this point I have had 20 years of time to forget the details.

johnnycagefriendship `The problem with these early boards is they were extremely incomplete.   They might have a fatality for this character, but not one for another character.  Was the boards evolved we started seeing newer and stranger items being added into the mix.  I remember the first time I saw a “babality” or a “friendship” I was completely floored that something like that would exist.  The problem is this started a massive rumor mill flowing in the arcades.  People would come in and sell these guides that had codes for supposedly all of the characters, more than half of which are completely made up.  At this point if you had access to AOL you were a god, because you had access to the message boards where all of these codes were being traded.  I made it my mission to try and assimilate all of these rumors together into a comprehensive guide and actually test each of the codes.  I noted which version of the game had which abilities, and which codes were complete bullshit.  All I had access to was Microsoft Works at the time, but I tried my best to churn out as professional a guide as I could for the time.  Instead of charging for them, I would just leave them with the desk of the arcade for anyone who wanted one.

The Arcade Community

fullgorejago There were some players who knew all of the abilities and other players who had nothing to really work with.  When you have as many characters as a fighting game has, you don’t have room on the cabinet bezel art to actually show the moves…  so everything was guess work.  I guess in my own way I was trying to level the playing field.  Let people know the attacks so they could defend against the jerks in the arcades that would refuse to teach anyone any move.  Me I would happily explain what I was doing to the players that fought against me.  I would explain why I was doing what I did, and why I was attacking in a specific way.  Granted over time I lost my advantage on the players, but I felt it was for the good of the community as a whole, because really at that point the arcades were like a community.  You would see the same players when you went to specific arcades, and they would remember you and chit chat back and forth as you played.  When someone would be gone for a significant amount of time…  folks would note their passing and wonder why they were not around.

The last game I remember being extremely excited about before this era finished for me was Killer Instinct.  At this point anything that was 3D rendered was new and exciting, and we rushed to this cabinet because it represented the next evolution of fighting games at the time.  It looks so primitive now, but at the time it was pure magic.  The attract music was amazing, and listening to the absolutely over the top sound effects like the infamous “Combo Breaker” made the whole experience unlike anything else that was being offered.  Additionally this was the first game that I can remember that had actual programmed combo sequences that you could kick off.  I graduated High School, moved on to college and other than a few flirtations with Soul Edge in the University Center basement I had moved on to the PC and games like Starcraft.  I feel like my entire generation went through this transition and then the gap between home systems and arcade systems lowered to the point where there simply was not a reason to keep going somewhere else to play video games.  I mourn the loss of that community because it really was something special, not entirely unlike the relationship we have in MMO guilds.  I have heard the EVO scene has revitalized a lot of this, but I feel like at least for me… that was another time and another place  and I have moved on to other games.

On User Interfaces

User Interface

ffxiv 2015-04-23 20-29-38-35 Last night while running dungeons I got into a lengthy discussion with my friend Damai about the user interface layout in Final Fantasy XIV.  As such I thought it might be useful to talk about my chosen layout this morning.  One of the awesome things about this game is how adaptable the stock interface is to whatever you want from it.  One of the big features that is poorly documented is that every single element can be scaled up or down.  Some of these windows that are targetable can be scaled at any time, the rest can only be scaled in user interface edit mode.  To Scale a window target it and hit Control and Home.  This toggles through a series of available sizes from tiny to massive.  As you can see in my interface I have lots of different hotbars, some of which are scaled as small as I can get them, and others a more standard size.

My layout is pretty straight forward.  I tend to set up all user interfaces the same if given the option so that my main block of hotbars is stacked in the center of my screen, with my own health information and targets health information is directly above them so that I only have to look down a slightly from the center of my screen to see it.  This is extremely important when you are dealing with encounters that transition at a certain percentage or something similar.  I snapped this photo between pulls, but what is missing on the left side of my hotbars is the available targets window showing current emnity gems.  On the right side of my hotbars is my party list which I have placed as such to make healing easier.  I am right handed, so I tend to set my heal bars on the right side of the screen to make the movement more natural.  All the other bits are largely extraneous like the lower lefthand bar includes all of my class icons allowing me to switch between classes faster.  Pretty much every game I play has a set up similar to this, but in the FFXIV user interface I feel like this is my ultimate version of that design.

