Burning Torch



There are a lot of games that I hold a torch for…  even when they are long dead and gone.  Specifically I am looking at you Hellgate London… that I will always have a significant amount of love for.  However another of those titles is Phantasy Star Online.  This is ultimately what I consider to be my first MMO, or at the very least the gateway drug that opened me up to the possibilities of Everquest.  The Dreamcast is a special console for me, and in large part it is due to this game.  I spent many a weekend afternoon dialed into SegaNet with the 56k modem and eventually upgraded to the “broadband adapter” and running a 50 ft network cable out of my office and around the edge of the loft so I could partake of this title at my then DSL speeds.  I even went so far as to purchase a weird controller adapter that among other things had a PC PS/2 port that allows me to connect a keyboard so that I could communicate more easily with other players while running group content.  I played a RAcast, which was the giant robot ranger character…  which is probably why I have so damned much fondness for Exo’s in Destiny.  Because of just how hard the various mobs hit… I found playing a sword wielding Hunter class to be awkward and involved way too much dancing in and out of melee range just barely not getting hit.  Ranger on the other hand could absolutely abuse the fact that mobs would turn back around when you encountered a gate between areas…  and I would sit at the space between zones and effectively “kite” the mobs until they were dead.


For awhile I have known about unofficial community run servers for Phantasy Star Blue Burst the PC release of the game that came out in 2003.  However with the one I had messed with before, the game felt not completely functional in some way.  The controls were wonky, and the servers felt laggy.  However I heard there was a much better experience in the form of the Ephinea Private server.  I never quite know where whims come from… but suddenly this weekend I was hitting the page and downloading the client.  Firstly the experience of getting into the game is much better than the version I had messed with before, that involved downloading the game via a large torrent.  This instead is a fairly slim roughly 650 meg installer.  From there it boots into a menu system that features its own built in patcher, so there has been a significant amount of time spent making this as good of an experience as is possible.  The client also seems to support a whole slew of modern resolutions and some advanced options for a higher resolution HUD, all of which was missing from the version I played a few years back.  Reading the FAQ on the website you can see that they have made a significant number of tweaks to improve overall game play experience like giving all of your characters a shared bank.  What is also interesting is that there are three seperate rulesets that are supported:  Normal, Hardcore and Sandbox.  The second being much more difficult but having much better drop rewards, and the later being a pseudo “admin mode” that allows players to summon up items and such.  For the time being however I have simply been playing on Normal mode while I get used to the game again.


It is funny just how fast the game has come back to me, and even though my Fusion Pro Controller is nothing like a Dreamcast Controller…  I have managed to adjust to the differences rather rapidly.  In truth there is not a lot of deep strategy going on in this game other than the rhythm of landing a triple hit attack…  which I remembered pretty quickly and have been abusing since.  Ultimately I probably wouldn’t suggest downloading the game unless you are in one of two camps.  Firstly this is awesome for those of us who played the game back when this was literally better than anything out on the market, and want a trip down memory lane.  Secondly this is awesome for anyone who completely missed the boat on Phantasy Star Online and would like to at least see what the game was like.  In both of those cases it will provide some enjoyment, but for anyone expecting a modern experience…  you should probably keep on moving.  I’ve talked about this before, but there is an era in gaming where the ability to play online with others… especially from a console was the central feature of the game and any other details were by nature secondary.  While the core gameplay loop is still enjoyable to me personally… it won’t be for many especially considering how slow paced the game is and how cludgy the targeting system can be.  A good bit of my love of Destiny is likely because Phantasy Star Online was my first “looter shooter”.  I ran around with a rifle wielding RACast and shot things until they dropped boxes of loot… that I then either equipped or took back to the Tekker to identify the item.  Master Rahoul has nothing on the disappointment the Tekkers used to bring us when that weapon we have trudged up from the bowels of  Ruins 3 turns out not to be the upgrade we were looking for.  If you too want a trip down memory lane however… I suggest you check out Ephinea and their awesomely tweaked version of the PC Phantasy Online Star Blue Burst client.

Assorted Turtling



Yesterday was an exceedingly stressful day, and that combined with the fact that my wife is out of town…  lead to a sudden bout of turtling.  For those unfamiliar with the nomenclature…  I go through these periods where I feel like I need to pull my head into my shell to attempt to remain sane.  I’m thankful that I have a few friends that get it, and don’t give me too much hassle about it, but every so often I just reach this point where I need to disconnect from humanity.  Last night was one of those nights and I cycled restlessly through a whole bunch of games to see if I could find something that would fit well enough to pass the evening in.  The negative is that in theory this should have been a night I was tanking in Final Fantasy XIV, but I just could not handle communicating with others…  or having anyone I cared about relying on me.  The irony is that I wound up for a bit early in the evening in Destiny…  and absolutely wound up carrying two other players hard through a random strike.  I took a screenshot not because it is impressive…  but because it shows the massive difference between my participation and that of the other two.  This was on the Wretched Eye strike… and I wound up kiting the Ogre… and DPSing most things down…  and resurrecting the other two people constantly.  Now I know what Squirrel and Jex feel like when I run with them.