Messy Interface

Wow-64 2015-04-21 20-48-48-06 Tuesday night I snapped a picture of my raiding interface in World of Warcraft from comparrison and I have to say… it is getting to the point where I struggle to play with this mess.  At some point soon I need to trash everything and start from scratch trying to build something less intensive.  I feel like one of the triumphs of Final Fantasy XIV is that it gives me a much more slim line interface but also manages to communicate to me all of the information contained within my World of Warcraft interface… but just in a much more compact fashion.  Hell I would hazard that if I were playing World of Warcraft with the interface I have in FFXIV I would be enjoying it significantly more.  This is the point when Tamrielo would chime in with some commentary about the conversations we have had in the past on user interfaces.  I like a very specific design and when a game doesn’t support that layout I get frustrated quickly.  So many of my complaints about Elder Scrolls Online were the fact that its interface would not support the layout I was looking for.

Once upon a time I had an interface that I was extremely happy with in World of Warcraft.  On the left side of my hotbars is where I kept recount for damage and threat meters.  On the right side I kept grid, an extremely combat view of the party and raid frames.  The problem is grid died several expansions ago and no mod has come along to present the raid frames in quite so perfect a fashion for me.  Grid gave me exactly the right amount of information, and as a tank I loved it because it would put a little red dot on any frame that was currently drawing aggro.  I could at a glance tell if I had the majority of the mobs.  There are other raid frames that work somewhat similar, but all of which are geared towards healers.  Grid could be made to work for anyone who simply needed to see at a glance how the raid was doing.  I feel at this point I need to just start from scratch, and build back only the features I actually want and need.  All of the prepackaged user interfaces end up frustrating me because I don’t have full control over them.  So as such for me to be happy, I am going to have to simply delete my interface folder one weekend and start over.

Interfaces are Important

rift 2015-04-24 07-04-25-36 This might seem like an odd thing to some, but when it comes to my enjoyment of a game I would say that the user interface ranks near the top of “most important things” to me.  There are many games that I think I would enjoy, if they just had a better interface or better control scheme.  Ultimately what this means however is my ability to manipulate things in such a fashion as to bring them in line with what is familiar for me.  I’ve included three different games with three different interfaces, but as you can see there are some basic elements that I set up in each of them.  While I am not literally cloning the exact same layout in each game, I am still bringing them closer into line with what I expect to be the case.  I expect targets to appear on either side of my character and for the hot bars to be stacked in some fashion below my character.  I am extremely combat focused so I want all of the important things that I need to see to be close to the center of my screen.

The things I tend to push off to the margins of the screen are the things that I am not dealing with often like Quest trackers, and hotbars for buttons that I don’t want to have to go digging to find, but that I also don’t need often.  I am a creature of habit and I end up ultimately remapping things to work similar between games.  If I am playing a class with some sort of a builder effect, then I will always put the “dump” ability for that effect on the 7 key.  In Rift for example this is my single target finisher, on my Warrior in FFXIV this is Inner Beast.  I will always place my interrupt hotkey on the 0 key that way my brain is wired to hit that key without thinking when I see something I need to interrupt.  Similarly if I have an engagement ability that pushes me into combat, I will always place that ability on either 4 or 5 depending on the game… which can get confusing at times.  Taunt regardless of the game however is always going to be sitting on 6, and if I am playing a stealth class…  I recycle that key for my stealth ability.  Because I play so many games, I have to create some sense of standardization between them.  I guess in my mind I am just playing versions of the same game, and that ultimately is how I can switch back and forth between games without missing a beat.  This is also why the interface is so important to me.

Wrong About Wildstar

More Initiates

ffxiv 2015-04-13 21-12-58-11 For as frustrated as yesterdays post was, today’s is all the more hopeful.  Lately on Wednesday nights I have been assisting a fledgling second static group in our free company out.  While it still struggles to get a full eight people, we are making some progress.  As more people level to the cap, more people will be available to join in the raiding fun and hopefully this will smooth the process out significantly.  For the last few weeks we have been working on Turn 5 of the Binding Coil of Bahamut, aka the first major hurdle and the gateway to the second coil.  Last week we made decent progress but were still struggling to get through the dive bomb phase.  That phase seems to be the biggest frustration with the fight, and once you figure out the timing the rest goes smoothly.  While I barded it up last week, this week I tanked it because that was the role that was needed.  Since my health was significantly higher than Damai we swapped roles and I took the Twintania role and he adjusted quickly to dealing with the adds.

Now our first group of the night was less than successful because we ended up having to pug in half of the players.  The positive was that we noticed that the people screwing up were not our own people.  As the evening went on more people got in game and we were able to fill out the rest of the slots with some other seasoned veterans.  From here I think it took four attempts before we downed the 5th turn and keyed a whole new group of players for the second coil.  This is awesome for a bunch of reasons… because firstly it means that second team is progressing nicely apart from issues getting people online at the right time.  Secondly however it also means we can start drawing on the pool of players available for Monday night turn 9 attempts as well.  I know Grace is itching to see t9, so hopefully this will smooth out some of our own attendance irregularities.  It is almost summer after all and with summer comes folks going off and doing summer things.

Wrong about Wildstar

WildStar64 2015-04-22 22-58-27-92 This morning I am questioning if I have been wrong about Wildstar thus far in feeling that the game was just not for me.  Granted we gave it a good shot and played this game at launch but it felt like something was off.  Now coming back and playing it again I am really enjoying myself, but there are a large number of details that are significantly different that I think are effecting my enjoyment.  When the initial video was released talking about the Exiles and Dominion, I naturally felt an immediate affinity with the Exiles…  the problem being most of my friends had that same immediate attraction to the Dominion.  I struggled with this choice until I found the Chua and for the most part enjoyed my time playing an Engineer.  The problem being…  I just did not enjoy that style of tanking.  What I should have played was a Warrior, like I did every time I actually enjoyed myself during the beta.  So this time around I am playing a Human Warrior and enjoying smashing faces and jumping around like mad.  The Exile side has this whole “Firefly” vibe that works for me, whereas the Dominion feel more like playing the Empire from Star Wars.  Both are interesting but at this point in my life… I feel more kinship with the rebels.

The other thing that is helping significantly is due to the whole promotion I have a hover board starting at level 1, which makes roaming around the zones so much more enjoyable.  Additionally thanks to the promotion I have some spending money from selling extra items on the open market.  Knowing my character is set for awhile on upgrades and spending money makes all the difference in the world.  Finally the pace I am playing with makes a huge difference.  Wildstar is the sort of game where piddling around feels more enjoyable than focused leveling.  I am stopping to smell the roses, and boulders, and landmines… well you get the idea.  Additionally I went the Soldier path, meaning I get to smash more things in the face and while I enjoyed Explorer…  smashing things in the face is just more my style.  At launch I had this overwhelming feeling of a need to keep up with everyone else, so that I would be viable for dungeon running.  This time since I am playing all by myself for the most part…  I am taking my time and poking through the content at my own speed.  All of which adds up to a completely different experience for me.  All of this proves that the circumstances you go into a game greatly colors your end experience.  So far I am enjoying playing this game as a secondary “cooling down” from the action type game.

Wrong about Marvel Heroes

MarvelHeroes2015 2015-04-20 21-57-03-00 Another game that I have recently picked up that I am more than willing to admit I was wrong about is Marvel Heroes.  I have avoided this game like the plague because of a whole slew of reasons.  Firstly at its core it is a Diablo clone and while there is nothing wrong with that…  click to move and attack games and I generally do not get along that well.  Thanks to League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm I have learned to tolerate them… but my preferred means of control will always be WASD.  Secondly everything surrounding this game gave the impression that it was a free to play money grab of the worst type.  I played a tiny bit of this game in beta and was not terribly excited about any of the heroes I was able to play, so I filed this away in the “not for me” bin as well.  The thing is over time I have continued to watch people I know and love and respect playing this game as seriously as they have played any traditional MMO.  When I see something like this I start to wonder, what are they seeing it in that I am not.  I’ve had these same feelings surrounding games that I just did not previously understand like Guild Wars 2, and after finally hitting my stride in that game I figured I might as well give Heroes a shot too.

Sunday I ended up playing this game for awhile, and wound up playing it for I think five hours without really meaning to.  I feel like the piece of the equation that I was missing to really enjoy it, comes from the fact that I did not even realize I was in need of that Super Hero MMO fix.  I happily played City of Heroes for about six months before moving on to World of Warcraft.  When Champions Online launched I was extremely excited about that game…  until the first patch wound up killing the combination of abilities I wanted to play with.  With the launch of DC Universe Online that was yet another game I really enjoyed, but struggled to get traction in for reason I still don’t know to this day.  Marvel Super Heroes seems to be just a bout the right amount of depth for me to consume as far as super hero content goes, and the ability to swap between heroes freely helps significantly.  Right now I am focusing on Captain America but by the same token I have gotten rather fond of Gambit and Deadpool.  All of which I really want to play more of, and ultimately this seems like the perfect sort of game to play downstairs on my laptop while watching television and movies.  In fact I am hoping to do just that this weekend, and see what mischief I can get into with my shield bashing self.