From there I wound up back downstairs and watched the last episode of Handmaid’s Tale…  which is maybe not the best idea to watch when you are already feeling depressed.  While doing so I ended booting up Rift and playing around some there.  I am still level 67 and working on the Gedlo Badlands, which is not exactly my favorite zone so far.  Moonshade Highlands is my jam, and I have never been that big of a fan of desolate desert landscapes…  especially not ones where everything is on fire.  That said I did make a lot of progress knocking out various quests and while it still feels like my experience bar isn’t really moving…  the constant ding of planar levels seems to help the feeling of being mired.  I have been running around with a heavy Warlord hybrid build, and while I have been absent it seems to have been buffed significantly.  Previously I had a lot of problems with struggling to kill a given mob in time before it killed me.  Now I seem to be able to run around and wreck things pretty safely.  My biggest complaint with Starfall Prophecy now Prophecy of Ahnket… are the legendary morphs of abilities.  Each of them seems to read like it is going to be universally better than the original…  but after taking a few of them they seem to FEEL worse.  The biggest problem here is that you cannot undo them without paying for a respec…and then you have to remember what the hell you chose as a spec down to the point where you screwed up and chose the wrong legendary morph.  Personally I think the system should just be a toggle, and that you can have X number of legendaries toggled on equal to the number you have earned.


I also played a little Secret World Legends, which is something I seem to do just about every day… or at the very least I am logging in to get the rewards.  I am not completely sold on the game but I am enjoying it enough to keep showing up and experiencing it.  The combat feels fresh enough to make going through a bunch of quests I did long long ago feel worth it.  My key complaint however is the game still does a piss poor job of clearly identifying which quests you have completed and which ones you have not.  That was one of my biggest problems with the game is to log in and roam around through a sea of cutely named quests… that all sort of blend together in my head making it impossible to sort out if I have or have not completed them.  This was even worse when it came to expansion content going into the game, and blending in among all of those other quests that I did a year ago.  So far blade and elemental is fun enough, but I find myself really missing the shotgun… and with the way gear levels up in this game I feel like I am really not in a great place to switch gears at any point soon.  I do have an extremely low level shotgun sitting in my inventory and I might try swapping it out at some point soon just to see if it is viable.  I’ve moved on to the Savage Coast but there is honestly still a lot in Kingsmouth that I have never really gotten around to completing.  My biggest complaint overall is as compared to the original… the drop rates of anything meaningful in the world is nonexistent.  All of your gear seems to come from lootbags gained through doing quests… so I have a feeling that a big part of the “endgame” is going to be repeating quests on the daily reset to get more stuff to fuse into your gear.  That doesn’t really bode well for those players that are not a big fan of grindy mechanics.


Daily Creative Thing

No Blaugust

It’s been ages since I have done a heading in my blog, but I didn’t really have an image I wanted to put with this.  Considering it is getting dangerously close to August and I have had a few people ask me…  I will not be hosting some large Blaugust event this year.  For three and a half years I did my blog every day thing, and it was interesting.  In that process I learned a lot about myself and a lot about my readers.  However I am no longer the bastion of regular blogging that I once was, and similarly I don’t really feel like I can carry the banner of “blog every day” quite so highly.  Now the truth is Blaugust was never really “my” thing…  firstly because there was another group that had independently been using that hashtag for ages apparently.  Secondly the “festival” for lack of a better terms was more about the community than it ever was about me.  So if you find yourself really wanting to do Blaugust, then go for it.  This has been the year that the institutions have failed in the blogosphere.  We had no Newbie Blogger Initiative and would not have had Developer Appreciate Week were it not for Rav picking up the torch and carrying it onwards.  I hate that I am adding Blaugust to the pile but I am just not feeling it right now, and in truth wasn’t last year because I did a fairly halfassed job of trying to make it happen without requiring a lot of support.

If someone is interested in picking up the mantle and making it theirs… I welcome you with open arms.  That said what is happening this year that is not exactly Blaugust but similarly themed is “Daily Creative Thing”.  My good friend Grace felt like she was not taking the time to do creative stuff anymore, and had let some of her hobbies fall by the wayside.  As such in the spirit of Blaugust she decided to start trying to force herself to do at least one creative thing every single day.  What classifies as a “Creative Thing” is pretty open to interpretation, but as a side effect of this process she spawned a secondary blog where you can see a bit of her daily process.  Some days it has been a drawing, others working on some crocheting, and one day some origami.  The purpose being just to keep doing something interesting and fun and creative every single day… and then posting the product.  I myself am contemplating doing this throughout the month of August, because there are a lot of creative things that I just stopped doing for some reason along the way.  Namely I just don’t sketch like I used to, and I am not entirely sure why I stopped.  I used to be one of those kids that was rabidly sketching in every single class…  and then at some point I just stopped.  Its like going to art school some how tarnished the fun… because instead of going and drawing goofy things… everything was deadly serious and representative.  I would love to unblock myself and let the creativity flow once more, so maybe this is the time to do it.


Minuet 42



A few days ago I said I had more or less “beat” the Destiny 2 beta in part because there is so little to actually do in it.  That said for whatever reason I keep returning and playing.  Since writing my initial post I have done the strike several times and spend a bit more time in the Crucible.  Some of my initial comments about not really liking the 4 vs 4 format and the small map sizes, is in part me likely just getting adjusted to changes and not really having a weapon load-out that I would have preferred.  Traditionally my crucible build has been an Auto Rifle in the primary slot… usually my extreme stability Haakon’s Hatchet or if I am feeling squirrely…  my Genesis Chain.  From there I generally have either a Shotgun in the secondary slot Invective or Party Crasher +1 or I go for one of my Fusion Rifles…  traditionally Saladin’s Vigil.  The heavy slot varies greatly because in truth… I am not really expecting to get heavy ammo in Crucible matches so I am not super concerned.  If I have an exotic slot available I go with Gjallarhorn and if not probably my Silvered Dread machine gun.  The problem with the Destiny 2 weapon loadouts is that on my preferred class… the Titan there was nothing that I could really replicate this feel with so I in part had to feel out what worked for me in the new scheme.


What finally ended up feeling good and seeming usable is to run a Submachine Gun in my primary slot, namely The Showrunner seen above.  However in truth I was using this weapon much in the same way as I would have used a secondary in Destiny 1 only swapping to it at certain times.  For my main weapon I relied heavily on the Minuet Hand Cannon sitting in my energy weapon slot, because it had some significant stopping power and actually allowed me to win non-teamshot firefight engagements.  Where the sub machinegun was handy is any time that someone ran up on me, I could hang out just outside of melee range and grind them down with a rapid fire hail of bullets.  In theory I think this is more or less what folks who loved the sidearm used to do…  but I never could make sidearms work for me in this fashion.  As far as the heavy/power weapon slot…  once again I didn’t care too terribly much about this given that I was similarly not expecting to ever get ammunition for it…  so instead just relied on the grenade launcher in case I ever did.  I am by no means “good” at the new Crucible, but I managed to find a setup and style that worked for me and I managed to keep climbing higher in my efficiency number as the night went on.


The thing that I find the most impressive about the Destiny 2 demo experience… is the fact that it is so damned short yet I kept returning day after day to keep experiencing it in any way that I could.  In part it has made me want to actually dig in and try and finish some of the book achievements that are sitting there unfinished, and bask in the glory of the Destiny 1 experience before it is gone.  All in all I am anxiously awaiting the release of this game and even more so the upcoming PC beta that we are getting at some point in August.  I have a lot of concerns relating to the PC version, namely how it is going to feel and how well it plays in my various systems.  I am really hoping that I can figure out a set of tweaks to get it to play with passable performance on my i7 Geforce 960m laptop.  I am not expecting the world and would be completely fine with running 720p on it…  pending that the performance is at a minimum 30 fps.  One moment of sadness last night however is that the left thumb stick on  beloved Hori FPS Plus controller started tearing.  I am seemingly particularly hard on left thumb sticks, and as Squirrel pointed out last night…  since it is not our aiming stick we are way less gentle with it.  I ordered a set of cheapo aftermarket thumb stick caps, hoping that maybe just maybe it will fit.  I tried one of the Kontrol Freaks PS4 caps that I had laying around and it kept popping off because the slightly smaller than normal size.  All in all though I am going to be really sad to see Destiny 2 beta ending tonight, but will be looking forward to actually getting to play  the game at launch.


Discarded Hulk



I know I have started out many a Monday post with something along the lines of it being a weird weekend, so I am going to refrain from doing so today.  The odd factor comes from the fact that we were pretty busy… but also mostly busy around the house.  I’ve talked about my wife who is a teacher several times in the past, but one of the side notes that you need to know is that teachers here in Oklahoma have very little support for all of the things that are required to make a classroom work.  My wife for example gets a $25 credit…  per school year to buy anything she needs for her classroom from what is in effect the school district storehouse.  Most teachers don’t even get that…  so we spend a lot of time doing things in an effort to augment her classroom experience.  Anecdote aside… how this factors into our weekend is that for years we have had what is effectively a office work group printer that I happened to adopt when a workplace was sending it out to salvage.  They were more than happy to have me truck it away…  instead of having to pay some electronic recycling people to come and do the same thing.  I was trying to figure out about when we got the Laserjet 5si…  and to the best of my knowledge I would guess around 2005-2006 ish.  The piece of this that you need to understand is that it was effectively a 23 inch by 23 inch by 23 inch cube that weighed about 150 lbs.  It effectively sat in the corner of my office taking up tons of space…  and any time there was a paper jam I had to try and balance the unit while turning it around because it was way too big to actually get to the back side without doing so.  The other thing you need to know is… that there are several times a year where my wife will print up to a ream of paper worth of materials for her classroom in a single evening.  So it is simply not cost effective to try and do that with a consumer grade laser printer.