Bad Medicine

A Good Nights Sleep

Monday night I did not sleep well at all.  I was up late futzing and waiting on a print job for my wife, that ultimately ended up printing the wrong thing.  As a result neither of us got to bed until after midnight.  After that I don’t think either of us really got solid sleep, and next thing we knew it the alarm was going off at 5:30.  As a result I spent most of yesterday sleep walking through it.  There are just some hazes that not even caffeine can clear, and this is only compounded by the fact that my allergies are still killing me.  Even the smallest task seemed like a struggle, and last nights raid was pure hell to suffer through…  in part because of my present state of mind.  I realistically should have just bowed out and headed to bed, but that didn’t happen.

I did however managed to get to sleep around 10:30 and last night was probably the most luminously glorious night of sleep I have had in a long time.  Granted I woke up before the alarm by about twenty minutes…  but I did the correct thing and just got on up instead of trying to struggle for those last few minutes of sleep.  The end result is I feel more human than I have in a long time.  Who knew I needed this sleep thing after all?  Now if only I didn’t have to go to work I could actually enjoy my day.  Today in particular is going to be a strange one as I have to go to lunch with a vendor.  Working lunches make me grumpy, especially since during this one we will be grilling the vendor for information.  At least maybe I get a free meal out of the deal.

Rough Raiding

Wow-64 2015-04-21 20-48-48-06 Last night I was not in the right frame of mind for raiding.  That is the simple fact but the end results of the night didn’t really help either.  As a whole the night felt like we were beating our heads against a wall.  We had fourteen people, two healers and opted to run Blackrock Foundry Heroic.  I am not the raid leader so I am sure there was a reason, but it felt like we were just setting ourselves up for failure.  We managed to eek out a victory on Hans and Franz with that configuration.  Then we lost one healer and gained a different healer, and someone healing in their off set.  We pushed forward and managed to down Beastlord Darmac in this fashion, before heading on to do some attempts on Flambender Ka’graz.  There we made some swaps to the layout that seem like they might have worked, but it required a lot more work adjusting on the tanking side, so overall it was a wash and we wiped horribly.

This stagnation and continued throwing ourselves against heroic when it seems like on some level we are just not ready for it is completely destroying any desire I have to log in.  I am not sure what is going wrong honestly.  I am not sure if our tanks are undergeared, or if our healers are undergeared… or if the dps are just taking too much “could be avoided” damage making the healers heal someone other than the tanks.  All I know is that we are having to battle rez tanks constantly, and as a matter of course which makes all of our attempts sloppier than they should be.  Our Tuesday WoW raid is generally bad at adjusting to the conditions on the ground which is maddening to me, because this is precisely the strength of the Monday night Final Fantasy XIV raid.  If things don’t go according to plan we seem to lose our shit completely, and end up flailing wildly…  or standing in shit and dying.  So I am not sure if we just have a massive case of tunnel vision or if there is some gearing problem at hand.  I know for me personally I am still wearing 640 pants because nothing better will drop.

Bad Medicine

Wow-64 2015-04-10 06-18-41-75 The problem is right now I am right back in that old familiar place.  I dread logging into World of Warcraft Tuesday and Thursday to get a raid invite.  I’ve reached that point where I am just frustrated with the whole raiding in wow experience.  I have been here so many times before, and I am not quite sure how to fix it.  I feel committed to “take my medicine” and log in for the sake of my friends, but I question…  are any of us actually having any fun right now?  Monday was one of the funniest nights of raiding I have ever experienced, and we spent it wiping like nubs to turn 9 after having taken a month off of it.  So it obviously is not progression that ultimately dictates how I feel about a raid… it is the attitude of the raiders and the atmosphere of the raid.  We spent Monday laughing and joking, and at the same time we made some serious progress.  That is when I love to raid, when it feels like we are pulling together as a team even if we are wiping horribly.

The Tuesday/Thursday night raids just feel broken.  They have about as much mirth as the waiting room of a battered women’s shelter.  I log in and join the raid and I feel worse, because there is an unspoken tension going on.  No one talks anymore, because key players in the raid are easily distracted by chatter.  What is frustrating is, this is not the raid I joined.  This is not the raid I saw at the end of Siege of Orgrimmar, or even during High Maul.  That raid was excited about the prospects of this expansion, and enjoyed their evenings spent together.  This raid just feels stressed and burnt out… and I have no clue how to rehabilitate it.  I wish I did know honestly, because I miss that raid that existed before we set foot into Blackrock Foundry.  That is a raid I enjoyed spending two nights a week with.  This one…  I just end up zoning out and waiting for the night to be over.