This week the computer she had in her office finally gave up the ghost, which is not terribly surprising given that it was an ancient Gateway FX P6831 laptop circa 2008.  So like always this lead us to craigslist to see what all was available in our area on the cheap.  While we didn’t really find anything, given that our craigslist seems to be entirely made up of laptops and custom built rigs that someone overpaid for… and still thinks is extremely valuable.  However in her travels she happened upon a reasonable looking printer that in theory could replace the mammoth beast and give us some more desk space.  It turns out a company was surplussing all of their HP Laserjet P3005 printers and we were able to pick up a relatively low print volume printer for $40.  This however left us with the daunting task of moving the beast downstairs…  something that I am shocked I was able to do by myself years ago…  I know at the time it involved using an office chair as a makeshift handtruck and then slowly lifting it a single stair at a time.  Thankfully I am much older and wiser… and simply opted to remove the two addon printer trays, duplexer and toner cartridge which turned it into something that was way more manageable for us to get downstairs.  This left me room to set up the new printer, and also coincidentally gave me room enough for the Canon Pixma MG3620 color printer that I picked up off Amazon for $30 a week or so back.  Which means for the first time in probably a decade we have a reasonable color printing option.  However the directions that came with the printer…  were for a completely different model and it only took me a couple of hours of trying to set things up in vain for me to realize this fact and to grab the correct directions from the Canon website.  Unlike past wireless printers… you cannot apparently set it up over USB and then set its wireless credentials…  you instead need to do some bullshit mobile phone set up process.  However once I got the correct directions it went pretty smoothly.


This was just one vignette of the random stuff we did this weekend, and most of it isn’t really worthy of writing about.  However now we have the mammoth printer sitting in our living room because the person who had said they wanted it…  backed out when they realized just how damned big it was.  Thinking about sitting it out on the porch one day and posting a “free” craigslist post to see if anyone will come get it.  I would love to give it to a school or a church or a non-profit agency because it still prints insanely well… and the toner has gotten to the point where you can get it for like $20 in the secondary market and it will print something along the lines of 60,000 copies off that single toner.  Until then however the cats think they have a new toy and one of them has taken to periodically laying on it.  As far as gaming goes…  I largely played Diablo 3 and with significant help from friends am nearing the point where I get my pet in the seasons journey.  Right now I am on a more annoying objective step which involves running bounties until I get five jewelry patterns, which will then unlock the last few pieces of the Rathma necromancer set.  After a few seasons of playing Demon Hunters…. everything feels slow…  but the Necro in particular feels extremely slow when pushing Rifts and Greater Rifts.  Getting the two piece weapon set has greatly improved this but it still feels slower than I am used to even when being drug behind a much much higher leveled friend.  All in all though the Necromancer is still insanely fun, but as we talked about this weekend… I am curious how many previously devoted Witch Doctor players have made the swap to Necromancer permanently.

Four Necros



Last night was the beginning of a brand new season in Diablo 3, and once again Grace and myself did our hang out and level new characters thing.  Traditionally these season opens happen on a Friday night, so there is always the ability to stay up until we hit the level cap.  Granted that has not actually happened in awhile with us usually crashing somewhere in range of 60.  Yesterday was a bit of a weird situation with the season open happening on a “School Night” as it were, which curbed our play session around 10 pm my time.  I finally called it because I was starting to drift off at the keyboard and when I did none of the other three players seemed to complain much about it.  I’ve been on this odd kick of going to bed around 10/10:30 which is significantly earlier than my traditional midnight.  Maybe my age is finally catching up with me?  Whatever the case… we managed to hit somewhere in the range of 47 before calling it a night.

Considering this is the first season post Rise of the Necromancer…  you can probably already imagine that we were a party of four…  and an army of dozens and dozens of undead following us around.  Can I just tell you how glorious it is to see four Necros doing their Necro thing?  We ran a bunch of Neph Rifts as is the traditional best leveling practice… and we got some insane spawns out of the gate that wound up boosting our characters significantly in the few hours we actually played.  There was one relatively small rift map that literally had almost nothing but yellow and blue packs which mean’t we had summoned the guardian well before we were actually prepared for it.  Necromancers have a really weird power curve in that they still start out a little weak, at least when it comes to raw damage output.  That Rift Guardian took forever for us to whittle down with our undergeared level 5 selves…  but within a few levels we were easily breaking apart and churning through a full round of bounties solo style.  At the point I left the seasonal content last night, I had reached effectively the same build of abilities that I was using on my level 70 necromancer.

  • Left Click – Bone Spike (Path of Bones)
  • Right Click – Blood Rush (Transfusion)
  • 1 – Revive (Purgatory)
  • 2 – Command Skeletons (Frenzy)
  • 3 – Command Golem (Bone Golem)
  • 4 – Skeletal Mage (Skeleton Archer)
  • Fueled By Death Passive
  • Commander of the Risen Dead Passive
  • Extended Servitude Passive

Path of Bones is my favorite builder in part because I can sit back a long ways from the targets and still be gaining essense while my bone army chews stuff apart.  Transfuion is largely as a reasonable way of getting back some health while also providing an escape mechanism.  There is rarely a time when I would need to use it… that I am not going to at least pass through a few enemies during the travel time.  Bone Golem just makes for a really nice AOE damage dealer… and it was hilarious when the four of us needed to do a boss and unleashed that all at the same time. Revive becomes the bread and butter way of getting extra attackers and quickly becomes more useful than the meat firework option that is corpse explosion.  What I like about purgatory is that it means I can keep recycling targets because when your revives die they turn back into corpses.  Functionally what I do is play with Flesh Golem up until the point I get this ability and then thankfully you can switch over to Bone Golem without losing a source of corpses.  The necromancer is insanely fun and if you have not played it yet, I highly suggest checking it out.

Destiny 2 Beta Impressions



Yesterday around noon was the official launch of Destiny 2 Beta on the PS4.  I personally got my hands on it around 6 pm after doing various things that needed to be done and taking my wife out to eat.  To call this a Beta however feels like a little bit of a misnomer because in truth we are getting out hands on essentially the same demo that was available to press at e3.  With that comes a greatly limited subset of options that you can take part in.  Functionally right now there are three things available to players:  The first story mission, the Inverted Spire strike, and one play mode of the crucible.  I didn’t get a ton of screenshots because I was actively playing, but I did decide to stream and ultimately record me in game from the moment I started up Destiny 2 to the moment I logged out feeling like I had “beat” the demo.  If you are really curious you can check out my Mixer VOD that runs for a little over an hour.  I opted to go for a silent stream because I was largely just recording this for my own benefit.


This game is going to catch so much flak for being “Destiny 1.5” and I can see that.  In every meaningful way this is Destiny.  The characters perform as smoothly as the original, and the gunplay feels just as good.  Those who played a significant amount of time with the first game…  might have a little bit of an adjustment period because there are subtle differences everywhere.  This is not simply a “HD Remaster” of the original game… but you can feel that it is in fact a brand new game that has tried extremely hard to capture everything that was great about the first one.  The titan jump feels slightly different, and everything from the pulse rifle to the hand canon are recognizable…  but feel different enough to know at a base level that you are playing something different.  The first story mission is excellent and does an amazing job of providing you a feel for the game and its play… as well as giving you a rich narrative ride through parts of the tower you have never seen before.  It takes everything that was learned through the Taken King and Rise of Iron and distills it down into the purest form.  You are killing Cabal but you are doing it with a constant purpose of trying to save those you can…  with enough nostalgic elements to make it feel like your home is falling apart…  not just some random structure being blown to pieces.  The mission also does a great job of weaving in single player and multi player elements…  with the central section being a sort of defend the tower mode as you and lots of other players fight back against the Cabal along side Zavala.  That is another huge part of this experience…  you are interacting with characters that you already know like Zavala, Cayde-6 and Ikora Rey.  They have personality and treat you in a manner befitting someone who has been leading all of these strike missions for all of these years.  Hell you even get some interesting interactions with Lord Shax and Amanda Holliday.


The Strike is similarly awesome, and I can see myself running it over and over as part of the strike list.  There were a few annoying jumping puzzle style elements…  namely that giant grinder that we have seen multiple times in trailers and such.  You find yourself trying to navigate through an area while avoiding the spinning wheels of doom.  There is a similar mechanic in the first story mission where you have to avoid certain death while destroying objectives, and made me question my choice of the control jump instead of the height jump.  The only weirdness about all of this is… it felt like grenade and super both charged super slow.  Maybe I am just used to running around with my Armamentarium and rocking two grenade charges…  but it always felt like when I needed a grenade the most it was still on cooldown.  The super when available however was glorious.  Last night I focused on the Sentinel Titan… and I got to run around bashing things with my shield.  I never figured out how to throw it…  but doing the equivalent of the old striker titan shoulder charge with a void shield was amazingly fun.  While sunbreaker is supposedly back for Destiny 2… I can absolutely see me maining Sentinel.  The thing that surprised me the most is the fact that I didn’t really seem to use the portable shield capability that often.  It was useful for setting up essentially a gun nest, but for the most part I just ducked in and out of cover like I always did.