Juggling Games

Naeling It

ffxiv 2015-04-21 06-18-03-34 The Monday night raid group has had quite the sequence of strange weeks since patch 2.55 went into the game.  Either we were lacking the right people, or enough people at all to do turn 9.  As a result after what seems like a month we did our first night of second coil attempts.  We were all exceptionally rusty going in, but the spirits were extremely high.  At times I would say our spirits were too high, because holy shit were we slap happy.  I was one of the worse so it is not like I can really complain much.  The positive take away is that we managed to get further than we had ever gotten before last night, and were starting to work on the fire/lightning phase of the fight.  On our best attempt we got Nael to 30% which feels like progress.  Essentially once we learn the phase four dance, we just have to keep that up until the boss is dead.

The only regret I have right now is choosing to get my 1300 poetics weapon on my warrior.  I was torn, he is absolutely my main and I intend not tanking as often as I can.  The problem is on Nael the fight we are struggling with I am having to dragoon it up.  That dps boost would really help, but what is done is done…  just kinda kicking myself for not picking a dragoon weapon first.  That said since 126 is more than geared enough for anything we are doing…  I am considering focusing on getting a 1300 weapon for the dragoon now before I pick up any more poetics gear for the warrior.  He still needs a chest piece and a belt, which I was going to start building towards the chest next.  However since that is still going to take a significant amount of time… I might work on getting that weapon instead.  I really wish that today’s 2.56 patch would have uncapped poetics…  because man do I need a lot of them.

Cap and Storm

MarvelHeroes2015 2015-04-20 22-24-50-34 Last night after the raiding shenanigans Thalen mentioned that at one point he had created a House Stalwart super group in Marvel Heroes as a way of stopping the random guild invites.  So I popped over into game and got invites.  From this point we grouped up for a bit until he needed to head to bed.  I have to say that I thought Captain America’s charge in and shield whirl thing was good AOE… until I ran around a bit with Storm.  While I got to tank bosses, pretty much all of the trash in the entire zone died horribly to a cloud of whirling winds.  That said I am really enjoying the fact that I can tank almost any world boss without much issue by keeping my my defensive buffs.  I noticed last night that there was a difficulty slider so at some point I want to play with that.  There are times this feels a lot like diablo on “normal” and I am wondering if there is a “hard” setting that I really should be playing.

Quite honestly I have not been even vaguely close to death other than last night when I was tanking Gorgon.  There I simply used the occasional med pack and made it through that fight without much issue.  The only reason  why it was dicey at all was because I was essentially soloing him, which is probably something I should not be  able to do at this point.  As of last night I am sitting at level 15 and still really enjoying the game.  I think this is going to be my go to for mindless fun, and I swear there are so many times the zone layout reminds me of City of Heroes.  I guess that might be because when I played that game I kept my camera zoomed out as far as it would go, which made it feel a bit like an over the top game.  The competition for spawns is a bit annoying near the entrance of a zone… but if you wander off by yourself you pretty much get the place to yourself.  When I hit the island of Madripoor it felt like the pack thinned out significantly, so I am guessing most people don’t make it out of the level 10 range before moving on.

Juggling Games

WildStar64 2015-04-17 19-23-24-41 The problem with juggling multiple games is that one of them always ends up falling through the cracks.  Right now I wish I had the time to devote to working on my character in Wildstar and trying to hit 65 in Rift.  Instead I am logging in a few times a day in Rift to run minions… and just not logging in at all in Wildstar.  Honestly my playtime is really spastic right now, because I have a bunch of things that I am trying to do each day.  In Final Fantasy XIV I am playing the mini cactpot each day and trying to stockpile as much MGP as I can.  Then while in game I run at least one daily expert so that I can cap my poetics each week.  I am also logging into World of Warcraft in the morning and at night to run my Garrison missions in the hopes of getting those ever illusive raid gear crates.  I am not 100% sure how they work, other than the fact that they show up every two weeks, so I keep clearing out other missions in hopes of making room for them when they show up.

Something new added to the rotation is logging into Marvel Heroes to get my log in reward.  Similarly I am logging into Final Fantasy Record Keeper for the same reason, and to get my daily item chest.  Record Keeper is one of those games I mostly play while my wife is shopping or I am out eating, waiting on food to arrive at the table.  It is a moment of boredom game more than anything else, but that said I am really enjoying it.  It is scratching an itch that I had not quite found from a mobile game.  Realistically I should be trying to log into Wildstar each day so that I can do a boom box, but I have been failing miserably at that one.  The funny thing is that I am spending a lot of time in a lot of different games but not really playing any of them.  Finally after doing my routine I figure out which game I am actually going to play and run off playing that one.  Most of the time that is Final Fantasy XIV but over the last few nights I have been playing a significant amount of Marvel Heroes.  Basically…  right now I am all over the place.