The only negative of the night was the crucible.  I am just not a fan of the changes they made.  For starters they have reduced the number of people in standard crucible matches from 6 vs 6 to 4 vs 4.  As a result they have created a series of much smaller maps with much tighter choke points.  What this does is make it feel much more frenetic in a style of game-play that I equate with Call of Duty.  Crucible always felt like a thinking mans game… where it was as much about how you moved and when you chose to fire or not fire…  rather than just charging forward into the fray every few seconds.  It could be my experiences were deeply colored by the fact that in both occasions I ended up on a team of randoms fighting against a team of people sharing the same clan tag.  Functionally all I know is that the changes did not feel as good as the original crucible does, and as a very casual player of the crucible it is not really something I look forward to participating in.  Which leads us to the other problem of the night…  I am more or less a Patrol player.  If you believe Destiny Tracker I spend something like 70% of my time playing Patrol missions where I wander around aimlessly and kill things in the open world.  As such with this demo “my Destiny” was not open for business yet and after doing the story mission, the strike, and a few round of crucible I considered myself largely done for the night.  That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself… it just felt like a very shallow experience without the open world content and without character progression.  I am sure I will boot it up a few more times…  but this did nothing to really satiate my desire for the actual game.



Bizarre Obsession

This weekend we recorded somewhat of a mega show of AggroChat.  We originally sat down thinking we might not have a complete show…  and then recorded for two hours and wound up dropping a few topics to try and manage the show length.  There were a whole slew of topics but one of which is one that I did not expect to blow up to the level at which it did.  Kodra has been talking magic for a year or so in his adventures in doing drafts through Magic Online for each of the expansion releases that have happened.  Lately however I have found myself obsessing about the game even though I have not regularly played it since the tempest cycle.  Magic the Gathering will always have this nostalgic characteristic for me because I have had a lot of really good times playing it.  The problem is…  once I entered the adult world I stopped having a regular stream people to play with.  I’ve never really gotten involved with a local shop doing the Friday night magic thing, because in truth people just don’t play Magic the Gathering the way I want to play it.  The prevalence of NetDecking and combo magic turned things into a weird cold war…  where you either needed to be playing whatever the new hotness needed to be…  or at least come up with a way to counteract that new hotness.  When I last stopped playing… the format of choice was called “Type II” and I believe this translates to the “Standard” in the current naming of formats.  So when I left during the Tempest cycle it was all about the combo to beat… and either scrambling to get the cards…  or scrambling to get something to beat it.

The style of Magic the Gathering I enjoyed was back when you never quite knew what you might be encountering in a players deck.  Maybe it just took my area while to get super competitive, but in early tournament play I only ever once encountered the “power nine” but instead came up against a lot of seemingly fun to play themed decks.  For me a lot of my decks centered around some card that I wanted to play with… and then blunting the negative effects of that card.  So say I wanted to play with the Lord of the Pitt, I would run some token creatures that I could just keep churning out to feed to it rather than pay the 7 life upkeep.  If I wanted to play with Leviathan I would run Icy Manipulator and Twiddle to keep from having to pay the two island tax to untap it each round, then figure out some way to retrieve islands from the graveyard every so often.  It was fun trying to figure out a way to counteract what was not good about the cards and then figure out how to make them work well enough to be playable.  Some of the most fun I ever had was in college the magic store I used to hang out in had a deep common bin… and we would end up building these $5 decks out of the archives and then pit them against each other.  I guess the modern equivalent to this would be pauper, but even then…  that format takes itself way more seriously than I wish I could when it comes to MTG.  I’ve been trying to sort out a way to play the game how I want to play it…  but also find some people to play with.

The biggest problem right now is availability of people.  There are enough folks who have played MTG at one point in their lives to maybe create a lunch time group at work.  The problem there I am not not sure what sort of format would work best.  I am leaning towards something janky along the lines of Pauper Commander…  without the commanders.  Where you functionally construct a deck of common cards without the ability to repeat any cards.  I would functionally need to probably fund a lot of the commons given that there are simply not enough in any one set to make up a deck of entirely common cards.  I think a format like that however might bring back the random weirdness that I miss from playing Magic.  There were moments where you would sit down and encounter something you never expected to see…  and it would be interesting to figure out how to adjust to that and find a way to either defeat it or work around it.  In truth I love common cards,  because they tend to be the unappreciated workhorses of magic.  It always bugs me a bit when people just dismiss them and toss them aside like garbage…  when you cannot really make ANY deck without relying on a whole slew of them to serve as the glue between those higher dollar cards.  I have no clue how this will end but thusfar it has simply been a case of be re-familiarizing myself with Magic the Gathering and trying to figure out if this is really something I want to jump back into.

Week with Axon


I have now now been using my new phone for a week and thought I would talk a bit about some of my impressions this morning.  Firstly I feel like I need to explain my decision process a bit and how I ended up with a non-AAA manufacturer phone.  For some time I have balked at the price of cell phones.  Yes I am old enough to remember a time when you just walked into the cellular carrier and they gave you whatever phone you wanted along with your one year contract.  After a point that became a two year contract, and eventually a discounted rate on the phone…  and now they just charge you a monthly fee as part of a rent to own style scheme to dilute the cost of your insanely expensive hardware.  I’ve not swapped phones nearly as often as the manufacturers would really like me to…  my first “smartphone” being a Samsung Blackjack 2 which upgraded into an iPhone 3gs which caused me to venture into android land… where I have had a Samsung s2 and a Samsung s5.  My natural upgrade path would then probably be the Samsung Galaxy s8 but those are around $800… and I didn’t want to spend that amount of money on a phone.

As a result I started looking at a handful of other phones, the less popular brands looking for what is essentially the best bang for the buck.  I looked at the product offering from OnePlus, Moto, HTC, Huawei and ultimately ZTE.  The finally decision point came down a duel between the ZTE Axon 7 and the Huawei Honor 8…  and after reading a whole slew of reviews I finally pulled the trigger and ordered my Axon 7 for around $350 from Amazon carrier unlocked.  For sake of reference in the marketing image above… I have the dark grey model on the far right.  I was honestly expecting to get what felt like a second rate phone, but what I got instead was something that seems almost indistinguishable from the traditional quality of the flagship phones I have owned.  The phone arrived in this weird white leather texture box that was extremely thick that slid apart to reveal a whole bunch of pack in items.  Firstly there was the phone, that came out of the box with a screen protector installed.  Secondly it came with a rubbery phone case for you to use if that is your thing… until you likely went out and got your own case later.  It would probably provide a bit of shock proofing, but more importantly some grip which I will get into later.  There was the ubiquitous charging brick with a fairly long usb type c cable, but what I was not expecting was a little adapter that let you use a micro usb cable and convert it to type c.  Finally there was a pack in SIM removal tool on a rubber keychain, allowing you to in theory take it with you…  though any straight pin or paperclip will do the trick to eject the SIM card tray.

Relevant Specs

  • Operating System: Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow (upgraded easily to 7.1.1)
  • Display: 5.5-inch, 2560×1440 AMOLED Gorilla Glass 4
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 Quad-core 2.15GHz
  • GPU: Adreno 430 GPU
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Onboard Storage: 64GB
  • Expandable: microSD up to 2TB
  • Rear Camera: 20MP f/1.8, PDAF, OIS, 4K/30 video
  • Front Camera: 8MP f/2.2, 1080p/30 video
  • Battery: 3250 mAh
  • Charging: Quick Charge 3.0, USB Type-C
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11ac dual-band, Bluetooth 4.2 LE, NFC, GPS, GLONASS
  • Networks: Both GSM and CDMA supported
  • Dimensions: 151.7 x 75 x 7.9mm
  • Weight: 175 g

The phone was released a year ago so in theory to compete with the Samsung Galaxy S7, but for sake of reference the specs are pretty comparable to the S8.  It shipped with a ZTE android distribution called MiFavor which I have opted to simply go with because it seems to have really solid patching support via a software updater.  It shipped with Android 6.0.1 but through the course of a handful of patches I was able to take it to Android 7.1.1 and it performs really solidly.  One of the weird things going on with this phone is that like many international focused devices it comes with dual SIM card slots.  What makes it interesting is that the second SIM card slot also serves as you micro SD card, which means the device only has the one card tray and everything fits neatly in it.  So far the battery life is excellent and for reference I wound up playing Final Fantasy Record Keeper from bed last night for about two hours and only used 15% of the battery.  The graphics are and screen are beautiful and everything seems to run so much better than it did on my Galaxy S5…  but granted that was a really aging phone at this point.

The only gotchas I have run into thus far is a combination of two things.  Firstly this is a really heavy phone…  like if I got into trouble I legitimately feel like I could chuck the phone at someones head and potentially knock them out… or maybe give them a concussion.  The second part… is that the full Aluminum body is slick…  like insanely slick which is magnified by the fact that it is heavy.  In theory that flimsy rubber case that they give you in the box is probably to help counteract this.  However there have been multiple times I have had the phone damned near slip out of my hand while pulling it in and out of my pocket or just while holding it and using it.  I purchased an aftermarket case that I liked to try and negate this so it isn’t a deal breaker but just something you need to be aware of.  The size of the phone is fine for my giant sized hands… but for most people this is probably going to feel like more a “phablet” and less like a phone.  So far I am loving it and I have zero buyers remorse.  The only problem that I can see with this product is that the pricing seems to be extremely volatile.  I purchased mine for around $350… and yesterday when I went to link it to a friend it was selling for closer to $450.  If you can find one for the right price though I think its an amazing flagship replacement, and very worthy of going up against the more well known phones.  As I continue to use it I will probably do follow ups to this quick review as the device ages.

Mobile Matters



For years I have said that I really did not think that gaming on my phone was really my “thing”.  It was a platform that I largely felt didn’t quite fit my lifestyle, because in part I felt like I either had access to PC and Consoles…  or simply didn’t have the ability to game period.  Recently however I have been eating the hell out of those words.  For the last week or so I have been getting used to a new phone, and at some point I will probably do a proper review of it.  Functionally I could not bring myself to spend $800 to $1000 on a new phone… and my Samsung Galaxy s5 had lots of problems.  This lead me to branch out and look into some other options… and I finally landed on the ZTE Axon 7 which is a very solid attempt at a Chinese flagship killer.  When I finally do a proper review I will get around to more about that, however suffice to say I am enjoying it.  There is a thing that happens with PC gamers…  when we get new hardware.  We go through this phase of installing everything that we have cared about in the past… and trying it out on the new setup to see what has and has not improved.  With this new phone being so much more powerful than my previous one…  I found myself going through this same routine and testing out things like the android Hearthstone client.  When I say the previous phone had issues…  it is because once upon a time I rooted my phone in an attempt to bypass the AT&T blockade against tethering/wifi hotspots on my current plan.  I still have one of those ancient grandfathered in iPhone unlimited plans…  and while they have raised the price there is no way in hell I am giving up $25 a month unlimited mobile data.


While the S5 is technically no longer rooted, I seem to have tripped some anti-tamper seal of a sort on the phone and it fails the Google Safetynet test that app manufacturers have started incorporating into their apps.  This means that I was forced to stop playing Pokemon Go when they patched in this protection, and similarly have been unable to experience Fire Emblem Heroes, Mario Run or a whole slew of newer games that just do this check by default.  The biggest problem with me and phone gaming in the past however was the battery life, and the way that a few minutes of Final Fantasy Record Keeper could shave off 25% of my battery before I even realized.  With the new phone this seems to no longer be the issue that it once was… and either because the processor does not need to work nearly as hard…  or the fact that I have a 3250 mAh battery (instead of 2800 mAh) I can functionally play games and still use my phone for everything else that I want to.  As a result lately I have been heading to bed fairly early and then chilling out there and playing mobile games until sleep finally claims me.  Similarly while I am out and about I am starting to play a lot more Pokemon Go, but have not really gone out on catching jaunts like I did around the release a year ago.  I contemplated going out last night but it was still over 90 degrees outside after 9pm, so I figured I would leave that to a cooler evening.


The games that have seemed to clamp down the hardest on my attention however are Fire Emblem Heroes…  which is a thoroughly charming tactics style combat game and of course Final Fantasy Record Keeper that I already played a significant amount of in the past.  This is the point where I admit that I have never actually played a Fire Emblem game in the past, and while I am sure the actual games are not terribly similar to this mobile title…  it does make me a hell of a lot more interested in them.  The premise is largely nonsense…  but it is the sort of nonsense that I find myself enjoying at the moment.  The biggest problem with these games is that I really have no clue what I am doing on a regular basis… and not even sure what the best way to do anything in game is.  I’ve been slowly working my way through the story in Fire Emblem, and in Record Keeper I noticed that they seemingly have gotten less sparing with handing you a bunch of characters.  I worked my way through most of a Final Fantasy XIV themed event dungeon… and picked up Yshtola, Minfilia, Yda, Papalymo, and Cid…  and started working my way through a similarly FFXII Zodiac Age themed one.  Much like in Pokemon Go… the excitement for me is in the collection of new characters and not so much in the leveling and battle.


Lastly I have been slowly working my way through Final Fantasy V on the phone as an attempt to do things like play over my lunch break…  which admittedly has not actually happened yet.  I got completely wrecked last night by Garula, which means I am going to have to sort out a decent strategy for this one.  Of course I am not playing the game legitimately… and instead am doing the Four Job Fiesta…  which means I am attempting to take him down as a party of four Black Mages.  Its time to go figure out some strategery so I can get past him and get my next set of jobs.  I find the mobile FFV client a little wonky… and especially in mobiles where you need fine motor control…  that is not a thing the touchpad really gives you.  Getting through the poison plants at the top of the mountain was not really a thing…  so I simply opted to walk through a couple and take antidotes.  Regardless it works well enough for my needs and gives me a reasonable platform without really shackling me to a specific location for playing it.  I kinda hope we eventually get a version on the switch through either virtual console… or a release of this mobile port to it.  Whatever the case….  someone seems to have replaced me with a doppelganger that does not mind mobile gaming all the sudden.